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
About a Poem: Pat Enkyo O’Hara on an Anonymous Poem by a Sung Dynasty Nun (May 2014)
Shambhala Sun | May 2014
About a Poem: Pat Enko O'Hara on an Anonymous Poem by a Sung Dynasty Nun
spring all day, I never saw it,
among the clouds,
along the bank.
Coming home, I
spring at each
branch tip, already perfect.
Everybody is looking for something. The writer of this poem, a Sung
Dynasty nun, is seeking “spring.” How do you seek spring? How do you seek
happiness? Or enlightenment?
Well, seeking requires going somewhere or doing something in order to
find. And yet, it is that which seeks that is what is sought. With this nun, we
traverse a mountain path, hear the creaking of straw sandals, find ourselves
among clouds and at a riverbank. Trailing her, we feel the grit of our own
longing, our desires for more.
Then she catches the scent of plum blossoms and laughs. It’s as if,
suddenly coming to her senses, she realizes what’s been there all along. How
could she have missed it? There is “spring at each branch tip, already
We can experience the scents, sights, and sounds of spring only in this
moment. Spring or awakening can only be experienced when we drop our idea of
it. When we come home to its reality in our daily life, then the gnawing of “I want” becomes the joy of “I am.”
Pat Enkyo O’Hara
is the abbot of the Village Zendo and the author of Most Intimate: A
Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges.
translation by Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton from The Poetry of Zen.
Into the Light with Dale Cooper (Review; May 2014)
Shambhala Sun | May 2014
Into the Light with Dale Cooper
quirky-cool special agent famously upended the idea of the TV G-man. Now he’s
back in a deluxe new Blu-ray set. ROD MEADE SPERRY looks at one of pop
culture’s most endearing, enduring dharma friends.
Twin Peaks: The
9 Blu-ray discs; Paramount
A man is dying on
the floor of a jail cell between two mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Not
even two weeks ago, despite his middle age, he’d had a head of youthfully dark
hair. Now it is completely, shockingly white.
system of the sheriff’s department that holds him has been set off, creating
the effect of a tumultuous indoor storm that rains upon the white-haired man
and his captors.
One of his
captors—the very one who has most doggedly pursued him—is kneeling. The
white-haired man has committed the kind of unthinkable crimes that would
disgust and shake most of us to the core, but FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper
remains fully with the moment. He holds the white-haired man, stroking his
hair, comforting him even as the horrors of his crimes are finally admitted
between last gasps. Then, Cooper speaks. The words come out of him naturally.
“Leland,” he says,
“the time has come for you to seek the path. Your soul has set you face-to-face
with the clear light, and you are now about to experience it in all its
reality, wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky, and the naked,
spotless intellect is like a transparent vacuum, without circumference or
center. Leland, in this moment, know yourself, and abide in that state… Look to
the light, Leland. Find the light.”
Though spoken as
much from the heart as from the head, Coop’s words are not truly his own.
Compare them with this passage from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, meant
to be recited to the dying as they pass on:
[so-and-so by name], the time hath now come for thee to seek the Path [in
reality]. Thy breathing is about to cease. Thy guru hath set thee face to face
before with the Clear Light; and now thou art about to experience in its
Reality in the Bardo state, wherein all things are like the void and cloudless
sky, and the naked, spotless intellect is like unto a transparent vacuum
without circumference or centre. At this moment, know thou thyself, and abide
in that state.
Leland, though in
his final moment, is surprised, almost smiling, in response to Coop’s
urging that he “find the light.” “I see it!” he says.
“Into the light,
Leland… Don’t be afraid.”
And with that,
Leland Palmer is dead.
moving; hardly your typical SVU jailhouse scene. But this is no ordinary
TV jailhouse, and it’s certainly not ordinary TV.
This is Twin
Peaks, where nothing—not family, not FBI men, not even an owl in a tree—is
as it seems.
twenty-four years, and you’ll find that Leland Palmer has, in fact, been
necessarily the kind of karmic (or “dharmic”) rebirth that Special Agent Cooper
was shooting for, but Leland and the entire Twin Peaks cast are again
finding new life—and new fans—by way of a just-released Blu-ray set.
The show was, of
course, a true pop-culture phenomenon in the early nineties (despite a short
run of clunker second-season episodes). The brainchild of writer-directors Mark
Frost and David Lynch, it posed a now-famous question that seemed meant to
remain unanswered—Who killed Laura Palmer?—and then, bafflingly, went
ahead and filled in the blank. A full viewing of the series makes clear a sad
truth with which even its creators agree: without that question, the show,
despite guidance from directors like Diane Keaton, Uli Edel, and Lynch himself,
became more or less direction-less. (Luckily, when Coop’s nemesis,
Windom Earle, finally appeared in the last few episodes, he brought with him a
renewed sense of the old Twin Peaks spirit. By then, though, most
viewers had lost the thread and weren’t interested in looking for it anymore.)
