Landscapes of Wonder - Foreword

Discovering Buddhist Dhamma in the World Around Us

Foreword by Bhikkhu Bodhi

At the base of the entire system of mind training taught by the Buddha is a particular orientation toward experience called yoniso manasikāra. Though usually rendered “wise attention” or “careful consideration,” yoniso manasikāra has a penumbra of meanings that makes it stubbornly resistant to translation. The expression points to a mode of attending to immediate experience that marshals astute mindfulness and thorough reflection in a concerted effort to uncover the hidden truth of existence. One who practices yoniso manasikāra refuses to be taken in by superficial impressions, by the endearing smiles and bland assurances of sensory phenomena, but pushes on, with keen observation and relentless questioning, until he has reached the underlying bedrock of truth.

The book you hold in your hands is an exquisitely crafted exercise in yoniso manasikāra, a remarkable testament to the twin powers of wise attention and careful consideration. On page after page the author demonstrates that he has heeded well the Buddha’s message that the key to awakening lies just beneath our noses, that all we need to discern the birthless, deathless face of reality is to attend closely, deeply, and thoroughly to the everyday procession of events. The truth that brings wisdom and freedom does not reside in a mystical domain of its own, sealed off by steel gates from this dreary transient world in which we pass our lives. All along it has been dwelling right here—in our bodies, senses, and minds, in the flow of rivers, the flight of birds, the rhythms of the earth. The task the Buddha sets before us is to probe this material deeply, with unflinching honesty and courage, until we uncover the unvarying, universal laws of actuality. It is these laws that collectively constitute the Dhamma, the Teaching and the Truth, and it is the realization of this Dhamma that extinguishes the flames of our suffering.

In Landscapes of Wonder Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano leads us on a voyage of discovery, or rather a series of such voyages, helping us to decipher the cryptic code of Dhamma stitched into our everyday lives, beeping incessantly in the world around us. The book is a collection of contemplative essays covering a wide range of topics related to the Buddhist spiritual life, all written with a command over diction and imagery that is truly exhilarating. The essays fall roughly into two broad categories. One consists of reflections on the problems of practicing the Buddha’s teachings under the conditions of modern life. In these essays Ven. Nyanasobhano offers us solid, sober, level-headed advice that ushers us past the mazes and blind alleys awaiting the unwary traveler straight on to the pure, lofty, radiant path to freedom as taught by the Master himself. He does not seek to compromise the teachings to make them more palatable to jaded tastes, but shows us how we can apply the ancient, time-tested guidelines of the Dhamma in the perplexing world of today. Although this mode of writing in itself is not particularly new, Ven. Nyanasobhano’s words of counsel on such issues as the enchantment of romantic love, the challenge of renunciation, the demands of moral integrity, the need to respect the Dhamma on its own terms, and the signs of spiritual progress all brim over with sound common sense and uncommon wisdom.

It is with the second type of essay that our author is in a class of his own, master of a genre that is virtually his own creation. This is the contemplative excursion: literary vignettes that are at once bold flights of the imagination and complex tapestries of thought. Having invited us to join him on his saunterings through woods, parks, and fields, he begins with apparently banal observations about the familiar sights we meet—a fallen tree, a swollen river, the colors of the earth, a crane rising in flight, a fish dangling on a line. Then, starting from these humdrum remarks, he subtly leads us through a series of reflections that strip away layer after layer of our cherished delusions until we find ourselves, as if startled out of sleep, staring the raw truth of the Dhamma in the face.

Like fine miniatures these essays compress an enormous amount of detail into a relatively brief compass. They should not be read on the run in the way one grabs a sandwich and a cup of coffee on lunch break; rather, they should be savored leisurely, with frequent pauses for reflection, as one might drink a cup of Chinese tea while watching the full moon march across the sky. I would suggest not reading more than one contemplative essay per day. And on finishing the whole collection, read them all again, for they contain so many levels of meaning, such subtle reverberations of insight, that each reading will yield fresh rewards.

I first came to know Ven. Nyanasobhano about twenty years ago, when he was just beginning to develop a serious interest in the Dhamma. Over the next few years his commitment to the Dhamma continued to deepen, even to the point where, in 1987, he entered the Bhikkhu Sangha, the Buddha’s Order of Monks. Parallel with his practice of Buddhism his literary gifts have also matured, as he has continued to spin off one essay after another, each showing an increasingly greater mastery over the art of “wise attention.” With the publication of Landscapes of Wonder I think it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that American Buddhism has at last found its Thoreau, its rambling, loquacious poet-philosopher who can show us the deepest revelations of truth in the woods, rivers, and fields. This is an eloquent, joyous, and uplifting book, written with consummate skill, introducing us to profound new perspectives on the ever-fresh, ever-fecund Teaching of the Enlightened One.

 

Bhikkhu Bodhi

 

How to cite this document:
© Bhikkhu Nyanasobhano, Landscapes of Wonder (Wisdom Publications, 2013)

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