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Turtle Feet by Nikolai Grozni
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Turtle Feet

by Nikolai Grozni

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Showing 5 of 5
I was surprised by how much I liked this. Part travel-logue, part Dharma bums, it tells the story of a young Bulgarian piano prodigy, who gives up his studies at Berlee and moves to Dharamsala to become a Buddhist monk. The writing was fresh and funny with lots of vivid descriptions of every day life. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
was he meditating regularly? or was he just learning the tibetan language and studying texts with masters, and doing the classes and debates? I guess I wanted to know more about his actual practice - that's what I was expecting this book to be about. there were those stream-of-consciousness monologues here and there, about time and space collapsing - as if he was having a spiritual breakthrough, or on the brink of one. maybe I wanted more of that. I did love Tsar a lot. Geshe Yama Tseten was hilarious, with his encyclopedia of marine life. And Vinnie!! What a bizarre collection of characters. ( )
  annadanz | Jul 5, 2015 |
Nikolai Grozni was a childhood piano prodigy well on his way to becoming a professional jazz musician when a sudden metaphysical crisis caused him to drop out of the Berklee College of Music and move to India to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk.

Turtle Feet is Grozni's articulate and thoughtful memoir about his years living in Dharamsala. Though Grozni moved to India to divest himself of his previous identity and devote himself to religious scholarship, it doesn't take long for a new life to begin sprouting in the space he had opened up. Though he does discuss some aspects of his Buddhist training, this book is less about his spiritual discipline than about how he was unexpectedly captivated by the chaotic beauty of Indian village life and the oddball cast of characters he befriends while simultaneously having fantasies of living a hermetic life in a remote cave.

Grozni is a skilled wordsmith with a wry sense of humor and impeccable eye for detail, and it is these talents that make the book both fascinating and a pleasure to read. I was quickly caught up in his colorful descriptions of how he and his other friends eeked out a surprisingly pleasant living in leaky rooms infested by snakes and rats. It becomes apparent very quickly that we need much less to survive than most of us in the West could fathom, and the free time granted by such detachment from materialism allows fruitful ground for other, more satisfying pursuits, including meditations on "the Indian Law of Probabilities, which states that some things happen or don't happen, again and again, for absolutely no reason."

Though Grozni introduces so many characters in the beginning of the book I couldn't keep them all straight, as the story progresses, his attention turns more specifically on his growing friendship with Tsar, a swaggering refugee from the Yugoslav wars. Tsar's quest for a solution to the problem of being an illegal refugee from a country that no longer exists provides and interesting structure for Grozni's musings on the nature of self and identity, and his juxtaposition of Tsar's brand of crazy wisdom with the formal lessons of Grozni's official teachers is offers some rich insights.

This is one of those books that makes me wish for half stars, for although there are many beautiful and funny moments found in this book, the ending was neither as tight or as satisfying as I had come to expect from the previous pages. But I'm bumping it up to four stars because I admire Grozni's willingness to open himself up in the process of de-mythologizing the world of Tibetan Buddhism and the quest for enlightenment in general. There are a lot of gems to be found here. ( )
1 vote Lenaphoenix | Jul 21, 2008 |
An interesting take on the experience of studying Buddhism as an ordained monk in India. He was a serious but somewhat skeptical student who befriended an odd bunch of other Western spiritual seekers and eventually decided to move on. This didn't go very deep and I hope he does a follow up with more emphasis on his philosohical musings. ( )
  akerr | Jun 25, 2008 |
I enjoyed this book. The protagonist is personable and his adventures colorful. But, really, the book doesn't deliver the sort of information that I hoped it to discover: a clear depiction of monk training in Dharamsala. Instead, we have the typical story of a young naif encountering "life" in unexpected ways: falling in with bizarre characters (Tsar, Vinne, Merrie Ann), receiving Buddhist instruction from a seemingly eccentric Geshe, training in Buddhist metaphysical debate, dealing with the squalor of life in Dharamsala (grey, lots of rain and mud, snakes, rats, fleas, and dingy chai shops).
Mostly, the book centers on Grozni's (Buddhist name: Lobsang) relationship to Tsar and that character's endless schemes to escape from India -- difficult because he doesn't have a passport. There isn't much about Grozni himself, his motivations, or the metaphysics of Buddhist thought; which is too bad because that is what I was most interested in. Tsar's adventures and the endless chess games with Vinnie, and the lopsided affairs of Merrie Ann are picaresque enough to hold one's interest, but they do not satisfy one's curiosity about Grozni. The juxtaposition of Tsar's metaphysics and chess-playing to the Buddhist debates and Geshe-la's instruction makes for interesting counterpoint, but, again, winds up, as inevitably does the book, as more of a divertissment than a substantial investment of what little reading time one might possess. On the positive side, the writing is very good; some of the descriptions of the mountains and surroundings exhibit quite masterful prose. ( )
  mandojoe | May 26, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159448984X, Hardcover)

Nikolai Grozni was a music prodigy, a jazz pianist training at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, when suddenly he decided to transform his life. He moved to India to become a Buddhist monk—shaving his head, learning Tibetan, and donning long traditional robes. In the Himalayas—living in a hut a stone’s throw from the Dalai Lama’s compound— Grozni became entrenched in a sometimes comical, sometimes reverent, always intriguing community comprised of feisty nuns, bossy monks, violent chess players, demanding teachers, and a spectacular friend called Tsar, a fallen monk from Bosnia.

Grozni went to India in search of knowledge, but learns that the people who can teach him the most are not wearing uniforms and following special diets, but rather those who, like him, struggle with doubts and cannot accept an established system of faith. Instead, he journeys with his colorful cast of friends to a new understanding of himself and his place in the world.

Like Anne Lamott or Elizabeth Gilbert, Nikolai Grozni offers the insights of a religious pilgrim from the inside—in his case, from a male, Buddhist perspective. Thoughtful, funny, and elegantly written, Turtle Feet details the reality of a world much mythologized in the West and tells a wonderfully bittersweet story of a spiritual journey.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:26 -0400)

A brilliantly colorful memoir of becoming a monk, "Turtle Feet" details a young man's spiritual--and not-so-spiritual--journey in India.

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