Books in Brief Fall 2003

Joan Duncan Oliver

Cultivating Compassion

Practices for raising compassion have special resonance these days. Becoming the Compassion Buddha: Tantric Mahamudra in Everyday Life (Wisdom, 2003, $14.95, paper) is edited from the late Lama Thubten Yeshe’s teachings on a commentary the Dalai Lama wrote at age 19, on a practice called “The Inseparability of the Guru and Avalokiteshvara: A Source of All Powerful Attainments.” In this practice, the deity is visualized in the form of one’s guru. His Holiness is regarded as the manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, so visualizing him as the deity isn’t a stretch. The benefit, Lama Yeshe explains, is that in seeing the guru as inseparable from the compassion and wisdom of Avalokiteshvara, “you start to see the inseparability of these qualities and yourself.” This is the first volume in a Wisdom series on tantric deity practices in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

The Compassion Box (Shambhala, September, $26.95) is Pema Chödrön’s toolkit for learning Tibetan Buddhist practices for compassion and equanimity. Lojong, as taught in the Shambhala tradition, uses pithy slogans to dissolve self-centeredness and unkindness. The kit includes a deck of fifty-nine cards, each with a maxim on the front—”Examine the nature of unborn awareness”; “Be grateful to everyone”; “Don’t wait in ambush”—and, on the back, a commentary. The accompanying book, Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living, provides help in understanding and applying the slogans. The third tool is a 45-minute audio CD of Pema’s instructions on tonglen, a meditation practice for opening the heart.

Perhaps the most intimate and intense practice of compassion is being present with someone who is dying. But how do we prepare for that? Being a Compassionate Companion: Teachings, Stories, and Practical Wisdom for Those Accompanying Someone Who Is Dying (3 CD-set, 3 hours, $26.95), speaks to our questions and concerns about serving the dying and walking “the landscape of grief.” Our guide is Frank Ostaseski, founder of the Zen Hospice Project, the first Buddhist hospice in America. Order from the Zen Hospice Project, www.zenhospice.org.

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