Book Review: The Buddha Walks Into A Bar

“The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide To Life For A New Generation”
Written by Lodro Rinzler
Published by Shambhala Publications

Lodro Rinzler joins the ranks of other GenX American practitioners/ teachers such as Ethan Nichtern, Brad Warner, Noah Levine and more, to get into the writing world. While not breaking any new ground, Lodro explains things in a very practical and down to earth style. Coming from a specific tradition, Vajrayana in the Shambhala lineage, there is of course helpful hints and tips based on those teachings.

Lodro introduces some witty anectdotes that reflect circumstances from his life. One particular story I enjoyed was one where he was at Karme Choling and an incident occurred where some workers there had some tension. The outcome was not some profound wisdom on his part, but was the wisdom of a fellow retreatant that he witnessed and learned from. Lodro tells the reader how to recognize events in everyday life as lessons. From the simplest of things, there are always things we can slow down, reflect on and gain some wisdom from.

That doesn’t mean he circles round the daisies here folks, he tackles many subjects that make most Buddhist purists get all uppity and offended. From sex, to beer Lodro tackles just about every situation you could possibly get yourself into. He does not denounce either of them, as a matter of fact, he says just the opposite. He talks about embracing them. Drinking a beer for instance, it’s not about getting drunk, but grab a hold of that beer, drink it, notice it and see what effects it has on you. I’m of course paraphrasing here, you’ll have to get a copy of the book to better understand what I was getting at.

All in all, Lodro has written a gem here. His openness is valuable, and his wisdom palapable. I look forward to reading more from him in the future.

Book Review: The Story Of Buddha, A Graphic Biography

“The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography”
Written and Illustrated by Hisashi Ota
Published by Ichimannendo Publishing, Inc

Finally, someone has put together a manga (graphic novel) based on the history of Buddha. It’s been done for The Dalai LamaTibetan Master Je Tsongkhapa and author Stephan Asma wrote and illustrated a book called “Buddha, A Beginners Guide” which was comic like, but it was done in more of a humorous way than “The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography”, which is more true to the roots of this style of novel.

“The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography”, is much more of a traditional Japanese styled manga, meticulous, clean and quite moving. The illustrations are striking and express emotion without even needing to read the words, but it is important obviously that you do read them. The story line, which most of all know by now, puts a little more emphasis on his life in the palace and the struggles he goes through in understanding, or trying to understand, what life is truly about. His struggles were immense, but through rigorous training of the mind and body, the Buddha did achieve true happiness from suffering.

The novel is written well enough that intermediate readers to adult readers will not only enjoy, but devour in a timely fashion. I truly enjoyed reading “The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography” and would recommend it highly not only to those who are new to Buddhist thought and practice, but to those that already have a working knowledge of Buddhism. Hats off to Hisashi Ota for accepting the challenge to tackle such a project, and praise to him for being successful in doing so.

Book Review: Peculiar Stories

“Peculiar Stories”
Written by Mora Fields
Published by O Street Publishing

Peculiar Stories is a great collection of short tales, directed at children of an early reader level. I’m glad Mora, the author, sent me a copy.

While not officially a book on Buddhism, or even Buddhist folk tales, the stories told are very similar in flavor and morality to those of the Jataka Tales.

We follow a young, 9 year old girl, via her own words and thoughts. She speaks of visiting, and being visited, by a a family member she simply calls Uncle E.

Uncle E is a very Zen like character with quick little quips of knowledge, and edgy koan like questions for the main character. With such questions like, “Well, I was wondering, do you think the train is the main thing, and the space between the cars is in the background, or are we looking mostly at the space, and the train cars are just passing through it?”, the reader is challenged to think on their toes.

My 7 year old has been curious about the book, and I am happy to pass it on to him. The stories are thought provoking, yet done so in a way that readers of this level can understand and contemplate on.

“Peculiar Stories” is not directly written for one spiritual group, nor does it seem to be overtly spiritual at all, and that’s not a bad thing. It encompasses witty stories that a child can not only appreciate, but smile at while reading.

Book Review: Peace Is Every Breath

“Peace Is Every Breath”
Written by Thich Nhat Hanh
Published by HarperOne

When I first started studying/ reading about Buddhism, I read “The Miracle Of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hahn. It was eye opening to say the least. As a matter of act, some of the stuff he was talking about in the book I put into play on one particular occasion and the results of the incident were awe inspiring to myself. I’m not sure why I haven’t read any other books of his, but was excited when I opened the mailbox and saw this book.

“Peace Is Every Breath” is as simple as simple comes. Thay (Thich Nhat Hahn’s nickname) does not candy coat things. His words may be simple but they cut swiftly like a ginsu knife. At the same time, they are poetic and truly beautiful.

His advice, again simple, comes from the heart of a man who has seen it all. He’s witnessed war in his homeland, he’s been persecuted by the rulers of his country, etc. But in the face of all of that, Thay has always risen above and has written numerous books outlining his experiences and how we can adapt them into our own lives.