But throughout Twin
Peaks’ run, there’s one constant: Dale Cooper. Played with quirky
confidence by previous Lynch co-conspirator Kyle MacLachlan (Dune, Blue
Velvet), Coop was young, handsome, and—by all network-TV standards of the
time—seriously weird. Though a bit of a goody-two-shoes, Cooper was somehow,
enviably, cool—a thumbs-up, yet decidedly non-Fonzarelli, kind of
cool. His contagious can-do-it demeanor was only enhanced by his stated work
style, made from a mix of “Bureau guidelines, deductive technique, Tibetan
method, instinct, and luck.”
All this, of
course, makes Coop eminently watchable. But he’s more than that. He’s more,
even, than the “top-notch lawman” that Twin Peaks’ sheriff describes him as.
Coop may even be a bodhisattva.
Now it should be
said that David Lynch is not a Buddhist, and there’s no word on
co-creator Mark Frost’s spiritual leanings. But no matter. Neither Lynch nor
Frost needed to be Buddhist to create Dale Cooper any more than Bob Kane needed
nocturnal crime-fighting experience to create Batman. Or, to put it another
way, as Lynch wrote in his book Catching the Big Fish, “The filmmaker
doesn’t have to be suffering to show suffering.”
But it should also
be said that, while Lynch is no Buddhist, he is a meditator. For some
thirty-four years, he’s been a practitioner of TM, or Transcendental
Meditation, which was taught by the famous/infamous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and
thrust into the public’s collective consciousness by John Lennon, George
Harrison, and Paul McCartney. (Ringo Starr tolerated his bandmates’ dabblings
at the time but would have preferred that they’d stayed focused on music.) So
it’s not a stretch to see, as one astute friend of mine has suggested, that
Coop is Lynch. It’s all a matter of, as Bill Clinton put it, what your
definition of “is” is.
Like Lynch, Coop
delights, wholeheartedly, in the odd. Like Lynch, he believes in the power of
dreams and intuition. He marvels at the mysteries of the natural world, and
he’s fascinated, lovingly, with human beings and what makes them tick. As such,
Twin Peaks can be argued to be a meditation on life, death, good, evil,
and identity as seen through Lynch and Cooper’s shared vision.
Also like Lynch,
Coop meditates, as is confirmed in episode No. 28. (He reports to his never-seen assistant, Diane, that he’s been
meditating in lieu of sleep, which has not been coming easily what with all the
goings-on in Twin Peaks.) So he shares with Lynch an active interest in how he
can better perceive reality by first looking closely at his own mind. More
important, though, Agent Cooper seems to be a fine dharma friend to his
colleagues at the sheriff’s department, whether any of them know it, or care,
Being unashamed of
his intellectual and spiritual sides, it isn’t long before Cooper’s got the
entire department not only tolerating his ways but also playing happily along.
In an early episode, he gathers them in the woods for an experiment. Employing
a blackboard that he dragged into the great outdoors, he gives the TPSD crew a
summary of his admiration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as a quick
Tibetan history lesson. Then, he asks them to indulge his beliefs about
“deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck” with a session of
unorthodox, dream-informed mind-storming meant to sort the wheat from the chaff
in the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder.
skeptical, his colleagues warm to Coop’s unusual ways; they suspend all they
know—or think they know—and instead trust and affirm their new partner
in crime fighting. In a following scene, we even see Lucy Moran, the supposedly
ditzy department receptionist, reading a massive hardcover book titled, simply,
Now, Dale Cooper
never declares himself to be “a Buddhist,” but that too is of no matter. What
matters is the way he connects with and inspires the people around him; the way
he lives every moment as truly and deeply as he knows how. He lives in exactly
this way even when his methods have clearly failed him.
At one point in the
series (I’m doing my best to exclude spoilers here!), Coop is, at least
temporarily, stripped of his FBI badge and gun in response to what the Bureau
sees as a cavalier and dangerous attitude. But the former special agent is
nonplussed. While he feels that his dressing-down is the result of Washington’s
being shortsighted and closed-minded, he goes with the flow even as
bureaucratic justice goes unserved. He’s come to love Twin Peaks—the people,
the landmarks, the unanswered questions that seem to reproduce like
dandelions—and so he takes his ex-agent status as an opportunity, forgoing the
G-man outfit that he wears so nattily for more region-appropriate duds. Cooper,
it seems, is just as comfortable in a classic flannel shirt as he is in his old
standard-issue black-jacket, white-shirt, black-necktie outfit. He even starts
investigating local real estate offerings, thinking that he might just have
found his home. Right where he is.
And what is it that
could fill the gap in his life now that his career, to which he has been so
dedicated, might be going the way of Twin Peaks’s endangered pine weasel? Coop,
unashamed and calmly excited as ever, states his new priority himself: “Seeing beyond fear, and looking at the world with love.”
Rod Meade Sperry is the associate editor of the Shambhala Sun and the editor of the new
anthology A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and
Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers.
Painting by Caroline Font.
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