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BOOK REVIEWS

Armstrong, Karen, "Buddha" (Part of the Penguin Lives series, A Lipper/Viking Book, published by Penguin Putnam Inc., New York, 2001, hardcover, $19.95.)A tremendous amount of serious scholarship is packed into the modest 187 pages of this voume. Karen Armstrong is a former Roman Catholic nun and professor of comparative religion. Her previous books, including "A History of God," won critical praise, and so has this one. It is clearly a book of serious biographical research, not a religious text, so there is an air of skepticism underlying her quest to separate myth from historic fact. Yet she treats her subject with tremendous respect as she documents the remarkable effect Sidhatta Gotama had on the world in the sixth century B.C.E. and ever since. The 11 pages of endnotes give authority to the impeccable scholarship behind her research, and a four-page glossary is very helpful. A 19-page introduction explaining her research methods is one of the most interesting parts of the book. --Jim Kershner

Baldwin, Christina, "Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture"(Bantam Books, New York, 1998, $14.95 paperback) The atmosphere of a Sangha is reflective of the message in Christina Baldwin's book, "Calling the Circle: The First and Future Culture," a primer on forming the wheel and gently coaxing it to revolve and evolve. The book is a primer on how to call people together, nourish the circle's capacity for exponential abundance and stay alert to the subtle, stealthy disruptions which can send it flying apart. "Something is called forth in these circles," writes Baldwin. "We find strength and renewal. ... Make ready. Clean the cobwebs, light the oil lamps, set the sacred objects into their niches. Hold the place so that the circle may come. And not be afraid to act. And not be ashamed to hope." And not be afraid, we Buddhists, to be silent with our breathing. --Betsy Shea-Taylor

Bayda, Ezra, "Being Zen"(Shambhala Publishing, Boston, Mass., 2002, hardcover $21.95) This long awaited book is by the new director of the San Diego Zen Center, which was founded by Bayda’s teacher, Joko Beck, who is now semi-retired. With great insight and practical wisdom, Bayda leads us on the path of practice in three parts: the basics of practice; practice with emotional distress, and awakening the heart of compassion. This is not a difficult book, but it is also not for the beginner. -- Phyllis Szerejko

Boorstein, Sylvia, "Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There" (HarperCollins, New York, 1996) This lovely little book is subtitled, "A Mindfulness Retreat With Sylvia Boorstein." It can be used as a practical guidebook for taking a three-day solitary retreat to practice mindfulness, but it is also a delightful book to read at any time. It is lively, light and entertaining, and it includes basic information about mindfulness meditation. She puts sophisticated concepts of Buddhist philosophy in simple terms for busy people in contemporary America. --Jim Kershner

Dalai Lama, His Holiness XIV, "Ethics for New Millennium" (Riverhead Books, New York.1999 $24.95) In the second of two books that are currently on the New York Times Best Seller List, (fall of 1999) His Holiness the Dalai Lama sets out in clear and beautiful language the need for love and compassion to guide the human race. He explains with simple logic how in order for each of us to be happy, we need to help each other. He describes a set of ethics based on this kind of compassionate self-interest, rather than ethics imposed by any religious doctrine. It is rightly described as a "passionate and exquisitely argued call for a spiritual and ethical revolution." .- Jim Kershner

Dalai Lama, His Holiness XIV and Cutler, Howard, C, M.D., "The Art of Happiness". (Riverhead Books, New York.1999 $22.95) This book -- also a New York Times Best-Seller in the fall of 1999 – recounts a series of talks given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Arizona State University in 1993 and subsequent conversations between the co-authors on the subject of personal happiness and how it can be obtained through compassion. Extensive direct quotations from the talks by the Dalai Lama give this book its power and authority. Unfortunately it is interspersed by passages written by Dr. Cutler, who writes in a style similar to other psychiatrists who have published popular self-help books. The case studies and clinical examples will make the book familiar to those used to reading typical modern self-help books, but they pale by comparison with the powerful wisdom of the Dalai Lama.- Jim Kershner

