Buddhist Stories for Kids: Jataka Tales of Kindness, Friendship, and Forgiveness
by Laura Burges, illustrated by Sonali Zohra
Bala Kids, December 2022, $18.95, 76 pp., hardcover

The Jataka tales are ancient stories of the Buddha’s lives before his birth as Prince Siddhartha. This modern retelling of ten tales by Soto Zen teacher and retired educator Laura Burges is written with readers aged 4-8 in mind. These rich morality tales and vibrant illustrations feature a wise gardener, a mischievous monkey, a discerning gazelle, and other characters relaying lessons that can be easily understood and incorporated into a child’s daily life right away: opening our hearts to others, the value of a true friend, and that everything changes.

Luminous Darkness: An Engaged Buddhist Approach to Embracing the Unknown
by Deborah Eden Tull
Shambhala Publications, September 2022, $18.95, 240 pp., paper

“Physical darkness,” writes Buddhist teacher and deep ecologist Deborah Eden Tull “is considered more of an inconvenience than an ally.” Historically, darkness has been a nefarious force to turn away from, whether literal or figurative. In Luminous Darkness, Tull makes a case for the importance of “endarkment.” Turning toward, not away from, the uncomfortable things we’ve been avoiding can help us develop insight. The book offers embodied meditations, teachings, and mindful inquiry exercises to support us as we reconsider our relationship with darkness in its many forms.

buddhist books winter 2022Red Tara: The Female Buddha of Power and Magnetism
by Rachael Stevens
Snow Lion, November 2022, $29.95, 264 pp., paper

Tibetan practitioners around the world often turn to Tara, a motherly bodhisattva who offers protection on the journey to escape from samsara, and her green and white forms are especially popular. But who is Red Tara? After picking up a pamphlet in Bodhgaya about this lesser-known manifestation, Rachael Stevens, a longtime practitioner, sought out the answer. Red Tara is the thorough and fascinating culmination of a decade of research into Tara’s red form, an emanation who can help transform “desire into enlightened activity” and whom practitioners have called upon during times of plague and societal upheaval (sound familiar?).

Illustration by Ben Wiseman

Scholar’s Corner

Early Buddhist Oral Tradition: Textual Formation and Transmission
by Bhikkhu Anālayo
Wisdom Publications, 2022, $34.95, 312 pp., hardcover   

What words did the Buddha actually speak, and which early Buddhist scriptures reflect that? The answer doesn’t exist, writes Bhikkhu Anālayo, a Buddhist monk, scholar, and meditation teacher. This comprehensive comparison of early Buddhist texts explains how the oral tradition (the way the Buddha’s teachings were transmitted for centuries) accounts for textual differences between traditions and  geographical locations, and how early discourses and monastic rules were affected by errors of memory. The book is dense but suitable for nonscholar practitioners interested in learning more about the transmission of the canonical texts.


buddhist books winter 2022Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh

First published in 1993 and reissued this year with a foreword by Buddhist poet Ocean Vuong, Call Me by My True Names is a collection of over a hundred poems by the Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh (1926–2022). In the titular poem, he asks us to see ourselves in both the frog swimming happily in a pond and the snake that feasts on it; the malnourished child in Uganda and the arms dealer providing weapons; the 12-year-old girl who drowned herself after being raped and the pirate who is “not yet capable of seeing and loving.” It’s easy to see ourselves as the innocent child, he writes in a commentary on the poem; the challenge is to see ourselves in others: “Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up and the door of my heart could be left open, the door of compassion.”   

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