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The Best Way to Catch a Snake: A Practical Guide To Gautama Buddha's Teachings Kindle Edition
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However, this like many other books written from the perspective and traditions of a Tibetan monastic school (Kagyu in this case) follows the same, predictable and well trodden path you might expect. Whilst in a recent interview, the author claimed to teach both a traditional and non-traditional approach, this did not come across in the book at all. As an example (and one that keeps recurring) the author proclaims that we all have past and future lives and that Karma will not only dictate what dukkha (suffering) is manifested in this life, but also our next lives. Furthermore, depending on whether an action was wholesome or unwholesome (decided by intention, apparently), it will affect what merit is accumulated and whether one therefore has a "good rebirth" or not. Presumably a log is kept somehow but the presumed metaphysical process is not explained. The author even urges the reader to get practicing because it will have a beneficial effect on your future lives. This is not untypical of a strategy used in both eastern and western religions to "encourage" faith and diligent practice among the uneducated or ignorant. In large parts of south east Asia, many so-called Buddhist seem to be attached to the idea of accumulating merit for a "better rebirth" and give large donations to monasteries in pursuit of this. However this kind of attachment conflicts with the original teachings on craving/clinging, attachment and aversion.
Now apart from the fact that this sort of metaphysical/supernatural discourse does not sit comfortably beside the pure logic and natural laws derived by the observations of the Buddha; it makes even less sense when the author asserts that there is no god or supernatural power that decides on the merits of your actions. Yet some sort of metaphysical score card is being kept but the author does not explain how it works. The author also suggests that Karma is profound and that only a Buddha can really understand the workings of it. This is a common ploy used in other established religions to hide a flaw or breakdown of logic in an argument. These flaws become more and more apparent as the chapter on Karma shows. I almost laughed out loud at some of the questions that the author claimed he had been asked such as: "...if a person kills someone, does he or she get killed in return, in a future life?" and "why do good things happen to bad people...?". What is sad is that people are gullible enough to accept unsubstantiated theories on karma and rebirth as fact, simply because it comes from someone they think is authoritative. Furthermore, why would these people think that a Buddhist monk, or any Buddhist or anyone at all could answer such questions? But it gets worse: the author then makes serious attempts to answer them using the Karmic effects on past/future lives as an explanation. Apart from the fact that this comes across as empty piety based on deference to tradition, it is more disturbing that the author claims to actually know the answers. Assuming it is not based on experience, observation or empirical study, how does he know? The contradictory assertions that wholesome acts have beneficial karma across future lives yet there is no god or power regulating this seem to have been overlooked. It is once again extraordinary that someone of obvious intelligence and learning, can have such a blindspot. It seems that this is a commonly recurring problem with Buddhism as taught from an "eastern" perspective that not only isn't easy to accept in the "west" but seems to defy any kind of rationality. It is because of these sorts of discourses that many Buddhists in the west are turning to Secular Buddhism as promoted by Ted Meissner at his secularbuddhism.org website and reading Stephen Batchelor's Confession of a Buddhist Atheist among others.
So, in summary: some solid work on the foundation teachings, but disappointingly and significantly flawed because of the inclusion of an irrational explanation of karma and rebirth which is increasingly out of step with modern rational thought that is less deferential to "tradition" and more likely to question arguments or postulations that defy logic or explanation.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
One does not need to be a Buddhist to benefit from reading this book. It is a source of inspiration and is truly a handbook for living consciously in our modern world.
His text covers the Four Seals, the Four Noble Truths, and the Four Preliminary Thoughts and includes appendices on the various schools of Buddhism and a short biography of the life of the Buddha.
Overall,Ven. Karma Yeshe Rabgye presents the subject matter in a way that allows a contemporary reader to relate the teachings to his/her life. At various points, the text invites the reader to think about different aspects of the material by posing questions that are intended for further reflection. Furthermore, Ven. Karma Yeshe Rabgye draws on a broad variety of scriptures that belong to various traditions of Buddhism to illustrate and support the claims he makes. Though he clearly identifies his own perspective (the Karma Kagyu tradition), he embraces the wisdom that is found in the writings of other schools of Buddhism as well. Contemporary references and a sense of humor make "The Best Way to Catch a Snake" pleasant to read and easy to follow.
The only suggestion I have is that, in the next edition, the list of sources that appear in the bibliography section be expanded to include all of the texts that are mentioned in the book. Doing so will allow the reader to follow up on the various canonical writings much more easily.
In summary, "The Best Way to Catch a Snake" is a clear and concise introduction to the principles of Buddhism that is intended for a general reader. I would certainly consider including it in an introductory course on Buddhism that is taught at the college or university level.
Christian M. Mahoney, M.A., Ph.D.
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