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Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2002
The Dharma teachings in this book are taken from recordings of the Thai Forest Monk Ajahn Chah. As such they are folksy and often humorous. But, they represent one of the clearest representations of the Theravada path of Buddhism you are likely to find. The Theravada path is, at least until recently in the West, the lesser known of the two major divisions of Buddhism. In recent years the interest in this path, which places emphasis on the Monastic life and strict meditation, has grown. But, for the most part, those interested have not had the wealth of printed material that is available on Zen or Tibetan paths.
Ajahn Chah often uses examples from Zen and other Buddhist paths. While at one time the Theravada path was most common path, it has, over the centuries, had less influence in the West. This book, along with the works of Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, gives us a powerful view into that approach to Buddhism and its relevance to the development of spirituality in the West.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2004
Ajahn Chah devoted some 25 years to the teaching of Buddhism to Thai monastics up until the time of his death in 1992, as well as various laypersons. He always had an uncanny ability to explain the Dharma in a way that made your belly move with laughter, while at the same time helping to open your mind, too. His ambition was to always present the Dharma in a way that even the most uneducated could derive something from, and he succeeded 10-fold.
Paul Breiter has done an excellent job here translating this beloved teachers most profound dharma talks encompassing a wide range of Buddhist topics: ethical conduct, impermanence, right view and right action, among others. Ajahn Chah instructs us all to steer completely clear from recklessness in our lives, be that with our awareness of life itself or in regards to other people. He gives us the practice and plan of what the very title of this book suggests, "being dharma." Likewise, as texts like The Tao Te Ching have asserted throughout the ages (in addition to countless keen eyed teachers), Chah speaks of the problems relating to the sense of ownership; how since we don't really own anything, one should not get caught up in sentiments of greed which always follows from a clinging to possessions.
This book addresses all of us in the modern era, in a world so caught up in a seeming epidemic of self serving, heedless, and all around oftentimes very foolish lifestyle. It doesn't matter which sect of Buddhism you might practice (if any) to take something beneficial from this current text, for it was written for us all. Enjoy.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2002
Written by the much-loved Thai Buddhist master Ajahn Chah (1919-1992), Being Dharma: The Essence Of The Buddha's Teachings is a clear, informative, straightforward, open-handed approach to the wisdom of the Buddha. From the Path, to Peace, and life beyond Cause and Effect, chapters cover numerous core aspects of Buddhism in language that lay readers can easily follow. Being Dharma is an enthusiastically recommended introduction to Buddhist studies and a welcome contribution to the growing library of Buddhist literature available to western readers.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2002
Paul Breiter's wonderful and timely translation of the teachings of the late Thai Dharma master Ajahn Cha provides western dharma students access to a straight path toward the gate of Dzogchenpo. Are we westerners culturally pre-disposed to dispense with preliminaries in hopes of vanquishing suffering through rapid apprehension of the ultimate? Living Dzogchen masters have begun reminding students that Samatha concentration is the door to the spaciousness of Vipassana, and that Vipassana is the entryway to unexecelled Dzogchen/ Mahamudra view. Ajahn Cha communicates this in the simplest terms. He provides guidance for students seeking to progress toward the jettison of conceptualization and grasping. Terms such as "accumulation of merit," sometimes difficult for western students to fully comprehend, are de-mystified. Ajahn Cha's instructions enable readers to disentagle from complexity and superstitious beliefs, and to practice Dharma purely, easily and confidently. Great teachers remind us that the Dharma Essence is so simple, it is difficult to apprehend. Luang Paw (Venerable Father) Cha provides down-to-earth advice for how to accomplish the results of merit and wisdom through everyday life/practice. Here in Laos, it seems fair to suggest that Laotian people remain among the "simplest", kindest and most down-to-earth. Suffused with his own Laotian heritage, Ajahn Cha provides lucid, compassionate and accesssible explanations of the mystical Path of Dharma. Western Dharma students are fortunate to have access to many of the great Dharma texts and treatises. "Being Dharma" is among the best now available. Its instructions for how to "live Dharma", ease the mind, and help attenuate further elaboration of confusion in our troubled world. To the translator, could you provide us please with more of Ajahn Cha's Dharma Nectar?
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2008
Ajahn Chah is my favorite monk and in this book, are his most profound wisdoms. Hands down, this is something I could live by and read again and again. Every page is deep and insightful and written in a language we can all understand. You don't have to be of a certain class or of a certain education to be able to grab these concepts. Ajahn Chah's words rings with truth that will keep you turning the pages. It will change the way you see yourself, the world and life. It really will change your life.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2006
This book covers many different topics. Ajahn Chah adresses many common difficulties and straightens some common wrong views. The style this book is written in is easy to understand, although there is deep meaning in the words. Ajahn Chah speaks from his heart, from what he knows to be true himself as apposed to something that he just believes. I think anyone could learn from this book.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2002
... but this book may be the next-best thing. A wonderful, charming, finger-wagging introduction to a man who I think was a living Buddha. No-nonsense, to say the least. And who doesn't love Jack Kornfeld with his wise and down-to-Earth understanding of the dhamma? Buy this book, then buy another and give it to a friend. You won't regret it.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2004
With a foreword by Vipassana teacher Jack Kornfield this is a presentation of talks and discussion from the famous Thai master and one of the first to be released following his death as a commercial effort since "A still forest pool" by the same translator.

