Friday, November 25, 2011

Book Prize 2011

Book Prize

There are two books that win BOOK OF THE YEAR in 2011.

I need to come up with a name for my prize, book of the year. Please leave a comment to suggest a name: The Going For Refuge Blog Book Prize. And there’s no money attached to the prize; Just the honor of winning it. And this year, there were two books that stood out for me.

The Art of Reflection sneaks up on me. The first third seemed like I already knew it before. But as you go deeper and deeper into the book, it gets you. It’s actually cunningly written to gently guide you in to deeper and deeper spiritual reflections about the BuddhaDharma.

I read everything that comes out of Windhorse, sooner or later. I’m surprised when order members aren’t familiar with everything. That’s me trying to rank on them. Not too cool. I want to join the order, so any kind of proof I have of a greater commitment makes me feel I deserve to get in; You should have me in the order. But on reflection, that’s just insecurity, and reading isn’t the whole of the spiritual depth story.

I will join the order when I’m witnessed to be effectively going for refuge to the three jewels. Not being witness doesn’t mean I haven’t. Not being witness means probably means I’ve got more work to do. I do have more work to do. That’s uncontroversial.

My friend said, “I am who I am, ordain me.” My reply is, “Yes, but can you progress further?” The answer is, of course, yes. Let the order decide the one thing that the order decides.

There is no bureaucracy in the in the Triratna, no pope or Vatican. It’s only body, the preceptor’s college, just asks the question—who are we and what do we want it to look like to be an order member? What is essential to the order? That is not an easy answer, and we get fresh pronouncements of that every once in a while.

When you want to join the order it can be confusing if you check off all the boxes. What does it mean to be an order member? I’m inclined personally to think along the lines of what Sangharakshita supposedly said--“If they’re ready to be ordained in 6 months, why not ordain them now?” That is not how things are done now. But I digress.

That was all preface to why I find it weird when order members don’t talk more about books. On Reflection has been talked a lot about by the people I’m around. And that is not always the case with books, in my circles. This book has had a big influence on the order. It put to words something everyone sort of knows, and developed it further. Brilliant.

Plus is dovetails with “Re-imagining The Buddha”, an essay that Subhuti put out that is an account of some of the thoughts Sangharakshita and him have expressed in conversation. Some people say Subhuti’s essays aren’t the best way to propagate ideas in the Triratna community, but I think it’s just fine.

Supposedly the second draft of thoughts coming out soon about the five spiritual stages, from Sangharakshita’s seminar on the precious garland sutra. But instead of writing a paper, people are working-shopping it a little bit. I’d like a clear paper please. But I do think it’s a better writing process to get feedback on what’s useful, so take your time. But I am looking forward to the paper.

The Art of Reflection, is in many ways saying something we already know, and yet somehow shedding new light on it. And for that I give the book of the year prize for my blog.

The second co-winner is Vishvapani’s book Gautama Buddha. I’ve read Karen Armstrong’s book and others. Biographies of the Buddha are either popularizations or they’re too scholarly. This book is a well-written book with spiritual depth and an appreciation for a wide range of works. It sheds new light by quoting sutras I haven’t read yet. Lots of times I read Buddhist books and they’re quoting things I’ve read over and over again; Not so with this book. And there’s a kind of spiritual depth to the book. You can tell Vishvapani is a practitioner, has advanced along the path. And yet he’s aware of a wide range of scholarly material and primary texts, the cannon, and writes well. A triple threat.

On the one hand you might be tempted to be a historian, and get bogged down in what happened, and gloss over what enlightenment is. On the other hand, some people don’t want to make an outline of the historical Buddha, because what he did is so awesome, he really does step outside history. This book walks that line perfectly.

The Buddha’s advice to Bahia--this is a profound teaching and nobody really explains it. But if you circle back around and keep on taking a crack at it like Vishvapani, you feel like you’re getting a better handle on it. To put the quotes into a historical context that actually explains the quotes better. Amazing writing. This is the kind of book that I finish reading and then start all over again. And there’s a kind of existential appreciation, he quotes the Buddha seeing people like fish in a drying up pool. Casting the Buddha’s crisis in more modern terms is important.

So for this reason, I pick this book as another co-winner of the Going For Refuge Blog book of the year.

I have two questions for Vishvapani. Why isn’t the book available in the USA? I got one at the Aryaloka Book Store. But you can’t get it on Amazon in the USA.

The second question is about him having a child. He’s referenced it that he’s had a child while the book was coming out. The Buddha said to a monk who’s trying to impregnate his wife so she can have a child (out of kindness to his wife since he’s gone off to be a monk), that he’d do better to stick his penis into a snake’s mouth—how does Vishvapani reconcile this in his mind? I have never read or heard that quoted before. That’s a rather personal question, I know, but I’m curious about that, knowing that he’s a new father.

I have struggled with the same issue, though once the kids are around, it’s not a question. They are around and you love them, of course. I never heard that quote before I chose to have children. And I just wonder how he personally he got over that. Maybe some day I will meet him and ask him. I hope he does a book tour in the USA, because I think this is a wonderful book.

Books work on you, and these two books are the books that have worked on me over the past year.

1 comment:

Chrisy said...

I've enjoyed both books...the Art of Reflection in about you call the prize the Bell Book Award...has a nice 'ring' to it don't you think...