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Buddhadharma : Winter 2009
87 winter 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly U Book Briefs Unmasking Buddhism (WileyBlackwell, 2009), by Columbia University professor Bernard Faure, is an insightful corrective to enduring stereotypes about Buddhism. Some of these are old: Buddhism is nihilistic, the Buddha taught a form of human ism. And some are new: Buddhism is a philosophy not a religion, Buddhism is compatible with sci ence, Buddhism is a kind of therapy. Faure believes that oversimplification and the introduction of conflicting theories pose a threat to the religion, and he wants to restore “the complexity and rich ness of the Buddhist tradition.” He assumes no prior knowledge of Buddhism on the part of the reader, and the book serves as a nice introduc tion to Buddhism. More important, though, his critiques of Western inventions are warranted and worth taking seriously. Kurtis Schaeffer explains in The Culture of the Book in Tibet (Columbia, 2009) that although scholars and practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism are familiar with the content of the great canonical collections of Tibetan scripture—of which there are many—very little is known about how and why they were created. Schaeffer, one of the best contemporary historians of Tibet, offers insight into the motivations and concerns of the monks, patrons, worshipers, and artisans who were involved in the process of creating the Tibetan canons. He begins with a letter by the fourteenth century scholar Buton Rinchendrub, who edited the first Tibetan canon, outlining what Buton considered the necessary conditions for editing scripture, and ends with a detailed account of the creation of the Dege canon in the eighteenth century. Worshiped as sacred objects in Tibet, the Tibetan canons are rarely unwrapped and handled. But Schaeffer successfully reminds us that these collections were created by and for ordinary people. The woman who was married to Siddhartha Gautama, and whom he left behind with an infant son when he went to attain enlightenment, is lost to history—she is not even named in the early sutras. But as Ranjini Obeyesekere reveals in her Yasodhara, the Wife of the Bodhisattva (SUNY, 2009), the figure of Yasodhara has, over the cen turies, been fleshed out in literature. A folk poem, wellknown to the women of Sri Lanka, gives voice to the abandoned Yasodhara’s lament, and monastic commentaries give us an heroic nun who recounts her multilife ser vice to the Buddha and attains arhantship. Obeyesekere gives us a masterful translation of the poem, and of the prose account of the nun (whose felicitous enlightenment is probably a clerical apology for the Buddha’s sin of abandoning his family). She prefaces them both with an introduction that surveys the literary tra dition that gave Yasodhara life and also discusses contemporary readings of the story. Traveling the Path of Compassion (KTD, 2009) will help introduce many Western readers to the Seventeenth Karmapa, a charismatic young Tibetan lineage holder who is sometimes mentioned as the possible successor to the Dalai Lama in his capac ity as the international face of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a fitting choice for a lama of his stature to teach on the Thirty-Seven Practices of the Bodhisattva, a beloved Tibetan instruction by the fourteenth century lama Ngulchu Thogme on the proper attitude and behavior of a person intent on cultivating compassion in order to liberate all beings from samsara. The Karmapa has divided the thirtyseven verses of the text into seventeen chapters that address topics such as emp tiness, renunciation, and taming the mind. While there are many English translations and commen taries of Ngulchu Thogme’s text, the Karmapa’s commentary deserves attention for the elegance of his explanations. It’s the work of a teacher whose impact will likely be felt for decades to come. Although the Buddha was depicted in early Buddhist literature as a virile and stunningly beau tiful man, in the modern West he has been largely stripped of his masculinity by wellmeaning, if historically inaccurate, attempts to render him asexual and gender neutral. In A Bull of A Man (Harvard, 2009) John Powers seeks to reinvigo rate the Buddha and his early disciples, restoring to them the masculinity that the authors of the Pali canon clearly intended them to have. Pow ers’ readings of the early bio graphies of the Buddha show that the story is one of heroic and manly selfcontrol, and in the Vinaya he finds evidence in the stories of sexual escapades that early Indian monks were routinely depicted as models of U who recounts her multilife ser vice to the Buddha and attains arhantship. Obeyesekere gives us a masterful translation of the poem, and of the prose account of the nun (whose felicitous enlightenment is probably a clerical apology for the Buddha’s sin ALEXANDER GARDNER is the associate director of the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation in New York. He has a Ph.D . in Buddhist Studies from the University of Michigan. It is a fitting choice for a lama of his stature to teach on the Bodhisattva instruction by the fourteenth century lama Ngulchu Thogme on the proper attitude and behavior of a person intent on cultivating compassion in order by Alexander Gardner Pali canon clearly intended them to have. Pow ers’ readings of the early bio graphies of the Buddha show that the story is one of heroic and manly selfcontrol, the Vinaya he finds evidence in the stories of sexual escapades that early Indian monks were routinely depicted as models of