ZEN CONFIDENTIAL: Confessions of a Wayward Monk
By Shozan Jack Haubner
Shambhala Publications 2013; 240 pp., $14.95 (paper)
If you want to hold on to your misty-eyed notions about the peace and purity of monastic life, don’t read this book. But definitely read it if you want gritty truth steeped in wicked irony and really grotesque potty humor. “Shozan Jack Haubner” is the nom de plume of a Buddhist monk living at a monastery in California, and in Zen Confidential he unpacks his spiritual journey. Readers of the Shambhala Sun will already be familiar with some of his misadventures, including all-time side-splitter and cringe-inducer “The Shitty Monk.” Haubner is the son of conservative Catholics—his father manufactured gun barrels— but he grew up to ditch Jesus, major in philosophy, and pursue a career in stand-up comedy. In one of my favorite essays in the collection, he explores what he calls “the abortion koan.” Doubting the accuracy of a pregnancy test, the monk-to-be insists that his snarly girlfriend pee on a second wand. When she holds the results up to the light, he knows one thing with absolute certainty: He will never have sex again. “As always,” he writes, “the only thing I was really wrong about that evening was that of which I was most convinced.”
WALKING THE WAY: 81 Zen Encounters with the Tao Te Ching
By Robert Rosenbaum
Wisdom Publications 2013; 384 pp., $17.95 (paper)
Taoism and Zen go back a long way together. In the fourth and fifth centuries, when Buddhism was taking root in China, Indian scholars struggled to explain Buddhist concepts in Chinese and found the best way to do it was by using Taoist terms.
Linguistically joined at the hip, the traditions influenced each other, and in the sixth century Taoism significantly contributed to the emergence of Chan, later called Zen by the Japanese. In Walking the Way, Robert Rosenbaum offers original Zen-infused commentary on the eighty-one poems of the Tao Te Ching, as well as engaging personal anecdotes to illuminate them. Rosenbaum is a senior teacher of dayan qigong in the lineage of Yang Meijun and received lay entrustment in Zen from Sojun Mel Weitsman of Berkeley Zen Center. He’s also a neuropsychologist, psychotherapist, and behavioral medicine specialist and the author of Zen and the Heart of Psychotherapy.
HOUSE UNDER THE MOON
By Michael Sowder
Truman State University Press 2012; 85 pp., $15.95 (paper)
House Under the Moon is a collection of Michael Sowder’s poems about spirituality, meditation, and fatherhood. Sowder is the founder of the Amrita Sangha for Integral Spirituality, an organization dedicated to exploring and teaching the practices of the world’s wisdom traditions, so it’s unsurprising that his poems borrow from various religions, including Buddhism. In his poem “Hiking at Oselong, Tibetan Buddhist Monastery of Andalucia,” Sowder writes: “Buddha left his family, like Mirabai, Indira Devi, Peter, and Paul. I followed that call once, crushing hearts like soda cans, but then came home.” Pages later, we find “The Fourth Noble Truth,” in which Sowder describes his one- year-old son running off with a map he’d snatched from a car. The poet concludes: “Clutching your booty too tightly—map of Mt. Naomi, veined as any heart—you had no hands to spare, and your face met the cement… It takes time, my son, to learn to break a fall by letting go of what you want.”
THE SUPREME THOUGHT: Bodhichitta & the Enlightened Society Vow
By Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Dragon 2013; 87 pp., $22 (paper)
“Basic goodness” and “enlightened society” are key concepts in the Shambhala tradition. However, “good” here does not mean good as opposed to bad, but rather “pure, intrinsically good.” That is, despite our struggles and confusion, there is something essentially good about our existence as human beings. “Conventionally, society, politics, and human interaction might not be described as good or pure,” says Shambhala Sun columnist Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, writing here under his full Shambhala title, Kongma Sakyong II Jampal Trinley Dradül. “But when society develops confidence in basic goodness, that goodness can manifest and emanate into all fields of human activity. Having confidence and inspiration in the message of basic goodness, a good society can dawn here on Earth.” The Supreme Thought can be purchased through Shambhala Media at shambhalamedia.org.
99 BLESSINGS: An Invitation to Life
By Brother David Steindl-Rast
Image 2013; 128 pp., $14.99 (cloth)
Brother David Steindl-Rast is acclaimed for building bridges between religious traditions. A Catholic monk of the Benedictine Order, he has studied extensively with Zen teachers and is the coauthor, with the late Robert Aitken Roshi, of The Ground We Share: Everyday Practice, Buddhist and Christian. In 99 Blessings, Steindl-Rast offers a series of original interfaith prayers. Pithy and lyrical, they celebrate everything from sparrows to birthdays, from hidden things to fresh linen. To learn more from Steindl-Rast, you might wish to check out the course on awakening the heart and mind that he and Zen teacher Paul Haller will be co-leading from June 28 to July 5 at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center.
DEEP RELAXATION: Coming Home to Your Body
By Sister Chan Khong
Parallax Press 2013; 40 pp., $14.95 (cloth)
When I have trouble sleeping at night, I move from my regular bed to the bed in the guestroom, and sometimes just this change of scene helps me nod off. But if not, I have an even more effective tool in my pajama pocket: deep relaxation, as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh’s closest collaborator, Sister Chan Khong. Her deep-relaxation technique involves finding a comfortable position, closing your eyes, focusing on the breath, and releasing the tension in your body from head to toe. If you wish, you can then go deeper by focusing on a part of your body that needs special attention or healing. But deep relaxation is not just helpful for falling asleep; it’s also an excellent way to take a breather when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Khong suggests dividing a stressful workday into segments and doing short sessions of deep relaxation between each segment. When you do this, she says, you’ll come to your next activity with increased freshness and effectiveness.
By Spencer Tunick
Self-published in a limited edition of 1,400, 2013; 112 pp., $80 (cloth)
When we were looking for a cover for this, the “Body” issue of the Lion’s Roar, we knew we wanted to avoid easy, clichéd imagery—and what could be more clichéd than the way popular media and advertising represent the body? We were looking for something fresh and real, pointing to the common identity we all share by way of our human bodies. We chose “Dead Sea 6, 2011” by Spencer Tunick, the longtime video artist/photographer whose first book, European Installations, has just been released.
Tunick has been documenting the live nude figure in public, with photography and video, since the early 1990s, organizing nearly one hundred site-related installations that make use of volunteers sometimes numbering into the thousands—all nude, unless you count the occasional bit of body paint.
The artist describes his “human installations” as a combination of performance art, photography, sculpture, and land art that transcends the sexuality usually associated with the naked form. His aim is to reveal abstract “new shapes” that challenge our views of the body and also ask us to consider the complexities of presenting art in public spaces.
Of course, not everyone is willing to go there with Tunick; his choice to work with as unusual and controversial a medium as nude bodies has resulted in five arrests. But in May 2000, the Second U.S. District Court recognized that his work should be protected by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court then ruled in Tunick’s favor too, allowing the May ruling to stand and the artist to freely organize his work in New York City’s streets.
Self-published in a limited edition of 1,400, European Installations can be ordered from spencertunick.com.