February 12 2012
Review of “A Short Walk on an Ancient Path”
by Gary Peaw
Good books on the Dharma are not that easy to come by, unfortunately. Sure, there are a plethora of publications and websites that are about Theravada Buddhism, for example, but most are riddled with platitudes or misconceptions, even about basic Buddhist ideas likekarma and rebirth (see below). Ruhe’s book A Short Walk on an Ancient Path is a refreshing antidote to much of these somewhat poisonous misrepresentations of the Buddha’s teaching. And, as it states in its subtitle, it is A Buddhist Exploration of Meditation, Karma and Rebirth, some of the essential doctrines of Buddhism.
Ruhe is a Theravada Buddhist, having spent some time in the mid-Nineties as a bhikkhu(ordained monk) in Thailand, and now teaching Buddhism and meditation. He is based in Vancouver, Canada, and teaches groups and individuals covering topics such asMindfulness for Well-Being, and Meditation to Reduce Physical Pain. He has also written two books, the first of which was Freeing the Buddha, and the second being the subject of this review.
The book is a little over two hundred pages, and is crammed with black and white photographs from the world of Theravada Buddhism, primarily Thailand. For a relatively short book, A Short Walk’ covers the essential teachings and meditation practices extremely well. It is organized into nine chapters which cover The Four Noble Truths, Karma and Rebirth, and, most interestingly, Buddhist Cosmology. These are more on the theoretical, doctrinal level of Dharma, but the author also manages to include practical meditation instruction too, in the chapters How to Meditate, Opening the Heart, and The Five Hindrances.
So, Ruhe starts at the beginning of all Buddhist teachings with The Four Noble Truths. He is clearly comfortable at explaining these concepts and introduces them in easy-to-understand language, without ever dumbing down to the point of inanity. He contrasts the Buddha’s teachings with Christian ones, a device which he explains allows a western readership to more easily grasp Buddhist ideas. Here a sample of the author’s technique in this area:
“In the Bible, the emphasis is on a later time, at death. At death you will be rewarded for your patience go to church on Sundays, and you will get to go to heaven if you’ve been good. Buddhists are taught to be like the Buddha, to imitate the Buddha, and eventually become an arahant, as the Buddha was. Christians are not taught to be Jesus Christ, and they are not taught to realize their own godhood.”
(A Short Walk on an Ancient Path, p.4)
In the chapter Karma and Rebirth, Ruhe introduces us to his own meditation teacher Ajahn Sona, a western monk form the Thai forest tradition who is abbot of Birken Forest Monastery in Canada. A long and stimulating essay on the subject written by the ajahn opens this part of the book. In contrast to many modern-minded (perhaps postmodern-minded!) Buddhists, both the ajahn and Ruhe believe in karma and rebirth as traditionally taught in Buddhism. Alongside them, the well known monk Bhikkhu Bodhi also contributes to this chapter, which also contains references to many case studies regarding rebirth.
Now, whilst basically neither believing in the entirety of these subjects as traditionally taught, this reviewer tends to veer towards a somewhat modernist, psychological interpretation. Nevertheless, Ajahn Sona, Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ruhe himself present their thoughts in an engaging and persuasive manner, enabling even the most skeptical of readers to open up to at least the possibility that we are reborn according to our actions as Buddhism has long insisted. The author writes the following.
“Karma and rebirth is not just a religious belief. From a Buddhist view there is evidence all over the place. Look at your tendencies, your talents and abilities and your phobias. Some of this may have been carried over from a previous life. Even though the vast majority of people don’t remember their previous lives, past life memories are implicit, not explicit.”
Another challenging chapter mentioned earlier is called Buddhist Cosmology, and contains much that many of those (post-)modernists would frown upon. Ruhe’s view is that the heavenly and hellish realms, deities, ghosts, hell-dwellers, and the like that appear throughout the Tipitika – the Theravada Buddhist scripts, also known as the Pali Canon – are literally true. The reason people do not see them is “the lower concentration of our minds” that most of us possess. Deep states of concentration are an important skill developed in Buddhist meditation, which the Buddha is said to have perfected, hence the scriptures contain many instances where he converses with deities.
