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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 20 1 0 80 Book Briefs R ealizing Genjokoan (Wisdom 2010) by Shohaku Okumura is an excellent com- mentary on the famous first chapter of Dogen’s Shobogenzo, a thirteenth-century Japa- nese Buddhist classic. Like all masterful com- mentaries, this one finds in the few short lines of the text—just thirteen short aphorisms—the entire span of the Buddhist teachings, from the truth of suffering to the realization of emptiness. Okumura, who ordained as a young man in Japan and has spent the last twenty years teach- ing in the United States, gives a quick biography of Dogen and then begins his commentary with an extensive exploration of the meaning of the term genjokoan (he translates it as “actualization of reality”). Okumura has been contemplating, studying, and teaching the genjokoan for many decades, which is evident from both the remark- able insight he brings to the text and the clarity with which he presents it. The Sugata Saurabha (Oxford 2010), an epic poem on the life of the Buddha, was written in 1947 by one of Nepal’s greatest modern writers, Chittadar Hrdaya, while he was in prison for publishing a poem in his native Newari language. The poem, composed in the classical Indic Kavya style, runs more than three hundred pages in this skillful translation by Todd Lewis and Subarna Man Tuladhar. Lewis provides a brief introduc- tion and several short essays at the end that situ- ate the poem in various contexts: Buddhism in Nepal, the literature of the life of the Buddha, the author’s life, and the Buddhist modernism that heavily influenced him (Hrdaya depicts the Buddha as a rational, egalitarian charity worker), as well as the conventions of Kavya poetry. Fill- ing in details absent in classical accounts of the Buddha’s life, Hrdaya suffuses the poem with ele- ments of Newari daily life, which has the effect of transforming the Buddha into a Newari (a clever move for a man intent on defending the rights of the suppressed Newari community). Hrdaya was also a student of Sanskrit and Hindi classics, and even though the poem is packed with ancient and obscure terms and concepts, it remains remark- ably readable. The controversy surrounding full female ordi- nation is one of the most pressing issues facing modern Buddhism. Dignity and Discipline (Wis- dom 2010), edited by Thea Mohr and Jampa Tse- droen, is without a doubt the most valuable book on the subject to date and should be required reading for anyone interested in contemporary Buddhism. As the book makes clear, the ordina- tion of women as full-fledged monastics is not only a religious and political issue, it is a mat- ter of basic human rights. The seventeen papers included here are from the International Congress on Women’s Role in the Sangha, a 2007 confer- ence in Hamburg convened to fulfill a request by the Dalai Lama. The book begins with the assumption that full ordi- nation is inevitable and charts a course to bring it about, investigating historical and doctrinal issues that must be settled before the Tibetan and Thera- vada sanghas embrace such change. You can read an excerpt on page 46 of this issue. Lama Dudjom Dorje’s Heartfelt Advice (Snow Lion 2010) is a terrific example of the traditional Tibetan genre of shal-dam, or life-advice, written for contemporary North Americans. This small book touches lightly on profound topics, gently suggesting ways of viewing the world and one’s existence in it in a radically new way. The ninety- five short sections—many less than a single page—address foundational ideas of the Buddhist path, such as renunciation, impermanence, and cause and effect. Shal-dam are intended as reminders or mild correctives and although each section stands alone, they are best read in sequence. Lama Dudjom Dorje, based in Texas, begins the book with an inspiring story of how he met and became the disciple of the Sixteenth Karmapa, who sent him to the United States in the early 1980s. The “trans” in the title TransBuddhism (Uni- versity of Massachusetts 2009), a collection of essays that grew out of a yearlong research semi- nar at Smith College in 2003–2004, refers to three related concepts that serve as the main divisions ter of basic human rights. The seventeen papers included here are from the International in the Sangha, a 2007 confer- ence in Hamburg convened to fulfill a request by the Dalai Lama. The book begins with the assumption that full ordi- 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. cause and effect. intended as reminders or mild correctives and although each section stands alone, they are best read in sequence. Lama Dudjom Dorje, based in Texas, begins the book with an inspiring story of how he met and became the disciple by Alexander Gardner