Books in Brief January 2010

Review of Buddhist books from January 2010.

Andrea Miller
1 January 2009

The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World
By His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, MD
Doubleday, 2009; 346 pp., $26.00 (cloth)

The Art of Happiness was released in 1998 with a small first printing and modest expectations, but—to the surprise of the publishing industry—it became a New York Times bestseller. The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World is the long-awaited sequel, examining personal happiness in relation to broader issues, such as violence, prejudice, and terrorism. The Dalai Lama and Cutler’s underlying point is that by cultivating compassion and empathy we can simultaneously work toward our own happiness and overcoming society’s ills. In the closing chapter, the authors offer specific techniques to intentionally increase our capacity for these positive emotions.RQ

Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year
By Cassandra Vieten
New Harbringer Publications, 2009; 200 pp., $16.95 (paper)

Cassandra Vieten makes it clear—mindful motherhood isn’t another goal you must achieve in order to be a good mother. Nor is it about always staying calm in the face of labor pains or temper tantrums. Mindful motherhood is about being aware of your experience from moment to moment without judging it, and about staying connected to your baby regardless of what’s happening. The book has a foreword by Sylvia Boorstein and is divided into twenty-four chapters that each take about twenty minutes to read—a manageable amount of time even for busy moms.

The Complete Tassajara Cookbook: Recipes, Techniques, and Reflections From the Famed Zen Kitchen
By Edward Espe Brown
Shambhala Publications, 2009; 526 pp., $35 (cloth)

The Complete Tassajara Cookbook is a collection of Zen chef Edward Espé Brown’s best work. Thirty-five years ago, when Brown wrote Tassajara Cooking, he shied away from giving recipes in the usual sense, preferring to list ingredients without specific quantities in hopes of encouraging experimentation. Some of the recipes in this new volume are likewise refreshing loose, but Brown has come to realize that more specific instructions allow people to add to their repertoire, so most of the recipes are more precise. The one constant is that he always conveys his delight in vegetarian cooking. It’s not just about working on food, he says, but working on yourself, and awakening your capacities for living in the moment.

Riprap and Cold Mountain Poems
By Gary Snyder
Counterpoint, 2009; 96 pp., $24.00 (cloth)

Pulitzer Prize-winner Gary Snyder had his first book of poems published in 1959 in Japan by Origin Press. Now Counterpoint is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary with this new edition, which also includes Snyder’s translation of Han Shan’s Cold Mountain Poems and a CD of Snyder reading all the poems in this collection. Riprap is infused with Buddhist thought, environmentalism, and a certain sexual energy. But what I enjoy most about this classic is that it is replete with natural imagery, which is as gorgeous as it is lean.

You Don’t Have to Be a Buddhist to Know Nothing: An Illustrious Collection of Thoughts on Naught
Conceived and edited by Joan Konner
Prometheus Books, 2009; 200 pp., $17 (cloth)

You Don’t Have to Be a Buddhist to Know Nothing is a collection of quotes about nothing and its cousins—silence, voids, and emptiness. But as the editor, Joan Konner, points out, nothing and everything are joined at the hip. “If there weren’t a vacuum, everything would be static,” she says. “There could be no motion between bodies… no rhythm without pause, no meaning without space between words and sentences, no emptiness out of which new thoughts, new works, might arise.” The quotes—always insightful, sometimes wickedly funny—are by thinkers of all stripes, such as Sylvia Plath, Bob Dylan, Lao Tzu, and Shakespeare. Konner was also the editor of The Atheist’s Bible.

A Book of Silence
By Sara Maitland
Counterpoint, 2009; 320 pp., $25 (cloth)

As one of six children, Sara Maitland had a noisy childhood. Then she embarked on a noisy adulthood as a mother and vocal feminist. In her forties, however, she found herself living on her own in the country and discovering the richness of tranquility. A Book of Silence is Mailtand’s memoir chronicling her periods of silence in the Sinai desert, in the hills of her native Scotland, and in a remote cottage on the Isle of Skye. The book also unpacks the cultural significance of silence around the globe. A contemplative Christian, she takes us along as she explores Islamic politics and the peacefulness of a Zen temple.

Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems
Edited by Stephen Addiss, Fumiko Yamamoto, and Akira Yamamoto
Shambhala Publications, 2009; 208 pp., $18.95 (cloth)

In Such Hard Times: The Poetry of Wei Ying-wu
Translated by Red Pine
Copper Canyon Press, 2009; 368 pp., $18 (paper)

Haiku: An Anthology of Japanese Poems is a survey of that compact poetic form. A beautifully bound book, it features haiku from the fifteenth to the twentieth century, including a generous number by masters Basho, Buson, and Issa. Many of the poems are keen observations about snowfall and fireflies, but others reveal a piece of human nature. In Such Hard Times contains 175 poems by Wei Ying-wu, presented in a Chinese–English format. Wei Ying-wu, who spent many years living in Buddhist temples, wasn’t widely recognized during his lifetime (737-791), but after his death he became something of a poets’ poet in China. Until this ambitious collection was translated by Red Pine, only a handful of Wei’s poems were available in English.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama
Photography by Don Farber
teNeues Publishing Company, 2009; 96 pp., $49.95 (cloth)

More of Don Farber’s photographs have appeared on Shambhala Sun pages than those of any other photographer. That’s fitting, as Fulbright scholar Farber has photographed the greatest Buddhist luminaries of our time. “My old friend Don Farber has been taking photographs of me for thirty years,” writes the Dalai Lama in the foreword of Farber’s new book. Farber has kept a record, His Holiness continues, “as I have gotten older, my hair greyer.… But of far greater value, his pictures show how a simple Buddhist monk from faraway Tibet… has been warmly received in so many places.” Many of the photos in His Holiness the Dalai Lama offer us a warm flash of his smile, but my favorites are the intimate portrayals of his meditation practice.

Hidden Buddhas: A Novel of Karma and Chaos
By Liza Dalby
Stone Bridge Press, 2009; 424 pp., $16.95 (paper)

Civil Twilight: A Darcy Lott Mystery
By Susan Dunlap
Counterpoint, 2009; 268 pp., $25 (cloth)

For fiction with a Buddhist twist, check out these novels. In Hidden Buddhas, an American graduate student and a Japanese artist, who is haunted by an aborted child, fall in love and have a daughter who eventually text-messages her way to enlightenment. Woven into the tale is all the mystery of Shingon, Japan’s version of Vajrayana Buddhism. In Civil Twilight, Darcy Lott, a Zen practitioner, professional stuntwoman, and amateur detective is asked by her lawyer brother to entertain Karen, one of his clients. Darcy takes an immediate liking to Karen—she has guts, smarts, and an interest in Buddhism—but there is something strange about her. Then Karen vanishes from the city and Darcy’s brother becomes a murder suspect.

Yoga for a World Out of Balance: Teachings on Ethics and Social Action
By Michael Stone
Shambhala Publications, 2009; 224 pp., $17.95 (paper)

This is not a book that will teach you how to do the cobra or the tree. Instead, it’s about how authentic yoga practice encompasses social engagement and the truth that every aspect of our life plays a role in the greater ecological system. We need to develop the practical skills to create positive change, says the psychotherapist and yoga teacher Michael Stone, and the five principles (yama) described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra can be a solid basis for rethinking ethical action. The forward to Yoga for a World Out of Balance is by the renowned yogi B.K.S. Iyengar.

Amy and Gully With Aliens
By W.W. Rowe
Snow Lion, 2009; 108 pp., $6.95 (paper)

The ABCs of Yoga for Kids
By Theresa Anne Power
Stafford House, 2009; 32 pp., $19.95 (cloth)

Tibetan Tales From the Top of the World
By Naomi C. Rose
Clear Light Publishing, 2009; 64 pp., $19.95 (cloth)

Here are three spiritually oriented children’s books for the holiday season. In part based on teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh, Amy and Gully With Aliens is about compassion, interconnectedness, and pure intention. But don’t let the loftiness of that give you the impression this book isn’t juicy enough for the nine to twelve set. In this fast-paced adventure story, Amy and Gully are taken hostage on a flying saucer. They manage to outsmart the aliens—only to discover they may have made things worse. The ABCs of Yoga for Kids is a delightful way to introduce children to both asana and the alphabet. The fifty-six featured poses promote not only flexibility, strength, and coordination, but also wellbeing. The instructions are straightforward and the illustrations are both sweet and colorful. Tibetan Tales From the Top of the World features three traditional stories in both English and Tibetan. The Tibetan translation is by Pasang Tenzin; the foreword is by the Dalai Lama; the preface is by Richard Gere; and the text and dreamy illustrations are by Naomi C. Rose, who will be donating some of the sale proceeds to benefit Tibetan refugees.

Andrea Miller

Andrea Miller

Andrea Miller is the editor of Lion’s Roar magazine. She’s the author of Awakening My Heart: Essays, Articles, and Interviews on the Buddhist Life, as well as the picture book The Day the Buddha Woke Up.