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Look, I understand that Pema Chodron is hailed as one of the most accessible English-language Buddhist writers and that When Things Fall Apart is one of the most popular Buddhist books in the West. The people with whom I read it certainly loved it. But, man, oh man, I don't know. It promises solace for those bereaved or in pain or in a bad stage of life, which in Chodron's strain of Buddhism means essentially coming to terms with life's lack of lasting peace and appreciating what one experiences in the moment. Chodron, though, further asserts that if you haven't grasped this truth, you just haven't suffered enough - and therefore, you dope, you need to suffer and suffer and suffer some more until you do. Is this philosophy really compatible with the Middle Way? Her message isn't developed, just browbeaten, and she's constantly banging on about how rotten and inadequate and lowly humans are. I understand that coming to terms with impermanence and suffering are pillars of Buddhism, but there's a relish of them in how Chodron writes, a malice, that seems at odds with the Buddhism practiced by, say, Thich Nhat Hanh. When I voiced my reservations, I was told that some readers like her "confrontational" approach, which was apparently true in my reading group. Myself, I could barely abide it, quite frankly.

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