Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lodro Rinzler's "Walk Like a Buddha": Book Review

What would Buddha do at a rave? Would he post on Facebook? How might he deal with the morning after regarding his partner of the night before? Given the Tripitaka fails to enlighten us, a contemporary, hip, teacher tries. He's schooled in Buddhism as entering the everyday world of many growing up and confronting how their practice may not jibe with the rest of their surroundings.

As a second-generation Buddhist, brought up with Chogyam Trungpa's Shambhala teachings, Lodro Rinzler follows up his lively and snarky  "The Buddha Walks Into a Bar" (reviewed 12-24-11) with a version of "Dear Buddha" responses to questions via his blog. This shows the coming of age: he assumes Buddhism already within his readers, so he blends practical advice (e.g., about "right drinking" or horrible bosses, annoying ex's, partying, gossip, and the hookup scene) with a casually phrased, vernacular set of takes on how to interpret traditional Buddhist precepts.

Rinzler continues the style of his first book: so, unlike many published by Shambhala or counterparts, there's four-letter words and slang and references aplenty to what millennials might regard as pressing concerns more than those of the earlier counterculture. I find, as one born between the flower children and the branded wired era, his reactions to equanimity in a world that expects us only to rush, bicker, contend, and grapple refreshing. I realize his feverish combination of wit, pop culture nods, his bow-tied attire, his sense of East Coast "alternative" enclave making an entitled living, his expectation we may be eager to pursue the temptations of a frenzied, and commodified society as he may be, and his unflagging support for the current White House administration which arises from his all-out campaigning for it the last two cycles might put off a few while its casual tone attracts many.

Still, for the patient reader, and that is what appeals, for those in an uncertain job market, who labor away at less "creative" workspaces, who wonder the point of a 24/7 online presence, Rinzler tries to offer a voice not heard too much even in today's Buddhist circles. Similarly for the similar audience of Noah Levine's The Heart of the Revolution (2011), the tonglen meditation of generating compassion and engagement with a wounded earth and its inhabitants arises as one immediate way to ease suffering. Also, Rinzler's frequent reminder of the danger of shenpa, excessive attachment, helps to let readers let go of what so much around us insists we hold on to. This can be rooting for a team beyond reason (the Red Sox certainly do apply, alas, as he shows), or a fixation on any person, idea, or situation when Buddhist emphasis on surrendering such adhesion needs to be paramount.

Changing for the better one's community, he urges, can invite us to look at wherever we are. "Be it a boardroom, a bar, a biker gang, or even a strip club," one can enter that situation with an aim to "being fully there and being of service to others." He counsels to "take the action that causes the least amount of suffering" as a kind of Occam's Razor (my analogy) to come closest to "the nature of the Buddha's words" in tricky encounters or choices. He urges that the "more you can drop the idea of what you need to be happy, the happier you will be. The more you can relax into supporting movements that you believe are being of benefit to others, the more you will find you have energy and openness to offer to these movements." But, before rushing out to change everyone else, Rinzler suggests care for one's own intentions and one's own abilities. "This process begins at home."

So, while I know critics who castigate Rinzler for too complacent a nature to reconcile himself with the unjust system we labor in, or who dismiss his version of dharma teaching as too glib, a reader coming to this book with more open-mindedness may come away with some reward. While Rinzler will not likely include an answer to a query from his blog exactly what you need for your problem, he may reveal insight into how a more thoughtful, less selfish, and more long-range reflection can assist your own growth, your freer nature ready to handle difficulties more flexibly, and your self-understanding of how getting too tangled in what comes and goes fades next to what's necessary. (Amazon US 10-16-13)

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