Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey.....

”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

Buddhist Books for Beginners: A Comprehensive List

When we hosted a discussion titled “What Led You to Buddhism?” in 2011, we asked participants to share the stories of how they came to learn more about Buddhism. While reading through the discussion from people of many different backgrounds and traditions, one common theme became immediately apparent: Buddhist books.

As we continued to read through the comments, it occurred to us that we should compile all the Buddhist books for beginners mentioned into a list, and that such a list, composed solely of personal accounts of life-altering realizations, could be quite special. We created that list in 2011 (read the original here), and asked readers to suggest more. Here is an updated list incorporating that feedback:

Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings
by William Edelglass and Jay L. Garfield 

What is Buddhism? While the diversity of Buddhist schools of thought make it all but impossible to encapsulate the tradition in one book, the new collection. Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings is as comprehensive an attempt as any. This is a dense volume, but its coherent presentation of Buddhist philosophy in all its variety makes diving in worth the effort.

Taking the Path of Zen
by Robert Aitken

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A Japanese Ensemble Keeps an Ancient Sound Alive

A small ensemble silently steps out in single file. Dressed in clothing from Japan’s Heian period (794 to 1185), rounded-collared sokutai robes and tall black eboshi hats, they kneel beside an array of ancient instruments and offer a deep bow. Then a haunting harmony rises out of a mouth organ (sho) and the percussionists roll in like a distant march. Hichiriki (oboes with a bag-pipe-like quality), wooden flutes, and long twangy string instruments join in, creating a rich chorus of both wailing and triumphant voices.

This is how the Reigakusha ensemble began their recent performance of gagaku, Japanese court music, at the Japan Society in New York City. The style dates back to the 6th century, when it crossed the sea from China and Korea alongside Buddhism. When the conflicts of the Warring States period (in the 15th to 17th centuries) threatened to eliminate gagaku and the accompanying dance bugaku, Buddhist temples kept the artform alive through performances at annual ceremonies. 

Reigakusha performs a bugaku dance at the Japan Society in New York City. | Photo by Ayumi Sakamoto

Today, the average Japanese citizen likely has heard of gagaku, though few know much about it, Japan Society artistic director Yoko Shioya told Tricycle. But that’s changing: Around 15 years ago, music education in Japanese schools started shifting its focus from Western classical music to include more lessons about traditional Japanese performing arts, Shioya said. Then, in 2009, UNESCO added gagaku to its Intangible Cultural Heritage List, calling it a “crystallization of the history of Japanese society” and a “demonstration of how multiple cultural traditions can be fused into a unique heritage.”

Reigakusha is helping to make a gagaku revival possible through its classical demonstrations as well as by performing new reigaku, or neo-gagaku, compositions arranged for the traditional 17-person ensemble. The Japan Society program on September 21 was split into two parts, ancient gagaku and neo-gagaku. Gagaku is performed without a conductor, a feat rarely attempted by ensembles of that size in the world of Western classical music. The musicians also did not use sheet music for the ancient portion. After the intermission, however, the performers returned with music stands to play two reigaku compositions: “Shotorashion” and “In an Autumn Garden” (Shuteiga).

“Shotorashion” was composed by Reigakusha’s founder, Sukeyasu Shiba. He named the work after Shotora, one of the 12 divine generals in Japanese Buddhism, as a nod to the history that gagaku and the dharma share. The final work, “In an Autumn Garden” (Shuteiga), was written by Toru Takemitsu for the National Theatre in Tokyo in 1973. Takemitsu (1930–1996) was a pioneer of contemporary gagaku and a major influence for Shiba, who established the Reigakusha ensemble in 1985 to continue Takemitsu’s work.

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Love in Action

2008-05-09 | Love in Action

This is a 78-minute dharma talk from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in Hanoi during the “Engaged Buddhism in the 21st Century” retreat. This is the fifth talk on May 9, 2008 and the talk is offered in English.

Teaching and Social Work

In 1964, Thay was teaching at Colombia University and my friends in Vietnam asked me to return home. In Saigon there was a school (School of Youth for Social Service) to teach engaged Buddhism and serve the communities in Vietnamese countryside. An expression of Love in Action. They did not want sponsorship from the government and didn’t want to be involved in the war. Inspired by compassion. Nonviolence and rural development. It started with 300 workers and expanded to 10,000 workers — these were volunteers. Thay shares some of the work they did during this time and where they learned to do this work. Some of these social workers died in service and there is a memorial at the Dharma Cloud Temple (Chua Phâp Van) in Ho Chi Minh City. Thay talks of the spiritual dimension to this social work.

