Books in Brief September 2007

Books reviewed in September 2007.

Andrea McQuillin
1 September 2007

Business and the Buddha: Doing Well by Doing Good
by Lloyd Field
Wisdom Publications, 2007; 240 pp.; $16.95 (paper)

Can profit-driven, free-market enterprise be reconciled with the Buddha’s Middle Way? For Lloyd Field, a longtime management consultant and Buddhist practitioner, the answer is yes. Business and the Buddha presents his case for bringing “a human-based values philosophy to a value-neutral economic culture,” using the Four Noble Truths as a framework. The great thing about Buddhism, Field says, is that it doesn’t require that we take anything away from an existing culture—it just adds values like personal responsibility, integrity, ethical behavior, and spirituality, guided by the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. Field is not the first to promote human health and dignity as having value that is at least equal to the corporate bottom line, but he is among the first to make that argument using Buddhist philosophy as a guide. Whether you’re a paper-pusher in cube-land or a decision-maker at the top of the corporate ladder, Lloyd offers you an analysis and helpful suggestions that will help bring humanity into your business.

Each Moment Is the Universe: Zen and the Way of Being Time
by Dainin Katagiri; edited by Andrea Martin
Shambhala Publications, 2007; 240 pp.; $21.95 (cloth)

The material in Each Moment of the Universe is drawn from oral teachings that span the late Dainin Katagiri Roshi’s twenty-five-year teaching career in the U.S., from the San Francisco Zen Center to the Midwest. The book’s central theme is the difficult concept of “being-time,” introduced by thirteenth-century Soto Zen founder Eihei Dogen. Thankfully, Katagiri Roshi and his contemporary editor take a plain, slice-of-life approach to walking us through the Zen way of relating to time: “Time must be considered in deep relationship with being, because all beings in the universe appear and disappear as a moment of time. Being is exactly time; time is exactly being.” OK, so it might not make sense in thirty words, but if you stick with him, Katagiri Roshi will make these notoriously opaque Zen teachings a little more transparent, if you can find the time—or be it.

The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness
by Mark G. Williams, John D. Teasdale, Zindel V. Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn
Guilford Press, 2007; 270 pp.; $19.95 (paper)

The Mindful Way through Depression provides a popular introduction to the new psychotherapeutic treatment called Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). While cognitive therapy is designed to help change negative thinking patterns, MBCT emphasizes being aware of how they arise so that we can respond better to them. By learning to recognize and break away from false constructs of the mind, we can notice depression before it fully develops. This method, packaged here with a CD of guided meditations, is a direct adaptation of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. MBCT has been showing some success with those who have had three or more episodes of depression; research has demonstrated that it can cut their risk of relapse by half.

Merton and Buddhism: Wisdom, Emptiness and Everyday Mind
Edited by Bonnie Bowman Thurston
Fons Vitae, 2007; 298 pp.; $26.95 (paper)

This collection of essays is the fourth volume in a series examining the late Thomas Merton’s study of non-Christian religions. Of course, Merton’s interest in Buddhism is well documented, and in his own lifetime, he wrote several books on the subject, including Mystics and Zen Masters and Zen and the Birds of Appetite. A 2005 conference, from which the essays in this book are drawn, convened to assess Merton’s Buddhist knowledge in light of what we’ve learned since his death in 1968. Most of these scholars agree that Merton was limited by the sources that were available to him (when Merton took an interest in Buddhism in the 1950’s, the Zen writings of D.T. Suzuki and Alan Watts were the most available) and by the fact that his exposure to accomplished Buddhist teachers from other traditions only occurred toward the end of his life. A man of his time, Merton was at the leading edge of inter-religious dialogue and the entry of Buddhism to the West. Despite the fact that he was able to advance both causes, his understanding of Buddhism, says John Keenan succinctly, was “imperfect and incomplete.” Doubtless he has plenty of company.