Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
Edited by Ailsa Cameron and Robina Courtin.
Wisdom Publications: Boston, 1993.
88 pp., $10.00 (paper).

Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Clive Arrowsmith/London.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Clive Arrowsmith/London.

Nobody likes to suffer, and that’s probably why those with physical pains, mental problems, and spiritual crises are the target market for the recent outpouring of “how to overcome” books. And at first glance, Transforming Problems into Happinessmight be regarded as belonging in that “how to overcome” genre. Indeed, the author tells us:

Happiness and suffering are dependent upon your mind, upon your interpretation. They do not come from outside, from others. All of your happiness and all of your suffering are created by you, by your own mind.

Such statements might seem to fit nicely with the Buddhist-inspired work of such Western therapists of pain management as Jon Kabat-Zinn. Yet this reviewer does not think such unqualified statements as “all of your suffering[s] are created by you” can be regarded as sage advice for the general public, or indeed for all Buddhist practitioners. In the worldwide context of overt and systematic torture and its concomitant suffering, recently addressed by such movies as Heaven and Earth and Schindler’s List, I wonder how such a statement is meant to be taken. Granted, there is among the general public a prevalent notion that Buddhism essentially teaches “It’s all in your head.” Yet there are other approaches and understandings of Buddhism. The growing movement and appeal of what has been called “engaged Buddhism” stresses the interdependence of all suffering beings, and encourages a frank and courageous recognition of the social, economic, and political factors implicated in such webs of suffering. The question remains, then, for whom is this volume and its approach to the teachings of the Buddha intended?

The ideal audience for Transforming Problems into Happiness would seem to be already committed Western students—the newly converted and the seasoned practitioner—of the Tibetan form of Mahayana Buddhism. Originally published as a booklet in 1988 under the title “Utilizing Happiness and Suffering in the Mahayana Path,” this reissue is the edited transcript of teachings on the Mahayana practice of mental purification, or, in the preferred phrasing of the author, “thought transformation” (Tibetan lo-jong). Based on such Indian Mahayana classics as Nagarjuna’s Ratnavaliand Shantideva’s Bodhicaryavatara, these teachings came to Tibet in the tenth century, were popularized by the Kadampa school, and subsequently gained wide appeal among practitioners of all the major sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

Transforming Problems into Happiness essentially consists of an oral commentary on a “thought transformation” text entitled “Using Suffering and Happiness in the Path to Enlightenment,” by the famed Nyingma Lama Jigme Tenpai Nyim, Dodrupchen Rinpoche III (1865- 1926). The oral commentary is by the Gelukpa Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, heart disciple of the famed Gelukpa Lama Thubten Yeshe, and now spiritual head of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. In seven short chapters, the informal and personal style of commentary makes this volume a useful companion for those who have embarked on the arduous path of the Mahayana. The author tells many stories, some traditional and some from his own life.

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