Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sake
Practicing the Perfections of the Heart: The Buddhist Path of Kindness
New York: Ballantine Books, 2002
282 pp.; $24.95 (cloth)
“A rose is a rose is a rose.” This well-known poem by Gertrude Stein conveys the intense presence of any one rose amidst all others while reminding us of the absurdity, the necessity, and the subtlety of language to convey this presence. If the line is read too fast, only absurdity is evident.
Buddhism can be similar. Out of its core of simple presence, a plethora of lists has blossomed. Its Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, and so on may sound grandiose, impossible, or alienating. How can description become experience so that a lotus can be a lotus, a practitioner unfold into a Buddha?
Much of Buddhism’s charm—and its challenge for practitioners and teachers—lies in finding the points of illumination where, as Sylvia Boorstein’s editor says in a “Letter to the Reader” of her new book, “light bulbs of recognition brighten in your mind.” This search for ways of bringing ideas to life is also where cultural and individual factors intervene: schools diverge, styles find adherents, and the westernization of Buddhism becomes a living question.
It is at this juncture, too, that Boorstein, a vipassana meditation teacher from California, places her new book, Pay Attention, for Goodness’ Sake. Overtly, it’s a guide for cultivating the Ten Paramitas, or Perfections, the “qualities of heart that laid the foundation for . . . Buddhahood.” Less articulated, yet evident, are the author’s concerns about how to teach Buddhism in a way that is vivid and workable for people in our time and place. Her book is careful, kindhearted, intimate, pragmatic, and wise. At times, though, these virtues seem to muffle the book’s vaster implications, transmuting Stein’s poem into “It is my rose, and this is how I see it.”
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