Buddhadharma Book Briefs for Summer 2019

In the Summer 2019 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, Daigengna Duoer reviews “Deep Hope” by Diane Eshin Rizzetto, “A Bird in Flight Leaves No Trace” by Master Subul Sunim, “Satipatthana Meditation” by Bhikkhu Analayo, and more.

Daigengna Duoer
14 May 2019
Photo by Kimberly Farmer.

In 1940 in Nepal, Chittadhar Hrdaya was arrested for publishing poems in the Newari language, an act regarded as subversive by Nepal’s ruling Rana dynasty. During his subsequent five-year imprisonment, he wrote The Epic of the Buddha: His Life and Teachings (Shambhala 2019, translated by Todd T. Lewis and Subarna Man Tuladhar), composed in Newari on bits of paper that were carried out secretly by his sister whenever she visited the prison to bring him food. What makes his telling unique from other stories of the Buddha’s life is how it functions as a vast cultural encyclopedia of Newar life. From the details of ritual offerings to the precise renditions of temple iconography, the epic reveals not only Hrdaya’s mastery of his rich culture but also how he experienced it himself, in happiness and in mourning. Hrdaya believed that by filling in the places that are silent in the classical sources with details from his own society’s urban life, he was able to make the Buddha’s life more relatable.

In a time of violence, division, and disasters, how do we generate hope? In Deep Hope: Zen Guidance on Staying Steadfast When the World Seems Hopeless (Shambhala 2019), Zen teacher Diane Eshin Rizzetto offers a powerful way to engage with the world today. Instead of “vain hope,” which puts us in a closed system with our desired future outcomes, Rizzetto urges us to have “deep hope,” which makes no guarantees for any particular result. “The former,” she writes, “fails to appreciate the complexity of conditions that will arise with whatever comes to be, whereas the latter understands that, in the midst of impermanence and interdependence, we can only do our best.” According to Rizzetto, the path to deep hope is found in the cultivation of the six perfections, a practice that can “nurture and sustain our deepest capacity to continue on, knowing that, in spite of what appears on the surface, there exists a fundamental love and connection between all things.”

A valuable contribution to our understanding of Tibetan monasticism, The Monastery Rules: Buddhist Monastic Organization in Pre-Modern Tibet (University of California 2018) is the first study of its kind to examine the genre of chayik, or monastic guidelines, in detail. Challenging mystified and idealized notions of Tibetan monasticism as isolated and spiritual, Berthe Jansen argues that premodern Buddhist monasteries in Tibet were “de facto loci of influence of power,” with monastic regulations functioning like laws. In the monastic guidelines for the Drepung monastery from 1682, for example, laypeople had to comply with the same rules of not riding horses, not singing songs, and so on, established within the monastery. In addition, with the exception of murder, treason, and forgery, Jansen has found that premodern monasteries themselves had the authority to make judicial decisions independent from the state. In short, monasteries were more influential in shaping the government than the government was in shaping monasteries.

“Seon directly points to absolute truth, which it calls an ‘open secret.’ However, most people today, entangled in the complexities of daily life and myriad stereotypical ideas, cannot see this reality.” In A Bird in Flight Leaves No Trace: The Zen Teachings of Huangbo with a Modern Commentary (Wisdom 2019), Master Subul Sunim of the Korean Seon tradition elaborates on this open secret of absolute truth through his modern commentaries on the classic Chan text Essentials of Transmitting the Mind–Dharma, composed by ninth-century Chinese master Huangbo Xiyun. Following the traditions of the Linji (Jpn., Rinzai) lineage, Subul Sunim lectures frequently on the Essentials at the Anguk Seonwon in Busan, one of the largest lay Buddhist practice centers in Korea today. He dedicates his commentary to Buddhist practitioners who want to understand the true nature of their minds and seek a sudden awakening to that nature, but he also reminds readers that, according to Huangbo, there is no need to do anything in order to develop our enlightenment; the true nature of the mind is that it is already enlightened.

Guardians of the Buddha’s Home: Domestic Religion in the Contemporary Jodo Shinshu (University of Hawaii 2019) opens with a vivid snapshot of a Japanese family’s life in the temple: women preparing food in the kitchen and children running around, all while a liturgy is under way. In this pioneering ethnographic study of bomori, or temple wives, Jessica Starling illuminates women’s religious subjectivity and reveals previously unseen dimensions of the broader Jodo Shinshu tradition. Starling examines the unique figure of the temple wife—an uncategorized position in Buddhism, encompassing qualities of both nuns and laywomen. She argues that it is also “a position that complicates the distinctions we might be inclined to draw between lay and cleric, priest and wife, domestic and religious, and sacred and mundane.” A significant contribution to the study of gender in Buddhism, this book brings into focus women who are enmeshed in, rather than removed from, familial relationship while carrying out their religious activities.

Satipatthana Meditation: A Practice Guide (Windhorse 2018), by scholar–monk Bhikkhu Analayo, provides a comprehensive practitioner’s guide to the early Buddhist teachings on the establishment of mindfulness. Informed by his previously published scholarly studies and including supplementary guided meditations that can be freely downloaded online, Analayo presents traditional satipatthana meditation as a seven-week curriculum that readers can complete on their own. (The guide is also unusual in that it’s gender-neutral: in translated passages, references to male monastics are made with “one.”) Analayo argues that although classical discourses state that to be mindful is to remember what has been done or said a long time ago, the most crucial aspect of mindfulness practice is to stay in the present moment.

“Suffering is not holding you. You are holding suffering.” You may have seen this quote on Facebook, or maybe on a coffee cup, attributed to the Buddha—but it’s actually an adaptation of Osho’s commentaries on Mabel Collins’ Light on the Path. In I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha! (Parallax 2018), Bodhipaksa presents fifty such misattributed Buddha quotes, selected from hundreds collected over the years from social media, T-shirts, and books. The provenance of each quote is thoroughly investigated, and similar sayings from traditional Buddhist texts are provided for reference. Bodhipaksa explains that fake quotes—many of which, it turns out, were reassigned from less well-known authors of non-Buddhist traditions—arise when ideas get lost in translation or are paraphrased as actual quotations. In an age of saturated (mis)information, Bodhipaksa encourages us to use fact-checking as a mindful spiritual practice: “‘Google before you share’ is the new ‘think before you speak.’”

Daigengna Duoer

Daigengna Duoer

Daigengna Duoer, Buddhadharma’s new reviews editor, grew up fascinated with Buddhism as part of her Mongolian and Manchu heritage. She is now a PhD student in the religious studies department at the Uni­ ersity of California, Santa Barbara, where her research includes a project of mapping cross­cultural networks of exchanges between Buddhist communities in modern Inner Mon­golia, Tibet, China, and Japan.