Book Review: When the Chocolate Runs Out (Lama Thubten Yeshe)

NGBanner
I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

3-5Button

Ragdoll Rating: 3.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: People with a little Buddhist experience

About the Book…

When the Chocolate Runs Out is a million-mile-an-hour run through some of the fundamental concepts in Buddhism. In it, Lama Yeshe provides instruction on a wide variety of topics, from Karma, attachment and ego.

What I thought…

Up until the very end, my primary thought about this book was: “Thank god I already know about this!” Somewhere in this book, Lama Yeshe explains that the point of Buddhism and the dharma, isn’t to learn everything but to put things into practice and test ideas against your own experience. This philosophy is obvious throughout the book as Lama Yeshe provides a lot of “What to do?” and very little How or Why. As such, if you weren’t already familiar with some of the concepts, I can imagine this book could be quite frustrating at times, finding yourself unsure of how to do something or why it’s worth it in the first place. Of course the Why is because Lama Yeshe has found it helpful in his own experience, but that can be a difficult position to start from. It’s certainly one I struggle with.

That said, there was a lot of material covered and if you do already have some background knowledge of Buddhism’s workings, then it’s quite a good reminder and a fresh perspective on a number of fairly key concepts.

My favourite part about this book is actually at the end, where Lama Yeshe – very – briefly, runs the reader through a number of simple meditations. This section actually turned the whole book around for me, as the instructions were very clear and and offered additional guidance about our expectations. Good meditation instructions can be difficult to find, either being overly simplistic or complicated, but Lama Yeshe manages to find a good balance between the two that allows the concepts to be delivered and understood without taxing the mind one way or the other.

I think this is a book that perhaps would be best treated as a coffee-table read, the kind of book you dip in and out of frequently. The chapters are short and sweet, and the format throughout lends itself much better to frequent short bursts, compared to long period of reading (which is what I just did, and I finished it in just over an hour).

Final Thoughts…

Overall, my opinions on this book are a little all over the place. It is certainly something I would happily come back to, as I’m sure there is more wisdom contained within than I have taken in during this read-through.

___________________________________________
Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Interconnected (HH. The 17th Karmapa)

NGBanner
I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

5Button

Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Anybody with an interest in Buddhism, self improvement and global fellowship.

About the Book…

In Interconnected, His Holiness invites us to explore the fundamental connections that bind us to everything else. The book explores all manner of themes, from our environmental impact to our interpersonal relationships. Through a mixture of personal anecdotes, musings and philosophy, His Holiness paints an insightful picture of our place in the world, and how we can improve it by switching our focus to the things that connect us, rather than those that divide us.

This book continues on many of the themes raised in The Heart is Noble. (Book Review: The Heart Is Noble (HH. The 17th Karmapa))

What I thought…

Interconnected is clearly a labour of love. These are the words of a man who truly believes the advice he gives, and follows that advice to the letter. As I have come to expect from His Holiness, this book is wonderfully written, in an insightful, wise and friendly manner.

Probably my favourite element of this book, among it’s many admirable qualities, is the way His Holiness speaks quite candidly about his own life experiences. We are treated, not just to tales from his childhood, but also to difficulties that arise from his position as a spiritual leader. Personal anecdotes are provided often as a demonstration of some of the more difficult elements contained within the book. For example, there is a wonderful passage about how freedom and responsibility are linked, which on the surface could be a difficult concept to grasp, as it appears to be quite a contrast to the common western notion of freedom. His Holiness illustrates this point by imagining he wished to exercise personal freedom, and start a game of basketball in the monastery – an act which would cause many others a great deal of problems, and not just those in the immediate vicinity.

Final Thoughts…

Some elements of this book will be easier to digest if you are a practicing Buddhist, since His Holiness is obviously heavily influenced by Buddhist thinking and refers to it frequently. Having said that, everything in this book could easily be understood and acted upon by anybody, and you certainly would not need to be a Buddhist to take a great deal of positive ideas from this book.