Many in the West will be no strangers to the Forest Sangha lineage established by A. Chah and the numerous short compendiums of Venerable Chah's teachings made available freely through branch monasteries. The release of his talks in a wider context as a commercial venture presents significant challenges, especially in relating them to those unfamiliar with Theravada Buddhist monasticism. Unlike printed editions of his teachings including "A Still Forest Pool" where speeches are sectionalised with introductory remarks on each incident the dialogues in Being Dharma from several contexts link together to form an apparent whole with no obvious contrast between sections or adequate contextual explanation. There are six chapters (e.g. Hearing Dharma, Practising Dharma, Teaching Dharma) with sub-chapter headings and one interesting dialogue between the monk and a layman that stands out in an otherwise essay like format with varying emphases between the main chapters.

Due to the strength of editing and the eclectical approach, whether we get a balanced portrait of the teachings remains to be answered. Whereas Ven. Chah is known to have taught a mixture of Samatha-Vipassana meditation, the book leans towards Vipassana and is quite ascetic in its approach. One irritating aspect of the style was the obvious genderisation of third person pronouns in referring to hypothetical individuals (e.g. "he or she") firmly in favour of "she" of which 13 examples were noted (with two uses of he). Asian languages do possess neutral terms equivalent to "their" and this fashion in translation seems to mar its precision and veracity, raising questions on other issues of substance in the work. Pali terms Ajhan Chah would have used are rendered in Sanskrit.

The most valuable aspect of the book is Ajahn Chah's rustic yet resonant style of teaching providing hope and instruction: "What exactly is Dhamma? Everything in this world.", "Merit is like raw meat, which will go bad ... Wisdom is the salt that preserves it.", "So the Buddha still exists ... But some ... feel frustrated and say, Oh man, if the Buddha were still here ..." Ajahn Chah draws interesting comparisons between humans and animals stating that many humans can be at the level of animals. A constant refrain is the importance of not being eager to train or teach others and there are sections on meditation, scepticism and the importance of self-reliance and the dangers inherent in modern day comforts and conveniences which can engender laziness. Ajahn Chah emphasises the basics and practical concerns such as keeping surroundings neat and tidy.

A great deal of this book is about mortality and impermanence and I don't think these sentiments are adequately balanced with aspects on joy and freedom to suite lay people new to Dhamma teaching. On the whole, this is a valuable and fairly comprehensive distillation of teachings from the Thai master which would be most suited to those already familiar with Buddhism.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2011
I have owned this book for many years now and it is hands down the most helpful book I've ever owned. It may sound silly to some, but any time I feel lost, overwhelmed, confused, frustrated or just need inspiration I randomly open this book and read the first thing I come to. Only twice have I needed to repeat this to get what I need to move on. For those of you who will own the book I give the example of the day I was very frustrated with my young child. On that day I opened up randomly to the story about monkey burning your house down. Wow! Totally relevant and helpful for me to gain control I needed after reaching my wit's end. I have loaned this book to non Buddhist friends who also have found Ajahn Chah's wisdom to be helpful. I try my best to follow the teachings of the Buddha but can not say I am truly Buddhist (because I don't feel I succeed very well) but this book brings the valuable lessons more tangibly to the "western" lifestyle and mindset then any other book I've found. My life has been greatly enriched from owning this book. Because this book is not deity based I think anyone from any faith could find his words of wisdom helpful in living a peaceful and honest life.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2009
Many sangha and lay Buddhists often regard Ajahn Chah (1919-1992) as one of the arahants of the 20th century. "Veneral Ajahn Chah, not only explained the path to liberation so clearly, but also lived the path so totally, to the very end.", wrote Ajahn Brahm.
Ajahn Chah repeatedly emphasizes that contemplating impermanence, suffering, and not-self is essential; moral conduct, concentration, and wisdom form the path of which right view is its foundation.
Undoubtedly for future stream enterers, the collected teachings of Ajahn Chah are priceless!
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