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Buddhadharma : Spri 2013
80 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SPRING 2 0 1 3 HHow we have received and continue to inter- pret Buddhism through European lenses is the subject of The Cult of Emptiness (University Media 2012), which presents us with a glimpse into the European discovery of Buddhism. The author, Urs App, explores and narrates this his- tory, beginning with sixteenth-century Jesuit and Christian missionaries who encountered Zen Buddhists in Japan. App looks at how these encounters shaped the invention of a unified “Oriental philosophy,” an atheistic doctrine of nothingness that was attributed to the Buddha and thought to originate in Egypt. Bringing to light new sources for the study of these encoun- ters, we see how the history of Buddhism was rewritten by the Church. The story of what was known about Buddhism and how that knowl- edge was manipulated, not to mention how it informs our perceptions of Buddhism today, makes for a fascinating read. In Love, Roshi (SUNY 2012), Helen Baroni studies letters that the late American Zen mas- ter Robert Aitken Roshi received from people seeking his friendship and guidance and the let- ters he wrote in reply. One of the first Ameri- cans to study Zen in Japan after World War II, Aitken became something of a towering figure in American Zen and was sought out by many. Between 1968 and 2002, he received 261 letters from strangers requesting his counsel on matters ranging from feeling isolated as a practitioner to being disillusioned with one’s teacher. Baroni chose not to include the letters themselves but rather to use them as a way to highlight the issues that Aitken was responding to. Continuing the Teachings of the Buddha series, The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Wisdom 2012) is a translation of the Angut- tara Nikaya, the fourth collection of the Pali suttas. Consisting of over eight thousand suttas in eleven distinct bundles arranged numerically, the Anguttara Nikaya is the single largest collec- tion of the early discourses of the Buddha. While much of the Buddha’s philosophical teachings are found in the Majjhima and Samyutta Nikayas, the shorter suttas found in the Anguttara Nikaya are concerned pri- marily with practical advice. Much of this advice, more so than any other collection of suttas, is tailored to layper- sons. In one-on-one dialogues and in community settings, the Buddha teaches on a spectrum of issues, from how to run a har- monious household to the sex life of couples to how to rule as a righteous king. Lojong, a Tibetan word that literally means mind (lo) training (jong), is the subject of the Zen priest Zoketsu Norman Fischer’s Training in Compassion (Shambhala 2012). Why would a contemporary Zen teacher write a book about a Tibetan practice text from the twelfth century? Well, Fischer sug- gests that this kind of cross- tradition study sheds new light on this practice and that Zen offers a “commonsense simplicity.” He adds that this crossover of Buddhist traditions is important because of Zen’s “deficiency in explicit teach- ings on compassion.” What we have then is a hybrid: Zen lojong. The book is a commentary on the classic Tibetan text by Geshe Chekawa (1101–1175), The Seven Points of Mind Train- ing, arranged by fifty-nine slogans. While the slogans themselves are pith and to the point, the commentary is teeming with helpful anecdotes, instructions, and Fischer’s fresh and gentle touch. What is Theravada? Seeking to address over- simplified and cliché responses to that ques- tion, the collection of articles in How Theravada is Theravada (Silkworm 2012) challenges our conventional view of the Theravada in some pretty radical ways. Each chapter focuses on unpacking what Theravada is (or isn’t). Beginning with the premise that Theravada is a longstanding MICHAEL SHEEHY Ph.D. is the head of research at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) and the director of the Jonang Foundation. by Michael Sheehy BOOK BRIEFS