These are some of the books that have helped me in my exploration of the human condition, especially with respect to Buddha Darma. I have posted full reviews for some (see ‘Book Reviews’ or click link) and intend to review others. They are in no particular order.
‘The Caged Virgin’ by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. These provocative but very readable essays on the role of women in Islam make a passionate and compelling plea for the rights of the individual to be included in Western policies towards immigrant communities. Ayaan Hirsi Ali draws on her own first-hand experience and cultural background but combines this with a well-researched sociological, religious and historical study of Islam, highlighting the abusive and restrictive practices towards women and describing how it shapes the present day lives of all Muslims, whether living in their country of origin or in the West. I was reluctant to start reading but then found this book hard to put down. See my blog published June 24, 2010.
‘Practicing Peace in Times of War’ by Pema Chodron. A small book with pithy teaching on ways of dealing with uncertainty, conflict and pain and on developing compassion, patience and equanimity.
‘Never Tell Me Never’ by Janine Shepherd. This is the inspiring autobiographical story of Janine’s recovery from the devastating injuries incurred when she was run into by a truck when cycling in the Australian Blue Mountains. It tells how, lying helpless and partially paralysed in her hospital bed, she determined: “if I can’t walk, I’ll fly!” This is an excellent story demonstrating the power of the mind and points the way to turn acute suffering to advantage.
‘The Monk and the Philosopher: A father and son discuss the meaning of life’ by Jean-Francois Revel and Matthieu Richard. This father/son dialogue beautifully brings to life some of the key differences and similarities between Western philosophy and Eastern Buddhist philosophy, as well as exploring conceptual differences between scientific and experiential, meditative exploration of what it is to be human.
‘Living, Dreaming and Dying’ by Rob Nairn. This is an easy-to-read but very well understood exploration of the psychological meanings of the classical Buddhist text, The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Drawing on his depth knowledge and practice of Jungian psychology and Buddhist philosophy and practice, Rob Nairn really brings to life meaningful ways for us to understand and work with the mysteries of birth, death and the bardo states.
‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Victor E. Frankl. This has been a key book for me in showing how the meanings we make of our experience determine how we suffer and diminish our life force or grow and invigorate out lives. The story of his experiences in Auschwitz concentration camp provides, for me, the definitive proof that it is not what happens to us that matters but how we react. What mind states do we promote? When suffering feels unbearable, this is a good book to read!
‘Zen Therapy: Transcending the Sorrows of the Human Mind’ by David Brazier. Coming from his practice and study of Zen Buddhism and Western psychotherapy (the latter influenced by Carl Rogers), Brazier provides a methodical, structured exploration of the meanings of key Buddhist terms and practices, showing how they conflict or expand on Western psychotherapeutic guidelines. He juxtaposes scholastic (but readable) descriptions and exploration of Buddhist teachings, set within an historical context and often compared with Christian teachings and history, with many useful case histories on how he has integrated these Buddhist principles into his clinical practice with clients.
‘The Wisdom of Imperfection: The Challenge of Individuation in Buddhist Life’ by Rob Preece. This book sent me reaching for the internet to see how I could get Rob Preece to be my spiritual teacher! He writes beautifully and freely shares aspects of his own life story, along with examples of difficulties and breakthroughs drawn from his dharma students and psychotherapy clients, to illustrate how to work with some of the problems we experience as Westerners studying and practicing Buddhadharma and meditation.
‘The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra’ by Rob Preece. For anyone with questions about understanding and integrating tantric visualizations and teachings into one’s life, this is an invaluable book. For many years I could relate to some degree with the ‘peaceful deities’ but had difficulty making sense of the ‘wrathful deities’ presented in tantric teachings and empowerments. As a long-term Tibetan Buddhist practitioner and meditation teacher, and as a Jungian psychotherapist, Bob Preece forges a link between Western alchemical traditions and symbology and the alchemical strategies of Tibetan Buddhist tantric practices, therby helping us recognise and use the latter as transformative symbols for our inner lives.
