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The Buddha from Brooklyn: A Tale of Spiritual Seduction Paperback – April 24, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Buddha from Brooklyn begins like the biographies Crooked Cucumber and Cave in the Snow--a venerated Buddhist teacher from humble beginnings is surrounded by respectable Western students. Unlike the seasoned masters Shunryu Suzuki and Tenzin Palmo, however, Jetsumna Ahkon Lhamo, the red-headed woman from Brooklyn who wore a black leather jacket and stick-on nails, had no Buddhist training. And still she had managed to build up the largest monastery of Tibetan Buddhists in America. Martha Sherrill, a journalist for The Washington Post, introduces us to Jetsumna's monastery outside Washington, D.C., and to the world of Tibetan Buddhism. With a measured hand, she unfolds the life of Jetsumna and her acolytes, revealing the unshakable devotion, the enormous sums of cash, the ostracism, and the mysterious magnetism of the highest-ranked woman in Tibetan Buddhism. Jetsumna joined the illustrious ranks of Tibetan lamas after being discovered to be an enlightened reincarnation by the same lama who would later discover Steven Seagal. As Sherrill learns, Jetsumna did appear to be enlightened, and her students believed in her infallibility. They became model Tibetan Buddhists, doing prostrations, building stupas, saving all sentient beings. So why did the group occasionally seem like a cult? In a narrative of complexity and sensitivity, Sherrill struggles with the answers to this and other doubts even while she is attracted to the religion herself but troubled by its embodiment in this stretch of wilderness outside America's capital. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Catharine Burroughs was a spiritual leader with a small following in Maryland when she was officially recognized in 1987 as the tulku, or reincarnation, of one of the founders of the Tibetan Buddhist Nyingma sect's Palyul tradition. Sherrill, a Washington Post writer since 1989, interviewed Burroughs and many of her students. This multiplicity of voices makes for a rich, compelling portrait of Burroughs's spiritual journey, one that Sherrill aptly describes as having a "Star Is Born" quality. Burroughs is a complex figure, warm and down-to-earth, charismatic and intensely attentive to her students' needs, yet also distant, inaccessible and sometimes manipulative. Sherrill presents these apparent contradictions in a way that is balanced and compassionate, yet honest. This book, however, is not just about Burroughs; it is Burroughs's impact on her students' lives, both positive and negative, that surprises here, even more than the seeming anomaly of an American becoming a part of the Tibetan Buddhist incarnation tradition. Burroughs displays a remarkable ability to form and continually re-inspire her community, but this leads some students to see her as a living Buddha, a claim not many Tibetan teachers would make. Sherrill's work raises questions about how important one charismatic figure should be in a religious community, whether it is Buddhist or of some other faith, but she leaves the reader with no easy answers. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Books ed edition (April 24, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375726489
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375726484
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,005,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Martha Sherrill was born in Palo Alto, California and was raised by a single mother in suburban Los Angeles. She graduated from UCLA where she studied film and art history. For several years after college, she worked at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. before landing a job at The Washington Post, initially as a fashion assistant in the Style Section and then as an award-winning essayist and feature writer covering the arts and politics.

She is more fascinated by human behavior than news -- and specialized in profiles of complex personalities and relationships.

The author of four books -- two novels and two works of nonfiction -- her work describes the struggle of the individual, particularly freethinkers and nonconformists, to find a home in society. Her fifth book tells the story of her family's move to Cape Cod, Massachusetts and her volunteer job at the town dump.

See her author website for more details,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful By A Seeker on December 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
Over the past two years I have visited Jetsunma's temple in Poolesville MD many times. I have first-hand experience with it, and I have talked with some of the people who are described in the book. Based on my own experience I can say that Martha Sherrill's book is an accurate portrayal of Jetsunma, her temple, and her followers. Everything I have seen myself is consistent with Sherrill's book.

I first visited the temple because I was looking for expert instruction in Buddhist meditation practices and/or "lo jong" (mind training). I did not find it. I soon found that I was already more knowledgable about such things than even the "ordained" monks. The only meditation training I found was so superficial that you might as well just go buy Herb Benson's book "The Relaxation Response".

At the temple I almost immediately got a gut-level feeling that something was wrong here. Subsequent visits only made that feeling increase.

The people at the temple seemed to avoid me. I found them evasive and difficult to engage in conversation. No one could explain what the 24-hour prayer vigil was about, or even what "prayer" meant to a Buddhist.

I heard Jetsunma speak at one of her visits to Poolesville, and it was like a time-share sales pitch. It was a high-pressure pitch to become one of her students. It was both peculiar and disturbing.

On another occasion I heard an announcement from Jetsunma (delivered by proxy) that the lack of maintenance on the stupa garden had caused her to fall ill. Unpaid landscaping work however would remedy the situation. At that point I finally realized that Jetsunma's followers were crazy.

I thank Martha Sherrill for alerting the world to an organization that looks like a Buddhist temple, but which is really a dangerous cult.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By E. Yasi on April 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was great fun to read, and the author has created a vivid portrait of a spiritual community, with all their strengths, weaknesses, virtues, and flaws layed bare. Most of the time she keeps to telling the story without unnecessary commentary and opinion, and when she does give an opinion, she is very open and honest about her own subjectivity in the matter. The picture formed of Jetsunma is not simplistic, and reveals someone by turns endearing, insightful, arrogant, frightened, funny, manipulative, compassionate and outrageous. The community of people that have gathered around her are also portrayed very directly, and for the most part come across very sympathetically. They seem earnest, caring, and well-meaning. There are disturbing incidents in the book when the community seems harsh and vindictive, but overall they seem like a group of spiritual seekers it would be a pleasure to know (if not necessarily join...) Whether or not they are a 'cult' is wisely left up to the reader to decide.
This leads to what I view as the main flaw of the book. If someone is well-versed in Buddhism, then they have a context in which to better understand this community and their leader, and how they are, and are not, typical of other Buddhist communities. We hear people in the book say how different this Dharma center is from others, but nothing more than that. A reader who has not had experiences in other Buddhist centers or communities would be left without a context to place this in. Near the end of the book, when the author does talk to others outside of this community for additional perspective, it is only to briefly quote a rather eclectic bunch, including Tammy Faye Baker(!), Deepak Chopra, and Dr. Laura Schlesinger(! ).
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 6, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Totally engrossing! This is a must read for anyone interested in the inner workings of a cult -- and hopefully for anyone contemplating the experience of any irrational system of thought, particularly any that demand uncritical devotion to a charismatic leader.
Just imagine: The same old Tibetan lama who decided the action-movie "actor" Steven Seagal is a reincarnated exulted lama discovers this "big-haired, much-divorced Brooklyn-born Jewish-Italian woman" -- and she's one too! She was already a practicing psychic: working out of her basement, giving readings, channeling, claiming that in past lives she was, among other things, a ruler of galaxies -- and she already had the charisma necessary to inspire a cadre of middle-class New Age believers. But look out now! Suddenly, she's Jetsunma Ahlon Lhamo, with all the pedigree and credentials of a reincarnated perfectly compassionate whatever, come to help all sentient beings -- and Lord Acton's take on what power does to the powerful never seemed more apropos -- or more tacky.
Throughout the book, you keep asking incredulously: What WILL this woman do next? You never cease to be amazed -- and often disgusted -- as her shenanigans turn more and more lurid.
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