The Best Way to Catch a Snake by Karma Yeshe Rabgye is subtitled A Practical Guide to the Buddha’s Teachings, and its aim is to help the reader understand the true essentials of Buddhism. As a guide to the fundamentals, this book will be very useful to those who are just starting to explore Buddhism, but it isn’t written exclusively for beginners by any means. As the author states in his Introduction, many people tend to jump into things without much research, but taking that approach with Buddhism leads to confusion, so this book is also for those who have already ‘jumped into Buddhism’ and would now like to get to grips with its core teachings.
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The title of this book is inspired by the Buddha’s observation that the best way to catch a wild snake it to use a forked stick to pin its head down so that it won’t bite the handler.
Similarly, this volume helps you to pin down the basics of Buddhism so that you don’t simply get caught up in ‘religious trappings’ and fail to acquaint yourself with the really important concepts and ideas that the Buddha taught. It is divided into three main sections, and these focus on The Four Seals, The Four Noble Truths and The Four Preliminary Thoughts.
In the first section, the author discusses The Four Seals that form the bedrock of Buddhism: 1) All compounded things are impermanent, 2) The consequences of emotions are suffering, 3) All things have no inherent existence, and, 4) The final goal is beyond our understanding. These concepts are ones that many people find quite difficult to understand, but Karma Yeshe Rabgye explains them in such a way that they almost seem obvious. That ability to communicate complex ideas in a simple, straightforward and jargon-free manner is the sign of a great teacher, and when you have reached the end of this section you will realise that Karma Yeshe Rabgye has it in spades.
The next section focuses on The Four Noble Truths, which are the truth of dukkha (most often translated as suffering), the truth of the origin of dukkha, the truth of the cessation of dukkha and the truth of the path leading to the cessation of dukkha. Although these Four Noble Truths are perhaps the most well-known of the Buddha’s teachings, the author presents them here not simply as a theoretical framework but in a way that is directly and practically relevant to daily life. This was, of course, the Buddha’s original intention, so it is refreshing to see it carried through so well here.
The third and final section of the book discusses The Four Preliminary Thoughts – precious human life, impermanence, karma and the defects of the world – and explains how we can meditate on them to train the mind and make our lives more meaningful.
In summary, The Best Way to Catch a Snake is easy to read, hugely relevant to daily living and a title that you will want to refer back to again and again. Whether you are completely new to Buddhism or simply want to make sure that you have a thorough and practical grasp of the core fundamentals, we would highly recommend this book as essential reading.