Understanding Your World, Your Brain, and Zen Philosophy

Here are nine books that can help you understand the modern world, make better decisions, be more creative, and control your emotions.

1. Don’t Bite the Hook – Pema Chodron

Pema, a Buddhist nun who converted later in life from American roots, is a great teacher. She is able to simply and clearly connect with listeners and readers about a few powerful insights. In this book she talks about shenpa, the cycle of anxiety we buy into whenever confronted with a stressful situation.

2. Awakening the Buddha Within – Lama Surya Das

There are countless books for Westerners in search of the simple insights of Buddhism. This book is quite detailed and serious.

3. Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity – Hugh MacLeod

There are a million books about creativity. There are very few books that challenge the resistance so directly and effectively. This book eliminates the excuses that have been holding you back from being creative.

4. Presentation Zen – Garr Reynolds

A collection of effective tactics that are available to anyone who has made the choice to be more productive using a Zen approach.

5. The Lonely Crowd – David Riesman

This is a great sociology book; the key argument is that fitting into a large group is a relatively new phenomenon and it has changed the way human beings interact.

6. The Managed Heart – Arlie Russell Hochschild

Hochschild was given significant access to stewardesses working at Delta Airlines in the 1960s. She chronicles the deadening pain they felt as they were forced to bring cheerfulness and emotion to work each day. This was a breakthrough on the study of human emotions.

7. Stone Age Economics – Marshall Sahlins

Despite the clever title, this book is actually about how primitive cultures worked. One key takeaway is that hunter-gatherers were the idle rich. They worked about three hours a day and spent the rest of the day resting.

8. Honest Signals – Alex Pentland

Pentland is a professor at MIT, and this is ostensibly a book about some amazing technology he’s putting together that measures the interactions people have all day. This is about the incredible power of nonverbal communication and tribal hierarchies in the way we interact.

9. Predictably Irrational – Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways. From drinking coffee to losing weight, from buying a car to choosing a romantic partner, we consistently overpay, underestimate, and procrastinate. Yet these misguided behaviors are neither random nor senseless.

Hat tip to Love My Life Right Now

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Book review: The Novice by Thich Nhat Hanh

 Thought-provoking spiritual novel inspires compassion

Bernie Gourley, guest reviewer

The Novice by Thich Nhat HanhRating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Novice is the retelling of a Vietnamese folk tale about a young monk who is repeatedly wronged, but who always does the virtuous thing. As I read this book, I thought the story seemed familiar, and I realized that I read the same story as The Martyr by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa. Akutagawa does a much better job of story building. The Japanese writer doesn’t reveal to the reader that Lorenzo (his novice and the equivalent of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Kihn Tâm) is a female until the end—thus definitely resolving the claim that the young monk fathered a child out-of-wedlock and in contravention of vows for the reader at the same time as the characters in the story learn it.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that the novice is a female at the beginning, and he does so via backstory that serves both to give justification for why Kihn Tâm chooses to disguise herself and become a monk and to pile onto the injustice. We learn that Kihn Tâm’s female alter ego had been married, but the marriage ended with a false accusation of attempted murder of her husband. This backstory probably isn’t worth the drag for either of the aforementioned purposes—but the former is more justifiable than the latter.

What Thich Nhat Hanh lacks in gripping narrative structure, he gains in provoking thought. The Zen monk and poet gives the reader insight into how Kinh Tâm manages to be preternaturally virtuous. In The Martyr this is a black box affair. Hanh also encourages the reader to see Kihn Tâm’s accusers as the novice does, i.e. with compassion. Akutagawa does what any writer would do; he vilifies the accusers so as to make the story resonate with the average, petty, martyr-complex prone reader—as opposed to the enlightenment-aspiring reader. Hanh leaves the other monks in Kinh Tâm’s corner, i.e. when everyone else is condemning the novice, they still believe in her. In Akutagawa’s story, monastics are not inherently so perfect.

The book offers some interesting back matter. The most substantial of the appendices is an account by Sister Chan Khong of the works of Thich Nhat Hanh and his followers both during the war and afterword when they tried to establish a monastery in Communist Vietnam. The essay echoes the themes of loving-kindness and compassion that form the core of the novella, as does the essay by Hanh that brings the book to a conclusion. While this back matter is filler to make up for the fact that the story is not novel length, it nevertheless makes for interesting reading.

