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Buddhadharma : Winter 2010
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 10 82 L Book Briefs Living This Life Fully (Shambhala 2010) is a curi- ously effective narrative portrait of Anagarika Sri Munindra, the Bengali Vipassana master who has had an enormous influence on the contemporary Western Vipassana community. Author Mirka Knaster patched together recol- lections and reflections from Munindra’s many students, using a manuscript autobiography he came across in Burma as a narrative framework, along with occasional passages from a few of Munindra’s recorded teachings and interviews. (Antioch professor Robert Pryor contributes a brief biographical sketch that opens the book.) Born in Bengal in 1915, Munindra worked with the Mahabodhi Society in India for several decades before training with Mahasi Sayadaw in Burma. Back in Bodhgaya in the early 1960s, he taught many of today’s Western Vipassana teach- ers, frequently traveling in North America and Europe until his death in 2003. Although he was a passionate scholar, Munindra wrote no books, and thus Knaster’s volume, with each of its six- teen chapters dedicated to a particular Buddhist virtue, provides an especially valuable record of this influential teacher. Elise Anne DeVido’s Taiwan’s Buddhist Nuns (SUNY 2010) is a brief study of contemporary Taiwanese female Buddhists, both ordained and lay. There are about 15,000 ordained women in Taiwan, far more than male clerics, as well as a sizeable number of female lay activists, and they are at the forefront of a remarkable Buddhist revival. DeVido, an historian of contemporary China, is particularly interested in the impact that the nuns and laywomen are having in wider Taiwanese society. Much of the book is dedicated to a subject that has already received some attention—the charismatic nun Zhengyen and her Ciji order, a vast charitable organization with branches around the globe. However, DeVido also includes another promi- nent Taiwanese female-led Buddhist charitable organization known as Luminary Buddhist Institute. The book is both a study of female Buddhist leadership and of the thousands of engaged Buddhists at work in Taiwan. Trent Pomplin’s Jesuit on the Roof of the World (Oxford 2010) is the first book-length study of Ippolito Desideri (1684–1733), an Italian mis- sionary who was one of the earliest Westerners to encounter Tibet and possibly the first to seri- ously engage with Tibetan religious philosophy. Pomplin provides a full and carefully drawn portrait of the man and his mission, situat- ing him in the wider history of Jesuit missionary history. Although Pomplin admires him as a theologian commit- ted to interreligious dialogue, he doesn’t shy away from the fact that Desideri railed against what he saw as a false religion. While in Tibet, Desideri composed a lengthy attack on Buddhism and the doctrine of emptiness in classical scholastic Tibetan style, a work that reveals how deeply he understood the prevailing Gelug philosophy, even though he considered Tibetan Buddhism to be the work of the Devil and thoroughly rejected it. Desideri was in Tibet in the early eighteenth century, and his account of his travels, unknown until the mid-nineteenth century, and largely ignored until the early twentieth century, has now been translated into English in its entirety by Michael Sweet, as Mission to Tibet (Wisdom 2010). Desideri was in Lhasa when the Dzungar Mongols invaded and vanquished the Quoshot Mongols, who had assumed power after the death of the Fifth Dalai Lama. Fleeing the chaos of the Dzungar sacking of Lhasa, Desideri went south to Kongpo, narrowly avoiding being conscripted L China, is particularly interested in the impact that the nuns and laywomen are having in wider Taiwanese society. Much of the book is dedicated to a subject that has already received some attention—the charismatic nun Zhengyen and her Ciji order, a vast charitable Pomplin provides a full and carefully drawn portrait of the man and his mission, situat- ing him in the wider history of Jesuit missionary history. Although Pomplin admires him as a theologian commit- ted to interreligious dialogue, he doesn’t shy away from the ALEXANDER GARDNER is the associate director of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation in New York. He has a Ph.D . in Buddhist Studies from the University of Michigan. by Alexander Gardner