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Buddha Is as Buddha Does: The Ten Original Practices for Enlightened Living Paperback – February 26, 2008
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
The much-published author and respected Tibetan Buddhist teacher offers a guide for spiritual development based on the paramitas, traditional Buddhist teachings. The Sanskrit term is usually translated as "perfections," but the practices are best understood as a set of virtuous actions. An accomplished Western interpreter of the Tibetan branch of Buddhism, which has its arcane aspects, Surya Das explains each of the 10 virtues, offering numerous exercises and tips to apply his teaching. This is all firmly grounded in traditional stories and the examples of historical figures in Buddhism. Surya Das also offers examples of Westerners who embody these virtues, from the Catholic saint Damien, who worked with lepers on the Hawaiian island of Molokai, to Oprah Winfrey, a model of shrewd and skillful action. While the material is helpful, the exposition rambles and is often hard to follow. Some individual chapters read as though they were pasted together. Quotes from famous non-Buddhist figures are thrown in like salt ("Mark Twain, one of my favorite American authors, said..."). Other authors, particularly Sylvia Boorstein, have done more engaging and readable treatments on the 10 virtues. This underedited volume requires patience to absorb.
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“A wonderful book for the soul.” (Caroline Myss, author of Entering the Castle and Anatomy of the Spirit)
“Enough wit and wisdom to keep you entertained for a lifetime. Read it. Enjoy it. Practice it.” (Sam Keen, author of Fire in the Belly)
“This book will guide and help readers to ease their suffering.” (Gehlek Rimpoche, author of Good Life, Good Death)
“The immense potential of a life rooted in wisdom and compassion is made beautifully clear in this new offering.” (Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness)
“A book that will truly make a difference in your life.” (Cheryl Richardson, author of Take Time for Your Life and The Unmistakable Touch of Grace)
“An easy-to-read guide for anyone looking to reach new heights of compassion and understanding.” (Sulak Sivaraksa, author of Conflict, Culture, Change: Engaged Buddhism in a Globalized World)
“People of any faith will appreciate this contemporary reflection on ancient wisdom.” (Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, author of The Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep)
“A joy to read. Rich, nuanced, and above all, practical, as it illuminates the path of enlightend living.” (Joseph Goldstein, author of One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism)
“Anybody interested in Buddhism has much to learn here. Das is wise, intelligent, clear, humorous and an excellent teacher.” (Ram Dass, author of Be Here Now)
“a solid and substantive work on the compassionate way. ” (Spirituality and Health magazine)
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Maybe he does. I've now read the book, but I'm still not entirely sure. You see, the first thing that hit me when I started it was that it felt like a self-improvement tract, ala Anthony Robbins. There is the relentlessly exuberant optimism that pervades much of the more lightweight self-improvement books, and the saccharine prose was freighted with the sort of populist, feel-good catch phrases of American Buddhism that I've really become tired of-"we're all Buddhas" filled with "Buddha-nature" if only we could see into our "inner being" yada yada yada.
The book is about the paramitas ("perfections") as they are described in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. Contrary to the subtitle, though, the practices described here are in no way "original." The oldest texts (the Pali) also describe ten perfections, but they are a different ten. (See Acarya Dhammapala's little gem of a work A Treatise on the Paramis for more about this.) The later traditions (Mahayana and Vajrayana) compiled a different set of practices (also ten), but even there the Mahayana initially had only six, and these form the core of the list Das describes.
This kind of loose "scholarship" (if that's the right word for it) is evident also in his frequent quotes from Buddhist literature and sutras. He may be quoting the Buddha or some text, but a reference is never offered, and in more than a few instances where he quotes the "Buddha" I know the quote-which is probably his reworded version of it-is not from the Pali but a Mahayana or tantric text. Someone of Das' stature ought to know better than to pretend those passages, however edifying, come down to us from the Buddha.
The above traits mark this work out as a "popular" text. Indeed, Lama Surya Das is a no-holds barred propagator of marketable American Buddhism, i.e. Buddhism as politically correct, feel-good pablum. One manifestation of this is his relentless ecumenicism. Stories from any number of traditions are bandied about freely, with the impression that everyone's religion is equally filled with enlightened masters and sages. I do not have any problem with ecumenism per se, so long as accuracy and depth are not sacrificed. But what I've noticed about this style of thinking and writing is that it tends to dilute the depth and subtlety of the tradition on hand, in this case Vajrayana Buddhism. The uniqueness of the tradition is disguised behind the attempt to make it seem that its truths, whatever they may be, are universally known and understood. Yet I would wager there are many insights the Tibetans have which, for example, the Muslims do not. (Actually, I can easily think of several. But I digress...) However, you will never learn that with a book like this. Other examples that mark this out as populist fodder are: endless stories that obscure what could be meaningful points, the author's seeming to be old buddies with every well known lama in the country, the minimal use of appropriate technical terminology (you don't even learn the Sanskrit for several of the perfections), and the abundant use of feel good jargon.
Das also displays some serious problems of judgment. For example, Lance Armstrong is repeatedly cited as a hero and bodhisattva. This, of course, is terribly unfortunate (for Das) because only three years later Armstrong's reputation totally unraveled under the weight of a doping scandal. Of course there was no way for Das to know this at the time, but reading it now does nothing for the author's credibility. A worse error is citing Muhammad Ali (p. 65) as an exemplar of the first precept (not killing) because Ali refused to go to Vietnam. This is truly PC run amok-anyone who takes up a livelihood of beating strangers' faces to a pulp can hardly be considered a practitioner of "non-harming," the real intent of the first precept. Finally, offering the Vietnamese monk Quang Duc's self-immolation (p. 42) as the act of a bodhisattva is highly questionable, as I've never come across anything in the entire Pali Canon to indicate the Buddha would espouse dramatic public suicide for the sake of a socio-political cause.
If my review seems relentlessly negative, I am sorry. I actually felt embarrassed reading the book on the train, and tended to hide the cover from my fellow riders. But this is not to say it was a complete loss. Compared to Sylvia Boorstein's Pay Attention for Goodness' Sake Das is actually profound. In a number of places he gives quite meaningful and helpful advice (p. 77 is particularly excellent), and offers some very good insights (e.g. on p. 19 where he notes that the first six paramitas are bodhisattva character traits while the last four are active expressions of those traits). In fact, I am convinced that if Das had a hard nosed editor (perhaps he'd be willing to hire me!) who could cut through the rubbish and lay bare the intelligence and experience he so plainly possesses, this book-and probably every book he ever wrote or will write-would be vastly improved. I'm not sure if they'd sell as well, though, and that may be the catching point: like so many popular Buddhist authors, he has a foundation to support, and those things need MONEY.
I've given this book three stars. There are certainly a lot of people out there who will enjoy and benefit more from it than I have; Das is not writing for curmudgeons like me.
It's for someone who more or less knows what's going on, but needs some reinforcement or extra study before heading into the really in-depth commentaries. I think a newer practitioner of Buddhism would be thrown off by the structure (it's spaced out a little more as to be more in-depth than a cursory overview).
Bottom line: love it, but if you've never read anything about Buddhism, check out some simpler books (such as Buddhism for Beginners, or How to Practice) first.