Das, Lama Surya, "Awakening the Buddha Within" (Broadway Books, New York. published in hardcover 1997, paperback 1998, $15) This is a powerful, life-changing book. Its organization is a deceptively simple step-by-step description of the Noble Eightfold Path, but the way Surya Das relates the ancient principles to contemporary American culture give this book its power to make the ancient teachings fresh, practical and useful. Although trained as a lama in the Tibetan tradition, the author (born into a Jewish-American Long Island family during the "baby boom") transcends sectarian divisions and draws on a variety of wisdom traditions. On the very first page, Thich Nhat Hanh describes the book as "a beautiful flower blooming on a beautiful tree that is wholeheartedly committed to true inquiry and practice."- Jim Kershner

Easwaran, Eknath, "Meditation" (Nilgiri Press, Tomales, Calif., 1978, third printing 1993, $12.95) In the words of the prominent religious scholar Houston Smith, this book makes, "no extravagant claims, no pretentious jargon, just a clear, insightful exposition of meditation and an excellent guide to its practice." Easwaran taught meditation at the University California, Berkeley, and is founder of the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in Berkeley. His writing is interesting and amusing, and he presents a simple eight-point porogram for translating spiritual ideas ( from any religious tradition) into daily life. My favorite part is when I discovered I was reading a Hindu teacher who refers to Jewish mysticism, recommending a Buddhist practice that included reciting a Christian prayer. –Jim Kershner

Epstein, Mark, "Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart" (Broadway Books, New York, 1998, $23). This powerful new book by the author of "Thoughts Without a Thinker" bridges the gap between Buddhism and psychiatry. The author is both a Buddhist and a psychiatrist, and he analyses the conflict between modern psychological counseling, which builds up the ego, and traditional Buddhist philosophy, which eliminates the ego. Although I was hoping that he would resolve this conflict by the end of the book, he does not. But that in itself is a lesson. -- Jim Kershner

Foster, Nelson, and Shoemaker, Jack (editors), "The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader" (The Ecco Press, Hopewell, N.J., 1996, $18 paperback) The history of the Zen Buddhist tradition is summarized beautifully in this gem. It’s not just another book on Zen. The poet Gary Snyder says of this book, "This is a Reader to carry with you on the Way." - Richard Boerstler

Golden, Arthur, "Memoirs of a Geisha" (A.A. Knopf, New York, 1997) Shibumi, the Japanese principle of refined beauty, pervades this exquisite portrayal of a geisha’s coming of age. Geisha have played a central role in Japanese society for centuries, and are little understood by Westerners. With sensuous elegance, the author guides us through the rituals surrounding each step of a young geisha’s training. Like Flaubert in "Madame Bovary," and Tolstoy in "Anna Karenina," Arthur Golden reveals a deep understanding of the feminine heart and mind. -- Lucy Lin

Greenwald, Jeff, "Shopping for Buddhas" (Lonely Planet Publications, Oakland, Calif., 1998, $10.95) Originally published in 1990 by HarperCollins, "Shopping for Buddhas" is a delightful mix of memoir, travel book and tale of spiritual quest. It is Jeff Greenwald’s story of his search for the perfect Buddha statue in the shops of Katmandu, Nepal. He takes the reader through the narrow back streets of Katmandu and at the same time examines the conflict between craving and non-attachment. Mixed in is a clear explanation of a variety of Hindu deities and the relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism. -- Jim Kershner

Herrigel, Eugen, "Zen in the Art of Archery" (Originally published in German as Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschiessens, First U.S. copyright 1953 by Pantheon Books, republished by Vintage Books for Random House, New York, 1998, $8) This is the story of a German philosopher who travels to Japan and meets a patient and wise man who teaches him about archery, breathing, Zen and life. The great Zen master Daisetz T. Suzuki calls it "a wonderful little book." - Barbara Kershner

Kabat-Zinn, Jon, "Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life" (Hyperion, New York, 1994, $20 hard-cover, also available in paperback) This powerful book explains, from a clinical point of view, the medical and psychological benefits of mindfulness meditation. Kabat-Zinn is the founder and director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester. The 280-pge book never mentions Buddhism, but the spirit and practice of Buddhism infuse every chapter. – Jim Kershner

Khong, Chan (Sister True Emptiness), "Learning True Love" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, Calif., 1993, $16) This is an autobiography of a courageous Vietnamese woman, Chan Khong, who grew up in Vietnam and lived there before and during the war. Chan Khong reveals her natural ability and innate yearning to be in service in the form of social work. Her stories of how she helped so many people living under squalid conditions are dabbled with bits of wisdom she’s learned from Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dharma. The book covers her life from the time she was a young girl living with her family to the present, where she assists Thich Nhat Hanh in teaching Dharma worldwide. -- Janet Albahari

