The Power of an Open Question: The Buddha’s Path to Freedom

The Power of an Open Question: the Buddha’s Path to Freedom is a uniquely practical and psychological take on the old philosophical problem of Emptiness, or ‘E’. Elizabeth aims at writing a book in which the word is hardly used, yet the concept is made clear and comes home.

She succeeds.

The topic of Sunyata, usually translated as ‘Emptiness’, is often treated as a philosophical one. I’ve personally given lectures about the topic, from that perspective. However, real Buddhists have warned me that treating the topic in a night is just not a good idea. They felt it was too much, too deep. Well, it depends on how you do it, and what you’re aiming at.

As my friend once said, in jest, “I can’t wait to attain enlightenment so I don’t have to deal with all this bullshit.”

p. 12

However, reading this book, I am starting to kind of understand what that warning was about. It’s not that there is an issue with discussing Buddhist philosophy, it’s that ultimately it’s about how you translate that philosophy into daily life. For me, as for many smart people, the understanding of the philosophy is actually easier than the practical application.

Which makes this a difficult book to read – for me. I’m into philosophy.

I’m sure that’s not the intention of the author. She clearly meant to avoid the technical language, the philosophical debates, in order to make the topic more accessible to the general reader. I don’t know about that, because I’m not a general reader.

For me the occasional references to Buddhist debates that aren’t gone into at all are annoying. Mention them, and explain them, or don’t mention them at all.

That said – this really IS a book that brings home the practical side to the philosophical debate. I’m sure my next lecture on Emptiness will be better because I’ve read this. After all, ultimately Buddhism isn’t about philosophy, it’s about transforming your life.

On the whole I thought this book was deep, better in content than style, but definitely recommended.

[This review was written in October 2010 when I didn’t yet have access to the live Buddhist tradition, so it was my first hint of the difference between an intellectual understanding of emptiness and the realization of it: the way it can transform your life if you can integrate it into your heart.]

  • Author:¬†Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590307992
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590307991
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 5.9 x 8.8 inches

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