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Buddhadharma : Spring 2010
81 spring 2 01 0 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly m Book Briefs Mu Soeng’s The Heart of the Universe (Wisdom Publications 2010) is a brief, thought-provoking commentary on the Heart Sutra. In his introduc- tion, the author, who is the scholar in residence at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, reminds the reader that the sutra has a history, and that all who have read—and chanted—it have done so within a specific cultural context. For Soeng, quantum physics—the scientific insight that the basic particles of matter are actually in constant flux—informs how the sutra is understood in the modern West. Of course, any discussion of the Heart Sutra is going to center on the concept of emptiness—the Mahayana theory that all phenomena are without fixed and independent identity. Soeng presents his fascinating discus- sion of emptiness early in the book, leaving little to say when discussing the famous line “form is emptiness, emptiness is form” in his line-by-line commentary. Practicing the Jhanas (Shambhala 2009) is a highly technical instruction on the practice of the eight jhanas, or meditative absorptions, for a modern Western audience. The authors, Steven Snyder and Tina Rasmussen, base it on instruc- tions they received from their teacher, the con- temporary Burmese meditation master Pa Auk Sayadaw, and they offer it as a supplement to his book Knowing and Seeing, which lays out the Theravadan path to enlightenment. The medita- tions taught here, on specific emotional/psycho- logical and visual experiences that meditators encounter on each of the eight absorptions, are quite esoteric. The authors assume a considerable amount of familiarity with the Theravadan path, and provide little commentary in this otherwise finely constructed meditation manual, assum- ing that those who engage in these practices are doing so with the guidance of a teacher. Uncommon Happiness (Ranjung Yeshe 2009) is a teaching on bodhichitta by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, a dynamic young Tibetan lama who has been teaching in North America since 1989. The book originated as a series of oral teachings on Shantideva’s Bodhicarya- vatara, but the author makes only occasional reference to that text. The thirteen short and well-edited chapters are centered on traditional topics such as rejoicing and the six paramitas, but they address a decidedly contemporary audi- ence and are largely free of technical vocabu- lary. The chapter on digesting pain is particularly effective in communicating the book’s central point that transforming the mind and develop- ing bodhichitta involves rethinking daily expe- riences, not just engaging in sophisticated and challenging meditation techniques. A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path (Snow Lion 2010) is a translation of and com- mentary on one of those rare texts that is both a masterpiece of poetry and a profoundly moving religious instruction. The 131 verses by Drigung Bhande Dhar- madradza (1704–1754) are known, in typical Tibetan dis- regard for numerical accuracy, as the “One Hundred Verses of Advice.” They do indeed encompass the entire path as it is understood in Tibetan Buddhism, from developing a revulsion toward samsara to completion-stage tantric prac- tices. Translated with extensive commentary by Khenchen Konchog Gyaltsen, the book can be read from start to finish or opened anywhere. The editors have done an excellent job with the book, providing glossaries of enumerations, texts mentioned, and technical terms, as well as an index to first lines, and short biographies of the authors. The essays collected in Pointing at the Moon (Oxford 2009) deal with philosophical responses to the ineffability of truth and the problem of lan- guage—a tough nut to crack for philosophers who must use language to express truth. The majority on Shantideva’s vatara only occasional reference to that text. The thirteen short and well-edited chapters are centered on traditional topics such as rejoicing and the six paramitas, but they address a decidedly contemporary audi- 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. a masterpiece of poetry and a profoundly moving religious instruction. The 131 verses by Drigung Bhande Dhar- madradza (1704–1754) are known, in typical Tibetan dis- regard for numerical accuracy, as the “One Hundred Verses of Advice.” They do indeed by Alexander gardner