‘Thoughts without a thinker: Psychotheraphy from a Buddhist Perspective” by Mark Epstein, M.D. This is a fine example of how the Buddha’s psychological teachings can be explored and expressed in the language of Western psychodynamic psychotherapy. It corrects some common Western misconceptions of Buddhist teachings (such as on the self and karma) and uses some psychodynamic concepts to explain some of the pitfalls that Western meditation practitioners fall into. The whole middle section is devoted to describing the meditative path in psychological terms and showing how meditation is a key training for psychotherapists and clients alike. He draws on his experience as a meditator, patient and psychotherapist, sharing how his experience and study of meditation and dharma increasingly influenced his psychodynamic psychotherapeutic practice. “Here! Here!” I say. This has been my experience too!
‘Psychoanalysis and Buddhism: An Unfolding Dialogue’ edited by Jeremy D. Safran. This is a dense and comprehensive collection of essays by psychoanalytic practitioners of meditation that describe, from many angles, the burgeoning dialogue between the Western psychoanalytic tradition and the Eastern Buddhist tradition and experiential practice of meditation. This is not a light read but I would have to agree with Michael Eigen’s testimonial: “Intriguing, complex, searching, yet very accessible — a bouquet of scholarly, imaginative, humane discussion of psychoanalysis and Buddhism that enlivens both. A vital book”. Certainly, in ploughing through this book, I learned a great deal about both traditions and found it a useful guide to reflect on my psychotherapeutic practice.
‘Going To Pieces Without Falling Apart : A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness’ by Dr Mark Epstein. Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart is a truly excellent book on some of the most significant differences between Buddhist and Western psychology. Dr Mark Epstein is a psychiatrist in private practice and a long term meditator and student of Buddhadharma. From his depth knowledge and direct experience, he has brilliantly woven together the wisdom of two worlds: Buddhism and Western psychotherapy. Read the review
‘The Majesty of Your Loving: A Couple’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s’ by Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle, with a forward by Jon Kabat-Zinn. This is a very moving account of the personal journey, from diagnosis to death, of a very close and loving couple who were not afraid to share their experience of the progressive loss of faculties and slow death caused by Alzheimers. It is a poetically written book about love, fear, hope and loss; about bravery and endurance; commitment and acceptance. Read the review
‘Infidel: My life’ by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I ‘ve chosen to talk about this book because of what it has taught me about the process and consequences of religious indoctrination. Although the focus here is on fundamentalist examples of Muslim faith and its explicit instructions on female rights and behaviours, I believe its lessons on the conditioning process and power of indoctrination are applicable to all fundamentalist religious societies. Read the review
“Buddhist Practice on Western Ground ” by Harvey B. Aronson, PhD. This book is particularly useful for longer term meditators, Buddhist teachers and psychotherapists interested in exploring the usefulness of integrating Buddhist psychology into their practice. It is a scholarly book but very readable. The most outstanding quality of ‘Buddhist Practice on Western Ground’ is the clear and profound identification of cultural differences and their significance, between teachers with traditional Asian assumptions about interdependence and social obligations and students from western cultures where the emphasis is on individuality … Read the review
“Transcending Madness: The Experience of the Six Bardos ” by Chogyam Trungpa. Over the last few months I have been drawn to study the works of Ven. Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan Buddhist meditation master, scholar and founder of the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A. Accordingly, I plan to review at least two of his books in the next while. Today I shall review ‘Transcending Madness: The Experience of the Six Bardos’ by Chogyam Trungpa. In this book Chogyam Trungpa discusses how the Tibetan Buddhist term, ‘bardo’ (usually associated with life after death), can be usefully explored and interwoven … Read the review
“The Sanity We Are Born With: A Buddhist Approach to Psychology” by Chogyam Trungpa.
This is the second in my series reviewing some of the works of Ven. Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan Buddhist meditation master, scholar and founder of the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A. In this book Chogyam Trungpa presents key Buddhist ideas about the mind and how the underlying goodness and healthiness that constitute the basic sanity of all people can be uncovered and brought to awareness. Following an introduction discussing the meeting of Buddhist and Western Psychology, the book is loosely divided into three parts … Read the review