I've been waiting a long time for a good audio version of Hsin Hsin Ming and so I was very happy to discover this excellent overview of this key text in Zen literature. The author does a good job of doing a line-by-line explanation of the poem. I especially appreciated his use of the variety of translations in this commentary. He showed that there is more than one way to interpret the text. As with all things Zen, listeners are free to reach their own conclusions.
The only spooky thing about Mr. Mercedes, the latest book by Stephen King, is the way the author channels James M. Cain, the father of hardboiled crime fiction.
There are no zombies in this book.
No evil clowns or little girls with psychokinetic powers. No satanic armies unleashed by biowarfare experiments. No forces of good and evil fighting for the future of a disease ravaged world, No ghosts in empty hotel rooms.
There are no wormholes for time travelers.
There is nothing but 2014 hard core American reality.
Mr. Mercedes is an old fashioned hard-boiled detective yarn. It is what Cain or Dashiell Hammett might be writing if they were working in the social media world.
In keeping with the tough guy genre, the book does not take place in King’s more romantic locales -- haunted New England, stark and stormy Colorado or sunny but sinister Florida.
This is a Rust Belt novel set in an unidentified city where all the good union jobs went south decades ago. Most of the characters are either folks hanging onto a dwindling middle class dream or lost souls living on the riches made by capitalists who built industrial empires that now only exist in trust funds and memories.
If there were ghosts in this novel, they would probably be Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford.
Now, the heavy industries have been replaced by strip malls with yogurt shops and takeout chicken joints. The shopping centers are anchored by big box electronics stores holding neverending sales of unwanted DVDs as they teeter on the edge of brick and mortar bankruptcy.
In the hands of a lesser writer, this landscape would be too drab and depressing for most readers to bear.
But Stephen King works his storytelling magic even in the dingy dreamscape of the Great Recession.
As with the original hardboiled detective stories, Mr. Mercedes is character driven.
We first encounter Bill Hodges, a recently retired homicide detective, sitting in the living room of a lonely suburban house. He watches daytime television and nurses beers while playing with his revolver, contemplating the end of a seemingly meaningless existence.
King has an eye for the little details that define a character and the segment of popular culture he lives in, so his fictional people seem to live and breathe as we do.
“When Hodges returns to his chair with his small bundle of mail, the fight-show host is saying goodbye and promising his TV Land audience that tomorrow there will be midgets. Whether of the physical or mental variety he does not specify.”
I liked Detective Hodges right away.
Maybe because he reminds me of all my fellow restlessly retired baby boomers suffering from what-exactly-do-we-do-now syndrome.
As King’s original 1970s readers hit their 60s, the author, who just turned 67 himself, wisely introduces anti-heroes retirees can identify with, so they don’t feel the author has left them behind.
Retired Detective Hodges is that character in this book.
He is lured out of his torpor by a twentysomething (how perfect is that?) evil computer geek with a mundane name, Brady Hartsfield.
There is deep darkness in Brady’s mind and King understands what it is: :Every religion lies. Every moral precept is a delusion. Even the stars are a mirage. The truth is darkness, and the only thing that matters is making a statement before one enters it. Cutting the skin of the world and leaving a scar. That’s all history is, after all: scar tissue.”
As the novel opens, Brady drives a stolen Mercedes into a crowd of job seekers, killing eight. As the story progresses, he is planning a suicide bombing in the midst of 3,000 concert goers.
Unlike terrorists, Brady has no politics. He just wants to kill a lot of people.
The plot is complicated but not complex as Detective Hodges works to stop the psychopath before he can kill again. This cat-and-mouse chase is told alternatively from the point of view of Hodges, the point of view of the psycho killer, and the point of view of God or the author, whomever you chose to believe. The manhunt plays out both on the mean streets of a dead-end city and in the more sinister haunts of social media.
Covering the American diversity bases, Hodges, who is more at home with a TV remote than an iPad, is joined by an unlikely duo with high tech skillsets: Jerome, a bright middle class African American high schooler with Harvard ambitions, and pathologically shy Holly, a teenage case of arrested development in a middle-aged woman’s body. Her battered but brilliant mind requires Winston cigarettes and Lexapro to operate at peak efficiency.
This detective trio and the psychopathic killer move among pre-teen girls in screaming love with a boy band, unemployed victims of random violence, underemployed high school graduates, greedy families living off inherited wealth, a once beautiful woman drowning in Vodka, plus gangbangers, mobsters, arms dealers, self-important security guards, and cops, who, as the genre requires, are not the brightest bulbs on the tree.
