Reviews: Living Buddha, Living Christ and Buddha’s Not Smiling

Living Buddha, Living Christ was written by scholar, activist and Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who espouses drawing upon the truths (“fruit”) of many traditions.

Fruit salad can be delicious. . . . To me, religious life is life. I do not see any reason to spend one’s whole life tasting just one kind of fruit. We human beings can be nourished by the best values of many traditions. (page 1-2)

Through the practice of deep looking and deep listening, we become free, able to see the beauty and values in our own and others’ traditions. (page 7)

Hanh believes that Buddha and Jesus are both teachers devoted to leading their followers to a way of life that encompasses generosity, compassion and a mindful way of life, and that, “If the Buddha had been born into the society in which Jesus was born, I think he, too, would have been crucified.” (page 55)

When we understand and practice deeply the life and teachings of Buddha or the life and teachings of Jesus, we penetrate the door and enter the abode of the Living Buddha and the Living Christ, and life eternal presents itself to us. (page 56)

He further teaches that Buddha and Christ live on through us as we practice a mindful life following after whichever tradition we grew up in. He states,

No single tradition monopolizes the truth. We must glean the best values of all traditions and work together to remove the tensions between traditions in order to give peace a chance. (page 114)

I do not think there is that much difference between Christians and Buddhists. Most of the boundaries we have created between our two traditions are artificial. Truth has no boundaries. Our differences may be mostly differences in emphasis. (page 154)

This book blends the teachings and beliefs of Buddhism and Christianity into a plea for each person to faithfully and mindfully practice their religious tradition, to draw upon the truths of all traditions, and to be aware that whatever course we take, the result will ripple out into our families, communities, and the world. However, we encourage the reader to understand that when Hanh writes about Jesus, he is defining him in Gnostic versus biblical terms.

Buddha’s Not Smiling is an examination of the Karmapa controversy. Following the death of the 16th Karmapa, leader of the Karma Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, two candidates were put forth, Ogyen Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje, who each have been enthroned and have been independently serving as the Karmapa.

At issue are the methods used to select these candidates (political and/or traditional), and it has caused division and controversy amongst Buddhist leaders. Ogyen Trinley Dorje, who was recognized by Tai Situ, the third ranking spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu school, and who has the support of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government, and Trinley Thaye Dorje, who was recognized by the 14th Shamar Rinpopche, one of the second-ranking spiritual leaders in the Karma Kagyu school, and the support of Khenpo Chodrak Tnephel Rinposhe, the abbot of the Rumtek monastery until it was taken over by followers of Ogyen Trinley. He is now based in New Delhi. There are numerous other supporters of both, too many to list here.

This book examines the conflict between the Karma Kagyu school and the Dalai Lama’s exiled government. Historically, the Karmapa has never been chosen by the Dalai Lama, as its lineage dates two centuries earlier than that of the Dalai Lama. This book presents the Karma Kagyu as resenting the interference of the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama in their affairs. The author, Eric D. Curren, expresses his desire to be objective, but it should be noted he is a student of Shamar Rinpoche, and therefore, some bias may exist in his writing.

In February 2011, a gathering of 5,000 people attended an event in Sikkim state in India where they burned copies of this book. Sikkim is a landlocked Indian State in the Himalayas, where it borders Nepal, Tibet, Bhutan, and West Bengal.