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Buddha or Bust: In Search of Truth, Meaning,…

Buddha or Bust: In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness, and the Man Who…

by Perry Garfinkel

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Buddha or Bust went a long way toward giving me some background on both the historical origins of and current trends in Buddhism. It recounts the travels of National Geographic writer Perry Garfinkel in search of socially engaged Buddhism. He follows the historical path of Buddhism from India to Sri Lanka, Thailand, China and Japan, then back to U.S. and Europe. The historical background is interspersed with first-person accounts of visiting the temples and holy sites on the dharma path and, although slow-going in places, doesn't bog down the narrative for long. The writer's life experiences, namely being born Jewish and learning from Eastern religious teachers around the world since the 1960s, give him a unique perspective on the way Americans are influencing Buddhism in the Asian world. The book provided enough context that I did not find it all surprising that Buddhists from China are now looking to U.S. institutions such as Naropa University in Boulder for best practice models of Buddhist education.

I left the book feeling I had a basic understanding of how historical Buddhism transformed into the Zen practices of Japan, why traditional Asian Buddhism focuses more on group chanting and ritual rather than the private contemplative practices common in the West, and the conflict between the transcendent worldview of Buddhism and the social activism and outreach coming to the forefront of Buddhism today. I found the chapter on the author's experiences at a Buddhist retreat at Auschwitz very moving and the chapter on Sri Lanka very enlightening (probably reflecting my own ignorance about the country more than anything else). The book concludes with the author's triumph in securing interviews with both Thich Nhat Hahn and the Dalai Lama and falling in love again. Overall, the book is an enjoyable read for anyone interested in knowing a little bit more about Buddhism. ( )
2 vote tracyfox | Feb 3, 2009 |
A delightful travelogue that covers the development of Buddhism, as well as the development of the (semi)Buddhist who is writing it. Garfinkle is engaging writer, and covers both the subject and himself with grace and ease. ( )
  Arctic-Stranger | Jun 8, 2007 |
Besides for a few interesting facts about the places and people he has met on his travel, I find Garfinkel's book not worth the effort. He has a cynicism that, in my view, does not often appear witty.

I'm sorry, but I don't recommend reading it. ( )
  landegger | Feb 10, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 140008217X, Hardcover)

Why does an idea that’s 2,500 years old seem more relevant today than ever before? How can the Buddha’s teachings help us solve many of the world’s problems? Journalist Perry Garfinkel circumnavigated the globe to discover the heart of Buddhism and the reasons for its growing popularity—and ended up discovering himself in the process.

The assignment from National Geographic couldn’t have come at a better time for Garfinkel. Burned out, laid up with back problems, disillusioned by relationships and religion itself, he was still hoping for that big journalistic break—and the answers to life’s biggest riddles as well. So he set out on a geographic, historical and personal expedition that would lead him around the world in search of those answers, and then some.

First, to better understand the man who was born Prince Siddhartha Gautama, he followed the time-honored pilgrimage “in the footsteps of the Buddha” in India. From there, he tracked the historical course of Buddhism: to Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Tibet, Japan and on to San Francisco and Europe. He found that the Buddha’s teachings have spawned a worldwide movement of “engaged Buddhism,” the application of Buddhist principles to resolve social, environmental, health, political and other contemporary problems. From East to West and back to the East again, this movement has caused a Buddhism Boom.

Along the way he met a diverse array of Buddhist practitioners—Thai artists, Indian nuns, Sri Lankan school children, Zen archers in Japan, kung fu monks in China and the world’s first Buddhist comic (only in America). Among dozens of Buddhist scholars and leaders, Garfinkel interviewed His Holiness the Dalai Lama, an experience that left him speechless—almost. As just reward for his efforts, toward the end of his journey Garfinkel fell in love in the south of France at the retreat center of a leader of the engaged movement, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh—a romance that taught him as much about Buddhism as all the masters combined.

In this original, entertaining book, Garfinkel separates Buddhist fact from fiction, sharing his humorous insights and keen perceptions about everything from spiritual tourism to Asian traffic jams to the endless road to enlightenment.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:14 -0400)

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