Best Buddhist Books for Summer 2013, Part One

Best Buddhist Books for Summer 2013: From Stone to Flesh, Essential Dogen, The Four Dharmas of Gampopa
By Michael Sheehy, Review Editor, Buddhadharma

Looking for a great Buddhist book to dive into this summer? Here is Buddhadharma’s selection of the Best Buddhist Books of the year so far. These are books that will expand and deepen your understanding of Buddhism to help you navigate the waters of samsara.

As is our formula, we have selected books based on the criteria that they inform Buddhists about their practice, advance our understanding of the Buddhist traditions, and are written or translated to be accessible. These are the books that you’ll want to take with you on a long weekend, while you travel, sit on a beach, or find time in a retreat setting.

From Stone to Flesh: A Brief History of the Buddha

Donald Lopez, The University of Chicago Press

So you think you know who the Buddha was. Did you know that he was an Egyptian priest exiled from his north African kingdom during a Persian invasion twenty-three hundred years ago? This, among other fascinating narratives from eighteenth and nineteenth century European scholars, missionaries, and explorers of Buddhist Asia, contribute to the Western conception of the Buddha and Buddhism.

Lopez traces the shift toward our present-day understanding of the Buddha, arguing that our modern view of the Buddha as a historical figure who lived in India and founded a world religion was “born in Paris in 1844.” However much a fascinating read, this is not a history of Buddhism per se, but rather a synopsis of European ideas and images of the Buddha that have come to shape how we understand the Buddha today.

* See the feature review in the Summer 2013 issue of Buddhadharma.

Essential Dogen

Edited by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt, Shambhala Publications

Few Buddhist masters are beloved by Western Buddhists like Eihei Dogen (1200-1253), founder of the Japanese Soto school of Zen. With this new collection of his works, we now have a single book in which to access samples of this Zen master’s thought and expression. The book is a compilation of selected writings from the enormous body of Dogen’s collected works including his writings on poetry, dialogues, and great elucidations on meditation.

Though this is in no way a substitute for Dogen’s primary writings including his masterpiece, Treasury of the True Dharma Eye (Shobo Genzo), because the teachings are divided into snippets and vignettes, it makes for a great handbook to study Dogen’s essential points.

The Four Dharmas of Gampopa

Traleg Kyabgon, KTD Publications

The Four Dharmas are pith instructions that are understood to comprise the whole of the Buddhist path of spiritual transformation. Set down by the twelfth-century Kagyu master and disciple of the famed yogin Milarepa, Gampopa Sonam Rinchen (1079-1153), these teachings are cherished within the Tibetan tradition.

Brought to life with the commentary in this book by Traleg Rinpoche (1955-2012), we see how one’s vision of the dharma increases in depth as progress is made along the path of meditation. As taught by Gampopa, these Four Dharmas guide the practitioner from turning the mind towards dharma teachings, to succeeding along the path, to clarifying confusion to the pinnacle point when confusion dawns as wisdom.

This is the first post in a five part series. Stay-tuned through the summer.

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