Brief Review: The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism

 

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Captivated by an intriguing Buddhism Now review published last week http://buddhismnow.com/2015/05/21/the-princeton-dictionary-of-buddhism/#more-10775 detailing the new Dictionary of Buddhism, by Robert E. Buswell, Jr., and Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (2014, Princeton University Press, 1304 pages), I ordered the volume. I went to Amazon where I found it for nearly $20 less than the suggested retail price. I decided to order the hardback volume. I found it waiting for me today when I returned to the city after the long Memorial Day weekend.

It is a large, heavy volume and the print is small. Beyond its impressive physical characteristics, the book is an exhaustive, comprehensive reference volume that explains historical, regional, linguistic, and other distinctions among the terminologies of various types of Buddhist practice and their meanings. It includes a timeline, maps and diagrams. There are cross references to words in Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai in the entries themselves, plus a lengthy appendix devoted to each language. Then there are the pages devoted to the enumeration so prominent in Buddhism: e.g., the Four Noble Truths, The Five Mindfulness Trainings, The Eightfold Path, etc., and this “List of Lists” is vast indeed.

The Eightfold Path

The Eightfold Path

As a Buddhist who began by practicing alone and only later joined a sangha, I spent a very pleasurable and educational afternoon going from item to item as more words and phrases arose that I wanted to define or better understand. Thus far I am particularly impressed with the “List of Lists,” and explanations of the subtle differences among Sanskrit, Pali, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai terminologies.

Aquamarine 108-bead Mala, from Deviant Art

Aquamarine 108-bead Mala, from Deviant Art

 

Here are a few of the points I’ve taken from it just today:

  • The Mala (string of rosary-like beads, usually 108 beads for reciting the mantra) is held in the right hand. I was holding mine in both. It takes some dexterity to advance from one bead to the next with one hand. Another aid to keeping focused while sitting.
  • The Heart Sutra is one of the most widely recited of all the sutras.
    The mantra of the Heart Sutra, Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha, speaks to transcending both worldly limitations and sensual desires and as well as arriving at the sublime, free from rebirth. Repeating it is thought to enable those who recite it and those who hear it to transcend samsara, the cycle if birth, death and rebirth.
  • Buddhism spread from Himalayan India into all of Asia over a period over just a few centuries.
  • The word Dao was mistranslated as Tao by an English scholar.
  • Self-immolation is an ancient and continuing form of denial of the earthly self as well as a powerful form of protest, perhaps the most famous being that in 1963 of Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Duc. His heart remained after his body was reduced by fire to bone and ash, and the relic has been preserved. If you wish to see it, a video of his immolation can be seen online. A yoga teacher once urged me to view it. I did so and found it powerfully moving, albeit disturbing. David Halberstam’s eyewitness account is riveting: http://www.buddhismtoday.com/english/vietnam/figure/003-htQuangduc.htm.

That is what I am able to retain well enough to share it with you. I have rarely enjoyed a newly acquired book as much.

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Glass Half Empty, Glass Half Full

Glass-of-water     ruler

How often we assess our assets or liabilities by an arbitrary yardstick. Maybe it’s our finances, or our looks, or perhaps our health. It could be the status of our relationships, or lack thereof. We tend to see ourselves in comparison to others, as well as in comparison to our hopes or expectations for ourselves.

What do we accomplish by judging ourselves by such a yardstick? Does doing so spur us on towards achievement? Or does it contribute to shame and guilt that we do not measure up? Whose yardstick are we using? Our mother’s? Our father’s? Our best friend’s? Or is it our wife’s or husband’s yardstick by which we judge ourselves?

Moviemag

For many of us, we see public figures and have feelings about how we compare to them. We may bemoan our belief that we aren’t as successful, happy or attractive as the people we look up to in this way. Or we might gloat that at least we don’t have a life as filled with unmanageability and disaster as a movie star with many unhappy marriages or a prominent substance abuse problem.

In recovery there are a few pithy slogans worth using by anyone:

              • Identify, don’t compare
              • Compare and despair
              • Don’t compare your insides to anyone else’s outsides

The idea is that we will do far better to see what we have in common with others than to assess whether we are better or worse than they are on any given scale. When we identify, we may feel more empathy and kindness towards others, rather than feeling either smugly superior or sheepishly less-than.  The more we hold another up to ourselves in comparison, the more likely we will feel we fall short. This is in part due to the fact that we know our own shortcomings and deficiencies intimately, whereas we see the best put-together façade the other can possibly put forward.

The half glass of abundance is more than enough when you need less than half a glass. A huge glass half full is more abundant than a tiny glass filled to the brim. What do you need? Can you get what you need through your own efforts or by asking for help? When you keep your needs reasonable and your aims realistic, you will be more likely to have a sense of contentment than if you harbor intense and extreme needs and if you aim for the impossible.

How do we know when we have enough and when we need to keep striving for more of anything, be it love, money, material possessions, power, or acclaim? The answer is a complex one. A monk has his bowl, a robe and perhaps a warm, dry place to lay his head. Anything beyond this may be seen as luxury. Most of us will not live a monastic life, but learning to be content with less can be a gift. During the Great Depression and into WWII, this phrase was popular, and we would do well in this age of diminishing resources to consider it.

Use it Up

Or wear it out,

Make it do

Or do without

Life is short, much shorter than we realize, so let’s see what we can do with what we have. It is far more important who we are than what we have. Our principles and values determine our thoughts, intentions and actions. Living wisely, and helping others to do the same may be the only lasting legacy we leave. Our memory will live on in the minds of our descendants long after our bodies have returned to the earth. Will we be remembered for the good we did, the life we lived, or the things we acquired?

As for me, I am trying each day, imperfectly but sincerely, to live by the Eight Noble Truths. More about them next time!

Noble-8-Fold-Path

Namaste

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