Book Review: A Short Walk on an Ancient Path

Brian Ruhe’s A Short Walk on an Ancient Path aims to add to that long, long list of “introduction to Buddhism” books that takes the sometimes ignored angle of Western Conservative.

It is a noble goal, but this isn’t the book.

First, let me say what I mean by conservative. Being a conservative Buddhist certainly doesn’t mean being politically conservative. For some reason I’ve stumbled across very few Newt Gingerich supporters at meditation retreats. What I mean here is Buddhists that are more grounded in sutta and tradition. Buddhists that prefer monastics to khaki-clad professional dharma teachers.

I picked A Short Walk because I liked the title and the cover art. It hits on all the high points from the eightfold path to note self. But it is also marred by some really weird digressions. For example, Ruhe claims that Bigfoot exists and that he is a naga and that LBJ conspired to kill JFK (he has “seen the evidence”). Even more troubling is his understanding of jhana. He claims that he knows jhana exists because a German friend of his was carrying around a clock on a meditation retreat when he may have missed an hour. This is a very trouble misrepresentation of jhana.

Some of the basic teachings, like his musings on the eightfold path, are solid. No problems, but there are better sources for this kind of info, such as What the Buddha Taught (Rahula) or In the Buddha’s Words (Bodhi). The best bits, I realized in retrospect were the articles quoted in their entirety written by Ajahn Sona (The Improtance of Kamma and Rebirth) and Bhikkhu Bodhi (Does Rebirth Make Sense). These were good choices, but just go read them for free on the internet.

I have the sense that Mr. Ruhe is probably a kind and thoughtful teacher, but this book just isn’t very good. Maybe he should try something easier, like writing a blog.

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