Tag Archives: reading

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

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A wonderful post that summarizes many of the books written by His Holiness. The list is divided into general topics and more specific Buddhist topics, depending on your level of interest. Happy reading. Namaste.

Shambhala Blog

Dalai-LamaUpdated in April 2016 with His Holiness’s latest book, The Heart of Meditation.

For this latest installment of our Great Masters series, we turn to a contemporary master, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, often referred to by Tibetans as Gyalwa Rinpoche or Kundun. As with previous posts, this is not intended to be a complete biography but rather a look at His Holiness’s teachings through the lens of his books, mostly the two dozen published by us, though a few others are included here. For those looking for a biography, His Holiness’s autobiography, Freedom in Exile, is an excellent starting point.

While His Holiness is not formally the head of Tibetan Buddhism (there never was one) nor even of the Gelug tradition (that title belongs to the head of Ganden Monastery, the Ganden Tripa), he is the figurehead and ambassador of Tibetan Buddhism and culture to the…

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Small Victories: A lesson in attachment

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Today I made a personal victory of epic proportions. I had a book on hold at the library, and I didn’t pick it up. How is this a victory, you ask? That is sort of a long story…

I love to read. A lot. In a perfect world I would get paid to read and do yoga and then tell people about it. Alas, “professional yogi reader” is yet to be a job posting at KU. So instead, I read in my free time. When I say “free time” I mean time I have carved out for myself to read because it is important and enjoyable to me. Wait a minute, this sounds like a good thing, right? Well yes…and no…

Here’s the problem: Every time I hear about a book that piques my interest, I put it on hold at the local library. Usually there is a short wait, so I won’t get the book right away. When it is my turn to read the book, I have 2 weeks to pick it up before the next person in the online queue gets it. Thus begins the reading waiting game, which goes something like this:

“Aha! That awesome book about cheese you heard about on NPR is ready for you! You must go pick it up immediately! No, wait! You are already reading a rather long novel…you have 2 weeks, just be patient. *3 days later* Jumping jackrabbits! Book 1 in that Indian detective mystery series is ready! YOU NEED TO FINISH YOUR NOVEL SO YOU CAN PICK UP THE BOOK ABOUT CHEESE SO YOU CAN PICK UP THE INDIAN DETECTIVE MYSTERY!”

Happiness is a busy bookshelf

In many ways that last sentence is the story of my life…Sometimes I get really excited about several books, all at once, and I want to read them all. But my reading waiting game has unfortunately begun to tarnish an activity I treasure with stress. Instead of savoring my long novel, I am now attempting to race through it, budgeting how long it will take me to finish so I can return it and grab the next book before it, *gasp* IS TOO LATE AND THE NEXT PERSON GETS IT!

So today, while trying to decide when I could fit in a trip to the library to pick up the book about cheese (Yes, it’s real. I love cheese almost as much as I love books…maybe more.) on the LAST day before my 2 weeks are up, I had an epiphany. I could let the book go on to the next person, who is probably just as eager to read it as I, and then request it again, put myself back in the queue, and read the book when I have more time. No one will die. I will still have things to read in the meantime.

I realized I was forming an unhealthy attachment to the idea of attaining the book. I imagined opening its glossy cover, reading the reviews on the first page, flipping through the introduction, and staring at it longingly as I passed by the coffee table each day until I finished my other book.

This is a rather silly lesson in attachment, but it shows how pervasive that feeling can be. We think we must have something because we’re excited about it, so we need it right then, even if we don’t necessarily have time to appreciate it.

And so, today, I will not go to the library to pick up the book about cheese. Instead, I will I will enjoy the book I am reading, and I will not worry about all the other books out there yet to be read…at least…not too often.

