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.

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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.

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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!

Kwik Review: The Christmas Mystery (Jostein Gaarder)

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Goodreads Link

What!?

TL;DR – A sort of backwards look at the history of Christianity…also a kidnapping…

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RAGDOLL RATING: 1/5 BUTTONS

What I thought:

As far as I’m concerned I am being exceedingly generous in giving this book a 1 Button rating. In fact the only reason I’m giving it a rating AT ALL is because it kept me interested enough to read it all in one sitting. It was that kind of a book. I don’t even know where to begin.

A boy finds an old advent calendar in a book shop and decides he wants it. He takes it home, opens the door and out falls a sheet of paper. On it is the first chapter of a story about a girl called Elisabet, who chases a lamb (formerly a toy lamb) out of a toy shop, runs back in time somehow and bumps into an angel, who conveniently enough is also going back in time to visit Jesus on the occasion of his birth.

Each chapter of this book is a single day of advent, and each day a door is opened and a further chapter of this bizarre story is told. As the days move on, the group of pilgrims increases inside until they have a bunch of sheep, shepherds, angels, kings (who the book made a point of describing as ‘black like an African’) and so on and they all go back in time to visit Jesus.

Thing is, as they travel across the world from Norway where the tale begins, to Bethlehem were it’s supposed to end (or begin if you prefer) they ALMOST touch upon some really interesting theological, philosophical and historical points of interest. Only every time any character got more than 2 sentences into one of these potentially interesting moments, the shepherd turns around, bangs his crook on something and screams “To Bethlehem! To Bethlehem!” as if somehow they were going to miss the big event…as a consequence it turned what could have been an interesting theological history into a frustrating and pointless walk from nowhere in particular to nowhere special.

To make matters worse, the ‘mystery’ which the books title alludes to comes in the form of a real world kidnapping. Which – I know it’s supposed to give the readers a sort of “what really happened” vibe but it just makes no sense to include. It feels WRONG. This poor old woman who loses her child in the 40’s and has to wait another 45 years to hear from her and we’re supposed to believe that all went down smoothly. I don’t know. Oh and she may or may not have been kidnapped by the people of Palestine to prove a point or leverage a journalist.

Basically what I’m trying to say is, if for any reason you STILL feel like reading this book then do yourself a favour and stop when you finish chapter 23. Or better yet, just pick up the bible and read it the right way round without the haphazardly included kidnapping.

I’m now going to leave you with some alternate entries for the quote box at the start of this review:

“From now on I’m ending every conversation I don’t like by screaming ‘To Bethlehem’ and whacking something with a stick”

“This could have been a really interesting story – then it wasn’t…”

“I have to hope something was lost in translation…”

“I have to assume I’m not the target audience for this book.”

“I finished it in the hopes that the end would pull it all together and be amazing. It wasn’t.”

On the plus side, I finally get to use THIS:

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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!