Talking of meditation, it is important to note that unlike many introductory books on Buddhist teachings, A Short Walk’ also contains several meditation instructions. The main meditation methods used in Theravada Buddhism are all here: meditation on breathing (two methods as taught by Ajahn Sona and Thanissaro Bhikkhu), meditation on loving-kindness (as taught by Ajahn Sona), and walking meditation (as taught by Ajahn Kusalo). The author also includes his own extensive commentaries on these methods, as well as useful tips on how to utilize them in our everyday lives.
“When walking down the street you shouldn’t use the usual walking meditation technique. You are moving faster and you need to be on the lookout fir cars and people but you can still practice mindfulness. Usually our minds are all over the place when we’re walking around in the city and we don’t pay much attention to sensations in the body…We walk so often, even close to home so this is a true opportunity to practice dhamma.”
In the final chapter of the book, Ruhe explores another important aspect of Buddhist practice not often examined that closely in books on Buddhism: the five hindrances. As he writes, “The five hindrances are the cause of delusion.” (Ibid. p.177) The author states that it is through mindfulness that delusion can be seen and understood, and that this is the path to nirvana. He goes into a lot of detail on each of the five hindrances, but unfortunately there’s not the time or space to examine them here, but this reviewer recommends that you purchase the book to study this subject more closely…it would be well worth your while!
So, overall, Brian Ruhe has written an excellent introduction to Theravada Buddhism; its central teachings are found in the book, and there are extremely useful meditation guides as well. And it is all presented in a clear and precise manner, which makes it all immensely accessible to both longterm Buddhists and newbies. I sincerely believe that this book can assist its reader to develop the insight and skills necessary to enlightenment, and, as he has an excellent website as well, Brian Ruhe is available for further advice on the ancient path of the Buddha. (See the links below.) If this recommendation isn’t enough for you, however, let’s finish by looking at what that famous and highly-regarded Buddhist monk Ajahn Brahm has to say about it:
“When even the CIA can’t decipher many Buddhist books on meditation, this clear yet profound handbook of teachings stands out from the rest. Moreover, it introduces the Dharma teachings of great North American Forest Monks to the general readership for the first time. If you are serious about Nirvana, get this book!”
(Ibid. back cover)
Shared Vision Magazine
Review of “Freeing the Buddha”
Diversity on a sacred path – large scale concerns
by Brian and Pia Ruhe
Brian and Pia Ruhe start where all good Buddhists start, with silence and the breath. Freeing the Buddha reviews why and how Buddhists meditate, and why paying attention to our breath and to the inner thought process leads to awareness and right action. The book makes it clear why Buddhism is distinct from the world’s other main religions, based on the knowledge of mental states that can only be discovered through personal introspection.
From this foundation of meditation, Brian Ruhe, a teacher of Buddhism at Douglas College, leads the reader through a series of ‘classes,’ beginning with Buddhist history and cosmology. The co-authors then provide excellent expositions on abstruse Buddhist concepts including the Eightfold Path, the notion of no-self, why Buddhists don’t speak of a soul, the awakened heart or bodhicitta, and the nature of Devas or beings from higher realms.
In a series of final essays, Brian Ruhe discusses Buddhism in relation to Nazi Germany, UFOs, Christianity, tribalism, modern politicians, and even the Beatles. He also discusses the differences between the orthodox Theravadin school of Buddhism and the derivative Mahayana and Vajrayana schools, which include Zen and Tibetan Buddhism. No single book could ever completely cover the vast subject of Buddhism, but “Freeing the Buddha” is a respectable start and a valuable resource.
