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The Yoga of Max's Discontent: A Novel by…
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The Yoga of Max's Discontent: A Novel

by Karan Bajaj

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In the tradition of Janwillem van de Wetering’s "The Empty Mirror" and Andrew Harvey’s "A Journey in Ladakh" recording the journey of a young man from the West making his spiritual pilgrimage to the East, we now have a splendid new entry with "The Yoga of Max’s Discontent" by Karan Bajaj. And since we all love to read stories, we are given some added spice – rather than a first-person account, Bajaj’s first-hand experience is rendered in novel form, a third-person narrative of Max, a bright, inquisitive New Yorker raised in the low-income projects, educated at Harvard (he won a scholarship) and working as an analyst in Manhattan until he has a spiritual crisis and is off to India to seek the way of the yogis and enlightenment.

To provide a reader with a more specific rasa, that is, taste of Max’s various experiences, here are several quotes from the book along with my comments. Incidentally, I feel a special connection with Max and also the author since, as a Westerner, I have received training under a number of outstanding teachers and have been practicing yoga and meditation for many years:

“They want to find it. Not just believe in it on faith or scripture, but see it face-to-face.” ---------- The appeal of the path of yoga and the enlightenment tradition is direct experience of the divine for the one who steps on and follows the path. Max’s yearning for this direct experience is the same yearning of yogis and Buddhists for the past thousands of years.

“More discussion followed. Authentic Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants, this club and that, what was so good, what was awesome, who was in the know, who wasn’t, drinking, eating and more drinking. Max recalled similar conversations- with a date or colleagues after work – and felt disgusted.” ---------- In a word, Max has had his fill of superficiality – loads of chatter and running after pleasures like a dog chasing its tale. There comes a point when a spiritual seeker rejects the common run of what passes for life in society and yearns for something deeper.

“He barely knew anything about yoga and meditation. The rational part of him still didn’t know what to make of this mystical mumbo-jumbo. And yet he felt compelled to find out exactly where the Brazilian yogi lived.” ---------- There is that part of us - call it consciousness, spirit, light or inner self - that is beyond the rational mind. Max can’t explain it but he senses its reality and yearns for a guide who can show him the way.

“He needed to take the next flight back to New York and get his shit together. No stupid questions, no privileged pontifications on the meaning of life – just live the life he and everyone else expected him to.” ---------- Ah! Once in India and embarking on the spiritual path, the ordinary world calls out, so many social responsibilities and expectations demanded of each individual. How authentic is Max’s quest? This is a challenge that must be faced by every true seeker.

“Next he learned sun salutations, a series of stretching and bending exercises that worked every part of the body from the tops of the arms to the backs of the legs, in an elegant dance.” ---------- As part of the spiritual path, Max discovers the body must be completely and totally transformed. Not easy, but no authentic spiritual teacher ever said the path is easy.

“Once again paranayama worked its magic. The careful, long exhalation meant an automatic long inhalation, which brought a fresh supply of revitalizing oxygen into the body. He wasn’t the breathless, sweaty mess he’d been when he had walked from the village to the ashram.” ---------- On the path of yoga, the bridge from the outer world to the inner is through the breath. Max has a direct experience of the power of breath – a clear sign he is on the right path and future transformations await.

“You have to work harder than ever before. Only the most accomplished of yogis achieve this union,” said Ramakrishna. “You will become the sum of all knowledge. Many powers will come to you. But all that has to be left behind. Falling from this state is easy if you develop even a shadow of an ego.” ---------- After gaining great powers through the practice of yoga, the yogi faces new challenges, including not using his or her power for selfish ends. Not easy. That’s why the path of yoga can be like walking on a razor’s edge.

“The universe is your teacher now. Consciousness will guide you to merge with it,” said Ramakrishna. “See it, hear it, feel it everywhere, within and outside everything. You have nothing more to learn from me.” ---------- Max has come a long way. At some point, the accomplished yogi looks to his own inner resources as the teacher rather than relying on an external guide.

Coda: I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review. ( )
  GlennRussell | Feb 16, 2017 |
With vivid descriptions, this book will transport you to other lands. Deathly hot, freezing chill, and otherworldly, the reader journeys with Max in search of .... something. The people he encounters are well developed and impact his life one way or another. I enjoyed this story and found it inspiring. ( )
  standhenry | Jun 15, 2016 |
Books on spirituality or spiritual journeys aren't usually my thing, but I have to give Karan Bajaj an enormous amount of credit because this book was so incredible that I may have to reevaluate that stance.

