BOOK REVIEW: Teachings of the Buddha ed. by Jack Kornfield

Teachings of the Buddha: Revised and Expanded EditionTeachings of the Buddha: Revised and Expanded Edition by Jack Kornfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon.in page

 

This is a collection of excerpts and short writings conveying Buddhist teachings. The pieces range in length from about a stanza of verse to a few pages in length. Each lesson tells what book it comes from and who the translator was, which can be a nice feature if one will be comparing different translations.

Unlike Walpola Rahula’s similarly named “What the Buddha Taught,” which focuses entirely on what Gautama Buddha taught while he was living, this book includes many teachings from long after the life of the Buddha. Which is to say, this is more a book of Buddhist teachings than an elucidation of what the Buddha, himself, taught. [Not to offend, but religious teachings seem to inevitably shift and evolve over time, and so what is taught by various sects of Buddhism today is by no means a perfect reflection of what the Buddha, himself, taught.] That said, the writings toward the beginning of the book tend to be closer to the Buddha, himself – i.e. from the “Dhammapada” and other early Pali works. While the teachings toward the end of the book tend to be more from much later (e.g. from the Zen tradition.)

I found the book to be quite readable and to feature some intriguing food for thought. If you are interested in an English translation of Buddhist sutras, scriptures, koan, etc., this is a good work to check out.

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Aaaannd Buddha’d

“This is going on your permanent record, young man!”

“All is impermanent.”


“I want you to get up there and clean your room.”

“Desire is the root of all suffering.”


“There’s a big spider in the corner, kill it!”

“Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts.”


“My left sock has static cling.”

“You only lose what you cling to.”


“HELP! My sleeve got caught in this threshing machine.”

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and…[cringes]”


“I wonder where the Professor is, he’s usually not late.”

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”


“I’m feeling like a jelly doughnut.”

“What we feel, we attract.”


“I’m thinking a jelly doughnut would be good, too.”

“What we think, we become.”


“I’m furious with you.”

“Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”


“Well, speak up. Explain yourself!”

“He who doesn’t understand one’s silence will probably not understand one’s words.”


“HELP! My sleeve got caught in this threshing machine.”

“Be patient. Everything comes to you in the… [cringes]”


“It’s time to take the trash out.”

“If anything is worth doing, do it with all YOUR heart.”


“No. I’m sorry, I can’t go to your Solar eclipse gala bash. I have to take my grandmother to chemotherapy.”

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”

BOOK REVIEW: Siddhartha’s Brain by James Kingsland

Siddhartha's Brain: Unlocking the Ancient Science of EnlightenmentSiddhartha’s Brain: Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment by James Kingsland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Amazon page

 

Kingsland builds his niche by connecting the dots between the teachings of the Buddha and scientific discoveries about meditation and mindfulness. There are many books that tell the life story of Siddhartha Gautama from various perspectives (e.g. famously the books by Hermann Hesse and Karen Armstrong.) There are also a number of books reporting the science of meditation (e.g. Herbert Benson and Sat Bir Singh Khalsa.) However, it’s not so common for the subjects to be overlapped.

There’s a reason that this middle path hasn’t been more widely studied. While Buddhism is arguably the most science-friendly of the major world religions, there’s always a gulf between spiritual and scientific thinking. The writer has to figure out how to chart a course through rocky waters. Books appealing to spiritual seekers are likely to come across as insubstantial fluff to the scientifically minded reader, and books appealing to skeptics are likely to feel materialistic and cold (and, perhaps, naive) to the spiritualist. The Buddha’s teachings about the need for the practice to be experiential, rather than faith-based, offers a unique opportunity to tread this tightrope. Furthermore, the Dalai Lama’s willingness to facilitate a dialogue between science and Buddhism has been crucial as well. One can easily set aside controversial issues like reincarnation and karmic law as they aren’t essential to the value of mindfulness.

The book consists of twelve chapters. The chapters generally begin with a story or teaching from the life of Buddha, and then go on to investigate the relevant lesson in more detail with particular emphasis on any relevant scientific discoveries that support said teachings.

