Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights changed my life. The landscape, leaves and twisted tree trunks are luminous and alive, living and breathing. Nature is infused by consciousness. Bronte’s perspective is transcendent, she sees into the nature of things, and all resonates with the nature of mind, or rigpa. Nature was a refuge for Bronte, as it is for me: a haven, sanctuary and healing place. Bronte shows the myriad ways nature mirrors the mind, emotions and thoughts. As I walk in nature, my outer and inner worlds exchange and inform each other. Bronte listened to the quiet voice of nature and the universe. I walk silently in nature, hearing the voice of the trees, birds and sky, knowing Bronte also walked this path.
I was in my late teens, studying Religion and Theology at university when I first read Nagapriya’s Exploring Karma and Rebirth. Many of the texts I studied for my degree inspired me, yet still failed to connect with the student life I was leading outside the library, dominated by a predictable yet intoxicating cycle of pleasure and pain. But Nagapriya’s book resonated with me so deeply that it compelled me to change, to change my life. His words were alive – the compassion and wisdom that he spoke about in his book weren’t just abstract ideas but living realities that reached out from the page. Exploring Karma and Rebirth spoke directly to my experience. But more than that, it spoke to my potential. I remember feeling a huge sense of freedom when I finished the book. I was not stuck with the person that I was, or had been. I could break the cycle – or rather transform the cycle into a spiral that led beyond me to an even greater and greater freedom.
I suspect that for most of us it is difficult to single out one book as the life-changer. There is more a trail of books, with significant milestone texts. For me some of those milestones are Thoreau’s Walden, Edwin Arnold’s Light of Asia, with the trail growing brighter with Trungpa’s Meditation in Action and Govinda’s Way of the White Clouds. But the deal-clincher was Sangharakshita’s A Survey of Buddhism. I read it at age 20 in my first year of contact with the Triratna Community, mostly in my lunch hours, and on a bus going to and from a labouring job in downtown Auckland. Having just graduated and being hungry for meaning in life, it was as if Sangharakshita spoke directly to me. Over the course of a few weeks he gave me a deep sense of both the familiarity and of the radical challenge that Buddhism offers to humanity.