Useful and coherent but not as deep a study as it clearly wants to be.

THE TRAUMA OF EVERYDAY LIFE

A practicing physician and Buddhism expert examines trauma as a natural part of life.

Psychiatrist Epstein (Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis/New York Univ.; Going on Being: Life at the Crossroads of Buddhism and Psychotherapy, 2008, etc.), a prolific author on Buddhism, invites readers to learn from the example of Buddha and deal with trauma through direct engagement and Zen mindfulness rather than distancing or dissociating from negative life experiences. Although the Buddhist wisdom he imparts isn’t always necessarily layman-friendly, the connections he makes mostly steer clear of spiritualist mumbo jumbo or, for that matter, clinical psychobabble. However, some readers may get the sense that his main thesis—which could probably be summed up in the line, “If one can treat trauma as a fact and not a failing, one has the chance to learn from the inevitable slings and arrows that come one’s way”—is stretched a bit too far and isn’t quite enough to effectively carry an entire book. Rather than rely on his own experiences and philosophies, Epstein uses an anecdotal approach to illustrate his points about how regular people have used the teachings of Buddha to come to terms with their trauma, as well as how Buddha educated himself along the so-called “middle path,” which was marked by many instances of traumatic events that were unique to him. No matter how many different examples the author provides from the life of Buddha and others, ultimately, everything contained in Epstein’s book circles back to more or less the same idea of accepting daily traumas instead of burying them in one’s subconscious mind, which can toe the line between obsessively driving home a major point and simple redundancy.

Useful and coherent but not as deep a study as it clearly wants to be.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59420-513-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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