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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Book Review: Dharma Delight - Tuttle Publishing

Buddhism has been practiced in Japan since at least 552 AD... maybe 538AD... coming from Korea or China. Buddhism was first developed in India, who pretty much gave it up after discovering Hinduism. The majority of Japanese are Buddhist. And Shintoists... but that's another story.

I was sent a copy of the book Dharma Delight - a Visionary Post Pop Comic Guide to Buddhism and Zen by Musho Rodney Alan Greenblat and published by Tuttle Publishing.

It was eagerly anticipated by me.

I read it.

I loved it. I hated it.

I learned plenty. It confused me.

For a book about Buddhism, the fact that I had difficulty quantifying it, it seems to relate perfectly to the subject matter.

I have long been struggling with the concept of god, religion, philosophy and self. Does it matter? Does it not matter? Does it only matter if one wants it to matter? If one doesn't care if it matters, does it truly matter?

You know that old Buddhist adage: What is the sound of one hand clapping?

This is me:

I can clap with one hand.

The sound of one hand clapping is supposed to be a question with no answer - a real classic Zen Buddhist query that is meant to give people an aid to enlightenment by confusing the mind into believing that there is one way to achieve enlightenment by enlightenment.

Does that render Buddhism moot? Just for me? Or is it just one of those bullish!t Buddhist sayings meant to baffle the senses so one thinks it's 'deep, man'?

I'm like Fox Mulder from the X-Files. I want to believe. The main difference is I'm pretty sure I'm not a fictional character.

With open eyes, and open heart, and yes... an open mind… I began reading the comic-book art infused Dharma Delight.

First off... that title is looooooong, baby. I would just make it Dharma Delight - a Comic Book Guide to Buddhism and Zen.

When you start tossing out phrases like 'visionary post-pop', my eyes glass over... maybe I should remove my glasses. What the hell is visionary post-pop? Pop art was big back in the mid 1960s, I believe... I have many an old Marvel Comics book that describes itself on the cover as 'pop art'.

Post pop-art? Did it take 50 years for post pop-art to come into vogue? Whatever... I'm no art historian. Although I did play one on TV.

To be fair, I was also confused by the author... is there any reason why he needs to have four names added to the mix on the cover?

I'm John Andrew Matthew Stephen Antonio Banderas Joseph Junior The Third, but you don't hear me bragging about it. Only part of that last sentence is true, by the way: J.A.M.S. Joseph.

We all know that first impressions are important: The title was confusing, as was the author's confusing range of names deemed necessary to have on the cover.

The absolutely colorful and wonderful drawing on the cover was great... but man is it busy!

I had thought that with Buddhism I needed to clear my mind of clutter?

The drawings - while good, and helpful, seem to go against the ideaology of Buddhism, and embrace clutter.

Am I being to picky? Like I said, the drawings are good, and they did teach me many aspects of Buddhism... so I guess the Buddha moves in mysterious ways. 
I followed the way of Dharma Delight, pondering it as it simply discussed philosophical questions, wondering how I fit in with it all... and discovered that I was more in tune with the philosophy of Buddhism than I had previously thought.

That's good right? Or is there no concept of good and not good? I'm over thinking this, right? 

Without being a Buddhist, I already thing like a Buddhist in many of the ways it teaches. Not all, of course, but many.

Although not stated, Buddhism is not a religion. It is a philosophy… a way of living one's life without the true need to worship at the feet of a god or gods.

It's more of a manner of thinking and doing or not doing. And even not thinking. Ohmmmmmmmmm.

I'm unsure I could ever achieve pure nothingness with my thoughts.

I am curious.

I'm even curious enough to wonder what nothingness is, and by doing so, do I disqualify myself from ever achieving it?

By nothingness, I mean the ability to think about nothing.

Does one truly think blank thoughts?

Isn't a blank thought by itself a thought and thus true nothingness can never be achieved?

I want to believe… then again… I'm not sure I really care if I do. Does that make me a Buddhist? I have few wants… most are carnal, but it's not like it alters how I live my life… unfortunately.

Do I wait with bated breath for things to occur? No… I'm not waiting to exhale… I'm pretty sure I breath in and out and live my life without the need for others to help me form a shell to define myself.

I want to believe. But my words say otherwise.

I wanted to like the Dharma Delight book. I did… mostly.

But I found a few parts in the book that made absolutely zero (in the negative way) sense to me. 

What the heck were pages 38 through 45? The Wow Temple?

