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Lions Roar : July 2015
By Vivien Shotwell WORDS WITHOUT MUSIC By Philip Glass Liveright, 432 pp., $29.95 (cloth) In this engaging memoir, written with wisdom and a striking lack of pretense, American composer Philip Glass gives us the story behind the music. We read of his childhood in Baltimore, the musical drive that led him first to Juilliard and then to the Parisian studio of the legendary teacher of composition Nadia Boulanger, and his longtime practice of Buddhism. A student of Gelek Rinpoche and the late Tomo Geshe Rinpoche, he has made over twenty trips to India, stud- ied the Tibetan language, and helped found Tibet House, a nonprofit organization devoted to preserving Tibetan culture. Glass writes engrossingly about his artistic collaborations with Martin Scorsese (Kundun), Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Wil- son, among others, and of his early studies with Ravi Shankar. In the moment of musical composition, Glass says, “I’ve lost awareness of myself. That awareness is now part of the atten- tion and with that attention I can continue the work.” He adds, “I’m not thinking about music, I’m thinking music. The music is the thought.” MINDFULNESS AS MEDICINE A Story of Healing Body and Spirit By Sister Dang Nghiem Parallax, 343 pp., $18.95 (paper) In Mindfulness as Medicine, Sister Dang Nghiem, a nun in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition, describes her journey of healing through the lens of Buddhist practice. In her teens, she emigrated to Arizona from Vietnam as part of a program to repatriate Amerasian children. After being shuttled between three foster families, she became a doctor, but—following the drowning death of her partner—she left medicine to become a nun. Drawing on her knowledge of medicine and her experience as a practitioner, each chapter explores a different aspect of what Sister Dang calls the “six elements of true love”: interbeing (upeksha); friendship and kinship (maitri); joy (mudita); trust and confidence (vishvas); reverence and respect (nyas); and healing (karuna). “With mindfulness,” she writes, “we recognize how we’ve repeatedly wounded ourselves, and slowly we learn to say, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t want to do that to myself ever again.’” Later she writes, “We can truly see our beloved in this very moment, and not through the lens of the past. It’s like seeing the blue sky for the first time.” TWENTY-FIRST-CENTURY BUDDHISTS IN CONVERSATION Edited by Melvin McLeod Wisdom, 300 pp., $19.95 (paper) For over a decade, Buddha- dharma: The Practitioner’s Quar- terly has featured round-table discussions among leading Bud- dhist figures of all traditions. In these panels, Asian-born and Western teachers, academics, writ- ers, activists, and sangha orga- nizers engage in lively, personal, and in-depth explorations of issues in contemporary Buddhism. Twenty-First-Century Buddhists in Conversation brings together twenty-seven of the best discussions from the magazine. Arranged into three sections—Practice, Teachings, and Community—and featur- ing, among others, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzburg, Anne Carolyn Klein, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and Shohaku Okumura, this anthology is a resource that may be returned to many times. KARMA What It Is, What It Isn’t, Why It Matters By Traleg Kyabgon Shambhala Publications, 176 pp., $15.95 (paper) This, the late Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche’s last book, makes the case that far from denying free will, Buddhism’s understanding of karma empowers us to make positive changes in our lives. Not- ing that Western practitioners sometimes feel uneasy about the subject, Traleg Kyabgon sets out to present karma in a sensible manner and dispel common misconceptions about it. We should contemplate karma and rebirth, he says, “even if we do not believe wholeheartedly in their reality. We should at least maintain an open-minded attitude. It is also worth considering that even if we behave as if karma were real, we would still end up living a better life than we would if we behaved as if it were untrue.” A short, readable, and yet serious-minded book, Karma will appeal to anyone looking for guidance in ethics, morality, and how to lead a better life. REVIEWS SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2015 77