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Buddhadharma : Fall 2013
74 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY FALL 2 0 1 3 Although movies and hype about Zen martial arts abound, there are very few good books available on the disciplines. Sword of Zen (Hawaii 2013) transcends cliché musings about Zen swordplay and introduces us to the world of one of Japan’s most renowned Zen sword mas- ters, Takuan Soho (1573–1645). Along with an informative introduction and biographical sketch of Master Takuan, the book includes translations of two of his most important works on Zen swordsmanship. Author and translator Peter Haskell describes the texts in translation as “user manuals” for the Zen mind. Written to illuminate the principles of Zen through the warrior’s art, they guide the practitioner through combat situ- ations as well as daily life. For instance, Master Takuan demonstrates how a swordsman must move swiftly through a succession of attacks in battle without getting stuck on any one attacker or interrupting the flow of nonthought, and how this exemplifies the spontaneity and responsive- ness that is embodied by the Zen mind. In 1981, Matthieu Ricard received the trans- mission of Jamgön Kongtrül’s massive anthol- ogy, The Treasury of Spiritual Advice, from his teacher, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. The text, which presents pith teachings of the eight prac- tice lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, served as an inspiration to Ricard for his latest book, On the Path to Enlightenment (Shambhala 2013). This collection of heartfelt advice from both premod- ern and contemporary Tibetan masters of the eight lineages is arranged according to themes along the Vajrayana path, such as contemplating the inherent unsatisfactoriness of samsara, giving up suffering, taking refuge, cultivating compas- sion, following a spiritual master, understand- ing the nature of mind, and overcoming inner demons. Advice from the masters, including Shabkar, Atisha, Gampopa, and the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, is straight to the point, sometimes even jolting, while each translation is presented in its full elegance. Trauma is not something most people imme- diately associate with, says Mark Epstein, a psychiatrist and leading author in the field of Buddhist psychology. However, the developmen- tal trauma of emotional pain that Buddhist teach- ings describe as dukkha is an experience that all human beings share. In The Trauma of Everyday Life (Penguin 2013), Epstein says instead of avoiding past trauma, we can harness it as a pow- erful tool for psychological transformation. He uses the example of the death of the Buddha’s mother dur- ing his childbirth, which he says was a major influence in the Buddha’s life and helped set him on the path to enlight- enment. Epstein also draws on other stories from the life and discourses of the Buddha, as well as from Buddhist psychology, Western therapeutic theories, and new research and case studies as he seeks to demonstrate how our pain connects us to the world in a more fundamental level, bringing valuable opportunities for insight and healing. Dzogchen traces its lineage in Tibet from the Indian master Vairotsana, who traveled to the land of Orgyan to receive transmission of these special teachings before bringing them to Tibet. Original Perfection (Wisdom 2013) is a transla- tion by Keith Dowman of the five texts that make up this earliest transmission. Known in the Dzogchen tra- dition as Vairotsana’s Five Early Transmissions, these texts are deeply poetic, expressing themselves as if the nature of mind were com- municating in verse. The first text, The Cuckoo’s Song of Pure Presence, only six lines long, is presented as the primordial Buddha Samantabhadra singing the Dzogchen precepts of spontaneity and perfec- tion like a magical cuckoo bird. Throughout the verses, other voices of timelessness chime in to point the ordinary discursive mind to its origi- nal state of awareness. Dowman’s commentary MICHAEL SHEEHY Ph.D. is the head of research at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) and the director of the Jonang Foundation. by Michael Sheehy BOOK BRIEFS