Jaya RudgardAjahn Sucitto: Breathing Like a Buddha, Amaravati Publications 2022.
A beautiful presentation of his personal and pragmatic understanding of the Anapanasati Sutta – the Buddha’s teaching on Mindfulness of Breathing. Ajahn Sucitto’s approach is very much informed by his years of practice (and love) of qigong and sensitivity to the body and its subtle energies. The book is very readable and has good tips for practice and thanks to the generosity of its sponsors is freely available online as a pdf or an e-book or in print from Amaravati publications. /JR

Patrick Bringley: All the Beauty In the World – A Museum Guard’s Adventures in Life, Loss and Art, Simon and Schuster 2023.
A non-dharma book that will nevertheless speak to many contemplative souls. Both my recommendations pack easily into one’s backpack!! /JR

John PeacockRichard Garmer, Beyond Morality, Echo Point Books 1994.
This is certainly not a new book, but one that I have found highly stimulating in thinking about ethical issues. It begins with the provocative statement that, ‘Morality and religion have failed because they are based on duplicity and fantasy. We need something new’. Garner then proceeds to examine Western and Asian approaches to morality, including large chapters on Buddhist and Indian thought, that detail out the varying approaches to ethics and morality. In doing so he is highly critical of all prescriptive moral rules, both objective and subjective, arguing instead for an ‘informed, compassionate amoralism’ in our approach to ethical and moral issues. If you are interested in ethics as a central topic within Buddhist practice then this is a book that you will find rewarding. /JP

A Mirror is for Reflection: Understanding Buddhist Ethics, edited by Jake Davis, Oxford University Press 2017.
After the more unconventional approach of Beyond Morality, this is a collection of papers that surveys both certain topics (justice, action, free will and moral ugliness) as well as the approaches taken by different Buddhist traditions (Zen, Theravāda, Tibetan etc) to these topics. As with all collections, the papers are of variable quality but highlight some very important issues for Buddhist practitioners, both from a philosophical and practical perspective. /JP

Christina FeldmanAlice Collett: I Hear Her Words, Windhorse Publications 2021.
A comprehensive contribution to understanding how Buddhist women contributed to shaping Buddhism. Well worth reading. /CF

 

 

Stephen BatchelorHelen Tworkov: Lotus Girl: My Life at the Crossroads of Buddhism and America, Macmillan Publishers 2024.
Born into the heart of the New York art world, Helen Tworkov became the founding editor of Tricycle magazine. This lucid, unsentimental and moving memoir offers a personal account of a life spent struggling to understand and practice the dharma from the 1960’s until the present. /SB

Ha Jin: The Woman Back from Moscow: In Search of Beauty, Other Press 2023
A fictionalised account of the theatre-director Sun Weishi, who grew up among the Communist elite around Mao Zedong, was sent to study theatre in the Soviet Union and returned to China after the revolution. In simple, unadorned prose, this powerful novel tells the story of a gifted and idealistic young artist who seeks to realise her vision of a new society. /SB

AkincanoSusan Neiman: Left Is Not Woke, Polity 2023
A distinguished and transatlantic philosophical voice, Neiman appeals to the left with passion, clarity and heart to recall the very ideals that built the best of the modern world. Do not expect a right-wing diatribe; the book is worth engaging with in a spirit of fearless and open debate. In any movement, groupthink poses considerable risks and people who step outside our comfort zones help us to critically engage with our own preconceptions. Neiman offers reflections on the practical implications of woke ideology for contemporary politics, emphasising the need for a critical reappraisal of the contribution of the Enlightenment philosophers – she suggests actually reading (!) them – and the need for a united movement that transcends tribalism and affirms a universalist and collective approach, rather than trying to address the challenges of our societies by splitting into smaller and smaller group identities. In her final understanding she may be much closer to the best of woke thinking than her title initially suggests.

Yasha Mounk: The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time, Allen Lane 2023
In his critique of identity-focused progressivism, Yasha Mounk comes from a place that shares many of its values. He speaks to readers who are naturally sympathetic to social justice causes – and yet, after a persuasive critique, he calls for a rejection, not an embrace, of identity-focused politics. Mounk lucidly distils what he calls ‘the identity synthesis’ into a number of core tenets – which he then plausibly critiques:
(i) Scepticism about objective truth: a widespread wariness of “grand narratives” that doesn’t stop at outright scepticism about scientific claims and universal values.
(ii) Discourse analysis for political purposes: a critique of speech and language as an attempt to overcome the oppressive structures to which language refers.
(iii) Doubling down on identity: a strategy of embracing rather than dismantling identities. (iv) Categorical pessimism: the view that no real civil rights progress has been made, and that oppressive structures will always exist
(v) Identity-sensitive legislation: the failure of “equal treatment” requires policies that explicitly favour marginalised groups.
(vi) The imperative of intersectionality: that effective action against one form of oppression requires a response that addresses all its forms.
(vii) Standpoint theory: that marginalised groups have access to truths that cannot be communicated to outsiders.
Mounk’s main criticism of this ‘identity synthesis’ is its lack of focus on class – that is, hierarchies based on wealth, income, education and proximity to elite institutions. He is far from unsympathetic to the stated aims of identity synthesis. Amidst a wealth of practical examples of how we have been negatively affected by its political, societal and institutional implications, he does not fail to acknowledge that genuine insights and understandings have been gained along the lines of the research that underpins its thinking. However, he sees that identity synthesis has developed in extreme and unconvincing ways, that ultimately betray the very goals it claims to pursue.

What I Don’t Know About Death  C. W. Huntington, Wisdom Publications 2020
A Buddhist scholar and lifelong meditator reflects on life, death, and the ways we blind ourselves to the inevitable as he confronts his own mortality. Deeply personal and honest, written with intellectual rigour, philosophically profound – often profoundly beautiful in a way that it opens the hearts.
„With the passing of the final weeks and days of my life, I am learning the hardest of lessons: to no longer want more than what I am given, and to allow what I have been given to guide me through the purifying flames of love and grief into the brilliant darkness of unknowing.”
His friend Jay Garfield writes: “Read it and weep, with tears of grief, gratitude, and illumination.“

Martine Batchelorbell hooks: All about love, Harper 1999.
This is not a recent book, it was first published in 1999.  I reread often as it is so relevant and so perceptive. “When we see love as the will to nurture one’s own or another spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respects, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same.” /MB

FILM: The Monk and the Gun, 2023
Filmed in Bhutan it is a wonderful take on modernity meeting tradition. It has a very Buddhist message in a plot twist which must not be divulged. It just came out in France. The director is Pawo Choyning Dorji.

 

C.W. Huntington Jr: What I don’t know about death, Wisdom Publications 2020
A touching, very personal account of a Buddhist scholar and practitioner of his own journey from receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis to his death./CK

In German:
Mettiko Bhikkhu: Gegen den Strich – erschließende unwissenschaftliche Nachschrift zu Satipatthana, Muttodaya Dhamma und Verlag Beyerlein & Steinschulte 2024.
Kein Buch für Neulinge im Dhamma, aber eine erfrischende Perspektive auf die Lehre und die Grundlagen der Achtsamkeit inspiriert von existentialistischen und phänomenologischen Perspektiven. /CK