Books in Brief September 2009
By Chögyam Trungpa
Edited by Judith L. Lief
Shambhala Publications, 2009; 155 pp., $21.95 (cloth)
The four noble truths seem so straightforward that some students may be anxious to move on to what they perceive as meatier teachings. In this posthumous volume, however, Chögyam Trungpa reveals layers of subtlety in these foundational Buddhist teachings. Beginning with the first truth—there is suffering—Trungpa stresses the importance of recognizing our habits. We do everything we can to avoid suffering, preferring instead to pursue happiness. But, according to the second truth, this blind pursuit is the root of our pain. Trungpa Rinpoche explains in detail how thoughts become fixations, then emotions such as jealousy, and finally actions. Now that we’ve had our wake-up call, the third truth is that the cessation of suffering is possible. We all experience signs of awakening, but don’t seek such signs, he says. Instead, utilize them when they arise to develop confidence in the dharma. Finally, the fourth noble truth is the truth of the path. There are many guidelines to help students on their journey, yet each student must forge their own way.
By Meg Federico
Random House, 2009; 208 pp., $25.00 (cloth)
Although it doesn’t directly talk about the four noble truths or otherwise use dharma lingo, this memoir by Buddhist Meg Federico does address impermanence, something that is clearly at the heart of Buddhism. By turns hilarious and heart wrenching, Welcome to the Departure Lounge is the story of Addie, Federico’s mother, in her final years. It begins when Addie, under the influence of martinis, takes a tumble and is taken to a hospital, where suddenly she sits bolt upright on the gurney and yells, “ I demand an autopsy!” Addie and Walter, her new (but not so spry) husband, have begun to show signs of Alzheimer’s, and it only gets worse. Highlights include Addie and Walter—forbidden by doctors to drink—conspiring to order cases of booze, and Walter using mail-order sexual aids to enable him to paw nightly (and indiscreetly) at Addie. But capers aside, the greatest strength of this book is the complex picture Federico gives us of her mother and of their ever-evolving relationship.
By John B. Roberts II and Elizabeth A. Roberts
Amacom, 2009; 279 pp., $24.00 (cloth)
Written in an engaging, narrative style, Freeing Tibet is the story of a culture that has been struggling to survive for half a century. According to the husband and wife co-authors, the Cold War beginnings of Tibet’s struggle included a clandestine CIA propaganda campaign and the abandonment of Tibet’s freedom fighters in a Himalayan Bay of Pigs. Then, after the Nixon administration cut off funding for the Tibetans, their cause was adopted by the sixties counterculture movement and, finally, taken on by celebrities—actors, musicians, and world leaders. As you might expect, this book details some ugly and disturbing violations of human rights in Tibet, but lighter moments are provided by various colorful characters, chiefly Allen Ginsberg, who once apparently offered magic mushrooms to the Dalai Lama. Freeing Tibet is not the chronicle of a hopeless cause—au contraire. It tells how an engaged global community could liberate the Tibetans.
By Anam Thubten
Snow Lion Publications, 2009; 134 pp., $14.95 (paper)
Author Anam Thubten, who was born in Eastern Tibet, undertook Buddhist training in the Nyingma tradition at an early age and has been teaching in the West since the 1990s. His teachings are unpretentious and sometimes outright humorous, but they also are profound. No Self, No Problem is about how to let go of our notions of ego identity in order to discover our true nature and achieve real liberation. “We are perfect as we are,” says Anam Thubten. “When we realize this, we are perfect. When we don’t realize this, we are also perfect.” There is a glossary of terms at the back of No Self, No Problem that those new to Buddhist concepts will find useful.
By bell hooks
Routledge, 2009; 230 pp., $19.95 (paper)
At once hard-hitting and full of heart, this collection of essays explores issues of place and belonging in the broadest sense—family, land stewardship and global environmentalism, and the politics of race, gender, and class. Author bell hooks, who is a longtime contributor to the Shambhala Sun and was featured on our July 2006 cover, is from rural Kentucky, and our journey with her in Belongings is always rooted there, even when she takes us into the city, or from the past to the present and back again. Hooks’ language is rich and she leaves me aching for the bucolic hills and the lush tobacco fields of her youth, but with equal power she leaves me reeling with Confederate flags and displaced Cherokee. This is a thought-provoking read.
By Sulak Sivaraksa
Koa Books, 2009; 102 pp., $12.50 (paper)
Thich Nhat Hanh, Aung San Suu Kyi, and various other luminaries have offered their praises for Sulak Sivaraksa and his writing. Sulak, the founder of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists and dozens of other educational and political grassroots organizations, has been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize, received the Right Livelihood Award, and written more than one hundred books in Thai and English. In The Wisdom of Sustainability, Sulak suggests that globalization is imposing materialistic values on both developing and industrialized nations, and he offers alternatives to the current economic model. We already have more than enough organizations, parties, and strategies, says Sulak. Action alone, particularly political action, will not put an end to suffering and injustice. For that, he says, we need to achieve personal transformation.
By Kerry Lee MacLean
Wisdom Publications, 2009; 32 pp., $15.95 (cloth)
Though this book is intended for the nine-to-twelve set, everyone can relate to Peter the Cow and his bad day. Things go wrong for Peter even before he wakes up. He has a nightmare involving a three-eyed alien, then, already cranky, he catches his sister drawing on his skateboard. Peter pulls her tail; she pushes him down the stairs; he cuts her doll’s hair off. Then the bovine parents find out about the hair and he gets in trouble. In this way, Peter’s woes continue until he is so mad that steam comes out of his ears and all the kiddie-calves have dubbed him “Moody Cow.” “We need Grandfather,” Mom says, picking up the phone. Now for the best part of the story: Grandfather is a great bull with enormous horns and meditation tips, which moody cows both on and off the page will want to try. This, I think, is MacLean’s best book to date. The illustrations are truly charming.
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