- Developing Altruism through Ritually Imagining The Compassion That Sustains Reality:A Review Essay
This book examines a "precisely choreographed" Vajrayāna contemplative ritual and presents evidence that it functions as a means of Buddhist pastoral care (p. 129). The ritual is Padma Karpo's sixteenth century "Abundant Peaceful Deities" ceremony for restoring longevity for the sake of all beings. The author's primary evidence that this all-day ritual can serve as a pastoral care practice is the accounts which seven practitioners in the Drukpa lineage in Nepal and India gave of their experiences during and after this ritual. Trinlae collected this data a year after the devastating April 2015 earthquake in the Himalayan region where they lived.
Five of the six men she interviewed were living in accordance with monastic ordination precepts. The other held a reincarnation lineage. Only one nun was interviewed because those living at the Drukpa campus in Nepal scattered after the earthquake. Against the backdrop of this devastation, the author claims that Karpo's ritual can be "palliative to traumatic experience" and a vehicle of "psycho-spiritual ease" as measured by Nursing Outcomes Classification (NOC) standards (pp. 14–15).
LIT Verlag published this book as the sixth volume in their Pastoral Care and Spiritual Healing series. The series' editors, who teach in Germany, Japan, and South Africa, recognized the book's global significance for the field of practical theology, in part because it was the first practical theology dissertation written by a Buddhist about Buddhist practice. It was supervised by longtime Society for Buddhist Christian Studies member Duane Bidwell at Claremont Graduate University. I see Claremont's support of Trinlae's and other Buddhists' research, and LIT Verlag's publication of her research, as hopeful signs of increased dialogue among Buddhists and Christian scholar-practitioners about how to train religious communities—and especially their leaders—to perform teaching, caregiving, [End Page 335] counseling, healing, contemplative, and ritual practices with careful attention to their particular contexts.
In the two-page "Note to Readers," that precedes her "Introduction," Trinlae states that "This work is intended for diverse audiences." Indeed. Three audiences for whom this book could be useful are:
1). practical theologians who study the influences that non-Western religious traditions are having on Western religious traditions through the lenses of contemplative studies, ritual studies, cognitive science, spiritual formation, religious education, pastoral care, and history of religion;
2). Christians, Buddhists, and others who teach people preparing to work as congregational leaders and chaplains, particularly those with an interest in contemplative and healing practices, especially non-Western and indigenous practices;
3). scholars of Vajrayāna Buddhism interested in the history of the transmission of ritual texts and the ways in which current indigenous practitioners describe the immediate and long-term effects of practicing a ritual that claims to heal.
I am solidly in the first and second groups, with only book knowledge of Vajrayāna meditation practices except for a three-week beginning meditation retreat in 1992, which included people like me who had neither taken refuge, nor identified as Buddhists, nor had any plans to do either. My review is thus written primarily as a resource for the first two groups. This book calls for, and deserves, a review from someone in the third group.
An American who learned Tibetan at Harvard, Trinlae studied and practiced Vajrayāna traditions in the Himalayan region for twenty years, including a three-year solitary retreat. Like most practical theologians globally, she employs Western research methodologies and Western philosophical and social science frameworks. Like some practical theologians, she wields these Western scholarly tools in an extremely interdisciplinary manner. Unlike the majority of practical theologians, whose theological categories for analyzing religious practices are Western and Judeo-Christian, Trinlae also uses copious Asian Buddhist theological categories, imagery, and texts to interpret the testimonies of the Vajrayāna practitioners she interviewed. She agrees with Rita Gross, John Makransky, and many other Western...