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Lions Roar : March 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2010 88 tHe BAG LAdy PAPers the Priceless experience of Losing it All By Alexandra Penney Voice, 2010; 240 pp., $23.99 (cloth) This memoir doesn’t mention the word “dharma,” but its lessons on impermanence nonetheless make it a fit for a Buddhist’s book- shelf. When Alexandra Penney was a child, she saw her first bag lady—alone, out in the cold, and wearing a frayed sweater held together with safety pins. After that, Penney’s greatest fear was becoming homeless herself, and this fear haunted her even after she became editor-in-chief of Self magazine and wrote a best- selling advice book. Penney went into therapy to deal with her groundless fears, but then suddenly, her fears weren’t so ground- less. She’d invested all of her savings with Bernie Madoff and— now at retirement age—she had nothing. The bag lady Papers reveals how Penney survived her worst nightmare and discovered what in life is truly valuable. tHe AwAKener A Memoir of Kerouac and the Fifties By Helen Weaver City lights Publishers, 2009; 262 pp., $16.95 (paper) This book is evidence that the fifties had more going on than leave it to beaver. It’s primarily the story of Helen Weaver’s love affair with Jack kerouac, but it also delves into her juicy romances with other lovers (of both genders), most notably lenny Bruce. Weaver, who kerouac portrayed as ruth Heaper in desolation angels, had a whirlwind life outside of bed, too. She was involved with the publishing industry, was a french–English translator, and fought for the legalization of marijuana. At twenty-five, Weaver got her first taste of Buddhism from kerouac, but she wasn’t yet ready for the first noble truth. Years later she read The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and felt that she had come home. That said, she admits, “My own practice has never really taken hold, and in this I am a little like Jack.” tHe nOviCe why i Became a Buddhist Monk, why i Quit & what i Learned By Stephen Schettini Greenleaf book Group Press, 2009; 345 pp., $24.95 (cloth) Stephen Schettini was born in 1952 to English–Italian circus peo- ple turned restaurateurs. He had a lonely and repressed childhood, which led to him being a disillusioned young man who eventually sabotaged his university finals and hitchhiked to India. The journey almost cost Schettini his life as he sank into sickness and drug addic- tion. Then his trajectory took another turn: at twenty-two, he was ordained as a monk in the gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. This memoir offers a frank look at the eight years Schettini lived in robes, training in Switzerland and Asia to be a translator and in- structor. It also explores how those years have affected Schettini’s perceptions in the decades that have followed. unCOMMOn HAPPiness the Path of the Compassionate warrior By Dzigar kongtrul rinpoche North atlantic books, 2009; 192 pp., $16.95 (paper) In the eighth century, Shantideva was a student at the famed Nalanda university in India. He was considered lazy and dis- obedient and his fellow monks claimed his only three realiza- tions were eating, sleeping, and shitting. But then, it is said, Shantideva surprised everyone. When asked to give a teaching, he presented The Way of the bodhisattva, which has become one of the most important source texts on bodhichitta, or awakened mind. uncommon Happiness is comprised of Dzigar kongtrul rinpoche’s commentaries on Shantideva’s seminal verses. The central idea in the book is that we suffer and are otherwise un- happy because we do not practice bodhichitta. Dzigar kongtrul rinpoche is the founder of the organization Mangala Shri Bhuti and the author of light Comes Through. tHe HeArt OF tHe universe exploring the Heart sutra By Mu Soeng Wisdom Publications, 2010; 150 pp., $15.95 (paper) “form is exactly emptiness; emptiness exactly form”—that is a famous line, certainly the most oft-repeated in the Heart Sutra. Yet the rest of the text is equally profound and cryptic. In his latest commentary, Mu Soeng helps us understand this seminal sutra and its intuitive view of the nature of ultimate reality. He also gives his commentary an ultramodern twist by focusing on the place where quantum physics and Mahayana Buddhism converge. Mu Soeng has written two other books unpacking im- portant Buddhist texts: The diamond Sutra and the Second Zen Ancester’s poem “Trust in Mind.” He is scholar-in-residence at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. eyes wide OPen Cultivating discernment on the spiritual Path By Mariana Caplan Sounds True, 2009; 289 pp., $18.95 (paper) The underlying idea of Eyes Wide Open is that on the path of psy- chological and spiritual transformation we need to cultivate our ability to be discerning, because only in that way will our practice bear fruit. Caplan begins the book with an overview of what spiri- tuality is in a Western context. She considers how ego, psychology, and karma are intimately connected and how there are traps we can fall into when our development in these areas is uneven. Then she dives into the value of discernment as a tool. Caplan explains: “ The careful application of discernment can literally turn inter- nal and external poisons into medicine and ordinary experience into the extraordinary.” The book concludes with reflections on how discernment relates to the teacher–student relationship, and on what it means to really grow up. ♦