The World Could Be Otherwise: Imagination and the Bodhisattva Path
Norman Fischer is a Zen poet and teacher, translator, and former co-abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center and presently director of the Everyday Zen Foundation. He is also the author of many books of poetry and instructional texts, such as What Is Zen? Plain Talk for a Beginner’s Mind and Opening to Your: Zen-Inspired Translations of the Psalms. From the latter title one can sense how open he is to different spiritual paths. This is crucial for his broad presentation in this present volume, The World Could Be Otherwise: Imagination and the Bodhisattva Path.
The premise of the book is that the imagination is core to one’s grasping the key concepts of generosity, ethical conduct, patience, joy, meditation, and finally, understanding—the main divisions of the book. While the text is kept highly readable and entertaining, it is also carefully researched and documented. With a shared goal of raising compassion, the author draws no sharp lines between religions.
Fischer is best at explaining these key concepts without making them too abstract, a skill gained perhaps through all of his years of teaching. His work with the imagination is stellar:
“The imagination doesn’t measure, devise, or instrumentalize. It doesn’t define and manipulate. Instead, its nature is to open, to mystify, to delight, shock, inspire. It extends without limit. It leaps from the known to the unknown, soaring beyond facts to visions and intensities. It lightens up the heavy circumscribed world we think we live in. It plays in the deep end, where heart and love hold sway.”
Fischer doesn’t end in thought but finds living examples in our shared lives. Though he does pack in lots of thought and might pace it a little slower, he continues to double back to relevance and insight, thus charting the way of a good bodhisattva. The reader can find his or her own best pace.
The author’s intention is for a shared and compassionate understanding. “I have no doubt this was the Buddha’s intention too, to help ensure there is less suffering and more happiness in the world.” One does not leave the world in this contemplation, but lives amid relationships. Who can deny such a holistic approach?