A Guide to the Buddhas… Vessantara

Every so often, you’re standing in a bookshop, or a library, or a friend’s house, your eyes drifting along all the tempting titles of the books on the shelves and almost idly you pick one up… and ten, fifteen, thirty minutes later you would still be standing there unless interrupted by something or someone or called for dinner or to go and get a cup of coffee…

The blurb on the back describes this book as a way to “meet the historical and archetypal Buddhas who for part of the rich symbolism of Tibetan Buddhism,” which sounds a bit dry, doesn’t it? However, Vessantara is, as the blurb continues, able to combine “the power of story telling with practical guidance and succeeds in bringing the Buddhas and their visualization practices to life.”

My head is full of people and the busy lives they lead… not just my stories, but the continuation of my stories; so after ‘Farholm’ ends for the reader, the lives of Michael, Deke and Sean continue in my imagination, the characters in ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’ don’t disappear after the last page, they are still with me, living new lives, facing new challenges.

For me, imagination is all and when I try to meditate I struggle because there are so many people in there, trying to jostle their way into my practice. Does that make me sound crazy? Of course, I know these are all figments of my imagination, but when I try to clear my mind of them, my brain seems to think ‘oh, nothing going on, let’s shut down’ and I drift away from thinking about breathing or whatever and fall into a sort of empty state… and no, really, I haven’t fallen asleep, really I haven’t!!

I’m just a beginner Buddhist and, although I have always tried to live ethically, in terms of practice I’m a newbie. Opening ‘A Guide to the Buddhas”‘ in the library was like someone  pointing to a signpost and saying “Try going along this path, see if it takes you to where you want to be.”

Sand mandala created by the monks of Tashilumpo monastery

Vessantara gives us a clear ind interesting introduction and then the first five chapters explain the background and context of the practice he will guide us through. Even if you’re not a Buddhist it is so interesting, and so well-written.. maybe I should suggest it to my book club! He has a lightness of touch, an enviable ability to use words so they spring off the page and grab you… I wish I had the same gift!

Chapter six opens like a story, a truly gripping story: “You cannot remember how long you have been travelling. For so long now there has been just you, your raft, and the sea. It is night, and you are navigating by the stars. At times, gazing out into the universe, you feel as though the Earth is your raft, steering its course through the firmament towards some long-sought haven.”

You have to admit, this makes you want to read on… and if you do you won’t be disappointed. This chapter is about the Buddha Aksobya, and the title is ‘Touching the Earth in the Eastern Realm.’

Aksobya

This practice guides you through the mandala, considering each of the five Buddhas and their wisdom. I could write reams and reams more about this book… but I won’t, except to say it is so much more than just ‘a good read’!

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