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Lions Roar : March 2006
Books in Brief REVIEWED BY ANDREA MCQUILLIN WOMEN OF THE WAY Discovering 2,500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom By Sallie Tisdale HarperSanFrancisco, 2006; 320 pp.; $24.95 (cloth) In the way that Caroline A.F. Rhys- Davids' Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns and Tsultrim Allione's Women of Wisdom brought to light the stories of Theravadin and Tibetan women practitioners, Sallie Tisdale's Women of the Way will provide Zen practitioners with a record of their female dharma ancestors. Some will view this as an "alternative" record-few of these women appear in the official canon, and Tisdale has applied a certain creative license in outlining the lineage. But, as Tisdale argues in her introduc- tion, this was necessary because" . . . reading histories, antholo- gies, diaries, commentaries, scriptures, collections of poetry and art, I realized at last that most of the huge body of literature is all about men, written by men, and addressed to men." Women of the Way redresses this imbalance by providing short profiles of mythological, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, and American Zen women who have devoted their lives to meditation. Tracing this 2,500-year lineage and chanting the names have been powerful practices for Tisdale in communicating the Buddha's experience: "Transmission is partly a realization that there is something that is the same in another, something that the other has also seen." In Women of the Way that something is seen through the eyes of women. SITTING WITH KOANS Essential Writings on the Practice of Zen Koan Introspection Edited by John Daido Loori Wisdom Publications, 2006; 315 pp.; $16.95 (paper) This anthology is required reading for those interested in how koans-one of the two limbs of Rinzai Zen practice (the other is shikantaza, or "just sitting")-are used in Zen practice. Koans are much more than riddles or paradoxes, says John Daido Loori, Roshi, abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery: "The answer to a koan is not a fixed piece of information. It is one's own intimate and di- rect experience of the universe and its infinite facets. It is a state of consciousness." Sitting with Koans is in three parts. In the first sec- tion Loori has selected classic material that explains the historical context for koan practice. The second provides a brief overview of the Japanese koan system, which can be daunting to the neo- phyte. For the practitioner, the real strength of this volume is the last section's presentation of selected koans, with commentaries by authorized Japanese, Chinese, and American Rinzai Zen mas- ters who demonstrate the living tradition of working with koans. THE LEFT HAND OF GOD Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right By Michael Lerner HarperSanFrancisco, 2006; 416 pp.; $24.95 (cloth) The Left Hand of God is a cry from the wilderness of the religious left. Author Michael Lerner is a voice of "progressive" Judaism and the editor of Tikkun magazine, a left -leaning bimonthly on politics, society, and culture. The Left Hand of God is his extended critique of the current spiritual and political situation in America. Individual- ism and profit -seeking, Lerner says, have resulted in a society void of spiritual oxygen. This is hardly news. But given their theotropic nature (Lerner's coinage: an innate tendency to "turn toward the sa- cred,,) and the anxious times, some Americans have turned toward a vision of an Old Testament God ("God's right hand") who-with his human agents-keeps the world running smoothly with righteousness and vengeance. But the consequences of this choice are dire. Lerner argues that the current alignment of the religious right with the political right will bankrupt the nation, embroil the country in continual international conflict, and destroy the environ- ment. He advocates a kinder, more compassionate vision-Go d's left hand-that will inspire a network of religious, secular, and spiri- tual (but not necessarily religious) citizens who can have as much influence on politics as the religious right has had in recent years. TO BE OF USE: The Seven Seeds of Meaningful Work By Dave Smith New World Library, 2005; 256 pp.; $23.95 (cloth) To Be of Use is a book that will make you wonder how you can settle for anything less than soul-gratifying, valuable day-to-day work. Once a Porsche-driving software developer, Dave Smith gave it all away to work as Cesar Chavez's executive assistant. He's since become a "serial startup entrepreneur" who has been involved in key positions in a number of businesses built on sustainable, green, and organic principles. The "seven seeds of meaningful work" are progressive, contemporary riffs on the seven Christian virtues of faith, hope, justice, temperance, prudence, courage, and love. (Smith is the son of Orville Smith, a fundamentalist minister from the tent revival days.) These are the points of en- try where the spirit is invited back into our daily occupations. There's a melody of liberal Christianity that runs through the book, but as Smith says, in this secular age "Losing our religion is no excuse for being irresponsible and self-centered. The values that make a good Christian or a good Buddhist also make a good citizen, a good politician, and a good businessperson. They also make a good organization and a good business." SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2006 89