Lessons from Life of Pi

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I first read Life of Pi a few years after it was published. I was in high school, still figuring out who I was and what I believed. At that time this book provided a fantastic fictional escape from the anxieties of everyday life. A few years later, in college, I lived with a girl who shared Pi’s last name: Patel. Like Pi, she was from India, and had interest in multiple religions. I recommended the book to her, and she loved it as much as I did. At that time the book provided a cultural connection and a point of conversation, something I think both books and religion should do. Then just a few months ago, I revisited the book before going to see the film. This time, although I still found it fantastic, it was less of an escape. I found myself connecting more closely to Pi’s philosophical and spiritual musings and struggles on a very real level. With this book I think Yann Martel addresses some very important conflicts with religion and spirituality in the modern world.

Life of Pi

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Life of Pi, and the lessons and insights I have personally drawn from them.

“To choose doubt as a philosophy for life is akin to choosing immobility as a means for transportation.”

Pi says this during his commentary on agnosticism. I respect agnostics, because as Pi says, we are all permitted to doubt from time to time. I have spent plenty of my life in doubt. But I think the point this quote makes, and what I glean from it, is that accepting doubt, and stopping your thought process there, robs you of potential insights. Life is uncertain, and uncertainly must be embraced to avoid unnecessary suffering; but to use doubt and uncertainty as an excuse for apathy or an avoidance of digging in deeper to religious/spiritual/scientific thought will not bring you peace or enhance your experience of life.

“Bapu Ghandi said, ‘All religions are true.’ I just want to love God.”

I think this quote is important because people in all religions are guilty of telling others who practice “you’re not doing it right.” Once, a long time ago, when I was in an evangelical youth group, I told a counselor that I thought my spiritual gift was to make others happy. She told me that wasn’t a spiritual gift. At the time I believed her. Now I know she was projecting her own insecurities onto me. If you have found a spiritual path that allows you to grow and help others, don’t let someone else tell you that you are wrong. Ever. It is good to constantly evaluate your actions and reflect on whether they are aligned with your beliefs, but as long as you’re not harming anyone, you should not allow others to make you feel you are communing with God or the universe in the “wrong” way.

“These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defense, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.”

This is so beautifully written, I find it difficult to analyze. Rather than focusing energy on telling others how their beliefs are wrong, internal, self-reflection should be one’s spiritual focus. People from all religions spend lots of time, money, and energy fighting to defend what they believe are God’s laws and teachings. This frequently blinds them from seeing their brothers and sisters who are right next to them, who are begging for help.

“The lower you are, the higher your mind will want to soar.”

A great testament to the human spirit and the power of positive thinking. No matter how dire a situation may seem, the mind can overcome; each person has the ability to control his or her happiness.

“Reason is excellent for getting food, clothing and shelter. Reason is the very best tool kit. Nothing beats reason for keeping tigers away. But be excessively reasonable and you risk throwing out the universe with the bathwater.”

This message reminds me that confining your thoughts and beliefs into one narrow path limits your ability to find solutions, acceptance, and peace. There are many benefits to being strictly logical and scientific-minded, but it is important to remember that the universe is vast and full of mysteries, and that much of human interaction is controlled by deep, emotional and spiritual beliefs. If you are very religious or spiritual then it is important to remember that science is not an enemy of faith, but rather they can enhance one another.

If you have not yet read Life of Pi I hope you will. It is a book for everyone, on every journey.

Namaste.

Oh Christmas Tree…

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Our tree this year. A magnificent specimen.

When I was little, maybe seven or eight, I remember sitting by the Christmas tree in our house with a book to read. I tried to get as close to the tree as I possibly could. I think ideally I would have been inside the tree, reading in a cozy cove of needles, ornaments, and lights. I remember thinking that if I could shrink like Alice in Wonderland, I could hide in the tree’s glowing limbs to read in a safe, warm, and magical place. Last week I asked my husband if we could sleep on the couch in front of the Christmas tree for awhile. He laughed at me but obliged. There’s something magical for me about Christmas trees. I love just sitting near them to read, or nap, or sit and reflect. Every ornament holds a memory, and the lights remind me of the excitement I felt each Christmas as a child, my eyes twinkling with anticipation of grandparents, turkey, decorations, music at Christmas Eve church, and of course, presents. Christmas is much less about presents for me now, and more about enjoying the company of all those I hold dear. But my perspective on Christmas trees hasn’t seemed to change. Below is an essay I wrote about Christmas trees a few years back. My friend Chad published it on his blog when I first wrote it, but I figured I’d put it on my own page as well for good measure.

