Just too scholarly. Buddhism backwards. 434 pages, ★
I’m a follower of the Venerable Master Chin Kung, a Buddhist teacher from Anhui Province in China. One highly memorable thing I learned from his lectures (which are all on YouTube), is the distinction between 学佛 (xue-fo) and 佛学 (fo-xue).
The distinction is much clearer in Chinese than English. The former, 学佛, describes the study of Buddhism with practice and spiritual belief. We can these students “Buddhists”. The latter, 佛学, describes Buddhism as an academic subject like chemistry. We can call those students “Buddhologists”. Even more beautifully, in Chinese, the words for “Buddhist” and “Buddhologist” are palindromes, implying that the latter of these opposing groups has learned Buddhism backwards.
We are Buddhists, not Buddhologists. To treat Buddhism as an academic subject amounts to learning nothing at all! When modern people make the mistake of studying Buddhism without practicing it in their everyday lives, they are failing to grasp Buddhism’s fundamental concepts [of compassion in our everyday lives]. This method is rotten to the core. Buddhology will forever be the wrong way to learn Buddhism.
Given that one of my most-respected teachers said that, how can I give this book any more than one star? It was also dry, academic, picky, and boring. Buddhism is supposed to make you feel good, but this book fails at that, too. Read Tiny Buddha or An Open Heart by the Dalai Lama instead. ★
Large and uneventful, just like Australia itself.
743 pages, ★★★
The Thorn Birds is a novel about a family who migrates to Australia by boat, then procreates. Not much else happens in 743 pages.
The Thorn Birds teaches me that 100 years of history (from 1850 to 1950) can be summarised as follows: they arrived, they had sex, and they killed all the rabbits. Compared to the founding of Communist China or the United States, this book makes the founding of Australia look like a walk in the park.
Admittedly, it’s because I recently read Mao’s Last Dancer, Wild Swans and Life and Death are Wearing Me Out that this book feels dull in comparison. Those three books were filled with revolution, massacres, political struggles and people tinkering on the verge of life and death. Reading about China’s Cultural Revolution numbed me somewhat to the delicate nuances and character developments in The Thorn Birds—just like how eating whole, raw chillies makes everything else taste bland for some time afterwards.
Maybe this book will make other books more enjoyable… Or maybe I’ll enjoy the fine character descriptions much more next time I read it. Either way, it’s going back on the shelf for a long time. ★★★