A beautiful and practical book on starting and sustaining a meditation practice by Thich Nhat Hanh. If you’re reading this review you probably know Hanh is one of the most important Buddhist practitioners alive today. His writings, courses, and political activism are legion, and the community that surrounds him broad and incredibly active. I’ve been an admirer from afar from many years (indeed, I have done legal work for his organization) but I haven’t really delved into his work until now.
This is a great place to start, accessible, clear, and gorgeous in its simplicity, it’s a perfect introduction to Hanh. Generally, I find myself drawn to the more scientific end of writings on mindfulness, but the sincerity and pureness of intention here drew me in and captivated me. I read the whole thing in two days.
If you’re looking to dip you toes into a mindfulness practice, you could do worse than starting here.
Recommended for the enthusiast.
An accessible and clear introduction to foundational principles of Buddhism told through a series of Tibetan Buddhist maxims. Chödrön writes with compassion and clarity, and the structure of the book is elegant in its simplicity, taking one maxim at a time and reflecting on it.
I should have nothing but praise for this, especially as its considered one of the great introductory books out there. But it didn’t resonate with me. I prefer my Buddhism served up with the irony and anxiety of a Dan Harris, or the science of a Robert Wright. But that’s just me. If Tibetan Buddhism interests you, especially its aspects which focus on love and compassion, then this is a fine introduction. Perhaps I’ll return to it if someday meditation turns me into slightly less of an asshole.
The Story of Buddhism: A Concise Guide to its History and Teachings
I thought I wanted a history of the central tenets of Buddhism, and that’s exactly what I got. It turns out though, that I think I wanted something a bit different.
This history of Buddhism is a serious (if at times academic) look at the development of the core principles of Buddhism across the first 1000 years or so of its development. From the conception of “enlightenment” and “karma” to the evolving role of the clergy and lay people, Lopez does an admirable job of attempting to explain these concepts to those (like me) relatively new to the idea.
Still, the book smacks of the problems many academics have when they try to write for a popular audience. Even when attempting to be approachable, Lopez assumes knowledge, or he assumes that by mentioning a complex abstract concept, or historical once, you’ll remember it when it’s used again 100 pages hence.
All of which is to say, this isn’t a bad book. It does what it says it will do, but I needed something a bit more popular, a bit more journalistic. I wanted to learn more about what we know of the Buddha himself and his immediate followers. There’s little of that. Much more time is spent on the important (but less interesting to me) nuances of the changes overtime in the doctrine enlightenment and other theological matters. I don’t regret reading it, its interesting stuff as far it goes, but I wish I’d chosen a different text, more focused on the real world history and less on the intellectual history for my introduction to the movement.
Recommended for the enthusiast.