This is where the Order of Interbeing arose and Thay talks of the first members and the first ordination.

In 1966, That was invited by Cornell University to teach a series of lectures. The purpose was also to help Thay get out of Vietnam and to speak out about the war in Vietnam. This was sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. After this, Thay was not allowed to return to Vietnam. At this time was intensifying and a young OI member immolated of herself – her name was Nhat Chi Mai. Also several members of the school were murdered.

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Three Poems to Introduce Children to Mindfulness

Breathe and Be uses poetry and illustrations to show children practices that can help them stay calm, regulate their emotions, and appreciate the world.

By Kate Coombs, Illustrated by Anna Emilia LaitinenOct 01, 2019

How can you help a child reap the benefits of mindfulness, especially if they’re not old enough to read or sit still for very long?

Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems aims to introduce kids aged 4–8 to mindfulness by connecting them to the natural world through poems and accompanying images.  

The poems use a five-line form of Japanese poetry called tanka, an early version of haiku.

Below are three poems and illustrations from the collection, which was written by Kate Coombs and illustrated by Anna Emilia Laitinen.

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Buddha Buzz Weekly: Death Defying Monks

Nothing is permanent, so everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—in the Buddhist world this week. 

Deceased Buddhist Monk Will Keep Meditating as a Mummy

A revered Buddhist monk who spent nearly 45 years meditating in a cave will remain in a meditative state for, well, forever. After 94-year-old Wangdor Rinpoche died at his monastery in the Mandi district of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, his disciples—who believe that their teacher is abiding in a meditative state known as the Togden—began a process for preserving his body, according to Indian newspaper the Hindustan Times. “The master is in a high meditative stage of trance. Other teachers in the monastery will take the final decision to preserve the body, which will be mummified later,” said disciple Hara Zigar. After fleeing Tibet in 1959—the same year as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama—Wangdor Rinpoche spent most of his early life in retreat, spending almost 45 years in a cave above Rewalsar Lake in northern India. He practiced in both the Nyingma and Kagyu schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Mummies aren’t a complete anomaly in Tibetan Buddhism and other Buddhist traditions (such as Shingon monks in Japan). The mummified body of the Dalai Lama’s teacher, Kyabjé Ling Rinpoche, is currently kept at His Holiness’s residence in Dharamsala. In 1975, after an earthquake struck the region, the remains of self-mummified monk Sangha Tenzin from the 15th century were found in the area of Spiti, on the Indo-Tibet border. The body of the monk showed little signs sign of deterioration—he even had teeth—despite appearing to have undergone no preservation procedure. Archaeologists believe this is the result of a Buddhist ritual of ingesting a mix of herbs, roots, sap, and poisonous nuts to deplete fat reserves and remove moisture before death.

Funeral for Hardline Sri Lanka Monk at Hindu Temple Defies Court Injunction 

A controversial Buddhist monk who recently died was cremated on the grounds of a Hindu temple in Sri Lanka in violation of a court order that prohibited the rites from being carried out on the premises. According to the Tamil Guardian, the memorial for the unidentified monk was led by extremist monastic Gnanasara, a member of the right-wing nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Power Force. The late monk had spent the decade prior to his death establishing a monastery and building a massive Buddha statue at the Hindu temple. Local worshippers had fiercely opposed his cremation, as corpses and funerals are considered contaminants and inappropriate for sacred spaces. The Buddhist group ignored these concerns and held the cremation on the banks of the temple’s sacred reservoir. Sri Lanka police disregarded the locals’ complaints and the court injunction and provided full security for the funeral while barring Tamils, a mostly Hindu ethnic group, from entering the area. One Buddhist monk reportedly assaulted a Tamil lawyer after taunting the protestors by stating that Buddhist monks held supremacy in Sri Lanka.

Dalai Lama Tweets Support for Climate Strike

As millions of people took to the streets for the global climate strike last Friday, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama voiced his support for the demonstrators. In a tweet, the Dalai Lama wrote that the young people who spearheaded the global movement were “being very realistic” about the impending changes to the world’s ecosystems and urged his followers to cheerlead the youths’ efforts. “It’s quite right that students and today’s younger generation should have serious concerns about the climate crisis and its effect on the environment,” he said. “They are being very realistic about the future. They see we need to listen to scientists. We should encourage them.” 

On September 20, tens of thousands of people across the globe protested for action on climate change ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit

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