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Shambhala Sun | November 2012

Books in Brief


By Bhante Gunaratana
Wisdom Publications 2012; 192 pp., $15.95 (paper)

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English unpacks the Satipatthana Sutta, a pivotal talk or perhaps series of talks said to have been given by the Buddha. Mindfulness of the body is the first foundation of mindfulness; it involves recognizing that the body is not a solid unified thing but rather a collection of parts. This recognition helps us relax our identification with the body—the idea of the body being “me” or “mine.” The second foundation of mindfulness relates to feelings. “As we watch each emotion or sensation as it arises, remains present, and passes away, we observe that any feeling is impermanent,” writes Bhante Gunaratana, who is also the author of the bestselling Mindfulness in Plain English. Similarly, our thoughts are impermanent and we realize this when we contemplate the third foundation of mind- fulness: mindfulness of mind. Finally, there is the fourth foundation of mindfulness, the mindfulness of dharmas, or phenomena. With this foundation we are reminded that the truth is within us. “The roots of suffering are within us,” says Gunaratana. “And the method for eliminating suffering is within us as well.”

FEAR: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm
By Thich Nhat Hanh
HarperOne 2012; 176 pp., $25.99 (cloth)

Compiled and edited by Melvin McLeod
Shambhala Publications 2012; 240 pp., $7.95 (paper)

In Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm, Thich Nhat Hanh addresses the role mindfulness can play in letting go of our fears. We are afraid of being powerless, he teaches. But if we live in the present moment—if we have mindfulness—we will have the power to look deeply at our fears and understand their source. At that point, fear will no longer control us and we will touch the ultimate joy. We’ll realize that right now we’re okay. Our eyes can see the beauty of the sky and our ears can hear the voices of the people we love.

Don’t be misled by the apparent simplicity of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, writes Melvin McLeod in the introduction to The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh. “It takes a long and hard journey to arrive at such clarity, in which the problems of life are finally resolved in plain, essential language that makes deep truths available to all who want to see them.” A compendium of the renowned Zen master’s teachings, The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh delves into everything from politics to the Pure Land and from hugging meditation to healing the past.

A SENSE OF DIRECTION: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful
By Gideon Lewis-Kraus
Riverside Books 2012; 344 pp., $26.95 (cloth)

Ever since learning about el Camino de Santiago in a university Spanish class, I’ve wanted to go on a pilgrimage. In my mind’s eye I’ve imagined that I would have no pack; the terrain would be both flat and idyllic, the temperature mild, and the breeze soft. Reading A Sense of Direction disabused me of these misty-eyed notions of pilgrimage but did not make me any less keen to pack my bags. Author Gideon Lewis-Kraus made three traditional pilgrimages, which he chronicles in this book: the aforementioned Catholic el Camino de Santiago in Spain; a Buddhist circuit of eighty-eight temples in Shikoku, Japan; and an annual mass migration honoring a Jewish mystic in Ukraine. Lewis-Kraus is quick with the side-splitting wisecracks, but he is also thoughtful about his experiences. A pilgrimage, he says, “is an old and corporeal kind of shock therapy, a structure that is maintained and promoted to help inspire an embodied sense of gratitude and wonder at the variety and generosity of the world, a world much bigger than our petty fears and desponds and regrets.”

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA: Essential Writings
Selected with an introduction by Victor M. Parachin
Orbis Books 2012; 192 pp., $22 (paper)

In 1893, an Indian swami named Vivekananda traveled to the U.S. hoping to participate in the World Parliament of Religions, which was being convened as part of Chicago’s World Fair. He had no official invitation, but participate he did. According to the Boston Evening Transcript, “Four thousand fanning people in the Hall of Columbus would sit smiling and expectant, waiting for an hour or two of other men’s speeches to listen to Vivekananda for fifteen minutes.” More than a century later, Vivekananda is still renowned for introducing Hinduism to the West, reviving Hinduism in India, and inspiring interfaith appreciation. For a rich selection of his teachings, see Victor Parachin’s new volume published as part of Orbis’s Modern Spiritual Masters Series. It addresses such topics as loving God in spite of evil, worshipping God rather than images and symbols of God, and taming the monkey mind. Buddhist readers will be particularly interested to read the section entitled “Appreciation for the Buddha.”

COMRADES OF THE QUEST: An Oral History of Reed College
By John Sheehy
Oregon State University Press 2012; 576 pp., $34.95 (cloth)

RING OF BONE: Collected Poems
By Lew Welch
City Lights Publishers 2012; 256 pp., $17.95 (paper)

Comrades of the Quest is an exploration of the Reed College experience. Intellectual freedom, academic rigor, and egalitarian democracy are the hallmarks of this institution, and since its founding a century ago it has attracted and fostered generations of innovators. Among them were poets and Buddhist pioneers Lew Welch, Philip Whalen, and Gary Snyder, who studied at Reed together in the 1940s. A decade later, they regrouped in the Bay Area and became notable figures in the Beat literary scene. Ring of Bone is a collection of Welch’s work dating from his early years to just before his tragic death. In May, 1971, Snyder went to Welch’s campsite in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and found a suicide note. An extensive search was conducted, but his body was never found. “Maitreya walks our streets right now,” Welch claimed in his “Maitreya Poem.” “Look out. For him, for her, for them, for these will break America as Christ cracked Rome.” Then in his song “Buddhist Bard Turns Rat Slayer,” Welch riffed, “I don’t know about dogs but rats ain’t got no Buddha nature.”

From the November 2012 Shambhala Sun magazine. Click here to see more from this issue.

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