Is this a Buddhist concept or is this a place one can really physically visit? If it's the latter, where the heck is it? It's presented as though it's a real place.

I have never been one to state the truly stupid phrase "Too much information" (It's never too much), but despite too much information in the drawings, not enough of the initial explanatory information was provided to make understanding easier.

Maybe understanding Buddhism isn't supposed to be easy... but neither should it be difficult.

I was also confused by the Buddha Time Projector and the Buddha Space Projector discussed in Dharma Delight. Are you telling me that the initial foundations of Buddhism delvde around time and space, or was this just the four-named Musho Rodney Alan Greenblat providing me with a sorta kinda simplistic definition of a key Buddhist philosophy?

My mind was blown in the wrong way.      

Outside of me not knowing what the heck the author is talking about for eight pages and silently dreading that there's 80 pages left for me to be confused by… the rest of it was understandable.

While I don't expect perfect understanding of a philosophy from a 126-page book (less two pages for copyright and information on Tuttle Publishing), neither do I expect to be confused by one.

I think one needs to have some sort of background in the understanding of Buddhism in order to get the most out of Dharma Delight - but I do not have that. 

I've read The Holy Bible, The Koran, The Torah, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Prince, the Tao Te Ching, the Art of War, plus multiple readings of the two Alice In Wonderland novels.

Heck, I even have a nephew named Bodhi - in Buddhism, bodhi is the understanding possessed by a Buddha regarding the true nature of things. Bodhi's parents are pretty hippie-dippy (they talk about Mother Earth, man), and did name him after that definition. He's a great kid, but I'm pretty sure his photo is not beside the definition in a dictionary.

Religion and philosophy? I get it.

Everybody's looking for something. (Eurthymics - Sweet Dreams)

But perhaps it was too much for me to expect enlightenment on Buddhism via a comic book, even though I do have over 35,000 comic books and an encyclopedic knowledge of most comic book characters, and can enlighten anyone trapped about a plethora of subjects, including why Wonder Woman should NOT be visible when inside her Invisible Plane.

(Actually, I just thought of that when looking for a 'hook'.)

For future Tuttle Editions of Dharma Delight, I would suggest headings, to introduce what the following concepts are about - a catchall page of sorts.

In all seriousness, the concept of Buddhism is not an easy one for people to wrap their head around.

When things become confusing - and confusing early - you are going to lose people.

As Hamlet said to Horatio: "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

As a fan of William Shakespeare, I have long believed that with all those myriad religions and philosophies out there that people have faith in, who the heck am I to say 'you are wrong' or that God's (or the Gods are) full of baloney.

Not me. Religion and philosophy is a matter of faith. I would never say one person's faith is less important than another's. That would go against the spirit of most religions or philosophies.

Buddhism is different. To me it is a singular spiritual journey of one... and that if everyone were to follow it, the world would be a better place. Then again… the same could be said about the world and any other one religion philosophy providing that everyone bought into it.

The thing is… I'm pretty sure I've never heard of Buddhism being used to hurt other people. It sounds like a great philosophy...  

Can I recommend Dharma Delight from Tuttle Publishing?

No. Not if you are someone like me looking to see if Buddhism might be your cup of tea.

If it had encouraged me to look further into myself re: Buddhism, I would say that this book is something everyone must read.

But it failed to do that.

Was it close to getting me to try Buddhism? I have no quantifiable way of measuring just how close or how far away it was, until I actually become a follower of Buddhism.

The point is, it did not convince me that I should follow the path of Buddhism. And I do truly want to believe. Or maybe I think I do.

I do know I would like to eat a steak for dinner... and that eating meat is frowned upon in Buddhism according to Dharma Delight.

Forgetting the fact that I know I should eat more salads than I do, I also enjoy the non-vegetarian diet.

Is it not presumptuous for Buddhism to say that eating meat is wrong, when it was a koan of how human beings have since the beginning survived, thrived and developed large brains and opposable thumbs? I don't know if that's true, but eating meat is a part of human development.

Oh wait... maybe Buddhism wants us to stop eating meat so we can achieve a higher plane of human development.

Maybe in my next life.

I thought the art was great… and when possible the explanations were simple and understandable… but when I have to wonder what the heck it is I am reading… well, Dharma Delight and my four-named Buddhist artist/writer friend… perfection is still a goal we apparently all seek.

For the record, I do not currently follow any religion or philosophy except: "Love and do as you will." Prayer of Saint Augustine of Hippo, First Epistle of John 4:4-12.

Andrew "you lost me at vegetarianism" Joseph

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