Buddhism entered into the Western zeitgeist a long time ago. People speak of trying to “be Zen” or maintaining “good karma” to various degrees of seriousness, with many only having a rudimentary knowledge of what those terms mean. But those who want to learn more about the religion and its different schools of thought can find themselves faced with a daunting task, including the challenge of finding a place that stocks a decent selection of books
Visiting one of Hong Kong’s major booksellers might seem like a good idea, but to put it quite simply: DON’T! Stores like Dymocks and Bookazine provide a poor selection of books on Buddhism or any other religious or spiritual topics for that matter.
Hong Kong Book Centre, with locations in Central and Cityplaza, has a much bigger selection of books (an entire case rather than a single shelf) on Buddhism than the other major booksellers (although they are somewhat erroneously filed under ‘China’), and the staff is a little more helpful. When asked, one member at the Central location quickly pulled out a small selection of books that he would recommend to a newcomer, including Buddha: A Graphic Guide: a pocket-sized, slightly cheeky introduction to the life of the Buddha and Buddhism in general to the uninitiated.
Better still, would be to find someplace that caters specifically to those with an interest in Buddhism. Buddhist Philosophy Bookstore (locations throughout Hong Kong) is exactly what it says on the tin, a small chain of bookstores entirely devoted to Buddhism, with more space devoted to one religion than most other bookstores use to display the latest bestsellers. It can be a bit mindboggling to walk into one of this store’s locations. The walls are stacked from the floor to the ceiling with books on Buddhism, neatly divided with Chinese books on one side and English books on the other.
It is easy to feel overwhelmed while looking at the packed shelves, so the staff will try to narrow it down for customers, asking if they are interested in Theravada, Mahayana, or Vajrayana. To those who are befuddled by those terms, they recommend The Life of the Buddha, from BPS, as a general introduction to the Buddha and the origins of the religion. In addition to the books, the stores stock CDs of Buddhist chanting, DVDs of religious services, as well as prayers beads, incense, and statues. There is also a selection of free booklets in English and Chinese (including one from Buddhistdoor) also available. Funnily enough, in one corner, there is a small stack of books chronicling the life and teachings of Jesus that the staff refers to as their “New Age” section.
The Surprise Find:
Another option, and perhaps one of the more delightful discoveries one can make in Hong Kong, is The Book Attic: a used bookstore located on Elgin Street in Central. It can be hard to find in the maze of Central’s back streets, but it is well worth the effort, and not just for people looking to find books about Buddhism. This store has an eclectic collection from recent bestsellers to classics to videogame strategy guides (most of which are around half the price of books offered by larger stores) along with some pricier out-of-print collector’s item. The store’s selection of Buddhist books is not the largest, but visitors should make sure to try and speak to Jennifer Li the owner.
A practicing Buddhist herself, Ms. Li readily speaks about how she came to the religion, as she pulls out books that she feels would be a good for a newcomer wanting to learn more about Buddhism. Among these books is one she read twenty years earlier as she began her own path, and the way she cradles it in her hands makes it obvious that it has deep sentimental meaning to her, even if it is on sale for HK$58.00.
But apart from the books she pulls from the shelves, Ms. Li also imparts some sage advice to those who are curious: While books can be a good way to start, someone who is truly interested in starting down the path towards adopting Buddhism as their own religion should go out and find teachers to learn from and people to talk to, as it is only from finding out how something has affected someone’s life that a person can make an educated decision about moving forward.
For more information: http://bookattic.info/