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Lions Roar : May 2006
DOCTRINE If the first two types of books have to do with the practice of Buddhism, the next type has to do with the doctrine that supports prac- tice, which varies greatly from tradition to tradition. All Buddhist traditions agree on anatman, non-self or egolessness, and it has been said that all Buddhist doctrine is an elaboration on that basic point. Buddhist study encompasses some elementary topic areas, such as the life story of the Buddha and the four noble truths, that are essential reading to under- stand what Buddhism is all about, but the elaborations on these basic themes can fill many large books—and they do. At close to a thousand pages, The Path of Purifica- tion by Buddhaghosa, a core Theravadan commentary, illustrates the level of tech- nicality Buddhist doctrine can reach. In addition to voluminous detail, the Bud- dhist teachings can also offer extreme philosophical subtlety and challenge, as evidenced by Nagarjuna’s teachings on emptiness. They can also present you with mystery and enigma, as in the often very difficult teachings of Dogen Zenji. Fortunately, there are many books that provide a ramp-up to these source texts. For example, Chandrakirti’s Introduction to the Middle Way is an extremely challenging text on emptiness, but the recent edition from the Padmakara Translation Group includes a fifty-page introduction that is worth the price of the book. Books on Buddhist doc- trine—or “view,” as it is sometimes called— require a significant time investment and may require the help of a live teacher or two to help unearth the meaning. The rewards of such effort are usually significant, though, since the texts represent the distilled essence of centuries of meditative insight. SCHOLARSHIP Buddhism has always had scholarship, but in the past “studying” Buddhism was equated with practicing Buddhism—no one studied Buddhism from the outside looking in. Today, however, there are scores of Buddhist study programs in uni- versities across the world, resulting in a wealth of scholarly Buddhist books. ➢ SYLVIA BOORSTEIN (author of Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sake) WHAT THE BUDDHA TAUGHT By Walpola Rahula This book has a special place in my heart. It may be the first text on Buddhism I read, and it continues to live up to its cover description: “authoritative, clear, logical, sober, comprehensive and masterly.” KEN MCLEOD (author of Wake Up to Your Life) REFINING YOUR LIFE (From the Zen Kitchen to Enlightenment) By Dogen and Uchiyama Refining Your Life is a wonderful, challenging, and no-nonsense blueprint of how to be awake and present in daily life. MINDFULNESS IN PLAIN ENGLISH By Bhante Henepola Gunaratana A straightforward introduction to the four foundations of mindfulness. Gunaratana writes with great clarity and has a good sense of humor with respect to the ups and downs of practice. BRAD WARNER (author of Hardcore Zen) ZEN MIND, BEGINNER’S MIND By Shunryu Suzuki Short, easy to read, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind doesn’t hit you with a lot of obscure jar- gon and theories. I must have read it thirty times—and thirty times reading Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind beats reading thirty other crappy books on Buddhism any day. DIANA WINSTON (author of Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens) THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF TOFU ROSHI By Susan Ichi Su Moon Buddhism is way too serious, and this book reminds me to give up all self-improvement. THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING By Sogyal Rinpoche A book that saved my practice on more than one occasion. It’s an incredible and vast resource on life, death, and everything in-between. JOHN TARRANT (author of Bring Me the Rhinoceros) LOVING WHAT IS By Byron Katie with Stephen Mitchell A killer application of the Dhammapada with a little koan-style questioning thrown in. Developed by someone who’s not a Buddhist and learned Buddhist principles the old-fashioned way—by falling off her donkey. AJAHN AMARO (co-abbot of Abhayagiri Monastery) THE LIFE OF THE BUDDHA By Bhikkhu Nyanamoli A comprehensive compendium of the classical teachings in a compact form. The translations are accurate, readable, and poetic, and it pulls together a large propor- tion of the key elements of dhamma. JOAN SUTHERLAND (founding teacher of The Open Source) CHAN BUDDHISM By Peter D. Hershock Blending two kinds of insight, scholar-meditators are producing some of the most exciting Buddhist writing—like this account of classical Chinese Zen. Chan is pow- erful, beautiful, and strange, and this book does it justice. ♦ May We Suggest The Shambhala Sun asked a number of well-known Buddhists about books they recommend to friends who inquire about Buddhism. SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2006 93