The Yoga of Max's Discontent is the story of Max, a Wall Street man who grew up in the not-so-great areas of New York. His life has been shaped by his surroundings, by what he has and doesn't have, but after the death of his mother and a chance conversation with food cart salesman, he begins to evaluate what this life he's living is really all about. Taking a chance, he decides to follow some leads he's been given and head to India where he is both comforted, surprised, and deeply challenged by the journey that he has embarked upon.

Let me start with the title - yes, this story has a lot about yoga in it, but that's not the message of the book. The book is about the journey - physical, mental, and spiritual - that Max has found himself pulled into. I went into this book, personally, knowing nothing about yoga and certainly none of the words that would typically be associated with the practice. This however in no way kept me from understanding the story or the message, and I actually feel like I now have a greater grasp on the purpose behind using yoga as a meditative practice.

Now on to the writing. Karan Bajaj has some of the most beautiful writing I've read in a while. The way the characters are portrayed is truly an art in that you feel their hunger for both food and a deeper understanding of this life. But the truly brilliant thing about this writing is Karan Bajaj's ability to transport the reader to these different places throughout the world. I have traveled better through this book than I have ever traveled in reality.

What did I think?: First of all, who could resist that stunning cover? I absolutely adore this book. This was such a fascinating read, and I too felt that I have been on a bit of a journey. Do I understand this enlightenment and all that must be endured in order to achieve it? No. But I do know that every minute spent reading this book was well worth the while.

Who should read it?: If you have any curiosity about spiritual practices, yogis, India, or just a better understanding of life, please pick this up. It's an amazing story, and one that you'll carry with you for a while.


*I was provided with a copy of this book in order to conduct this honest review.*





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  tipsy_writer | May 19, 2016 |
Review Originally Posted At: FictionForesight

In accordance with current FTC Guidelines, please let it be known this book was received through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

A Spiritual Awakening…5 Stars!

Beautifully written, powerful in its deliverance and giving in its message, The Yoga of Max’s Discontent is one book that deserves to be read.

A Quick Summary:

Feeling empty in his life despite his successful Wall Street career, Max decides to quit his job and embark on a quest across India, in order to find answers to questions of life, mortality and what’s thereafter. Spiritual enlightenment and transcendence may be the ultimate goal, but it’s the journey that puts Max to his biggest test.

The Good:

I must confess that for me this book was way outside of the norm, especially compared to the books I typically find myself reading. Lacking in monsters, heroes and sorcery, this book instead focuses more on the spiritual and the realization of one’s ultimate self, or lack thereof. Let’s just say that despite my somewhat eclectic taste in literature, I’ve never found myself eager to delve into these sort of stories; or at least I didn’t use to.

Knowing this, I’d imagine you’d be curious as to why I even read this book. The answer to that is relatively simple, just like Max in the book, I wanted something different. I was hoping that by reading this, by taking this adventure, I would find something unique; something I’ve never read before. That being said, I can honestly say I wasn’t actually expecting much. So hoping for the best but expecting little, I began my own spiritual journey of sorts — in the form of reading this book.

When I finish a story, the first thing I try to do is reflect back on my reading experience, and determine my very favorite thing about said story. Whether its characterization, a particular scene, the writing style, etc. Now in this case many things came to mind, and we’ll get to those shortly; but number one on the list has to be the immersion that I felt while I was reading. For me, the mark of a good book is to get lost in it; to look up and realize that despite feeling like it’s only been 10 minutes, you’ve been reading for hours. That’s exactly what happened here. It’s funny too because going into this I expected this book to feel almost tortuous in its length and subject matter. I mean come on, it’s a book about yoga. I’d sooner expect myself lost in a scientific textbook than a book on yoga. Blunt, maybe, but that’s just how I felt. But this isn’t just a book about yoga, that class you’ve taken at the gym. It’s so much more than that. It’s a book about discovering yourself, learning what’s beyond this world; the big picture – real yoga. I couldn’t help but feel like I was there with Max, learning and making the same discoveries.

Of course the only reason I was able to get so lost was because of how vivid and descriptive the book was. It felt real. It felt like I was standing next to Max in New York City, learning with him in rural India and experiencing the fierce Himalayan mountains side-by-side with my new-found friend. Now I have to admit, I have little knowledge in respect to Indian culture, and even less in regards to yoga. But that didn’t matter because Karan Bajaj does. His use of language to describe both the real and intangible aspects of Max’s journey was so picturesque, that me not knowing about these things took away absolutely nothing from the experience. It’s almost like he takes your hand and opens your eyes to all these amazing and wonderful things without it ever feeling belittling or overwhelming. In fact I can honestly say that had it not been for this book I would have never bothered to look twice at the ideologies and concepts that make this book what it is.

