“The pond never stops rippling.” Buddhist teacher Nichtern (One City: A Declaration of Interdependence, 2007) offers a wise, humane, and deeply sympathetic introduction to the practice of Buddhism.
The pond never stops rippling indeed, which means that each of us must be mindful of the stones we throw into it. As the author writes elsewhere in his vade mecum, karma may not quite work as the popular conception has it, but what we get out of life certainly depends on what we put into it. Karma hinges on the acceptance of responsibility for how things turn out, though without interpreting it as “a kind of spiritual libertarianism, a way to praise the privileged and blame the oppressed.” (Take that, Ayn Rand!) Embracing the celebratory, friendly spirit of Thich Nhat Hanh rather than the austere solemnity of Robert Aitken, Nichtern examines the question of emptiness, which he insists is anything but nihilistic, and detachment, which is anything but uncaring, as well as the hows and whys of meditation and self-cultivation (“no fast food in this garden”). He also looks at such things as whether Buddhism is a religion, his finding that it is essentially humanistic being a matter of dispute among the many schools of thought that make it up, and at the problem of being mindful in an age of continuous partial attention. Longtime practitioners may find Nichtern’s approach a touch simplistic, but those wondering what Buddhism is all about will find plenty to think about in these pages, which make for a gentle and user-friendly invitation to explore further—understanding, of course, that there are many flavors of Buddhism, some of which would reject the author’s interpretations out of hand, others of which would embrace them wholeheartedly.
Not to be confused with Jim Harrison’s book of the same name, the product of another bodhisattva, though both are steeped in the same spirit. Thoughtful and helpful alike.