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Buddhadharma : Win 2012
WINTER 2 0 1 2 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 79 TThe poetry of Ryokan, one of Japan’s most beloved Zen monks, is brought forth gra- ciously by Kazuaki Tanahashi in Sky Above, Great Wind (Shambhala 2012). Born in 1758, Ryokan was a pilgrim and a hermit who spent much of his later life painting and composing in solitude on the hillside coast along the Sea of Japan. Along with the now classic collection of his poems, One Robe, One Bowl, this new book of selected poems and calligraphies, including an introduction by Tanahashi, brings the essential work of this Buddhist poet into English. Each verse reflects a different light in the spectrum of Ryokan’s eccentricity and reclusiveness: from his criticism of Buddhist sectarianism, to his cel- ebration of nature, to his yearnings for serenity. Ryokan wrote about his Buddhist life: “To be a sorcerer is not my wish. Wherever I visit, I stay... Renewing my practice day by day.” In his book Insight into Emptiness (Wisdom 2012), Khensur Jampa Tegchok accomplishes the incredible task of clearly and directly conveying the profound, and seemingly daunting, Bud- dhist understanding of emptiness. Based on the Geluk-style Prasangika approach of systemati- cally introducing emptiness through a successive lamrim program, the book emphasizes emptiness as both a concept and an experience along the path of transformation. The author successfully uses contemporary relevant examples to discuss the complex arguments involved. For instance, in discussing the classic argument that the same substance can be seen differently by different beings, and thereby lacks any true essence, he suggests how it is similar to three women looking at a man. While the man is the same, one woman thinks he is ugly, another thinks he is boring, and the other sees him as handsome. Avoiding over- analysis, this book strikes a balance in presenting the logic of emptiness alongside metaphors and illustrations for understanding emptiness. Where this book goes askew is in its presentation of zhentong, or “other-emptiness,” giving a misin- formed interpretation of this Madhyamaka view. Living the life of a Buddhist who is restlessly “shopping around” is the subject of Paul Breit- er’s memoir, One Monk, Many Masters (Parami 2012). He writes about being disenchanted in 1969 and departing for India on a journey that would lead him to Thailand, where he took ordi- nation and studied under the late Thai master Ajahn Chah. Much of the book is reminiscent of his time living as a Theravada monk, taking novice and eventually full bhikkhu vows, shar- ing experiences with Ajahn Sumedo, adapting to the austere monastic life, and being a foreigner in the forests of northern Thailand. After disrobing, Breiter con- tinued to seek a Buddhist life, studying Zen and eventually Tibetan Buddhism while liv- ing in California. Although his wanderings may leave the reader feeling unsettled or displaced, Breiter’s story exhibits the virtues of the modern Bud- dhist traveler through the lifelong relationship he has continued with the monastic communities in Thailand where he once lived. In her book Ties that Bind (Oxford 2012), Reiko Ohnuma explores the imagery and pres- ence of mothers and motherly love in the Indian Buddhist traditions. Sensitive to the complex psychology and history that she is revealing, she brings careful attention to the complicated and ambivalent relationship that the Buddhist monas- tic community has had with motherhood: at once denigrating mothers as symbols of attachment to samsara while at the same time affirming them with grat- itude for their bodhisattva-like nurturance and care. Drawing examples and anecdotes from the Pali canon and Buddhist Sanskrit literature, the author paints multiple portraits of maternal imagery. One vivid MICHAEL SHEEHY Ph.D. is the head of research at the Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center (TBRC) and the director of Jonang Foundation. by Michael Sheehy BOOK BRIEFS