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The Times
  • Book Notes: Two takes on the Buddhist life

  • Two books of a spiritual nature, new this June, are written by Buddhists. “A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life” is written by Lama Marut, an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk and spiritual leader at the Asian Classics Institute of Cape Ann (Mass.). “The Truth Never Fails: A Zen Memoir in Four Seasons” is written by David Rynick, a founding teacher of Boundless Way Zen.

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  • “A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life” By Lama Marut. An Atria paperback (division of Simon & Schuster), New York, 2012. 290 pages. $16
    “The Truth Never Fails: A Zen Memoir in Four Seasons” By David Rynick. Wisdom Publications, Somerville, MA, 2012. 196 pages. $15.95
     
    Two books of a spiritual nature, new this June, are written by Buddhists.
    “A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life” is written by Lama Marut, an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk. Lama Marut is a spiritual leader at the Asian Classics Institute of Cape Ann (Mass.) and Los Angeles, and he makes annual visits to Cape Ann to teach.
    “The Truth Never Fails: A Zen Memoir in Four Seasons” is written by David Rynick, a founding teacher of Boundless Way Zen, a national network of Zen groups. Rynick’s home in Worcester, Mass., is also a Zen Buddhist temple for teachings, meditations and retreats.
    This is not your average book review since both of these Zen teachers have, unbeknownst to them, contributed to significant and beneficial changes in my writing, professional and personal life. Rynick intervened in my only case of writers block and gave me the tools, in a half-hour phone call, to turn the situation around. Lama Marut’s teachings, echoed in his new and valuable book, have permeated every part of my life, starting several years ago when he said, “You can always walk away.” I remembered that the Dalai Lama once walked off a WBUR radio show hosted by Christopher Lydon. Why not give it a shot?
    Interested readers can seek out these very different Buddhist teachers, but they can also seek out their books.
    Lama Marut’s book is an intelligent, readable primer on how to live a good life. He begins with an exploration of happiness, and then moves into areas that influence happiness, such as forgiveness, not living in the past or dwelling on the future, gratitude, work, materialism. His book is a challenge to “swim upstream” and be the renegade that does not, for instance, buy into the dominant culture of consumerism, which is designed, he says, to keep you wanting more.
    Marut is a Sanskrit scholar, among other things. He likes to surf and ride a motorcycle, too. He makes his teachings accessible and contemporary. Recently, for example, he ceased wearing his Buddhist robes in order to lessen the distance between himself and those he encounters. If interested, you can sign up for his daily text messages — mini teachings. For longer teachings, there are his podcasts, downloadable from your computer.
    If you read through to the Epilogue, Inciting Happiness 24/7: The Components of a Sane Life, you will find a simple, straightforward plan for a way to live that, in conjunction with the rest of the book, can be considered either a serious daily practice or an overlay to existing spiritual practices.
    Page 2 of 3 - David Rynick’s memoir in four seasons is not exactly a guide for the good life but certainly the lessons are there, amid the poetic contemplations and anecdotes from his own life. Both Rynick and Lama Marut share their struggles, all of which are highly teachable moments.
    Rynick is often quite amusing, even when contemplating his distress. He uses his intestinal surgery, in particular his stubborn bowels after the surgery, as a way to talk about letting go. In another colon-related chapter (each chapter is written like a thoughtful one- or two-page journal entry), he attends a scientist’s talk about bacteria. He learns that we’ve got five pounds of microbes thriving in our colons. It’s a “gigantic collaboration,” he writes. “Neurons fire, thoughts arise, and myriad unknown friends and allies work effortlessly in my colon, deep inside the dark mystery I call ‘me.’” One has to wonder, how in charge are we?
    Among the things he grapples with are the demons that come directly from his work as a spiritual leader. He and his wife Melissa Myozen Blacker, also a Zen teacher, move to a large place near Worcester that they make into a Zen center. On the first 21-day retreat that Rynick offers there, he becomes ill with the flu and is incapacitated. He fights against his illness, wrestles with anxieties but finally lets go and asks for help. When he does, he realizes, he is giving others a chance to stretch in new ways as Buddhists, to lead, to help.
    Like Lama Marut, Rynick has a rich and varied background. He’s a life coach, a former professional potter and dancer, a kayak guide in Maine and an avid gardener. Most of these involvements make their way into his memoir in four seasons.
    Among my favorite chapters is one titled Not Working where Rynick regresses to a childlike state of enthusiasm that is innocent, unaware, unencumbered. He looks at the trees in the yard and remembers the lollipop trees he used to draw and that, he finds, is a way back “to the one who knows nothing of work.” It seems as if those cues or portals might be available to each of us should we sit still long enough.
    Rynick calls himself a reluctant adventurer. You can tell it was hard for him to write this book, especially hard to find his way into a book project he felt was important. But he did it and no doubt it will be treasured by many, as will Lama Marut’s book. Though different men and different books, they are the same in their desire to give and to help.
    Rae Padilla Francoeur’s memoir, “Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair,” is available online or in bookstores. Write her at rae.francoeur@verizon.net. Or read her blog at http://www.freefallrae.blogspot.com/ or follow her @RaeAF.
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