Thursday, April 9, 2009

Reading The Dharma

Well tonight is the night.  I have been thinking about sharing some of my favourite Buddhist reads with you since I started my 100 Days of Dharma and here I am heading up to closing time and I still haven't done it.  hmmm there's a lot of things in life that seem to end up that way.  There's no order to my list (no David Letterman top 10 countdown or anything).  I will probably get up and comb the book shelves a bit to look for old favourites.  And undoubtedly I will forget a few, maybe some that have wandered off with my daughter over the years or fallen down the back of the shelf.

Excuse the fuzziness of tonight's Buddha.  Fuzzy is good in teddy bears, not so much in photos.   He is a recent addition to the Buddha family and looks like I need to call the photographer back for round two.  This fellow is 24"x24" and is patiently awaiting a cedar box frame which will finish him off quite nicely, I think.  He's in shades of reds and oranges, with some yellow highlighting.

And now the envelope please.  One of the really well thumbed Dharma books around the house is Joko Beck's "Everyday Zen".  I have always loved her for her down to earth pragmatic way of writing about the Dharma.  I just opened the book and found a great Dogen quote that in a way sums up the focus of Beck's book (not to be confused with Beck's beer) "To look for the Buddha Dharma outside of yourself is like putting the devil on top of yourself."  Much later I discovered Ezra Bayda (a student of Beck's).  I like his "Being Zen", again very down to earth, applied Dharma.

I have always bought everything Pema Chodron writes.  Her Dharma is right down there in all the messy trenches of life.  You won't find her floating around in her head.  She is clear, easy to read and full of wisdom.  Here's a random line from opening "Start Where You Are" by Chodron, "It's all raw material for waking up.  You can use numbness, mushiness, and self pity even, -- it doesn't matter what it is -- as long as  you can go deeper, underneath the story line."

Another early favourite of mine was "Peace Is Every Step" by Thich Nhat Hanh, subtitled "The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life".  It is the simplicity and directness that makes Nhat Hanh such a treasure.  Each piece is quite short in this book and I can remember reading bits to my daughter when she was younger, maybe 10 or so.  One I remember is called the Tangerine meditation where he talks about experiencing the mist that sprays off the orange and its wonderful fragrance.  Another piece is called "Washing Dishes."  He reminds us to experience life, rather than let it slip through our soapy  or orange stained fingers.

I love a little book called "Zen Gardening" by Veronica Ray.  It is one of my favourites, probably because I love both things in the title.  But more than that, I love Ray's description of where she finds the Dharma in her garden and her superb writing.  This book is a little know gem.  It's tiny, it's beautiful and it's wise.  Here, I'll let her speak: "Living Zen doesn't mean nothing again will ever happen to or around you.  People will continue doing things that you would never do to them or anyone else.  Accidents, earthquakes and bombings will forever pepper our lives with anguish and sorrow.  Cruelty and ignorance will continue to plague us.  The only question is "how will we respond to them?"

Not that long ago I discovered Tarthang Tulku.  "Skillful Means" was the first one I read and then "Gesture of Balance" which is longer and more complete, I think.  There is something so amazingly positive about his way of seeing the world that I love.  He is like a fresh, light breeze whispering the Dharma.  I also love the way he gives a feel for the mystery of life and the Dharma.  A random page opening finds this quote, "So begin by listening to your heart, to your feelings and thoughts and inner dialogue.  Pay attention to everything that is happening around you."  A friend of mine tells a funny story about the New York Times reviewing one of his books years ago and referring to him as Mr. Tulku.  We were amused by that and always refer to him as Mr Tulku now.

I love to cook and I love metaphor so the idea of Dogen's "Instructions to the Cook" appeals to me, yet the text is not very accessible.  Enter two books, one Uchiyama's "How To Cook Your Life" which is a commentary on Dogen's original and the Bernie Glassman's (with Rick Fields) spin off called not too surprisingly "Instructions to the Cook" and is based on his personal experience with the applied Dharma as it relates to Dogen's text.  It's a great little read about establishing Greyston Bakery and community.  He explores ideas like, "Recognzie your faults as your best ingredients."

Don't groan but I have always liked Eckhart Tolle.  Okay, go ahead groan if you must.  I've always thought of Tolle as Buddhism without the Buddha.  I have friend who can get very angry about this because she says he's not acknowledging his sources.  I like him, his strange elfin like quality and honestly, I think so much of the practical aspects of Buddhism are just common sense.  And the Buddha wasn't a Buddhist either.  Tolle has brought a lot of wonderful ideas to people who might never have found them had they been wrapped in a different package.  I'm not sure I would buy any of the spin off books he's written but I think "Power of Now" and "A New Earth" are worth the read.

Well we're in the home stretch.  I will mention three more books that I  like.  One is "Touching Enlightenment " by Reginald Ray.  I like his integration of the body into practice, something I don't find in many places.  He is wise and leans to the slightly shamanic and mystical which has some appeal to me.  I also own a set of his CD's which I like called "Meditating With The Body".  A recent addition to my library is "Feeding Your Demons" by Tsultrim Allione, an amazing woman teacher out of Colorado.  You can find her on the web at "Tara Mandala" (they also sell some pretty kick-ass herbs there).  The book is subtitled "Ancient Wisdom For Resolving Inner Conflict".  It is based on an ancient Tibetan practice called chod which encourages us to make friends with our dark spots, as opposed to fighting them, an interesting and life affirming approach I think.  Trying to rid ourselves of our darkness  only increases its power somehow.   And last but not least is a small book by Jon Kabat Zinn called "Arriving at your own Door".  It is bite sized excerpts from "Coming To Our Senses" by Kabat Zinn.  It makes a perfect gift which is how I came to have it.  A good friend brought it to me when I was in hospital recovering from an unpleasant bit of surgery.  It is uplifting in a short and sweet kind of way, perfect for any slightly addled state.

So there you have it, some of my favourite buddhist reads.  Have I forgotten any?  What's on your shelf?  


  1. Beautiful Painting.

    Thanks for the quotes. I really liked the ones by Hanh and Ray.

  2. two more:

    Ezra Bayda's (2002). being zen: bringing meditation to life. Boston: Shambala ... such clarity (easy on jargon!), grounded in his lived experience; found chapters on "working with anger" and "working with pain and sufering" particularly plainspoken and helpful. Bayda is a student of Charlotte Joko Beck who you've already mentioned.

    ps: mr.tolle's works shall remain absent from my shelves :-).

  3. and here's the other:

    Norman Fischer (2008). Sailing home: using the wisdom of Homer's Odyssey to navigate life's perils and pitfalls. New York: Free Press.

    Norman is a long-time Zen teacher and former abott of San Francisco Zen Center who regularly comes to lead retreats in Vancouver (see:

    The book's about coming home to yourself by reflecting on the tales of the Greek hero's journey. Norman is a wise teacher with a poet's ear for language.