Heartfelt Advice is a record of ninety-five conversations between the Lama Dudjom Dorjee and his student Aaron Price. In each section, a small portion of a Tibetan text was read to Mr. Price, who then recorded both the translation and the explanation. The result is not the typical recitation of concepts one finds in most introductory writings on Buddhism. Instead, the concepts are explained via the personal experiences of Lama Dudjom Dorjee, and have a more intimate tone than only the translations would provide.
I am a sucker for books on Buddhism. I have a full shelf of books on the subject, and I find myself in the section nearly every time I visit the bookstore. I am enticed by the serene faces of the smiling monks on the covers, and the words of the sutras seem calming even if I sometimes don't understand them.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve gotten past the second chapter of any of the books I’ve purchased. Usually by that point, I find myself overwhelmed, depressed, and feeling more than a little guilty. The initial chapters are always confusing, full of indecipherable imagery and vocabulary. Very early on, it begins to appear that the path to peace and enlightenment requires superhuman devotion; you must utter no bad words, think no bad thoughts, and perform no bad actions. You must accept that nothing is permanent and give up all attachment; to your life, loved ones, ideals, even the very idea of yourself as an individual. This is where I get depressed, feeling that I am just not up to the task of being that devoted. I begin to feel guilty when I contemplate that millions of people worldwide practice this religion and live by its teachings, and I can’t even manage to stop swearing.
This book is somewhat easier to handle. The conversational feeling of the sections allows you to absorb the concept at hand without having to fight so hard to understand it. That is not to say that this book sugarcoats any of the concepts; there is plenty of what Westerners term “hellfire and damnation," especially in the sections on the wheel of karma. The puzzling vocabulary is still present, but this book has the extremely helpful addition of a glossary. The book's format is also helpful, as it doesn’t require you to read the chapters in order: each section deals with a different topic, so flipping through the book is allowed, and may actually even be encouraged.
If you are anything like me, and approach Buddhism with as much attraction as apprehension, this book might just be the stepping stone for you. It shows that yes, studying Buddhism is a lifetime commitment, but it makes it seem a little less daunting than usual.