Books in Brief (May 2014)
Shambhala Sun | May 2014
Books in Brief
By ANDREA MILLER
Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal
By Ava Chin
Simon & Schuster 2014; 256 pp., $25 (cloth)
Don’t read Eating
Wildly when you’re hungry. Ava Chin has such a luscious knack for
describing anything steamed, sautéed, or deep-fried that you’ll be left with
your mouth watering and your stomach grumbling. She recreates the dishes of her
Chinese-American childhood, such as lobster Cantonese with lacy egg whites and
soy sauce chicken wings dripping in brown-sugar glaze, but foraging in New York
and other urban jungles is her specialty. She takes us on her hunts for savory
lambsquarters, mellow-sweet mulberries, and morels infused with the taste of
earth and springtime. For Chin, foraging is a moving meditation that has a
healing quality. Bit by bit, bite by bite, she comes to terms with her romantic
failures, her grandmother’s death, and the long-lingering pain of her father’s abandonment.
This story of self-discovery is complete with recipes.
THE PATH TO
Seven Points of Mind Training Can Lead You to a Life of Enlightenment and Happiness
By Shamar Rinpoche,
edited and translated by Lara Braitstein
Delphinium Books 2014; 178 pp., $14.95 (paper)
While the Tibetan
term lojong translates into English as “mind training,” the practice
transforms the heart as well. It was established in Tibet by the celebrated yogi-scholar Atisha (c. 982–1054) and
for years was only taught orally. Then Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101–1175) wrote The
Root Text of the Seven Points of Mind Training, in which he summarized
lojong into fifty-nine pithy aphorisms or slogans and divided them into seven
sections. One way that lojong can be practiced is to memorize these slogans so
they will pop into your mind when you need them. “Train uninterruptedly” and
“Do not hold on to anger” are two that seem fairly straightforward. Others are
quite obscure, such as “Guard the two even at the cost of your life” and “Make
the three inseparable.” Generation after generation of teachers have commented
on The Root Text of the Seven Points of Mind Training, and The Path
to Awakening is the Kagyu figure Shamar Rinpoche’s contribution.
By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press 2014; 208 pp., $12.95 (paper)
Do not kill, steal,
commit sexual misconduct, lie, or take intoxicants. Thich Nhat Hanh recognized
the timeless wisdom of these traditional Buddhist precepts but wanted to make
them more accessible for people today. So he rewrote them using fresh,
contemporary language, taking into account the realities of this modern world,
including the Internet, video games, television, and climate change. In his
version, Thich Nhat Hanh calls the five precepts “the five mindfulness
trainings,” and he lists them as: reverence for life, true happiness, true
love, deep listening and loving speech, and nourishment and healing. In The
Mindfulness Survival Kit, he delves deeply into the trainings and offers
concrete practices for each. He emphasizes that the trainings are free of
dogma, religion, and sectarianism, and they can be adopted by anyone, not just
Boundaries of Self and Other
By Ellen Birx
Wisdom Publications 2014; 248 pp., $15.95 (paper)
“Our lives are
constrained,” says Zen teacher Ellen Birx, “because we have a limited view of
who we are and who God is.” For Birx, the word “God” refers to the unknowable,
the ineffable. In short, God is a synonym for ultimate reality. Selfless
Love begins with two chapters on why and how to meditate, and Birx, who has
a Ph.D. in psychiatric nursing, informs this material with her solid knowledge
of cognitive science. But she is clear about her personal motivation, which is
spiritual. Meditation, as she sees it, is a kind of prayer, and its purpose is
to let go of all concepts and experience unbounded awareness. When we have this
direct experience of no-self, we can express our own unique gifts without being
self-centered. As Birx puts it, “You and God are not two separate realities.
God loves. You love. God’s love and your love are one reality.”