___________________________________________
Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Illuminating Silence (Master Shen Yeng & Dr John H Crook)

NGBanner
I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link

 

3Button

Ragdoll Rating: 3/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Experienced Buddhist practitioners, people wanting insight on the Chan (Chinese Zen) path

About the Book…

The content of  Illuminating Silence comes from Master Sheng Yen, a Chinese Chan master. The book contains edited transcripts of the talks Master Yen gave over the course of two week-long retreats in Wales. The talks were given in Chinese by Master Yen, translated by a Mr Ming Yee and transcribed by Dr Crook.

What I thought…

I found this book to be difficult but interesting read. I suppose the only review I can give about this book is based in the fact that I am having such difficulty in thinking of anything – at all – to say about it.

There is a great deal to learn from this book, I am sure. I think the key problem for me is that these are transcripts, offered without external commentary. This means that if you find yourself confused or lost (as I often did) there is nothing but Master Yen’s words to guide you through it. What I’m saying is that this book is not for the faint of heart and almost certainly not for the beginner. A lot of Chinese words remain untranslated, and although there is a glossary of terms in the back of the book, the unfamiliar vocabulary was hard to cope with.

It took me a long time to finish this book, nearly a month apparently, and to be honest I really don’t think I could tell you more than one thing I learned while reading it. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything, I distinctly remember many occasions where my understanding of a topic was deepened or a new concept was introduced, I just can’t remember what they were. Perhaps something was lost in the translation, or perhaps I’m just too inexperienced to fully appreciate it.

A lot of time was spent dedicated to dissection of a poem, most of which was lost on me. I’m not good with poetry at the best of times, and poetry in translation…eek!

During my reading, I made a note of one line, something I almost never do. “It is not important to get enlightened quickly.” This, coupled with frequent reminder that you still have to practice even post-enlightenment stuck with me, and actually I think this message on it’s own made the book worth reading.

Final Thoughts…

This book is a tough read, and is probably much more enjoyable with an improved understanding of the topic. Perhaps I’ll read it again some day and find it more accessible.

___________________________________________
Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: The Other Shore: A New Translation of the Heart Sutra (Thich Nhat Hanh)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

A new interpretation of an ancient text.

TL;DR – A skillful breakdown of the Heart Sutra, making an important piece of Buddhist scripture more accessible.

4 Button

RAGDOLL RATING: 4/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s work, I find the man totally inspiring, so I’ll read basically anything of his. I read this specifically because I wanted to start reading Buddhist scriptures, and not just commentaries.

The Book…

The book is broken down into several parts. First up, we have introductions to the book and a very brief background to the Heart Sutra itself. Next we have what I suppose technically needs to be classified as a re-interpretation of the text. It’s more or less a translation but with some sections tidied up for better clarity. What follows is a series of chapters, each focusing on a few lines of the sutra, explaining what the text means and how we are to understand it. Then to finish up we have the original text in romanised sanskrit, and then a literal English translation and finally an English version of the text that was used for chanting at Plum Village from the 1980’s to 2014.

What I liked…

This book has Thich Nhat Hanh’s typical easy-to-read style of presentation. The concepts presented in the sutra are difficult and on their own, really confusing. But the text is broken down into sections, never more than a few short lines, and it’s content is fully explained clearly and carefully and allow even a novice reader to take away some important understanding from this text.

The purpose of this book was to clear up some confusion about the common interpretations of this sutra.

This rewording is needed because to say “in emptiness there is no form, no feelings, no mental formations, no consciousness…” is not in accord with the ultimate truth. Emptiness means only the emptiness of self, not the nonbeing of self, just as when a balloon is empty inside it doesn’t mean the balloon doesn’t exists.” Extract, p20

Apparently it is very common to get hung up on the sutra’s wording and get the wrong idea, and frankly having read it for myself I can absolutely see why people would get confused, it is a tough one. However, Thich Nhat Hanh has altered the wording of his translation (hence calling it a reinterpretation) to help clarify some of the finer points. It can get a little repetitive but it the commentaries are extremely helpful in aiding understanding of the text.

What I disliked…

The inclusion of 3 different English translations/transliterations/interpretations or whatever is a little peculiar. The commentaries focus exclusively on the first interpretation, which makes life easier, but I don’t fully understand why the others have been included and unless I missed it, I can’t find any explanation for it either. It’s nice to have more information of course, but 3 slightly different versions of the same text seemed a little unnecessary.

