Books in Brief Winter 2003

Joan Duncan Oliver

So you went to the Dalai Lama’s teachings in New York in September and found yourself riveted by the spirited investigation of the logical basis of Buddhist philosophy? Now it’s time for

Maps of the Profound: Jam-Yang-Shay-Ba’s Great Exposition of Buddhist and Non-Buddhist Views on the Nature of Reality (

Snow Lion, January 2004, $49.95 cloth), Jeffrey Hopkins’ 1,136-page masterpiece on the pathways to reality, centering on a translation of the seventeenth-century Tibetan scholar Jamyang Shayba’s monumental text on the Tibetan tenet system. Hopkins, one of the West’s foremost Tibet scholars, follows the translation with incisive commentary by Jamyang Shayba and the eighteenth-century Mongolian scholar Ngawang Belden.

Chögye Trichen Rinpoche, the seniormost Shakya lama today and the “teachers’ teacher” (his disciples include the Dalai Lama and Shakya Trizin) offers quintessential teachings on the nature of mind and pitfalls of the spiritual path in Parting from the Four Attachments: A Commentary On Jetsun Drakpa Gyaltsen’s Song of Experience On Mind Training and the View (Snow Lion, 2003, $15.95 paper).

In Path to Buddhahood: Teachings On Gampopa’s Jewel Ornament of Liberation (Shambhala, 2003, $16.95 cloth). Ringu Tulku Rinpoche presents an important eleventh-century Kagyu text on the fundamentals of the gradual path, in language that resonates with Westerners today. Matthieu Ricard, in his forward, calls this “one of the best introductions we currently have.”

Robert Beer does a service for scholars—as well as anyone interested in Tibetan art—in The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols (Shambhala, 2003, $24.95 paper). A compact version of Beer’s signal work, The Encyclopedia of Tibetan Symbols and Motifs, it contains hundreds of his precise line drawings of mudras, mythic creatures, ritual objects, and other traditional motifs, with explanatory text.

Offering basic guidance for a meaningful life, Erik Pema Kunsang’s A Tibetan Buddhist Companion (Shambhala, 2003, $18.95 cloth) contains pithy quotes, poems, and prayers, along with instructions for incorporating them into a daily practice. “Begin with bodhichitta, the good heart,” suggests the author, a respected translator of Vajrayana texts.

Several generations of Zen practitioners have been rapt students of Katsuki Sekida’s modern classic, Zen Training: Methods And Philosophy, first published by Weatherhill in 1975. But Marc Allen—Sekida’s typist during a six-month stay at Maui Zendo in Honolulu in the 1970s—apparently decided that today’s practitioners would find the detailed text “daunting.” Now editorial director of New World Library, Allen boiled down the 100,000-word original into A Guide to Zen: Lessons From a Modern Master (New World Library, 2003, $16.00 cloth). Happily, he kept much of Sekida’s elegant commentary on the ten ox-herding pictures. And he gives us a rare glimpse of this little-known master, as in this description of Sekida’s writing process: “He first did a vigorous series of physical exercises, then took a vigorous walk, swinging his arms wildly and widely, and then he sat perfectly straight on a stool and wrote for hours at a stretch, longhand, on big sheets of unlined paper set on an artist’s easel.”

Thich Nhat Hanh’s peace activities this fall included addressing members of the Faith and Politics Institute, a bipartisan group of U.S. politicians (see “A Monk Goes to Washington,” page 23). Thich Nhat Hanh drew on his new book Joyfully Together: The Art of Building Community (Parallax Press, 2003, $10.00 paper), which includes methods for nonviolent communication. In two other new books, the Vietnamese Zen monk focuses on the sutras. Finding Our True Home: Living the Pure Land Here and Now (Parallax Press, 2003, $12.00 paper) is a new translation of the Amitabha Sutra, a core text of the Pure Land School, with commentary exploring the truth that happiness and suffering go hand in hand. Opening the Heart of the Cosmos: Insights On the Lotus Sutra (Parallax Press, 2003, $26.00 cloth) sums up ten years of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on the Saddharmapundarika, or “King of Sutras.” Its message of inclusiveness—that all share the capacity for Buddhahood—is the basis of engaged Buddhism.

John Daido Loori contributed the foreword to The Lankavatara Sutra, The Epitomized Version (Monkfish Publishing, November 2003, $18.00 cloth), a major Mahayana text said to have been taken to China by the Indian monk Bodhidharma. With a translation by D. T. Suzuki, compiled and edited by Dwight Goddard, this is the first volume in the Provenance Editions line of spiritual classics from a new publisher, Monkfish Publishing, based in Rhinebeck, New York.

Direct experience is the thrust of filmmaker John Bush’s new DVD series. Bush, who first went East in search of Buddha three decades ago, returned with his camera to visit ancient temples and sacred sites, and record the living spiritual tradition. Dharma River: Journey of a Thousand Buddhas (Direct Pictures, 85 min., $29.95 DVD/VHS) takes us on a yatra, or pilgrimage, through Laos, Thailand, and Burma. The DVD format allows viewers to choose a soundtrack with narration or, for a more meditative experience, a music-only track combining indigenous music with an original score by David Hykes and the Harmonic Choir. Next in the Yatra Series are Prana Earth: Cambodia, Bali & Java, and Vajra Sky: A Pilgrimage to Tibet.

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