Saturday, October 04, 2008

Book Review

How To Be Happy by Lama Zopa Rinpoche is packaged as a gift book. In a way it's hard for me to imagine how a book that exhorts you onto the path towards Enlightenment as a gift you give someone, like a box of chocolates, but actually, it is a gift. Just not the sweet confectionery kind. It might just be the best possible gift. The irony is that this book was published with the support of the Hershey Family Foundation, a foundation with $65 million in assets, giving out $3.2 million in grants by the end of 2006. Is someone in the Hershey family a Buddhist? Or sympathetic to Buddhism? That is so cool. With the profits of sweet confections, comes the Dharma confection. The exuberance which the teachings are taught is perhaps sweet.

This book is more like mind training verses, it's not consolation it's exhortation. Go meditate! The project of turning around in the seat of consciousness is huge. To suggest that ordinary pleasure is a trap, isn't consolation, it's confrontation of the highest kind. To challenge our ordinary approach to pleasure is truly revolutionary.

This small hardback is the kind of book I put in my car for when I'm waiting for someone, or in the bathroom, for a daily brief reading. It also might be a good book to read at the park while your kids play.

This book is presumably a collection of quotes from Lama Zopa Rinpoche's talks, since it's edited by Josh Bartok (who seems to have studied in the Zen tradition mostly) and Ailsa Cameron (who from what I can tell on the web is a journalist and editor and seems to be involved with editing for Wisdom Publishers and FPMT, where in the latter she's affixed "Venerable". She must have taken a special ordination, and perhaps is a teacher.). The book is published by Wisdom Publishers.

The quotes are inspirational quotes which suggest the project of spiritual development through meditation and reflections on suffering. While most of them move me, the references to reincarnation don't motivate me. For me this book is 99.9% inspiring.

The book makes me ask questions. For instance, "Each of us is completely responsible for the happiness of every other being. Each of us has this universal responsibility. It's completely up to us. When you work with your mind, what you are doing is real, ultimate solution for world peace--and not only peace on earth, but for all the being in all the numberless universe." (p.33).

This reminds me of a talk by Christopher Titmuss on Free Buddhist Audio. As the Wikipedia entry on the link of his name suggest, he promotes engaged Buddhism. In his talk he suggests that it is not enough to just try and change yourself. You need also to try and change the world.

I feel of two minds about this. On the one hand, I do think one of the kindest things you can go is to set your own house in order. On the other hand, I think you need to work to act on the world to make it a better place, apply your insights and try to work externally in the world. To be honest, I'm not so great at that. While my work is on the good end of the spectrum of right livelihood, and I work hard to raise my children well, I have not been very political or community oriented. Growing up with parents who marched for peace during the Vietnam War, I romanticize working for social justice. More than romanticize, I think it is important. I have worked in a soup kitchen briefly. I suppose it's an unanswered koan--what will I give to the world?

In the FWBO the model is to teach meditation and build a center, and create team based right livelihood businesses, develop spiritual friendships and perfect your generosity.

The quote indicates the connection between working on the inside and working on the outside. Is he collapsing just working on yourself as helping the world? I don't think so. I think from self development flows helping out the world. It's always a balance.

Later he says, "When we feel compassion for a person or an animal--any being at all--we wish that being to be fre from suffering. When our compassion is strong, we don't simply wish for this but actually do something about it. We ourselves take responsibility for freeing that being from suffering." (p. 37).

This is why compassion is so overwhelming for me. When you realize the suffering of other people, it implies some action. Very quickly I am overwhelmed. From one person, to family, to community, to city, to state, to world. Woof. Challenging stuff.

There are many interesting quotes in the book, I could bloviate further. Go out and buy it. It is thought provoking and inspirational. Not all Dharma books are intense books you read in a quiet place. Some have short snippets that you can read in the odd moments of a distracted worldly life.

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