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Endless Path: Awakening Within the Buddhist Imagination: Jataka Tales, Zen Practice, and Daily Life Paperback – September 28, 2010
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“Oh, such stories and commentaries! They stand side by side with the koans, the words and doings of the Zen masters of old and new, and together with them help us rise above narrowness and know a life of greater selflessness and affection, bringing peace to ourselves and the world. Svaha! Nine bows to Rafe Martin.”
—Danan Henry Roshi, founder and spiritual director of the Zen Center of Denver
“Rafe Martin’s retelling of the ancient jataka tales, and his insightful commentaries that relate the stories to our daily lives and the paramitas, is an inspiration. We hear a new voice here from the old storyteller and it brings great joy!”
—Susan Ji-on Postal Sensei, teacher and spiritual director of the Empty Hand Zen Center, New Rochelle, NY
“Endless Path is a gem. Martin’s enthusiasm for the jatakas leaps off each page, bringing the reader into a realm where the deepest truths are revealed by even the most humble creatures. This book should be required reading for all Buddhist practitioners—actually, for everyone!”
—Sunyana Graef Sensei, Zen teacher and spiritual director of the Vermont Zen Center
“Reading Endless Path, I can actually hear a familiar voice coming alive, telling me stories of the Buddha’s lives. The world I enter is vast, wonderful, inspiring! I love this book!!”
—Hogen Bays Roshi, leader of Zen Community of Oregon and co-abbot of Great Vow Zen Monastery
“Endless Path is a treasure for all seekers of the Way! Rafe Martin relates wondrous ancient Buddha stories and then unravels them, delivering meaning for today’s Western lay practitioners. A much-needed integration of the awesome past and our perplexing present. And a delightful read.”
—Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara, abbot of The Village Zendo, guiding spiritual teacher for the New York Center for Contemplative Care, and co-spiritual director of the Zen Peacemaker Family
“[Endless Path] aptly describes Zen Practice—the cultivating of the field of the mind: coming to Awakening and bringing that realization to manifest in our behavior, thought and speech… It is a book worth reading no matter where you are in your practice.”
—Ven. Mitra Bishop, Abbot of Mountain Gate in Northern New Mexico, Spiritual Director of Hidden Valley Zen Center in San Marcos CA, and contributing editor of The Oak Tree in the Garden
“As I work with designing the final pages done for Endless Path, I am struck with how much this book is a book of inspiration—a book to inspire others on the Buddhist path. … So many, many fine Buddhist books instruct, teach, even offer enlightened glimpses into the teachings. But Endless Path will be a truly helpful book, in the sense of Avalokiteshvara’s thousand outstretched hands, to fill those who read it with real heart’s yearning, rededicated commitment, and excitement for the possibility—the endless path—it offers.”
—Richard Wehrman, illustrator and designer
“Zen practitioner and storyteller Rafe Martin’s Endless Path casts jatakas in a contemporary vernacular style. Describing the book as a ‘kind of Zen take’ on the jatakas, he organizes it into chapters focusing on the ten paramitas, or Buddhist practices of perfection, presenting each tale in relation to a particular paramita. His commentaries on each story interweave quotes from sutras and a wide range of other sources such as Gary Snyder, Dogen, William Blake, Ikkyu, and even Wikipedia. Martin brings to the discussion an important awareness of how jatakas help cultivate a Buddhist vision of the universe.”
"Endless Path is for students of Buddhism, Dharma teachers, and anyone with an interest in viewing one’s journey through life as an opportunity for spiritual awakening. … With humor and elegance, [Rafe Martin] invites his readers to use the stories as a mirror. He shows us the dangers of self-centeredness and how making a commitment to morality is the foundation of practice. … He reminds us that we can take responsibility both for our formal practice of sitting meditation and for the ‘ongoing actualization of the precepts and paramitas in the ordinary events of our lives.’”
“As a skilled Zen practitioner and teacher, Martin is in an ideal position to help bring the truths of Buddhism alive, which he does with admirable ease. He also acknowledges the role played by many different communities of listeners in refining how he tells the tales and reveals the insights that he and others have gained from each one… Endless Path is a truly insightful work… Accessible, inspired, and clearly marked by a generosity and foresight of spirit, it is a work well worth obtaining and keeping in one’s own private collection.”
“With Endless Path, Martin has found 10 Jataka tales that relate directly to the 10 paramitas (also known as the 10 perfections)… he brings them off the children’s shelf and into the lives of every modern-day Buddhist, young and old… Rafe Martin breathes fresh new life into these wonderful old tales, and in doing so, provides us with a much-needed perspective into our individual lives and practice… I wholeheartedly recommended this book to any practitioner out there.”
—Adam, Fly Like a Crow
“Endless Path weaves together story, myth, and meaning to reveal the practical power of imagination in our spiritual development and everyday life.”
—Spiritual Media Blog
“Martin retells each [jataka] tale, keeping the general story line, and often adding a Zen twist… After the story, Martin presents a teisho, a formal presentation of the teachings, expounding on how this particular tale bears on one of the ten paramitas. Each teisho is chock full of nondual wisdom, references to Zen koans and indigenous storytelling traditions and classical Buddhist teachings… Really energetic, living Dharma here.”
—The Big Old Oak Tree
“Rafe’s ability to retell the [jataka] stories draw the reader into an almost ‘round the fire’ type of feeling. I can picture numerous folks, throughout the years, passing these stories around. His mastery of storytelling transports one into this very setting, cozy and comfortable… If you are looking to take a break from the academic books on Buddhism you have your nose buried in, then Endless Path is not only the book to read, it’s a great one! Each story represents an opportunity to contemplate the true meaning of compassion and kindness in a way that is not only fun, but truly enjoyable.”
