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Buddhadharma : Fall 2017
fall 2017 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 89 forefront of so many people’s awareness, José Cabezón brings us The Just King (Snow Lion 2017), a text that draws on centuries of Bud- dhist writing to formulate a unique vision of the ethical life. Commissioned by an eastern Tibetan prince and written by the famous Tibetan scholar Ju Mipham (1846–1912), it sets high expectations for rulers, declaring that their power is only temporary and insisting that in order to govern, they must be highly educated, ethically cultivated, and tireless in their service to their subjects. Failing this, any “wastrel” of a leader (as Cabezón so compel- lingly translates Mipham’s word choice) might soon see their powers disappear. The activist-turned-Buddhist-reformer Taixu (1890–1947) is typically remembered in Chi- nese history as a modernizer, someone who attempted to strip Buddhism of its mythologies. Yet as Justin Ritzinger argues in his outstand- ing book Anarchy in the Pure Land (Oxford 2017), Taixu’s vision for Buddhism was hardly secular. He remained focused on ritual, super- natural beings, and the afterlife as he shifted attention away from Amitabha, the Buddha of the Pure Land, to Maitreya, the Buddha of the future. His pursuit of a better society through activism evolved into a belief in the gradual perfection of the world and the coming of Mai- treya, producing a unique vision of modernity for Chinese Buddhists of his era. Despite the predominance of male figures in Chinese Buddhist history, not all Chan masters were men. In fact, a remarkable verse commen- tary on a collection of classic koans was writ- ten by Miaozong, a twelfth-century nun. Some five centuries later, two more nuns—Baochi and Zukui—wrote commentaries on these same koans. In Beata Grant’s Zen Echoes (Wisdom 2017), we find the poetry of all three women in translation, complete with the original Chinese. These poems are profound and sometimes pro- fane—responding to the famous koan When Linji saw a monk enter the gates, he shouted, Zukui writes: “This single shout of Linji’s— what a piece of shit it is!” as the single greatest influence on his life. Com- plete with over one hundred archival photos and an introduction by Thupten Jinpa, this book is a landmark record of an extraordinary teacher. What is the importance of the four jhanas for Buddhist practice? Though commonly described as states of absorption that are nei- ther liberative nor uniquely Buddhist, Keren Arbel argues in Early Buddhist Meditation (Routledge 2017) that they were fundamen- tal components of the early Buddhist path. Through a close examination of Pali source materials, she concludes that the four jha- nas represent a progression from ordinary, unwholesome states of mind to a purified state that is “wholesome and free,” prompting her to frame them as the “actualization and embodi- ment of insight (vipassana).” What do Pali texts tell us about aging, sick- ness, and death? In Older and Wiser (Barre 2017), three contemporary teachers—Mu Soeng, Gloria Taraniya Ambrosia, and Andrew Olendzki—look to these ancient sources for guidance. On the topic of mourning, they examine the famous mustard seed story, in which the Buddha tells a mother frantic to revive her son that she must find a mustard seed from a household untouched by death. She fails, of course, and awakens to the universality and inescapability of death. Olendzki, a Thera- vada scholar, reads this as showing that death seems tragic only from “the narrow perspective of ‘me,’” while a more cultivated understand- ing of the human condition lets us see it as completing or even perfecting a human life. Mu Soeng, a teacher in the Korean Zen tradition, reads it as evidence that we most fully respect our dead when our grief is restrained rather than dramatic. Finally, Ambrosia, a teacher in the Thai Forest tradition, sees this story as a testament to the importance of suffering on the path: “How deeply must we feel the pain of delusion before releasing our attachment to the world?” At a time when social justice is at the