Book & Product Reviews

Buddhism a concise introduction

I wanted to share with you a book I’ve been reading called Buddhism A Concise Introduction written by Houston Smith and Philip Novak. I’ve read a number of books on Buddhism, but this is by far and away my favorite. The book provides many of the basics about Buddhism such as how the Buddha began his journey, some of his fundamental teachings like the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, and some other concepts including nirvana. I have read the first 6 chapters several times to help reinforce my knowledge and help center me from time to time.

The book is extremely well written, and goes into depth about what the Four Noble Truths really are and what it means to follow the Eightfold Path. After you have absorbed the first 6 chapters the authors begin a journey on how Buddhism split into different factions include Theravada, Mahayana, Zen, and Tibetan Buddhism. Finally in the second section of the book the authors discuss how Buddhism came to America and the impact it had there.

If you are looking for a book to introduce you to Buddhism that thoroughly explains the concepts and types, this book is a great place to start. I like this book so much that I have taken a highlighter to it several times, so that I could focus on certain aspects of it. The authors are scholars who make no judgement about Buddhism, but instead provide insights and research that bring the life of the Buddha and his teachings to the reader in a way that is both easy to understand and yet very detailed. I have the hard copy version which is 239 pages, with a what looks like 12 pitch type, and is an excellent example of how you should print a book. The book is also available in soft cover and Kindle versions.

 

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Book & Product Reviews · Philosophy

The Lectures (1 Theory and Practice of Zazen)

In my last post I mentioned that I was reading a fascinating book called the Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau.  I mentioned the practice of zazen which is arguably a very prescriptive form of meditation. As my reading has progressed the author is covering lectures given by his master Yasuntani-roshi starting with 1 Theory and Practice of Zazen. It should be noted that even the Buddha Shakyamuni devoted himself exclusively to zazen for six years before attaining enlightenment. Now he was the Buddha so for the rest of us your time may vary, and yes for most of us could be considerably longer. However with that said there is no average time frame and one should not feel any sense of urgency as the journey is as important as the goal.

In this lecture Yasuntani-roshi goes further into some of the details around the practice of zazen; here are a few points made during the lecture:

  • Work on creating a base when sitting full lotus (see picture), half lotus, or quarter lotus sitting positions are preferred. However there are other sitting positions that will provide a good base such as the Burmese posture (see picture below) or traditional Japanese knelling posture (see picture below).
  • Notice the back must be erect and straight, the eyes open, and the hands will typically be held with the right hand underneath the thumbs touching.
  • Yasuntani-roshi recommends sitting no more than 30 – 40 minutes at a time, otherwise the mind will lose its sharpness. Beginners should start with 5 – 10 minutes until they become comfortable. I started out with about 10 minutes, and now can sit for 20 minutes or so after several weeks of gradually adding time. It was not something I did in any systematic fashion, instead it just naturally became easier to sit for longer periods of time as the frequency of sitting increased. The more you sit and meditate the more you look forward to it, and the easier it becomes to sit for longer periods of time.
Burmese sitting position
Burmese sitting position

full lotus

full lotus

 

As zazen is the key element to Zen Buddhism it is very exacting. It is worth studying to make sure you are approaching it correctly.

Japanese sitting position
Japanese sitting position

Namaste!