BOOKS IN BRIEF


Shambhala Publications, Inc
300 Massachusetts Avenue
Boston, MA 02115, USA
www.shambhala.com

 

Michaela Haas, Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West. Boston, Snow Lion (Shambala Publications), 2013. pp 325. US$ 16,95
The 12 women – both Asians and Westerners – featured in Dakini Power are universally recognized as accomplished practitioners and brilliant teachers whose life stories demonstrate their immense determination and bravery. In the preface, Haas admits that these  spiritual teachers have given her courage, inspiration, new insights, and enthusiasm. She hopes that we will be inspired by their  stories “to let go of old fears, explore new paths, and listen to the whisper of your voice with confidence.”

In Tibetan Buddhism, dakinis are female embodiments of enlightenment. They can appear as guides, messengers, and protectors. These extraordinary spiritual teachers have prevailed and struck a blow against the patriarchy which has exerted power for centuries in Tibet and elsewhere. The stories here include Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, the most senior Western Tibetan Buddhist nun alive. She is best known for her three years of silence in a cave immortalized in the book Cave in the Snow, and having established a nunnery with 150 women in India.

Two other teachers mentioned in the book include Venerable Pema Chodron and Venerable Thubten Chodron, both Americans. Pema Chodron, who now lives in Canada, has a special talent for connecting with the challenges of one’s lives. One of her favorite practices is: “Always keep a joyful mind.”

Thubten Chodron, who used to live in Singapore, runs Sravasti Abbey in the US and is busy teaching every week, communicating with hundreds of students, maintaining three websites, organizing retreats, giving dharma talks, filming, recoding, editing and much more. Chodron said, “We don’t call this work, we call it offering service.” Another one of the women profiled in this book is Roshi Joan alifax who has been called a true heroine of engaged Buddhism and she has done pioneering work with the dying.

The personal stories of these 12 extraordinary women will make this book a must read for anyone interested in not only Buddhism but female biography, spiritual memoir, Asian culture, or religious history. And for one practicing in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, this book is a treasure trove of insight about many topics – the teacher/student relationship, true meditation, overcoming hurdles in practice, reconciling Buddhist beliefs with other faiths, and more.

The book does not shy away from controversial topics either, as the women frankly discuss the challenges female Buddhist practitioners often face, including the lack of support and opportunity for Tibetan nuns, a situation several of them are actively working to change. All in all this is an excellent book that not only profiles twelve inspiring, wise women, but also offers an in-depth look at the state of Buddhism today in the world.

The 12 authors are as follow:

1. Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche: A Needle Compassionately Sticking Out of a Cushion

2. Dagmola Kusho Sakya: From the Palace to the Blood Bank

3. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo (Diane Perry): Sandpaper for the Ego

4. Sangye Khandro (Nanci Gay Gustafson): Enlightenment Is a Full-time Job

5. Pema Chödrön (Deirdre Blomfield-Brown): Relaxing into Groundlessness

6. Elizabeth attis-Namgyel: A Wonder Woman Hermit

7. Chagdud Khadro (Jane Dedman): Like Iron Filings Drawn to a Magnet.

8. Karma Lekshe Tsomo (Patricia Zenn): Surfing to Realization

9. Thubten Chodron (Cherry Greene): A Rebel in Robes

10. Roshi Joan Halifax: Fearless, Fierce, and Fragile

11. Tsultrim Allione (Joan Rousmanière Ewing): The Enlightened Feminist

12. Khandro Tsering Chödrön: The Queen of Dakinis EH

 

Thubten Chodron, Don’t Believe Everything that You Think: Living with Wisdom and Compassion. Boston, Snow Lion/Shambala Publications, 2013. pp 256. US$ 16.95

The book is a commentary on the ancient and revered 14th century text The Thirty-seven Practices of Bodhisattvas by Togmay Zangpo. Ven. Chodron brings to life the fresh perspective helpful for a person trying to learn the Buddhist practices described in this book. Each of the 37 verses is elucidated by a commentary as well as real life stories from people dealing with everyday life issues. She does this by letting her students and colleagues share first-person stories of the ways that its teachings have changed their lives. Some bear witness to dramatic transformations—making friends with an enemy prisoner-of-war, finding peace after the murder of a loved one—while others tell of smaller lessons, like waiting for something to happen or coping with a minor injury.

Chodron believes that this text provides a way to live a meaningful life right now that is free from the stress and frenzy brought by our disturbing emotions. It is helpful to study, reflect, and meditate on the Buddha’s wisdom and to eschew the three poisons of attachment, anger, and ignorance. Letting go of attachment to this life, to our bodies, and to our wealth or possessions takes lots of inner fortitude. Making spiritual friends on the path is important for they offer companionship, encouragement, and inspiration. With their help and the light of the dharma, we can aspire to “the ever-changing supreme state of liberation.” This ancient Tibetan text also contains powerful incentives to cultivate love, compassion, and altruism. It covers the challenges of mind-training, which involves transforming distressing events and problems into the path; dealing with difficulties such as disease, success, and the urge to control; and the six practices of bodhisattvas engage: generosity, ethical conduct, fortitude, joyous effort, meditative stabilization, and wisdom. As the author said, “Spirituality and religion should be practical. . . . It’s about transforming our heart and mind, assessing and expanding our inner human beauty, clearing away obstacles to doing this, and sharing who we are and what we know with others in ways that will benefit them. Spiritual practice is about how we live our daily lives.” EH

 

Matthieu Ricard, On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters, Boston, Shambala Publications, 2012. pp 384. US$ 18.95

The late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche inspired Matthieu Ricard to create this anthology by telling him that “when we come to appreciate the depth of the view of the eight great traditions [of Tibetan Buddhism] and also see that they all lead to the same goal without contradicting each other, we think, ‘Only ignorance can lead us to adopt a sectarian view.’” Ricard has selected and translated some of the most profound and inspiring teachings from across these traditions.

The selected teachings are taken from the sources of the traditions, including the Buddha himself, Nagarjuna, Guru Rinpoche, Atisha, Shantideva, and Asanga; from great masters of the past, including Thogme Zangpo, the Fifth Dalai Lama, Milarepa, Longchenpa, and
Sakya Pandita; and from contemporary masters, including the 14th Dalai Lama and Mingyur Rinpoche. They address such topics as the nature of the mind; the foundations of taking refuge, generating altruistic compassion, acquiring merit, and following a teacher; view, meditation, and action; and how to remove obstacles and make progress on the path. This anthology reflects the different stages of the spiritual journey in the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, as told through a dynamic selection of teachings from the great masters of all times.

The book is broken into four sections:

• Turning the mind to the path
• The foundations of the practice
• The path
• Removing obstacles

Each of these is broken down into parts—for example, taking refuge, the six perfections, deepening the practice—as taught by a vast array of meditation masters from every tradition.

Ricard starts with essays on “Turning the Mind to the Spiritual Path” and includes material on the value of human existence, reflections on impermanence and death, the law of cause and effect, the unsatisfactoriness of ignorance, and giving up the causes of suffering. Under “The Foundations of Practice” there is a commentary on altruistic love and compassion, the Six Perfections, acquiring merit, and the spiritual master. EH