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During the first Christmas season that my husband and I were dating, he invited me to help decorate his family’s Christmas tree. In my home, decorating the Christmas tree was a very personal event, full of reminiscing about the origins of ornaments and lots of jocularity, often involving maracas and a rendition of “Felíz Navidad.” Therefore, I viewed this invitation as a gesture of acceptance into his family.

My expectations of tree-decorating stem from the meticulous process my family acts out every year. First, my Dad balances on a ladder and carefully winds the lights around the tree, making sure all branches are evenly lit. Then we gently add strings of red glass beads, which belonged to my great-grandmother. Each family member has a box of their own ornaments they have inherited or received as gifts, and we all hang them simultaneously, making sure no area of the tree is overpowered. Everything is evenly balanced, and as symmetrical as possible. As a finishing touch, my Dad meticulously ties glass icicles to the tips of various branches with string while we all watch in awe as if he’s performing brain surgery. Once it’s finished, we step back and take in our masterpiece.

Upon arriving at Nathan’s home, I expected his family’s tree-decorating rituals to match my family’s meticulous holiday habits. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Nathan’s dad uncoiled a string of colored Christmas lights and began hanging them on the tree. But he wasn’t hanging them; he was strangling them.He violently pushed the lights into the tree so that they would stick between the slender, upturned needles, and rather than winding the lights around the tree horizontally, he zigzagged them up and down. To someone who was observing his shadow through the living room curtains, it would have looked as though he were in a fistfight, and the tree, unfortunately, was winning.

After the massacre ended, I thought things might proceed normally. We opened a plastic storage box full of ornaments, which I might add, were not separated by family member, or in their original boxes, or wrapped in protective tissue paper. To my chagrin, members of Nathan’s family began to hang these ornaments in whatever way seemed to suit them, resulting in clumps of overlapping decorations and sections of bare branches. I ran around the tree, frantically rearranging things, until I realized Nathan was laughing at me. Embarrassed, I sat on the couch and used every ounce of restraint I had to keep from screaming at them: “What is wrong with you people? Can’t you see you’re ruining everything?!”

That night I lay awake in bed fretting that I might marry into a family of unorganized, ornament-clumping, tree-punchers. But the more I thought, the more I began to realize that our families’ differences in decorating seemed to symbolize their different dynamics.

I come from a family of high-strung perfectionists. When we throw a party, utensils and napkins will match, decorations are themed, and we run around like crazy people making sure everyone is having a good time, often forgetting to relax and enjoy the atmosphere ourselves. For us, our Christmas tree is a prideful symbol of perfectly placed memories to display for holidays guests.

In contrast, Nathan’s family is laid-back and spontaneous. They might run a few minutes late to the party or use mismatched plates, but their love and camaraderie make any gathering seem like a family picnic, and no one is stressed out. Their Christmas tree symbolizes the ease with which they go about their daily lives, and the seemingly thoughtless ornament placement reflects their focus on the big picture, rather than the details. Regardless of the appearance, both trees provide each family with joy and holiday spirit.

When I reflect on all of this, I realized how lucky I was to be able to experience two wonderfully different families and appreciate and embrace their holiday traditions. Each Christmas season I cherish decorating trees with both families, although I still have to sit on my hands when watching my in-laws in action.

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My Aunt Debbie had been battling brain cancer for 18 months, and in the winter of 2007 she went into 24-hour care in a nursing home. Preparing for a Christmas overshadowed by her illness, my family began to pack for the trip down to Oklahoma. We would be staying with my mom’s parents, who were both in their 80s. My grandma had long forgone putting up her fake Christmas tree when we weren’t visiting, and this year she had purchased a conveniently-sized plywood “tree” that had various shiny bobbles attached to it. My mom informed me before we left Kansas that I shouldn’t bother my grandma about decorating the fake tree, but just appreciate her new wooden “decoration.” For some reason, this infuriated me. Mom and I went back and forth, arguing about my desire for a genuine Christmas tree and her wish to keep her mother as calm as possible during our visit.

