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Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India (Vintage Departures) Paperback – June 14, 2011
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A main question seems to be whether often-isolated, syncretistic, devotional religious practices will continue in the face of India's burgeoning economy and, presumably, growing secularism and consumerism, on the one hand, and the exclusionary fanaticism of a militant segment of Hindus and Muslims, on the other. While much will be gained by greater educational opportunity and a higher/healthier standard of living for the rural and urban poor and powerless, rich, curious, sometimes bizarre religious practices in the name of the gods will probably fade away.
This book is not about mainstream religious practices or faiths of the great religions --- or even of "smaller traditions" that have gained acceptance, if not understanding, because of their great age. The `Sacred" referred to in the title are approaches to gods/God that are, for all the integrity of those interviewed who practice them, mightily strange.
The book certainly shows that devout, faithful approaches to belief are common to all levels of people and a belief in a "greater power" is sustaining in the most difficult of situations. The book is a wondrous "read" about good people whom most of us will never otherwise hear.
The nine seekers cover a broad swath of belief systems in India, though sidestep orthodox Muslim and Christians. In fact, they are mostly unorthodox, outside of the mainstream of belief. They need to be, in a sense: if they weren't, their devotion would be halfhearted, not defining. The first chapter, "The Nun's Tale," is powerful and disturbing. The young nun in question is a Jain, a member of the sect that began around 600 BC and which is most notable for its belief in absolute non-harming of other beings. Jains gently sweep the paths they take, to avoid stepping on insects, and will wear masks to protect any flying creatures or even microbes from being breathed in.
Prasannamati Mataji comes from a well-to-do family, but at an early age is drawn to the acetic life of the Jain nuns. Following tradition, she ceremonially plucks all her own hair out as a sign of her devotion to the way, and wanders with her fellow Jains, no possessions but her bowl, her whisk, and her robes.Read more ›
Presenting itself as nine "non-fiction short stories", 9 Lives portrays expressions of faith that are often romanticized or sensationalized, such as that of a tantric priestess, or ritual prostitute, or Tibetan soldier monk. As an obsessive reader of books about India, I can assure you that much of what is found here cannot be found anywhere else -- the alternatives are often sensationalist nonsense, or else dry as dust.
For example, the first chapter, about a Jain nun: I dare you to find elsewhere a readable brief narrative of Jainism that explains the basic beliefs and shows how they can continue to compel those that believe.
I've spent time in three of the places Dalrymple explores here -- Sravanabelagola, Dharamsala and Tarapith -- and still I learned so much about each.
(I admit I have an awful fear that the chapter about Tarapith -- the very most beautiful in the book -- will provoke a tourist boom in dusty Tarapith. In which case, let me warn you, the road is one of the most treacherous in India. Potential devotees are strongly advised to take the train.)
Dalrymple writes in spirited opposition to the forces that threaten to homogenize spirituality in India. Almost all of what he profiles here is in danger of being blotted out.
Particularly praise-worthy is Dalrymple's ability to get entirely out of the way of his subject. We learn nothing whatsoever about Dalrymple's personal spiritual journey -- and I mean that as very high praise.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
To any Indian philosophy there is just one goal - to attain the eternal bliss. For some it is the soul that brings it for some it is the body that is the tool. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Mahadevan Subramanian
Fascinating--an unimaginable insight into a number of the more obscure religious traditions in India....which left me wanting more....more experiences... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Sea Bird
A beautiful testament of those who may soon be lost, or, if the author is right, will continue to live on in the sidelines of India.Published 2 months ago by A.H.
Great snapshot into some of the lives of those in the religious fringe in IndiaPublished 4 months ago by Scarlett Pacheco
a beautiful book - bringing us close to the rich cultural heritage of the subcontinent - acutely threatened by extinction!Published 5 months ago by Instarini
Amazing read...quite a different perspective on the sacred in India...touched by Dalrymple's writing!Published 7 months ago by Kailash Narayan
Read this as I was travelling in Sikkim, and as usual, gained insight and more love for India as I read on. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Ganosh Gourmet
Outstanding! Book was in pristine condition. Super fast shipping. Many thanks.PatPublished 9 months ago by Patricia A. Gallagher