Books in Brief Fall 2013

Alex Caring-Lobel

A Field Guide to Lucid DreamingFor Buddhists, exploration and discovery have always referred to an inner journey, and the oldest, most formidable frontier remains the mind. While the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks long knew the divine power of dreams, no one experimented with this royal road—or passed on their techniques—quite as effectively as Tibetan yogis. They were pioneers of lucid dreaming, the experience of being consciously aware while in a dream state. For Tibetan Buddhists, dream yoga remains a high tantric teaching, unapproachable to most explorers. 

Three young, New York–based oneironautics (“dream navigators”) have come along to fish these techniques out of esoterica. Pulling from a wide array of luciddreaming traditions, they offer step-by-step instructions in A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming: Mastering the Art of Oneironautics (Workman Publishing, September 2013, $12.95, 288 pp., paper). The handbook progresses from mastering dream recollection, a fundamental prerequisite for going lucid, to using dreams to gain insight into the nature of reality. 

The authors, filmmakers Dylan Tuccillo, Jared Zeizel, and Thomas Peisel, waste no time in offering Lesson #1: Ask yourself “Am I dreaming?” A healthy suspicion of reality is the first step to being able to wake within a dream. “Becoming aware of this present moment,” an echo of what Buddhists are already so used to hearing, “is the key to lucid dreaming.” The book suggests using the technique of meditating within the lucid dream, which, though reserved for advanced practitioners, bootstraps awareness and lucidity to new heights. Before that, warn the authors, beginners are likely to seek cheap thrills: “Flying and having sex seem to be the first activities of the novice lucid dreamer.” Flying takes up a whole section, which details how to take off and manage speed and agility (“As a novice flier, try to avoid turns”), with particular attention given to how to land without waking yourself up. From there, dreamers can experiment with other methods of travel like teleportation, walking through walls, and even time travel, all while safely tucked in bed. 

The guide begins in shallow, navigable waters, and slowly submerges to greater depths: 

The goal of lucid dreaming is not to sleep away your life, but to bring this increased awareness into your every day existence. When we learn to be come lucid in our lives, we become more aware of our surroundings; more aware of our reality and how we are engaging with it, shaping it, and communicating with it. 

Once you’ve had your fill of celebrity-sex and time travel, that is. 


What Matters MostIn April 2006, the Japanese cultural anthropologist Noriyuki Ueda met the Dalai Lama for two days of conversation in Dharamsala. The discussion, translated from the Japanese under the title The Dalai Lama on What Matters Most: Conversation on Anger, Compassion, and Action (Hampton Roads, September 2013, $12.95, 336 pp., paper), is an erudite and comprehensive interview with the global spiritual leader. “I believe that Buddhism has a big role to play in the world today,” Ueda tells His Holiness, “and I am impatient because Buddhists don’t seem to realize that.” The dialogue takes this point as a pivot, spinning every which way from politics and economics to the difference between love and attachment to the oft-misunderstood concept of emptiness. 

In the interview, His Holiness connects fundamental ethical values to political and social ideals that best represent them. “I am not only a socialist but also a bit leftist, a communist. . . . I am a Marxist,” he states. “I think I am farther to the left than the Chinese leaders,” he adds, cracking himself up. “They are capitalists.” Throughout much of the conversation, His Holiness offers convincing critiques of capitalism, speaking of “exploitation” and the effects of social organization on human values. 

While His Holiness and Ueda cover a wide range of topics, it’s the candid remarks on socioeconomics and social justice that make this dialogue stand out. “Anger that is motivated by compassion or a desire to correct social injustice,” says the Dalai Lama, “is a good anger that is worth having.” 


Love Your EnemiesThat said, we’re all eager to overcome our bad anger and the suffering that accompanies it. But to extend lovingkindness to one’s enemies seems not only immensely difficult but also, at first thought, counterproductive. Vipassana teacher Sharon Salzberg and professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies Robert Thurman assure us that while this might be hard, it’s actually the most effective way to combat our own anger and enact social change. Inspired by a workshop the two have been teaching for the past eight years, Love Your Enemies: How to Break the Anger Habit and Be a Whole Lot Happier (Hay House, October 2013, $24.95, 216 pp., cloth) provides teachings and meditative techniques to stop anger and enemy-making in their tracks. The crux—and quickly divulged spoiler—is “Ultimately, we have no enemies.” 

Although the main source of inspiration for these teachings and practices is Buddhism, the presentation is accessible to anyone of any belief—or no belief at all. The book progresses in four parts according to Tibetan Buddhist mind-training techniques, beginning with the outermost enemy and progressing through the inner enemy, the secret enemy, and the innermost, super-secret enemy. 

“Regardless of which enemies we are facing,” say the authors, “the method of overcoming them is the same.” This always begins with critical wisdom: “unflinching, uncompromising, even ferocious,” writes Thurman, “yet at the same time, subtle and tender.” In the end, we are able to develop compassion for our enemies, and root out the self-addiction that impels it. Throughout, Salzberg and Thurman maintain a casual, sometimes playful attitude (try Thurman’s “Shantideva Challenge”) and don’t hesitate to pull from personal experience and psychology—most helpful in the case of self-hatred, for the benefit particularly of Western readers. 


Walk like a BuddhaLike Lodro Rinzler’s “Dear Abby”–style dharma book The Buddha Walks Into a Bar, its sophomore rehash, Walk Like a Buddha: Even if Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex Is Torturing You, and You’re Hungover Again (Shambhala, October 2013, $14.95, 224 pp., paper), targets the youngest generation of (drinking-age) Buddhists, including those born, like Rinzler, to convert-Buddhist parents. Shambhala teachings– and meditation–centric, the book presents a worldly brand of Buddhism for 20-somethings walking the treacherous path of the Upper Middle Way. Many readers will be delighted by a welcome departure from goody-goody attitudes toward Buddhist practice in Rinzler’s earnest dealings with “taboo” subjects like sex and binge drinking, as well as only speciously controversial topics like getting a tattoo, taking prescribed meds, and being gay. Others might recognize that familiar, contrived voice of youth so often used to characterize America’s latest “wayward” generation—and then sell things to them. 

Rinzler confidently fields questions (all of which he claims to have been asked at one point or another) from trusting young followers who seem to want more than anything to be Buddhist but often have little idea of what that entails. This no-question-off-limits panache is both the novelty of the book and its greatest weakness. Is it okay to be gay and Buddhist? Is there anything non-Buddhist about joining a dating website? Can one “wear nice clothes and flamboyant hats” and still be Buddhist? Rinzler’s answer to these questions is an obvious “Yes, it’s okay,” followed by woolly qualifications like “If I felt that I was no longer being mindful, or present, with what was going on, then I should stop.” When he later dispenses “mindful drinking” advice from Trungpa Rinpoche, it’s impossible to ignore the giant “dark zone” Rinzler creates by neglecting the fact that the tulku died at a young age from complications related to heavy drinking. 

Despite its oversights, Walk Like A Buddha tries harder than almost any other dharma book to be contemporary, taking on Facebook use, online shopping, and challenges like how to overcome “fomo” (“the fear of missing out”) on a potentially epic Friday night outing. For those who yearn for dharma books with Arrested Development references and musings on brunch, this is likely the first and only.

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