Brief reviews of The State of Mind Called Beautiful by Sayadaw U Pandita, Kate Wheeler • Mindful Politics by Melvin McLeod, She Still Lives: A Novel of Tibet by Bill Magee • Dragon Thunder: My Life with Chögyam Trungpa by Diana J. Mukpo, Carolyn Rose Gimian • The Cosmos in a Carrot: A Zen Guide to Eating Well by Carmen Yuen • Presence: Chants of Sacred Power by Sita Jamieson
Reviewed by Steve Armstrong
In this latest compilation of edited Dhamma talks, renowned Burmese meditation teacher Sayadaw U Pandita explains that “the possibility of vimutti, inner freedom, is the beauty hidden within each of our minds.” To expose such beauty is “the maximum expression of value in our human lives.” This is accomplished in each moment by developing the eight factors of “the noble path that leads to victory over ourselves.” While his instructions are simple they are not shallow. His confidence in the Dhamma and this path of practice encourages us to aspire to liberation. He acknowledges, however, that his simple message may be hard for some to hear. It is our widespread attachment to “lofty ideas and pleasant generalities” that acts as an impediment to truly liberating knowledge. Even so, U Pandita’s ultimate message is “Don’t assume it’s beyond your capacity.”
Reviewed by Peter Dale Scott
We have seen many Buddhist nations—Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia and Korea—succumb passively to colonialism, followed by bloody aftermaths. But these very tragedies have given rise to thoughtful explorations of a more engaged Buddhism and mindful models for embodying peace. One thinks of Thich Nhat Hanh’s response to the travails of war in Vietnam, with his critiques of Western militarism, individualism, materialism and nationalism. Other inspiring examples include Sivak Sivaraksa, the Dalai Lama and Seung Sahn, who dared to warn a Korean dictator that “unless you attain your true Self, you will face even greater personal sufferings.” A growing dialogue, well represented in this anthology, also includes Western meditators, ecologists and systems analysts, from Joseph Goldstein and Bernie Glassman to bell hooks and Margaret Wheatley. Perhaps their true common denominator is spiritual politics, since they also invoke Gandhi, Merton and King. Recurring concepts like mindfulness, interbeing and non-clinging give the book a coherent and uniquely Buddhist flavor.
Reviewed by Ronna Kabatznick
Buddhist love stories are rare. They are wildly outnumbered by didactic Buddhist books absent of love, politics, intrigue and suspense. This brief but outstanding novel contains all four, and a female Dalai Lama. It takes place in Tibet 108 years from now. Tara Gyatso and her advisor, Mila, are in prison for leading a freedom movement that the Communists have crushed. Mila is released because he is no longer perceived as a threat. In fact, he sets out to reignite the movement with a secret plan. It involves not just a clever strategy but a special ability to exchange consciousness with others, including a bear. Eventually, he arrives at the prison where his beloved Dalai Lama is being held and where his secret plan will be carried out. The dramatic ending is riveting and illuminates love’s power to conquer and prevail.
Reviewed by Frank Reynolds
This intimate page-turning account of British-born Diana Mukpo’s twenty-year marriage to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche begins when she became his bride at the age of sixteen. The tabloid-fodder wedding to a twenty-eight-year-old Tibetan monk who had just disrobed shocked Diana’s bigoted and controlling mother and many of Trungpa’s British students alike. The fallout propelled the newlyweds to America, where, in the seventeen years until his death, Trungpa attracted more students than any Buddhist teacher of his time. Dragon Thunder details the couple’s abidingly deep and often fierce love for each other. It also details Mukpo’s longing for a more conventional marriage than could ever be possible with her brilliant yet eccentric husband. His commitment to imparting Vajrayana Buddhist teachings to Westerners was so primary for Trungpa Rinpoche that he opened his life entirely to them. This engrossing book gives readers a fresh yet intimate view of Trungpa and invites us to see the female strength that so often lies behind the man.
Reviewed by Ronna Kabatznick
This book is a feast of inspiration and information. We learn how conscious eating impacts ourselves, our friends and families, our communities and the entire world. Mindful eating is not only an individual plan of action but a radical social one as well. Through eating wisely, we can look deeply into the nature of reality, opening the possibility to change our relationship with food. The heart of the book contains an expanded explanation of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings, which are invitations to explore not only the types of foods we ingest but the importance of avoiding intoxicants that cloud the mind, like alcohol and television commercials. When we investigate the impermanence of our bodies, it’s easy to see that even idealized images like Playboy models contain sweat and feces. In addition to four profiles of mindful eaters, this book offers a wealth of nutrition information, a mindful grocery list and suggestions for mindful meals.
Reviewed by Wes Nisker
Sita Jamieson, a beloved cook at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, has often lent her chanting voice and harmonium to a late-night sitting or closing retreat ceremony. Now those chants are available on her CD entitled Presence, which features Sita accompanied by various musician friends, singing backup vocals, playing tablas, violins, didgeridoos and even synthesizers. The CD begins with Sita chanting the Buddhist refuges, followed by songs from many traditions including the Hebrew “Shema,” the Christian “Kyrie Eleison,” the Hindi “Krishna Radhe” and the Tibetan Buddhist “Om Mane Padme Hum.” Sita’s voice is stirring and clear like a trumpet, and her melodies evoke the spiritual meaning of these ancient but timeless words.