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One atheist's opinion
on October 31, 2001
My approach to this book is different than the other reviewers. I am not a man of faith. I do not believe in the existence of God and I believe the whole issue is unimportant. More important than the existence of God (which is a question neither side can settle) is the question of how to live our lives now. I came to this book as I always come to religious writings and practices; will this help me to understand others or myself better? Will this teach me to be more loving, to live more mindfully, with more compassion?
From this point of view, this is a wonderful book. Not because it answers all questions (or any questions for that matter). If anything it creates more ambiguities, it raises more challenges. That is a good thing. Many of the other reviewers seem to react to Thich Nhat Hahn based on whether or not his is the True Buddhism or just one man's opinion. Fair enough. But unless you are so fortunate as to have some sort of satori or God decides to drop in for a chat what else do you ever have but one person's opinion? It seems to me that what we all do is find something that seems to make sense to you, a practice that carries you along your path and you practice. Thich Nhat Hahn will help most readers to do this. This is a man of extraordinary faith who is apparently equally diligent in trying to live his faith. I do not know about the other readers but this man is a wonderful and unnerving challenge to me in my ideas on how to live my life.
Throughout the book the author suggests very simple practices to improve mindfulness and diligence. He calls us back to the breath always. In my experience, whether doing yoga, tai chi, chi-kung, kung fu, meditation or just plain living this is always the beginnings of real practice.
The presentation of Buddhists dogma that the other reviewers find so wonderful or controversial is, I believe, very well done and is as clear as could be hoped. It is also very arcane. I was not aware that there were Twelve Levels of Independent Co-Arising, Seven Factors of Awakening, Six Paramitas, Five Powers, Four Immeasurable Minds, Three Bodies of Buddha, Two Truths and, yes, a Partridge in a Pear Tree. Sorry, I could not help myself. My point is that a lot of this part of the book is probably most useful after having been read, lived and read again. For someone looking for a true introduction, this part of the book will seem a little much. Parts of it seem a little PC as well such as the occasional emphasis on sex abuse. I cannot imagine that was a burning issue back in the days of the Buddha. This is not a problem for me- it just shows that the author's religion is a living one.
Wonderfully though, what also comes through, is the author's spirit- that of a gentle, compassionate and strong person. I have not read any of his other books. After this I will read more. I have already found some of the practices helpful and will continue to try to integrate them into my life. Give this book a chance. I do not think it will answer all of your questions. How nice would that be if we could get that from a book? It will give you a deeper understanding of Buddhist's beliefs and practices. Some of the practices suggested may help you to live your life. What more could you hope for?