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Lions Roar : January 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2009 99 BY ANDREA MCQUILLIN BOOKS IN BRIEF LEARNING TO BREATHE One Woman’s Journey of Spirit and Survival By Alison Wright Hudson Street Press, 2008; 271 pp., $24.95 (cloth) Photojournalist Alison Wright had spent more than a decade traveling the world documenting human rights abuses and en- dangered cultures when the crowded bus she was riding collided with a logging truck in a remote area of Laos. During the fourteen hours she waited for medical attention, bleeding externally and in- ternally, it was Wright’s meditation training—her ability to focus on her breathing—that sustained her. This compelling account of that day is also a reckoning of Wright’s life before and after. In due time, Wright—mended but irrevocably changed—returned to the life she loved. Her most profound healing arose from a deeper re- alization of the preciousness of life and an awareness of human in- terconnectedness. “I realize now it’s not about covering the story,” says Wright. “It’s about being a part of the story.” THE GARDEN OF TRUTH The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition By Seyyed Hossein Nasr HarperOne, 2007; 256 pp., 24.95 (cloth) THE OTHER ISLAM: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony By Stephen Schwartz Doubleday, 2008; 275 pp., $24.95 (cloth) Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam, has long fascinated West- erners, and the poet Rumi, one of its most famous adherents, has always had particular appeal. After all, his poetic expression of the central teaching of Sufism—transcendence of the human state through union with God—crosses religious boundaries. For those with an interest in the roots and potential of Sufism, these two titles will go some way toward a fuller understand- ing of the tradition. The Garden of Truth, by the eminent Ira- nian-American scholar Seyyed Hossein Nasr, is a philosophical overview of the living reality of Sufism. Nasr’s aim is true, but the casual student will be bogged down at times by his dense intellectual framework. The Other Islam, by Stephen Schwartz, a journalist and convert to Islam, has a two-fold focus: Sufism’s promise for individual liberation and its potential as a natural ally for Americans in the ongoing war on terror. Schwartz spends a fair amount of ink on his criticism of Wahabism, an extreme literalist branch of Islam. THE WAY OF THE BUDDHA: The Illustrated Dhammapada Translated by F. Max Müller and illustrated by the Rubin Museum of Art Abrams, 2008: 320 pp., $16.95 (cloth) This little collectible edition of The Way of the Buddha is both a handsome and a handy reference. Tradition says that the 423 short verses of this classic Theravada text are the Buddha’s answers to his students’ questions on ethical matters, and since the comparative religion scholar F. Max Müller first translated the text into English in 1881, many scholars and practitioners have turned their hand to it, including Eknath Easwaran, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, and Gil Fronsdal. Here the Müller edition is illustrated by beautiful images from the Rubin Museum’s vast collection of Tibetan Buddhist art. MIND AND LIFE Discussions with the Dalai Lama on the Nature of Reality By Pier Luigi Luisi with Zara Houshmand Columbia University Press, 2008; 240 pp., $24.95 (cloth) The Dalai Lama’s lifelong interest in Western science has been fortified over the last eighteen years by the Mind and Life Insti- tute, which organizes annual conferences that allow an exchange of knowledge between His Holiness and leading scientific re- searchers. Participants from the Institute typically disseminate the highlights from these gatherings, in either book or DVD form, and Pier Luigi Luisi’s account of the 2002 conference, which took place at the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamsala and focused on a discussion of the nature of matter and life, is about as sexy as you can make a conference report. By follow- ing the scientists’ presentations and the ensuing dialogue, you begin to understand why both these groups get such a charge out of meeting periodically to talk. The scientists at this confer- ence were joined by a cadre of Tibetan monks, who, at the Dalai Lama’s behest, have begun studying Western science along with the traditional monastic curriculum. Before the Dalai Lama fell