Posts by Hazel Colditz

“Taneesha Never Disparaging,” by M. LaVora Perry

Taneesha Never DisparagingTaneesha Never Disparaging is billed as a young adult novel, but it’s a perfect read for all ages, exemplifying how spiritual principles can help us face up to our fears and transform hatred into love.

Taneesha Bey-Ross is a typical fifth-grader, facing her weaknesses and challenges in home, school and daily life. Taneesha is funny, creative, honest, and a loyal friend to Carli, a girl she befriended in first grade. Carli lives with her father and wears leg braces. Taneesha is African-American, while Carli is white. It is on their walks home together after school that they encounter their tormentor — a girl twice their size who bullies them and awakens Taneesha’s “evil twin” Evella, who embodies Taneesha’s inner doubts and becomes her inner tormentor. Through Taneesha we learn that we can conquer our fears and self doubts with humor, compassion, patience and love. In the end Taneesha realizes the bully is exactly the same as herself — with her own frailties, fears, and suffering, and that her bullying is a way of coping with this. This recognition allows Taneesha to connect with her enemy on a human level, and the two become friends. Taneesha’s Buddhist background, and the work she does on herself, makes this possible.

Title: Taneesha Never Disparaging
Author: M. LaVora Perry
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
ISBN: 0-86171-550-0
Available from: Wisdom, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

Taneesha’s parents are Buddhist and have raised her in their faith. The family together shares the rituals, teachings, and spiritual vacations, all along the way chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (“I devote my life to the wonderful Law of the Lotus Flower Teaching of the Buddha”). Taneesha has been practicing Buddhism since she can remember, and like most children growing up in a faith she does so out of love and respect for her parents. However as she grows into her eleventh year she begins to understand on her own the significance of her beliefs and the power of love. “In that moment, an invisible, cozy blanket wrapped around me and I realized something: It was true, I had to face life on my own. But I wasn’t alone. Even when my parents weren’t with me, their love was. And it always would be.”

M. LaVora Perry has herself been a practicing Buddhist since 1987. She was born and raised in Ohio, where she still lives with her own family. She has received numerous awards and is a contributing writer for many publications.

Perry makes Taneesha Never Disparaging an easy and engaging read. Its two hundred pages offer young readers to explore life in the company of a peer. The writing is powerful and profound, and Perry investigates and explores the inner worlds of young people with respect and compassion. She reminds us all the value of family and the wisdom of parental guidance. She reminds us of the important of the personal quest, and of the need to be heard and to make a difference in the world. This is a must-read for young people, especially in these times, where we are all struggling with conflicts, learning how to love one another in the faces of difference, and faced with the need to cherish ourselves through helping others.

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“Sitting Practice,” by Caroline Adderson

Sitting PracticeA Canadian author’s sophomore novel deals with the serious subjects of disability and unrequited incestuous love, but brims over with life and laughter as it provokes the reader to reflect.

This is Caroline Adderson’s second novel — and one filled with humor, likable characters and great writing that make for an easy weekend read.

Ross and Iliana are three weeks into their marriage when a car accident and a moving tennis ball change the dynamics of their lives and lead them both into a journey of self-reflection and faith.

Ross Alexander is a funny, charismatic and passionate chef who runs his own business, Reel Food, catering to the film industry. He meets Iliana, a nurse, after he has surgery on his nose because of a history of snoring. She is tall, beautiful, reserved and athletic, and when Ross first sees her he can tell just by watching her walk across the room that she is his opposite.

Title: Sitting Practice
Author: Caroline Adderson
Publisher: Shambhala Publications
ISBN: 978-1-59030-558-4
Available from: Amazon.com and Shambhala.

Iliana comes from a family with rigid religious values. “You were damned if you did not accept Jesus Christ as your savior, yet faith was a gift from God, not something you could go out and acquire on your own.” As an adult she struggled with faith. “Who in their right mind, she wondered now, could endorse so frustrating and cruel a paradox?” Her parents chose not to attend Iliana and Ross’s wedding. They did not trust or believe in the secular world, especially people — even their daughter — who did not share their beliefs.

Their love story also includes Ross’s twin sister, Bonnie, who lives her life searching for “Mr. Right” but finding only betrayal and loss because she constantly compares them unfavorably to Ross, with whom she is in love. Bonnie has a son, Bryce, who is a delight in Ross’s otherwise heavy and darkly comic relationship with his sister.

Throughout much of the story Ross deals with his the guilt he assumes for the accident, which causes Iliana’s once toned and tall body to become wheel chair bound. It was fascinating to read how the more Ross suffered the more Iliana “let go” to what was and accepted her limitations by training her physical body within its new limitations. She seemed more alive and aware of herself after the accident. Perhaps when we lose an ability that we take for granted, our other faculties heighten to fill the loss?

She reveals her suffering in her loss of intimacy with Ross. “Never would she be suspected of an affair because no one suspected her desire. The chair had neutered her.” These two sentences are powerful. It made me think of the countless times I perceived people in wheelchairs to be somehow detached, asexual, or fragile.

Adderson illuminated many thoughts for me that I might never have had the opportunity to think about… What if? … What if this were me? Iliana may have lost the use of her physical body from the waist down but this did not diminish her need or desire to be touched. Ross, like myself, failed to recognize that just because her external vessel had changed, internally she was still a woman, longing and desiring warmth and love.

Although I really liked this book there were many times I lost interest in the story due to the many flashbacks. Caroline Adderson writes wonderful dialogues but at times she seems to try too hard. When I first embarked on this tale I thought the title was going to reveal Ross’s Buddhist beliefs. In the end, however, I realized that true wisdom came by way of the reader, processing, interpreting and evaluating: how would a trauma like this change my life with or without a spiritual practice? The ending was a tad disappointing, because Iliana and Ross never reached a point of closure, but life’s drama is often like that.

