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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #40 (October 3, 2006), page 16.
If you wish to know the truth
Kindness: A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom for Children and Parents
Collected and adapted by Sarah Conover
Illustrations by Valerie Wahl
Eastern Washington University Press, 2001
Paperback, 164 pages, $19.95
By Josephine Bridges
A mother so distraught over the death of her child that she is still seeking a cure for him learns from a wise teacher that there is help for her if she can find "a mustard seed … from a family in which no one has died." An ibex with "the intelligence and empathy of a human being" asks a king to give up hunting for sport, and sets in motion great changes in how the king rules his people. A boy explains with great eloquence why it is impossible to obey his teacher’s order to steal "without anyone watching." Kindness is not only A Treasury of Buddhist Wisdom, it is also a storehouse of practically everything else that is good about sentient beings.
In her introduction, Sarah Conover tells the story of the Buddha’s life and then encourages her readers to do with these stories as the Buddha enjoined his followers: "See what you think." In her preface, she provides a geographic, historical, and social context for this collection. Acknowledging Buddhism’s beginnings in patriarchy, she includes her wish that "future Buddhist story collections will include many more stories of wise, female teachers."
In the stories that follow are examples of gratitude, generosity, curiosity, and contentment that will not be squelched by hard times. A drunken dung beetle and a scared little rabbit provide some humor. Two of the stories, each only a page long, are reflections on the difficult concept of impermanence that are accessible even to young children: "A Man, Two Tigers, and a Strawberry" is a cliffhanger that ends in the middle. "Castles of Sand" is a dreamlike recitation of the shapes sand takes in the hands of children and the lapping of the river.
In addition to these jewel-like stories, Kindness also contains even more compact expressions of wisdom. "If you wish to know the truth, / Hold no opinions," is an especially challenging recommendation. "May all beings be happy and secure; / May they all be content," is a prayer that cancels out peevish grudges. "We must all face death; / Those who really know it / Put aside their quarrels," is nothing less than the simple and difficult way to peace on earth.
Kindness, illustrated with sepia-toned tranquility by Valerie Wahl, is the first book in Eastern Washington University Press’s "This Little Light of Mine" series and a splendid introduction to Buddhism.