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Buddhadharma : Winter 2005
buddhadharma| 79 |winter 2005 alan Cole’s new book, Text as Father: Paternal Seductions in Early Maha yana Buddhist Literature (Univer- sity of California Press, 2005), presents close readings of four of the best-known Mahayana texts: the Lotus, Diamond, Tathagatagarbha, and Vimalakirti sutras. Although these names are familiar to many, Cole’s interpretations of the texts challenge our assumptions about what Mahayana sutras are and how they should be read. The discussion begins from the premise that the Mahayana sutras are not pious transcriptions of orally transmitted teachings but rather “carefully wrought literary constructions.” Cole contends that the authors of these texts sought to locate the Buddha’s authority in the texts themselves, thereby supplanting the oral tradition of transmitting the Buddha’s teachings. Cole weaves his argument with a playful audacity that will delight and entertain many readers, annoy others, and outrage a few. Genuine lineage is of paramount con- cern in the Buddhist tradition. The recent translation and publication of Nyoshul Khenpo Jamyang Dorje’s (1931–1999) Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biog raphies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage (Padma Publishing, 2005) offers a comprehensive history of one such lineage. The nearly 700-page masterpiece describes the lives of every major Dzogchen lineage holder from the time of the primordial Buddha Samantab- hadra to the present. Nyoshul Khenpo was a brilliant scholar and storyteller, and that’s reflected here in his exhaustive historical research, which he mixes with inspiring tales and stories from oral tra- ditions. Richard Barron’s lucid transla- tion and useful diagrams in the appendix help make the book an excellent resource for those interested in the Dzogchen tra- dition. In Being Benevolence: The Social Eth ics of Engaged Buddhism (University of Hawai’i Press, 2005), Sallie B. King attempts to determine whether Engaged Buddhism is in fact a real movement, and if so, how it might be defined. The book draws upon the statements and actions of figures such as Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi, and it breaks new ground by laying out a clear statement of principles for an Engaged Buddhist movement. King also addresses some of the problems with try- ing to define the boundaries of Engaged Buddhism. For example, if nonviolence is a fundamental principle of the movement (as she claims), how does one account for Buddhist activists who support violence for pragmatic and compassionate ends? What of the Vietnamese monks who resorted to self-immolation as a political and religious act aimed at stopping war? King’s answers to these questions are not always satisfactory, but the fact that they are raised helps the book avoid naive sim- plification of a complex movement. Of the three vehicles of Buddhism recognized by the Tibetan tradition, the Vajrayana receives the lion’s share of attention in dharma centers, scholarly studies, and popular publications. In Dar ing Steps Toward Fearlessness: The Three Vehicles of Buddhism (Snow Lion Pub- lications, 2005), Ringu Tulku addresses the potential dangers of this imbalance and offers a more holistic view. The book is based upon teachings he gave in Ger- many in 1996 on the Shravakayana (also known as Hinayana), Mahayana, and Vajrayana vehicles, and it follows the tra- ditional form of direct commentary on classical texts. He comments on the four noble truths, the thirty-seven practices of the bodhisattva, and a rare text on tantra by Do Khyentse Yeshe Dorje. His textual commentary is interwoven with stories of Tibet’s great masters and his own experi- ences, which results in a very enjoyable overview of the entire Buddhist path. Although the Vajrayana has eclipsed the other vehicles in publications on Tibetan Buddhism, the opposite is true of tantra in East Asia. Very little has been written about the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese tantric traditions, and they remain virtually unknown in the West. Tantric Buddhism in East Asia (Wisdom Publications, 2005), edited by Richard K. Payne, introduces the varieties of tantric Buddhism transmitted in East Asia, from the earliest translations of Indian tantric texts into Chinese to the Japanese tradi- tions of Shingon and Shugendo. Payne’s introduction addresses questions sur- rounding the definition of fundamental terms such as “tantra” and “Vajrayana” and the history of their interpretation in the West. The ten essays in the volume represent a half-century of scholarship previously available only in hard-to-find journals. Beyond bringing the esoteric Book Briefs By Benjamin Bogin