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Buddhadharma : Winter 2007
buddhadharma| 75 |winter 2007 Book BrIeFs by Alexander gardner Pure Land Buddhism is still relatively unknown among western Buddhist converts and oth- ers exploring the path, but husband-and-wife duo david and Caroline Brazier are hoping their new books will help change that. david Brazier, who heads the amida Order based in England, has written Who Loves Dies Well (O Books, 2007), which takes a personal approach to the shin path of Pure Land Buddhism and draws upon the expe- riences surrounding his mother’s death. Caroline Brazier’s new book, The Other Buddhism: Amida Comes West (also by O Books, 2007), offers “a simple exploration of Pureland Buddhism ... and a way to practice in the western context.” Occa- sionally, though, in making her case for the value of the Pure Land teachings, she pushes her criti- cism of meditation-based traditions a bit far, as in her repeated assertion that meditation is rooted in delusional thinking about one’s ability to effect liberation. One morning in the mid-nineteenth century, the treasure revealer Chokgyur Lingpa had a vision of Tara, who whispered “excellent, excellent, excel- lent” in his ear, in reference to the three vehicles, or divisions, of the Tibetan Buddhist path. This prompted a teaching of the complete path to bud- dhahood to spontaneously emerge from Chokgyur Lingpa’s mind. Skillful Grace: Tara Practice for Our Times (Rangjung yeshe, 2007) presents a transla- tion of that revelation, together with commentar- ies by Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche (1920–1996) and adeu Rinpoche (b. 1930). adeu Rinpoche’s teach- ing is based on an earlier commentary by Chokgyur Lingpa’s colleague and patron Jamgon Kongtrul (1813–1899). The treasure text is a sadhana (ritual manual) for the worship of Tara, the female bod- hisattva of compassion, and the commentaries are instructions on how to perform that practice. The commentaries—well-edited transcriptions of concise and personal teachings—provide practitio- ners with what is perhaps the most helpful guide to Tara practice in English. Moreover, readers of this skillfully arranged book will find a masterful explanation of the entire path to enlightenment. Those already engaged in Tara practice might also find Khenchen Palden sherab and Khenpo Tsewang dongyal’s Tara’s Enlightened Activity (snow Lion, 2007) a useful companion. The book is a slightly revised transcript of their series of teachings on the Twenty-One Praises to Tara. Women Practicing Buddhism: American Expe- riences (wisdom Publications, 2007) is the finely edited proceedings of a conference that took place at smith College in 2005. Contributors include art- ists, activists, authors, nuns, and teachers, such as Mer- edith Monk, Jane hirshfield, bell hooks, Thubten Chodron, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, and Carol wilson. some address heavy issues, such as whether self-sacrifice and service per- petuate female subordination or whether forgiveness and compassion might per- mit abuse; others look at how their Buddhist prac- tice informs their art or writing. The end result is a slightly eclectic but informative look at the lives of a diverse group of women practicing Buddhism in america and the various lessons to be learned from their experiences. despite the persistent desire to know “what the Buddha really taught,” scholars now generally agree that the available sources are not sufficient to allow us to conclude much of anything in this regard. The early Pali texts are of uncertain date, and they have too many layers of alteration to locate an original element. in The Origin of Bud- dhist Meditation (Routledge, 2007), alexander wynne nevertheless persists with the quest. he seeks to prove that the two meditation teachers, alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, with whom the bodhisattva siddhartha trained prior to his awakening, were actual historical fig- ures, and that the instructions they gave him—on the “sphere of nothingness” and the “sphere of neither perception nor non-perception,” respec- tively—were real teachings current in india during the Buddha’s life. The book is dense and presumes too much familiarity with the Pali texts; wynne also relies too heavily on weak evidence. yet in his excavation of early Brahmanical materials, he does present a compelling case for the possibility that these two teachings contributed significantly to the formation of Buddhist meditation. if you’re hoping Thich Nhat hanh’s new book, The Art of Power (harper Collins, 2007), holds the key to becoming rich and powerful, you’ll be at smith College in 2005. Contributors include art- ists, activists, authors, nuns, and teachers, such as Mer- edith Monk, Jane hirshfield, bell hooks, Thubten Chodron, Karma Lekshe Tsomo, and heavy issues, such as whether self-sacrifice and service per- petuate female subordination or whether forgiveness and compassion might per- the Buddha really taught,” scholars now generally agree that the available sources are not sufficient to allow us to conclude much of anything in this regard. The early Pali texts are of uncertain date, and they have too many layers of alteration to locate an original element. in dhist Meditation 2007), alexander wynne nevertheless persists with