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Monday, March 30th, 2009

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12:17a
Not quite what I was expecting ...
I got this book via the "Early Reviewers" program over at LibraryThing.com ... I suspect I would have gotten it anyway, as the good folks over at Hampton Roads publishing (http://hrpub.com) have been sending me out copies of their recent Buddhist books for review, but it's always fun to "win" one in the E.R. program (which regularly has 5-20 requests made for every available copy).

I would have, frankly, been surprised to have not gotten The Dalai Lama's Little Book of Inner Peace: The Essential Life and Teachings, having read extensively in the area of Tibetan Buddhism, and having taken numerous initiations from His Holiness over the years (The Kalachakra in Madison, L.A., and New York, and the Avalokitesvara in Madison and L.A.), reflected heavily in my library. Needless to say, I was pleased to have this come my way and that the "almighty Algorithm" (the way LT matches books with reviewers) worked again!

I was, however, expecting something more along the lines of the title, a book of, perhaps, meditations for "inner peace", etc., when it really is more like the sub-title "The Essential Life and Teachings". Interestingly, this book has been kicking around in other forms for a while, first being published in French in 1996, and then in English (under the title The Spirit of Peace) in 2002. Here the material has been reformatted to a "little book" (4.5x5.5"), which is deceivingly thick.

In my opinion, this book is a very good introduction to the Dalai Lama for those who don't know much about him. This is divided into six sections, beginning with a biographical section, with some explanation about the concepts of reincarnating Lamas, then moves into the situation with the Chinese takeover of Tibet, and the Dalai Lama's life in exile. Very little of these first two sections has much to do with "inner peace", except in relation to how His Holiness managed to keep his own equanimity in the face of his people being butchered by the Communists.

The rest of the book steps progressively into more esoteric areas, with "The World Today", "Faith, Science, and Religion", "The Inner Journey", and "Life, Death, and Rebirth". Again, this is not specifically about "inner peace" as it is brief, yet very clear, explanations of how Vajrayana approaches various aspects of one's existence. Here are a couple of excerpts:

It is my profound belief that together we need to find a new form of spirituality. It should be developed in parallel with the religions, so that all those of goodwill can follow it, whether they are religious or not. One new concept, for example, is that of lay spirituality. We should promote this ideal with the help of the scientific community. It could help us establish what we are all looking for - secular ethics. I believe in this deeply, with the view it will lead to a better world.
That's pretty amazing advocacy coming from the head of a 1,000-year theocracy! Throughout this book, He looks "outside the box" (or what one might expect his "box" to be) and seeks to find middle ground on various levels (one thing that may surprise many is that he has meat with his daily meals, partly on the recommendation of his doctors, partly in that it is very hard to maintain a wholly vegetarian diet in Tibet, so the traditional meals have had meat included). Here's another, on a bit more metaphysical topic:

Emptiness corresponds to the idea of zero, to the total absence of intrinsic existence. A zero, in itself is nothing, yet without zero counting is impossible. Therefore zero is something and nothing at the same time. The same goes for emptiness. Emptiness is empty, and at the same time it is the basis of everything.
The Dalai Lama's Little Book of Inner Peace: The Essential Life and Teachings is a new release, so should be available at your local book vendor (at its very low cover price), while both Amazon and the publisher have it discounted for less than ten bucks. For long-time followers of the Dalai Lama, there are only subtle surprises here, but for somebody wanting to find out what "the whole Tibetan thing" is about, this is a very useful, and accessible, introduction.


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