issue 15
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Swallowing the River Ganges

A Practice Guide to the Path of Purifications
Mathew Flickstein
Wisdom, 2000, $16.95/£12.95 p/b

Written 1500 years ago by Buddhagosha, the Visuddhimagga underpins the modern mainstream of the Theravada school of Buddhism. It is a forbidding tome, and its style can be redolent of an ancient scholasticism, yet it is a compendium of meditations and reflections that add up to a 'path of purity' (which is the meaning of the title) that has much to offer modern practitioners.

Matthew Flickstein's 'practice guide', is a welcome aid to anyone seeking to mine the Visuddhimagga’s treasures. If anything it boins it down too far in both content and style: Swallowing the River Ganges is not so much succinct as skeletal. It describes the bare bones of a complete Buddhist path, though it is hard to imagine anyone progressing far without guidance from a teacher who can fill out its comments.

For those already familiar with concepts such as the four foundations of mindfulness or the five hindrances to meditation the value of Swallowing the River Ganges lies in relating these to many other teachings. It may also offer a way in to the Visuddhimagga, and the many jewels - references, quotations, insights - that are hidden within it.