Will there be a “Youse are spending too much time on D&D”?
Thank you for this post, Bhante. It’s all very true. I myself was once careless and recommended The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying to someone who was interested in the Dhamma, having only read half of it myself. “It’s one of the most famous contemporary books on Buddhism, must be good right”. Not even commenting on the author, the book itself is one of the least impactful Dhamma books I’ve read. We need to be very careful about the way we relate to books. And about what we recommend to others.
I have for quite some time restrained myself from offering book suggestions…ooh…it has been sooo tough.
Can restrain no longer and in no way ever can this book be considered…one too many!
Even comes complete with great praise from Bhante Sujato.
“A Whole-Life Path”- Gregory Kramer
Outstanding, intelligent, insightful and so deeply respectful of serious and dedicated lay practice.
This is something I’ve been wrestling with lately. I tend to accumulate books (especially dhamma books) faster than I can read them. Lately I’ve been taking a critical eye to my collection in terms of am I realistically going to read something in the near future? Am I reading it for intellectual curiosity or to deepen/inform my practice? I’ve been taking bags of books to the weekly meetings of my sangha and leaving them on the free books table.
I quote from a Dhamma book I’m currently in the process of writing :
A useful litmus test I have discovered, similar to one given by the Buddha himself, for determining whether or not a particular teaching, Western or otherwise, has anything at all to do with what the Buddha actually taught is to simply look for whether or not the values of renunciation, celibacy, austerity, seclusion, or sense restraint are discussed even a single time.
This test probably eliminates like 90% of Dhamma books, if not more. Of course, Dhamma books can be highly specialized so you might need to look at an author’s general corpus of writing but it’s a good rule of thumb
The Buddha’s own version of this rule of thumb can be found in AN 8.53:
‘These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher’s instruction.’
I have not read the book you asked about, but I do have an experience with Rob Burbea you might find interesting.
About 10-12 years ago I came upon a series of recorded dharma talks from a retreat on Emptiness led by Rob Burbea and John Peacock. There were 26 talks from a 30 day retreat. I decided to listen to the the talks as if I were at the retreat. I started with the first one and listened to it several times over a day or two, meditating and contemplating. Likewise, I took my time working through the talks in order, listening over and over to make sure I didn’t miss anything, meditating and contemplating on everything.
Part of the retreat went into detail about Nagarjana so I bought a book and spent several weeks meditating and practicing Nagarjana’s work, to get the gist of his work.
I spent lots of time on this every day and, in the end, it took me about three months to finish the retreat. I learned a lot but felt like it didn’t fit together so well. It was as if as hard as Burbea worked to convey Emptiness, it just didn’t flow and tie together like I normally get the dhamma, especially when I put so much effort in to it.
Then a few years ago Bhikkhu Analayo’s book on Emptiness and Compassion came out and, as I read it, the Buddha’s teachings on emptiness quickly came alive and made perfect sense to me. I later reflected on my “retreat” experience and realized that the difference was that Analayo’s book was centered around the early Buddhist texts, examining the suttas where the Buddha taught emptiness and how it fits with his teachings as a whole. I hadn’t realized before that Burbea was using later traditions’ verbiage, concepts and teachings to try and convey emptiness and it made it overly complicated and convoluted for me. What the retreat labored on was easily understood by just going to the source suttas and unpacking it. I’ve noticed this with other “dharma teachers” too, not much sutta content.