DAILY DOSES OF
A Year of
Edited by Josh
Wisdom Publications 2013; 438 pp., $16.95 (paper)
From the editor of Daily
Wisdom comes Daily Doses of Wisdom, a new collection of 365
contemplative quotes, plus nine longer selections. Contributors include the
poet Jane Hirshfield, the psychoanalyst and Zen teacher Barry Magid, and the
Buddhist ecologist Stephanie Kaza, as well as the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi,
Dogen, and the Buddha. From kindness to koans, fairness to freedom, a broad
range of topics are explored. “Use your own problems to remember that others
have problems too,” said by Kathleen McDonald, is one of the pithier quotes
that I enjoyed. Another is Issa’s classic haiku: “The world of dew/Is the world
of dew./And yet, and yet…” Bartok, who is head teacher at the Greater Boston
Zen Center, suggests reading one quote each day upon waking up or before going
to sleep or meditating. But he also points out that there is no wrong time for
the dharma, which is, as the Buddha put it, “good in the beginning, good in the
middle, and good in the end.”
JET BLACK AND
THE NINJA WIND
By Leza Lowitz and
Tuttle 2013; 320 pp., $17.99 (cloth)
Growing up in New
Mexico, Jet has a secret. Unlike the other kids in her class who watch TV in
the evenings, she is always training with her mother—learning things like how
to fight, how to hide, how to move without being heard. But Jet doesn’t
understand why she needs these skills. Then, when she’s seventeen years old,
her mother dies, leaving her with the instruction to go to Japan—her mother’s
native land—and find her grandfather. Suddenly Jet is thrust into a dangerous
world, but slowly she unravels its mystery. Jet Black and the Ninja Wind
is a young adult novel that will entertain readers with action and romance
while also exposing them to Japanese culture and history, focusing particularly
on the Emishi tribes and their struggle to save their land. The Buddhist thread
that runs through the story makes it a natural choice for budding
SWEEPS THE MIND
Written by Fa Ze,
illustrated by Du Lu
Buddha’s Light Publishing 2013; 28 pp., $8.95 (paper)
Little Panka Sweeps the Mind is a colorful treat of a picture book for children ages three to
eight. It tells the story of Culapanthaka—Little Panka—and his remarkable
achievement in the face of challenges. Big Panka, his elder brother, was a
quick study. But Little Panka could never remember anything, so eventually his
teacher gave up on him and Big Panka drove him from the temple. All alone,
Little Panka sobbed. Then suddenly the Buddha was at his side, offering to be
his teacher and instructing him to sweep while repeating the verse: “I sweep
the dust, I remove the waste.” Little Panka struggled to remember the words,
yet he kept sweeping and repeating, and after a long time he began to ask
himself what it meant to sweep. More time passed, and he realized that in his
mind there was dust and waste that couldn’t be removed with a broom. Clearing
his mind of dust and waste such as anger and pride, Little Panka opened his
heart to kindness, gratitude, and modesty. The Buddha recognized Little Panka
as an awakened one.
Inside the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine
Look inside the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine
FEATURING: Judy Lief, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, and John Tarrant on The Real Problem with Distraction; George Saunders on kindness; the way of freerunning; plus: Sakyong Mipham on why believing in basic goodness is our hope for the future; Andrea Miller on America’s Next Top Model winner (and Buddhist) Naima Mora; Twin Peak‘s Dale Cooper is recalled as a “dharma friend” as the series returns to the public consciousness; plus book reviews, About a Poem, and more.
Click titles below to read excerpts and select complete articles.
this issue's editorial:
Melvin McLeod on distraction, enlightenment, and what Buddhism offers us as we try to cut through to the very root of our suffering.
special feature section: the real problem with distraction
Buddhism’s deeper take on a modern obsession
What is it we’re working so hard to distract ourselves from? It’s enlightenment, says Buddhist teacher Judy Lief. She explains why letting go of all our distractions and entertainments is the path to awakening.
It can be hard to tell what’s distraction and what could have real meaning for our life. But either way, says Zen teacher John Tarrant, there’s no going back.
No self, no form, no goal—the worst possible news from ego’s
point of view. Thich Nhat Hanh on the deep truths we’re distracting
We have the illusion that multitasking makes us more
efficient, but that’s not true. Sharon Salzberg offers tips for getting
work done well without getting worked up.