I’d recommend this book for those with an interested in Zen. If you’re looking for a good story, read Akutagawa’s The Martyr, but if you want to be inspired to compassion, read Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Details:
The Novice: A Story of True Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh
HarperOne, 2012
Paperback, 120 pages
Buy at Amazon

This book review was reprinted with permission from Bernie Gourley, who writes at http://berniegourley.com

Beyond Words: We Don’t Need More Successful People

zen quote metaphysical fiction

Book review: The Broken Rules of Ten

‘Rule of Ten’ prequel explores mysticism, mystery at monastery

Broken Rules of Ten Hendricks Lindsay Buddhist novel metaphysical fiction

Jean Bakula, guest reviewer

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tenzing Norbu is one of the most unique fictional characters to grace a book’s pages in quite some time. The authors have collaborated on two other books about Ten, as he prefers to be called. “The First Rule of Ten” and “The Second Rule of Ten” describe his life as a private detective in Los Angeles, California, his dream job. But as a youth, Ten was groomed to be a Buddhist monk. What on Earth happened in the intervening years to change the trajectory of his life this much? We discover the truth as Ten navigates his first brush with mysticism, mystery, and perhaps even murder.

Ten’s mother Valerie, a hippie who backpacked across Europe and Asia after college, met Ten’s father, Tsewing Norbu,  in India. They had a brief fling, but soon it became obvious that she and this cold, disciplined man would not be able to share a compatible life together. Young Ten spent part of the year with Valerie in Paris and part at the Dorje Yidam Monastery in Dharamshala, India, where his father served as the senior Abbot and Monastic Disciplinarian.

The Broken Rules of Ten is a prequel to the first two books, and takes place when Ten is thirteen years old and going through the confusing indignities of puberty. Poor Ten has vivid dreams of Pema, a girl his age who delivers pastries to the monastery. He often roams around outside, hoping he does not get caught. Even at this young age, we see Ten is a nonconformist and an adventurous person.

Ten’s life is unusual, to say the least. It is very confusing to spend part of the year with a drunk and stoned mother, and the other part with his Buddhist monk father. One year Valerie started sending Ten to catechism, overtaken by Catholic guilt. But Ten has trouble with any belief system that sets up rules and regulations, only to find that the rule makers do not like those who ask too many questions.

Ten feels like a misfit wherever he is, although later into his adult life, he not only comes to terms with it, but decides to embrace it while observing the Buddhist precepts. This is an aspect of the book I enjoyed as I am interested in Buddhism; it helped to see how a person incorporates the precepts into everyday life.

At Dharamshala, Ten tangles with another student, Lama Nawang Gephel, a prized scholar rumored to be heading for the highest academic honor the monastery has. It hurts Ten that his father always sings the praises of Nawang and lectures Ten about his own faults, which are really not serious. Both boys discover each other breaking the rules–Nawang smokes ganga, and Ten reads forbidden Sherlock Holmes novels.

Nawang asks Ten to be friends and Ten agrees, happy because he is usually the outsider and is shunned by many of the boys.  But Nawang makes a request that causes Ten to wonder if his friendship is sincere or if he is trying to persuade Ten to do something that would get him in trouble.

During an important ceremony Nawang behaves disrespectfully and then commits a terrible act in town. Ten did nothing wrong, but his strict, unyielding father sends Ten back to Paris, not allowing Ten to take his vows. Having read the first two books, I know that Ten does not return to the monastery again; although it has a special place in his heart, he goes on to live his life outside of it.

The First Rule of Ten and The Second Rule of Ten were interesting and well plotted, and it was very enjoyable to see how Ten manages to live a full life made fuller by following the precepts of Buddhism. He has a curious and serious attitude about life, and it is a treat to see the world through the eyes of such a thoughtful person, who places so much trust in his intuition. He has some cultural gaps because of the years he lived at the monastery, but those are kind of fun.

I highly recommend all three of these books, and sincerely hope the authors continue the series! Even if you do not particularly like metaphysical topics, the books are worth reading if you like a good mystery. The authors got it right; I believe it is better to get to know Ten in his adult life and then go back to see how his childhood shaped the person he becomes.

