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Book Review: Why I Am A Buddhist

April 4, 2011

“Why I Am A  Buddhist: No-Nonsense Buddhism with Red Meat and Whiskey”
Written by Stephen Asma PhD
Published by Hampton Roads

Stephen T. Asma has a PhD in Philosophy and is currently teaching Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Humanities at Columbia College Chicago. He currently holds the “title” of Distinguished Scholar at Columbia as well.

I saw the PhD at the end of Stephen’s name, and based on my own assumptions and aversion to reading “technical” Buddhist books, I was pleasantly surprised that this book was not a textbook or some overly confusing book written a language most of us don’t speak. I am by no stretch saying it is a simple book either, what I am saying it is understandable and enjoyable.

His approach to the core teachings is reminiscent of those taught by Stephen Batchelor, with a little less of a Secular approach. His take on things like karma are very much in line with where I’ve been lately, and it’s rather uncanny that this book came into my life at this time.

“Many Western and Eastern apologists for Buddhism will do conceptual backflips to defend the reasonableness of karma and samsara. I see no reason to join them. There is no evidence that karma, for example, is real. In fact there seems to be quite good evidence to the contrary— bad people flourish all the time and good people suffer terribly. The idea that there is a cosmic force that functions like a law of nature and ensures that everybody eventually get what they deserve seems much more like wishful thinking than fact. I wish karma were true. But I also wish I could fly and make myself invisible.”

Our goal, as Buddhists, is to always find the middle approach to life and the people and things in our lives. Whether it be family, our friends or our jobs, Stephen’s approach is not only practical, but easy enough to implement even in the most raucous of houses.

Stephen mixes in stories of his own life, more so as a father than anything. His explanation of what it’s like to be a father and a Buddhist hit home. I find myself struggling all the time. But, after reading this book, situations I normally would stress about, I can now laugh at. I know now that I am not the only one dealing with the anxieties of imperfection. It’s all in the approach.

“Buddhism suggests that we do not have to compartmentalize our lives, but instead find a middle way between extremes. I can be a family man of action, instead of a cave-dwelling monk, but I can also elevate my daily actions to a spiritual level by applying mindfulness.”

Stephen is not some elder Buddhist teacher, he makes no claim to be a teacher of any sort. But, being a practitioner for over 20 years, he has a lot of experience to learn from. I also enjoyed his wit when comparing certain pop culture trends to the way we lead and or should lead our lives, as Buddhists. I recommend this book 100%.

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