In this installment of From the Editor’s Desk, Review Editor Michael Sheehy looks at new books on understandings of tantric Buddhism, a new look at the Linjilu, and the confessions of a wayward Zen monk.
Making Sense of Tantric Buddhism: History, Semiology, and Transgression in the Indian Traditions
Christian K. Wedemeyer
Columbia University Press 2012
Christian Wedemeyer takes issue with the problematic language that has come to shape modern understandings of Buddhist tantra. In this book, he unpacks how authors have crafted a vision of tantra for their readers since the nineteenth century, based on descriptions such as how tantric sex is “fun,” that tantrikas were “tribal,” or that tantra itself is “degenerate.” What results is a more sensitive and nuanced look at Buddhist tantra itself.
The Record of Linji: A New Translation of the Linjilu in the Light of Ten Japanese Zen Commentaries
Translated by Jeffrey L. Broughton, with Elise Yoko Watanabe
Oxford University Press 2012
This new translation of the ancient Chinese Chan text, the Linjilu, shines light on its Japanese Zen commentaries from the time when the Five Mountains Zen flourished in Kyoto (1300-1700). Attributed to Linji (d. 866/867), this work is a compilation of sayings and episodes from meetings of disciples with their teachers. Many of the episodes are framed with a question such as, “What sort of thing is the Land of the Three Eyes?” or by a striking statement such as calling a Buddha a “latrine hole.”
Zen Confidential: Confessions of a Wayward Monk
Shozan Jack Haubner, with a foreword by Leonard Cohen
Shambhala Publications 2013
If you’re looking for a laugh, look no further than Zen Confidential. Shozan Jack Haubner offers a series of personal vignettes that he describes as part of the “nitty-gritty realities of spiritual work.” It’s quirky, funny, and crude, and though it rambles, there is no doubt that the author is serious about Zen. The writing is self-conscious, and Haubner, a former Hollywood screenwriter, uses his persona as a monk to frame and recount startling episodes.