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Books in Brief (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014

Books in Brief


Foraging for 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.


How Buddhism’s 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.


Five Essential Practices

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 Buddhists.


Beyond the 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.”


A Year of Buddhist Inspiration

Edited by Josh Bartok
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.”


By Leza Lowitz and Shogo Oketani
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 practitioners.


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.

From the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Inside the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

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:

The Practicality of the Profound

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

The Dharma of Distraction

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.

The World Catches Us Every Time

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.

The Doors of Liberation

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 ourselves from.


The Myth of Multitasking

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.

more features

George Saunders on Kindness

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.

Run for Freedom

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.

I Did Not Lose My Mind

It took an illness of the brain to discover her inherent sanity. Meg Hutchinson tells us why her breakdown was actually a breakthrough.

other voices

Who Are We, Really?

Believing in humanity’s basic goodness, says Sakyong Mipham, is our hope for the future.


Going Full Superman

We overlook the Man of Steel’s greatest power, his selflessness. Koun Franz on why he and his son aspire to be superheroes.


Model Buddhist

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.


It's for You

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.

Tree of Wisdom 

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

Into the Light with Dale Cooper

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.


About a Poem

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.

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Editorial: The Practicality of the Profound (May 2014) Print

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 goal.

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

From the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

The Dharma of Distraction (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014


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.

Distractions are 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 pockets.

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 just thoughts.

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.

Excerpted from the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Model Buddhist: Q&A with Naima Mora (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014


Model Buddhist

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.

There’s Buddhism 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 magazine.

“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.

Halfway through 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.

Excerpted from the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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