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The Big Questions

A book by Lama Surya Das, 2007

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Stimulating guide to settling down ourselves before stirring up the world

  • Aug 4, 2010
He sets out conversationally and casually a Buddhism-lite approach that anybody can agree with. That is, he argues from a genially non-theistic, contemplative but engaged direction the need to look within ourselves before we rush out to wear ourselves out trying to heal every affliction in the world. He advises taking time first to focus on key issues that we can practically change within our own outlook, and these chapters show how this reorientation can bring a calmer, more balanced perspective into our own attitude that then will radiate by our actions to others.

The discussions become more involving as the book progresses, with the later ones being the liveliest. His chapters that place gay rights and same-sex relationships within the continuum of civil rights make his arguments cogently and sensibly. Likewise, he touches upon how sexual love can serve as a spark for a "jet fuel" of a higher octane, more diffused or rarified compassion. This topic gets rushed over in a chapter about the viability of one's passions, but it's a subject that could have merited more attention. He ends with a fine discussion of how we need to ask ourselves the one Big Question, the one that matters most to us, and that the answer, given time and reflection, will come.

The editing needed revision. It flows pretty smoothly, but feels as often with authors who write a lot of similar books on their specialty as if typed out more from a rapid burst of productivity than a careful composition. For example, he misspells "Eli Weisel" and maddeningly his colleague "Thich Nhat Han" the whole way through; he also forgets that Hollywood and not Sunset's the boulevard where one walks over the stars in the sidewalks.

Not my usual reading, but I liked his essays in "Buddhism in America" (see my review). I figured a Jewish-born, Long Island sports-crazy teen turned Tibetan Dzogchen guru might be worth hearing out. This book was checked out from my library, after I'd noticed it on the new shelf, for years, so some of my neighbors must have been listening to the former Jeffrey Miller. This is one of many titles that he's written, and he writes in a manner where you can "hear" his voice on the page easily.

Therefore, for readers who might be put off by more Buddhist books, this serves as a stimulus to get one pondering. He avoids jargon and prefers a manner akin to a counselor rather than a lama. You get enough Buddhism to understand where he's come from and where he's going, but the application of his advice can fit any seeker's path.

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About the reviewer
John L. Murphy ()
Ranked #48
Medievalist turned humanities professor; unrepentant but not unskeptical Fenian; overconfident accumulator of books & music; overcurious seeker of trivia, quadrivia, esoterica.      … more
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