Final thoughts…

This is definitely a book I will come back to over time. I’m sure there are countless things I have missed and not quite understood fully. This book is, as far as I am aware, an excellent introduction to the Heart Sutra and a great jumping off point for the Buddhist canon in general.

___________________________________________
Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: The Heart Is Noble (HH. The 17th Karmapa)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Life advice for anybody – not just Buddhists!

TL;DR – Advice and thoughts from a Buddhist monk to the rest of the world. Not just for Buddhists.

5 Button

RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I’ve read lots of snippets from His Holiness around the internet in the course of my day-to-day ramblings, and have found those snippets to be insightful and useful to me, so I have been keen to read a book by His Holiness for some time – this just happened to be the first one I bought.

The Book…

This book is intended as personal thoughts and advice from His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, to anybody who is interested. It is based in Buddhist thought – as you would no doubt expect from a Buddhist monk – but it is not just for Buddhists, it’s good advice for anybody.

The book is split into chapters covering a number of themes, ranging from Healthy Relationships to Food Justice / Vegetarianism to Gender Identity. His Holiness provides his own thoughts on a range of subjects he sees as problematic in the world and offers his own ideas as to how we all can work to combat these problems.

What I liked…

I found this book to be insightful, and very interesting. There is nothing dogmatic about this book – you aren’t supposed to just agree ‘because the Karmapa said so’, or even because it seems like the Buddhist thing to do. His Holiness provides his thoughts in a clear manner, and invites you to test them against your own experiences to determine their validity.

I found the chapter on vegetarianism particularly interesting. I personally find this a difficult subject because of two parts of my personality. First, I love eating meat, secondly, I believe it is ethically wrong of me to do so. I expected this chapter to make me feel worse about it – to go on and on about how terrible I am for eating meat, like so many others have done in the past. But it didn’t. What I got was a story from His Holiness about how things were in Tibet, and how they are now. We start by learning that His Holiness ate a lot of meat when he lived in Tibet – because that’s what was available. He then explains how this changed once he escaped to India. He tells us he became vegetarian after watching a documentary about the meat industry and feeling a surge of compassion for the emotions of the animals. But it wasn’t heavy handed, there was no sense that you must agree with his assessment, it was just stated plainly that this was how he felt and from that he turned to vegetarianism. His Holiness even admits that he still occasionally craves a certain kind of meat he remembers from his childhood. He then goes on to explain all sorts of things about why he thinks vegetarianism is would be a good thing for everyone to adopt, but it never feels pushy or aggressive. But it is persuasive. It has led me personally to make a move towards vegetarianism I felt poorly equipped to make before.

The whole book is like this. In a friendly, approachable style, His Holiness provides anecdotes and the occasional piece of Buddhist wisdom or storytelling to illustrate his points and reminds us constantly about the important of compassion and loving kindness.

What I disliked…

There is nothing about the book I really disliked, but I do have to mention one thing because it may upset some readers.

Buddhism calls for universal compassion, and when I say universal I mean it. Compassion for everyone. In the last chapter we are taught how far this actually goes. It specifically mentions rapists, child abusers and murderers as people who deserve compassion. It states that we are quick to be compassionate to the victims (as indeed we should be) but that we are all too quick to withhold compassion from the perpetrators (which is true). This is hard to read – and His Holiness admits right at the start of the chapter that it is easier read than put into practice. It is a fairly simple concept to grasp, but can be quite difficult to read – especially if you have ever been the victim of something like this.

Just be aware of that.

Final thoughts…

I really enjoyed reading this book. It has been quite the treat for me to sit down every night before meditating and read a chapter of this book. I can’t wait to read some more by His Holiness, and I hope you will consider reading it, whether you are Buddhist or not.

___________________________________________
Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: No Mud, No Lotus (Thich Nhat Nanh)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

I can only hope to one day see the world as Thich Nhat Hanh does…

TL;DR – A collection of personal experiences, Buddhist teachings and mindfulness practices to help heal the suffering of the world.

4 Button

RAGDOLL RATING: 4/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

This was part of my ongoing practice of reading a Buddhism book before meditation. I chose this book because I was so moved by The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Thich Nhat Hanh) that I felt I had to read more of Thay’s writings, and I chose this book specifically because I liked the title.