While Iliana trained her physical body, Ross was training his mind with his Buddhist practice. Both seem to come to realizations to move forward in their own time and means, but I can’t help but wonder who is the one doing the “Sitting Practice”?

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“Jake Fades” by David Guy

"Jake Fades" by David Guy

As Buddhist ideas become more commonly known in the west, they increasingly pervade art and literature. Reviewer Hazel Colditz, herself a Buddhist and artist, was impressed by David Guy’s new novel of impermanence, Jake Fades. Author David Guy is a teacher and writing instructor residing in North Carolina. A graduate of Duke and author of several books, he reviews books for newspapers and is a contributing editor to Tricycle: The Buddhist Review.

Jake Fades is a novel of impermanence. It is a simple yet enriching read based on the day-to-day lives of two main characters: Jake, an aging teacher of life, and Hank, his sidekick and student. Jake’s mission in life is to teach that everything will die, including himself.

Title: Jake Fades: A Novel of Impermanence.
Author: David Guy.
Publisher: Shambhala.
ISBN: 978-1-59030-566-9
Available from: Shambhala and Amazon.com.

Jake starts out as a young man passionate about art and intent on making his mark. Most of Jake’s training in Zen is described to Hank in flashbacks throughout the novel. He travels to the east, meets a humble landscape painter in Japan, and soon becomes his student and servant. He is taught to focus on observing life: “Learning to observe and appreciate the landscape before you [do] something so presumptuous as painting it.” With Jake’s youthful passion and energy it is hard for him to be told to sit and observe. He resists for months but eventually gives in and grows to love it, and twelve years later he is ordained as a Zen priest.

Jake always holds to the early teachings he imbibed in the monastery: “Buddha nature, true self,” he says at one point. “This practice isn’t about sitting. It’s about compassion which can’t be taught … where you naturally feel for the person, reach out to help.” Jake teaches and embodies these aphorisms.

In Zen we say the answer to death is to die now. That’s our answer to the problem of impermanence…

Hank first encounters Jake while in Maine on a vacation with his son, Josh. Josh is a typical teenager, and he and Hank are having one of those father/son vacations-from-hell experiences. While in Maine they rent bikes from Jake, who repairs bikes for a living. When Josh returns his bike he throws it on the ground in front of Jake, frustrated not just with a difficult ride, but with his parents’ divorce and the problems this brings. Jake is unperturbed by Josh’s anger or the damage he causes to the bike, and Hank is struck with Jake’s compassion towards his son. This marks the beginning of their relationship.

The following year they return and thus begins Hank’s introduction into a life as a student of Zen. Jake has a way to make people feel safer and saner by just being around him and Hank wants more. Hank, who struggles with issues of sexual craving, love, and fear of commitment, tells Jake he wants to just stop all his constant craving. Jake tells him “This is your conditioning. This is your karma. You have to see this, the nature of desire.”

I particularly enjoyed David Guy’s storytelling and how he presents Jake as a rounded human being, a profound and humble teacher, but also imperfect. Jake is not a vegetarian, he likes to kick back with a few beers, and he has a passion for desserts.

Just beginning in Buddhism myself I have always had great difficulty in trying too hard, almost forcing my perception or understanding of what a “perfect” practice might be. Am I doing the prostrations correctly? Why won’t my mind just stop wandering during seated meditation? Why can’t I be like everyone else in the room, damn it! There’s reassurance in seeing the imperfections that can exist alongside an inspiring practice.

I recognized myself in the character of Jess, a young woman working in the town bar and who struggles to find herself, and in Madeleine, who can sit in perfect posture with grace and physical ease, but who after years of training cannot sit through an entire retreat because of overwhelming fear. She is the one whom Jake feels deep compassion for, a woman whose wealth made it easier for her to escape herself. She loves Jake, although Jake always knows it was not truly him that the woman fell in love with, but the Dharma, the teachings of Buddha.

David Guy writes about impermanence in and through his characters’ lives and their dialog…

David Guy writes about impermanence in and through his characters’ lives and their dialog, not just through the obvious fact of Jake’s death through Alzheimer’s disease. “In Zen we say the answer to death is to die now. That’s our answer to the problem of impermanence,” Jake says, introducing a talk that Hank is to give. Hank’s response to Jake’s words on impermanence comes out in a teaching: “Our past is what we think of as our life, that whole life of thought and memory that we carry around all the time, but nothing actually repeats itself. Every moment is new, and you can’t live this moment until you die to the past one.” This is the magic of David Guy’s writing; he infuses his knowledge or understanding of Buddhism in his dialog between the characters.

Jake teaches Hank that living in the moment is about being fully present. Jake is fully present even if his mind, because of his Alzheimer’s, isn’t. Even in his “moments of forgetting” Jake is in touch with what Hank calls “the unconscious rhythm of the universe.”

Jake connects his Alzheimer’s with his Zen practice. “Sesshin [intensive meditation] is like death,” he says. “When you can’t talk, can’t write, can’t read, give up everything that makes you you, who are you?” In an analogy Jake describes how once in his youth he is in a car accident and incurs amnesia: “The strangest sensation. I came to on a hospital table and was clearly awake, looking around, but I had no idea who I was.” Where does the memory go, when it isn’t there? Jake was scared living with his illness but was not unhappy because he had found acceptance.

“I wanted to discover wisdom that manifested as compassion.” These are Hank’s words as he describes why he became Jake’s student. He fell into the lap of Buddha so to speak. Isn’t that what we are all looking for? A life fulfilled, as portrayed in Jake Fades.

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