Ever fancied a coffee klatsch with the Enlightened One? In Coffee with the Buddha (Duncan Baird Publishers, 2007, $9.95 cloth, 144 pp.), Tricyclecontributing editor Joan Duncan Oliver offers readers a chance to chat with the Buddha about mindfulness, marriage, and reincarnation. This pocket-size Buddhist primer records a conversation between an interviewer and a fictionalized Buddha, whose answers are compiled from classical Buddhist texts. Together, they address issues both contemporary and eternal. “It seems a little strange for you to be doling out marriage and child-rearing advice when you walked out on your own wife and baby son,” comments the skeptical interviewer—but the Buddha’s wisdom proves able to withstand even the most Deborah Solomonesque questions. “My wife and son later became followers of the dharma,” he points out, with that trademark equanimity.
While Oliver helps us understand what the Buddha says about desire and the occasional glass of wine, Taigen Dan Leighton’s Visions of Awakening Space and Time: Dogen and the Lotus Sutra (Oxford University Press, 2007, $55.00 cloth, 208 pp.) sheds new light on how Zen master Eihei Dogen, thirteenth-century founder of the Soto Zen school, “uses his playful imagination to persistently inquire into the realities of space and time.” Leighton notes that because Dogen’s worldview was profoundly influenced by the Lotus Sutra, the Zen tradition cannot properly be understood without examining the sutra’s interpretation of the relationships between practitioner and the elements of earth, space, and time. The book explores the sutra’s conception of “the world as an active agent of awakening,” in which particular elements—trees and stars alike—carry out “buddha work,” aiding and influencing the practitioner, whose own thoughts and actions affect the elements as well. Leighton’s nuanced, scholarly study of this interconnectedness will be of particular interest to Westerners who want to familiarize themselves with concepts foreign to materialist cultures and better understand the ideological roots of one of Zen Buddhism’s most illustrious figures.
Beat-lovers, rejoice: there’s a remarkable new book to plant in your literary garden. “THERE IS A MIDDLE PATH (somewhere hereabouts) / But it leads (alas!) to Chicago” writes San Francisco Renaissance poet and Zen Buddhist monk Philip Whalen in “Driving immediately past.” Whalen’s poems are loaded with dry wit and Borscht Belt humor, but as The Collected Poems of Philip Whalen (Wesleyan University Press, 2007, $49.95 cloth, 932 pp.) demonstrates, he takes the complexities of dharma practice very seriously. Michael Rothenberg’s hefty compilation includes everything from Whalen’s whimsical sketches of tombstones and roosters to his detailed appendices, along with a half-century’s worth of Whalen’s innovative, warmly engaging poetry.
Another contemporary Buddhist poet, Jane Hirschfield, weighs in on the links between Buddhism and creativity in one of the chapters in Women Practicing Buddhism: American Experiences (Wisdom Publications, 2007, $16.95 paper, 208 pp.). Hirschfield joins other high-profile Buddhist women, including activist bell hooks, musician Meredith Monk, and Tricycle founder Helen Tworkov, in this collection of thoughtful essays and conversations, gleaned from a conference of the same name at Smith College in 2005 and edited by Peter N. Gregory and Susanne Mrozik. This accessible, clear-eyed book is a testament to how Buddhist teachings can help pave the way to both social and personal liberation. Among the topics under discussion are the ordination of women, unexamined racist conditioning in predominantly white sanghas, and how women can approach patriarchal religions on their own terms.
Every Buddhist Studies major worth his or her salt is most likely familiar with John Powers’sIntroduction to Tibetan Buddhism (Snow Lion Publications, 2007, $18.95 paper, 504 pp.), an essential text in college classrooms throughout the country. The revised edition arrives twelve years after the original work first appeared, now updated to reflect political developments, fresh resources, and shifting theoretical perspectives. Powers covers Tibetan history, culture, and religious practice in this comprehensive yet succinct volume, with a jargon-free, straightforward style that makes learning about the history of the Tibetan Geluk order, death meditation, or the Butter-Sculpture Festival of Kumbum equally pleasurable pursuits.