Here’s some light summer reading. (I mentioned in a post called the deep end a couple of weeks ago that this ain’t your ordinary, feel-good, Buddhist blog. So, my definition of “light” might not match up with the good folks at Tricycle, for example, and their book reading group thingy in their Tricycle community do-dad. And yes. Those are the technical terms.)
The following books are filled with excellent scholarship, are damn good reads, and/or are things I’m currently plowing through to finish up a couple projects this summer. Since they’re academic books, they might be pricy. (Of the four, I only own one. The rest are all on loan.) But any reputable library should be able to get them. Or maybe you have some industrious friends out there that can hack into a Kindle or something. (Not that I advocate for that sort of thing. Now is not the time or the place to debate the merits of “old” versus “new” technology or free culture versus intellectual property rights. That’s a whole different blog post! But. I digress…)
North American Buddhists in Social Context edited by Paul David Numrich. This collection of essays, more or less from the field of the sociology of religion, is excellent. The majority of them focus on “Asian American” Buddhist communities, but taken as a whole, one walks away with the impression that we’re just talking about Buddhists, people. I’ve got a forthcoming review of this book coming out in the Journal of Global Buddhism.
The American Occupation of Tibetan Buddhism by Eve Mullen is hard to find. It was originally published by a German press, I think (but the author lives in Georgia). But it’s worth hunting for it. If you can get your hands on it, it’s brilliant. She takes the topic of Tibetan Buddhism in America very seriously and through extensive fieldwork explores the complex relationship between Tibetan leaders, ethnic Tibetans in exile, and white American supporters.
The Making of Buddhist Modernism by David McMahan is one of the one’s I’m eating up somewhat greedily at present. I don’t particularly buy some of his argument (or, that is to say, the idea that there exists some “traditional” form of Buddhism that is not, in point of fact, merely a modern reinterpretation of tradition and therefore just as modern as modern Buddhism), I do deeply appreciate how he deftly describes and articulates how modern Asian and Western folks have constructed some interpretation of Buddhism that is being passed off as the saving grace of a “corrupt” tradition, somehow both radically new and the voice of the Buddha himself. Good stuff.
Meeting the Great Bliss Queen by Anne Carolyn Klein is a bit of an older one on this list, one that’s managed to slip under my radar for some time, and another one I’m plowing through at present. She does something both difficult and important: she interprets Buddhism from a modern, Western feminist perspective; and she interprets modern, Western feminism from a Buddhist perspective. (Buddhism needs the West? I dunno. But the West sure as hell needs Buddhism!) More than just insightful Buddhist/feminist analysis, however, the book also has some pretty mind-blowing stuff to say about mind, about personhood.
There’s more, of course. But that should get us started! I’m writing this list and recommending these books, in part, because while I certainly don’t think that the litany of books out there about mindfulness or compassion or “Zen and the Art of…” are necessarily wrong or bad or ill-intentioned, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Buddhism has been around for two and half thousand years. It’s been a deeply important part of Asian culture for most of that time. To assume that any one book can tell us all there is to know would be, of course, naÃ¯ve. So here’s an attempt to expand our knowledge of our tradition beyond the usual suspects.