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The Edge of Certainty: Dilemmas on the Buddhist Path Paperback – October, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Peter Fenner is a writer, practitioner, and spiritual teacher. He has a Ph.D. in Buddhist philosophy and psychology, and was a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for nine years. He has taught Asian philosophy and spirituality at institutes and universities for over 20 years. He is presently a senior lecturer in Philosophy and Religious Studies at Deakin University in Australia and is founder of the Center for Timeless Wisdom. Peter Fenner, with Penny Fenner, is also the co-author of Essential Wisdom Teachings (Nicolas-Hays, 2001). He teaches regularly in Australia, Europe, and the United States.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Red Wheel Weiser (October 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0892540354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892540358
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 4.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,714,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By J Doyle on February 26, 2004
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Fenner's book was one I'd been wanting to read a long time. First, he very clearly outlines the major schools and approaches of dharma in general, and specifically their orthodox/unorthodox stance. Most long term practicioners might well enjoy this lucid if brief survey, although it will be paricularly useful to newer students. Well written in some ways that struck me as quite fresh.
Anyway, I was geared up for the Final Showdown in the last chapter; Who's Cuisine Reigns Supreme? This boils down to the question: is enlightenment reached through sustained, gradual effort? Or, since enlightenment is an ultimate, unconditioned state, (not 'caused' in any way), would it not follow that nothing can be done since it is already and always the case? Here, effort only masks this Truth that cannot be masked since it is the mask as well.....Utimate irony.
This boils down to the great dilema; Striving only creates more striving; thinking more thinking; yet do we really think that we can reach realization without effort? How did those who realize that there is nothing that needs to be done, or can be done, reach that realization? The master Longchenpa, in one cited text, goes to great lengths to mock the notion of any path's usefulness, then elsewhere in the same text speaks of the neccessity of path! Likewise, dzogchen takes the same disparaging approach, yet is the last stage of a gradual path requiring great effort and gusto. I love it.
Well, of course that's the Edge of Certainty, and a razor's edge it is. The book is koan like in the sense that it's devotion to truth means it won't settle or dwell anywhere, but everywhere and nowhere. Frustrating to the brain, intriguing to the heart!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Conway on August 22, 2006
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This is quite a delightful, insightful and very stimulating read, indeed!

Peter has, with great cogency and originality engaged in what is clearly none other than "meta-communication" (Prof. Gregory Bateson's useful old idea of communicating about the kind/quality of ongoing communication) to lay out basic conundrums in Buddhist spirituality. To wit: Buddhist traditions urge that one spend lots of time, energy and even money to practice hard and long. But, asks Peter, "Does 'what we are doing' have any spiritual value?"

He then explores the big differences between the "discourse of change" (you must change from your unenlightened state to the enlightened state) and the "discourse of immediacy" (i.e., you're already realized, "this is it").

Peter's exploration and critique actually apply to all spiritual paths that have a mystical "sudden" enlightenment dimension, not just Buddhism.

After introducing readers to the basic Buddhist "4 Noble Truths," he outlines with great clarity the practices and methods of each of the "orthodox" major paths of Buddhism--Theravada, Mahayana, and Tantra. These are all "orthodox" in Peter's schema because they involve methods said to bring about or "cause" enlightenment and therefore involve the mindset that "there is something to do, to get, something I need to know and be careful about--i.e., the "discourse of change."

Peter then goes on to explore the "unorthodox" "paths" of Dzogchen and Mahamudra and certain other teachings like those of Sahajayana sage Saraha, Zen master Bankei, et al. These are "unorthodox" spiritual teachings because the message is "there is nothing to do, this is it, there isn't anything to get, there's nothing wrong with you as you are in your natural state"--i.e.
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10 of 15 people found the following review helpful By calmly on September 8, 2006
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An introduction to the different schools of Buddhism that steps into some advanced challenges to conventional Buddhism based on whether a method is necessary or even harmful. Seeing all these variations of Buddhism one may question whether it doesn't reflect some inadequency within the enterprise.

If conventional Buddhism traffics in imprecise terms like consciousness, the mind, and enlightenment, it seems no wonder that many rebirths would be needed. If also seems no wonder than an unconventional Buddhism would arise that would question the common meaning or use of such terms. You may wonder after several millenia why so few enlightened beings may be found. There may be some value in all this, but if you are not skeptical, ask yourself what would make you skeptical? There are many systems out there that offer a numbing comfort.

Most of the presentation in this book seems derivative. Fenner seems to rely heavily (perhaps not without good reason) on the ancient Dzogchen master Longchenpa to challenge conventional Buddhism. Longchenpa is quoted largely without much more content than you or I might provide although with some elaboration by Fenner: you wonder why you wouldn't be better off to read a translation of a complete work by Longchenpa along with a commentary that provides some context (e.g. history of religion) for him. I suppose Fenner can only do so much in an introductory work.

Although Fenner is listed on the back cover as having been a Tibetan Buddhist monk for 9 years, the text seems academic, with little if any direct mention of his experience as a monk. I may have missed some parts somehow as the part cover also says he "traces his own experiences", but that may refer to the intellectual re-tracing done for this academic study.
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