Short reviews of Trust in Mind: The Rebellion of Chinese Zen by Mu Soeng • The Four Immeasurables by B. Alan Wallace • A Flock of Fools: Ancient Buddhist Tales of Wisdom and Laughter from the One Hundred Parable Sutra, translated and retold by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt • Buddha in a Teacup: Tales of Enlightenment by Todd Walton • Re-Enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West by Jeffery Paine
One of the most famous lines of Asian spiritual culture is “The Great Way is not difficult for those who have no preferences.” This line is the opening of the great sixth-century dharma poem “Trust in Mind” (Hsin Shin Ming) by the Third Chinese Zen Patriarch, Sengcan. In Mu Soeng’s new book, Trust in Mind, the author explores the philosophical and historical importance of this poem, which expresses both the convergence of Taoism and Buddhism and the resulting Chinese Buddhist school of Ch’an, commonly known as Zen. Along with his own astute commentary, Mu Soeng offers us a number of different translations of the poem side by side.
The best way is not difficult
It only excludes picking and choosing
Once you stop loving and hating
It will enlighten itself.
(Dusan Pajin, trans.)
Both a mind training and a lesson in Buddhist history, Trust in Mind reveals the beauty and profundity of a dharma masterpiece. —WN
This book provides an excellent roadmap on how to develop the Four Immeasurables that empower the mind—lovingkindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity. Although in the West lovingkindness seems to be the most popular practice, Wallace argues that it’s the development of the complete quartet that renders the mind “fit for service.” Wallace, a Buddhist scholar and former Tibetan monk, encourages stabilizing the mind through sustained samatha (concentration) practice and committing to following the precepts as prerequisites to cultivating the Four Immeasurables (also known as the Brahma-viharas, or Divine Abodes). These sublime mind-states help create the conditions to ultimately uproot the kilesas (defilements) and extinguish suffering. The book includes a detailed description of each of the four qualities as well as guided meditation instructions and Q & A discussions. It would make an excellent study/practice guide for kalyana mitta groups interested in focusing on the Four Immeasurables. This is a one-of-a-kind book that helps educate as well as inspire. —RK
The introduction to this book says, “A complete fool is almost impossible to find, and, therefore, should be treasured.” Likewise, this book is a treasure, revealing the Buddha’s teaching through ninety-eight stories (two fools seem to be missing) of people who do not understand the dharma and end up doing very foolish things. There is “The Man Whose Head Was Hit by a Pear,” “A Fast Eater,” “A Golden Skunk,” and ninety-five other short tales (three or four paragraphs long on average), each followed by a brief teaching. Based on a Chinese Buddhist scripture from the sixth century C.E., this book is a welcome addition to our Western library of Buddhism. The text is inviting and easy to read, and the book itself is beautifully designed, illustrated by Kaz Tanahashi’s fine brush paintings. Only a fool would pass it up. —WN
Buddha in a Teacup is a collection of stories of contemporary life, each revealing a dharma lesson. But there is no preaching here, just the stories, simple and elegant, written and read by author, musician and dharma student Todd Walton. He opens each of his stories with a piano prelude and reads in a strong, evocative voice. A delightful CD to listen to in your car. —WN
What is it that compels large numbers of Westerners to forsake an affluent and comfortable life to follow a path of Buddhist renunciation? Why, for example, did a Londoner, Diane Perry, spend two decades in an unheated Himalayan cave as the Tibetan nun Tenzin Palmo? Eight years ago Vicki Mackenzie’s book Reborn in the West suggested that such people were reincarnations of former Tibetan ascetics. Jeffery Paine draws an opposite conclusion from his intelligent and engaging treatment of the biographical and sociological evidence: “Buddhism, when all is said and done, is a ‘science’ of the mind that anyone might verify on one’s own.” Some will read this well-written book because of the fascinating life stories in it. Some will gain even more from Paine’s insightful discriminations between true and false uses of the dharma. —PDS