Richard Hayes is someone I would like to hang out with. He is knowledgeable, passionate about his interests, he is entertaining and also bitchy, which adds the requisite spice to the chicken soup we call Buddhism in the West. This book contains a collection of essays with a common thread based on Hayes' insistence on ethics and moral responsibility, his focus on what it means to be a true friend and, above all, his belief in the role of reason in the spiritual process (belief which itself borders on obsession). There isn't a transcendental bone in Hayes' body - witness sentences like: "... i strongly believe (sic!) that the only basis upon which civilization can be built is the foundation of reason. It is my belief that the only means by which we become superhuman is to abandon all thought of supernatural and the transcendental and to focus all our attention and energy on the concrete and particular problems of that which we can observe and understand in this world". This Descartian-Jeffersonian Yankee pragmatism does not have all that much in common with the little Buddhism I know, but nevertheless is a welcome respite from the touchy feely "Marin School of Buddhism for the Very Rich" of the likes of Kornfield and Boorstein and it provides a good defense against rascally tricksters like Trungpa, Tendzin and the many zen masters. Unfortunately, part of this "ethical Buddhism" also involves a rather dogmatic rejection of sexuality (sex, according to H prevents us from being friends) and every other non-mind-based mode of expression of life, which would make H's Buddhism a bit boring and bland (not to mention that it is an oxymoron, since wanting to live one's life by following the dictates of one's reason only is definitely highly irrational). The book, i must stress however, is not boring at all - far from it. H. argues his case well and many paragraphs are pure gems. One of my favorites is the essay on Dr. BR Ambedkar, a brilliant law scholar who helped the untouchables in India to rebel against the perniciousness of the brahmanic system of social control - the caste. The Buddha himself pointed out that all divisions into race, caste, social class, religious group, language group etc. are unnatural and man-made and that trying to live on the basis of such divisions is a lie which has disastrous consequences for the humanity. This is the part of Buddhism that interests Hayes and it is here that we should explore with him what it means to live sensibly and with dignity. I recommend it highly.
For half of a century, many persons in the West have been drawn to the religion and philosophy of Buddhism, whose worldview is sophisticated and liberating, and broadly encompassing of other systems of thought and belief, including science and mysticism. Dr. Hayes' book, however, goes beyond the ordinary allure of Buddhism and boldly critiques not only some of the more common misconceptions of the West about Buddhism, but also uncovers, through remarkable linguistic and historical insights, some of Buddhism's own historical apostasies, the ways in which some of its Eastern followers themselves, have lost sight of its true wisdom, the same way that followers of ALL religions do sooner or later. Dr. Hayes goal is, I believe, to make Buddhism relevant and palatable to a Western world which generally-for example, linguistically-often cannot understand it in the way it was originally set forth. For those persons who have abandoned their interest in Buddhism precisely because they are so tired of watching an endless stream of half-baked Buddhists embrace it without discipline or understanding, this book is a refreshing re-introduction to a wonderful way of living. I commend Dr. Hayes for his vast scholarship and his wonderfully readable writing style. I recommend it highly.