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Buddhadharma : Winter 2009
81 winter 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly The dhamma clearly has become well established in the West. Buddhist books, including reliable translations of the scriptures, are readily available, in many cases just a mouse-click away. Most large cities have temples, medita- tion centers, and sitting circles, usually offering students a choice of different schools and traditions. It is even pos- sible to take full ordination in several Western countries. We should be careful not to exagger- ate Buddhism’s reach in North America and Europe—after all, it remains very much a minority religion. However, just AJAHN PUNNADHAMMO, born Michael Dominskyj, is the resident bhikkhu at the Arrow River Forest Hermitage, a Theravadan Buddhist monastery and meditation center in northern Ontario. He began practicing Buddhism in 1979 and was ordained in Thailand in the forest tradition of Ajahn Chah in 1990. Reviews FROM A SIMPLE BOWL OF PORRIDGE by perusing the articles and advertise- ments in this magazine it’s possible to get a feel for the diversity and increasing maturity of Western Buddhism. It is easy to forget how recent this is. Few Buddhist institutions in America and Europe predate the 1970s. We would do well to remember with gratitude the brave struggles of the pioneers who made it possible for us to receive these teachings. One of the most important of the early Buddhists from the West was the Vener- able Nyanatiloka Thera, the first German bhikkhu, who was ordained in Burma in 1904. His remarkable life is detailed in a new book from the Buddhist Publication Society. The Life of Nyanatiloka Thera begins with a short essay on the early his- tory of Buddhism in Germany—itself an interesting historical document—written by Walter Persian in 1931. The largest section of the book is Nyanatiloka’s auto- biography. Unfortunately, this breaks off in 1926, but the next section, researched and written by Bhikkhu Nyanatusita and Hellmuth Hecker, covers the remainder of Nyanatiloka’s life to his death in 1957. The book also contains three valuable appendices: a brief biography of his dis- ciple Nyanaponika Thera, by Bhikkhu Bodhi; a bibliographical essay detailing the writings and translations of Nyanatil- oka in German and English; and a listing of Nyanatiloka’s disciples, which provides a good overview of this lineage. The book is supported by thorough and informative endnotes. Taken as a whole, the book is not only a fascinating historical narrative, but a worthy example of the fine tradition of Western Buddhist scholarship begun by Nyanatiloka himself. The young man who was to become Nyanatiloka Bhikkhu, Anton Walter Florus Gueth, grew up in a dynamic milieu. Germany in the 1880s and ’90s was a prosperous, progressive society. The nation at that time was among the world leaders industrially, scientifically, and intellectually. It was also a leader in the importation of Eastern and Bud- dhist thought. The influence of Buddhism on German philosopher Schopenhauer, and through him, on German philosophy generally, is well known. Persian’s essay demonstrates other strands of Buddhist influence—on Nietzsche and Wagner for instance—that are perhaps more surprising. The Buddhism known in Germany at the turn of the twentieth century was, however, hardly orthodox. Much of it was mixed up with the craze for occult- ism, and with Theosophy in particular. The popular presentation of Buddhist doctrine was confused with Upanishadic ideas as well. OF PORRIDGE tHe LiFe OF nYAnAtiLOKA tHerA the Biography of a Buddhist Pioneer By Bhikkhu nyanatusita and Hellmuth Hecker Buddhist Publication Society, 2009 $8.00; 274 pages (paperback) reviewed by Ajahn Punnadhammo