Lion’s Roar staff members look back at 2018 and choose their favorite Buddhist book of the year.
Associate Art Director of Lion’s Roar
The subtitle of Sallie Tisdale’s book, Advice for Future Corpses and Those Who Love Them (Touchstone), is A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying, and she really is not kidding about it being practical. Tisdale is a nurse who’s cared for many a corpse-to-be, so there are plenty of hard-nosed tips for those of us new to such matters. Did you know that you can fire your doctor, or that becoming dehydrated can make a patient feel better in their last days, or that in France a dead person can get married? The author is also a Buddhist and a gifted writer, full of opinions, stories, and philosophical insights. Beyond mere practicality, the depth of her emotional experience lends weight to her sudden poetic turns of phrase, and vice versa. Again and again, she reminds us that everything is always falling apart, and then she helps us find the courage not to turn away from it.
Operations and Human Resources
I have a Zen monk as a colleague, which is very handy for sniff-testing books claiming to be Zen derivatives. When reading A Monk’s Guide to Clean House and Mind by Shoukei Matsumoto (Penguin Books), for instance, I was able to grill my monk about whether monks do indeed use special signals in monastery bathrooms or if he really does have to shave his head with a razor and wear white underwear. Granted, the answers to these and other questions have little practical application in my life, but they do speak to this book’s authenticity and are rife with meaning. I was attracted to this book because it’s zeitgeist-ish—tidying being the new decorating—and being a lifelong tidier myself I’m always interested in upping my game. (“Clean” I can take or leave.) A Monk’s Guide to Clean House and Mind possesses the means to instruct as well as enlighten. It’s a fun and fast read, and you’ll be rocking a monastery aesthetic in no time if you heed its advice.
Associate Editor of LionsRoar.com
In Sanctuary, Rev. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel offers a deeply personal reflection on home, homelessness, and belonging. She tells the story of her life’s hunger for home in a physical, metaphorical, and ancestral sense, drawing from her experience of oppression as a Black woman in America. I read Sanctuary from cover to cover on a three-hour flight back to my own childhood home, a trip that often, for me, inspires contemplation of what home truly is. Rev. Manuel’s account of finding her way home and of discovering sanctuary—within and without—was just what I needed in that moment. “We can see and create sanctuary in the ordinariness of everyday life,” she writes. “We can see a blade of grass… as sanctuary.”
Associate Editor of Lion’s Roar magazine
The wisdom Susan Piver offers in The Four Noble Truths of Love (Lionheart Press) is applicable to all stages of romantic relationships: “I remember after one night of ecstatic lovemaking,” Piver writes, “I came downstairs to find my boyfriend in the kitchen, removing all the dishes I had placed in the dishwasher in order to replace them in the ‘correct’ manner.” By weaving personal anecdotes such as this with Buddhist teachings, Piver gives us a way to laugh at the wild soup of emotion that is romantic love while also giving us a map for navigating the ups and downs of intimacy. Her views allow us to zoom back, get some perspective, and find ways to be kinder to both ourselves and our romantic partners—with the reassurance that, yes, we’re all probably making the same missteps, so let’s breathe and know we’re together in this very human longing for love.
Deputy Editor of Buddhadharma
If you’re interested in Dogen but don’t know where to start, start with Shinshu Roberts’ Being Time (Wisdom Publications); if you’re a longtime practitioner wanting to finally wrap your head around one of Dogen’s (and Buddhism’s) most difficult ideas, the recommendation is the same. Roberts expertly guides us through these subtle teachings on time and existence—okay, everything—laying out not only what Dogen said but also the truth of it, for us, in this moment. One can only hope that this book signals a new age of commentaries from a new generation of teachers. (And may they all be this good!)
Bopper’s life just blew up. After his girlfriend leaves him for a Zen-practicing tennis instructor, he reads the collection of Zen books she’s left behind. Quickly hooked, Bopper then sees an advertisement for a “rigorous and authentic” Zen retreat and decides, since he’s made no progress practicing on his own, to join in. Bopper’s Progress (Wundor Editions) details a full-on day of training, written using natural language and with characters who feel familiar and real, which reminds us how accessible Zen really is. Author John Manderino puts us right there with Bopper; we feel for him and wish for his progress to be amazing and swift. This lovely introduction to the idea of Zen practice may have you seeking out a retreat to attend yourself.
Art Director and Associate Editor of Lion’s Roar
The Complete Cold Mountain: Poems of the Legendary Hermit Hanshan (Shambhala Publications) is a great book to take if stranded on a desert island. With lots of wisdom and humor, it describes the joy and sadness of solitude, the beauty of nature, and the possibility of contentment in desolate circumstances. The book was translated by the Zen scholar, translator, and artist Kazuaki Tanahashi and the poet and Zen teacher Peter Levitt, and it includes a chapter by Tanahashi on the historic background of Hanshan. Little is known about this legendary hermit, and Tanahashi suggests that his poems may in fact have been written by three poets. The challenge of translation must be formidable when translating poems written in East Asian ideograms, but the translations in this book are vivid and wonderful. They jump off the page with a liveliness that transcends time and culture, resonating with our own sense of solitude.