Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Guided Tour of Hell

A Guided Tour of Hell - A Graphic Memoir

by Samuel Berholz, illustrated by Pema Namdol Thaye

Shambhala Publications, Boston, Massachusetts    © 2016    160 pp.

In this lushly illustrated, captivating, and worldview-enhancing memoir, Shambhala Publications founder and Buddhist teacher Sam Berholz recounts the events of a near-death experience in which he died and his mind stream was dragged into the nether regions. Stating that he withheld from publicizing his experience for ten years due to being embarrassed to admit to having been there, he now recounts with stunning vividness and charming frankness the account of his ordeal in hell. Unlike most of the other occupants of the infernal and frozen realms he traversed during his fortuitously temporary foray, he was not bound to the sufferings endured there for countless millenia, but was guided by a being of light - a Buddha of Hell, as he calls him - in order to bear witness and help other beings become aware of the potential for unfortunate rebirth amongst the denizens of darkness. Through this process he journeys through hot and cold hells and becomes acquainted with occupants and their unfortunate - and always self-centered - tales of damnation. The stories are personal yet generic, and ring true in the manner of mythology as well as that of possibility. Throughout the process of being introduced to different realms and suffering beings, he maintains a manner of compassion, developed over the course of a lifetime of Buddhist study and practice.

Berholz is a close student of two well-regarded Tibetan Buddhist masters, both since passed, and was endorsed by them as a teacher; his teachers were Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche as well as CSS affiliate teacher Andrea Pucci's great mentor, Thinley Norbu Rinpoche. Berholz's credentials are as respectable as they come within the Buddhist community, and through his Shambhala Publications (now run by his daughter), he has helped propagate the Buddha Dharma throughout the English-speaking world for over forty years. I find this account of his time in hell to be an honest and intriguing report from the front lines of samsaric existence. Despite the traditional warnings, many modern seekers discount the Buddhist teachings on the six realms as either childish or of purely psychological nature, dismissing the cosmological level of their meaning. While it is true that enlightenment transcends the cycling of rebirth through these realms, perhaps we should consider that more than just throughout the rest of our life - which is like a flash - our actions will play out through eternity, conditioning our experience, until we are released from egoity. 

Indeed, what could be gained from denying the potential for post-mortem experience, other than either a blind descent into materialist sensualism or a naive intellectual approximation of liberation? It is within our very own mind that both this life and all future worlds manifest, and yet we cling firmly to the belief in a world around us independent of our complicity. It is this mind bubble which reflects all past and future worlds in its infinite chambers. Clinging to self-centered motivations and actions brings endless suffering to ourselves and creates the conditions for countless others' misery. Would this not perpetuate itself given that time itself is simply a mirror of our own mind as well? Berholz's vivid portrayal of what the worst-intentioned of us create for ourselves reminds us not to waste our time here, but to take each moment as a precious opportunity for compassionate spiritual activity and deep insight into the rootlessness of our own minds.

-- submitted by Matthew Sieradski

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

CD: Room to Breath

Room to Breath: An At-Home Meditation Retreat with Sharon Salzberg

by Sharon Salzberg

Sounds True, Boulder, Colorado        © 2016       2 CDs    2:09 hrs   32 pg. booklet

From the back jacket:

"Between the smartphone, laptop, table, and whatever else is demanding your attention, sometimes you just need to unplug!  Room to Breath brings you a series of beginner-friendly guided meditations and mindfulness techniques to help you regain a sense of spaciousness and ease.

These essential practices were created to give you the feel of a meditation retreat at home -- but can be enjoyed in any place conducive to a period of undisturbed quiet."

-- submitted by Jennifer Knight

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Friday, April 21, 2017

A Year to Live

A Year to Live: How to Live This Year As If It Were Your Last 

by Stephen Levine

Bell Tower, New York, New York         © 1997      170 pp.

At age 58 the Dalai Lama said it was time for him to prepare for his death. The author, being the same age, decided to follow his example. Having decades of experience working with dying people as well as with meditation practice, he had some awareness of the types of problems which arise and ways to pursue completion. With the start of a new year, he began a year of dying practice, refining as he went and discovering benefits together with complications (such as the necessity of planning his schedule a minimum of a year in advance while living as if he would not be in the body by then).

In this volume, Stephen Levine offers meditations, mindfulness practice, journaling approaches, methods for finishing business, and living ever more in the present. From his experience he describes emotions that arise and dissolve -- holdings and releases -- and the softening into life that can develop when entering fully into these practices. Ultimately, A Year to Live is about living and releasing one moment at a time -- being with whatever arises. Good advice for anyone.

