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Lions Roar : January 2013
BY ANDREA MILLER Books in Brief THE MONKS AND ME How 40 Days in Thich Nhat Hanh’s French Monastery Guided Me Home By Mary Paterson Hampton Roads Publishing 2012; 256 pp., $16.95 (paper) The Monks and Me is the true story of Mary Paterson’s forty days at Plum Village. Paterson’s lessons in the dharma take many forms, but I particularly enjoy what she learns from her co-retreatants. Take Charlie, a Newfoundlander who wears a Mexican poncho. “Killing the cats was fucking killing me,” he says. Charlie used to be a neuropsychologist and his work involved stimulating different parts of cats’ brains in order to observe their reactions to fear, then killing and dissecting them. His intimate relationships were stressful, too—he had three girlfriends at the same time—and he had a mountain of debt to contend with. Then Charlie took Thich Nhat Hanh’s five mindfulness trainings, most significantly the first, reverence for life. This helped him quit his job, solve his debt problems, and commit to a monogamous relationship. Paterson’s colorful co-retreatants also include a shameless headphone thief and a sad German with beige hair, beige skin, and beige eyes who is driven out of the retreat by a fiery Brazilian. BRIGHT MOON, WHITE CLOUDS Selected Poems of Li Po Edited and translated by J.P. Seaton Shambhala Publications 2012; 224 pp., $14.95 (paper) THE ART OF HAIKU Its History through Poems and Paintings by Japanese Masters By Stephen Addiss Shambhala Publications 2012; 352 pp., $24.95 (cloth) Li Po, the celebrated eighth-century Chinese poet, is most famous for his drinking poems, full of pretty girls and jade vessels and hangovers. But he is also well known for poetry reflecting his philosophical bent, chiefly Taoist but also Buddhist and Confucian. In his introduction to Bright Moon, White Clouds: Selected Poems of Li Po, translator J.P. Seaton says, “There is often something almost Dionysian, almost magically freeing, in [Li Po’s] poems, even moments that sound like wobbly satoris. But (how like a Taoist!) he never uses the Chinese words for satori, or sudden enlightenment, to describe any physical, philosophical, or spiritual state he reaches.” The Art of Haiku is an extensive exploration of that poetic form, its corresponding tradition of painting, and its related poetic styles. Haiku is frequently described as a Zen art, but author Stephen Addiss points out that the relationship between haiku and Zen isn’t clear-cut. While the renowned Basho was a Zen practitioner, as were several of his followers, most haiku poets didn’t study Zen. Some adhered to no religion; others identified with Taoism, Shintoism, Confucianism, or other Buddhist sects. The poet Issa, for example, was a devout Pure Land Buddhist. This gem of a poem by him is one of the 997 poems included in The Art of Haiku: “baby sparrows / open their mouths to the plum tree— / a Buddhist chant.” THE GREAT WORK OF YOUR LIFE A Guide for the Journey of Your True Calling By Stephen Cope Bantam Books 2012; 304 pp., $26 (cloth) How can we get in touch with our true self and embrace our calling? To explore this question, Stephen Cope uses the wisdom of a two-thousand-year-old Indian scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, as a jumping-off point. The Gita begins with Arjuna collapsing onto the floor of his chariot because he’s conflicted over his vocation. What follows is a philosophical discussion between Arjuna and Krishna, his divine charioteer. According to Cope, “Arjuna is supposedly the greatest warrior of his time, but really, he is just astonishingly like we are: neurotic as hell, and full of every doubt and fear you can imagine.” Nonetheless, over the course of eighteen ancient chapters, Arjuna discovers and embraces his calling—and we can too. In The Great Work of Your Life, Cope provides us with engaging examples of people finding their path. Some of these people have so-called ordinary lives. Others are well-known figures, including Jane Goodall, Henry David Thoreau, and Susan B. Anthony. SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2013 85