Kornfield, Jack, "A Path With Heart" (Bantam Books, New York, 1997, $13.95). Jack Kornfield is a Buddhist monk, teacher and psychologist who provides a guided tour into the meditative process. His talent and knowledge are vividly exhibited through his variety of topics and personal experience. He speaks from the heart inspiring, encompassing and encouraging. This book has become a permanent part of my learning library. Highly recommended. —Janet Berrio

Kornfield, Jack, "The Buddha’s Little Instruction Book" (Bantam Books, June 1994, $8.95) This is a great book to slip into your backpack or to have on your desk. Each page contains one or two sentences written by Buddhist writers like Thich Nhat Hanh and many others. It is a wonderful book to refer to during the day, as it brings one back to mindfulness. With our lives as busy as they are, this book makes us stop, if only for a moment, and think in the moment. It is like taking a cool drink of spring water. -- Perry A. Seder

LeShan, Lawrence, "How to Meditate" (Bantam Books, New York, 1974) This classic little book has introduced millions of Westerners to meditation. A psychotherapist, LeShan discussed meditation from a psychological, medical, scientific, cultural and religious point of view. It includes simple directions to begin meditation, but lacks the spiritual aspects of the practice found in many other books on the subjects. — Jim Kershner

Matthiesson, Peter, "Nine Headed Dragon River" (Shambhala, Boston, 1986.) This book traces the author’s Dharma path from the Dai Bosatsu Zendo in New York to the Tibetan Himalayas and down to Kyoto’s ancient mountain temples. Matthiesson’s crystalline prose has graced many deeply spiritual works, such as "The Snow Leopard," and "Far Tortuga." His Zen journals leave us with a bittersweet yearning, stirring transcendent, half-forgotten dreams. They drive to the core of Zen Buddhism, its clarity and simplicity, its universal embrace. --Lucy Lin

Maugham, W. Somerset, "The Razor’s Edge" (Doubleday, New York, 1944); reprinted numerous times in paperback) This classic novel is not only a vivid portrait of high-society life in Paris in the 1920s, it is also a deeply thought-provoking exploration of a young man’s search for meaning in life. This search eventually leads him to India, where he studies under a Hindu yogi. Maugham’s writing is masterful, and the answers his hero finds speak directly to all thoughtful readers, especially those interested in Buddhism and Eastern philosophy. – Jim Kershner

