B. Allan Wallace
with Steven Wilhelm
Wisdom Publications:
Boston, 1993.
194 pp., $14.00 (paper).

Tibetan Buddhism from the Ground Up is a clear, accessible, and useful book. It compresses an enormous amount of information about Tibetan Buddhism into a scant two hundred pages and provides a sophisticated overview that introduces readers to the complexity and profundity of Buddhist philosophy.

Allan Wallace was a monk for fourteen years and is now a scholar, practitioner, teacher, and translator. As his choice of subtitle indicates, he has written the book expressly for beginners, for people who have heard of the Tibetan way of dharma and want to know more. Yet in spite of its virtues, the book tends to be pedantic and left me feeling lectured at, exhorted.

Wallace begins with “Life’s Oldest Illusion”—the irrational conviction that we will not die—and even a short passage shows both the strengths and drawbacks of his approach:

Anxiety about death may be likened to the fear felt by a person who has ingested a poison for which there is a known, available antidote. A useful response, motivated by fear, would be to find the remedy….A ridiculous reaction to such a discovery would be to dismiss it as morbid….While the fact of death cannot be altered, the nature of our experience of death and what follows can be transformed. The experience may be miserable and barren or it may be blissful and fulfilling. The Buddhist view is simple: nonvirtuous behavior leads to misery; virtuous behavior leads to joy.

Clear, logical, and readable, yes. But his distillation of the Buddhist view is, to this reader, not merely simple but simplistic and therefore questionable.

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