The famed writer talks about a little girl named Ellen, a
failure of kindness, and a convocation speech that went viral. An interview by
the Shambhala Sun’s Melvin McLeod.
Freerunning, or parkour, isn’t merely a daredevil’s
game. It’s a way of being. Vincent Thibault on how running, jumping, and
climbing can beautify our cities—and our lives.With a photo essay by Andy Day.
It took an illness of the brain to discover her inherent
sanity. Meg Hutchinson tells us why her breakdown was actually a
Believing in humanity’s basic goodness, says Sakyong
Mipham, is our hope for the future.
We overlook the Man of Steel’s greatest power, his selflessness. Koun Franz on why he and his son aspire to be superheroes.
For Naima Mora, being a model goes beyond striking a pose.
As she tells Andrea Miller, it’s about making the world a better place.
Sometimes after a phone call, nothing is ever the same. But if you let it, says Douglas Penick, the bad news can come to feel a little like falling in love.
Oak and maple, palm and pine—trees are our closest neighbors and most patient teachers. Henry Shukman on the common roots of people and trees.
reviews & more
Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, Blu-ray set
reviewed by Rod Meade Sperry
Books in Brief
This issue, Andrea Miller's roundup features books by Shamar Rinpoche, Ava
Chin, Leza Lowitz, and more.
Pat Enkyo O’Hara on an anonymous poem by a Sung Dynasty nun
Shambhala Sun, March 2014, Volume Twenty Two, Number 4.
On the cover: Taken at the Nam June Paik Art Center, Gyeonggi-do, Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Ana Nance/Redux.
Editorial: The Practicality of the Profound (May 2014)
Shambhala Sun | May 2014
The Practicality of the Profound
Like a lot of families, we have a screen problem. Sometimes
we’ll all be in the same room on our own screens, separated from each other,
from our environment, and ultimately, from ourselves. We share the space, but otherwise
we’re in our own worlds.
When people talk about distraction these days, this is
usually what they mean. It’s a very real problem, and to help us deal with it,
the meditation tradition offers us helpful techniques to create gaps and pauses
in which we can unplug and reconnect with ourselves. But as simple and
immediately beneficial as that is, it could also be the first step on a path
that goes very far—all the way to enlightenment, in fact.
In this issue, we take a deeper look at the problem of distraction.
It is not just a modern obsession. According to Buddhism, it is ego’s
fundamental defense mechanism. What we are actually distracting ourselves
from—what we are protecting ourselves against—is the open space and full
intensity of reality.
Enlightenment is both a promise and a threat. Take a look at
what are traditionally called the three doors of liberation, which Thich Nhat
Hanh teaches us about in this issue. The three doors are no self, no identity,
and no goal. Is there worse possible news if we’re holding onto the experience
of ourselves as solid, continuous, and fixed? Liberation sounds good, until we
realize that what we’re liberating ourselves from is ourselves. From ego’s
point of view, enlightenment is the worst possible news.
To shield ourselves, we must always stay occupied with
goals, distractions, entertainments, and experiences. In fact, you could argue
that our very world is a form of distraction. We need other to confirm self,
and so we create an entire universe of perceptions, emotions, and concepts to
protect ourselves against the ultimate reality of no self, no identity, and no
Distraction is a form of ignorance, and as Chögyam Trungpa
Rinpoche pointed out, ignorance is extremely clever. The ways that ego creates
constant distractions, entertainments, and occupations are myriad and
deceptive. In her insightful teaching in this issue, Judy Lief unpacks the
world of distraction layer by layer. She takes us on the journey of working
with distraction, a path that starts with taking a few minutes away from our
screens to breathe some fresh air, and ends when we’re face-to-face with the
complete openness and intense energy of enlightened mind.
This is the union of the practical and the profound, and it
is Buddhism’s great genius. If ignorance is the root of our suffering, then the
antidote is deep insight into the true nature of mind and reality. So the
really practical solutions are found in profound understanding. And profound
understanding is found in addressing the human condition. Real practicality is
profound; real profundity is practical.
