Review of "When Things Fall Apart"

By Pema Chodron
Shambala, 2000
Review by Barbara Wright on Dec 3rd 2003
When Things Fall Apart

When I read the title When Things Fall Apart it sounded like the book would give advice and steps to follow in order to handle life when a loved one dies, when you discover you have cancer, or when you are faced with a divorce, etc.  It does that, at least to some extent, but it mostly gives words of wisdom for use in our daily lives.  In short, in order to handle the difficult times, you must prepare by meditating, and indeed, by changing you life today and every day hereafter. 

I found some words to live by that are offered in this book.  They are inspiring and true.  However, a better explanation and literary presentation can be found in the Bible.  Other than the parallels I found to the Bible, most of the philosophy and advice seemed to me to come down to the root idea of non-aggression and accepting everything that happens.  It seemed to say to me that one should just "give up".  Life itself seems to contradict that philosophy. 

One pearl of wisdom I found that should be shared with as many as possible is that "it's not the goal that's important, it's the journey".  We are always in such a hurry to achieve our goal that we almost always miss the important things we see, hear and learn on the journey to get there.  It is the journey that changes us, not the goal.  Another very important lesson I take from this book is that we need to stop running away from what we fear.  We need to turn around and run directly towards the object of our fear.  Most times it turns out not to be monster we thought or, if it is, it actually turns and runs from us.  And even if it is the great monster, isn't it better to get the ultimate over with now than to spend all our days living in terror? 

Buddhism, as revealed in this book, seems to be directed toward helping humans to explore themselves.  The problem is, we already know ourselves pretty well and what we know is that we all come up short.  Unfortunately, all the self-improvement in the world, this world, won't help in the world to come.  It seems from this text that Buddhists don't believe in any life after this one so they see no need to prepare for it.  All the work, study, and meditation that is directed to helping perfect a body, character, and mental state that will never be perfect in this life.  The time could be so much better spent in communication with our Maker and coming to terms with His plan for our short time upon this planet. 

The author had me agreeing in some places and disagreeing in others, however, she seems to have given a pretty good basis for how Buddhism trains individuals to deal with hard times.  There were times I was confused by some of the terminology and some explanations, but the fault was likely mine and not that of the author. 

This will be a good book for anyone studying Buddhist meditation and their ways of dealing with stressful times.  The author's presentation of techniques is quite good.  For the average person who knows little about Buddhism, this book may be too big a bite for a first encounter.  A second reading of the book might be in order.  I know that's what I plan to do.


© 2003 Barbara Wright

Barbara Wright is a former Director of Human Resources with Master's Degrees in Human Resource Planning and in Organizational Behavior.  The last 15 years of experience have been in the Telecommunications Industry.  She has a wide variety of reading interests and is a member of Reviews International Organization (RIO).  


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