What Would the Buddha Recycle: The Zen of Green Living aims to show the reader how "you can take right action and walk a green life.” It’s a book for spiritually minded people looking to be green minded as well. While it probably won’t live up to any serious spiritual expectations you might have, it is a worthwhile read. Short, easy and chockfull of useful, well-organized eco-information, Rosemary Roberts' book is easily one of the better examples in the growing genre of green how-to books.
The book is organized into 18 chapters, each of which covers an aspect of daily life. Colorful bits of knowledge, strung together with pieces of eco-advice, teach you how some individual part of your life — dining, for example — can be a much greener affair. The sum total is a genuine guide to better living (at least to the extent that better means greener).
From the standpoint of originality, the chapters “The Green Spirit of Zen,” “Responsible Pet Care,” “Raising Enlightened Children” and the conclusion “Live Like the Buddha and Teach” are most worth mentioning. Indeed, there are plenty of original and entertaining bits and pieces spread throughout this book, but in the end there’s nothing groundbreaking. If you’re out to find the Zen secret of green living, you’ll be disappointed.
In its core structure and arguments, the book is surprisingly light on Buddhism and Zen. These issues are certainly present, but as mild flavors, not as overpowering themes. Which is kind of a relief, honestly. The book is more useful to the average reader, and it never pins down the author in a hopeless attempt to link every aspect of green living to Zen. As far as equating Zen living to green living, the one genuinely helpful point is one the book makes clearly: Commonalities exist between the two ideas; and one mindset often obligingly complements the other.
Overall, this book is mostly practical — a pocket-sized packet of green knowledge and advice regarding all aspects of life. Which amounts, for the writer (as it should for us), to making right choices in life. In this sense, we do learn just what the book claims to teach us — how to “take right action”; and, most certainly, how to live a green life.
In the few places where the book becomes less practical, and more philosophical or theological, it’s still delightful, and helpful. And these excursions are mostly marginal — literally. On the first page of every chapter, stuck unobtrusively into the margin, is a “Gift from the Universe,” a short entry into understanding the chapter topic with greater depth. Mostly, these “gifts” offer helpful insights into thinking about green living.
But if you’re looking for real spiritual guidance, this isn’t the book for you. On the other hand, if all you want is green advice regarding the more mundane aspects of life — caring for your pet is a good example — this book is a great help. By the end, it’s easy to believe you’ve learned how to lead a better life — which is spiritual in its own way.
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