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Book Review: Natural Brilliance: A Buddhist System for Uncovering Your Strengths and Letting Them Shine by Irini Rockwell

March 12, 2012 5 comments

White cover with a slowly assembled flower on it.Summary:
Utilizing the traditional Buddhist five wisdoms–presence, clarity, richness, passion, and action, Rockwell seeks to show readers their own personal strengths and possible weaknesses.  Rockwell then seeks to demonstrate how to bring out the other three to four wisdoms within your personality to achieve more balance.

Review:
Before I had a book blog, I read quite a bit of Buddhist literature.  My minor was Religious Studies, and I also had an interest in it from a psychiatric and personal perspective.  Certain aspects of Buddhism are used in modern psychiatric treatments, for instance.  In any case, this is not my first Buddhist read.  I am familiar with a lot of the terminology and ideas.  This book though was nearly impossible to follow.  Quite possibly the worst book on Buddhism I’ve ever come across.

First, there’s how Rockwell talks about the five wisdoms.  Instead of consistently calling them by either their English name, Sanskrit name, or a hyphenated version of the two like most Buddhist works do, Rockwell bafflingly switches back and forth between English and Sanskrit without any rhyme or reason.  Particularly in an ebook where it’s difficult to flip back to the earlier pages where the wisdoms were introduced, this makes it really hard to follow the author’s thought-process.

Similarly, random information is inserted but then not fully explained.  I wonder if in the print version these are set apart in boxes?  Not sure.  For instance, the section introducing the five wisdoms has a completely random blip about the colors Tibetan Buddhism associates with them inserted in the text between the fourth and fifth wisdoms.  It’s just jarring and odd.

Finally, I didn’t really learn anything of value from the book.  Rockwell talks at length about what a person who is mostly possessing the wisdom of passion might look, behave, and even dress like, but not much is discussed about how to put this knowledge to good use.  It’s almost as if Rockwell got so caught up in describing the wisdoms that he forgot to talk to us about how to put this knowledge to much use.  Besides, does it really help to know to label the person who is passionate as exhibiting the passion wisdom?  We already know instinctively what they are like and how to deal with them.  Labeling it doesn’t really help, does it?

Overall, I found this book to offer very little in a way of self-improvement or aid in dealing with people.  It is confusingly organized without much valuable information within it.  Although it is a readable book that is not at all offensive, it just doesn’t seem like reading it is worth the time.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Buddha Volume 1 Kapilavastu by Osamu Tezuka (Graphic Novel) (series, #1)

November 9, 2011 1 comment

Man holding rabbit up to the sky.Summary:
The tale of the Buddha’s life is told peripherally to those of fictional, central characters.  There is Tatta, an untouchable who can inhabit the bodies of animals.  He is joined by Chapra, a slave who wants to become a warrior.  Also there is Chapra’s mother and a young monk.  Their lives are impacted by the birth of the Buddha.

Review:
I picked this up randomly from the shelf in the library, and I must say I was expecting a bit more focus on the Buddha than is present in the story.  Instead this is one of those tales about fictional people living in the shadow of a world-changing person.  I honestly was really excited about the idea of the story of the Buddha told in the graphic novel style, so that was a bit of a disappointment to me.

The art style is interesting.  Somewhere between manga and more western-style animation.  The characters are really easy to tell apart, though, which was a nice change from some manga.

Although the Buddha is mostly gestating and being born during the course of the book, Buddhist ideas are still present periodically in the storyline. One of my favorites is when a saint chastises the monk for how he orders Tatta to use his talents:

To save just one human, you mindlessly harnessed numerous beasts to an impossible task…and killed them one by one! The beasts you bent to your purpose all suffered greatly and died cruelly! You believe that human lives are sacrosanct while animal lives are worthless?!?! You saved [the human], but the beasts that you sacrificed for his sake are now beyond saving. Life is sacred whether or not it is human! (page 350-1)

It was fun to see these sorts of ideals in the context of a story, and I do always enjoy reading a graphic novel.  The main story itself fell flat for me though.  It mostly focuses in on Chapra attempting to become a great warrior and save his mother from being a slave, which I fail to see how that relates to the Buddha.  As I said, though, this book was not what I was expecting, and I don’t tend to really go for warrior/mother tales.  Except Oedipus.

Overall, the art is an interesting style and some of the ideas contained within the book are fun to see in fiction, but the main storyline separate from Buddha’s life simply did not resonate with me.  Perhaps it will with you.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Public Library

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