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Shambhala Sun | November 2013

Books in Brief


By ANDREA MILLER

TRAINING THE WISDOM BODY

Buddhist Yogic Exercises

By Rose Taylor Goldfield

Shambhala Publications 2013; 186 pp., $16.95 (paper)

Lujong, which means “body training” in Tibetan, is one of many systems of physical practice in Vajrayana Buddhism. In Training the Wisdom Body, Rose Taylor Goldfield teaches us the form of lujong she learned from her teacher, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, enhanced by her own studies of martial arts, sacred dance, and Indian, Chinese, and Japanese yogic forms. The book begins by exploring the foundational view of Buddhist yoga, including an excellent explanation of the subtle body. Then it explores seated meditation, which Goldfield reminds us is not just a practice for the mind. The body is important, too — the exact curve of the spine, the position of the head, chin, soft palate, and hands. Next the book covers ways in which we can extend our practice beyond the physical body, such as the use of sound. Finally Goldfield presents the lujong exercises. Her instructions are clear, but the accompanying photos are helpful for verifying that you’re on the right track.


BEYOND THE ROBE

Science for Monks and All It Reveals about Tibetan Monks and Nuns

By Bobby Sager

PowerHouse Books 2013; 312 pp., $60 (cloth)

FACE TO FACE

Portraits of the Human Spirit

By Alison Wright

Schiffer Publishing 2013; 208 pp., $75 (cloth)

In May 2000, entrepreneur Bobby Sager met with the Dalai Lama in an L.A. hotel room — the Dalai Lama sitting next to the minibar. Sager explained that he wanted to work on a project with His Holiness and that he was open to virtually any idea. To Sager’s surprise, the Dalai Lama knew immediately what he wanted to propose: a program teaching Western science in the monasteries. Beyond the Robe explores the development of Science for Monks, which has introduced science to more than 200 monastics. The book’s stunning photos are by Bobby Sager and the essays are by a variety of contributors, including Matthieu Ricard.

Another new and notable coffee-table book is Face to Face by Alison Wright, a contributor to the Shambhala Sun. It is a collection of evocative portraits that Wright has taken around the world, from Cuba and Mexico to Tibet and Japan. In the introduction she writes, “I have learned during my years of global travel… that no matter how unique we may look in appearance, from the exotic to the mundane, we basically have the same universal desires and concerns.”


SMALL BITES

Mindfulness for Everyday Use

By Annabelle Zinser

Parallax Press 2013; 170 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Small Bites is a collection of thirty-two meditations grounded in Annabelle Zinser’s many years of study with Vipassana teacher Ruth Denison and Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The first chapter gives instructions for basic sitting meditation. Then Zinser offers meditations for a wide range of situations, including recognizing our ancestors, opening up to physical pain, dealing with sexual feelings, and enjoying a cup of tea. Readers are invited to practice the meditations alone or with a group, and there’s no need to work through them chronologically. Small Bites is designed to be nibbled; simply dip into it and find the meditation that suits this very moment. Zinser is one of Germany’s most prominent Zen teachers, and in 2007 she was the recipient of the United Nations’ Outstanding Women in Buddhism Award.


THE STRUGGLERS

By Norman Fischer

Singing Horse Press 2013; 116 pp., $15 (paper)


IN THAILAND IT IS NIGHT

By Ira Sukrungruang

University of Tampa Press 2013; 78 pp., $14 (paper)


SCATTERED MEMORIES

By Thich Giac Thanh

Parallax Press 2013; 144 pp., $14.95 (paper)

The Strugglers and In Thailand It Is Night are two noteworthy poetry volumes by Shambhala Sun authors. In his poems, Zen priest Norman Fischer rarely touches Buddhism head-on, but between the lines Buddhist sensibilities shine through. I particularly enjoy his lyrical cracks at consumerism. He draws our attention to the “hopeful purchasing mood” of shoppers “who sip syrup-laced coffee at Starbuck’s.” He takes us to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and “further still—this once green valley/Paved now with glitter in the shadow of its mountain/For the Seasonal Sales.”

Using clear language that packs a powerful punch, Ira Sukrungruang is particularly gifted at using his poems to tell a story. He begins In Thailand It Is Night with a section called “Guruda,” a bird creature of Buddhist mythology. “Start with meditating hands because the hands hold/suffering,” he writes in the poem “Drawing Buddhas.” “Be sure to curve the fingers/and palms, and be sure the curve cups karma,/or a splashing sparrow, or a sleeping cat.”

Another new book of poetry, Scattered Memories, is by Thich Giac Thanh, the late Vietnamese monk who served as the first abbot of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Deer Park Monastery in California. He wrote his poems over a thirty-year period, many of them when he was in dire straits, such as preparing to escape his homeland by boat. Nonetheless, there is a thread of joy that runs through his work — an appreciation for everything from sunshine to plum blossoms to drifting mist.


CLAIRE DEWITT AND THE BOHEMIAN HIGHWAY

By Sara Gran

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013; 280 pp., $20 (cloth)

Private investigator Claire Dewitt is the type of person who rifles through acquaintances’ medicine cabinets and steals whatever numbing prescription pills she happens to find. She also likes fat lines of coke and casual sex — or maybe it’s not so much that she likes these things as much as they help her keep a lid on her troubling emotions. Beyond being haunted by memories of killing two men and having her best friend mysteriously disappear, Claire is also way too involved in her current whodunit: her ex-boyfriend, Paul, was murdered in his home and the suspects are many, including his gorgeous wife and her punk-rock lover. Spoiler alert: there are a few things that keep this hard-boiled detective novel from having a sad, sordid ending. One is that Claire finds Paul’s killer. Another is that she does a stint at a Buddhist temple. Years ago, her mentor sent her there to study with a lama, but she got caught in the toolshed having sex with a monk-in-training and was kicked out. This time she discovers that the temple is a place of healing.


WALK LIKE A BUDDHA

Even If Your Boss Sucks, Your Ex Is Torturing You & You’re Hungover Again

By Lodro Rinzler

Shambhala Publications 2013; 224 pp., $14.95 (paper)

“I should mention that I’m sort of a mess and also okay,” Lodro Rinzler writes. “Sometimes I’m sad or angry, and yet I’m also confident that at my core I am a buddha.” What this Gen-Y dharma teacher means is that even when he’s confused, he’s inherently awake. Rinzler offers Walk Like a Buddha as a guidebook to developing an unconditional faith in our wakefulness. It began with a blog called What Would Sid Do?, in which Rinzler explored how Siddhartha might have navigated the modern world, with its speed dating, climate change, designer drugs, and office politics. Walk Like a Buddha retains little of the actual material from the blog, yet it is likewise unflinching in its exploration of Buddhist practice today. Let me put it this way: in the section entitled “Getting It on Like a Buddha,” one of the topics addressed is whether having an open relationship can be in harmony with the Buddhist path.




From the November 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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