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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"The Novice," a Book Review.

Who amongst us hasn't fantasized about a spiritual pilgrimage to for secret, life-changing wisdom. It seems that many of us, (Westerners especially) come to Buddhism with wild imaginations of climbing the Himalayas to get enlightenment from a 200 year old monk. That was what author of "The Novice" Stephen Schettini seemed to set out looking for on his pilgrimage to the East -- mostly India.

He learned, like all of us must at some point that Buddhism can be practiced anywhere in the world and that practicing it in the historical heart of the religion doesn't necessarily give ones Dharma practice an advantage. He also reminds us that Buddhism isn't always perfect or immediate in showing results. It's very much a book about not expecting Buddhism to immediately change your life. The story is mostly a coming of age story of a young man living during the first Buddhist boom in the West during the 60s and 70s. It was a chaotic, exciting and confusing time for Westerners studying a religion that was very new in their culture and reading about it is a fascinating view into the early days of Western Buddhism.

Reading about his travels on the way to India are just as interesting as his time training in the monasteries. He has some unique and curious stories to tell as he goes from Europe to Turkey to Iran to Afghanistan to Pakistan and then into India herself. It is fascinating to read about the people he meets along the way and how he views the cultures that he comes into contact with. He traveled very light and with little concern for safety, which would be near impossible today. As you read the book you can't help but feel a pull toward desiring your own adventurous journey to personally meet the world. It is a serious book reflecting on the difficulties of this life and the struggles we have in seeking to liberate ourselves from suffering, which is often done in humorous ways throughout the book.

It's a fast and interesting read with the exception on the long, drawn out description at the beginning of the book about the author's childhood. Though even that had some funny, interesting spots. I just think it could be a bit shorter as I wanted more written about the actual monk hood period but that's a minor quibble with an otherwise interesting book. I'd highly recommend this book for anyone interesting in reading first hand experiences of Westerners discovering Buddhism. I give it a 7.5 out of 10 -- Ten being best.

---End of Transmission---

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1 comment:

Siteunseen said...

Thanks James. My brother recently bought me this book, and I found your review most helpful.

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