Books in Brief Spring 2001

THE BODHISATTVA VOW

Geshe Sonam Rinchen,
trans. Ruth Sonam
Snow Lion Publications: Ithaca,
New York, 2000
235 pp.; $14.95 (paper)

Geshe Sonam Rinchen, a Tibetan scholar living in Dharamsala, presents the work of Chandragomin, the eighth-century author of Twenty Verses on the Bodhisattva Vow. Rinchen begins with lengthy introductory material about such subjects as loving attention and compassion. The short text is then presented in English translation with Rinchen’s commentary. The Tibetan text is also included.bodhisattva

Primarily a plea for ethical behavior, Chandragomin’s Twenty Verses is used by His Holiness the Dalai Lama when bestowing the Boddhisattva Vow (a commitment to help liberate all beings) and includes proscriptions on everything from gossip to greed. The fantastical traditional biography of Chandragomin and other extensive appendixes are included.

BEING UPRIGHT
Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts

reb andersonReb Anderson

Rodmell Press: Berkeley, 2000

232 pp.; $24.95 (cloth)

When Reb Anderson began his Zen practice in 1964, the pervasive assumption of American students new to Zen was that meditation alone defined this Buddhist tradition. Subsequently, when Anderson’s studies broadened to include the precepts, he came across a Japanese text called The Essence of Zen Precepts, which incorporates three consecutive commentaries on the Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts. Being Upright is Anderson Roshi’s own commentary on this text. Using personal anecdotes and poignant stories about his teacher, Suzuki Roshi, as well as drawing on Buddhist history and the lively exchanges of old masters, the author delivers a wise and compassionate look at the precepts. By locating so much of his commentary in a contemporary context, Anderson makes it abundantly clear that the precepts are not only integral to Zen Buddhist practice, but also have the capacity to help anyone sort through the moral complexities that so often beset modern life.

POPULAR BUDDHIST TEXTS FROM NEPAL
Narratives and Rituals of Newar Buddhism

By Todd L. Lewis, Translations in Collaboration with Subarna Man Tuladhar and Labh Ratna Tuladhar
SUNY Press: Albany, New York, 2000
236 pp.; $19.95 (paper)

texts from nepalAlthough Buddhism died out on much of the Indian subcontinent, the Newars, an ethnic minority of Nepal, never gave it up. They have been practicing Mahayana Buddhism in the Kathmandu valley continuously, and lived in independent Buddhist city-states until 1769. Todd Lewis takes a look at the practices, myths, and unique texts preserved by the Newars in this book. He brings to light a type of “Indic Mahayana-Vajrayana Buddhism” that emphasizes the devotion of householders and merchants, and exoteric practices like stupa veneration and public rituals.

Lewis draws some interesting parallels between Newari Buddhism and the Tibetan Nyingmapa school, and he introduces and partially translates parts of five texts from Nepal. The content of these texts varies considerably from mythic material to mantra recitation. In each case Lewis discusses the “domestication” of the text, which he defines as a “historical process by which a religious tradition is adapted to a region or ethnic group’s socioeconomic and cultural life.” Popular Buddhist Texts from Nepal includes black-and-white photography and line drawings.

popular  buddhist  texts from nepal

THE TIBETAN ASSIMILATION OF BUDDHISM

Conversion, Contestation, and Memory

Matthew T. Kapstein

Oxford University Press: New York, 2000

316 pp.; $24.95 (cloth)

Matthew Kapstein’s book The Tibetan Assimilation of Buddhism covers the history of Tibet from the reign of Songtsen Gampo (circa 650 C.E.) to Tsongkapa’s founding of the Gelukpa order (circa 1400 C.E.). Within this extensive time frame he addresses the introduction of Buddhism to the Tibetan plateau, the conversion of the Tibetan populace and royalty, and the eventual rise of the competing religious orders of modern Tibetan Buddhism.

Kapstein adeptly handles such disparate subjects as the rise of Tibetan scholasticism and the relationship of Bon (the indigenous, pre-Buddhist religion of Tibet) to Buddhism. He also includes a wealth of mythic material and interprets it in light of its historical significance, with sometimes surprising results.

The chapter “The Matricide Rudra,” for example, tells of a demon, Rudra, born the bastard son of a devil, a king, and a god. Rudra is eventually destroyed by a wrathful form of Avalokitesvara, Hayagriva, who enters Rudra’s body via the “lower gate” or anus and destroys him by then expanding his body to an enormous size and rupturing the demon’s body from within. Kapstein presents the myth in the context of a discussion of the development of the Nyingmapa school, tantra in Tibet, and the relationship between myth and philosophy in general.