King pushes this avalanche of humanity down the mountain of his 448-page story.
Once it gets rolling, it is unstoppable.
And Will Patton's reading is pitch perfect.
If you are looking for an historical overview of teachings on compassion in the major religious and philosophical traditions this book is a fine choice.
Karen Armstrong is perhaps the best religious historian writing today for a non-academic audience. Her short biography of Buddha is excellent.
She has also written other histories and biographies covering religious traditions and their leaders.
This book seems something of a departure. Here she is not only writing about teachings on compassion in religious traditions, she is also offering a 12-step program for readers seeking to enhance their own compassion.
On the historical side, Armstrong offers interesting insights into how most religious traditions developed a version of the Golden Rule. This includes a humorous story about Hillel, the Jewish sage who was a contemporary of Jesus.
Armstrong tells us: "It is said that a pagan approached Hillel and promised to convert to Judaism if he could recite the entire Torah while he stood on one leg. Hillel replied: "What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole of the Torah and the remainder is but commentary."
To an extent this is also true of Armstrong's book which might be seen as an extended commentary on the history and value of practicing the Golden Rule.
However, her attempt to come up with a prescriptive 12 steps for practicing the Golden Rule seems an over-reach.
It lacks a key message that Bill Wilson put in the original 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. After noting that none of the AA members were perfect practitioners of the steps, Bill noted: "We are not saints."
Too much of Armstrong's 12 step program appears aimed at turning readers into "sages," her term for saints. I am skeptical about how many flawed human beings will be able to follow Armstrong's steps to become more compassionate. Living the Golden Rule in daily life is a goal so lofty that it may be a case where the seeker is more likely to find frustration rather than fulfillment.
Also, this book appears to have been written prior to the Great Recession and speaks to lifestyles that only a few lucky people now live post-2008. (This is a problem with a number of popular spiritual books that predate the crash.) People struggling to get by in the post 2008 economic reality in the U.S. may find Armstrong's 12 steps a little out of touch with the survival mode many workers find themselves in today.
In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a glamorization of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. People outside AA might confuse them with popular self-help formulas offered on cable TV.
Bill Wilson's 12 Step program, developed for hopeless drunks in the midst of the Great Depression, was never intended to be a diversion for affluent Yuppies seeking to up their spiritual game. Working the 12-Steps of AA is a tough way to recover from a life-threatening disease.
To expect an average reader to follow 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life may be a misunderstanding of the pure desperation required to work the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
My bottom line would be that this book is good as history but the program it offers is unlikely to work for people struggling to hold a job and feed themselves and perhaps a family in post-2008 America.
Krishnamurti is entirely different from any of the other teachers who came out of India in the past two centuries.
In this public talk recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in March 1972, he makes three things clear from the beginning: he does not consider himself a guru, he is not representing any religion, and this talk is not an entertainment.
His speaking style while dynamic may take some time to get used to because it is as unique as he is. He frequently refers to himself simply as "the speaker" and he implores his listeners to pay attention, listen closely and not accept what he is saying as coming from an authority.
Krishnamurti message cannot be distilled into a book blurb. The most that can be said is that he sought to empower his listeners to become spiritual lights unto themselves rather than relying on the authority of a teacher or holy book.
His talk is intended to lead the careful listener toward self discovery.
He asks you what are the facts about yourself when you step away from relying on the dogma of religions or the techniques of meditation teachers?
Even the careful listener to this talk and any talk by Krishnamurti will benefit from playing this audio more than once. There is a depth here that blossoms with repeated listening.
Many thanks should go to the producers of this digital re-mastering of a live recording made with 1970s analog technology. Krishnamurti's distinctive voice is clear and the usual background noise from such public talks is kept to a minimum.
Expect to learn about yourself if you listen carefully. But do not expect to be spoon fed second-hand spirituality.
This is very much an Alcoholics Anonymous inspired story. That isn't a secret, Stephen King, recovering alcoholic, acknowledge the book's AA roots in interviews promoting this long-awaited sequel to The Shining. In this book, he's conjured up the True Knot, a peculiar band of vampires who rather than drinking blood, inhale the "steam" coming off victims who die horribly, mostly at their hands. Cleverly disguised as retirees traveling America in motor homes, these vampires desperately seek steam the way a junkie joneses for heroin or an alcoholic craves a drink. Like other addicts, members of the True Knot do any evil things to satisfy their addiction. It is up to Dan Torrance, the boy with the shining from the 1977 novel who is now a middle aged recovering alcoholic, to stop the True Knot. He gets help from Abra, a teenage girl, who has a powerful shining but is being hunted by the vampires who want to kill her for her steam. The ending where Dan confronts the True Knot and his own secret issues from his drinking days, pretty much follows the standard for thrillers. Will Patton, the reader of the Audible version, does an excellent job with the voices, including the New England accents of some of Dan's cohorts. There also is some good AA wisdom in this book but it is hard to judge how those outside the 12-Step world will view it.
