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Book Reviews

Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh, Riverhead Books, New York, 2001; 227 pages, ISBN 1573221872, hardcover $23.95.

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes simply and directly about how to understand and deal constructively with anger. His ideas center on recognizing anger for what it is, dealing with it constructively through mindfulness — that is, by being calmly aware in the present moment — compassionate listening, and loving speech. Instead of striking out or blaming, we need first to turn inward to deal with our anger through various practical methods, and then seek to understand its nature and origin. We begin to see that the other person is only a secondary cause, since others might not have gotten angry in the same situation. We may see that we ourselves have brought about the problem, or we may not have perceived or understood things correctly. The author suggests hanging up a paper saying "Are you sure?" as a reminder that we might not always be right, even when we feel sure we are. In any case, through this process we can stop blaming others and try instead to help them, transforming anger into compassion.

While anger often makes us want to punish, reject, and withdraw from people, it is important to honor one's relationships faithfully, particularly with those close to us; to continue to share ourselves with them; and to seek to restore loving communication even when we feel they have hurt or wronged us. Because there is fundamentally no duality anywhere, we do not need to fight or reject any aspect of ourselves, but rather to transform ourselves. It is important not to deny our feelings and pretend that we are not angry when we are. The author also feels it is vital to tell the other person calmly that we are angry and suffering, and that we need their help and support to get out of this state; or if we are too upset to talk to them within 24 hours, to write them a note and set up a later time to discuss matters. The other person then is apt to reflect on the situation, and once we have expressed our feelings honestly and kindly, and the other has listened with the sole purpose of alleviating our suffering, rather than to analyze or criticize us, then the relationship can heal.

Peace, happiness, and understanding all begin with us and come from within. They are rooted in recognizing the interconnectedness of everything. Moreover, in the author's view anger is not solely a psychological phenomenon, because mind and body cannot be separated. The things we read, watch, and listen to can be toxic, affecting our total well-being and predisposing us to anger and other negative emotions. So can the type and amount of our food and drink; as one instance, chickens kept in inhumane conditions are filled with suffering, anger, and frustration, "So when you eat the flesh or egg of such a chicken, you are eating anger and frustration" (p. 16).


Thich Nhat Hanh's advice and intentions are very practical. As he says, "A good teaching is the kind of teaching that you can apply directly to your life, so that you can transform your suffering" (p. 3):

If the practice is correct, if the practice is good, you don't need five or ten years, just a few hours may be enough to produce transformation and healing. . . .
. . . If, after several months, the practice we are doing has not brought about any transformation and healing, we have to reconsider the situation. We must change our approach and learn more in order to find the right practice that can transform our life and the lives of the people we love.
. . . If you practice very seriously, if you make the practice a matter of life and death,... you can change everything. — pp. 10-11

This review covers only a few of the many useful suggestions in this book which can increase happiness and help in maintaining positive relationships with others. — Sarah Belle Dougherty

The Ocean of Theosophy by William Q. Judge, Theosophical University Press, Pasadena, 2002; 208 pages, ISBN 0911500251, cloth, $17.95, ISBN 091150026x, softcover, $11.95.

Wading into The Ocean: A Companion to "The Ocean of Theosophy" by Ann Forsyth Danno, Point Loma Publications, San Diego, 2002; 220 pages, ISBN 1889598070, paper, $12.95.

In the early 1890s, most of what was known about theosophy derived from H. P. Blavatsky's writings — principally Isis Unveiled (1877), The Secret Doctrine (1888), The Key to Theosophy (1889), and The Voice of the Silence (1889), as well as her numerous magazine articles. As public interest grew, so did the need for a concise survey of the basic teachings to help explain what theosophy is and what it is not. William Q. Judge, a co-founder of the Theosophical Society and General Secretary of its American Section, responded with The Ocean of Theosophy, which has been continuously in print since its first publication in 1893.

The book had its origin in a series of articles for a Ft. Wayne, Indiana, newspaper. As Judge later wrote to an inquirer, "The Ocean of Theosophy is not meant as a complete treatise in which every point is elaborated with the detail permitted in a larger work, and at the same time it is my own work and claims no authority." And to another correspondent: "The book is a condensation of all that has been written by the best Theosophists, especially by Madame Blavatsky, on the subjects therein contained, as her books are very large and difficult to understand."


Over the decades The Ocean has been used as an introductory text in study groups and correspondence courses, its seventeen chapters covering such topics as karma and reincarnation; the sevenfold nature of man, earth, and the universe; afterdeath states and cyclic evolution; masters, sages, and adepts; spiritualism and psychic phenomena. It is a user-friendly book, relatively short, and not burdened with footnotes or other scholarly apparatus. The language is clear, straightforward, and, like Blavatsky's, unadorned by the rhetorical flourish common to the era. Despite the simplicity, its concepts are large and often challenging to first-time readers, who may occasionally feel their foothold slipping. Part of this is due to exposure to new ideas and terminology, and at times to a lack of context which the longer works provide.


