Somehow or another, I'd failed to add this when I was compiling my life-time bookshelf, but I'm happy to rectify the error. Whether you're atheist, ag...moreSomehow or another, I'd failed to add this when I was compiling my life-time bookshelf, but I'm happy to rectify the error. Whether you're atheist, agnostic, or theist, Comte-Sponville's elegant apologia (in the classical sense--explanation more than apology) will force you to rethink the ethical implications of where you stand. I'll leave it there and let C-S speak for himself, but this is as good a book on the spiritual/ethical life as I've ever read.(less)
Umweek, a hereditary chief of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth, sets himself two tasks in this book: to provide a thick picture of his culture, emphasizing the impo...moreUmweek, a hereditary chief of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth, sets himself two tasks in this book: to provide a thick picture of his culture, emphasizing the importance of the title precept, which translates as "everything is one"; and to argue for Tsawalk as a methodology for scholarly research. He does a much better job with the first than the second. Basing his presentation on the linguistic, cultural and political traditions of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth, he retells several stories to demonstrate the interconnectedness of the various levels of life. Son of Raven and Son of Mucus come alive as culture heroes and Umeek clearly establishes the vitality and wisdom of his people's traditions. The emphasis on one-ness parallels similar approaches in other native traditions, but Tsawalk is well worth heeding both for what it says about the Nuu-Chah-Nulth traditions and for what it offers readers from outside the cultural circle.
The final chapter, however, falls into a trap that's not unusual in a certain current of Native writing. Like Vine Deloria in Red Earth, White Lies, Umeek seems intent on presenting Tsawalk as a methodology equivalent to western science (and in Umeek's case, social science). It's an odd rhetorical move and it pretty much falls flat. To argue that the spiritual and the physical deserve equal attention and to assert, accurately, that environmental science and (though I'd want to add some footnotes) quantum physics emphasize connection is valuable. But to argue that Tsawalk provides a methodology which answers to the same sorts of standards as science is simply wrong. The rhetoric and examples in the final chapter don't come close to making Umeek's case and, as a result he to some extend undercuts the power of his book. I'd have very much preferred it if he'd simply presented the world view and let its power speak for itself. (less)
Huang Po is one of the most influential of the Chinese Zen masters and translater John Blofield, one of the scholars responsible for introducing Zen t...moreHuang Po is one of the most influential of the Chinese Zen masters and translater John Blofield, one of the scholars responsible for introducing Zen to the West, has done an admirable job with this compilation of sermons and anecdotes. Unlike the Buddhist traditions associated with the Hinayana School, Zen (a part of the broader Mahayana tradition which developed as Buddhism spread from India to China and Japan) says that enlightenment comes in a flash, not as the result of study and discipline. This creates interesting dilemmas for "students" and "teachers," since the primary teaching is something like "this can't be taught." Huang Po repeatedly cautions his questioners against allowing concepts and strivings, including the striving for freedom from concepts, interfere with the state where all of the distinctions vanish. The difficulties involved with translating this engagement with the untranslatable are both immense and a bit amusing. Any translation from Chinese is going to fill in numerous gaps--the ideograms sit next to each other, but there's a ton of room for projecting different sorts of connections. Blofield is well aware of this. The introduction includes a self-reflective discussion of why he chooses to translate the term which refers to the unexpressable unity as "Mind." In a first stab at the translation, he'd used "Universal." I'm a bit curious as to why he didn't go with "Tao," which invokes fewer interfering concepts for western readers. In several footnotes, Blofield comments on how similar Huang Po's approach is to those of Taoist masters like Lao Tze. I'm guessing he avoided Tao because he wanted to emphasize (properly enough) Huang Po's grounding in the Buddhist tradition, which carries with it its own vocabularies and logics.
I'm of two minds about Blofield's decisions to include parenthetical glosses of tricky terms in the text itself and to place footnotes at the bottom of each page. There's a long tradition of presenting Buddhist and Taoist texts with commentary, but I think I prefer Thomas Cleary's approach of placing them in a separate section following the text. Blofield's practice does give a clear sense of the complexities behind and within each of the sermons, but it also makes it even more difficult to escape the abstractions and conceptualizations Huang Po resists.
At this point, I can see Huang Po bopping me on the head to jar me out of my own head cloud, smile.
Main point is that this is a cool book--one that had a big impact on the Beat Generation's understanding of Zen--and that anyone interested in the dharma should put it high on their list. (less)
The four stars are for the translation. Ranking the Tao Te Ching or Chuang Tzu is a fairly hilarious idea, equivalent to rating the New Testament. No...moreThe four stars are for the translation. Ranking the Tao Te Ching or Chuang Tzu is a fairly hilarious idea, equivalent to rating the New Testament. No book of any sort is more important to my way of thinking and, to the extent I can stay centered and uncentered, acting, in the world. Taoism is grounded in notions of flow, of the generative emptiness at the center of all things, and the Tao Te Ching particularly emphasizes the implications for political and social life.
For Americans, the main point is to embrace yin energy. We ain't good at it.
Anyway, I'm in the process of reading my way through Cleary's collected translations of the key texts of both the Taoist and (the closely related) Buddhist traditions. A Harvard professor who knows the traditions and the cloud of commentaries surrounding the key texts inside and out, Cleary has given us a set of gifts of inestimable value. If you follow my reviews, you'll be hearing about the specifics regularly over the next few years (provided I don't get hit by a bus and all).
In the case of these texts, his translation places a very heavy emphasis on what I'd call the Confucian dimension of the text: the readings and interpretations that foreground the implications for those in public life. This is a part of what they're about and anyone translating the Chinese characters is going to have to make choices. Cleary's are useful and defensible, but I prefer Stephen Mitchell's less scholarly, more poetic, and more inward translation of the Tao Te Ching. Cleary's not a poet and that's okay, but if you stick with his version, you'll have trouble understanding why I love and honor this book as deeply as I do.(less)