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Buddha or Bust: In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness, and the Man Who Found Them All Paperback – July 24, 2007

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony (July 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400082188
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400082186
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #933,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A wonderful idea with so-so execution, this spiritual travelogue ambitiously circles the globe to explore the Asian roots and worldwide branches of Buddhism. Journalist Garfinkel got an assignment to write a feature for National Geographic magazine about the spread of Buddhism; the book includes both the material he gathered in nine countries and his memoirish commentary on his experiences. The book is at its best when Garfinkel holds memoir to a minimum and just reports on his subjects, whether people or countries. The resurgence of Buddhism in economically booming China is particularly fascinating. By contrast, increased coverage of Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh and a little less of Garfinkel's girlfriend at Nhat Hanh's Plum Village in France would have been more to the point. Some readers, especially nostalgic baby boomers, will appreciate the author's light tone, while others will find his frequent jokiness shallow and his cultural allusions occasionally mysterious ("the Buddhist version of 'I'm from Missouri' "). Although Garfinkel presents useful material, some conclusions are unconvincing leaps. "I was having trouble connecting the dots in Sri Lanka" doesn't speak precisely enough about that country's contradictions. While informative, this book isn't fresh or rigorous enough. (June 13)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Garfinkel undertook a 20-week round-the-world trip to write an in-depth article for National Geographic about the worldwide Buddhist movement. Following in the footsteps of the Buddha, he hoped to gain, if not nirvana, at least insight and "merit" to redeem in this lifetime. He begins the journey in Poland, on an Auschwitz retreat through Zen Peacemakers, looking for Buddha's truth of suffering. It is a heartrending beginning that at the end of the journey makes a great deal of sense. Next on his agenda is India, birthplace of Buddha, and from this point on the itinerary is more logical. Each step is another lesson in history, teasing out what is known from what has been merely attributed to the Buddha. He travels to Thailand, Hong Kong, and China, and some discoveries are disheartening. In Sri Lanka, for instance, Garfinkel is appalled to find that the civil war is closer to a religious war. Despite occasional confusion in the discussion of various Buddhist sects, Garfinkel presents a dynamic account of twentieth-century Buddhism. Pamela Crossland
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Not bad, not too exciting either.
Besides being informative it's a fun read.
Helen E. Skwarek
Second the book is just a good read.
Stephen C. Skinner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Julian Wise on June 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
At some point in our cultural consciousness, Buddhism developed a hip cachet. From Zen mp3 players and the rock band Nirvana to Richard Gere's appearances with the Dalai Lama, Buddhist vocabulary and imagery began to infiltrate our collective psychic ken. Journalist/Author Perry Garfinkel spins what began as a National Geographic assignment on modern Buddism around the globe to a full-length book chronicling his journeys around the planet in search of the living Buddhist spirit amidst the cacaphony of modern life. From the war-torn provinces of Sri Lanka(where Buddhist soldiers defy the image of pacificism associated with the religion) to Takster, the birthplace of the Dalai Lama, Garfinkel gives a humorous and sharp-eyed report on Buddhist faith and practice. The picture that emerges is of a complex, evolving religion that is not spared the contradictions, hypocricies, and perplexities of other faiths. Along the way Garfinkel encounters a cast of lively characters, including Sri Lankan activist Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne, Shao Lin monk Shi De Cheng, Thich Nhat Hanh, and His Holiness The Dalai Lama. Garfinkel seasons the book with just enough autobiographical information and humor to keep it lively and quick-paced without becoming indulgent or self-aggrandizing. He manages to blend contemporary observations with historical record to create an informative, clear, and accessible portrait of the historic Buddha and the religion that followed in his wake. At 291 pages, the book is a quick, lean, and fun read. For those who enjoy travel writing and/or religious exploration, this book is a score.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By K. L. on July 2, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book was a fast and light read. Garfinkel's voice is engaging and witty. Speaking of engaged, one of the book's goals is to track the Engaged Buddhist movement. Here, the author travels around the globe taking snapshots of how different cultures have adapted and modernized Buddhism, in many instances making the religion more socially "engaged."

However, in each of the stops I wanted to know more--they truly were just snapshots. For example, he goes to India and signs on with a tour group covering the four major Buddhist holy sights: where the Buddha was born, where he attained enlightenment, where he gave his first teaching, and where he died. Yet, the author really focuses on Bodh Gaya (where the Buddha became enlightened), and says the other spots are sort-of "hazy." Hardly what I call a book about the author's travels "in the footsteps of the Buddha." A more acurrate designation might be "in the footsteps of BUDDHISM."

Covering Engaged Buddhism was equally light, and I was very disappointed in the chapter on American Buddhism, where he was more concerned about his relationship with Buddhism as a Jew. He talked more about Engaged Buddism in his introduction and in the chapter on Auschwitz, Poleland than in the American chapter.

Yet, I still enjoyed the book. If you want a light read and a brief overview of Buddhism around the world, this is the book for you. But if you want something heavier, look elswhere.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Richard A. Jenkins on November 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
Garfinkel developed this book as an extension of work he did documenting the roots and migration of Buddhism in Asia for National Geographic. It helps to have some rudimentary introduction to Buddhism before the reading the book. On the other hand, the book will appeal to people who see themselves as "seekers" and want to know more about the diversity of Buddhist practice or have concerns about different aspects of dharma or practice. This is not a book of inspirational readings or scholarly discussions of dharma or Buddhist practices and will be welcomed by those who find "serious" work a little daunting at this stage of their interest in Buddhism. It also will be welcomed by people who have seen some disconnect between Buddhist doctrine and the conduct of Buddhist societies.

Garfinkel has had many years of exposure to different branches of Buddhism, but clearly has been weary of a full-on commitment to any of them. He makes efforts to compare and contrast the development and structure of Buddhist beliefs with those of Christianity and Judaism and tends to do better with Judaism (the faith in which he had been raised). The book is far from exhaustive in describing the life of the Buddha or how Buddhism spread and evolved in Asia. Nonetheless, he seems to get most of the fundamentals right and offers direction to deeper work in a number of areas. There are gaps of varying importance--he describes the large temporal gap between the Buddha's life and efforts to document his teaching without much attention to what happened in between. The idea that Buddhism became incorporated into various Asian cultures is treated as more novel than it needs to be (e.g.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Dorothy C. Sims on March 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I bought the book as a gift for my husband and as I was wrapping it I started reading it.

Ultimately, read the whole damn thing.

Garfinkel is funny with dry detached observations that make the subject digestable and, well, funny!

I've struggled with traditional discussions of Buddhism and heard scholars discuss Buddhism in the west. I usually zoned out early on.

Not this time.

I ended up buying 4 books, gave them all away and now, damn it, need one for myself.
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