Inspirational reads


  • Books
  • Sunday, 28 Mar 2010

These books about spirituality aren’t preachy and they actually address people living in the real world today. Imagine that.

PEACE: A COMPILATION OF SHORT TEACHINGS

By Tsem Tulku Rinpoche

Publisher: Kechara Media & Publications, 212 pages

ISBN: 978-9675365164

IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

By Tsem Tulku Rinpoche

Publisher: Kechara Media & Publications, 142 pages

ISBN: 978-9675365188

THE Little Oxford Dictionary defines peace as “quiet, calm; harmonious relations; freedom from or cessation of war; civil order”. It is with this definition that author and Buddhist teacher Tsem Tulku Rinpoche opens his book, Peace: A Compilation of Short Teachings.

The book is divided into seven parts, each containing three to five chapters, with Tsem Rinpoche (Rinpoche is a title meaning “precious one”) explaining various concepts of peace and methods with which individuals could find the ever-elusive (and perhaps illusive) pathway towards peace and nirvana.

Of the 28 chapters in the book, these are the two I found most arresting: Peace is Not About Living in Paradise and Peace is Not About Clinging on to Attachments. These chapters touch on a pillar of Buddhism, that one should not become too attached to anything – and that includes not only material possessions but also family members. These two chapters are presented in a way that explains an age-old philosophy and connects it with the modern world.

What is so refreshing about this book is that Tsem Rinpoche seems to thoroughly understand his audience. Unlike other authors of similar books, this Buddhist master knows that his readers live in a secular world where the pressure to embrace materialism is great.

He writes, “Buddha is not trying to turn everyone into monks and nuns! That may have been the predominant method and practice during Buddha’s time, about 2,500 years ago, but the situation and times have now changed. The 21st century is not a time for monasticism and holding vows. Right now, we may not be able to do anything about things happening on the outside, but we can do something about what is within, here and around us.”

I find this paragraph particularly arresting, as I think it indicates that Tsem Rinpoche doesn’t place himself above us, he is as much an average human being as the rest of us.

And unlike other such books, this one is not preachy about the author’s beliefs and views of how peace can be achieved.

I do, however, have a bone to pick with the preoccupation Tsem Rinpoche seems to have with celebrities and the fabulously wealthy. Using them as examples, Tsem Rinpoche makes what seems to me to be sweeping generalisations, implying that anyone that rich cannot be entirely happy. Of course, anything that touches on the rich and the famous fascinates the public, so maybe this is a way of catching more people’s attention. But it does not sit well with me, as I feel he simplifies something that is more complex than is apparent and not so easily dealt with.

The writing in Peace is simple, with the author using first person narrative to get his philosophies and theories across. This works well, as the book is, as its title suggests, essentially a compilation of different ideas, philosophies and theories.

The short author biography in the front and a glossary of Buddhist terms in the back help readers understand where the author is coming from and what he intends to achieve with his book, which is to disseminate in the simplest of ways the message that peace is possible.

I think he reaches that goal admirably.

Saying it with pictures

If Not Now, When? is quite different from Peace: A Compilation of Short Teachings. If Not Now is a coffee table book featuring photographs accompanied by short paragraphs and single lines offering inspiration, encouragement and enlightenment to readers.

The book is divided into seven chapters – Dharma, Joy and Sadness, Peace and Anger, Harmony and Conflict, Commitment and Irresponsibility, Love and Fear, Life and Death – with each prefaced by an explanation of its title.

The preface for Peace and Anger reads: “If we are going to pray for and benefit the world, we should start with the people we live with. We don’t talk about world peace, we talk about the people we live with.”

The accompanying quotes, single sentences and short paragraphs for this chapter revolve around the theme of peace and anger, and ways to dispel anger and dwell in the peace that one can create for oneself.

The photographs in this tome range from everyday objects to individuals from various countries, nationalities and all walks of life. Black and white photographs sit comfortably alongside coloured and sepia-toned ones, while bold fonts spell out messages of hope and encouragement.

To me, one of the more striking and thought-provoking statements in the book is, “Yes, your difficulties and your problems are genuine, they are real, but they will also pass”.

If the aim of this book is to offer encouragement and inspiration as well as to have readers unconsciously practice what they’ve read, then Tsem Rinpoche succeeds – certainly, with this reader.

If Not Now, When? is well worth checking out as it will appeal not only to those seeking some sort of spirituality but also to those who are fans of inspirational books, those who are photographers (budding or otherwise) and those who can appreciate what a single picture can represent.

An updated edition of this book with an additional chapter on peace and anger was released in January; it is entitled If Not Now, When? The Peace Edition. Both The Peace Edition and A Compilation of Short Teachings are available at all major bookstores.

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