Millman, Dan, "The Way of the Peaceful Warrior" (first published in 1980; paperback edition published 1984 by H.J. Kramer, Inc., Tiburon, Calif. $11.95) Set in Berkeley, Calif., in the late 1960’s, this novel tells the story of a young athlete who is led along the path toward enlightenment by an old master who he meets at a gas station. It is the first of a series of cult favorites that include pearls of ancient wisdom among a lively, modern plot that appeals particularly, to a young-adult audience. It doesn’t mention Buddhism directly, but the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path are right in there between the lines. "Enlightenment Lite." -- Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames" (Riverhead Books, New York, 2001, hardcover, 234 pages, $23.95) In his simple, accessible writing style, Thich Nhat Hanh addresses one of the most difficult challenges of our time, dealing with anger. He makes practical suggestions on ways we can recognize the roots of anger and learn to transform its energy into compassion and wisdom. -- Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Being Peace" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA, 1987, $10) One of the best known of Thay’s more than 30 books, "Being Peace," is a lovely collection of his talks, encompassing the essence of Buddhism, meditation and mindfulness. It also includes in its 118 pages a description of his Order of Interbeing and the text of his beautiful poem, "Please call Me By My True Names." – Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "The Blooming of the Lotus" (Beacon Press, 25 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02108, copyright 1993, paperback, ) This 140-page boo includes 34 guided meditation exercises for healing and transformation. The guided meditations are lovely to read, but they are even more beautiful when they are practiced. Each exercise included the meditation itself, plus directions for practice and commentaries by Thich Nhat Hanh. – Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Breathe ! You are Alive: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA, Revised edition copyright 1996, $10.) This 104-page gem is Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation of and analysis of the Buddha’s 1,600-year-old teaching of the value of following your breath. It is one of the most essential teachings of the Buddha presented in a clear and accessible manner. – Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Call Me By My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA, 1993, hard-cover $25). This beautiful volume presents another side of Thay, the lyrical poet. The first half of the book, titled, "The Historical Dimension," includes many poems that refer to the Vietnam War, often with great poignancy. The second part, "The Ultimate Dimension," includes more spiritual and abstract poems. – Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "For A Future To Be Possible" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, 1993) This 275-page paperback contains the complete texts of the Five Mindfulness Trainings and commentaries about them by Thich Nhat Hanh and 14 other writers who are experts in various religious traditions. It provides rich food for thought about what Thich Nhat Hanh calls "a diet for a mindful society." At the time of its publication, the trainings were known as the "Five Wonderful Precepts," but the change in phraseology in no way lessens the impact of these powerful guidelines for mindful living. -- Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Interbeing: Fourteen Guidelines for Engaged Buddhism" (Parallax Press, Berkley, Calif., 1987, new edition 1998, $8.) This slim volume of 78 pages is a simple explanation of the Order of Interbeing, the Buddhist order established by Thich Nhat Hanh in the 1960s. It includes the charter of the Order of Interbeing and commentaries on the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings (or precepts) recited by members of the order. It also includes a description of ceremonies for reciting the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings and the Five Mindfulness Trainings recited by members of the "Extended Community" of the Order of Interbeing. It is a practical handbook for those interested in joining the Order. –Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Living Buddha, Living Christ" (Riverhead Books, New York, 1995, $20; paperback 1997 $11). This appears to be Thich Nhat Hanh’s best-selling book, as he reaches out to a mainstream audience. He shows himself to be a gifted scholar with a profound understanding of both Christianity and Buddhism. It is a beautiful explanation of his philosophy that all the world’s great religions "meet at the top." —Jim Kershner
Thich Nhat Hanh looks deeply at the conceptual barriers between Buddhism and Christianity, illuminating the real nature of pain, death transformation resurrection and the ultimate dimension. This beautiful book is highly recommended for the serious student. - Phyllis Szerejko

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, Ca, 1996, $8) This beautiful little book (6-inches-by-4-inches) can easily fit in your pocket as you practice the walking meditation exercises described in the book. Its 82 pages included little jewels of Thay’s philosophy and advice, plus 17 black-and-white photographs of people walking mindfully.—Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA, 1991, $25) This 600-page book is a lyrical biography of the Buddha in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, based on his extensive research into ancient Pali, Sanskrit and Chinese texts. It presents the life and teachings of Prince Siddhartha, who became the monk Gautama and was known as the Buddha, or one who is awake. -- Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Peace Is Every Step" (Bantam Books, New York, 1991, $11.95) This delightful little book captures of feeling of a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in its 135 pages. It is an excellent introduction to the philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh. The chapters are short and easily accessible. As the author says himself, "This book is an invitation to come back to the present moment and find peace and joy." In the forward, His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes, "This is a very worthwhile book. It can change individual lives and the life of our society." – Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Present Moment Wonderful Moment" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, Calif., 1990, $7) This lovely little 75-page book includes 49 gathas, or verses, to help people through their daily lives. It also includes commentaries discussing each verse and beautiful illustrations in the Japanese Zen style by Mayumi Oda. The verses are complex in their simplicity. The gatha for walking meditation reads:

"The mind can go in a thousand directions.
But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace.
With each step, a gentle wind blows.
With each step, a flower blooms."
This is a book full of wonderful moments. -- Jim Kershner

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "The Sun My Heart" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, Calif., 1988. $9.50 paperback) A remarkable book containing five chapters within which are the timeless truths of Buddhist thought told in the form of the simplest tales for which Thich Nhat Hanh is so well known. The subjects range from the importance of mindfulness practice to the very nature of mind itself, oneness time/space, death, our true identity and more. The book reveals an impressive understanding of modern physics and its parallel in the timeless wisdom of the masters. Highly recommended. -- Phyllis Szerejko

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Teachings on Love" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, Calif., 1997, $18 hard cover). After gently offering nine chapters on every facet of relationship, Thay gives us five universally meaningful closing ones: The Beautiful and Full Meaning of Beginning Anew, Touching the Earth, Sangha, Three Prostrations and the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Powerful and invaluable, this magnificent book is highly recommended-- Phyllis Szerejko

