Landscapes of Wonder
Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the World Around Us
Bhikku Nyanasobhano
Wisdom Publications: Boston, 1998
192 pp; $14.95 (paper)

This book is sure to appeal to Western readers. Chock-full of koanlike epiphanies at each turn, it offers the richness of Theravada Buddhist teachings reinterpreted together with keen observations about what Nature can teach us concerning life, change, and death.

Two approaches distinguish this fine book of eighteen essays: reflections on the practice of Buddhism in relation to the dharma and the conditions of modern life, and literary observations about Nature—a fallen trunk, a flood, and the changing seasons. In so combining these approaches, the author astutely takes us through the permutations of nama-rupa (mentality and material form), utilizing the formations of nature and the cycle of the human body as metaphors for the impermanance of existence and the possibility of another season: rebirth.

In the essay “Age and Wisdom,” for example, the author states: “Too often we use the idea of old age as a convenient storage bin for good intentions we are not willing to act upon at present, such as the intention to devote ourselves more seriously to meditation or religious study . . . . Such temporizing should make us blush, for it amounts to thinking, Now I am too busy for the Dhamma, but when I am old and tired and can’t do anything else, then I will see about getting enlightened.”

This particular example was vividly brought to mind by a recent I article (Sept. 7, 1998), about a former textile executive and Russian immigrant, Lena Beker, twenty-eight years of age, who, after her grandmother died in an impersonal hospital room, vowed to help terminally ill people die in comfort. When she decided to start a hospice service, many people often told her that she was far too young to do this type of work. Her response was: “I smile at that because, I mean, how old do you have to be to want to do this?”

Here we have an example of how modern society tries to prevent us from integrating study, discipline, and mindfulness into our daily lives, and instead convinces us of the need to await retirement, a better income, or less family or job obligations. Just as many other Buddhist writers have done before him, Ven. Nyanasobhano reiterates that there is no better time than the present to integrate compassion and social action. In whatever season of life we may find ourselves—the springtide of youth or the wintertime of demise—we must (and here I borrow the titles of his own essays) lead “A Life of Honor” so that we may have “An Open View” in order to discern the “Four Elements” and accept even “Death and Chrysanthemums,” for these are the “Emblems of Dhamma.”

Contemplative, sensitive, and lyrically written, Landscapes of Wonder deftly manages to avoid the facileness of New Age wisdom, yet gently insists on the importance of sangha, disciplined meditation, and the necessity to confront the daily reality of impermanence (annica), suffering (dukkha), and non-self (annata), no matter what our position in life.

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