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Lions Roar : March 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2007 103 BY ANDREA MCQUILLIN BOOKS IN BRIEF UPSIDE-DOWN ZEN By Susan Murphy Wisdom Publications, 2006; 288 pp.; $16.95 (paper) Upside-Down Zen will give you a sense of the shape and vernacular of contemporary Western Zen. Susan Murphy, like her teacher John Tarrant, is an Australian full of wit and sparkle. These talks, deliv- ered at Murphy’s meditation retreats near Sydney, survey the funda- mentals of Rinzai Zen and the interface between Zen and modern society. Murphy is gifted at the poetic, alternately hyperbolic and understated language of Zen. Just when you think she’s making no sense, she makes a substantial point you feel close to grasping (“We only have to be fully aware that we are not separate from reality and from each other, for goodness not to be even good, and not even attained—for indeed there is nothing to attain.”). Time and again, Murphy leads us to the main point, which is that Zen can’t be grasped, and that life, with its ups and downs, is best served with a sprinkling of Zen humor. ATTAINING THE WAY: A Guide to the Practice of Chan Buddhism By Master Sheng Yen Shambhala Publications, 2006; 192 pp.; $16.95 (paper) Attaining the Way illustrates a more traditional approach to the study of Chan, or Zen. Master Sheng Yen, the best-known Chi- nese Buddhist teacher in the West, and his students have selected, translated, and arranged excerpts from essential Chinese texts on Chan practice. Two of these are four hundred years old, and two are by modern Chan masters, one of them Master Sheng Yen himself. There is no cleverness and no beating around the bush in this guide, just an urgent call to practice Chan with discipline, avoiding the potential pitfalls of the spiritual path and walking directly toward the “doubt sensation.” Attaining the Way is as close as you can get to required reading for both the beginner and veteran student of Chan. THE STORY OF TIBET: Conversations with the Dalai Lama By Thomas Laird Grove Press, 2006; 288 pp.; $27.50 (cloth) Journalist Thomas Laird employed a unique strategy in writing this popular history of Tibet, basing it on conversations he had with the Dalai Lama supplemented by primary research. The Dalai Lama doesn’t call himself a historian. Nonetheless, his training has given him an encyclopedic knowledge of Tibetan history, both fabulous and factual. The Story of Tibet covers the ground from the myths of the first Tibetans, to the development of the Tibetan empire in the eighth century, to the rule of Mongols and the Manchu, and finally to the Dalai Lama’s escape from the Communist Chinese in 1959. Laird, an American writer and photographer who has lived in Tibet for the last thirty years, lets the Dalai Lama do the talking. You get a strong sense of the Dalai Lama’s personality, culture, and beliefs. There are insights, too, into how the Dalai Lama’s Buddhist training has influenced his political-historical view, which makes a distinction between the “common” and “un- common” views of history: “We must approach Tibetan history from a holistic viewpoint. The Western academics just pick one viewpoint—say, political—and then draw their conclusions from that viewpoint alone. That is a mistake.” THE COSMOS IN A CARROT: A Zen Guide to Eating Well By Carmen Yuen Parallax Press, 2006; 150 pp.; $14.95 (paper) While she’s only twenty-two years old and a relative unknown, Carmen Yuen joins the company of Francis Moore Lappé (Diet for a Small Planet) and Jane Goodall (Harvest of Hope) with this Buddhist guide to mindful eating. Yuen is a student of Thich Nhat Hanh, and Cosmos in a Carrot is infused with his gentle imprint. Part one discusses how the Buddhist teachings—such as no-self and interbeing, the five mindfulness trainings, and the Middle Way—can be applied to a philosophy of eating well. Part two of- fers many practical guidelines for a healthy diet. Part three looks at the activities related to eating—grocery shopping, cooking, clean- ing up—as opportunities for meditation and bodhisattva activity. TALES OF THE GOLDEN CORPSE: Tibetan Folk Tales Retold by Sandra Benson Interlink Books, 2006; 229 pp.; $15 (paper) If you’re at all interested in Tibetan culture or in folk stories, this suite of exotic tales, translated in its entirety for the first time, should please you. The first story in the collection sets the stage for the ones that follow, introducing us to the narrator, Ro Gnoedrup Chen, an enchanted story-telling corpse. A young Tibetan boy named Dondrup has been instructed to capture and deliver Ro