cover image Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight and Awakening

Songs of Spiritual Experience: Tibetan Buddhist Poems of Insight and Awakening

Jas' Elsner. Shambhala Publications, $25 (208pp) ISBN 978-1-57062-550-3

The tyro learning something about Buddhism will have noticed a trend in books: many are either about how to meditate or they're about theory. Fewer present Buddhist basics from the perspective of practice (that is, practice above and beyond meditation). Filling that gulch is this hefty volume by Ray, a Naropa University Buddhist studies professor, who presents ideas and actions, theory and practice. This book is distinguished by the author's comprehensive attention to detail. He explains both Buddhist cosmology and the history of Buddhism, and cogently outlines Geluk Buddhism, a line of monastic traditions from central Tibet. While many books focus exclusively on Geluk (which is a bit like using the example of Roman Catholicism to explain all of Christianity), Ray also explores non-Geluk practices, though he does not always flag a given practice as Geluk or other. There may be too much of a good thing hereDhistory, doctrine, practice, Geluk, non-Geluk, the kitchen sink. The novice may easily lose the forest for the trees. Clearer chapter introductions would have gone a long way to ameliorating that problem, and a glossary would have been more helpful than the chronology of important dates appended to the book's end. Ray refers to, but never delves deeply into, Tantric Buddhism (but his announced Shambhala 2001 title promises to pick up where this book left off). This tome belongs primarily to the very devoted and the very knowledgeable. (Dec.)