Short reviews of Natural Great Perfection: Dzogchen Teachings and Vajra Songs, by Nyoshul Khenpo • Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There, by Sylvia Boorstein • A Place In Space: New and Selected Prose, by Gary Snyder • Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes, and Allen D. Kanner • The Return of the Mother, by Andrew Harvey • Essential Tibetan Buddhism, by Robert A. F. Thurman • The Size of the World, by Jeff Greenwald
In this book, Tibetan master Nyoshul Khenpo offers a clear and evocative presentation of “the view”—the vast metaphysical perspective that sustains the Tibetan tradition of dzogchen, which Khenpo refers to as “. . . the swift, naked, direct path, the vajra shortcut. . . .” The dzogchen masters say that their view is from the very top of the mountain, the absolute pinnacle towards which all “relative” paths of dharma are slowly winding. It is interesting to note that in recent years Nyoshul Khenpo has been teaching dzogchen to a number of senior vipassana students and teachers, and one passage from his book might serve as an instruction to those who do insight meditation practices:
So get out of the construction business! Stop building bridges across the raging waters of samsaric existence, attempting to reach the “far shore,” nirvana. Better to simply relax, at ease and carefree, in total naturalness, and just go with the primordial flow, however it occurs and happens. And remember this: whether or not you go with the flow, it always goes with you.
In the end, no matter what path you are on, this book is inspiring and mind-opening, full of exquisite dharma teachings offered in the traditional poetic style of the great dzogchen masters.
For those who like a little schmaltz on their sadhana, here’s another collection of homespun dharma from Sylvia Boorstein, the Jewish grandmother of the vipassana sangha. In this book Boorstein guides the beginning student through a three-day meditation retreat and, as might be expected, ends up “cooking Buddha soup.” A nourishing bowlful.
This collection of twenty-nine essays draws from forty years of Snyder’s writing, and contains some previously unpublished pieces. Included here are his classic Beat broadside “North Beach,” the playful “Smoky The Bear Sutra” (a vajra call to environmental action), plus many eloquent philosophical essays on poetics, nature, wild mind and the human condition. The continuity in this book is provided by Snyder’s flowing, adventurous language and the overriding vision that informs all of his life and work. In Snyder’s words, “The nub of the problem now is how to flip over, as in jujitsu, the magnificent growth energy of modern civilization into a nonacquisitive search for deeper knowledge of self and nature.”
Anyone interested in either the future of psychology or the fate of the earth will want to read this provocative introduction to the emerging discipline of ecopsychology. The anthology includes contributions from Joanna Macy, Ralph Metzner, Chellis Glendinning, Stephen Harper, Anita Barrows, Paul Shepard, and many others. A recurring call throughout the book is for the revitalization of Western psychology by placing our human story in the larger environmental gestalt, in the context of our biological roots and our home in the cosmos. In the process, the authors hope, we can find our way back into the world and can heal ourselves and the planet.
We have come to expect both passion and eloquence from Andrey Harvey, and he could not find a better subject for his gifts than the Great Mother. In his new book, Harvey explores this archetype, manifesting as Kali, as Mary, and as the Tao itself; he gives us the Great Mother as seen through the mystic visions of Ramakrishna, Sri Aurobindo, Rumi, and the Mahayana Buddhist masters. In the midst of his adulation, Harvey criticizes those who he thinks are tarnishing the Mother’s spirit, including his own former teacher Mother Meera as well as Mother Teresa who “has been co-opted by a patriarchal power system.” Throughout the book, Harvey is urging us to view the world as our own mother, asking that we become as children, with a beginner’s mind and an adoring heart. Then we will be fulfilled by the gift of life itself. According to Harvey, the way out of our individual and collective malaise is through the Great Mother, who is now saying to us, “Know that my revelation is a revolution.”
“The essence of Tibetan culture is defined by the experience of real Buddhas dwelling among them.” From this premise, Robert A. F. Thurman begins to unfold his loving and insightful overview of Tibetan Buddhism. Thurman was the first American to become a Tibetan monk and is now chair of the religion department and professor of Indo-Tibetan Studies at Columbia University. In addition to his scholarship and monastic training, Thurman brings to this project his noted ability to synthesize and enliven spiritual matters. Essential Tibetan Buddhism contains a rich sampling of texts and commentary from all the major Tibetan Buddhist schools, including some hymns to the goddess Tara, songs of Milarepa, selections from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and even some rarely published tantric practice texts.
In the Indo-Tibetan spiritual cultures, one manner of pilgrimage is to perform a kora—a clockwise circumambulation around a revered shrine, holy city or sacred mountain. Jeff Greenwald decided to perform a kora around the earth itself and proceeded to do so without leaving the ground (no airplanes). The Size of the World is the chronicle of Greenwald’s adventures, which include visits with spiritual masters Harilal Poonja and Tibetan lama Chokyi Nyima and the writer Paul Bowles. On this unusual kora, Greenwald confronts not only the size of the world but himself as well, and he writes about both with insight, compassion and great humor. On Greenwald’s adventure we can follow the laugh lines all the way around the face of mother earth.