Review of "How Would Buddha Act?"

By Barbara Ann Kipfer
New Harbinger, 2016
Review by Beth Cholette, Ph.D. on Jun 28th 2016
How Would Buddha Act?

As a new yoga instructor, I've developed a casual interest in Eastern philosophy, and I find it beneficial to incorporate some of the teachings of Buddhism into my teaching.  How Would Buddha Act: 801 Right-Action Teachings for Living with Awareness and Intention seemed like a potentially helpful tool in this regard.

In her brief introduction, author Barbara Ann Kipfer explains that "Right Action" is one of the eight elements in the Buddha's Eightfold Path to enlightenment.  She chooses to focus on Right Action and its basic tenet of "do no harm" for the basis of this work.  The book itself has three sections.  Kipfer starts with what she calls "Teachings."  This section, forming the bulk of the volume, consists of a bulleted list of aphorisms; more on this below.  This is followed by "Essays," a total of 49 slightly longer reflections (1-2 pp) on various topics.  Finally, Kipfer concludes with fourteen brief suggestions for meditations.

To be honest, I thought that the "Teachings" segment read like a "Chicken Soup for the Soul"-type book.  There was certainly wisdom in many of these writings (e.g. "Things will go to pieces, but you do not have to fall apart when they do"), yet many of them were overly repetitive.  For example, the theme of mindfulness/present moment appeared over and over and over again, from "practice mindful commuting" to "think only and entirely of what you are doing at the moment" to "cultivate the power of the present moment" to "remind yourself to be mindful" to "practice one activity that you do every day and practice doing it mindfully."  There are many other recurring topics as well—in fact, this section practically begs to be arranged by category, which it is not, making it difficult to study any one particular idea in greater depth.

The essays cover a wider range of topics.  Many elements of classic Eastern philosophy appear here, such as Aversion, Change and Impermanence, Compassion, Desire and Attachment, Harmful Speech, Karma, Mindfulness, Nonviolence, Present Moment, and Skillful Action.  There are also plenty of what I'll call more "modernized" subject matters.  These would include Doing One Thing at a Time, Eating and Drinking, Goal Setting, Openness and Belonging, Recycling and Going Green, Responding Rather than Reacting, and Taking Intoxicating Substances.  The essays tend to connect back to the Eightfold path.  Some offer basic advice or suggestions for living more in line with that principle, but the information on each topic is fairly insubstantial.  Finally, each of the fourteen meditations has a specific goal of "Meditation for _______."  Some of the issues addressed include Balance, Compassion, Emptying the Mind, Getting Unstuck, Sleep, and Travelling.  The instructions—in each case, a single paragraph—offer very basic guidelines.  For example, the "Meditation for Sleep" provides just two sentences, the first encouraging the reader to tense the body, the second suggesting to relax and then repeat several times.

I did enjoy reading this book, particularly the essay section.  Yet I would also describe it as extremely simple--a quality that may be appreciated by some, but possibly rejected by others.


© 2016 Beth Cholette


Beth Cholette, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy to college students.


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