One of the most interesting things that I experienced whilst reading this, was how much these concepts put things into perspective for me. I’m not going to go so far as to say this book changed my life, but it did make me think twice about all the petty concerns that plague me on a regular basis. I mean here’s this guy who’s going beyond what most people would ever do, in order to find truth and meaning in life, and here I was thinking about bills and vacations and things of that nature. I got so wrapped up in the book that I started to have the same ideologies that Max had. I wasn’t feeling hungry or concern or anger, I was just living in that moment. I connected to Max and wanted nothing more than to see him succeed in his quest because in a way we both benefited from it.

The characters were as you would expect them to be in one sense, and completely different in another. In my mind, I think of very particular things when I think of India. I think of low socioeconomics, poor health care, crowded cities and barren rural areas — I did say I wasn’t the most culturally aware individual regarding India. So yes, some of these things were true and they had a role in shaping how some of the characters were represented. But there was so much more to them than that. They had a different cultural identity that played a major factor in who they were on a fundamental level. The fact that Max himself was a Westerner allowed me to easily relate to him and conceive of these somewhat outlandish individuals (the Yogis) in a way that seemed like I wasn’t alone in this endeavour. These people were just as foreign and unusual to Max as they were to me; but not in a bad way.

The story itself was obviously quite riveting. The pacing wasn’t incredibly fast but because of the nature of the book it felt right. It wasn’t supposed to be powered through or page-ripping intense. The ending is simultaneously heart wrenching and exactly what it should have been. Imperfectly perfect, if you will.

The Bad:

So with all that greatness, what went wrong? Well not entirely much. In fact the only thing that even slightly bothered me was the believability of some of the events in the book. Nothing at all to do with the fantastical or spiritual aspects, but more the believability of some of Max’s actions. Giving up everything for an ideal that most people only think of in passing — discovering the true answers and becoming One. However, upon reflection, I can’t fault the author or the book for this. Just because I couldn’t necessarily believe someone would do this obviously doesn’t mean they wouldn’t. Yogis are quite real and I’m sure there are people who would model this behavior (in a way the author himself did for that matter!).

Otherwise, I could nitpick some smaller details in the story, like the clichéd beginnings in NYC that seem more like something someone who didn’t live there would think of — much like my envisionments of India I noted above. But again, that’s more nitpicky than anything. It doesn’t really deter from the significance of the story.

Overall:

When done right, reading isn’t passive, it’s explorative. You’re there feeling, experiencing, doing the very things the author writes about. The characters become your friends, your mentors, your rivals. It’s emotional and realistic even in the most absurd and fantastical situations. And the only way for that type of reading to truly happen is if the writing is spot on. This writing, this book, is spot on. It’s an enlightening journey that takes you thousands of miles across the globe to experience something beyond our understanding. It’s honest writing in which the author shows his true passion for the subject matter. This isn’t just a spiritual journey for Max, it’s one for both author and reader alike.


(www.FictionForesight.com) ( )
  FictionForesight | Apr 26, 2016 |
Thanks to First to Read for the ARC. The Yoga of Max's Discontent pulled me in, turned my brain upside down and spit me out. The main character, Max Pzoras, is very relatable and easy to connect with. He starts life out in poverty, raised around drugs, gangs and gunshots. His mother helps push him, and his sister, to reach for more and he succeeds. With the death of his mother, though, he realizes that his success and wealth can not be all there is to life. He leaves his job, his home and his life to go to India to pursue a yogic lifestyle. Although I could not make his decision to leave everything behind, I am more interested than ever in the power of yoga and chakras. I see more practice and research in my future. ( )
  ewright0519 | Apr 18, 2016 |
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"Max Pzoras is the poster child for the American Dream. The child of Greek immigrants who grew up in a dangerous New York housing project, he triumphed over his upbringing and became a successful Wall Street analyst. Yet on the frigid December night he's involved in a violent street scuffle, Max begins to confront questions about suffering and mortality that have dogged him since his mother's death. His search takes him to the farthest reaches of India, where he encounters a mysterious night market, almost freezes to death on a hike up the Himalayas, and finds himself in an ashram in a drought-stricken village in South India. By turns a gripping adventure story and a journey of tremendous inner transformation, The Yoga of Max's Discontent is a contemporary take on man's classic quest for transcendence."--Jacket.… (more)

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