Details:
The Broken Rules of Ten: Tenzing Norbu’s First Mystery, by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay
Hay House, Inc., 2013
Kindle, 121 printed pages
Buy at Amazon

If you are interested in metaphysical topics, I have a blog at http://www.Spiritualitypathways.com and would love to see you there! I cast and interpret Astrology Horoscopes that are not computer generated, and give Tarot Readings. I also write about some metaphysical books, Astrology, the Tarot, Meditation, Chakras, Auras, Ghosts, a few of my own visions, and many other subjects. I can also be found at http://jeanbakula.hubpages.com where I have written extensively about Astrology, among other subjects.

Two mind-blowing classics every spiritual seeker should read

Excerpted from High Existence.

Nietzsche and Zen: Self Overcoming Without a Self – André van der Braak

nietzscheEverything you ever wanted to know about Nietzsche and Zen can be found in this magnificent book. Both Nietzsche and Zen propagate that selves don’t exist. Both deny an intrinsic order or value at the core of the cosmos. Both hold it is possible to reach a higher existence through the cultivation of the bodily drives. For zen, it is the goal of no-goal, Nirvana. For Nietzsche, it is the progression from the camel, through the lion to the child. In this fascinating book you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about Nietzsche and Zen. How do we attain truth? How can we overcome ourselves if selves don’t exist? How can we break the chains of God and his Shadow? Prof. van der Braak writes eloquently when he looks at Zen through the eyes of Nietzsche and at Nietzsche through the eyes of Zen. A powerful book, a book for everyone and no-one.

“Discover the fallacies of the ego! Recognise the ego as misconception! The opposite is not to be understood as altruism! This would be love of other supposed individuals! No! Beyond “me” and “you”! Feel cosmically! –Nietzsche (KSA 9,11[7])”

The Perennial Philosophy: An Interpretation of the Great Mystics, East and West – Aldous Huxley

HuxleyThe bible for the enlightenment seeker, Aldous Huxley’s ‘The Perennial Philosophy’ is a must have for anyone who wants to understand the differences between the great religions and the same mystical ground they came from. While his main thesis is heavily debated today, this work remains a powerhouse of mind-blowing ideas. Huxley covers Zen, Hinduis, Rumi, Meister Eckhart and Taoism and discovers they share one fundamental fact – a yearning for transcendence. This is not a book to read in one go, but one to which you will return many times to ponder and re-ponder. The fascinating quotes in this book are complemented with a sharp analysis and will stay food for thought while a new light will shine on your path – the path to uno mystica! Get ‘The Perennial Philosophy‘ now.

Have you read these books? What did you think? 

Book review: Star Child

Metaphysical novel serves up a feast for the senses

star child metaphysical fiction spiritual novelRating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Kay Goldstein’s “Star Child” is lovely, not only for its elegant prose and theme but also for the novel’s beautiful design and craftsmanship. Rich with metaphorical and literal imagery, this slim novel is a delightful read and a feast for the senses.

Story: Imagine two mystical and mysterious beings descend from the heavens. What could their journey on earth possibly teach us? Only what it means to be truly human. And that is the greatest lesson of all. Terra and Marius are star children, heavenly beings who come to earth with all their special wisdom and powers to live as human beings in a faraway time and place. Like all modern youth, they face the challenges of fear, loneliness, the need to please, and the stigma of showing their true selves when they do not fit in with those around them. Betraying their own hearts, each gives up or misuses the very things that make them unique. In this universal and touching tale of love and loss, young adults and old souls will treasure their encounter with the star children on their magical journey back to themselves and each other. (from Amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. Although the heroine and hero are described as “star children,” they are not alien beings; they are evolved humans we all aspire to become. Their challenges create an immediate connection with the reader because we have all faced the same emotional and physical hardships. They learn as we learn–sometimes painfully, sometimes with gentle guidance.

A wise character makes a simple comment, but it captured my attention in a very profound way: “Once I had seen myself, I could not pretend to be someone else.” This short spiritual novel‘s sparse, Zen-like narrative touched me in a way that a 100,000-word epic could not have.

