March 24, 2008

Book Reviews: Sakyong, Pema Chodron, Javatrekker, Ken Wilber, Brigitte Mars, My Mercy Encompasses All, Yoga of Jesus, Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Surya Das, Tulku Thondup, David Chadwick, Carol Alt, Best Buddhist Writing via Melvin McLeod, Altar Your Space, Nature Babies, Tibetan Cooking, Slow Food, Warrior King of Shambhala via Jeremy Hayward,

People always say we oughta have a movie review section, but I say it don’t need ele’s support. Five kajillion folks (including yours truly) watch netflix or T.V. or movies (and now you can do so online). So we’re gonna do books. Because, who knows, maybe curling up and reading might be fun and enlightening, two qualities that make for perfect evenings. -ed.

The Raw 50 by Carol Alt [Potter] > VIA KATYA SLIVINSKAYA Because I live at the base of the arid, desert Rocky Mountains and try to appreciate the health and environmental benefits of a geographically-appropriate diet, I can’t see how I could be a strict raw-foodist. Few of us are ready or willing to go to such extremes. But this book has turned me on to raw desserts-not only are they light and digestible, but they pack subtle, exotic flavors due to unsullied ingredient combinations I could never think up myself. To top it off, Ms. Alt’s concoctions are chock-full of nutrients you’d won’t find in your average desert. But be warned: raw is not for the frail-of-bank-account.

The Best Buddhist Writing: 2007 edited by Melvin McLeod [Shambhala Publications] VIA KATYA SLIVINSKAYA In Buddhism, we talk of the three jewels: buddha, the teacher; dharma, the teachings; and sangha, community. This year found me starving for the latter-and this book delivered the goods. A reminder that community can effectively extend far beyond those we know personally, I think every Buddhist and curious non-Buddhist will find something of real interest and benefit in these brief, poignant essays. Hats off to Mr. Melvin McLeod, editor of American Buddhism’s wonderful Shambhala Sun magazine.
Peaceful Death, Joyful Rebirth by Tulku Thondup [Shambhala Pubs] VIA MARISA WARE In practical and kind words (which you can listen to on the accompanying CD), Tibetan scholar Tulku Thondup offers guided meditation and advice for any human reflecting on or facing death. Through contemplating this most difficult of transitions, we can learn to bring authentic joy and appreciation of self and other into our lives.

It’s Up to You by Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, Don’t Bite the Hook by Pema Chödron and Ruling Your World by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche [Shambhala Pubs] VIA KATYA SLIVINSKAYA These three books-on-CD compliment one other, creating a diverse stew of wisdom teachings for a new generation casually curious about what Buddhadharma can do to help us stay sane, cheerful and effective. Pema Chödron’s warmth, Dzigar Kongtrul’s accessibility and Sakyong Mipham’s refusal to give-it-to-us-any-way-but-straight is rousing. Note: Pema, recently covered by Oprah herself, still hasn’t found the time to give an interview to little ol’ele. (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge).

Tibetan Cooking by Elizabeth Esther Kelly [Snow Lion] VIA HEATHER MUELLER I expected the yak butter tea and momo dumplings, but little did I know that Tibet’s high-altitude cuisine includes mint and garlic. Just right for a cold weather, carb-heavy, cozytime feast, these recipes are accompanied by cultural info on Tibetan meal etiquette, holidays-even building a meditation shrine. Happy Losar (Tibetan New Year, in February)!

Warrior King of Shambhala by Jeremy Hayward [Wisdom Publications] VIA HEATHER MUELLER While Dr. Hayward- a stiff-upper-lip/hippie/old school Brit-demonstrates love and admiration for his Buddhist teacher, the (in)famous Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, he does so without putting Trungpa on a pedestal. The resulting intimate quality to this biography kept me turning the pages. Hi-lite: the personal anecdotes will be fun for Buddhists and heathens alike.

Javatrekker by Dean Cycon [Chelsea Green] VIA HEATHER MUELLER Who would’ve thought that my steamy morning mug contains every major issue of the 21st century-globalization, immigration, women’s and indigenous rights, pollution? Tracing his adventures in Asia, Africa and the Americas, Mr. Cycon combines global history with an insider’s knowledge of the coffee trade. This rich piece of armchair travel is perfect for winter reading.

