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Buddhadharma : Spring 2009
73 spring 2 00 9 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly T Book Briefs by alexander gardner There is no shortage of coffee-table-size tomes on Buddhist art. The Art of Buddhism (Shambhala, 2008), however, is a rare instance of an art book you can carry with you—and fortunately nei- ther images nor quality of scholarship have been sacrificed for smaller size and affordability. The book by Denise Patry Leidy is lavishly illustrated with close to two hundred full-color images, and the essays reveal an encyclopedic breadth of knowledge. The book displays and explains Buddhist art from every corner of Asia, from the earliest surviving examples to the nineteenth cen- tury. Leidy, an Asian art curator at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, is not breaking new ground here, but each chapter displays her expertise in Buddhist iconography, and is as good a survey of the state of contemporary scholarship as one is likely to find. David L. McMahan explains in The Making of Buddhist Modernism (Oxford, 2008) that much of what is commonly recognized as Bud- dhism today is in fact a hybrid of multiple intel- lectual and cultural traditions of East and West that have interacted over the last two hundred years. McMahan does an excellent job of show- ing how encounters with such things as Western scientific rationalism, Romanticism, psychology, and monotheism have largely stripped Buddhism of layers of myth, ritual, and beliefs to produce a religion—Buddhist Modernism—that is more familiar and accessible for today’s modern and diverse population. McMahan’s study is refresh- ingly free of judgment; he’s not faulting past or present misinterpretations of the tradition so much as drawing a fairly comprehensive por- trait of Buddhist Modernism and including it as a valid member of a 2,500-year-old tradition. Daniel Boucher’s Bodhisattvas of the Forest and the Formation of the Mahayana (University of Hawaii, 2008) is an elaboration of the theory that the Mahayana arose in part as a lay revolt against clerics and monasteries that no longer upheld the ethical principles necessary for the pur- suit of enlightenment. The book is a translation and study of an early Mahayana sutra, the Ras- trapala, in which the Buddha’s ethical triumphs— his forest-dwelling hardships as a bodhisattva in particular—are glorified, while sedentary monks are disparaged. Many of the arguments that Boucher puts forth have been made before, and the Rastrapala has been previously translated. Still, the book makes a strong case that wilderness-dwelling renunciates were key players in the Mahayana refashioning of the Buddha as both an endur- ing presence and a model for the bodhisattva path, and he offers thoughtful discussions of early Mahayana attitudes toward monasticism and ascetic discipline. Richard Shankman’s The Experience of Sama- dhi (Shambhala, 2008) is a study of samadhi draw- ing on scripture, commentary, and living masters. Traditionally, samadhi, or “concentration”—a general term for meditative practice—is divided between shamatha (“calm abiding”) and vipas- sana (“insight”); whether the practitioner can skip the first, or to what degree one must combine the two, has been a topic of controversy since the early days of Buddhism. Shankman divides his book into three sections, which allows him to explore in depth some of the different ways samadhi has been dealt with over the centuries. He first focuses on how samadhi is addressed in the Pali Canon, and then how the commentarial tradition explains it. The final section consists of eight quite stimu- lating interviews with contem- porary Buddhist teachers, Eastern and Western, including Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Ajahn Thanissaro (aka Thanissaro Bhikkhu). T the Rastrapala has been previously translated. Still, the book makes a strong case that wilderness-dwelling renunciates were key players in the Mahayana refashioning of the Buddha as both an endur- ing presence and a model for the bodhisattva path, and he offers thoughtful discussions 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. in depth some of the different ways samadhi has been dealt with over the centuries. He first focuses on how samadhi is addressed in the Pali Canon, and then how the commentarial tradition explains it. The final section consists of eight quite stimu- lating interviews with contem- porary Buddhist teachers, Eastern and Western,