THE PATH TO BODHIDHARMA

The Teachings of Shodo Harada Roshi

Translated by Priscilla Daichi Storandt

Tuttle Publishing: Rutland, Vermont, 2000

191 pp.; $15.95 (cloth)

Shodo Harada Roshi, abbot of the 300-year-old Sogen-ji monastery in Okayama, Japan, mixes discourse with Zen history in The Path to Bodhidharma. Using short selections from Bodhidharma’s “Outline of Practice” and Hakuin Zenji’s more lyrical “Song of Zazen” as points of departure, Harada embarks on a journey from the Zen patriarchs through discussions on zazen, sesshin, enlightenment, and Japanese history.

A chapter on a very physical occurrence - the Kobe earthquake of 1995 - later counterbalances these abstract discussions. Only one hour outside of Kobe, the monks at Harada’s monastery felt the earthquake and responded by collecting money for disaster relief. “In the new era we have seemingly made progress in superficial form,” Harada muses, “but in this one instant of the earthquake that superficial form was destroyed, demolished. How transient.”

The Path to Bodhidharma includes a question and answer section and a helpful glossary of terms and historical personages.

Music

CDs relating  to Tibet

Three new CDs relating to Tibet: A Western pop compilation, an American’s recordings in Tibet, and the voice of a Tibetan freedom singer

MANTRA MIX
Various Artists
Narada World, 2000
Enhanced CD; $17.97

TIBET: JOURNEY TO THE ROOF OF THE WORLD
Paul Horn
Transparent Music, 2000 $17.97

SKY TREASURE
Techung and Kit Walker
Available at kitwalker.com
$15.00

Mantra Mix is a two-CD compilation including Fatboy Slim, David Byrne, Madonna, and Ben Harper, who, along with the other featured artists, have donated their royalties to the Office of the Dalai Lama in order to benefit Tibetan refugees. Philip Glass, who contributed the cinematic-sounding “Compassion in Exile,” explains that “. . . the music aims to create an emotional point of view that acknowledges the courage, strength and the loneliness of the Tibetan people in their difficult struggle.”

Paul Horn’s Tibet is an aural document of the famous flautist’s own pilgrimage to Tibet. He was able to record inside the Potala, with workers who were repairing the Norbulingka, and with many Tibetan and Nepalese musicians. The disc is also the soundtrack for an upcoming PBS documentary, Journey Inside Tibet.

Tibetan singer Techung, also known as Tashi Dhondup, is the founder of Chaksam-pa, a Tibetan Dance and Opera Company based in San Francisco. Sky Treasure is a selection of nine traditional and original songs sung in Tibetan and recorded in collaboration with world music and jazz musician Kit Walker.

DEITIES OF TIBETAN BUDDHISM Deities of Tibetan Buddhism

The Zurich Paintings of the Icons Worthwhile to See

Martin Willson and Martin Brauen, Eds.

Wisdom Publications: Boston, 2000

624pp.; $240.00 (cloth)

Co-editor Martin Willson spent more than a decade translating and documenting this work, an encyclopedia of Buddhist icons based on a collection of over five hundred images of Tibetan deities. The images were originally created to serve as initiation cards, used in ceremonies to introduce the practitioner to the deity and the practices that are used in relationship to the deity.

Intended to be an indispensable reference tool for serious students of Tibetan art and religion, Deities offers a wealth of supplementary material, including English translations of the basic invocation texts; the associated visualization with descriptions of the deities’ postures, attributes, and colors; and mantras used in their invocation.

SACRED ENCOUNTERS: EAST AND WEST Rangoon, 1997, Marcia Lippman

Photographs by Marcia Lippman

Text by bell hooks and Barbara

Grizzuti Harrison

Abbeville Press: New York, 2000

144pp.; $70.00 (cloth)

Marcia Lippman describes herself in the introduction to this book as a child who was always “lost in the pages of the National Geographic.” The adult became, of course, a traveler, “in search of those secret qualities and essential inner voices that are drowned out, or go unexplored in the routines of daily life.”

The work in Sacred Encounters, Lippman’s first monograph, is the fruit of two decades of travel, of seeing the world, as she puts it, “through beginner’s eyes.” Her sepia-toned, black-and-white images are named only with the place and the date - titles like Beauchamp Point, 1978, or Nyaung-oo, 1995 - and smoky landscapes are intermingled with marble angels and moss-covered bodhisattvas. As Barbara Grizzuti Harrison offers in the afterword: “The world is a haunted place, and Lippman’s photographs know this.”

Image 1: The Bodhisattva  Vow
Image 2:Headshot of Reb Anderson
Image 3 & 4:Photographs from Popular Buddhist Texts From Nepal
Image 5: CD covers
Image 6 : From Deities of Tibetan Buddhism: Three Images of the wrathful deity Vajrapani. These are initiation cards used to introduce practitioners to the pantheon of deities in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
Image 7: Rangoon, 1997, Marcia Lippman

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