Review

  • The Bodhisattva’s Embrace: Dispatches from Engaged Buddhism’s Front Lines Paid Member

    The Bodhisattva’s Embrace: Dispatches from Engaged Buddhism’s Front Lines (Clear View Press, 2010, 244 pp., paper, $15) is a collection of personal essays written by Alan Senauke over the last twenty years. Senauke, former director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and advisor to the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, is a Zen priest who writes with authority on the topic of engaged Buddhism, from Israel and Palestine to the streets of Burma. He takes on difficult subjects to invite readers to “bear witness” to them, holding the belief that the deep suffering of the world naturally inspires compassionate action. Throughout his essays, Senuake’s words are like rocks: simple and strong. It’s a no-nonsense, sober approach to the truth of suffering, and Senuake’s message is clear: we’re all in this together, so let’s help each other out. More »
  • The Practice of the Wild Paid Member

    Gary Snyder has been a mosquito, and Jim Harrison would like to be a tree. These are two important things we learn from watching The Practice of the Wild, a documentary by John J. Healey featuring the old codgers (San Simeon/ Whole Earth Films, produced by Will Hearst and Jim Harrison, 52 min., DVD, $18.95). Although it contains some archival footage and short interviews with friends and colleagues, the bulk of the film consists of a Q&A between Snyder and Harrison. Officially, it’s Harrison asking the questions and Snyder answering them—however, in truth, it’s a shared conversation. It’s a delight to watch the two friends as they amble across the Santa Lucia Mountains discussing the objects of their passions: the earth and its poetry. They make a likable pair. Where Snyder is refined and eloquent, a trim graybeard speaking with the authority of someone accustomed to being listened to, Harrison is unassuming, earthy, and unkempt. More »
  • Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps To A Compassionate Life Paid Member

    The title says it all for Karen Armstrong’s new book. Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life (Knopf, 2011, 240 pp., cloth, $22) is a how-to guide meant to help readers cultivate and emanate the virtue of compassion. It’s the latest effort in Armstrong’s bid to place compassion at the heart of public discourse on religion and morality. After winning the TED Prize in 2008, an award that gives recipients $100,000 and grants them a wish for a better world, Armstrong launched the Charter for Compassion—a document written by a variety of leading religious thinkers in order to inspire worldwide acts of compassion. More »
  • New York Times reviews the Hakuin show at Japan Society Paid Member

    Check out The New York Times art review of “The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin” at Japan Society.
From Ken Johnson’s review, “Spiritual Seeker With a Taste For the Satirical”: More »
  • Emptiness: Violent or Compassionate? Paid Member

    In “Buddhists at war,” a recent piece for the Times Literary Supplement, Katherine Wharton reviews two books: Buddhist Warfare, a collection of essays on Buddhist violence edited by Michael K. Jerryson and Mark Juergensmeyer, and The Six Perfections, a treatise on Buddhist ethics by Dale S. Wright. In her review, Wharton reminds us that Buddhism, as much as any living expression of a world religion, can fall prey to human imperfections. Wharton highlights essays in Buddhist Warfare that examine topics like how the Buddhist teaching of no-self informed Japanese military training during the Asia-Pacific War and how a certain Mahayana text has been used to justify “compassionate torture.” While it is useful to study and remember these misunderstandings and misuses of Buddhist ideas, I hope that it’s not breaking news to anybody that religion is a human pursuit and therefore prone to human tendencies, such as violence. More »
  • More on "Buddhists at war" Paid Member

    In a recent blog entry, "Emptiness: Violent or Compassionate?", I highlighted a book review from the Times Literary Supplement by Katherine Wharton entitled "Buddhists at war." In her review, Wharton is critical of Dale Wright's new book, The Six Perfections. In the comments section of "Emptiness: Violent or Compassionate?" Wright responds to Wharton's critique and defends his position on karma. As Wright explains, it's not that we should drop the concept of karma altogether, but rather that we need to rework our understanding of karma so it's useful to us as a moral principle. Wright's response to "Buddhists at war": Katherine Wharton's review makes two important points. First, that Buddhist Warfare is a fine book and that it will help educate western Buddhists about the complexities of Buddhist history where many instances of evil are present. As western Buddhists become more knowledgeable about Buddhist history, it will be easier to recognize that all religions are human creations and that so far we have no model of a perfectly enlightened culture. Non-Buddhists resent the fact that Buddhism is often uncritically taken to be the perfect religion of peace and compassion, and, like Wharton, they are pleased when scholars focus their attention on the “dark side” of Buddhist history. This is understandable to me and I too would praise the book Buddhist Warfare. The second admirable point about Wharton's review is one that she makes in critique of my book, The Six Perfections. She claims that nothing can prevent Buddhist emptiness or any other teaching from being used to justify violence, and that the “curative value of interdependence” is often naively overestimated in Buddhism. On this point, she is surely right, although I find it hard to understand how a reading of my book could have suggested that I presume such a thing. As we all know from the political realm, some strong individualists take interdependence to be profoundly regrettable and no amount of meditation on that concept will lead them to compassion. Thieves concede interdependence too, and they are happy to recognize all the ways their professional success depends on others. What matters is what you do with the concept of interdependence. Beyond those two points of praise for Wharton's review, I'm stumped, even incredulous. I have been misunderstood before, but this sets a new standard. Let me just make two points. More »