Buddhist Books Blog

Readings and writings on Buddhism, yoga, and contemplative science

About Me

 

My AvatarI’ve decided to remake this blog.  It’s been an on-again, off-again project, interrupted by attempts to create other blogs.  But since this one routinely got 30+ times more daily hits than anything else and is decidedly the most general repository for my thoughts and book reviews, I’ve decided to centralize all my posts here.

The blog is my ongoing discourse about contemplative science—especially Buddhism and yoga and their related subjects.  I am especially interested in how Buddhism addresses character formation via what I call “the Bodhisattva Project.”  To this end, there will be lots of book reviews as well essays and other odds and ends.  I welcome feedback, but please understand that I’m not interested in being told what to think (a few people have tried), though you are certainly welcome to try persuading me.  (The line between these two, I realize, can be subtle.)

As for me, I have bachelor’s degrees in psychology and comparative religion, and a master’s in business.  These days I live a rather unextraordinary life, married with kids while holding down a finance related job and running a real estate business with my sister on the side.  “In the days of my youth” (Led Zeppelin) I wandered and roved, spending eight years in Asia and circling the globe.  I’ve lived in temples and monasteries, a cave, a jungle hut, taught English as a second language and did a few things I’m rather embarrassed by.

Regarding Buddhism: my bias is towards the Pali suttas—no other texts can claim veracity as regards the historical Buddha, though this is not to say subsequent developments did not add anything worthy to Buddhist contemplative technologies.  I think the later Buddhist melding with Hindu tantra, which resulted in the Vajrayana, was especially fruitful, but pride of place has to go to the Bodhisattva doctrine, perhaps the most heroic and sublime religio-spiritual ideal ever conceived.  I will be reading and writing a lot about that on this blog; actually, I’ve already written a fair bit, but on other venues, now moving here.

13 thoughts on “About Me

  1. Hi Craig,

    I’m enjoying your reviews, and would like to suggest to review this book I found interesting — “Difficult Points in Buddhism”
    (http://www.amazon.com/Difficult-Points-In-Buddhism-ebook/dp/B0065R3P0Y/ref=pd_rhf_gw_p_t_2)

    Thanks,

    Nigel

    • Hi Nigel,
      Glad you’re enjoying the blog. This is actually the first time anyone has asked me to review a specific book. I followed the link you provided but I am not familiar with either the book or the author. I’m not presently planning to read this one, but if you want to find out more about it you might want to email the person who already did a review on Amazon. They gave it five stars, but as I’m sure you’re aware that can mean virtually anything. It all depends on what you’re looking for–introductory, advanced, scholarly, practical, or something in between. In general though I would, especially if you’re new to the field, stick with better known authors who have a solid background in Buddhism. (I’m not sure how the fact that the author “loves to party” is a recommendation….but who knows?) Anyway, good luck on your Buddhist research!

      Craig

      P.S. If you let me know what you’re looking for and what level you’re at, I may be able to suggest some books for you. Up to you…

    • Hi Craig,

      I have enjoyed many of your book reviews and we are generally in agreement 99% of the time. But you did state above that “And though I already know a lot, my goal is to do a fair bit of backtracking, of reappraisal, to try approaching everything with a sense of fresh discovery—though not, of course, without a critical eye”, so I am asking you to look at the Buddhist cosmology anew with the thought that despite certain embellishments in the Jataka Tales, commentaries, and later additions to the Nikayas for story telling purposes, the Buddha was referring to REAL realms of existence and REAL Gods in the various heaven realms in this cosmology. To suggest otherwise would make the Buddha a liar and fabricator in gross violation of his own teachings on Right Speech in the Abhaya Sutta.

      Along these lines, I encourage you to read (not necessarily with the intention of reviewing it) my new book, “WHY GOD BECAME A BUDDHA”, when it becomes available. You can read an excerpt from Chapter One here:

      http://www.whygodbecameabuddha.com/excerpt.htm

      I know of no work that is Theravada in inspiration that treats the cosmology with the sense of realism and compatibility with modern science as I have done in this book, as most academic treatment is dismissive of the cosmology as myth, humor or satire, which you seem to agree with given what you stated in your review of Richard Gombrich’s work. The practicing community seems unusually silent on this issue, preferring to’ go inside’, and casting a broad ‘speculation’ brush about Buddhist cosmology, even though the Buddha himself dd not treat the subject as speculation. There are far too many suttas mentioning and engaging within the cosmology for it to be an error in the transmission or transcription of the oral tradition, and as you say “we will all die some day” – most without attaining nibbana – so it behooves us to understand – as much as we can – what the Buddha meant by these fairly detailed descriptions of the cosmology, which I argue in the book cannot simply be dismissed as allegory, myth, humor or satire.