Matthieu Ricard, a Tibetan Buddhist monk with a PhD. in the biological sciences, probably qualifies as a genius on many levels. His genius certainly shows in his creation of the most listenable audio meditation program I have ever encountered.
Most meditation audios I've listened to tend to start with long involved explanations, Ricard comes right to the point in plain English that is free of spiritual jargon. His guidance is broken up into segments that are less than five minutes long. You can listen to all 49.5 minutes in one go. Or you can listen to a segment and when the meditation chime sounds you can stop and reflect. This makes it ideal for someone who may only have a few minutes during a busy day. Take your iPod on a five minute walk and listen to Ricard tell you a little more about how a meditation practice may make you a happier person regardless of your outside circumstances.
As Ricard says: “It is the mind that translates good and bad circumstances into happiness or misery. So happiness comes with the purging of mental toxins, such as hatred, compulsive desire, arrogance and jealousy, which literally poison the mind. It also requires that one cease to distort reality and that one cultivate wisdom.”
He realizes this is not easy to do. You have to work to develop the practice of happiness. But when you consider that the alternative may be a miserable life, the practice is worth the effort.
This is a helpful guided meditation. Whether you have read about self inquiry in books about Ramana Maharshi or are just interested in the Zen or Advaita concept that you are not really the false self you think of as your personality, this is a splendid way to begin discovering your true self.
This brief talk is a good introduction to the concept of awakening. Adyashanti explains spiritual experience in everyday language, so the listener doesn't need to be familiar with Buddhist or Zen terminology since it is not used in this talk. It is also free of self-help idealism. The listeners are not told that they can transform themselves into spiritual giants or attain magical powers. Most refreshing is Adyashanti discussion of how a seeker might understand an awakening that is not permanently life altering but is instead a momentary glimpse of a larger unity. It might last a day or a week. But Adyashanti says it is still valuable and even if the sense of spiritual awakening seems transitory -- and what in life isn't -- it still has value.
Several years ago, when I first listened to this reading by Henri Nouwen in my car on my way to work, it didn't seem that big of a deal. But by the second day of listening on my commute, something happened. I noticed myself interacting with co-workers in good humor where only days before I experienced anger bordering on rage. Suddenly other people seemed transformed. I held the door for a woman, a total stranger, carrying packages at the mall and she said, "God bless you today." I stopped hating my job. I stopped hating the traffic on my commute. Externally, nothing in my day-to-day life was any better, but I felt better. Nothing outside me had changed, but something in me had changed.
I love this book and listen to parts of it every day as it has the clearest and most workable philosophy of life that I have ever found.
The basics of Stoicism can be gleaned from the opening lines: "Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not."
This book may not appeal to everyone since the philosophy runs counter to much of the dogma of popular culture.
Stoicism, as explained in this book, is a no-nonsense and straightforward philosophy. In life, there are some things you can control and some things you can’t. You focus on the things you can control, like what you eat and drink, and ignore things you can’t control like civil war in Syria or who is going to win American Idol.
Epictetus also advises against getting caught up in other people's problems or opinions.
"It is a fact of life that other people, even people who love you, will not necessarily agree with your ideas, understand you, or share your enthusiasms. Grow up! Who cares what other people think about you!"
As you can see from these quotes this translation is in understandable conversational English. And the narration here is very good.
This audio book makes you feel as if you were spending a snowy evening in Scotland in the home of a popular scholar-author, who is discussing his favorite poet and how poetry changed his life.
Alexander McCall Smith, famous as an author of mystery novels, acknowledges that W.H. Auden (1907-1973) is probably best known to the present generation for "Funeral Blues," the poem recited in the popular film "Four Weddings and a Funeral."
But McCall Smith wants us to come to know Auden as a spiritual poet, who at the outbreak of World War II wrote these lines for a refugee friend:
We fall down in the dance, we make
The old ridiculous mistake,
But always there are such as you
Forgiving, helping what we do.
If McCall Smith's love for Auden resonates with today's readers, the next step is to explore Auden's poems and find their own meanings in the timeless verses.
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