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Buddhadharma : Spring 2017
spring 2017 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 79 by rory lindsay book brieFs one of the oldest examples of Buddhist writing is the Book of Eights, or Attha- kavagga, a short collection of poems preserved in the Pali Canon. In The Buddha Before Buddhism: Wisdom from the Early Teachings (Shambhala 2016), Gil Fronsdal explores this ancient anthology, arguing that it is remarkable in that it presents “the Buddha’s teachings pared down to their most essential elements, free of the more complex doctrines often associated with Buddhism.” In it we find no numbered lists or complicated doctrines. There is no mention of the four noble truths, the eightfold path, the four foundations of mindfulness, or the five aggregates. The text even denies the role of ultimate truth in find- ing peace. Instead, it simply offers insight into human life that still resonates today. Scholar-monk Bhikkhu Bodhi’s The Bud- dha’s Teachings on Social and Communal Har- mony (Wisdom 2016) couldn’t be more timely. This collection of short introductory essays and selections from the Pali Canon presents some of the earliest Buddhist discussions of friendship, community, conflict resolution, and the creation and protection of a just and equitable society. While many of the passages teach cooperation and the peaceful resolution of disagreement, the Buddha reminds us that in some cases a particularly toxic figure must be removed: “Though he is devious, a speaker of lies, you should know him as he truly is; then you should all meet in harmony and firmly drive him away.” He also warns about the wider risks of having an unprincipled leader: “When kings are unrighteous, the royal vassals become unrighteous. When the royal vassals are unrighteous, brahmins and household- ers become unrighteous. When brahmins and householders are unrighteous, the people of the towns and countryside become unrighteous. When the people of the towns and countryside are unrighteous, the sun and moon proceed off course.” This book is essential reading for the socially engaged individual, Buddhist or otherwise. For Nirvana: 108 Zen Sijo Poems (Colum- bia 2016) contains the remarkable poetry of the Korean Zen lineage holder Cho Oh-Hyun (b. 1932), a monk and award-winning writer who has been in retreat since age seven. Trans- lated by scholar Heinz Insu Fenkl, these poems are everything that great Zen writing is known for—perplexing, bizarre, moving, provoca- tive—and also frequently morbid, as in the case of “At the Razor’s Edge,” which declares multiple deaths and the loss of fingernails, toe- nails, and eyebrows as prerequisites for monas- tic life. Rich in possible meaning, this book is an ideal source of inspiration for Zen practitio- ners and lovers of great poetry alike.