Radical Friendship: Seven Ways to Love Yourself and Find Your People in an Unjust World
by Kate Johnson
Shambhala Publications, August 2021, $17.95, 232 pp., paper
“Radical friendship might not save the world, but it can save our lives.” And according to Insight Meditation teacher Kate Johnson, it can “bolster our spirits long enough for us to do the world-saving, world-building, and world-making work we need to do in order to pass on something of value to future generations.” Radical Friendship is based on the seven qualities of spiritual friendship that the Buddha outlined in the Mitta (“friend”) Sutta. This type of friendship isn’t about simply being kind or being quiet. Instead, Johnson writes, it’s a way to reach beyond our differences and unite against suffering.
The Guide to Enlightenment: Why the Teacher Still Matters in Buddhism Today
by Allison Choying Zangmo and Carolyn Kanjuro
Shambhala Publications, October 2021, $17.95, 168 pp., paper
Painful revelations in many sanghas, especially over the past few years, have left some wondering what a guru is good for these days. The Buddhist teacher and Tibetan translator Allison Choying Zangmo and the late author and practitioner Carolyn Kanjuro co-wrote this book to provide “a source of support and encouragement” for practitioners who are uninspired or feeling doubtful. The authors highlight the essential role that student-teacher relationships have held throughout history and provide personal stories to help readers find the right teacher and navigate this complex connection.
The Glass Globe: Poems
by Margaret Gibson
Louisiana State University Press, August 2021, $19.95, 132 pp., paper
Award-winning poet Margaret Gibson’s latest poetry collection chronicles her husband’s death from Alzheimer’s disease and reveals the elusive chronology of grief. From watching her husband lose his senses one by one, to his death, to the long months that follow, she reveals that it’s one thing to meditate on emptiness and impermanence and a whole other thing to actually experience it. Gibson incorporates her Zen practice into her poems, using koans and mantras to reflect upon the mysteries of mourning and the beliefs that helped her piece her life back together. She writes: “I divide the sum of my life so far / by your death / And I keep going.”
Milarepa’s Kungfu: Mahamudra in His Songs of Realization
by Karl Brunnhölzl
Wisdom Publications, October 2021, $21.95, 128 pp., cloth
Milarepa famously transformed his murderous past to become one of Tibet’s most revered yogis. In Milarepa’s Kungfu, Karl Brunnhölzl, a translator and senior teacher in Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche’s Nalanda-bodhi community, expands on Milarepa’s pith instructions. Kung (pinyin, gong) means “skillful work,” Brunnhölzl tells us, and fu is “time spent.” He deftly guides us through Milarepa’s understanding of Mahamudra (“great seal”), a practice for realizing Buddha- mind. The author’s accessible commentary mirrors the clarity of Milarepa’s directions for progressing through the stages of practice: view, meditation, conduct, and fruition.
—Joan Duncan Oliver
WHAT WE’RE REREADING
Zen Is Right Here: Teaching Stories and Anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki
By Shunryu Suzuki, edited by David Chadwick
This 2021 reissue of a 2007 collection accompanies a new follow-up volume, Zen Is Right Now. Both collections from Shambhala Publications offer brief accounts of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who told the hippies and beatniks wandering into his San Francisco center to “just sit,” from his arrival from Japan in 1959 until his death in 1971.
Suzuki’s familiar warmth and humor shine through in this slim volume, which can be consumed in a single sitting—or taken in more slowly.
Some stories are dialogues, resembling koans, while others are recollections of Suzuki’s behavior, conventional or not. Don’t expect analysis or criticism—what you’ll find here are mostly sunny memories from many decades ago.