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Lions Roar : March 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2008 101 BY ANDREA MCQUILLIN BOOKS IN BRIEF GARDENING AT THE DRAGON’S GATE At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World By Wendy Johnson Bantam Trade, 2008; 464 pp., $25 (paper) Ten years in the writing, Wendy Johnson’s Gardening at the Drag- on’s Gate defies categorization. It’s a satisfying memoir, a garden- ing how-to, an extended essay on the natural world, and an in- spired meditation on the examined life—the fruit of a thirty-year commitment to meditation and to San Francisco Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm garden. Johnson’s principal metaphors are the dragon of the book’s title, representing wisdom and transforma- tion, and the “tangle” of the garden, representing the persistent, wild chaos of our lives. The dragon must be “fiercely respected,” the chaotic tangle embraced. Johnson is as comfortable offering practical advice on composting as she is describing metaphysical truths. That makes her a consummate guide to both the natural world and the inner journey. A CHANT TO SOOTHE WILD ELEPHANTS: A Memoir By Jaed Coffin Da Capo Press, 2008; 256 pp., $16 (paper) This coming-of-age story from first-time author Jaed Coffin is a chronicle of quiet restlessness and cultural angst. The young half-Thai American left his college studies to spend the rainy season as a monk in his mother’s home village in Thailand, thus fulfilling an implicit obligation to his mother’s family and an- swering his own need to seek a meaningful identity. Coffin arrives at a number of uncomfortable conclusions. He begins to realize that he can’t be at home in either the exotic monk’s life or the familiar towns of America. Everywhere, he will always be look-krung, 50/50—neither Thai nor American, destined to keep writing “straight from [his] not-sure heart.” Coffin’s hard- won self-awareness never comes across as self-important, and he describes his inner life with a spare, precise honesty that is refreshing. Like the best memoirs, A Chant to Soothe Wild El- ephants uncovers more questions than it answers. THE BIBLE: A Biography (Books that Shook the World) By Karen Armstrong Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007, 192 pp., $21.95 (cloth) With books like The Battle for God and The Great Transforma- tion, religious scholar Karen Armstrong managed to satisfy both a popular audience and her academic peers. And because she’s seldom shy of wading into the big topics, Armstrong was prob- ably the right one to take on the task of writing a “biography” of the Bible in this series on the origins of the world’s “influen- tial and forbidding books.” (Others in the series include Pla- to’s Republic, Darwin’s The Origin of Species, and the Qur’an). Readers with previous knowledge of biblical exegesis will have a leg up; others may find this authoritative history hard slogging. Armstrong is at her best when explaining how today’s focus on the Bible as a literal, static text runs counter to a longstanding interpretive tradition that viewed study of the good book as “an activity for attaining transcendence.” AWAKENING THROUGH LOVE Unveiling Your Deepest Goodness By John Makransky Wisdom Publications, 2007; 240 pp., $16.95 (paper) The title here says it all. This very readable book by scholar–prac- titioner John Makransky teaches us how to uncover and practice a boundless love and compassion that leads to “awakening,” or enlightenment. The meditations originate from the Nyingma/ Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, which Makransky has studied and practiced for twenty-five years. All the same, Makransky’s heartfelt enthusiasm and the concrete methods he offers cross boundaries of spiritual affiliation. From a practical standpoint, Makransky says, any practice that undercuts self- cherishing will bring us closer to the “pure perception” described in Dzogchen literature. In this sense, meditations on love and compassion are particularly potent, and Makransky promises that they will “generate tremendous karmic power for progress in spiritual awakening.” ➢ MAR 78-107.indd 101 MAR 78-107.indd 101 12/19/07 2:43:51 PM 12/19/07 2:43:51 PM