The Book…

(Please note: In the interests of my own sanity and time saving, I will refer to the author by the honorific Thầy – teacher/master, instead of his full name)

“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.” ~Thich Nhat Nanh

The tagline for this book is “The art of transforming suffering”, and that is what this book is, a guidebook for turning suffering into – well, not suffering.

The first (and biggest) section of this book is dedicated to discussing suffering, it’s effects on us as individuals, and on society itself. Each chapter is split into little sections that are written with the authors usual somewhat eclectic mix of personal stories, scripture and metaphor.

In the first chapter, Thầy tells us how suffering and happiness are linked – you cannot have one without the other, and suggesting that the causes of suffering and happiness can be the same thing. Here he uses an example of being cold:

“Cold air can be painful if you aren’t wearing enough warm clothes. But when you’re feeling overheated (…) the bracing sensation of cold air can be a source of feeling joy…” Thich Nhat Hanh (p.11)

Thầy also provides useful practices you can try for yourself in times of suffering, to try and provide some relief, either for you or for the people around you. Chapter 5, for example, is dedicated to 5 practices for nurturing happiness, such as letting go of attachment, and simple meditations.

The second section of the book is entitled ‘Practices for Happiness’ and details 8 (relatively) simple things we can all try to do, to help transform our suffering and the suffering of others.

What I liked…

One thing that really appealed to me in this book was that Thầy always provides multiple forms of explanation and example to any point he makes. Nothing is left to chance. You will often find multiple metaphors, personal examples and stories from the Buddhist canon to help aid understanding of what can be difficult points.  Some people might find this annoying and it could be interpreted as unnecessary repetition, but I personally find that it helps me understand each point much better because of it.

On a similar note, the combination of traditional Buddhist stories and personal anecdotes is also refreshing. One problem I often find with guides for personal improvement, is that if often the steps seem impossible – if you tried them, you would fail – and once you feel like it’s too difficult, you stop paying attention. Having examples of how Thầy puts this guidance into practice – is really refreshing. But this book goes one step further. We also have examples where Thầy talks about times he has found himself confused about teachings (for example the section entitled “Did the Buddha suffer”) – which is really reassuring. It’s nice to see someone admit that they didn’t always understand how these things worked, because often I find hearing guidance from people comes across as if the knowledge was inside them from birth, which as an often-confused person, is really quite disheartening.

What I disliked…

I’m not sure this is so much a dislike in the traditional sense – it’s certainly not the authors fault – but at times this book was hard to read. Not in the usual sense, the language is pretty straightforward, it’s written clearly and has lots of examples – it’s not an ‘advanced text’ or anything like that. It’s the concepts addressed in the book.

There is guidance in this book that seems difficult, if not impossible to follow. For example, there is a place in the book (although I can’t find the specific page as my bookmark fell out) where Thầy talks about how to respond to somebody else’s anger. He encourages us not to respond in kind, not to become angry ourselves or to shout or defend ourselves. Instead he tells us to listen, apologise for your part in this persons pain and just hear them out. Then later, when things are calmer you can try to transform this persons view should an opportunity present itself.

Now, I totally see how this could work. In fact I know it works at times because I’ve done it – not on anything particularly important mind you, but it can work. Even if I hadn’t actually put this into practice, I would be able to see the logic behind it because it is all explained in a clear and simple fashion. BUT, this – and other pieces of guidance – can be really, really daunting. I know on several times during this book, I stopped reading and thought to myself;

“How the hell am I supposed to pull that off!?”

I suppose the thing is, it is all very well explained and I can see what to do, and why I should do it and all those nice things that should make it seem like a walk in the park, but in the back of my head something is telling me the whole thing is nuts. The teachings in this book can be hard to process and accept – that’s just conditioned into us I suppose, and something we all need to unlearn. Just be aware of it.

Final thoughts…

This book is well thought out, brilliantly written and no doubt it will prove incredibly useful in the future. I have already attempted to put some of the teachings into practice.

The book is clear, but some of the concepts are hard to digest. Your mind may try and reject them, even though they are really good stuff. My advice is if you find yourself resisting something in the book, put it down, breath deeply for a minute or two, then start reading again. It will be worth it.

