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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
SPRING 2 0 1 4 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 77 limits of language in under- standing the nature of things. While a number of English translations of Nagarjuna’s text have been published to date, Mark Siderits and Shoryu Katsura’s Nagar- juna’s Middle Way (Wisdom 2013) stands out for its care- ful scholarship and philosophical precision. It is also accessible: for each chapter Siderits and Katsura provide succinct introductory remarks, a breakdown of the chapter’s arguments, and a dis- cussion of the individual verses, drawing on four foundational Indian commentaries. The book is an essential resource for all interested in Middle Way thought. Attempts at “a very short introduction” to Tibetan Buddhism could take a variety of unfortunate turns, confining Tibetan religion to, among other things, a selection of doctrines, texts, or meditative systems. But Matthew Kap- stein’s Tibetan Buddhism: A Very Short Introduc- tion (Oxford 2013) manages to paint a nuanced picture of Tibetan religion in just a handful of short chapters. Kapstein begins by explaining that for the majority of Tibet- ans, lay and monastic alike, the objectives of religious life have not been to transcend the world through esoteric practices but rather to avoid negative karma and demonic forces and participate in meritorious and purificatory rites. He therefore describes some of the fascinating ways in which Buddhists (and Bonpos) have sought to achieve these objectives before exam- ining a range of topics, including the stories of major Tibetan political/religious figures, the for- mation of religious sects, philosophical contro- versies, death rituals, and the question of how the current Dalai Lama’s succession will be secured. The Korean Zen master Daehaeng Kun Sunim (1927–2012) grew up in poverty during the Japa- nese occupation of Korea. She recalls spending long periods hiding in the woods where she contemplated suffering and eventually recognized a purity inside herself that she would later know as buddha- nature. After taking ordina- tion and spending years in retreat, she became one of South Korea’s most prominent Zen masters, founding multiple cen- ters in her home country and overseas. Wake Up and Laugh (Wisdom 2014) presents a collection of her public talks and the lively discussions that followed, documenting her gift for articulating Zen teachings on a wide range of topics. Maria Heim’s The Forerunner of All Things (Oxford 2013) inquires into Buddhist under- standings of intention and agency according to the fifth-century author Buddhaghosa, the most influential commentator in the Pali tradi- tion. Heim explores Buddhaghosa’s treatment of these concepts in relation to Buddhist doctrines of karma and liberation. She also shows us how Buddhag- hosa teaches us to read the words of the Buddha in new ways, not seeking to assign a singular meaning to a given passage but rather to “open and expand it.” Buddhaghosa models this through his efforts to contextualize and draw connections between the Buddha’s discourses, while at the same time recognizing—and frequently articulating—that none of his interpretations can be exhaustive. Heim likewise considers how Buddhaghosa’s dis- cussions of intention might challenge the overly narrow notions of personal autonomy that are frequently assumed by contemporary ethicists. Tanya Zivkovic’s Death and Reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhism (Routledge 2013) is an ethno- graphic study of deceased Buddhist figures and their enduring presence in contemporary com- munities. Drawing on her experiences as a researcher in Darjeeling, India, Zivkovic shows how rigid dichotomies between life and death are collapsed in the Tibetan Bud- dhist context. She describes, for instance, how a deceased local lama, Khenchen Sangay Tenzin, remained present to his community not only through the identification and rearing of his reincarnation but also through the commu- nity’s continual interaction with his relics and official biography. In the same vein, she considers the case of Bokar Rinpoche, whose embalming yielded substances for his devotees’ consumption; the salt used to dry his body, for example, was distributed and ingested, its soteriological power regarded as equivalent to his living presence. ALSO NEW AND NOTEWORTHY Journey into Buddhahood by Tempa Dukte Lama (Olmo Ling) Everything Is Workable: A Zen Approach to Conflict Resolution by Diane Musho Hamilton (Shambhala) Buddhism Goes to the Movies by Ronald Green (Routledge) Zen Masters of Japan by Richard Bryan McDaniel (Tuttle) The Ethics of Sankara and Santideva by Warren Lee Todd (Ashgate) Light of Wisdom by Padmasambhava and Jamgön Kongtrül (Rangjung Yeshe) Experimental Buddhism by John K. Nelson (Hawaii) Wondrous Brutal Fictions by R. Keller Kimbrough (Columbia) Buddhism and Ireland Laurence Cox (Equinox) Religious Body Politic by Anya Bernstein (Chicago)