Updates to the Now
In short, this latest installment in a worthy, noble, and most-welcome series offers, as ever, a nice blend of episodic detail and panoramic perspective, served up via a pleasantly eclectic mix of voices. Seeds, path, and fruit are all in clear view, depending on your level of engagement. And you don't have to be Buddhist to appreciate or derive benefit from any of it.
Besides looking at the book head-on—as to its contents—we might also turn it sideways, for contexts. Let's explore the publisher's carving a path for Buddhism in the West, and the impact it's having.
The Buddha ("The Awakened") was a realized teacher who, during his life, spoke directly to his students. The presence of living teachers is thus crucial. This writer recalls when more Eastern Buddhas were sitting out in museums, behind glass, than living, breathing ones. Consider the exiled Tibetan Buddhist teacher ("rinpoché") Chögyam Trungpa (1939-1987). One of his students, author Rick Fields, once recalled, "He caused more trouble and did more good than anybody I've ever known." The good well remains.
Back in the cultural/spiritual revolution of the 1960s, two of his acolytes hung a shingle out on Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley: Shambhala Booksellers. It would become one of the country's most diverse and comprehensive purveyors of what was then known as "New Age." But note the name. Not "bookstore." Not "bookshop." Not "books." Booksellers: meaning, people. After all, it's people who become buddhas. (Or who already are, and just need a little encouraging.)
One day, a book appeared on their shelves they themselves published: Meditation in Action, by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. A transcript of some of his talks, it merged three modern technologies: tape recorder + transcriber + word processor. A year later, in 1970, talks by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi were published as Zen Mind Beginner's Mind. (The original publisher was Weatherhill, another independent house; this, backed by a Japanese tea ceremony lineage. Shambhala has since acquired the title). Both remain classics, beloved by beginners and adepts. These also prepared the ground for such landmark bestsellers as Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh, which laid the cornerstone for Parallax Press, and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, and The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama, from mainstream publishers. Two other early, notable titles from Shambhala's launch that also proved game-changing were The Tao of Physics and The Tassajara Bread Book. Now the press is an imprint of Random House. They thus engage America's cultural arena—the marketplace—while staying on the growing edge of titles on Buddhism and contemplative practice.
Gary Gach is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buddhism (Nautilus Award) and editor of What Book!? Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop (American Book Award). His work has appeared in such magazines and anthologies as AsianArt.com, BuddhaDharma, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Inquiring Mind, Language for a New Century, The New Yorker, Shambhala Sun, Technicians of the Sacred, Tricycle, Veterans of War Veterans of Peace, Whole Earth Review, and Yoga Journal.