It is for this latter reason that we welcome a new book, Wading into The Ocean, by the late Ann Forsyth Danno, who for many years conducted study classes on The Ocean. In her words, the book "consists of references quoted from numerous Theosophical and other important sources, such as the Bible, to clarify and enlarge upon the concise ideas presented by Judge. It is designed to serve as a study aid, either for the individual student, or as a class text." In addition, the book features answers to commonly asked questions at study groups (mostly in the form of excerpts from theosophical literature), and a glossary of Sanskrit terms; also three brief appendices on Rounds and Races, the Seven Principles of Man, and Colonel Olcott Meets a Master. To help readers, the editors of the book, Nancy and David Reigle, have thoughtfully added page references for both the Theosophical University Press and Theosophy Company editions of The Ocean, and an index.

The year 2002 sees the happy synchronicity of these two publications: a new reprint based on Judge's revised Second Edition, reset in fresh type; and a study companion for beginner and long-time students alike. Both volumes offer a refreshing dip into that "ocean of knowledge which spreads from shore to shore of the evolution of sentient beings." — W. T. S. Thackara

Entering the Circle: Ancient Secrets of Siberian Wisdom Discovered by a Russian Psychiatrist by Olga Kharitidi, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996; 224 pages, ISBN 0062514172, paperback, $13.00.

Anyone curious about shamanism will find this autobiographical book of interest. As a young psychiatrist living in Novosibirsk, Siberia, the author worked in a large psychiatric hospital in the early 1990s. Entering the Circle describes how seemingly by chance she became the pupil of a Siberian shaman and her subsequent visions and investigations into altered states of awareness.

Her adventures began when a good friend contracted a medical condition that the doctors could not relieve. A neighbor, Nicholai, persuaded the friend to visit a shaman who lived near his remote village in the Altai mountains. Earlier this young man had consulted Dr. Kharitidi because he was hearing his dead uncle's voice often and insistently. He revealed that his uncle, a renowned shaman, had declared loudly just as he died that he was bequeathing his power to the nephew. After resisting this fate for some time, Nicholai had finally decided to return to his old home to pursue the shaman path, and offered to take the two women along.


The shamans there were wary of strangers. In earlier times outsiders had come and persuaded all the shamans to gather and meet in a hut, which then was doused with kerosene and set alight; only two shamans survived. Afterwards came persecutions by Christians, Russians, and Soviets, so their suspicions were well grounded. However, the neighboring shaman did agree to heal the friend, who recovered fully and immediately. Despite initial reservations, Dr. Kharitidi's admiration for and attraction to this shaman increased. She received teachings through visions and lucid dreams, several of which are recounted. Some of these concern the hidden land of Belovidia or Shambhala, said to be located south of the Altai mountains. Siberian legend holds that it is the age-old, primeval residence of perfected men and women, known and seen by few, whose duty continues to be spreading spiritual truths throughout the world. Other teachings she received include the fact that everyone has a "Spirit Twin," an immortal observer whose influence channels intuition and wisdom to the everyday self or material twin. When this spiritual aspect of our being is neglected from over-concentration on outer matters, people are cut off from their inner strength and resources and their lives become empty. Her teacher also gave her the shaman's First Rule: before making any decision, large or small, ask yourself whether it will lead to Truth, Beauty, Health, Happiness, and Light? If the answer is yes, then all will be well. If not, do not act on it.

Back in Novosibirsk, Dr. Kharitidi began applying some shamanic methods to her own patients, presenting them to her colleagues as scientific experiments. One night she had a visionary visitation from her teacher, who in parting said, "Just ask your [inner] Healer to come out and do the work. Don't be surprised at your own actions, even if they seem strange or even foolish. Try it tomorrow and see for yourself" (p. 183). The next day she was assigned a hopeless schizophrenic, a completely unresponsive, passive woman who seemed doomed to remain incarcerated for life. Sitting across from this patient and feeling frustrated, the author did silently call on her inner Helper. What she heard herself saying was unexpected and, she judged, probably wrong, making her regret her foolish impulsiveness. However, several days later she found the patient completely cured, readying herself to return to her husband and children. The now lively, excited woman swore that her "rescue from hell" was due to their session together.

Another intriguing episode concerns insights gained from contact with an eminent Russian physicist who had constructed a mirrored tube which induced altered states of consciousness. She shares, all too briefly, the results of her sessions with him and a few of his views. In her visions there, the author saw that there are several lines of human evolution, and that up to the present our humanity's goal has centered on the development of intellect. Now two cycles are meeting which will bring about profound changes in human life. People gradually will realize that progress is impossible unless awakened mind is firmly merged with spiritual development and the power of a loving heart.

The events she describes seem fantastic but are undoubtedly sincere, though each reader must decide how much credence to give them. The author has since devoted her life to exploring alternative methods of healing and spiritual growth — particularly shamanism and lucid dreaming — found among the natives of Siberia and the former Soviet republics. She currently lives in the United States to better bring these ancient methods to public attention. — Jean B. Crabbendam

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