Sunday, September 13, 2009

Taming the Mind

Taming the Mind
© 2004 Thubten Chodron
217 pages

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I judged a book by its cover when I read this one. Oh, I looked it up on Amazon to see what readers were saying about it -- my substitute for thumbing through the book, which I cannot do when requesting books through an online library catalogue -- but really, I checked this book out because I liked the cover. The scene looks simple, natural, and tranquil -- and that's the neighborhood I like my mind to live in. The book is apparently written as a sequel to a beginner's guide to Buddhism, although I'm not sure why -- as this book seems to cover the basics. Chodron gives a history of Buddhism, comparing its schools of thought to one another, explains the essential teachings, and then applies them to parenting or employment.

Chodron takes Buddhism very seriously -- judging from their works that I have read, more seriously than the Dalai Lama. What I like about the Buddhist tradition is its emphasis on rationality and skepticism, and parts of this book made me uncomfortable in their apparent failure to live up to that standard. Siddhartha is viewed as less a wise teacher and more a demigod, and Chodron's advice to practicing Buddhists to avoid people who don't take the teachings carries a whiff of isolating fundamentalism. The book doesn't seem to mesh together very well, aside from being about Buddhism in general. There are chapters on Buddhist history, Buddhist culture, and other assorted topics that don't seem to go with "Taming the Mind". That book is in here -- some of the introduction, and the two beginning sections of "Our Relationship with Others" and on habits -- but there's a lot of information that distracts from that and absorbs space that perhaps should have gone to expanding the aforementioned sections.

Parts of the book are better than others, but I can't say I would recommend it. And I'm sorry to say that, because I never like reading a book and not being able to get anything out of it.* I'm going to try the author again, though.

* Save this, from "Dhammapada 165":
By ourselves is evil done;
By ourselves we pain endure.
By ourselves we cease from ill;
By ourselves become we pure.
No one can save us but ourselves;
No one can and no one may.
We ourselves must walk the path,
Buddhas only point the way

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