Posts Tagged ‘book review’

Book Review: What the Buddha Never Taught

Thursday, 21 February 2008

What little I know:

Siddhārtha Gautama, aka The Buddha, started out life as the ancient equivalent of Hugh Hefner and whittled his desires down until he became One with Everything (the state of bliss; Nibbana or Nirvana).  After becoming Enlightened the Buddha traveled and spread his teachings, inadvertently forming a world religion that honors no God but demands adherence to highly moral precepts, including friendliness and compassion towards all beings.

He later died of food poisoning.

A fairly entertaining BBC docu called The Life of The Buddha can be found on youtube.  (Apparently if the Buddha were alive today, he’d be an underwear model.)

While not a Buddhist, I crave what the Buddha promised: the end of suffering. If this could be done by suicide you’d be reading Meatlights40’s shit instead of mine.

Reading Tim Ward’s What the Buddha Never Taught didn’t bring me Enlightenment, but it brought me a tad closer.I’m glad I found it when I did; it helped me answer what might happen if I moved to an austere Thai Buddhist monastery like Ward did.

The Answer to those seeking to get away: you’ll still suffer, but with a shaved head, scorpions and cobras under your feet and robes that will expose your nuts if you sit the wrong way.

Quite a few farang (mildly derogatory term for foreigners) like Tim inhabit this book, including a fellow that looks just like him (creating the duo of Tim and Jim, “The Twins”).

By monastery standards, the monks have a rich, if spartan life: the local farmers, seeking good kamma (or karma) fill their begging bowls with rich foods, giving offerings to the symbolic robes, not the monks per se.  Each monk gets his own kuti (hut) in the woods in which to meditate.

Ward has many lively conversations with the other monks about every manner of topic, reaching the conclusion that whether you stay in the forest or return to modern civilization, you suffer.

LIFE IS SUFFERING is the Buddha’s First Noble Truth.  (I wish Burger King would create a Noble Truths Collect-All-Four set of glasses or tumblers like they made in the old days).

Suffering is everywhere, it’s massive, it shadows life.You can’t escape it.

Except by your own mind.

Maybe.

The challenges to still the mind are relentless, endless:  if you desire something, that’s Attachment. If you avoid something, Aversion is equally bad.

People who dislike organized religion may also find insight here.  Any organized system will be fraught with human flaws, and the monks and their order are no different.  Tim is disgusted the Arahant (an Enlightened spiritual super-leader) of the Thai monks is very old and nearing his end in another monastery, yet is being kept alive so that donations keep flowing in for more monasteries to be built.  Jim is an even greater cynic, disgusted with the laxity and sloth he’s found in other monasteries during his travels.

A fine cast of characters rounds out the monastery, including a Chicago millionaire who gave up everything and (as of 1985) had been a monk going on 12 years.

I was happy to discover What the Buddha Never Taught.It’s highly accessible, straightforward and entertaining, one of those books you’ll want to read every few years.

While you suffer.

May all beings be happy.
May they be joyous and live in safety.
All living beings, whether weak or strong,
in high or middle or low realms
of existence, small or great, visible or invisible,
near or far, born or to be born,
Let no one deceive another, nor despise any being in any state;
Let none by anger or hatred wish harm to another.
Even as a mother at the risk of her life watches over
and protects her only child,
so with a boundless mind should one cherish all living things,
suffusing love over the entire world, above, below,
and all around, without limit;
so let one cultivate an infinite good will toward the whole world.

The Metta Sutta

Book Review – Dancing at Armageddon: Survivalism and Chaos in Modern Times

Monday, 31 December 2007

The short version: A sociologist/scholar spends years hanging out with various survivalists, then offers up theories about survivalism. Well-written but loses focus. Skip the edubabble. There is no appreciable hands-on survivalism knowledge in this book.

Dancing at Armageddon was written by one Richard G. Mitchell Jr., who explains he needed a “fresh” unexplored sociological subject to write about and found one in survivalists…problem is, he doesn’t do them any favors. Mitchell starts with the claim that James Huberty was the media’s stereotype of a survivalist (my own stereotype would be Burt Gummer from the Tremors movies) and goes from there.

Dancing was printed in 2002 but unfortunately is already dated, covering only the 1980s to early 90s, before widespread internet access, Y2K and, of course, 9-11. Even these “paradigm shifts” probably wouldn’t add up to much in uniting fringe groups or makeshift militias.

Mitchell “trains” with survivalists, who run the gamut from poor loners to wealthy suburbanites. He tosses off a lot of theories about the type of person that gravitates towards survivalism, their thought processes, etc,. using a lot of edubabble that only professors and other obfuscators would find interesting or helpful.

If you only read the first half of the book, you’d think survivalists were for the most part harmless scrabblers, tinkerers, information traders and universal hoplophiles*, engaged in a kind of hobby. The tone changes in the second half of the book, after Mitchell attends retreats and “churches” of White racial purists. What he sees (and caricatures) causes him to lose all objectivity, which is understandable for a human but unacceptable for a researching writer.

The so-called “White Power” movement (which does more harm than good to Euro-American culture and traditions) is peopled with misfits and losers; the same would go for any “race pride” group.

While I admire Mitchell for walking the talk in befriending many survivalists (and exposing the media’s sensational thirst to create enemy Outsiders) in the end he remains a (naturally) liberal perfesser. Having grown crankier and more cynical during years of study, for the last third of the book his original mission of exploring survivalism all but vanishes. You can take or leave his theories, but either way this isn’t an overall satisfying read.

* lovers of firearms