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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2 0 11 80 T Book Briefs The Caves of Dunhuang (Dunhuang Academy and London Editions 2010) by Fan Jinshi offers a glimpse into one of the great artistic achieve- ments of human history. With spectacular photographs that reveal the caves’ murals and sculptures in magnificent detail, this is a book to get lost in. The art and architecture of the Dunhuang caves, which were excavated by hand between the fourth and the fourteenth centuries, contains a dazzling array of styles and subject matter, from Daoist-inspired early Chan topics to multi-armed tantric deities dancing in sexual union. The author, a Chinese scholar who has been leading research at Dunhuang for decades, packs the book with short essays describing the history, architecture, sculpture, styles, and con- tent of the murals. It also includes a chapter on conservation and on the library cave, which was discovered sealed in 1900 and yielded tens of thousands of texts that changed the way we understand Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism. The Influence of Yogacara on Mahamudra (KTD Publications 2010) by Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche is a rare discussion of Yogacara phi- losophy and its relationship to tantra (Mahamu- dra is the tantric tradition of the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism). As the author points out, much of tantric theory is derived from Yogacara, such as the concept of Tathagatagharba, or bud- dhanature, and the notion that what is impure can be transformed into purity. The book is drawn from teachings Traleg Rinpoche gave in Melbourne in 1984, and its format lends itself well to the difficult subject matter, with simple, clear presentations of a topic followed by ques- tions from an informed audi- ence—the sort of questions that the reader would likely ask. Following a brief over- view of the common points between Yogacara and Maha- mudra, the book addresses basic Yogacara concepts such as the three levels of consciousness and the three truths (as opposed to Madhyamaka’s two truths) and then discusses basic Mahamudra theory, dealing with the transformation of consciousness, buddhanature, and the nature of absolute reality. Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers (Wis- dom 2011) by Perle Besserman and Manfred Ste- ger contains biographies of eight Zen masters, from familiar figures such as Linji (Rinzai in Jap- anese), and Hakuin to the contemporary Rinzai Zen teacher Nakagawa Soen (1907–1984), all drawn from English-language sources. The authors’ depiction of these men—as heroes who defy convention, reject ritual, resist authority at every turn, and spread a teaching of personal realization—presents a some- what romantic view of Zen shaped by American individualism and anti-institutionalism, virtues that the authors suggest are at the heart of Bud- dhism itself. Moonshadows (Oxford 2011), by a group of scholars calling themselves The Cowherds, is a wonderful, if challenging, book on the topic of conventional truth. Referring to their book as a “polygraph,” the ten authors take individual credit for specific chapters but assert collective authorship of the entire project. As the authors explain, the concept of conventional truth was likely developed to classify those teachings of the Buddha that were not to be taken literally. But this suggests that the conventional truth is not in fact true, and two-truth theory as is understood by the Madhyamaka is quite adamant that both the ultimate and the conventional truths are equally valid. The book is dedicated to understanding how this can be, with chapters that try to sort out particularly thorny issues such as the possibility of a rational analysis of truth. It also enters into longstanding disputes over whether one can accu- rately posit the conventional existence of things T clear presentations of a topic followed by ques- tions from an informed audi- ence—the sort of questions that the reader would likely ask. Following a brief over- view of the common points between Yogacara and Maha- mudra, the book addresses basic Yogacara concepts such Zen teacher Nakagawa Soen English-language sources. The authors’ depiction of these men—as heroes who defy convention, reject ritual, resist authority at every turn, and spread a teaching of personal realization—presents a some- 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. by Alexander Gardner