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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



The Pema Chodron Collection: Pure Meditation: Good Medicine: From Fear to Fearlessness by Pema Chodron (Unabridged Audio CD: Sounds True) Pema Chodron is one of the West’s most beloved teachers of Buddhism, making the Tibetan vajrayana tradition accessible in today’s world. Now, three of her most popular teachings are available in one boxed set. Oral instruction is essential to classic Buddhist teachings and Pema Chodron is extremely personable in these recordings.  Her teachings are especially clear in pure Meditation and Good Medicine however from fear and fearlessness lacks the clarity of some of her other audio programs.  As complete teachings oral delivery lacks the considered conceptual clarity needed for a full understanding of the teachings so this reviewer suggests that some books on Buddhist meditation be read along with repeated listening to her teachings.  The psychological insight and extreme and good sense of these teachings far transcend any sectarian bias.  Anyone of any religious persuasion could find these teachings useful for deepening awareness of one's self, love for others, and healing wounds of love and hate.

The Pema Chodron Collection includes: Pure Meditation – step-by-step instruction in Tibetan Buddhism’s pinnacle practice for transformation and letting go. Tibetan Buddhists regard shamatha/ vipashyana (peaceful dwelling/ insight) as both the fundamental and the most advanced spiritual practice of all. On Pure Meditation, Pema Chödrön takes you step by step through this timeless and elegant meditative form. A straightforward, authoritative guide to an authentic Tibetan Buddhist meditation that has brought its practitioners relaxation, peace of mind, and deeper awareness for hundreds of years.  Good Medicine: How to Turn Pain into Compassion with Tonglen Meditation – teachings in tonglen, an elegant meditation that allows us to use our troubles to befriend ourselves and widen our circle of compassion. Within Buddhism, there are many stories that refer to its founder as the "supreme physician" – a healer of all illness – mental, physical, and spiritual. The Buddha’s prescription for right living led directly to tonglen, a Tibetan meditation practice that is today the medicine our hearts have been searching for. On the new enhanced CD edition of Good Medicine, American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron shares the gift of this simple and elegant meditation system: a way to befriend ourselves, accept the past we have rejected, and widen our circle of compassion. Includes rare live footage with Pema Chodron, interview excerpts, and other enhancements available here for the first time. And From Fear to Fearlessness: Teachings on the Four Great Catalysts of Awakening  offers an antidote to fear in the four noble aspirations – maitri (lovingkindness), compassion, joy, and equanimity. reflects the author's usual warmth, humor, kindliness, and down-to-earth approach to improving one's life through Buddhist means. This set focuses on the four Immeasurables or limitless qualities: Maitri (loving-kindness), compassion, joy, and equanimity. She points out where her master, Trungpa Rinpoche digressed from the literal meanings of these four in practice as well as certain modifications suggested by the great 14th century master, Longchenpa (Longchen Rabjam). For example, the latter suggested meditating upon equanimity to stabilize prior to sending out loving kindness etc. Embedded in the technique is to send these 4 out consecutively, but within each "sending" to first apply it to someone you care about, then a neutral, then someone you mildly dislike (building up to stronger feelings), and finally to everyone. For example, compassion is the wish that everyone be free of suffering and the cause of suffering. Trungpa Rinpoche's modifications include: joy being the appreciation of peoples' basic goodness. Ani Chödrön's (she is a Buddhist nun, thus the title Ani) wonderful turns of phrase include: "We look for strength in what weakens us," "We've gotten really good at making matters worse," and seeking happiness without a hangover. Recommended as a study text with this instruction is Boundless Heart: The Cultivation of the Four Immeasurables by B. Alan Wallace  Snow Lion Publications). This book was distilled from a series of talks Wallace gave when he led a retreat on Shamatha ("calm abiding meditation") in the Sierras of California, and it retains an informal, practical, nuts-and-bolts atmosphere. This text is not for people who want to speculate or theorize about the Dharma. It is for people who want to practice. I've been meditating for many years, but this is the first and still the only book I've actually used as part of my practice -- often before sitting down on the cushion I'll read a few pages of it, to remind myself of what I'm doing and why. There's lots of useful advice here. Wallace talks about the art of practicing Shamatha as a sort of tuning the intensity of awareness-- too little intensity and you tend to sink into torpor, too much and you tend to follow distractions. He warns against practicing with too much grim determination, which can squeeze the joy out of it and make one sick of meditation. On down to the simple suggestion that if you're too sleepy during practice you should probably get more sleep. Wallace is a distinguished scholar. He was for many years a monk in the Tibetan tradition, and he speaks from a deep reservoir of experience and teaching. But he's also a Westerner and (now) a householder, so that he understands the tribulations, and unexpected benefits, of practicing in this world of busy distractions and pressing duties. This book radiates a gentle kindliness and simplicity of heart. For me it's an endless source of comfort and inspiration to practice. 

While in her mid-thirties, Ane Pema Chodron traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years. She became a nun in 1974 while studying with Lama Chime in London. His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa came to England at that time, and Ane Pema received her novice ordination from him.

Pema first met her root guru, Trungpa Rinpoche, in 1972. Lama Chime encouraged her to work with Rinpoche, and it was with him that she ultimately made her most profound connection, studying with him from 1973 until his death in 1987. At the request of the Karmapa, she received the full bikshuni ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong.

Ane Pema served as the director of Karma Dzong in Boulder until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey. The Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa, gave her explicit instructions on running Gampo Abbey. The success of her first two books, The Wisdom of No Escape and Start Where You Are, made her something of a celebrity as a woman Buddhist teacher and as a specialist in the Mahayana lojong and paramita teachings.

As Pema is no longer doing any administration at Gampo Abbey, during her time in residence there she will be able to teach more and work with people on a one-to-one basis. Pema is also very interested in continuing her work with western Buddhists outside the vajrayana tradition, sharing ideas and teachings.

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