The story of Buddha begins in a wealthy, high-caste household with young Siddhartha Gautama being kept from seeing the effects of aging, illness, and death. When the young Siddartha, nonetheless, sees these things, it is a powerful introduction to the concepts of impermanence and suffering that will play a central role in his future teachings. Chapter 1 starts this introduction and also offers an overview of the book. Chapter two continues it. In Chapter three, Kingsland describes a little of the known history of meditation, though its origins are lost to time.

Chapter 4 is entitled “The Second Dart” and it discusses the Buddha’s teaching of the same name—the second dart being one’s mental reaction to an event (i.e. the initial dart.) Chapter 5 investigates the question of whether there is a self—and, if so, of what manner. A core idea within Buddhism is that the self is illusory.

Chapter 6 gets to the heart of the matter by explaining the mechanism of mindfulness meditation and what has come to be known as MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy)—a secular approach to the use of mindfulness to improve well-being. The next chapter tells the story of how a group of fire worshippers came to follow the Buddha after he made clear that everything (their senses, thoughts, and emotions) were aflame with craving, hatred, and delusion, and that springboards into a discussion of how mindfulness is used to reduce craving and addiction.

Chapter 8 tells the story of an attempt to kill the Buddha via an angry, drunk elephant, and the Buddha’s thwarting of the plot by way of calm and compassion. As one might have guessed, the chapter is about moderating emotions, just as the Buddha controlled his fear before the elephant.

Chapter 9 takes a jaunt into evolutionary biology to question how the mismatch between what humans evolved to do and what we do in the modern world causes mental illnesses and how mindfulness can help mitigate the problem. Chapter 10 is about metacognition, or the ability to observe and reflect upon our own mental experience—i.e. thinking about thoughts. Chapter 11 is about cognition and decision-making, and the role that meditation can play in improving our performance in this domain. The last chapter discusses the Buddhist conception of death and enlightenment. It isn’t until this point that there’s a major divergence between the Buddhist and scientific viewpoints. There is a discussion of the Buddha’s teachings emphasizing that belief in ideas from on high is not so important as experience.

Six of the chapters (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, & 11) are concluded with guided meditations to offer the reader an introduction into the basics of mindfulness. These are simple practices that many readers will already be familiar with in some variant or another. (e.g. breath awareness, bodily awareness, and mindful eating.)

There are only a few graphics (e.g. maps and diagrams—mostly of the brain) but there is no need for additional graphics. The book has references annotated.

I found this book interesting and thought-provoking. It uses the stories of Buddha as well as some stories from the present day to make the reading more engaging and approachable. The discussion of scientific research is easy for a neuroscience neophyte to follow.

I’d recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about the science behind Buddhist practices.

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DAILY PHOTO: Giant Maitreya of Diskit

Taken in August of 2016 in Diskit, India

Taken in August of 2016 in Diskit, India

 

It’s over 100ft (30m) tall.

 

A Maitreya is a “future Buddha,” meaning a Buddha who hasn’t yet appeared, but who was prophesied to live in an era to come. For people unfamiliar with Buddhism, this might seem strange. The Buddha we normal think of is Gautama Buddha, or the Shakyamuni Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama.) He was the founder of the religion, but one of many said to have achieved enlightenment. In other words, the Buddha we think of was an awakened one, not the awakened one.

DAILY PHOTO: The Giant Buddha of Wat Thai, Sarnath

Taken on October 25, 2015 at Wat Thai in Sarnath

Taken on October 25, 2015 at Wat Thai in Sarnath

 

Being one of the four most major pilgrimage sites of Buddhism, Sarnath has a number of temples built by members of countries with large Buddhist populations. Among these countries is Thailand. (FYI: There is also a Chinese Temple, a Japanese Temple, and a Tibetan Temple.) While the guidebook advice is that these modern temples are skippable, an exception might be made for Wat Thai, which is both nearby to the [unskippable] Archaeology Museum and has a giant Buddha statue.

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Here is the sign for the giant Buddha.

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