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From The Asian Reporter, V14, #30 (July 20, 2004), page 20.

The best use we can make of our human lives

The Lost Art of Compassion:

Discovering the Practice of Happiness in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology

By Lorne Ladner, Ph.D.

HarperSanFrancisco, 2004

Hardcover, 336 pages, $23.95

By Josephine Bridges

A core finding of Buddhist psychology is that unhealthy emotions like hatred, craving, and jealousy are always grounded in unrealistic views about ourselves and the world around us," writes author Lorne Ladner, "while positive emotions derive from and support accurate perceptions." This is only one example of the provocative wisdom contained in his wonderful book. If you long for contentment in your heart and peace in the world, you could begin by reading and practicing The Lost Art of Compassion.

Thereís a profound simplicity in Lorne Ladnerís book that makes it feel like both discovery and recognition at the same time. "Our being unhappy doesnít benefit anyone," he writes, and we are surprised to realize that we must have known this all along. Chapter titles like "Mourning the Living" and "Joyfully Losing an Argument" are just disorienting enough to pique our receptivity to the startling yet strangely familiar ideas put forward here, including a section on "Becoming Your Own Therapist."

Itís simple, but that doesnít mean itís easy. "If we sincerely wish to follow a path of compassion, then we must overcome gradually the egoís hopeless project of finding happiness by way of following compulsive desires. We must let go of our projections that idealize or devalue others. And we must focus particularly on abandoning our attachment to superficial, narcissistic images of our existing as solid, permanent, self-sufficient beings whose happiness is somehow more important than and independent of the happiness of others." Throughout the book, exercises guide the open-minded reader along the path of compassion.

The Lost Art of Compassion doesnít just tell, it shows, and this is one of the bookís great strengths. Martin Luther King, Sr.ís response to a policeman who called him "boy" not only serves as an example of bravery and self-respect in setting boundaries, but also of our interconnectedness: "Who can say," Ladner wonders, "what effect this interaction had on the future of the young boy [Martin Luther King, Jr.] sitting beside him?" The authorís dying grandmother prays that "her pain could serve as a ransom for any pain that her family, her friends, and everyone sheíd known might ever experience." And in occupied Tibet, Ribur Rinpoche was a political prisoner of the Chinese government for almost 20 years. The author has never heard Rinpoche "detail the forms of torture he experienced during his imprisonment, but hundreds of published accounts" describe "the worst kinds of physical abuse and torture." Yet by engaging in practices outlined in The Lost Art of Compassion, says Rinpoche, "my experiences in confinement were transformed into nothing but pure joy." Following his release from prison, Rinpoche worked with Chinese officials on the restoration of Tibetan art works that suffered at the hands of the Chinese army.

Lorne Ladner is clearly a compassionate psychologist and a gifted writer, but it as a cultural interpreter that he really shines. "What Western research refers to as attachment," he points out, "is actually a mixture of desire and loving affection." He outlines some "cultural factors that for modern Westerners may get in the way of cultivating gratitude." If you arenít sure whether youíre practicing compassion or codependence, "see whether you are afraid to confront the other person about things they do that are causing suffering for themselves, for others, or for you" and "ask yourself where that fear originates."

Lorne Ladner has written a book with the potential to change the world, one heart at a time. "If we spend time dwelling on our desire, we gradually cocreate a world driven by greed, advertising, and compulsive consumerism. When we dwell in anger and fear, we cocreate a world filled with weapons, conflicts, and wars. To the extent that we dwell in love and compassion, we cocreate a world characterized by peace, mercy, safety, and inspiring beauty." Thus, the practice of compassion is nothing less than "the best use we can make of our human lives."

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon