Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Book Review: What Makes You Not a Buddhist; Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, 2006

This is a wonderful little book, 130 pages of distilled wisdom from a man who is known most widely as a film maker, the director of The Cup, but who is otherwise a well-respected teacher from the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism. Besides being deeply familiar with Buddhist scholarship, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse has traveled and worked widely in Europe and North America, knows the cultures of the countries, and is able to explicate Buddhist principles with examples that resonate for Star Wars fans and suburban American Republicans.

The purpose of the book, the author notes, is not to make the reader a Buddhist, but to explain what it means to be a Buddhist. It's not a book about how to be, but a book about the implications of being. Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse does this through the Four Seals, truths about the physical, phenomenal, and psychological world that the Buddha himself invited his students to examine and investigate. They are:

  1. All compounded things are impermanent.
  2. All emotions are pain.
  3. All things have no inherent existence.
  4. Nirvana is beyond concepts.

Each seal is discussed in separate chapters and illustrated with examples from contemporary life, as well as from the life of Siddhartha, the prince who gave up his pampered court life to seek greater truth and who later became known as The Buddha, the Enlightened One.

Full of sharp humor directed at everyone from spiritual seekers to corporate suits, from tree huggers to neoconservatives occupying the White House, this witty volume is a pithy introduction to Buddhism and would make a great gift for any one interested in the philosophy. I've already purchased one volume for a friend and suspect I'll be buying a few more in the coming year.



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