Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are
By Jack Kornfield
Shambhala Publications 2011; 304 pp., $24.95 (cloth)
A Lamp in the Darkness: Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times
By Jack Kornfield
Sounds True 2011; 248 pp., $19.95 (cloth)
Jack Kornfield, who trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma, and India, is a founder of both Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock Meditation Center. His previous books, including A Path With Heart and After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, have sold more than a million copies. Now he has two new books out. Bringing Home the Dharma, a synthesis of twenty-five years of Kornfield’s writings, has a wide scope— everything from parenting to drugs to the nature of enlightenment. “All aspects of your life are your field of practice,” Kornfield says in the introduction. “This very life, your work, your family, your community is the only place for awakening.” A Lamp in the Darkness, which includes a CD, will be especially appealing to readers who are dealing with difficult situations. According to Kornfield, we each have “one who knows,” a witnessing consciousness that is calm, clear, and accepting, even in the face of illness, loss, or depression. The meditations and teachings in A Lamp in the Darkness will help readers begin to trust this life force and thereby transform their difficulties.
EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want
By Frances Moore Lappé
Nation Books 2011; 304 pp., $26 (cloth)
Several years ago, Frances Moore Lappé, author of the groundbreaking Diet for a Small Planet, participated in a conference on the global environmental crisis. But instead of leaving the conference pumped up to put into practice new tools for helping the planet, she left feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, and she suspected a lot of other people felt the same way. Such feelings, says Lappé, prevent us from taking action, and we can’t afford inaction. The environmental crisis is grave and we need all hands on deck to survive it. But—and she’s very clear about this—we can survive it. In EcoMind, Lappé argues that the first thing we need to do to effect change is to transform our way of thinking. There are seven “thought-traps” that keep us paralyzed and powerless, but there are seven contrasting “thought-leaps” that could enable us to find green solutions. This is an empowering, hopeful book, full of examples of how a wide range of communities have solved environmental problems.
The Way of Natural History
Edited by Thomas Lowe Fleischner
Trinity University Press 2011; 204 pp., $16.95 (paper)
The Way of Natural History is an anthology of nature writing with a contemplative bent. Its editor, Thomas Lowe Fleischner, says it is probably not coincidental that the Buddha reached enlightenment while seated under a tree. “Natural history and mindfulness,” he says, “are two surfaces of the same leaf, a seamless merging of attentiveness outward and inward.” Some people find it easier to look inward, others to look outward. But in either case, the practice of mindful attention is the same and the two practices are complementary. Contributors to this handsome volume include Zen poet Jane Hirshfield and Zen master Robert Aitken, an important voice for socially engaged Buddhism who died in 2010.
A Profound Mind: Cultivating Wisdom in Everyday Life
By the Dalai Lama
Harmony Books 2011; 160 pp., $23 (cloth)
A Profound Mind is based on talks the Dalai Lama gave in New York City in which he delved into the meaning of ancient texts such as the Diamond Cutter Sutra and Seventy Verses on Emptiness. I’m not trying to tell you that the final result is beach reading, but it is also not the inaccessible tome you might think. His teachings are clear, concise, and fresh, and they have a practical aspect. His aspiration for this book is to dispel misconceptions about Buddhism by mapping out its true beliefs, and to invite people of other faiths to incorporate into their practice any elements of Buddhism that they feel would be helpful. The afterword is by Richard Gere.
Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh
Compiled and edited by Melvin McLeod
Shambhala Publications 2011; 384 pp., $17.95 (paper)
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, our true home is in the here and the now. This isn’t an abstract idea, but something we can touch and live in every moment. Your True Home is a collection of 365 pithy teachings by Thay. In the editor’s preface, the Shambhala Sun’s Melvin McLeod suggests reading them slowly, maybe one or two a day, in order to savor and digest them more fully. This is excellent advice, but whenever I sit down with the book, I find myself reading “just one more” and “just one more” again. The diverse themes include reconciliation, freedom, sexuality, and conscious breathing. One of my favorites is No. 76: “Sometimes you encounter people who are so pure, beautiful, and content. They give you the impression that they are divine, that they are actually saints or holy beings. What you perceive in them is their awakened self, their buddhanature, and what they reflect back to you is your own capacity for being awake.”
Our Secret Territory: The Essence of Storytelling
By Laura Simms
Sentient Publications 2011; 160 pp., $14.95 (paper)
Storytelling, says Laura Simms, provides us with immediate relief from stress and self-preoccupation; urges us into wisdom; and ultimately connects us to our buddhanature. Part lyrical treatise on the power of storytelling, part memoir, Our Secret Territory is woven through with quotes, poems, and tales. Simms is the adoptive mother of ex-child soldier Ishmael Beah, author of the bestseller A Long Way Gone, and some of the most moving parts of her book deal with their relationship. When Beah first came to the U.S., Simms thought that he’d just stay with her for the summer, then in the fall she’d find a “real” family for him to live with. He was silent when she told him this plan. Finally, he said: “I thought you were going to be my mother.” Simms suddenly felt every cell in her body adjust to a binding decision. “You are right,” she said. “I am your mother.” And that was that, she writes, “as fast and decisive as an event in a fairytale, and as true as the best stories.”
A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind
By Christien Gholson
Parthian 2011; 268 pp., $14.95 (paper)
This debut novel is described as having six main characters: a Buddhist magician, a journalist, a clairvoyant, an aging Casanova, a Catholic priest, and a Rimbaud scholar. But I think the mysterious fish threading throughout the story have such surreal weight that they almost constitute a seventh character. On the morning of the festival day of St. Woelfred, fish are found dead, scattered everywhere throughout a small cement factory town in Belgium. Did the saint leave the fish as some kind of sign or was it Contexture, an environmental activist dance troupe known to get naked? Illusion is the theme of A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind and this is best summed up by the book’s opening epigraph from the Lankavantara Sutra: “Things are not what they seem. Nor are they otherwise…”
The Iovis Trilogy: Colors in the Mechanism of Concealment
By Anne Waldman
Coffee House Press 2011; 720 pp., $40 (cloth)
In a world where most poetry collections are slender to the point of being anorexic, kudos to Coffee House Press for publishing such a substantial work. The Iovis Trilogy is Anne Waldman’s epic, richly textured poem exploring the manifestations of patriarchy, braiding history and myth, Buddhist philosophy, and conversation snippets. An award-winning poet, longtime Buddhist, and social activist, Waldman was referred to by Allen Ginsberg as his “spiritual wife,” and in 1974 they founded The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. Waldman is now the artistic director of the school’s summer writing program and she has forty books and chapbooks of poetry under her belt.