 -- reviewed by Dawn Kurzka

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Quote from Shared Stories, Rival Tellings

Shared Stories, Rival Tellings: Early Encounters of Jews, Christians, and Muslims 

by Robert C. Gregg

Oxford University Press, Oxford, United Kingdom       © 2015       721 pp.

"Judaism, Christianity, and Islam arose as book-centered religions, their holy writings consisting in revelations from and about the deity of their experience. However, a more integral and often overlooked connection exists. Narrated in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Bible, and the Qur'an were over two dozen sacred stories featuring the same cast of characters (for instance Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Moses, Samuel, kings David and Solomon, Job, and such prophets as Elijah, Elisha, and Jonah). The two scriptures of the Christians and Muslims shared additional holy narratives -- most notably the stories of the prophet John the Baptist, and of Jesus and Mary.

Conceiving this study as a comparison of the three religions' scriptural interpretations I chose five (for the available twenty-seven) narratives: Cain's murder of Abel, his brother; the clash between Abraham's two women, Sarah and Hagar; Joseph the young Hebrew slave in Egypt, tormented by the sexual advances of the wife of his master; the disobedient prophet Jonah and the whale; and the sage of Mary, Jesus's mother (though it appears only in the Christian New Testament and the Qur'an).  My intent was to observe carefully the overlap of traditions and to focus especially on how Jews, Christians, and Muslims differently heard, read, and used those stories. How did the interpreters retell them, using story expansions and noticeable twists in order to advance their own communal interests -- that is, their distinguishing doctrines, ethics, ritual practices, and modes of spirituality?"  (p. xiii)

-- submitted by Jennifer Knight

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Life and Sayings of a Rare-born Mystic

The Life and Sayings of a Rare-born Mystic

edited and compiled by Betty Camhi and Elliott Eisenberg

North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California     ©1990      145 pp.

Sunyata (Julius Emanuel Sorenson) was born in Denmark in 1890, where he awakened at an early age, sans teacher, teaching, practices, or a tradition, causing Ramana Maharshi to later recognize him as “one of the rare-born mystics.”

He moved to England in 1911 and worked there as a simple gardener until 1933 when he moved to India following a suggestion by the poet Rabindranath Tagore to “come to India to teach Silence.” There, he lived in a hut in the Himalayas for 41 years where his job was, as editor Camhi puts it, “simply to BE.”

On a third visit to Ramana, Sunyata received a telepathic message from him that said “We are always ever sunyata. Sunyata took these words as “recognition, initiation, mantra, and name,” and there after called himself Sunyata, the Buddhist term meaning “the void” or “emptiness.” Camhi says, “Like a crystal that reflects many colors yet itself remains pure, clear, unaffected, that's who he would always be, no-thingness. Tat twam asi, he was fond of saying —'Thou are that.'”

In 1975, he moved to Mill Valley, California at the invitation of the Alan Watts Society, and remained there for the last six years of his life.

During his time in India, Sunyata wrote a short but intensely beautiful and profound spiritual autobiography called Memory. This book includes that work along with many of his favorite sayings. I cannot recommend it highly enough to anyone who, as I do, adores spiritual autobiographies. Sunyata’s is short and simple, but incredibly wise. It is truly inspiring and enlightening! Don’t miss it, trust me. The guy’s an original!

-- reviewed by Karen Fierman

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Quote from The Complete Tassajara Cookbook

The Complete Tassajara Cookbook: Recipes, Techniques, and Reflections from the Famed Zen Kitchen

by Edward Espe Brown, illustrations by John David Simpkins

Shambhala Publications, Boston, Massachusetts     © 2011     526 pp.

"What bring us to the kitchen is hunger, hunger for food, hunger to feed others. What brings us to the kitchen is love, conviviality, connection -- we're finding a place at the table of life. No simple matter to bring forth food, no simple matter to receive nourishment. Beginning where we are, utilizing our gifts, working with our hinderances, the way to be a cook is to start cooking.

You may be worrying about how the food will turn out, believing that the results have to be just right, measuring up to some imagined or ingrained taste. You may stress that your food is 'not good enough' and that it will reflect poorly on you, and that you are only as good as your last performance. As long as you are busy giving out grades, there's no help for it, so go ahead, give the critic a rest, begin and continue: with yourself, with others, with the vegetables. Begin and continue with what is in front of you." (p. 3)

-- submitted by Jennifer Knight

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Quote from What Does it Mean to be Present?

What Does It Mean To Be Present?

by Rana DiOrio, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler

Little Pickle Press, San Francisco, California     © 2010

(1 volume (unpaged) : chiefly color illustrations ; 23 x 27 cm

"What does it mean to be present? . . . 

. . . closing your eyes and being still enough to hear your inner voice."

--quote submitted by Jennifer Knight

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