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Lions Roar : September 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 89 IT’S UP TO YOU: The Practice of Self-Reflection on the Buddhist Path By Dzigar Kongtrül Shambhala Publications, 2005; 160 pp., $19.95 (paper) It’s Up to You will introduce many readers to Tibetan teacher Dzigar Kongtrül Rinpoche. Among his students (who include Pema Chödrön) Kongtrül is known for being both accessible and exacting, and for a special ability to make the Buddhist teachings relevant to Americans. It’s Up to You is based on weekly talks that Kongtül gave to his wide-flung sangha, who dial in for regu- lar conferences by phone. His main thrust is a practice of self-reflection, through which we can confront suffering and our participation in creating it. Kongtrül is an innovative teacher who is successfully transposing Buddhism in a Western key, with this refrain: “If you don’t take your life into your own hands, not even the buddhas can make a differ- ence. It’s up to you.” WAKING UP TOGETHER By Ellen and Charles Birx Wisdom Publications, 2005; 240 pp., $16.95 (paper) Ellen and Charles Birx, Zen teachers in the White Plum Asangha of the late Maezumi Roshi, have been married for thirty-seven years—a union of respectable duration. In Waking Up Together they present the Zen wisdom they’ve applied to their life as a couple. The Buddhist conception of non-self may seem some- what confounding to the idea of mar- riage, and in part two, “Zen Insights that Transform Relationships,” the Birxes go a long way toward explaining that radical view. Part three offers suggestions to develop couple skills, based on tradition- al teachings like generating gratitude, being mindful of speech, and nurturing sacred view. The Birxes address the cen- tral question of why a solitary meditation practice might increase happiness and reduce suffering in a relationship. The ending isn’t given away by reporting that there’s no magic bullet—just the steady application of mindfulness, awareness, and compassion in your interactions with loved ones. A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO CHANGING THE WORLD: A True Life Adventure Story By Isabel Losada HarperSanFrancisco, 2005; 384 pp., $24.95 (cloth) Many memoirs are chronicles of “How I did good,” but A Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World escapes the self-con- gratulatory tone that often distinguishes them. Isabel Losada relates her deepening commitment to the Tibetan freedom cause with equal doses whimsy and intel- lectual rigor. She demonstrates how doing good can be a creative endeavor, one that doesn’t have to be deadly serious to be sincere (here the “Tits for Tibet” stunt idea stands out as an example). Losada’s inspiration is infectious: “I want to be persistently joyful and joyfully per- sistent, even with the most difficult of tasks, because we have a limited number of heartbeats left.” Hip and irreverent like many Chick Lit books, A Beginner’s Guide also pleases with its substance. THE JEWEL TREE OF TIBET By Robert Thurman Free Press, 2005; 288 pp., $25 (cloth) Robert Thurman is among the most recognized voices disseminating Tibetan Buddhism in America today. Lately the vehicle for that dissemination is a text called The Devotion to the Mentor, “which seems, as I am getting older,” says Thurman, “to be all that I can get excited about continuing to learn myself or teach to others.” This text by the Fourth Panchen Lama is a condensed teaching on the steps, common to all Tibetan Books in Brief REVIEWED BY ANDREA MCQUILLIN Buddhist traditions, of the path to enlightenment. Thurman led an intensive retreat on The Devotion to the Mentor, which was recorded by Sounds True, and those recordings have been rendered into this book. Thus The Jewel Tree of Tibet retains some of the intimacy of retreat, which means it’s a little difficult to dip into casually. Thurman’s enthusiasm for this material is infectious nonetheless. WAKING UP TO WHAT YOU DO By Diane Eshin Rizzetto Shambhala Publications, 2005; 192 pp., $21.95 (cloth) Here’s a not-very-sexy topic made sur- prisingly palatable. In Waking Up to What You Do, Diane Rizzetto, a dharma heir to Charlotte Joko Beck, gives us a contemporary course on the Buddhist precepts. The precepts—there are many; Waking Up treats eight of the major ones—were originally prescribed for the Buddha’s monks. At face value, they can be taken as simple injunctions against unethical behavior. But here Rizzetto presents them as a practice, explaining how they can be observed not just as rules, but as opportunities to choose and to be “awake to the motivation and con- sequences of our actions.” Thus the pre- cepts are transformative because— thoughtfully applied—they break down self-clinging. In the rush for “advanced” practices on the spiritual path, the pre- cepts are sometimes underemphasized, but Diane Rizzetto gives them their due. WHY I WAKE EARLY By Mary Oliver Beacon Press, 2005; 80 pp., $22 (paper) Many Buddhists have affection for the award-winning contemporary American poet Mary Oliver, and with Why I Wake Early, the reason is plain. Oliver writes about birth and death and the urgency of life with a careful wonder, as if she were