Christian-Buddhist dialogue is now old hat, a common occurrence at least since Thomas Merton and Thich Nhat Hanh became buddies through their shared concerns about the Vietnam War. But Christian-Taoist dialogue? Or Christian-Confucianist dialogue? Such is the uncharted interfaith territory explored in Purity of Heart and Contemplation: A Monastic Dialogue Between Christian and Asian Traditions, edited by Bruno Barnhart and Joseph Wong. The 18 essays gathered here were presented during a "remarkable week of interfaith dialogue" at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, Calif., last summer, and push the envelope of interfaith spirituality in fresh ways. (Continuum, $35 384p ISBN 0-8264-1348-X)
The Heroes of Genesis
Jacob was a trickster. Abraham lied and questioned God. Joseph was a braggart. These patriarchs of the biblical book of Genesis were certainly flawed, but in Primeval Saints: Studies in the Patriarchs of Genesis, James Jordan argues that they are "saints" nonetheless—particularly in comparison to the heroes of pagan literature. Jordan's writing tends toward the didactic, but the thesis is interesting and fresh. (Canon Press, $11 paper 160p ISBN 1-885767-86-2; Dec.)
With some books, the title says it all. In Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces—and How We Can Change Them Back Again, Michael S. Rose rails against the post—Vatican II aesthetic which has, in his opinion, created churches that are "ugly," "banal" and "uninspiring." Looking at the 80 photographs that are interspersed throughout, one has to admit he has a good point; when he notes that one modern tabernacle looks like a birdfeeder, for example, he's right on the money. Readers will never doubt that Rose's agenda is to return to the halcyon days of Catholic architecture, but even those who disagree will appreciate his entry-level explanations of key architectural concepts and straightforward writing style. (Sophia Institute Press, $24.95 240p ISBN 1-928832-36-9; Dec.)
And for the Buddhist's Bookshelf...
The cottage industry of publishing books based on the Dalai Lama's many speeches and homilies gets another boost with His Holiness the Dalai Lama: In My Own Words, compiled by Mary Craig. This collection eschews prolonged lessons in favor of short snippets—often just two sentences in length. These fragments are arranged thematically around issues such as forgiveness, nonviolence, compassion, suffering and human rights. Experienced Buddhist practitioners may opt for a meatier anthology of the Dalai Lama's thoughts (and there is no end of books to satisfy them), but this small hardcover offers a taste of Tibetan Buddhism for those novices who might be intimidated by a weightier tome. (Hodder & Stoughton [Trafalgar Square, dist.], $13.95 144p ISBN 0-340-78535-7; Dec. 15)
The Diamond Sutra has fascinated Buddhists for centuries because of its insights into dualism and illusion; the "diamond" can cut through any obstacle on the road to enlightenment. In The Diamond Sutra: The Perfection of Wisdom, Red Pine offers his translation of the text from both Sanskrit and Chinese, as well as commentary throughout. He also provides an interesting introduction to the history of the text's transmission, explaining that since the Sutra was originally in verse, he has tried to preserve its poetic coherence. This is a useful and beautiful translation of one of Buddhism's central texts. (Counterpoint, $25 480p ISBN 1-58243-059-4; Dec. 15)
Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings has sold more than 30,000 copies for Ulysses Press, which follows up with Thomas J. McFarlane's Einstein and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings. While the sayings offer some striking convergences between scientific reflections and various Eastern writers' statements on knowledge, impermanence, existence and the universe, their brevity and diversity make for some shallowness of thought. "Einstein" here represents not just Albert Einstein, but Werner Heisenberg, Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Richard Feynman and David Bohm—a scientific menagerie so various that Feynman in particular would have gotten a hearty chuckle from their being lumped together. And "Buddha" is not merely Buddha, or even Buddhist writers, but a hodgepodge of Buddhist, Vedic, Taoist and Confucianist scriptures. Religion and science is such a rich topic that it deserves more careful attention than is possible in this format. ($19 220p ISBN 1-56975-274-5; Dec.)
Correction:In our review of Michael Downing's Shoes Outside the Door (Forecasts, Oct. 15), we erroneously stated that Downing had not met with the primary focus of the book, Richard Baker, while researching the book. In fact, he had.