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Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible Paperback – October 4, 2004

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (October 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743232771
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743232777
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,283,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The set-up goes like this: take two religiously flippant intellectuals (in this case, Manseau and Sharlet, the founding editors of the spiritually hip online magazine Killing the Buddha) and send them on a yearlong road trip to discover the underbelly of America's religious culture. Make sure they mingle with the most wild and weird of holy rollers-a philosophical stripper working out of a converted Baptist church in Nashville, a one-eyed rodeo preacher from the "Cowboy Church" of Texas, a clan of bloodthirsty Jesus freaks in Florida and a cross-dressing terrorist from North Carolina badly in need of an exorcism. Take all these "true" stories, turn them into the "Bible's Book of Psalms," and alternate them with 13 freshly imagined "books" of the Bible, written by iconic American writers such as Rick Moody, Peter Trachtenberg and Haven Kimmel-and, voila, a heretic's Bible is born. Each of the 13 contributors was offered "a solo, a single book from the Bible to be remade, revealed, replaced, inverted, perverted, or born again, however the spirit so led them." The writers came up with seven nonfiction books (e.g., in "Exodus" Francine Prose draws upon her childhood to explain why she can no longer stomach seders) and six books of pure fiction. "Like the original, this Bible crosses freely between genres, between history and prophecy, confession and myth," according to Manseau and Sharlet. As disjointed and freakish as this biblical sequel sounds, the editors manage to pull off a most impressive work. This is some of the most original and insightful spiritual writing to come out of America since Jack Kerouac first hit the road.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

For there to be heresy, there must be orthodoxy, and what is one person's orthodoxy if not another person's heresy? Manseau and Sharlet, cofounders of an Utne Independent Press Award-winning online magazine, here report upon a cross-country odyssey that netted more than a dozen true-life religious experiences, which are recounted in the manner of psalms or songs about the common person and his or her relationship to God. Interspersed with those psalms are 13 books of the Bible, spanning from Genesis to Revelation, rewritten, or rewritten and interpreted, by a variety of authors, poets, teachers, and performance artists, none of whom claims religious authority. Still, the results are marvelous, profoundly personal observations, as diverse as Randall Kenan's fictionalized gospel, about 62-year-old miracle worker Velmajean and the Atomic Reverend "Spike" Horowitz, and Peter Trachtenberg's distillation of the story of Job in a Venn diagram. And the book offers laughter in Manseau and Sharlet's psalm about visiting a Heartland, Kansas, pagan community; tears in Michael Lesy's anguish over being a Levite, hence one of biblical Israel's official executioners. Donna Chavez
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

I found this book to be a wonderful mixture of truths and humor.
Candy Ayres
I liked them as readers, and they seemed like good folks, so I went home started reading, and except for some sleep, I haven't been able to put it down since.
Charlotte Jezebowski
Upon finishing this book, the first word to mind was "Fantastic" -- both for its conception and the way Manseau and Sharlet brought it off.
R. Stuart

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

90 of 101 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I always preferred the sanitized version of that very Zen-like bit of ancient Zen Master advice that is the central idea of this book, namely: If you meet the Buddha by the side of the road, kick him. It was always a bit too much for me to recognize that the actual injunction is to "kill him." What Lin-Chi I-Hsuan (?-867), who is recognized as the founder of the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism, actually said was:
Kill anything you happen on. Kill the Buddha if you happen to meet him...Kill your parents or relatives if you happen to meet them. Only then can you be free, not bound by material things, and absolutely free and at ease. (from The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, p. 398)
To get a feel for the shock of what Lin-Chi I-Hsuan said, imagine a Christian religious leader saying, "If you meet Jesus by the side of the road, kill him." Of course, that is what the Bible had us doing so long ago. Or think of the experience of seeing the Buddha by the side of the road as similar to seeing Christ's face in the Shroud of Turin. We have done that.
The idea is that whoever you might meet by the side of the road is a fraud. He certainly is not the Buddha. If you follow him you will be following a false path. Therefore kill him.
Or, as the authors of this book have it: "The Buddha you meet is not the true Buddha but an expression of your longing. If this Buddha is not killed, he will only stand in your way." (p. 1)
But I am compelled to point out that this is merely the beginner's understanding of what it means to kill the Buddha. What I-Hsuan was really pointing to is renunciation. The act of killing the Buddha is a symbolic way of renouncing the trinkets of this world and its delusional thinking.
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful By J. Christensen on January 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Mortal, eat this scroll" is how the book begins, and whether you mean to or not, you will. Perhaps figuratively, perhaps literally (I haven't yet decided what to make for dinner tonight). Guided by skepticiscm and spiritual wanderlust, Sharlet and Manseau lead a chorus of talented writers in creating a work that is beautiful, dangerous, and above all - nourishing.
By no means a feel-good fuzzy of new-age spirituality, each book of scripture asks those questions that make any good religious skeptic sleep with the night light on. In response, each book of psalms brings forward a look at the funny, strange, sad, and sincere quest that is America in search of the divine. Together the voices that emerge - those of the authors, their subjects, and the reader - create a sound that is new and truly original, authentic and unapologetic.
For myself, a life-long skeptic of all religions, this is the only bible I've ever felt inclined to call my own.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By "annachaffer" on January 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I picked this up because I'm a Rick Moody fan and he wrote this "heretic's bible"'s "Book of Jonah." It's as good as I hoped -- maybe one of his best stories -- and alone worth the price of the book, but the whole thing turned out to be a delicious surprise, almost like a great novel, even though the chapters by outside writers like Moody trade off with chapters by the two main authors, Manseau and Sharlet. Their chapters are called "psalms," and even though these psalms are nonfiction journalism, they're like poems describing all the fascinating ways people love god or hate him or her or check the box marked "other." Their trip across America, from a church near Ground Zero not long after September 11th to rural strip club where all the strippers are religious prophets is inspiring, and the other writers they bring in to join them are provocative. My favorite is Moody's, but don't miss any of them. I'm not religious, but Killing the Buddha makes me believe in the power of stories.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Barbara Snyder on January 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I'm not usually interested in explicitly spiritual or religious writing, but I loved this book, perhaps because it's unlike anything that's usually described by the impoverished term "spiritual" or shelved in the religion section in your local bookstore. The stories in this book range from precise yet emotionally intense reportage, to challenging essays on theology, to absorbing fiction, to sensual, stream-of-consciousness prose. I particularly loved the contributions of Eileen Myles, Darcey Steinke, and April Reynolds. Manseau and Sharlet's treatment of contemporary beliefs especially impressed me--they manage to be both empathetic with the faithful they encounter, yet also sensitive to what is strange, raw or just plain hilarious about their belief systems. Presenting a contemporary pagan festival alongside meditations on the books of the Old Testament allows Sharlet and Manseau to avoid the pseudo-objectivity of social science and the hysteria of political journalism on religion in order to show belief in action--arbitrary, contradictory, and still meaningful.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dave Kinnear on July 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This often times hilarious but always serious journal of a spiritual journey across America in search of Buddha is worth reading. The book is a collection of experiences, impressions, and encounters with reality as the authors travel across the American continent looking for the various incarnations of Buddha along the way.
The religious community has nothing to fear from the work of Manseau and Sharlet. They do not attack any religion, but rather they celebrate the spiritual venture many of us seem to be working toward. At the same time, they have an incredible collection of stories to keep us open minded about where we might encounter our own Buddha. If you don't have time to travel America, grab this book, sit back, and kill the Buddha vicariously.
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