“Imagine this book morphing into a real-life friend: it will make for an earnest and sincere Buddhist companion… For it is a book that comes to life, made accessible to modern (in particular, Western) readers by its affable readability, honest humour and grounded sentiments… Martin’s retelling of the Jataka tales is engaging and accessible, while importantly preserving the stories’ elemental guiding inspirations… The commentaries fluidly connect the dots between the paramitas, and are markedly grounded in the reality of daily living.”
“Read this book. You'll be glad you did… In each chapter, Martin retells a jataka and then explores how the tale illuminates and exemplifies one of the paramitas. This approach reminds me a somewhat of the way in which John Tarrant, Roshi, works with koans, turning and examining them from different perspectives, seeing where they are clear and where opaque. Through meticulous examination, Martin reveals how the paramitas and the jatakas function to support an upright, wholesome life… Not many Buddhist authors incorporate, as Martin does, references to Lady Gaga, The Talking Heads, Jack Kerouac, and Elvis into their commentaries… Endless Path provides a fine guidebook.”
“Rafe Martin’s book, Endless Path, is a continuation of Martin’s decades-long immersion in storytelling and the Jataka tales. … Each of the ten stories, one for each of the paramitas (perfections), is accompanied by an illustration and an engaging commentary on both the story and the paramita. … The stories in [Endless Path] are like returning to the enchantment of childhood, where anything and everything is possible, except that here we see the possibility of mature wisdom and kindness, in the world and in ourselves.”
“Rafe Martin is an exquisite story-teller, not only for his transmission of the story itself but for his magical ability to turn us into the storyline. … And, the amazing artwork by Richard Wehrman is captivating and fires the imagination.”
—108 Zen Books
Also by Rafe Martin:
The Banyan Deer:
“The Banyan Deer shows that the lives of all living beings are equally important.”
—His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje
“A sweet and sensitive story of courage, sacrifice, and kindness.”
—Dan Millman, author of The Way of the Peaceful Warrior
“Extraordinary … The marvelous thing about Birdwing is that, given its highly literary origins, it is so tough, colloquial, funny and moving.”
—A Washington Post Year’s Best Books
“Martin deftly weaves fairy tale into fiction … The many original characters and unusual adventure scenes ensure that readers will remember this well-paced fantasy.”
The Rough-Face Girl:
“A welcome rediscovery of an American Indian Cinderella variant whose heroine is both a religious mystic and a seeker after true love.”
—Newsweek on The Rough Face Girl
About the Author
Rafe Martin maintains an active schedule of appearances at libraries, schools, and Zen centers across the country. His works have been cited in Time, Newsweek, and USA Today. He was the 2008 recipient of the Empire State Award from the New York Library Association. The author of over 20 books including Birdwing, The Rough-Face Girl, and One Hand Clapping, he lives in Rochester, NY.
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And why is imagination important? If you read a book like Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum's, That Used to Be Us (published in 2011), they make it explicitly clear how important the development of an imaginative capacity for our students is when they state "As globalization and the IT revolution continue to merge, expand, and advance, the more they will destroy the old categories of "developed" and "developing" countries. Going forward, we are convinced, the world increasingly will be divided between high-imagination-enabling countries, which encourage and enable the imagination of their people, and low-imagination-enabling countries, which suppress or simply fail to develop their peoples' creative capacities and abilities to spark new ideas and nurture their own "extra."
In Endless Path Martin reinforces the importance of imagination in following a path that can lead us beyond our own sense of self to a broader concern for the well-being and development of all beings, the goal of all Bodhisattvas (Buddhas-to-be), who in each of the ten Jataka tales Martin retells are working on perfecting one of the ten perfections. And what is it that the Bodhisattavas are perfecting in the ten perfections? The best word in English perhaps would be character, and as Martin makes clear it is through resources of character that the Bodhisattvas are only able to undertake enlightening practices, illuminating paths and ways of being worthy for readers to contemplate and emulate in their own lives.
I wholly agree with Martin when he writes in his introduction that "What happens in the imagination changes us, makes us who we are...Tales of courage make us braver. Tales of kindness make us kinder. Takes of cause and effect make us wiser. Tales of consequences of hate and cowardice make us want to shun those possibilities from taking over within ourselves. Tales of endless perseverance and aspiration awaken dormant potential within us." And they're all there in the Jataka tales in Endless Path, with each followed by Martin's insightful and relevant commentaries that I still continue to reread and contemplate.
I highly recommend both of Martin's books, the Endless Path and The Hungry Tigress, whether one just wants to learn more about Buddhism and/or the importance and relevance of Jataka tales in our lives today. You won't be disappointed!
My favorite of the stories, “Great Joy,” I loved so much that I wrote the author asking for permission to tell the story. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that for me, that tale exemplifies the compassion, tenderness, and joy that Buddhism encourages in its adherents. The talk following the story pushes us to consider the roles we play, the kind of friend we’ve been. At least, that’s what I’ve gotten out of it. That’s another strength of this collection: each time a reader returns to one of the stories, you are going to find some new nuance, or image, or idea. Originally, these stories were used to teach novice practitioners. Here, they clearly still have their teaching power.
In my opinion, the stories are more engaging than the talks. That said, the talks are still thought-provoking. For example, in the talk on “The Hungry Tigress,” Martin asks us to consider the kinds of sacrifices we are willing to make. It’s a powerful question, as are the many questions and reflection prompted by the talks. In a couple of cases, I read the talk before I read the story, so that I went into the story with those questions in mind.
In the end, how you approach this book is up to you. If you are a student of Buddhism, you will reflect and learn. If you are a storyteller, you will find some of the wisest and most touching stories in all of folklore. If you are just curious about Buddhist values, each story will offer you a value central to our practice. No matter who you are, though, may this book enrich your life with its poignant questions.