      I think part of the reluctance of many to take the cosmology seriously is based on their non-practice or limited practice they think this would make them a faith-oriented ‘believer’ rather than someone who understands based on direct knowledge and experience. And although you say you spent much time in Sri Lanka (where I currently reside) and elsewhere in Asia ‘practicing’ what the Buddha taught, given your dismissive attitude of the cosmology that is shared by most non-practicing scholars, I wonder if you ever encountered any being in any realm of existence other than beings in and from the human realm (this would obviously exclude animals, insects, and other common course-bodied beings, of course). This is not to knock your practice, but to raise a serious question concerning the nature of your practice. Do you know or have you encountered in the many years on the Buddhist path ANYONE who has had direct experience and knowledge of beings with fine material bodies of light as described by the Buddha concerning beings from the Rupa Loka realms?

      Feel free to contact me privately if that suits you. I have included my email in the comment form to this comment. Or you can contact me through the email address in the ‘contact’ section of the Why God Became a Buddha website.

      With kindest regards,

      -Metteyya Brahmana

  2. Ulf Hansrimehr on said:

    Your blog is superficial twaddle and smacks of existentialist crypto-nihilism. In short, you’re a materialistic demon

  3. Hi,
    Always nice to know yet another person appreciates those who have generously shared the Dhamma. Since you mention Munindra as one of Dipa Ma’s foremost teachers, you might want to know more about her and him in”Living This Life Fully: Stories and Teachings of Munindra” (Shambhala 2010).
    Thank you, Mirka Knaster

  4. Mary Finnigan on said:

    You should know that Sogyal Lakar aka Rinpoche did not write the TBOLD. Your review is kindly. Others with a more analytical perspective find it long on chumminess but short on accuracy. From a Buddhist POV there are many doctrinal errors. Hardly surprising because he person who did write the book, Andrew Harvey, is Hindu. The concept came from Christine Longaker, Patrick Gaffney did the research and Harvey wrote the book. Sogyal has become a multi millonnaire from the royalties. Sogyal is a sadistic sexual predator. For further info go to http://behindthethangkas.wordpress.com

  5. Hi

    I was wondering about sending you a copy of my book, “Bardo”, to review. Please let me know if you have the time and I’ll send you a copy.

    Thanks

    Chris

    • criticalbuddhist on said:

      Hi Chris,
      Apologies for my tardiness in replying to you–I’ve not been actively working on the blog for a while but plan to take it up again soon. As for the book….what I read is basically what I’ve chosen to read for my personal spiritual education so I’m not generally inclined to random offerings, even those that might have many merits. These days this especially applies to fiction which is admittedly odd since I’ve written a couple novels (unpublished) and a lot of short stories (a few publications). My life in fiction–alas–came to an untimely end on account of a series of unfortunate events and I ended up going a different direction. I wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors!

      Craig

  6. Have you come across / read Georg Grimm, The Doctrine of the Buddha? I have been studying the Dhamma (consider myself a Pali Canon Buddhist) for maybe 40 years (and that’s not the half of it). Grimm’s book is the most serious book by a Westerner that I’ve read (though it’s a hard read, originally in German, written first in 1915 or so).

  7. Hello, I enjoyed your blog and thought you might enjoy mine at palisuttas dot com.

  8. Hi Craig. This is the second or third time I visit briefly your finely-written blog on buddhist books. I just wanted to recommend you have a look at a pen pal who happens to be a scholar-practitioner. His name is Richard H. Jones and this is his website: http://richardjonesbooks.com/ He is currently re-writing some of his scholarly books on buddhism and hinduism in a form that is both accesible (plain English) and well-referenced (scholarly supported). He takes a secular stance on buddhism, just as you do. I think he deserves more recognition and promotion for his books.

    Best,

    Ruling (a reader from Panama City, Panama -Central America)

  9. Confused on said:

    Hi Craig,

    I have been thinking hard about the Lotus Sutra, especially in the context of Nichiren Buddhism, as being the highest teaching. After some reading and minor research, I feel that the ‘Pure Land Buddhism’ seems to have strayed away from the original teaching.

    However, being aware of my lack of any real depth of understanding of Buddhism I am not able to decide. My friends who practice Buddhism tell me that chanting to Gohonzon is the only true way. I find that and the concept of ‘Earthly desires lead to Enlightenment’ really hard to break down and understand. To me, it feels like it will only get me deeper into Maya and not away from it. Mantra is good but not the only way, mindfulness or Samadhi should not be neglected.

    Lastly, Nichiren does not seem to be like Gotama, although he is considered a Buddha. He seems to be angry with the other priests of his time and gave grave importance to the fear prevailing in the Kamakura period.

    Obviously, this is only because I am misinterpreting it and would be forever grateful if you could help explain or point me to resources that could help me overcome this difficulty.

    Thank you very much.

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