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Buddhadharma : Winter 2011
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY WINTER 2 0 11 82 TThe Teachings of Master Wuzhu (Colum- bia 2011) is a study and translation by Wendi Adamek of an obscure Chinese text attributed to Zen/Chan Master Wuzhu (714–774) and his community of disciples from Sichuan Province, China. Thought to have been lost, the current work derives from two Chinese manuscripts that were retrieved from the desert cave complexes at Dunhuang on the northern China frontier. The text is arranged as a series of dialogues wherein Master Wuzhu is engaged by various characters including politicians, soldiers, recluses, and fellow Chan masters and nuns. One of the few surviving texts from this formative period of Buddhism in China and the early development of Zen, Mas- ter Wuzhu’s teachings were controversial because his uncompromised teachings on the nonduality of “no-thought” and “formless practice” were considered radical at the time, though this later became a hallmark of Zen. As we discover in The Hidden Life of the Sixth Dalai Lama (Lexington 2011), there are many portrayals of the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso (1683–1706). Perhaps the most defined personality is that of a wino and womanizer, the image popularized among Tibetans by the poetic love songs attributed to him. What we have here however, in this translation by Simon Wickham- Smith, is a different Sixth Dalai Lama altogether. This intrigu- ing biography written by an eighteenth-century Mongol scholar presents the Sixth Dalai Lama not as a drinker and poet, but as a solemn and sober Buddhist monk who lived the life of a wandering mendicant and spiritual teacher. Considered by some to be a fictitious account while others read it as authentic, this life story challenges common preconceptions of one of the most caricatured figures in Tibetan history. Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic (Colum- bia 2011) is B. Alan Wallace’s reflections on the emerging dialogue between Buddhism and science. Wallace, a senior voice in this conversation, calls for col- laboration among scientists and contemplatives. How- ever, he does this as a skep- tic, with caution, suggesting that a true marriage of these disparate domains of knowl- edge would result in profound repercussions for modern understandings of the mind and universe. Seeking to counteract the dogmatism of scientific materialism, and recent trends in popular psychol- ogy and cognitive science that divorce meditation from Buddhist ethics and worldview, the author suggests that Buddhist meditation be considered a valid means for directly and rigorously observing consciousness. With striking contrast to Wallace’s manifesto, The Bod- hisattva’s Brain (MIT 2011) by the non-Buddhist philoso- pher-of-mind Owen Flanagan makes the argument that Bud- dhism can be, and should be, consistent with the modern empirical sciences. Describ- ing Buddhist understandings such as karma and nonphysical states of mind as hocus-pocus and nonnatural, the author pushes for what he calls “Buddhism naturalized.” This process of natu- ralization implies that Buddhism subscribe to the observable physical laws of the universe, and be stripped of anything “metaphysically spooky.” This is framed within a broader conversation about how Buddhism can contribute to human happiness, suggesting that happiness as defined by science trumps enlightenment. Unfortunately, the author’s understanding of Buddhism is limited, resulting in gross generalizations about Buddhism and Buddhists. However, whether Flanagan is aware of it or not, materialists have been in dialogue with Buddhists for over two millennia, and though the philosophical divide is wide, such conversations continue to be relevant. Mahamudra and Related Instructions (Wisdom MICHAEL SHEEHY Ph.D. is the senior editor of Tibetan literary research at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) and the director of Jonang Foundation. Book Briefs by Michael Sheehy