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Shambhala Sun | May 2010
You'll find this article on page 91 of the magazine.

Books in Brief

 

Surviving the Dragon
A Tibetan Lama’s Account of 40 Years under Chinese Rule
By Arjia Rinpoche
Rodale Books 2010; 288 pp., $24.99 (cloth)

Surviving the Dragon is the remarkable life story of Arjia Rinpoche, who trained with Tibetan lineage teachers such as the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. At age two, Arjia Rinpoche was recognized as the incarnation of the founder of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism and was made the abbot of Tibet’s Kumbum Monastery. Then, in 1958, the Chinese invaded and forced the eight-year-old to witness arrests and torture. Over time, they made him disrobe, attend Chinese school, and do sixteen years of hard labor. Yet Rinpoche secretly continued practicing and studying, and in 1998 he escaped. He’s now the director of the Tibetan Cultural Center in Bloomington, Indiana.

 

Etty Hillesum
Essential Writings
Selected and Introduced by Annemarie S. Kidder
Orbis Books 2009; 157 pp., $18 (paper)

At her request, Etty Hillesum spent months in a cramped Nazi transit camp so that she could offer fellow Dutch Jews kindness while they were suffering and scared. Then in September 1943, she and her family were herded onto a train. Afterward, near the tracks, someone found a postcard she’d let fly from a window. It read: “We left the camp singing… Goodbye for now from the four of us.” This volume is a selection of Hillesum’s writing and is part of Orbis’ spiritual masters series. Hillesum’s diaries, which chart her spiritual development, were first published in 1981 in Dutch, and have since been translated into more than a dozen languages. She’s now recognized as a hero of the Nazi era and an ecumenical mystic who affirmed goodness, even in the face of war. Etty Hillesum died in Auschwitz at age twenty-nine.

 

Heaven and Earth Are Flowers
Reflections on Ikebana and Buddhism
By Joan D. Stamm
Wisdom Publications 2010; 200 pp., $16.95 (paper)

Every year, Joan Stamm’s mother grew geraniums in round pots on her patio. Then she’d winter them in a garage, watering them all through the cold months. She did this even when she was confined to a wheelchair, except that she picked her geraniums out at a nursery, examining every bloom in pink and red, white and salmon. Stamm learned from her mother the pleasure of plants, and while living in Japan in the early nineties, she took up ikebana, Japanese flower arranging. Part memoir of the author’s ikebana and Buddhist studies and part meditation on the meaning of flowers, this book is sprinkled with the work of poets like Basho. What’s more, Stamm’s prose itself is gorgeously poetic.

 

Love Haiku
Japanese Poems of Yearning, Passion, and Remembrance
Translated and Edited by Patricia Donegan with Yoshie Ishibashi
Shambhala Publications 2009; 232 pp., $16 (cloth)

Though the theme of haiku is most often nature, romantic haiku have also existed across the centuries and this volume features a poignant selection of them. Love Haiku is divided into three parts: yearning, passion, and remembrance. Patricia Donegan explains in the introduction: “Rather than a neat ‘beginning, middle, and end,’ which rarely occurs with love, these themes highlight the elusive nature of love—for in one afternoon, or even one moment, love can go from passion to remembrance to yearning and back again. And even though we desire and feel that love is eternal, its shape and moods are not constant, but ever-changing, fleeting.” Romantic haiku, continues Donegan, are mini-meditations on love and, if we pause with them for a few breaths, they will help us open our hearts and awaken.

 

Buddha on the Backstretch
The Spiritual Wisdom of Driving 200 MPH
By Arlynda Lee Boyer
Mercer University Press 2009; 160 pp., $27 (cloth)

NASCAR developed in the 1930s because moonshiners, who were souping up their cars to escape revenue officers, would challenge each other to races. What could NASCAR possibly have to do with Buddhist truths? Arlynda Lee Boyer answers that by quoting Dogen: “If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?” Boyer is a lifelong NASCAR aficionada and, in particular, a fan of the late Dale Earnhardt. He and other accomplished drivers, Boyer says, are good teachers because—like those on a spiritual path—they’ve learned to relax in chaos, uncertainty, imperfect circumstances, and pain. Buddha on the Backstretch is part of a series by Mercer University Press about the intersections of sports and religion.

 


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