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Shambhala Sun | September 2013

Books in Brief

HOW TO WAKE UP: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow
By Toni Bernhard

Wisdom Publications 2013; 240 pp., $16.95 (paper)

Toni Bernhard’s first book, How to Be Sick, focused on chronic illness. But to her surprise, many readers turned out to be healthy people who related what she said about illness to whatever challenge they were facing, be it the dissolution of a marriage or job stress. This inspired Bernhard to write How to Wake Up, which is about how our difficulties—whatever they are—can lead us to awakening. “The Buddha wasn’t concerned with heaven or hell, with miracles or saints,” writes Bernhard. “He was interested in investigating the human condition, particularly the presence of suffering in our lives and how we might alleviate it so that we can find the peace and well-being we all hope for.” What the Buddha discovered was that while we can’t avoid life’s ups and downs, we can learn to attain a well-being that isn’t dependent on circumstances. To help us do that, he taught a wealth of detailed practices, and in How to Wake Up Bernhard helps us apply them to the challenges of our lives now.

 

DAKINI POWER: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West
By Michaela Haas

Snow Lion 2013; 344 pp., $16.95 (paper)

Dakini Power offers twelve fascinating and intimate profiles of women teachers who are shaping Tibetan Buddhism in the West. The term dakini applies to both exceptional women practitioners and to meditational deities embodying wisdom. “The dakinis are depicted as strong and fiercely independent,” writes Michaela Haas. “The Tibetan word for dakini, khandro, literally means sky-goer, and it hints at the expansiveness of their view. I find this interesting. All the female masters I met are extremely compassionate, warm, and kind, with very soft and tender hearts. At the same time, they are also firm and seem to have backbones of steel.” The women profiled have had a wide range of life experiences. They include Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, an Englishwoman who did twelve years of solitary retreat in a cave in the Himalayas, and Karma Lekshe Tsomo, who went from being a Californian surfer to the head of the world’s foremost association of Buddhist women.

 

SPIRITUAL ECOLOGY: The Cry of the Earth
Edited by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee

The Golden Sufi Center; 280 pp., $15.95 (paper)

Spiritual Ecology is an anthology edited by the Sufi teacher Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee. As he explains, the book’s contributors— luminaries from various spiritual traditions—all have the same essential message: our environmental crisis is also a spiritual crisis. We’ll only be able to bring the world back into balance when we have regained a spirituality grounded in nature. Contributors John Stanley and David Loy note that while most religions reject biological evolution because it seems to conflict with their creation stories, to remain relevant they must embrace evolution and focus on its spiritual meaning. Scientists, however, also have a limiting belief: scientific materialism. So to survive, humanity needs a deeper truth than either religion or science alone provides. Contributor Susan Murphy Roshi sees our environmental crisis as “a tremendous koan set for us by the Earth,” and to solve it we “need to relearn the fundamentals that were once natural to us.” Disappearing forests, melting glaciers, heat waves—these are, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, bells of mindfulness urging us to look deeply at our impact on the planet.

POLISHING THE MIRROR: How to Live from Your Spiritual Heart
By Ram Dass

Sounds True 2013; 224 pp., $21.95 (cloth)

“When I got high,” Ram Dass asserts, “I felt like this was who I knew myself to be—a deep being, at peace, in love, and free.” Yet drugs only allowed him to touch a place of enlightenment; they didn’t let him stay there. In search of real freedom, he left for India in 1966 and eventually met his Hindu guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Ram Dass says, “I kept hoping to get esoteric teachings from Maharaj-ji, but when I asked, ‘How can I become enlightened?’ he said things like, ‘Love everybody, serve everybody, and remember God’ or ‘Feed people.’ When I asked, ‘How can I know God?’ Maharajji said, ‘The best form to worship God is in all forms. God is in everything.’ ” These simple teachings, steeped in love, are the foundation of Ram Dass’s seminal book Be Here Now, as well as his new release, Polishing the Mirror. It mixes illuminating personal anecdotes with a brass-tacks guide to spiritual practices, including the use of malas, mantras, and devotional chants.

 

THE GREEN BOAT: Reviving Ourselves in Our Capsized Culture
By Mary Pipher

Riverhead 2013; 240 pp., $16 (paper)

Mary Pipher once spent a night in a tent with three of her grandchildren. The two youngest—ages four and two—blissfully listened to the sounds of the night birds, but the oldest—Kate, age six—was terrified and wanted to go home. When Pipher asked Kate why she wasn’t as brave as her little brother and sister, she cried, “Nonna, they are little. They don’t know enough to be scared.” These days, Pipher feels like Kate; she knows too much about the world’s precarious environmental situation and sometimes wishes she didn’t. Yet, she asks, if we adults don’t come to grips with the environmental crisis, who will? In The Green Boat, Pipher uses her background in psychology to explore the ways in which we avoid facing the bad news. Then she unpacks how we can get past our fear, despair, and anger to effect positive change. Pipher is also the author of Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls and Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World.

 

TEN BREATHS TO HAPPINESS: Touching Life in Its Fullness
By Glen Schneider

Parallax Press 2013; 96 pp., $12.95 (paper)

The Ten Breaths practice is a simple way of using the breath to help establish new patterns of happiness. Here’s the gist of how to practice it: when something beautiful touches you—a sight, sound, or feeling—stop and focus on the beauty for the length of ten breaths. Glen Schneider, a dharma teacher ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh, spontaneously devised this practice one evening in his garden. He noticed the crescent moon framed by the bare branches of a tree and decided to take ten conscious breaths while gazing at the lovely scene. During those breaths, Schneider felt nourished, and when he went outside the following evening and again saw the moon, he suddenly felt the same pleasant feeling. Schneider suspected he was onto something and trained himself to do the Ten Breaths practice at least once a day. Now, he enjoys deeper connections with people and savors life more. In Ten Breaths to Happiness Schneider explains from a neurological perspective why this practice is effective and shows how it relates to more traditional Buddhist practices.

 

THAI MAGIC TATTOOS: The Art and Influence of Sak Yant
By Isabel Azevedo Drouyer

River Books 2013; 144 pp., $29.95 (cloth)

A form of tattooing practiced in Southeast Asia, Sak Yant is rooted in a combination of Theravada Buddhism, Brahmanism, and animism. The Sak Yant masters— frequently Buddhist monks—are seen as spiritual mediums who imbue the tattoos they create with magical spells for prosperity, protection, and happiness. Popular images include real and mythical animals and deities from the Hindu pantheon or their symbols, such as Shiva’s trident. The principle inspiration for Sak Yant, however, is Buddhist iconography and the most prized image is that of the Buddha. Thai Magic Tattoos gives a brief history of tattoos in general and Sak Yant in particular. It profiles various Sak Yant masters, outlines the ritualized process of Sak Yant tattooing sessions, and attempts to explain why these sacred tattoos inspire such passion. The text is lavishly illustrated with photography by René Drouyer.


From the September 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.


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