2007 July Books in Brief

Reviews of books from July 2007.

Andrea McQuillin
1 July 2007

Invoking Reality: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen
by John Daido Loori
Shambhala Publications, 2007; 112 pp.; $12.95 (paper)

The title of this short book neatly encapsulates John Daido Loori’s central point about the Buddhist precepts: we don’t simply obey them; we do them. And in doing them we “manifest the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha.” The precepts, then, are more powerful than commandments. They are a way to practice truth in our daily lives. Daido Loori, one of the most senior American Zen teachers, is characteristically direct in explaining the sixteen vows that Zen practitioners observe: refuge or allegiance to the three treasures (Buddha, dharma, and sangha); the three “pure” precepts (not creating evil, practicing good, and actualizing good for others); and the ten “grave” precepts (the more familiar list of behavioral injunctions, such as refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and so forth). Daido Loori goes to some length to put to rest a persistent perception that Zen is amoral. “Zen is not beyond morality,” he says. Rather, in his view, it is “a practice that takes place within the world, based on moral and ethical teachings.”


Mind Beyond Death
by The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche
Snow Lion Publications, 2007; 318 pp.; $25.95 (cloth)

Mind Beyond Death is based on oral teachings Ponlop Rinpoche gave on the six bardos, or intermediate states of existence, the subject of the popular Tibetan Book of the Dead. While a three-hundred-page immersion in the Tibetan Buddhist cosmology will be heavy going if you’re a newcomer, you’ll be rewarded for sticking with it. Mind Beyond Death goes a long way toward demystifying these teachings about the transition between one life and another and making them relevant to everyday life. “The way to meet death fully,” says Ponlop Rinpoche, “is to die every day, to every moment, to everything. To our thoughts, to our agony, to our emotions, to our loving relationships—even to our joy.” At forty-one, Ponlop Rinpoche, who makes his home in Seattle, Washington, is at the forefront of a new generation of traditionally trained Tibetan Buddhist scholar-teachers. You’re sure to hear more from him in the future.


Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind: The Life and Letters of an Irish Saint
by Maura O’Halloran
Wisdom Publications, 2007; 328 pp.; $17.95 (paper)

First published in 1994, this collection of the journals and letters of Maura O’Halloran quickly became a classic of modern Buddhist writing. At twenty-four, O’Halloran was already a seasoned traveler when she set off to study Zen in Japan in 1979. Over the next three years, she completed 1000 days of traditional Zen training, after which her teacher, Go Roshi, made O’Halloran his dharma successor—an unprecedented selection because she was a foreigner and a woman. Tragically, three months later she died in a bus accident in Thailand while making her roundabout way back to Dublin to start a Zen center. This expanded edition of Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind includes additional material from O’Halloran’s pre-Japan journals and poetry, an unfinished novella (a lightly fictionalized account of her experience at Toshoji and Kannonji temples), and some reflections from her family. The new bits don’t really add much to the original, but this edition will continue to keep Maura O’Halloran, the unlikely Buddhist saint, alive in the minds and hearts of many.


Zen Putting: Mastering the Mental Game on the Greens
by Joe Parent
Gotham Books, 2007; 207 pp.; $22.50 (cloth)

Golf’s Three Noble Truths: The Fine Art of Playing Awake
by James Rogonnet
New World Library, 2007; 229 pp.; $19.95 (cloth)

Although I don’t play the game, I don’t go so far as to agree with Mark Twain that golf is a good walk spoiled. And there was something to pique my interest in these two books that apply Buddhist philosophy to golf. Zen Putting, the second book from Joe Parent, focuses on the short game and will satisfy the serious golfer who wants to sharpen his mental skills or the serious Buddhist who wants to improve her putting. Dr. Joe, as he is called, is a psychologist and longtime Buddhist student who has developed a career coaching PGA professionals (including Vijay Singh) on the mind game. Parent tells you as much about Buddhism as you need to improve your game and no more. In Golf’s Three Noble Truths, James Rogonnet—an English professor “who has researched, taught, and coached golf” for thirty years—draws on Eastern philosophy to introduce the principle of “playing awake.” Through short lessons like “pure seeing” and “settling your mind,” Rogonnet offers a playful but substantive approach that will appeal to the golfer in pursuit of a happier game and a happier life.


Rewind, Replay, Repeat: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
by Jeff Bell
Hazelden, 2007; 358 pp.; $13.95 (paper)

This memoir of one man’s experience with obsessive-compulsive disorder is a page-turner, and if you’ve ever observed your mind in meditation, you will see in Jeff Bell’s thoughts your own experience writ very large. Displayed in such exaggerated relief, the arbitrariness of recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions) is clear, but most of us entertain these types of thoughts more often than we like to admit. Bell, a radio news anchor in San Francisco, has a clinical disorder so debilitating he was compelled to seek treatment, but we would all do well to familiarize ourselves with the way obsessive-compulsive thoughts limit us.


Seeing Beyond Sight: Photographs by Blind Teenagers
by Tony Deifell
Chronicle Books, 2007; 152 pp.; $24.95 (cloth)

Seeing Beyond Sight was created by visual artist and social entrepreneur Tony Deifell, who, from 1992 to 1997, taught art to visually impaired students in a North Carolina school. It was, as they say, a leap in the dark—putting cameras into the hands of blind kids—but it turned out to be a voyage of discovery for both students and teachers. The teens found a way to document and communicate their world to the sighted, often following and photographing the objects they perceived through other senses (noisy leaf blowers that frightened one girl) or significant people in their lives (one boy exposed several rolls of film with images of his girlfriend). Teachers were struck by what the students “saw” and what the sighted overlooked. (The first pictures Leuwynda took were of cracks in a sidewalk. “You may not notice these cracks,” she wrote to the school superintendent. “They are a big problem since my white cane gets stuck.” The cracks were fixed.) This book will make you look—and look again—at how you perceive and what you assume.


Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment
by Deepak Chopra
Harper SanFrancisco, 2007; 288 pp.; $24.95 (cloth)

The prolific Deepak Chopra takes a turn at Buddhism in this latest outing, a historical novel on the life of the Buddha. “I wanted to bring Buddha out of the mists of time,” says Chopra, “to fill him out in flesh and blood and yet preserve his mystery.” The medical doctor and transcendental meditation practitioner began his publishing career by writing about the mind/body connection (Creating Health, 1986) and Ayurveda. Since then, he’s moved to larger spiritual questions (How to Know God, 2000). Traditionalist Buddhists will turn up their noses at Buddha for its loose interpretation of scripture and its new-age dilution of Buddhist philosophy. All the same, Buddha will enjoy popular success for fully imagining the human challenges of Gautama Siddhartha.