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Books in Brief

Tibet's Dalai Lama for the American Holy DaysTracy Cochran

Some people in Western culture remember that holiday gift-giving is meant to be a joyful commemoration of great sacred events. In this all but forgotten spirit, here are a few books by the Dalai Lama of Tibet, an embodiment of Peace on Earth and good will toward all sentient beings.


The Meaning of Life From a Buddhist Perspective 
H.H. the Dalai Lama.
Translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins.
Illustrated by Gina Halpern.
Wisdom Publications: Boston, 1992.
111 pp. $12.50 (paperback).

In this slim volume, originally delivered as a series of five lectures, the Dalai Lama analyzes the twelve links of dependent arising as they are depicted in the ancient image of the "Wheel of Life." With unstinting precision, he expresses the essence of Buddhist doctrine with confidence and insight. "As long as we have ignorance, which is the seed and source of suffering, in any and every minute, we can initiate an action that will serve as a cause for another rebirth." The Dalai Lama methodically describes how dependent arising can be the source of the analytical discovery of emptiness. Briefly describing the levels of the path, he appeals more to the emotions, conveying the majesty and scale of the prac­tices—especially, as always, the practice of altruism.
 

The Dalai Lama at Harvard: Lectures on the Buddhist Path to Peace
H.H. the Dalai Lama.
Translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins
Snow Lion: Ithaca, N.Y., 1988.
255 pp. $14.95 (paperback).

In this published version of a lecture series presented at Harvard in 1981, the Dalai Lama strongly emphasizes the "Buddhist analytic approach." In lectures on the Four Noble Truths, cyclic existence, consciousness and karma, cessation and Buddha nature, paths, meditation, altruism, valuing enemies, and wisdom, he demonstrates how the legacy of the ancient scholar-saints—the Six Ornaments of the World—can be put to use. "What is the reason for presenting these topics in such great detail?" he asks. "In the Buddhist explanation, the root of suffering comes through the force of ignorance, and the destruction of ignorance is to be brought about by analytical wisdom."

This is an introduction to Buddhism as a way of thought. A newcomer to Buddhism may be swamped, partly because these transcripts, brilliant and well edited as they are, have a terse, monotonous cadence. The Dalai Lama's warmth and compassion are far better conveyed by the question-and-answer sessions, in which he discusses everything from depression to demons.
 

Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of H.H. the Dalai Lama
Harper Collins/Harper Perennial: New York
288 pp. $10.95 (paperback).

Here is an earnest, inspiring, and wholly captivating classic of spiritual adventure. Most Buddhists know the Dalai Lama's story by heart: how he was discovered at the age of three in a remote farm family, endured a painfully lonely youth as a "god­-king," and was enthroned as Tibet's temporal leader at age fifteen in response to an imminent Chinese invasion, only to flee into India at age twenty-three. Finally, bereft of all the trappings of his religion and position and confronted by the annihilation of his people, he found an indestruc­tible inner freedom. Writing here in beguiling (if slightly fractured) English, the Dalai Lama traces these events in only roughly chronological order, stopping to recount some goofy boyhood moments, such as "blowing bubbles of spit" on prostrate worshipers. Above all, however, he writes of Tibet and his vision that it may one day be restored to freedom as a "zone of Ahimsa" (peace and nonviolence), to help "dispel the misery of the world."

MindScience: An East-West Dialogue
Edited by Daniel Goleman and Robert A.F. Thurman
With H.H. the Dalai Lama Wisdom Publications: Boston, 1991.
126 pp. $12.50 (paperback).

In this volume, the Dalai Lama opens up a dialogue with scientists about Buddhism as a "science of mind," a vast system of sacred psychology that bridges the gap between scientific materia­lism and the blind absolutism of religion. Originally presented at a symposium held at MIT in 1991, under the auspices of Tibet House and the Mind/Body Medical Institute of Harvard Medical School, these talks and conversations are a good introduction to the Buddhist concepts of mind for people interested in psychology and science in general. Although far from exhaustive, the questions raised by "hard" scientists inspire some sharp questions and observa­tions from the Dalai Lama: For example, could karma be math­ematical? The topics raised include Herbert Benson's review of his recent studies of the physiological changes that occur in gTum-mo yoga, a rarified Tibetan yoga that produces dramatic increases in oxygen consumption and body temperature; Robert Thurman explains the "inner technology" that fuels gTum-mo; research psychologist Howard Gardner provides a useful overview of Western concepts about cognition and mind. Summing up the gap between Eastern and Western models of mental health, Daniel Goleman describes the attributes of a bodhisattva—a standard that makes most of us a long way from sane.

Worlds in Harmony: Dialogues on Compassionate Action
H.H. the Dalai Lama
ParallaxPress: Berkeley, California, 1992.
160 pp. $14.00 (paperback).

In this collection, the Dalai Lama grapples with some of the most painful issues of our times. Questioned over a period of three days in 1989 by leading Buddhist psychotherapists and helping professionals about how Buddhists should view child abuse, political oppression and torture, and brute hopelessness, the Dalai Lama strikes a tone that is both practical and searching. In a lively exchange about anger, the Dalai Lama asks, "Is it necessary to express anger?" "No," they agree, but some people need to learn to allow anger and other forbidden feelings into their consciousness so that they may lose their fear of these feelings and be free of them. Another discussion speculates about the causes of the subtle denial that blinds bomb-makers to the consequences of their ingenuity. The Dalai Lama calls them "specialists," poisonously narrowed by their expertise. "This can also happen in the domain of spirituality or religious practice," he adds, explaining that the only antidote is "education." This modest book can educate beginners and experts alike about the enduring applications of Buddhist teachings.

Tantra in Tibet 
H.H. the Dalai Lama, Tsong-ka-pa, and Jeffrey Hopkins
Snow Lion: Ithaca, N.Y., 1977 252 pp. $12.95 (paperback).

Deity Yoga 
H.H. the Dalai Lama, Tsong-ka-pa, and Jeffrey Hopkins
Snow Lion: Ithaca, N. Y., 1981 274 pp. $14.95 (paperback).

Path to Bliss: A Practical Guide to Stages of Meditation
H.H. the Dalai Lama
Translated by Geshe Thubten Jinpa. Edited by Christine Cox.
Snow Lion: Ithaca, N.Y., 1991 240 pp. $12.95 (paperback).

These books represent an advanced selection in which the Dalai Lama inhabits the role of a high lama, a penetrating and supremely confident transmitter of the dharma. In Path to Bliss, rather than issuing commentary on sacred tradition, he acts as an intimate spiritual guide, explaining the ancient system of meditation known as Lam Rim. These books may not make appropriate "stocking stuffers" for the uninitiated, but for those who have dipped their toes in the stream of dharma, they are treasures.

—Tracy Cochran

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