“Peace Is Every Breath” is broken down into chapters/ sections that advise on every aspect of our daily lives. Whether it’s showering, driving, etc his wisdom challenges us to slow down, see things as they truly are and to just carry that awareness throughout our lives.

He writes, and teaches, from a Zen perspective but I never feel like that is where he is coming from or steering us toward. His words are not divisive, they are true and lifelike. He is coming from a true human experience, that may be Zen, yet it is not Zen.

Book Review: “Work, Sex, Money”

“Work, Sex, Money: Real Life On The Path Of Mindfulness”
Written by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Published by Shambhala Publications

Why it has taken me so long to read Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche I have no idea. I do know that I will be picking up a few more of his books, soon, as his words are as transparent as you can get.

In “Work, Sex, Money”, Chogyam cuts through the ritual and prose of many books on the subjects. His explanations, and advice, are tactics we can all easily adapt to our lives. Each subject is broken down simply, and our attachments to them are clearly defined.

He challenges us to combat our own egos, checking our intention when it comes to compassionate action. He says, ” The popular, confused notion of compassion suggests a certain idea of charity, which is trying to be kind because you feel you are well off and therefore you should be kind to others who are not well off.”

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Book Review: Heart Of The Revolution

“Heart Of The Revolution”
Written by Noah Levine
Published by Harper One

Appropriately, Noah Levine’s third book is less of a memoir than the first two. His previous books, “Dharma Punx” and “Against The Stream” have become staples in the Gen X Buddhist library.

“Dharma Punx”,his first book, was an in depth look at where Noah came from. From his childhood, teen years and into his adult life we see someone who not only blossoms into a beacon of compassion, but someone who bucks the typical idea of what you or I may have of what a Buddhist “should be”. His tattoos and rough exterior are not every day indicators that we are witnessing a true revolutionary lead his troops into battle. That said, his second book “Against The Stream” is consequently subtitled “A Buddhist Manual for Spiritual Revolutionaries”.

“Heart Of The Revolution” is less of a manual per say, but has a very similar tone to “Against The Stream”. He does get into more of the nitty gritty teachings, and explains them in his own way. His line by line break down of the Metta Sutta defies the established meaning, and sheds a different, and less religious light on one of the most important Sutta’s in Buddhism.

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Book Review: Buddha, A Beginners Guide

“Buddha, A Beginners Guide”
Written by Stephen T Asma
Published by Hampton Roads Publishing Company

I thoroughly enjoyed Stephen’s book, “Why I Am A Buddhist”, and somewhat recently I was able to interview him for PM. In case you missed it,  click here.

Needless to say, I was already a fan before reading this book. “Buddha, A Beginners Guide” is a fantastic introduction to the historical Buddha and the core teachings. What makes the book more readable, and interesting, is Stephen’s witty, and very humorous drawings.

Every time I read a book based on the Buddha, I learn something new. Or, the author’s interpretation strikes a chord. Stephen lends a story, based on the 4 Noble Truths and the 8 Fold Path, in which in certain ethical situations, the rules could be bent a little.

He creates a scenario back in the days of WW2. You are living in Nazi occupied Europe, and are hiding some Jewish folk. The SS knock on the door, asking if you are harboring Jews. You can either tell the truth, and know that you have sealed the fate of the Jews you are hiding, or lie and quite possibly, save their lives.

You don’t have to be a beginner to enjoy this book. I could get all cryptic and stuff here and say we are all beginners anyway, but I won’t… All I am saying is this, Stephen’s book is not only full of wisdom, but doused with wit and amusing anecdotes.

Book Review: Why I Am A Buddhist

“Why I Am A  Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey”
Written by Stephen Asma PhD
Published by Hampton Roads

Stephen T. Asma has a PhD in Philosophy and is currently teaching Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Humanities at Columbia College Chicago. He currently holds the “title” of Distinguished Scholar at Columbia as well.

I saw the PhD at the end of Stephen’s name, and based on my own assumptions and aversion to reading “technical” Buddhist books, I was pleasantly surprised that this book was not a textbook or some overly confusing book written a language most of us don’t speak. I am by no stretch saying it is a simple book either, what I am saying it is understandable and enjoyable. Continue reading →

Book Review: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

Zen Mind, Beginners Mind: 40th Anniversary Edition
Written by Shunryu Suzuki
Published by Shambhala Publications

“You may think that if there is no purpose or no goal in our practice, we will not know what to do. But there is a way. The way to practice without having any goal is to limit your activity, or to be concentrated on what you are doing in this moment.”

I think this quote epitomizes the message of the this book. Shunryu’s approach to explaining Zen not only to groups of Americans in the 60’s, but even today, was simple and like a pond that is motionless, clear as clear can be.

He came to the US to mind Soko-ji, a temple located in San Francisco. He was a bit put off by the fact the Zen that had been taught was diluted. He was excited though to see and hear all that was going on and believed that teaching Americans could help revolutionize Zen teachings. He went on to found the San Fransisco Zen Center, and left Soko-ji disappointed with the way Zen was being taught by mainly Japanese immigrants. He believed that the students he was gaining, mainly Caucasian hippies, were more serious about the core practices.

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