Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha’s Teachings is a collection of discourses from Thai Buddhist master Ajahn Chah. Those of you who are familiar with the work of Ajahn Chah will already have a good idea of what to expect, but for those who aren’t, let us warn you that this isn’t a book to pick up if you simply want to feel good. There is no warm and fuzzy sentiment here, just solid Dharma instruction from a teacher who was never afraid to tell it like it is in order to help his students make real progress. If that kind of forthright honesty sounds appealing and you have any interest at all in Theravada Buddhism then Being Dharma is well worth your time and attention.
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A Foreword by Jack Kornfield sets the book in context and gives us a personal insight into the way Ajahn Chah taught. He says:
‘It is a blessing to have these teachings, the meat and potatoes of Ajahn Chah’s Dharma, the evening trainings where he would take the gloves off and challenge us to look squarely at human life.’
After a Preface from Paul Breiter, who translated the discourses collected here, we are presented with a brief but extremely helpful Introduction that reminds us of the importance of Dharma, not just as something to hear, read about or even understand intellectually, but as something to practice, live and become. The structure of the book then builds on this idea, with chapters relating to Hearing Dharma, Understanding Dharma, Practicing Dharma, Seeing Dharma and Being Dharma.
Each chapter consists of several discourses relating to the theme of that chapter, so in Practicing Dharma you can expect teachings on The Path to Peace, Morality Brings Happiness, Meditation Practice, and so on. It is important to remember that each chapter includes several discourses because the best way to approach this book is slowly and studiously, focusing on one teaching at a time. And, of course, it is even more important to practice what you learn in your own life so that you can benefit experientially as well as intellectually.
And what does benefitting experientially actually mean? We refer you to another comment that Jack Kornfield makes in his Foreword:
‘In all his teachings Ajahn Chah reminds us that liberation is possible. With sincere intention and diligent effort, each of us can awaken, each of us can discover the freedom and peace of the Buddha.’