UNFINISHED CONVERSATION:Healing from Suicide and Loss
By Robert E. Lesoine with Marilynne Chöphel
Parallax Press 2013; 176 pp., $14.95 (paper)
Longtime Buddhist practitioner Robert Lesoine was at the dentist with his mouth full of equipment when his cellphone rang. It was his best friend’s ex-wife calling, but she was screaming and crying so hard that she was incomprehensible. Finally Lesoine understood: his best friend had killed himself. For two years following this loss, Lesoine kept a journal to help him work through his profound grief—the shock and disbelief, the rage and sorrow. Unfinished Conversation incorporates moving sections from the journal, plus writing prompts, meditations, and other practical suggestions for finding support in the wake of a loved one’s suicide. Lesoine’s collaborator, Marilynne Chöphel, is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in the treatment of acute and relational trauma.
WIND AND RAIN: The Life of Ikkyu
Story by Ven. Miao You, art by Yan Kaixin
Buddha’s Light Publishing 2013; 160 pp., $9.95 (paper)
Buddhist Light Publishing is translating a series of Chinese graphic novels telling the life stories of great Buddhist monastics. Wind and Rain is the biography of the Rinzai Zen monk and poet Ikkyu. Rumored to be the illegitimate son of Emperor Go-Komatsu, he was a fifteenth-century vagabond who is celebrated for attaining enlightenment at Lake Biwa when a crow cawed. Wind and Rain is the sanitized, all-ages version of his story. There’s no mention of his notorious consumption of alcohol or his late-life lover, Mori, a blind singer. The emphasis is instead on Ikkyu’s deep commitment to justice. From a young age, he criticized the corruption he saw in both the aristocracy and Buddhist institutions and he sought out teachers who, like him, shunned material wealth and titles. Amid the hardships of war, he organized relief for the poor and helped create and rebuild temples. Ikkyu passed away in his eighty-eighth year in the middle of autumn.
BUDDHA’S BOOK OF STRESS REDUCTION: Finding Serenity and Peace with Mindfulness Meditation
By Joseph Emet
Tarcher 2013; 224 pp., $15.95 (paper)
The first noble truth in Buddhism is dukkha, which is most commonly translated as “suffering.” But as Joseph Emet points out, some leading translators are now rendering this Pali word as “stress.” Buddha’s Book of Stress Reduction begins by exploring the stressful impact of our to-do lists. The average toddler smiles six hundred times a day, but as we grow up our focus shifts from the present to future goals, which limits our happiness. Emet is not suggesting we throw away planning or any of our other adult life skills, but he is recommending that we take more time to enjoy the present moment, even in the face of the need to get things done. Emet goes on to address the myriad elements of stress, such as past wounds, worry, irritation, anger, fear, work, and relationships.
LOVE LETTER TO THE EARTH
By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press 2013; 144 pp., $14.95 (paper)
Environmental activists get a bad rap for being dour. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, however, is anything but. Instead of finger-pointing and calling for austerity, his solution to our environmental crisis is mindfulness. Through mindfulness, he says, we realize that the Earth is not simply the ground beneath our feet—we are the Earth. Every cell in our body comes from the Earth and is part of it. “We are a living, breathing manifestation of this beautiful and generous planet,” he says. When we know this, we fall completely in love with the Earth, and as with anything we love, we naturally do whatever we can to take care of it. I particularly appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh’s heartfelt description of seeing for the first time photos of the Earth taken from space. He saw a glowing jewel and recognized the Earth’s fragility. “Dear Earth,” he thought, “I didn’t know that you are so beautiful. I see you in me. I see me myself in you.”
YOGA: The Art of Transformation
Edited by Debra Diamond
Smithsonian Books 2013; 328 pp., $55 (cloth)
Yoga: The Art of Transformation is the sumptuous catalogue of a recent exhibition at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution. A visual feast, it also offers essays by scholars tackling the convoluted history of yoga. In today’s yoga studios, it’s commonly believed that the earliest evidence we have for yoga is a third-millennium BCE clay seal from the Indus River Valley. According to scholar David Gordon White, however, this depiction of a figure seated in a cross-legged posture is not conclusive evidence that yoga was practiced at that time. After all, images of figures in this very same posture also hail from ancient Scandinavia and other locales. Additional thought-provoking angles covered in this book include the fact that European bodybuilding influenced modern yoga, and that yoga is not just connected to Buddhism and Hinduism but is also deeply connected to Jainism and Islam. Indeed, Muslim interest in yoga dates back a thousand years to the scholar al-Biruni, who translated Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras into Arabic.
EVERYTHING IS WORKABLE: A Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution
By Diane Musho Hamilton
Shambhala Publications 2013; 218 pp., $16.95 (paper)
When she was growing up, Diane Musho Hamilton’s extended family had parties at her grandmother’s house. By 9 p.m. the conversation was always lively, but by 1 a.m. arguments were brewing and soon someone was storming out the front door. Hamilton was sometimes at the heart of the fray, at times an ally in the fight, and at other times an unbiased observer. Curious about these different roles, she went on to study mediation, and Everything Is Workable comes out of her many years of work in that field. This book offers readers a new way of thinking about conflict. It unpacks what Hamilton believes are the three personal conflict styles and the three fundamental perspectives in any conflict situation. Conflict is an inevitable part of life, Hamilton teaches, and if we try to eradicate it in one area, it will simply manifest elsewhere. What we can do—what we will ultimately find more useful and satisfying—is to accept conflict and integrate it into our spiritual path.
THE BUDDHA’S APPRENTICE AT BEDTIME: Tales of Compassion and Kindness for You to Read with Your Child—to Delight and Inspire
By Dharmachari Nagaraja
Watkins Publishing 2013; 128 pp., $16.95 (paper)
Some monkeys had a penchant for stealing the king’s peaches and plums, and they were so wily that the gardener was never able to catch them. One day, the cook’s daughter suggested laying an enticing trap of cake. Sweets, she said, would make the monkeys sleepy, and sleepy monkeys would be easier to catch. The shoemaker’s son also had an idea: he’d make dazzling high heels, which the vain monkeys would be unable to resist. It’s difficult to run away, he said, when wearing impractical shoes. A few days later, the monkeys slipped into the orchard and found a cake stand weighted down with cream-filled cupcakes and tree branches hung with pumps. Indeed, the monkeys could not resist. They ended up trapped in the king’s zoo and it took them a good long while to escape. “The Monkey Thieves” is just one of the stories from the children’s book The Buddha’s Apprentice at Bedtime. Like every story in the collection, it’s a modern retelling of a Jataka Tale and it exemplifies a principle of the noble eightfold path. Do not be greedy or vain is what this story teaches.