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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 08 72 of The Odyssey as a spiritual allegory requires a more than usual suspension of the reader’s disbelief. There is, to begin with, the gap between the heroic values of ancient Greece and those of our own time—a gap that James Joyce, in his Ulysses, could bridge only with irony. Beyond that, there is the gulf between the temperament of Odysseus, slaughterer of men and animals, and the peace-loving, vegetarian ethos of Bud- dhist culture. And most of all, there is the unyielding realism of The Odyssey itself, which resists purely symbolic interpretations. In the immediacy of Homer’s rendering, the 108 men whom Odysseus kills appear vividly as human beings, not counters in a moral or psy- chic allegory. For all those reasons, the strength of Sailing Home lies less in its schematic take on The Odyssey than in its discrete insights and its unconventional wisdom, as when Fischer makes a case for denial as “one of humanity’s great achievements,” or questions the value of “our much- vaunted clarity,” or challenges abstract readings of the first Great Vow: Instead of emphasizing love for one person, or a few people, Buddhism and Zen encourage the practice of universal compassion, certainly a laudable ideal. In Zen we even take the vow, “Sentient beings are num- berless; I vow to save them.” But it may be easier to practice this idealis- tic virtue of universal compassion... than it is to love one actual person. It may be easer to “save” all than actually to take care of one person who lives in your house. But if you can take care of that one person, you will be practicing realistic rather than idealistic compassion, the next necessary step on the journey home. Here, as often in Sailing Home, Fischer appears less the tendentious exegete than the seasoned, compassionate priest and teacher. Having come home himself, he is helping others do the same. Reviews BUDDHIST CHAPLAINCY Affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, and Ryukoku University, Kyoto Information regarding admissions requirements and application process available at: A three-year program of education for students seeking to serve as professional chaplains in hospitals, prisons, and the military. www.shin-ibs.edu Combine Wisdom and Compassion by Acting in Service to All Living Beings INSTITUTE OF BUDDHIST STUDIES 2140 Durant Ave., Suite 30 Berkeley, California 94704 USA (510) 809-1444 Fax (510) 809-1411