May 31, 2009

Review: Coffee with the Buddha by Joan Oliver Duncan

BOOK #: 44
CHALLENGES: Spiritually Speaking Challenge, Triple 999 Challenge
RATING: 4.5 Stars

How do we develop compassion?
If desire is a problem, why do we keep wanting?
Does everybody go through reincarnation? What is it that's reborn?
What's your message in a nutshell?

These are just some of the questions answered in this compact-sized, but mega-informative book.

Coffee with the Buddha is one of a series of Coffee with... books. The series allows you to discover what it would be like to sit down and have a cup of coffee and a relaxed conversation with some of the world's most brilliant people. This particular book shares what the Buddha would tell you if you had the chance to speak with him, perhaps through time travel. While Buddhism has fascinated me for a while now, I had never understood the basic concepts so well as I do after reading this book.

From explaining the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path to speaking of marriage and tantric sex, this book definitely covers the basics and gives a, pardon the pun, enlightening breakdown of Buddhism for the novice student.

"Just as what we like inevitably changes or leaves, so too what we don't like passes."
"Karma is the natural law of moral causality that says: We reap what we sow. Volitional actions generate karma. Intention is key. Karma invites us to take responsibility for our behavior."

I kept my notebook with me as I read this book, making sure to record everything I wanted to remember. The advice is so easy to understand and full of common sense when you break it down, that everyone can learn something from this book.

One revelation I found particularly interesting were the number of parallels between the life of Siddhartha (the Buddha before his enlightenment) and that of Jesus in Christianity. There were also set differences.

-Rejection of an evil being during a period of "testing"
-The followers, or apostles, or monks
-The use of parables to teach and explain
-Spending life spreading the word of enlightenment/salvation
-Sent others out to spread the word after them
-Attempts on their lives
-The messages of both the Buddha and of Jesus were messages of hope for a better future, a way to end suffering, and how to live a better life.

-Jesus was murdered at the age of 33; Buddha lived to be 80
-Siddhartha was entirely human; Jesus was all human but also all God
-Siddhartha needed to be persuaded at first to share information on how to reach enlightenment; Jesus knew his destiny was to share how to reach Heaven.

I also learned a lot of new terms and phrases. Here are a few:

-Siddhartha means 'one who accomplishes'
-Chakravartin means 'a world-turning monarch'
-Mahapurusha is a Sanskrit word meaning 'great man' or 'supreme spirit'
-Jnanas are the states of absorption the Buddha passed through in meditation
-Dukkha is the Pali word for 'suffering'
-Bhikkus means 'monks'

I am looking into buying more books in the Coffee with... Series. Which ones catch my eye the most? Hemingway, Plato, and Mozart.


  1. I have not heard of these books so thank-you for the introduction. Buddism has always interested me, too. I like how you compared Buddha to Jesus.

    I use to do an exercise at the beginning of the school year with my study skills students. I asked them to imagine they were in a hospital in a full body cast as was the person next to them. They were to choose who they would want that other person to be and to write why they chose that person and what kinds of things they would talk about. The person could be anyone past or present. It was fun to do this myself and delightful to hear their responses. I usually chose Einstein.

  2. Booklogged- Thank you for your comment! That is a very interesting exercise and I am sure it was so fun to hear their varied responses! What a neat clue into their psyches. You may be interested to know that there is also a Coffee with Einstein book in the series.

  3. While I'm not interested in Buddha, the series you mentioned at the end of the post caught my attention. Coffee with Hemingway sounds really good.. thanks!

  4. P.S. I checked and there's also Coffee with Shakespeare, with Oscar Wilde, and Dickens!! :D

  5. This was a really great review! Thanks for linking me to it. I would love to try this book if you're willing to send it to me. Do you want to do a swap of some sort?

  6. That looks like an interesting book. All of the ones I've tried about Buddha lost my interest fairly quickly due to the writing. Perhaps I will give this one a try.

  7. This Coffee With ... series sounds very interesting. The title itself sends such a nice message, a sense of ease. I enjoyed learning what you discovered with this one.


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