Selfishly I stormed off to my room, where I sat and contemplated why I had become so enraged. It was just a Christmas tree, and a fake one at that. I thought back to all the childhood Christmases at my grandparents’ home; my grandma getting out the boxes of ornaments that dated back to the 1920s from her hall closet, and me and my brother spending hours placing them each in exactly the right spot. This was something special, different from our tree at home. In my mind, I connected that tree with all my gleeful, holiday memories of Christmases in Oklahoma. Somehow, I felt that without the tree, and given my aunt’s condition, we wouldn’t stand a chance of being happy this Christmas.

After an apology, I told my mother about my sentimental attachment to the tree, and how I thought it could be a source of cheer for us all. Of course she understood, so we created a plan that would make everyone happy.

My brother and I waited until my mom had taken my grandma grocery shopping, and then we went to the attic to retrieve the fake tree and the ornaments. We decorated it like always, hanging each frost-covered songbird, glittery fairy, and shiny glass ball with painstaking care. When they returned from their trip, my grandma gasped in surprise and smiled, her eyes bright.

“It’s a beautiful tree,” she said.

We visited my aunt several times during that trip, and it was almost impossible to remain composed, seeing her lay there, so frail and disoriented. Every time we returned to my grandparents’ house the tree was there to greet us. It twinkled with outstretched branches as if to say “It’s OK. I know you don’t have a lot of holiday spirit right now, so I’ll create it for you.”

My aunt passed away five days after Christmas that year. I miss her every holiday season, but now I smile whenever I see a Christmas tree, remembering the comfort my grandma’s tree brought us.

***

December 2009 marked the first Christmas Nathan and I celebrated as a married couple. Generally, people perceive winter as a romantic time of year that involves snuggling with hot cocoa by the fire, exchanging gifts with your special someone, and locking lips beneath the mistletoe. This idea leaves out the fact that many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, not to mention the financial strain the holiday season tends to cause.

So there we were, living paycheck to paycheck and spending most of our money on the heating bill and comfort food. They say money can’t buy happiness, but it can, in fact, buy a Christmas tree, which we both knew would cheer up our home. So we set out on a mission: to find the best tree we could for the lowest price. Turns out, this was mission impossible. After visiting three tree lots and picking through overpriced and sickly looking pines, the sun had gone down, our hands were numb with cold, and our stomachs were growling. We decided to try again the next day, but on the way home we happened to drive by the Optimist tree lot. Maybe it was the organization’s name that gave us hope, but we felt renewed enthusiasm. Perhaps, we thought, we could make one last stop.

We walked through the rows of trees that were sprinkled with lights, rubbing our hands together. There were many exceptional specimens, but we still weren’t sure we could afford any of them. Finally, a salesman approached and gave us the pricing spiel.

“This here is your Douglas Fir. It’s the Cadillac of Christmas trees.” Nathan and I looked at the tree longingly; this was definitely not in our price range.

“We’re more in the market for the Dodge Neon of trees,” I explained. He laughed and took us down to the opposite end of the lot, where I expected to find a pile of pathetic Charlie Brown trees.

But there it was: the Scotch Pine. For only $35, plus $2 for tree food and a disposal bag, we could have the perfect Christmas tree. One problem: We were both pretty sure we only had about $30 in our checking account. But we hadn’t come this far to go home treeless.

We took our Scotch Pine home, where we battled with the tree-stand for a good 20 minutes before realizing the tree itself was actually crooked, and would therefore stand at about 86° instead of 90°. But, to us, it was the most perfect Christmas tree we had ever seen. We sat on the couch and snuggled, staring at our crooked, undecorated, wonderful tree. We were happy.

Looking back, this was easily one of the happiest moments of our first year of marriage. We didn’t have enough money, we were still figuring out how to split up housework without arguing constantly, and we weren’t entirely sure where the next year would lead us. But we had our first Christmas tree, and for a moment, nothing else seemed to matter.