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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
summer 2007| 80 |buddhadharma booK briefs by benjamin bogin one of the threads connecting Buddhists throughout the world is a collection of sto- ries know as the jatakas, which depict Shaky- amuni’s hundreds of previous lives spent perfecting virtues as animals of different species and humans of different classes. In The Jatakas: Birth Stories of the Bodhisatta (Penguin, 2007), Sarah Shaw offers new and highly accessible translations of twenty-six stories from the ancient Pali collection. The previ- ous six-volume translation of all 547 stories, edited by E.B. Cowell in the late-nineteenth century, was intimidating to many readers because of its sheer size and also its archaic Victorian language. Shaw offers a much smaller selection, and her transla- tions are in clear and contemporary English, which makes the book more appealing for new readers as well as old. She skillfully bridges the gap between the necessary compactness of the Penguin paper- back and the large body of scholarship on the jata- kas with an informative introduction to the book, short introductions to each story, helpful appendi- ces, and a glossary of terms. The classical approach to Buddhist training consisted of study, contemplation, and medita- tion practice. Although both study and practice receive a lot of attention in the West, the contem- plation that bridges the two is relatively ignored. Andy Karr’s new book, Contemplating Reality: A Practitioner’s Guide to the View in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism (Shambhala Publications, 2007), invites experienced practitioners to explore the fertile ground between study and practice through guided contemplations on views of reality. The progressive stages of meditation on emptiness (particularly as explained by Karr’s root teachers, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche) are discussed in relation to the tenets of the Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, Chittama- tra, and Madhyamaka systems. Unlike many other accounts of Buddhist views of reality, Karr’s book is written specifically with the contemporary prac- titioner in mind and includes a series of helpful guided exercises. Perle Besserman’s A New Zen for Women (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) combines personal memoir with feminist insights and original inter- pretations of Zen teachings. Besserman is a gifted storyteller who draws in the reader by breaking up the more didactic sections of her book with tales of her own Zen training: from her first encounter with Dokyu Roshi in Jerusalem and her first ses- shin in London through her long stay at Ryutakuji Monastery in Japan and expe- riences with Robert Aitken Roshi’s Diamond Sangha in Hawaii. The first half of the book details the struggles faced by Besser- man and other women attempting to train in the patriarchal and hierarchical world of Zen monasti- cism. The second half focuses more upon the posi- tive changes to Zen practice in the West that have resulted from the efforts of women Zen teachers such as Charlotte Joko Beck, Blanche Hartman, Joan Halifax, and Wendy Egyoku Nakao. In the preface to Straight from the Heart: Bud- dhist Pith Instructions (Snow Lion Publications, 2007), translator Karl Brunnhölzl aptly compares his new anthology to a box of fine chocolates. There is a tremendous variety within the collec- tion, and, as with chocolates, these unique and rich poems, songs, and pithy treatises are best appreciated one or two at a time. In the hands of an impatient reader, this book might come across as a jumbled collection of dis- jointed teachings drawn from the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions of India and Tibet. For readers who enjoy a book that may be repeatedly dipped into for inspiration, Straight from the Heart is a very deep well indeed. Brunnhölzl strives for a balance of precision and clarity in his trans- lations that make these esoteric instructions more accessible, and his commentaries contextualize the verses just enough without burying them in too much explanation. Toni Packer studied Zen with Phillip Kapleau Roshi at the Rochester Zen Center for thirteen years before eventually turning away from the institutional and ritual structures of Zen and developing a bare-bones approach of meditative inquiry influenced by Krishnamurti. This approach became the foundation of the Springwater Center she founded in New York State. The Silent Question: Meditating in the Stillness of Not-Knowing (Shambhala Publications, 2007) invites the reader into the silent space of sustained questioning that she has made her spiritual home. The collected talks, dialogues, and essays present a multivocal exploration of who we are, how we act, how we die, and how we live that is at once richly varied and strangely Monastery in Japan and expe- riences with Robert Aitken Roshi’s Diamond Sangha in Hawaii. The first half as a jumbled collection of dis- jointed teachings drawn from the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions of India and Tibet. For readers who enjoy a book that may be repeatedly dipped into for inspiration, from the Heart well indeed. Brunnhölzl strives for a balance of precision and clarity in his trans- into the silent space of sustained questioning that she has made her spiritual home. The collected talks, dialogues, and essays present a multivocal exploration of who we are, how we act, how we die, and how we live that is at once richly varied and strangely