Elevate Difference

Daring Steps: Traversing the Path of the Buddha

In his interview last summer with Jet Mort, Ringu Tulku—teacher, author, and Rinpoche—detailed the necessity of helping, healing, and harmony to grant meaning to otherwise meaningless lives. His book Daring Steps advances all three through its thorough and accessible description of the Buddhist path. The three vehicles—yanas—are described: Shravakayana (Theravada), Mahayana and Vajrayana, or tantra. The author emphasizes that the three are aspects of one entity at different levels, not separate. Many Western Buddhists omit the direction in the Shravakayana system, believing that knowledge of the Vajrayana is sufficient. Ringu Tulku gently disabuses novices of this notion with an amazing array of references to methods and instructions.

The characteristic of Daring Steps that I most appreciate is its consistent relevance to the reader’s life. Ringu Tulku alternates description of the Dharma with the essence of the Buddha’s enlightenment and contemporary anecdote. Shravakayana contains the foundation for all further studies: the Four Noble Truths are in the Theravada. The most simplified Western version of the Four Noble Truths tends to be written as follows:

"To live is to suffer.
Attachment brings suffering.
An end to suffering can be achieved.
There is a path to the cessation of suffering."

Shravakayana focuses on meditation and concentration, the eighth of the Eightfold Path. Its resulting emphasis on a monastic life renders it less attainable to the majority of the population, those who must live and work in the world. In the first century AD, individuals including the philosopher-monk Nagarjuna, Asanga, and Vasubandhu changed Buddhist practice to a more accessible version. This revised practice came to be called Mahayana, or “Greater Vehicle,” due to its capacity to reach a greater number of individuals in varying walks of life.

Vajrayana Buddhism is a more complicated system that formed over centuries of practice and contains many inconsistencies. A distinguishing characteristic of Vajrayana is ritual, which is utilized as a substitute for more challenging meditations. (If I have offended any readers who follow Vajrayana, I humbly beg their pardon and ask them to remember that I am a neophyte.)

Do not take this overview as an indication that Daring Steps is an esoteric history. Far from it—in example, here is a passage from Ringu Tulku’s direction regarding Right Thought: “We have to adopt the habit of being joyful. When we are very depressed and narrow, very sad, we cannot expect to become joyful just by wishfully thinking, ‘Now I am very sad, but something will happen.’ As if joy might fall from the sky.” Don’t wait for this book to fall from the sky: it is a highly recommended addition to the shelf of any library containing texts on meditation or world faiths.

Written by: Erika Mikkalo, December 6th 2010