My Mercy Encompasses All: The Koran’s Teachings on Compassion, Peace and Love compiled by Reza Shah-Kazemi [Shoemaker Hoard] VIA CAROLINE TREADWAY Our editor-in-chief thought it’d be witty if I noted how this lovingly-titled volume is pretty slim. But these days, the nature of the Koran’s teachings is a serious matter. Since Rudy’s favorite day, Islam has become synonymous with war, suicide bombings, terrorism, jihad, high oil costs and Middle East unrest. Interesting, then, that “Islam” literally means “surrender” (it’s derived from salaam, which means “peace”). So while I wholeheartedly recommend this little volume, let’s remember that, as Wendell Berry puts it, “God’s mercy is a mystery never to be fully known or enacted by humans.”

Altar Your Space: a Guide to the Restorative Home by Jagatjoti Khalsa [Mandala] VIA CAROLINE TREADWAY Need a little feng shui love? Altar sheds light on how to synergistically improve your space from the outside, in. A little light on text, but nice colors-I dub this book Buddhist-flavored eye candy. Mandala, the publisher, is a member of the Earth Aware Group-a non-profit that teaches environmental education to corporate types. Pretty cool-but if you want more “meat,” go to your local Shambhala Center (shambhala.org).

Desktop Guide to Herbal Medicine by Brigitte Mars [Basic Health] VIA CAROLINE TREADWAY Herbalists preserve a way of life and protect our environment by supporting biodiversity-and herbs represent an alternative to the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical business. With how-to’s on everything from salves to suppositories, readers are in good hands: follow her instructions and you’ll be making tinctures in no time. Brigitte’s decades of experience with natural food and medicine encompasses Eastern and Western traditions, producing a science-y brew of spirituality and tradition.

The Big Questions by Lama Surya Das [Rodale] > VIA CAROLINE TREADWAY Surya Das is a charismatic troublemaker with an accessibly human message. As well-read as he is controversial, this born-and-raised Long Islander offers up some bestselling wisdom for the masses (and you). From Zen koans to Aristotle, the art of questioning is all about resting at ease, you obsessive quester you. So don’t hold your breath waiting for the answers. Cool cover, beautifully bound, nice paper-a great gift for the curious.

The Yoga of Jesus by Paramahansa Yogananda [Self-Realization Fellowship] VIA WAYLON LEWIS Yogananda was the first yogi to make a splash in the West-and his 1946 Autobiography of a Yogi still outstrips the kazillion yoga books now published each year. In The Yoga of Jesus he shows how, when it comes down to it, Jesus’ lessons of peace and compassion are yoga-and vice versa.

Slow Food ed. by Carlo Petrini [Chelsea Green] VIA WAYLON LEWIS For years, since starting this magazine, I’ve felt bad that I wasn’t progressing along the (Buddhist) path (that I’d been trained in as a young’un). But then, reading this in the tub before work, I realized that Slow Food is a wonderful example of Buddhism’s values in (slow) action-and that I’d learned a good deal over the past five years. This book is full of stories of folks who are literally, actively saving the world. If you care about food, you should already own this. If, like me, you prefer to eat out or at dinner parties (meaning you can’t cook worth beans) but are passionate about living green, this book will connect your dots. If, however, you’re a head-in-the-sand religious type who thinks going to church or meditating each morn is all you need to do to be a good citizen, this book will show (not tell) you that spirituality is as spirituality does. Slow Food, which arose in Europe as a protest to a McDonald’s going in at the base of the Roman Steps, is all about food as a common, frequent, grounded and fun means of connection-with friends, with the earth, with oneself.

Nature Babies by Tara Jon Manning [Potter Craft] > VIA EMILY MARKEL Being a Waldorf kid, this book had me at “hand-crafted.” The instructions and description of tools are easy to follow, making it full of grounding, satisfying activities for children and we parents. Plus, the author (a “Dharma Brat”) talks about great ways to live and knit green (such as making second-hand sweaters into felt).

Thank You and OK! An American Zen Failure > David Chadwick [Shambhala] VIA MICK DAVIS An irreverent travelogue about what you might encounter were you to study Zen in a Japanese monastery and then meander around the country. Good, light-hearted read from the author of Crooked Cucumber, one of the best spiritual biographies ever.

The Integral Vision by Ken Wilber [Shambhala] > VIA MICK DAVIS A pithy primer to the voluminous works of modern philosopher Ken Wilber that’s full of helpful reminders for newbie readers as well as students already familiar with his work. Covers it all-but for in-depth exploration, check out Wilber’s Integral Institute.

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