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Thundering Silence" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, Calif., 1993) Using the Sutra, "On Knowing a Better Way to Catch a Snake," Thay leads us gently and clearly into a deeper understanding of a number of the well-known Sutras, such as the ones on Nirvana and no-self. He does this by comparisons between the Chinese and Pali texts as well as recent Brahmanism, arriving at the Middle Way, which is clearer to the Western mind. "Thundering Silence is a scholarly book without being difficult to follow – typical of this great teacher’s wisdom and dedication – making it an invaluable little book that is highly recommended for deeper study. -- Phyllis Szerejko

Nhat Hanh, Thich, "Touching Peace: Practicing the Art of Mindful Living" (Parallax Press, Berkeley, Calif., 1992) "Touching Peace" is a companion piece to Thich Nhat Hanh’s popular ‘Being Peace." It includes chapters in healing relationships with a "peace treaty," on developing a diet for society through the practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings (or precepts), and on supporting one’s practice through sangha-building. His engaging style makes it a pleasure to read. – Jim Kershner

Scherman, Katharine, "Spring on an Arctic Island" (Little, Brown , Boston, 1956) This book provides an intimate examination of traditional Eskimo Life. The author travels with her Eskimo friends on seal hunts across the ice, fishing expeditions and fierce, bumpy dogsled rides. She portrays with wit and spunk the timeless rhythms of life in an Arctic spring’s eternal sunlight. -- Lucy Lin

St. Ruth, Diana, "Sitting: a Guide to Buddhist Meditation" (A Tricycle book published by Penguin Arkana, $9.95) This lovely little book is only 78 pages bound in textured paper. But between the covers is a wealth of information. Diana St. Ruth provides an overview of the practice of meditation and explains specific techniques such as breath counting and the best posture for sitting and walking meditation. It is a good introduction to someone new to meditation and a delightful refresher for experienced meditators. --Jim Kershner

Stuart, Maurine, "Subtle Sound: The Zen Teachings of Maurine Stuart," Edited by Roko Sherry Chayat (Shambhala Publications, Boston, MA, 1996, $13 paperback). As a member of the Cambridge Buddhist Association I had the good fortune to study under Maurine Stuart both as a friend and a Roshi. I found her former discipline as a concert pianist what I needed in my own spiritual search. Before her death in 1990 she had also become the president of the CBA, where her compassion and teachings had become well respected by pupils and scholars alike. Her talks at the Zendo and Eastern U.S. Zen centers were recorded by her students and have become the "clear and crisp" pages of the book. Her reputation has grown far beyond the original Sangha in Cambridge, aided by this beautiful and powerful volume. -- R.W. Boerstler.

Tolle, Eckhart, "The Power of Now," By Eckhart Tolle (New World Library, New York, 1999, 224 pages, $21.95) This remarkably clear book unmasks the mischieviousness of the mind. It is written by one who speaks from personal experience of the "ever increasing fragmentation ... of the time-bound tyrannical mind" to the clarity and peace of one true self. Tolle dissolves, one by one, the often imponderable ideas found in Buddhism and other spiritual disciplines. His insights and the ability to express them ranks him highly as a plain-speaking scholar who has left no stone unturned. -- Phyllis Szerejko

MAGAZINES


MAGAZINE: "Tricycle: The Buddhist Review" published by The Buddhist Ray Inc., based in New York City. The subscription office is TRI Box 3000, Denville, NJ 07834, telephone (800) 950-7008. In addition to articles about Buddhism, this elegant magazine includes lots of Buddhist advertising and an extensive Dharma center directory.A one-year subscription (four editions) costs $24)

MAGAZINE: "Shambhala Sun" published by Shambhala International, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The subscription office is 1345 Spruce St., Boulder, CO 80302 telephone (902) 422-8404. This glossy magazine covers a variety of Buddhist topics. The March edition includes a cover story on Thich Nhat Hanh. A one-year subscription (four editions) costs $12.

MAGAZINE: "The Mindfulness Bell" the Journal of the Order of Interbeing, published by the Community of Mindful Living, Deer Park, 2496 Melru Lane, Escondido, CA 92026. This small magazine is devoted to news of the Order of Interbeing and Thich Nhat Hanh. A one-year subscription (three editions) costs $18.