My take: Goldstein’s wonderful sense of voice makes her words fly off the page to create three-dimensional events that feel like tart lemonade on a scorching day. The story is simple but powerful, with vivid, visceral images that bring to mind Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate.

I won’t spoil the brief, simple, but ever-so-satisfying epilogue for you. Suffice to say, it does what every good ending should do: Offer a heart-lifting conclusion, touch lightly upon the depth and insight of the theme, and weave its very specific message into the fabric of the wider world. The epilogue’s beautiful prose and illustration complement each other splendidly. I closed Star Child‘s perfectly crafted pages with a satisfied sigh and immediately turned to Amazon to find another Kay Goldstein book. No more novels, alas, but a book of recipes and stories called Book of Feasts–a perfect description for this book as well.

Details:
Star Child, by Kay Goldstein
Vineyard Stories, 2012
Hardcover, 81 pages
Buy at Amazon

Book review: God Is an Atheist

 If God doesn’t believe in Himself, what about us?

God Is an Athiest metaphysical fiction novellaRating: 4 out of 5 stars

Would you like to have a real conversation with God? Not the reasonable, polished, Neale Donald Walsch kind, but a no-holds-barred, “What the hell?” kind of conversation. If so, “God Is an Atheist” by N. Nosirrah (really) may be the story for you.

Story: A profoundly funny romp through religion, spirituality, and the contemporary clash of cultures of belief, with special attention to the human obsession with knowing what can’t be known. Nosirrah provokes just about everyone as he describes a world where God is on the run from Islamic extremists, the Pope announces he shares a bed with Richard Dawkins, and Buddha’s son disappoints by getting enlightened instead of becoming a doctor. To say this novella is strange might give the reader a way to relate to it, but in fact, nothing will shift the burden away from the reader. In its pages, the world is bent around the reader’s mind until either the mind itself begins to bend, or indeed, breaks. A book without plot, characters, structure, or obvious purpose, this is an endless descent into the netherworlds of a dystopian mind. (from Amazon.com)

Spiritual/metaphysical content: High. There is so much spiritual wisdom in this novella, spilling out of every page and paragraph. There’s no way to do justice to either the author’s depth of insight or the mind-confounding presentation, so here’s a random sampling of Nosirrah’s and God’s thoughts.

God is I AM–everything, all inclusive. Men try to parse the whole of God into smaller, more manageable chunks, which is why religions can seem schizophrenic. Most people can’t listen–just listen–to each other, the birds, the creek, our own bodies. We hear only the parts we like, and we form God’s voice and our beliefs based on that part instead of on the whole.

Having faith requires an anchor or foundation, something upon which to construct our beliefs. But relying on anchors (for example, religious dogma) doesn’t teach us about the actual world; we just know a great deal about what we already know. Letting go of our answers, accepting that we cannot know, is much harder. But that’s where God is.

God doesn’t believe in Himself, or even believe in belief. All of our believing has caused humanity nothing but problems, God says. He’d like to see a human culture beyond belief. As Nosirrah puts it, “A believer will destroy God and himself before he’ll let go of his beliefs.” In one scene, no one can see God when He approaches them because “each of us is captured by what we know and we organize reality to fit it.”

My take:  This novella, a series of vignettes and soliloquies, attempts to have no plot, no protagonist, no conflict to resolve. But we as readers can’t help ourselves–we must weave stories together to make sense of our world.  Nosirrah’s thesis explores this potent theme of story. “Do not under any circumstances believe the story of your life . . . Everything is story, everything is constructed.” Original sin, says Nosirrah, is feeling safe by making up a nice story. We are addicted to the narrative of our lives. We will tell any tale to make the world make sense.

As an author, Nosirrah is a bit heavy handed, prone to digression, hubris, and self-aggrandizement, but his style is nicely leavened by a generous helping of humor. As a metaphysical novel, God is an Atheist packs a strangely powerful punch. The lack of story forces us to engage more, to make up our own stories to explain what is happening–and that just proves Nosirrah’s point.

Details:
God Is an Atheist: A Novella for Those Who Have Run Out of Time, by N. Nosirrah
Sentient Publications, 2008
Paperback, 119 pages
Buy at Amazon