April 20, 2009
I picked up City Dharma: Keeping Your Cool in the Chaos on a whim while browsing the library for books to take on my trip to Indiana. I had high hopes that it would address some of the issues that I have with Buddhist classics such as The Dharma Bums that mostly address Buddhism in a solitary and/or rural setting.
Some of my own most profound Buddhist moments, my own little satoris, have been a result of living in the city. Being on the T has reminded me many times that we are all one consciousness; I’ve been nearly overwhelmed with a feeling of wholeness in my heart, a literal swelling in my chest. Walking around the city, looking at all of the windows and trying to imagine the lives of the people living in those houses, the lives of the houses themselves, reminds me that we are all living our own stories – there is no one plot, and it is not about me.
Disappointing, the book is more a feel-good sort of self-help book about being mellow than it is any reflection on any actual Buddhist teachings. Though there is a sort of tangential relationship between the Second Noble Truth (attachment/greed is the root cause of suffering) and the materialism that is pervasive in cities, I think that the relationship could have been explored more deeply.
What really, really irritated me about the book is that whenever it references “Buddha nature,” it does so in terms of being “like Buddha or Christ.” Now, I know that the West is predominately a Judeo-Christian area and this book is being written for a primarily American audience, but it bothers me that so often to get anything of a religious or spiritual nature published, a writer has to bend to a Christian audience. Now, I think that Buddha and Christ did have similar philosophies in the “relaxed and groovy” area, but I really would prefer to read Buddhist commentary from a Buddhist perspective unless I’m specifically looking for a pan-religious view. I don’t think that Buddhist ideals need to be watered down in order to be palatable; I feel that it’s part of their beauty that they truly stand on their own as an “easy” world-view to adopt.
In the end, I would recommend the book for someone living in a city looking for an easy-going perspective on urban life, but not to anyone looking for a good background on Buddhist philosophy.