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Book Review: Rebel Buddha by Rinpoche Dzogchen Ponlop

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“Dont freeze my energy. Don’t cover me with labels; don’t try to improve me. Be a little braver. See me and accept me for what I really am. You might be surprised.” Rinpoche Dzogchen Ponlop writes this in Rebel Buddha about our emotions and confused thoughts, but the words apply to anything – the art of meditation, the entirety of Buddhist thought. Rebel Buddha is a thoughtful and thorough introduction to what some may think of exotic material, but in some essential way that very title rebels against those thoughts.

That title may indicate otherwise, but this is not a “cool person’s guide to Buddha.” Rather, the author takes the teachings and practices and “strips them down” from the associated culture in order to transcends Asian-ness or otherness or spirituality, all things that may put off an audience who might otherwise appreciate the ideas. The chapters lay out a clear, if not easy, path to self-knowledge, and suggests that what we rebel against is all too often our own selves.

What’s curious is that so much time is spent on “stripping” down that several chapters pass before you begin the actual practice. For a practice that is all about lettting down defenses, this seems a bit defensive.

In my own meditation practice, I have never felt the weight of religious or cultural trappings, be they Christian (I’m Catholic) or Buddhist. Some may associate meditation with Buddhist culture – the monk’s simple garments, a life of acseticism – and for better or worse, these can be fetisihized or dismissed as “so California”. But if you look beyond your preconceptions, you realize that the works of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron (who endorses Ponlop’s book), even if they describe life in the monastery, are very much about the world you and I live in every day.

The form of meditation I practice is known as Vipassna, but it’s also simply known as “Insight meditation.” I have been helped in my practice by two different meditation groups – one that meets at my secular workplace, another that meets at a Methodist church but is non-denominational in nature.

Rebel Buddha has much to offer to those who are drawn to the concept, but if the ideas intrigue you, there’s nothing to fear from a Buddhist nun – she won’t bite!

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About Pat Padua

Pat Padua is a writer, photographer, native Washingtonian, and Oxford comma defender. The Washington Post called him "a talented, if quirky, photographer." Pat has also contributed to the All Music Guide, Cinescene, and DCist, where he is currently senior film critic.