Book Reviews for July 2016

We review Mark Gerzon’s “The Reunited States of America,” Dzogchen Ponlop’s “Emotional Rescue,” a Buddhist baby book, and more.

Lindsay Kyte
15 June 2016

Emotional Rescue

Emotional Rescue

How to Work with Your Emotions to Transform Hurt and Confusion into Energy that Empowers You

By Dzogchen Ponlop
Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2016; 272 pp., $27 (paper)

Buddhist teacher Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche says his father’s death was accompanied by such vivid emotions that it started him on a lifelong exploration of his emotions. In chapters such as “Mindfulness at the Kitchen Sink” and “Relax Where You Are,” Ponlop Rinpoche shows us how to navigate the highs and lows of extreme emotion through awareness and understanding, rather than simply being victim to their rollercoaster states. To do so, Ponlop Rinpoche presents his three-step Emotional Rescue Plan: Mindful Gap, the practice of creating a safe distance between you and your emotions; Clear Seeing, recognizing the bigger picture; and Letting Go, which is the practice of releasing stressful physical and emotional energy through exercise, relaxation, and awareness. Ponlop Rinpoche teaches that each step brings us greater insight into the wisdom offered by facing our emotions head-on.


Stars At Dawn

Forgotten Stories of Women in the Buddha’s Life

By Wendy Garling
Shambhala Publications, 2016; 304 pp., $18.95 (paper)

While the Buddha declared that four assemblies—laywomen, laymen, nuns, and monks—“would become wise and accomplished through his teachings,” women practitioners have had second-class status through Buddhist history, their stories often lost or ignored. In Stars at Dawn, Buddhist teacher Wendy Garling embarks on a contemporary feminist examination of the ancient legends of the women who influenced the Buddha’s journey. From laywomen to nuns to female patrons, Garling weaves often overlooked stories from all traditions into a narrative that challenges readers to rethink gender equality in Buddhism and empowers women to reclaim their shared Buddhist heritage.

Reunited States of America Cover

The Reunited States of America

How We Can Bridge The Partisan Divide

By Mark Gerzon
Berrett-Koehler, 2016; 198 pp., $16.95 (paper)

Meditator and facilitator Mark Gerzon says this book stems from something a young national security analyst once said to him: “We Americans don’t seem to be able to work together anymore. I’m afraid that the biggest threat we face is from within.” With this in mind, Gerzon seeks to find the positive in a climate of poisonous partisanship in which party loyalty often seems to supersede love of country. The Reunited States of America serves as a kind of primer on good citizenship. While recognizing the challenges of changing the political culture of politics, it offers us practices, maps, and models to help create a healthy democracy.


Living and Dying with Confidence

A Day-By-Day Guide

By Anyen Rinpoche and Allison Choying Zangmo
Wisdom Publications, 2016; 216 pp., $14.95 (paper)

“The Tibetan Buddhist tradition,” write Anyen Rinpoche and Allison Choying Zangmo, “places a special emphasis on the moment of death as being laden with potential for spiritual awakening and the transcendence of ordinary mind.” Living and Dying with Confidence serves as a guide to prepare for death intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. With short teachings followed by exercises for reflection and integration, the authors emphasize the importance of courage, compassion, generosity, loving-kindness, and patience as tools for facing death—qualities we can cultivate on the meditation cushion and in everyday life.


Heart of the Brush

The Splendor of East Asian Calligraphy

By Kazuaki Tanahashi
Shambhala Publications, 2016; 390 pp., $27.95 (paper)

Both a practical resource and an elegant art book, Heart of the Brush is an appreciation of the art and practice of East Asian brush calligraphy, covering its history, techniques, aesthetics, and philosophy. Author and teacher Kazuaki Tanahashi draws on his lifelong dedication to this art to offer an in-depth guide to understanding and drawing 150 different characters. His unique approach to teaching this practice begins with presenting characters written by ancient Chinese masters for beginners to copy as a first step. In this age of constant screens and instant information, Heart of the Brush seeks to remind us of the timeless power and beauty of calligraphy.


Why Is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling?

A Westerner’s Introduction and Guide to Tibetan Buddhism Practice

By Lama Tsomo
Namchak Publishing, 2016; 276 pp., $27.95 (paper)

Why Is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling? is by one of the few American women recognized as a lama in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. Lama Tsomo is a former homesteader, an heir to the Pritzker fortune, and cofounder of the Namchak Foundation. In this book, she translates Tibetan Buddhist teachings into practical applications for finding peace and centeredness amid the stresses of modern life. Using step-by-step instructions, photographs, and explanations laced with humor and personal stories, Lama Tsomo guides the reader on this path through techniques for concentration, focus, and compassion in relationships, outlining her own spiritual journey along the way. This book features an introductory letter from the Dalai Lama, portable meditation cards, Science Tidbits, and a glossary of Buddhist terms.


You Are Not Your Fault

And Other Revelations

By Wes “Scoop” Nisker
Soft Skull Press, 2016; 261 pp., $16.95 (paper)

You Are Not Your Fault is a book for those who feel they have sinned or are seriously flawed as human beings. And who doesn’t, to some degree? In fact, says journalist and Insight teacher Wes “Scoop” Nisker, we can take no credit or blame for who we are. The good news is that in the eyes of Mother Nature we are all forgiven for being ourselves. “Accept it! You are not your fault,” he writes. This collection of essays takes the reader along on Nisker’s journey through the 1960s, the environmental movement, and the surge of Buddhism in the West, with philosophical asides on liberating the mind while loving the world.


Embracing Each Moment

A Guide to the Awakened Life

By Anam Thubten
Shambhala Publications, 2016; 144 pp., $18.95 (cloth)

In Embracing Each Moment, Anam Thubten, a master in the Nyingma school of Vajrayana Buddhism, touches on themes of non-grasping, nonself, happiness, love, and the sacred nature of all things. He warns us that the path to an awakened life can sometimes be difficult—“It can be painful to lose your psychological solace, your emotional comfort, and your beautiful illusions”—but highlights its benefits to individuals and society at large in chapters such as “Hymns to Ordinary Things” and “Your Heart Wants to Dance.”


Baby Present

By Rachel Neumann
Parallax Press, 2016; 22 pp., $9.95

This may be the first review in our history that has more words than the book itself. Inspired by her teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rachel Neumann has paired simple but powerful Buddhist teachings with colorful photos of babies. Together, they remind us grown-ups to stop, breathe, be present, and enjoy life—just like the babies! It’s not a long read but it’s one that will never stop touching your heart and inspiring your practice. We give this book a resounding “Awww!”

Lindsay Kyte

Lindsay Kyte

Lindsay Kyte works as a freelance journalist, playwright, and performer.