Short reviews of The Universe in a Single Atom by His Holiness the Dalai Lama • Another Morning: Voices of Truth and Hope from Mothers with Cancer by Linda Blachman • Heart of Wisdom, Mind of Calm by Christina Feldman • The Ajanta Caves: Ancient Paintings of Buddhist India by Benoy K. Behl • The Buddha’s Apprentices: More Voices of Young Buddhists edited by Sumi Loundon • Healing Trauma by Peter A. Levine, PhD • The Force of Kindness by Sharon Salzberg
Along with being the most preeminent spiritual figure in the world, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a masterful thinker and philosopher. In this book he turns toward modern astronomy, evolutionary biology and neuroscience, and explores these subjects through the lens of his own Buddhist wisdom. What emerges is a necessary new paradigm that combines science and spirituality. It is a quantum leap forward.
The difference between science as it stands now and the Buddhist investigative tradition lies in the dominance of the third-person, objective method in science and the refinement and utilization of first-person, introspective methods in Buddhist contemplation. In my view, the combination of the first-person method with the third-person method offers the promise of a real advance in the study of consciousness.
No other spiritual leader of our time has tried so hard to understand science, nor been so willing to trust its methods and conclusions. His Holiness has even said that if science discovers something that conflicts with Tibetan Buddhist beliefs, he would consider changing the very tradition that he represents and loves. For instance, after His Holiness explains a passage of Abhidharma cosmology that describes the Earth as flat, he goes on to write, “My own view is that Buddhism must abandon many aspects of the Abhidharma cosmology.”
This book is not, as you might think, about science; it is rather a brilliant exploration of the meeting of two cultures, as well as an invitation for collaboration. —WN
Ask any mother about her worst nightmares, and one of them is likely to be that she won’t live to raise her children. That possibility is the focus of this superb book. Linda Blachman, founder of the Mothers’ Living Stories Project, examines for the first time how mothers go on living and raising children in a culture that denies illness, death and the dark side of motherhood. The common, yet unrealistic, expectation is that their children’s lives will be stable and simple, even when the core of the human condition is unstable and unpredictable. Willful proclamations such as “I’ve got to finish raising my son” make no difference to metastatic cancer cells. But by telling their heartbreaking stories to compassionate listeners, mothers can more easily embody the timeless message “you have to let go.” —RK
This book is a comprehensive collection of guided meditations, presented in a simple, accessible format by longtime insight meditation teacher Christina Feldman. She offers us practices that deal with almost all aspects of the human condition: some that evoke states of mind such as forgiveness or compassion, others that encourage wisdom or simplicity, and yet others that deal with difficult emotions such as fear and anger. Each meditation is preceded by Feldman’s thoughtful reflections. The result is a straightforward and useful volume of dharma practice. —WN
In Fellini’s Satyricon, modern-day Romans enter a sealed room, bombed moments before, containing brilliantly colored frescos that immediately fade when exposed to light. This book offers the reverse experience. In the Ajanta Caves, a visitor finds dark, unlit images, often scarcely visible. The vast darkness takes one back to those for whom the paintings were made. Yet Benoy Behl’s slow-exposure photography brings them to light brilliantly and movingly in this marvelous book. Behl offers commentary on early Indian Buddhism; on bodhisattvas as elephants, monkeys and buffalo; and on Gautama Buddha’s life from birth to death. While no photography can replace an actual visit to Ajanta, this book is essential to understanding one of the great human experiences in art and religion. —CP
In this follow-up to her Blue Jean Buddha, editor Sumi Loundon continues to create a literary sangha among young Buddhists. The essays are organized by age and focus on how young Buddhists can be supported and engaged. Among the most delightful narratives are those from teens about using the dharma as a guide to dealing with everything from a stolen *NSYNC album to jealousy over the attention a cousin receives as a reincarnated lama. Readers of any age can find comfort in knowing that even their most venerated teachers also experienced confusion and rebellion: when Theravada monk Bhante Gunaratana was a teenager, he snuck out of the monastery to meet clandestinely with a girl! This anthology fills a gap in contemporary Buddhist literature, offering authentic voices from the next generation. —LR
In this book-and-CD set, Peter Levine, a medical and biological physicist and psychologist, offers resources for those working to understand and heal trauma. When people are overwhelmed or helpless, energy gets stored in the body, causing symptoms such as depression and fatigue. Unlike traditional therapies, which rely largely on retelling the traumatic experience, Levine’s strategy is to release this energy through a series of mindful exercises. “Though suffering and trauma are not identical,” writes Levine, “the Buddha’s insight into the nature of suffering can provide a powerful mirror.” —KG
For those wishing to develop or deepen lovingkindness (metta), this book-and-CD set is a detailed course on how to do so. Salzberg offers stories, insights and guided meditations to help create a foundation of kindness from within. Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the pro-democracy movement in Burma and one of Salzberg’s heroines, has practiced metta through extraordinary adversity yet remains committed to kindness. Suu Kyi’s quest for peace can be summed up in her wise words, “A saint is a sinner who keeps trying.” —RK