Chödrön’s Start Where You Are

Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living

Pema Chodron
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.

Review: Carney’s Death on Diamond Mountain

Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness and the Path to Enlightenment
Scott Carney

An investigation into the life and death of Ian Thorson, a devotee of controversial Buddhist teacher Michael Roche. An examination of the interplay between mental illness and spiritual practice. A journalistic retelling of the way Buddhism (especially Tibetan Buddhism) has been translated in the west with an emphasis on the Roche’s extremely unorthodox teaching.

A compelling read from start to finish. In the hands of a lesser journalist, this could have been trashy, but Carney knows what he’s doing, and he treats Thorson’s life story, from New York City kid to thirty something Buddhist dying in the wilds of Arizona with compassion and journalistic rigor.

Like real life, there’s no real heroes here – everyone is deeply flawed and at least a little broken. If anyone is a villain, it’s Roche, who created a cult-like atmosphere around him which, arguably, lead to the extreme behavior of some of his followers, and Thorson’s death. But, of course, like real life, even this is complicated.

If Buddhism in America, cults, or new religious movements are you thing, this is worth a read.

Recommended for the Enthusiast.