This book is now on my re-read pile. I recommend this to everyone.

___________________________________________
Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book of the Month (June 2018)

sketch-1523985472721

This just in!!

The Ragdoll Reads Book of the Month pick for June 2018 is:

Button

The Heart Of Buddha’s Teaching

by Thich Nhat Hanh (1998)

TL;DR – This book is a basic introduction to the foundations of Buddhism, taught from the point of view of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Absolutely recommended.

See the full review here: Book Review: The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Thich Nhat Hanh)

See the full Book of the Month list here: Book of the Month

Book Review: Bodhisattva Ideal: Wisdom and Compassion in Buddhism (Sangharakshita)

Goodreads Link | Sangharakshita Website

“To consider the Bodhisttva ideal is to place one’s hand on the very heart of Buddhism, and feel the beating of that hears.” ~Extract from the blurb

TL;DR – A fascinating read. Don’t read this unless you have at least some idea about Buddhism beforehand.

4-5Button

RAGDOLL RATING: 4.5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of the Bodhisattva from the moment I first heard about it, and this seemed as good a place as any to start.

As it says in my introduction, I am a practising Buddhist. I have started to read a chapter of a book on a Buddhist topic every day before meditating.

Also, it was on my Reading challenge list.

The Book…

This book is an intended as an introduction to the concept of the Bodhisattva – which simply (and completely underwhelming put), is a being who seeks enlightenment for all sentient beings, rather than for themselves.

The first chapter takes you briefly through the origins of this ideal – detailing the differing opinions of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. This history is filled out a little more in the following chapters to provide you with a neat little guide to the origins and reasons for the rise of this ideal.

The remaining chapters are a fascinating account of the qualities of a Bodhisattva, and detailing how one becomes a Bodhisattva.* Chapter 2 introduces and explains the concept of Bodicitta and how it applies to the ideal. Chapter 3 introduces the Bodhisattva vows, and so on and so fourth. Each chapter introduces further qualities and concepts and explains them all.

*NOTE:- when I say ‘how one becomes…’ I do not mean to suggest this book is a sort of spiritual ‘how-to’ guide, nor that it pretends to offer a ‘quick’ guide to enlightenment.

What I liked…

I enjoyed the writing style. It was – for the most part – quite clear, and made use of metaphor, and drew parallels to other things in order to try and make difficult concepts clearer. I found the book mostly easy to read and to digest – the chapters are about 25-30 each, which was perfect for the way I chose to read this book.

Obviously I enjoyed the content. Going in, I was primarily interested in finding some explanations as to how a Bodhisattva functions – unlimited compassion and seeking enlightenment for all sentient beings is a lofty ideal, and something that I find both interesting and inspiring. I found some good information in this area, and the rest of the book was just as interesting. The historical aspects in particular were very enjoyable.

I also liked that the book was well referenced throughout, pointing to Buddhist. It’s usually a good sign to have proper referencing in a factual book.

Finally, there is a neat little Further Reading section at the back, which is something I always like to see.

What I disliked…

I would have liked a glossary of terms at the end – all the non-English terminology is translated and explained within the text, it just would have been nice. That said, there is a fairly big index that appears to contain all the non-English terminology (and a whole lot more) so it would not be difficult to research.

I found it a little difficult at times to grasp some of the concepts, and on occasion I was confused about the point being made – however this almost certainly has more to do with the complexity of the topic, the difficulty of explaining concepts that by their are difficult do understand from what I would term ‘the normal level’, and also inexperience on my part – as such, I would warn that this is not a book for the beginner; some knowledge of Buddhism is (I would think) essential, before reading this book.

Final thoughts…

I really enjoyed this book. I found it a very enjoyable and fairly simple read, and it answered a lot of questions – of course it also raised countless other ones, but that is definitely a good thing. It has inspired me to further reading on the subject of the Bodhisattva ideal, and also Buddhist history.

The book loses half a star, purely because it was not always as beginner friendly as I hoped. However, it will be going on my ‘read again’ list for a time when I will understand it better.

I would definitely recommend this book to anybody interested in the subject – providing they have some prior knowledge of Buddhism or don’t mind a doing a little bit of research.

___________________________________________

Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!