Chögyam Trungpa talked about the spiritual path as a kind of
surgery. Cutting through our discursive thoughts—or our screen addiction, for
that matter—is like making the first incision. It is only the beginning of the
operation. In the end, we must cut through to the very root of our
suffering—our distractions, our struggles, our fears, our very experience of
self and reality. If we don’t do that, if we stop at the first incision, we
will not really be cured. This union of the profound and practical is what
Buddhism offers us.
—Melvin Mcleod, Editor-in-chief
The Dharma of Distraction (May 2014)
Shambhala Sun | May 2014
EXCERPT / ON THE COVER
The Dharma of Distraction
It goes a lot deeper than how many times a day you check
your phone. According to Buddhist teacher JUDY LIEF, distraction is the
very foundation of ego, the way we protect ourselves against both the pain of
life and the open space of awakened mind. You could even say that letting go of
all distraction is the path to enlightenment.
everywhere, all the time. Little screens, middling screens, gigantic screens.
Instead of Plato’s cave, we each create our own little cave and live in a world
of flickering images devoid of real substance. We literally screen off our
actual world, with all its ruggedness and rawness, and fit whatever is
happening into a virtual world of sound, pictures, and videos we carry in our
We are so easily
distracted, we complain to ourselves. But what is really behind all this
distractedness? It is easy to think the relentless external stimuli are the
problem, but what we are surrounded by are just phenomena, nothing more. The
objects of our world are just there, innocently, just being what they are.
Noises are just noises, sights are just sights, objects are just objects,
smartphones are just smartphones, computers are just computers, thoughts are
That is why the
Buddhist teachings talk more in terms of wandering mind than distractions. When
we think in terms of distractions, we look outward and blame external
conditions for our jumpiness. When we think in terms of wandering mind, we look
inward for the source of our problem. We take responsibility.
Model Buddhist: Q&A with Naima Mora (May 2014)
Shambhala Sun | May 2014
For NAIMA MORA, being a fashion model goes beyond striking
a pose. As she tells Andrea Miller, it’s about doing her part to make the world a better place.
with its iconic images of Shakyamuni in simple robes, and then there’s the
fashion industry, with its legion of willowy, airbrushed models and its
plethora of this season’s stuff. Are these two worlds at odds? Not at all, says
Naima Mora, who has modeled for such big-name companies as CoverGirl and Elle
“Buddhism is about
everyday life,” she explains. “The average person here and now—anyone—has the
potential to attain enlightenment. I decided that I wanted to be a model. Then
I had to decide what to do with that. I could be self-absorbed and not do
anything besides book my work and live my own life, but I decided to take my
successes and use them as a platform to encourage people. That can be said
about any career or path. Whatever path we choose is always an opportunity to
reveal our buddhanature.”
Mora got her start
in modeling while working at a coffee shop. Some casting scouts came in and
asked her if she wanted to audition for America’s Next Top Model. It
wasn’t long before she had a place on the internationally syndicated show.
filming, Mora and the other aspiring models were on location in Cape Town,
South Africa, when they visited Robben Island. To Mora, the rows of cells
seemed endless, but finally the group came to the single cramped cell that had
held Nelson Mandela for eighteen years. The guide asked who would like to open
the door, and everyone fell silent.
Knowing she’d never
have this chance again, Mora took the master key to the prison in her hand and
felt the cold, iron weight of it. Then, fingers trembling, she turned the key
in the lock. The door swung open.
Growing up amid the
violence and poverty of Detroit, Mora had struggled to believe that there was
hope for a better future. At age fifteen, she was held up at gunpoint for the
first time on her way home from school. Some of her closest friends were
murdered; others were victims of statutory rape. Yet Mora also had positive
role models, and this made all the difference.
Andrea Miller is deputy editor of the Shambhala Sun. Her new anthology is Buddha’s
Daughters: Teachings from Women Who Are Shaping Buddhism in the West.
Photo by Nia Mora-Moynihan.
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