Reviewers Bookwatch Midwest Book Review
James A. Cox – Editor-in-Chief February 2000
Freeing the Buddha
Brian Ruhe & Pia Ruhe
Buddhist Spectrum Study Group
Freeing The Buddha: Diversity On A Sacred Path is a one-volume course on major aspects of Buddhism presented in two major sections. Part I “A Course in Buddhism” surveys the four noble truths; the path to enlightenment; meditation; Buddhist cosmology and history; the heart of compassion; channelling and contacting spirit guides (the devas); teaching philosophy; and enhancing health, well-being and insight. Part II “Essays” offers a collection of challenging and controversial essays on such diverse subjects as: liberating the historical Jesus; sacred UFOs; 20th century history; Adolf Hitler’s negative use of the higher realms; Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism; and apocalyptic warnings. Author Brian Ruhe is a Theravadin Buddhist teacher and educator, and in 1997 a teacher at the largest Buddhist temple in Canada.
This course on major aspects of Buddhism adds controversial essays which challenge conventional teachings on Buddhism, providing not only an overview of Buddhist belief systems and teachings, but their applications throughout history. The author, a Buddhist teacher and prior monk, provides a very different perspective on Buddhist beliefs and their applications, adding a welcome dose of humor along with many insights.
BC Bookworld Summer (2000)
by Publisher/Writer Alan Twigg
WWF Meets Buddha
Review of “Freeing the Buddha”
Brian Ruhe travelled to Thailand and married Pia Ruhe, a shaman who has trained in alternative medicine since age 16. Now living in Vancouver, the couple have collaborated on “Freeing the Buddha”, a 416-page first instalment of a planned trilogy.
“In my efforts to spread Buddhism in the West,” says Brian Ruhe, who teaches Buddhism and meditation at Douglas College, “I must acknowledge the inspirations I have gained from the Sikh temple on Ross Street in Vancouver, and by televised All Star Universal Wrestling.
“The Sikh temple had been on the front cover of The Vancouver Sun for a couple of days per week because of debates between moderates and fundamentalists. All Star Wrestling is a teacher because the wrestlers are masters of creating a crowd-drawing spectacle by pretending to be adversaries to one another.
“The pioneers of Western Buddhism can learn invaluable lessons from these fine examples because a skilful display of differences in view can provide free promotion for Buddhism.”
The Ruhes’ book offers ‘a dangerous collection of essays’ meant to incite, not unlike WWF theatrical performers. There are references to The Beatles, UFOs and modern politicians. In ‘Rescuing Jesus from the Christians’ Brian Ruhe argues that if Jesus was alive he would say the religion he taught was closer to Buddhism than contemporary Christianity.
In ‘Adolf Hitler – The Bad Boy of Buddhism’, he contends that Hitler was an accomplished medium ‘who tuned into the negative powers of the higher realms’ to magnetize Nazi Germany. (604-733-8477)
Review of “Freeing the Buddha”
by Brian Ruhe
This book is not written to reinvent the wheel and offer up “just another introduction to Buddhism.”. This has a fresh approach of Buddhism which does not stir up dust in areas that most people have not thought of. There are Buddhist teachers who would discuss things privately such as Buddhist views on UFOs, Adolf Hitler and the historical Jesus, but they would not give public talks or publish books on such controversial subjects.
Sit, relax and wake up! Study major aspects of Theravadin Buddhism. Buddhist techniques can help us through the confusion of life towards peace of mind. Learning to be detached from constant change opens an opportunity for peace. Brian Ruhe’s defining work “Freeing the Buddha” reveals the core-splitting truth which dismantles Buddhist myths and enables you to seize the essence of your life and experience the rapture of being alive.
‘Freeing the Buddha’ is divided between Part I – a course with teachings, meditations, powerful visualizations, action plans and Part II – a far ranging collection of essays to take you off the plateau you are currently on and venture up the next mountain that is challenging you. Tranquillity meditation practice directs you inwards to a focused calm which can lead to joy and bliss. Vipassana – insight meditation, is a simple and direct practice- the moment-to-moment investigation of the mind/body process through calm and focused awareness. Learn to observe your experience from a place of stillness.
Meditation can be used to enhance health, well-being and insight and is taught in a straight forward way so that it can be used in daily life – which is the real meditation. Learn how to teach it yourself and discover the ‘Path to Enlightenment.’ During the 45 years of his ministry Gotama Buddha taught various aspects of his noble eightfold path. You will gain a foundation in Buddhism by studying each spoke in this ‘wheel’ of teachings.
Explore the two great qualities of enlightenment – wisdom and compassion and do visualization practices to crack open the heart. Awaken your loving kindness, compassion, altruistic joy and equanimity.
An inspiring book, it looks at the confusion and misrepresentation that so often accompanies great ways of thinking, such as the altering of the Buddha’s discourses and changes in Christian history. You will compare and understand why Buddhist traditions are so different today. ‘Freeing the Buddha’ also teaches you how to convert emotional reactions like anger and fear into positive actions, using sacred techniques to connect with inner wisdom. This book promises to be fascinating and fun! Learn to be genuine in every moment of your life.
About the Author:
A provocative author, Brian Ruhe trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand and currently teaches Buddhism at the University-College of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada and leads retreats wherever he is invited. You will appreciate Brian’s humour and openness.
I purchased a copy of “Freeing the Buddha” last February, on a whim. I thought it would keep me occupied on the plane ride to Thailand. I was travelling with a group of fellow students and our Master teacher Luang Phor Viriyang Sirintharo. This trip was the culmination of our training as meditation instructors. At any rate I found your book to be helpful and informative in many ways. The section on Buddhist Cosmology helped me to open many doors within my meditation practice.
Your book helped me to more fully understand the absorptions. I knew about the absorptions of the fine-material and formless spheres, but I didn’t know of the correlations with the devas.
I could relate well to the Star Wars & Star Trek analogies, and I believe such comparisons can go a long way in relating the Dhamma to North Americans; especially for the young people who seem to be suffering most intensely. It would be interesting to write a book teaching Dhamma through a Jedi analogy.
Just saying thanx, and letting you know there is an ally in Edmonton.
The Buddhist Spectrum Study Group
Re: Freeing the Buddha
Dear Brian and Pia:
I am writing to tell you that as a relative newcomer to Buddhist teachings, I read your book and was able to walk away with some inspirational ideas that I had not encountered elsewhere. Certainly your willingness to give a first hand and fresh perspective to timeless ideas is a benefit to anyone just embarking on a spiritual path, or those looking for additional viewpoints. I just wanted to touch briefly on my own situation, and how Buddhism in general, and your book specifically, have enabled me to improve my daily life in a very real way.
As a native New Yorker living on Long Island with my wife and young son, I travel to New York City each day to my job in the Wall Street area. As all New Yorker’s know, commuting is not a happy time, and the work week in general can be dog eat dog just trying to earn enough money to keep up with the Joneses. Well, your teachings on the Loving-Kindness meditation have changed an ongoing negative experience for me into a definite positive. Instead of sitting (or standing) on the train resenting all the bodies crushing me (they’re standing too close to me, they talk too much, their Walkman is too loud, etc.) I now follow your very practical application of Loving-Kindness practice, meditating on the positive feelings I have for the people in my life, then projecting those feelings towards the strangers around me, bathing them with the clear light of compassion and hope that all beings will indeed be. “well, happy and peaceful”, and that they find the joy of the Dharma as I have.
I hope my story serves as an example of the fact that the teachings of the Buddha are still so relevant and so adaptable to any situation, that even someone living in the most hectic and “modern” circumstances today, can apply the teachings over 2500 years after they were first put forth, half way around the world, as taught by the west coast Canadians to an east coast American. Truly amazing!
Thank you both for “Freeing the Buddha” and the important message it brings to us all.
Jonathan C. Hubschman
Rockville Centre, NY