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Bones of the Master: A Journey to Secret Mongolia Paperback – May 29, 2001
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In the steady hands of poet George Crane, previously unknown Zen master Tsung Tsai comes off as truly extraordinary. A "poet, philosopher, house builder, scientist, doctor, and when necessary, kung fu ass-kicker," Tsung Tsai would still be wandering about anonymously if it were not, Crane says, for the need of financing provided by an advance on this book. The last of the monks from his Chinese monastery, Tsung Tsai felt he had to return one last time to find and honor his master's bones and rekindle his tradition. Crane recounts their joint adventure, opening with Tsung Tsai's harrowing decades-earlier escape from newly communist China, walking from Inner Mongolia to Hong Kong through a war-torn, famine-struck, psychotic land, nearly starving along the way. Crane, a self-styled hedonist ne'er-do-well, who says that meditation makes him nauseous, sets the stage for an entrancing buddy story back to China with this highly disciplined but carefree Zen master. As their mutual affection grows, Crane absorbs Tsung Tsai's spare but demanding philosophy, which sustains them through the base poverty of northern China, a life-threatening 18-hour climb up and down a treacherous mountain, and a confrontation with a master of black magic. A page-turner and an eye-opener, Bones of the Master is worth every penny of that advance. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Though not as widely discussed as the Cultural Revolution, China's Great Leap Forward (1957-1963) also inspired an internal struggle among Chinese Communist Party leaders. As they argued about the pace and type of development best suited for China, famine settled upon the land, killing tens of thousands and affecting millions. In 1959, the monks of Puu Jih Monastery knew they had to leave in order "to keep Buddha's true mind alive." Tsung Tsai, the youngest, journeyed alone through the heart of China to Hong Kong, eventually settling in Woodstock, N.Y. The story unfolds in an engaging way as author Crane befriends his quirky new neighbor, Tsung Tsai. When Tsung Tsai proposes to return to China to find the bones of his master and build a shrine, Crane follows to record the event. Despite their abbreviated poetic nature, Crane's impressions of Chinese life are some of the richest and most vivid readers will encounter. His words float like silk prayer flags at a Buddhist temple, enticing readers to explore their own spirituality. This book is the best reflection on Ch'an Buddhism to appear in quite some time. Written on multiple levels, it will appeal to readers looking for a good story, armchair travelers who want to understand more about China and spiritual seekers with an interest in Buddhism. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
It is a valuable record of the power and value of the Buddha Dharma for human life and endurance in this ocean-of-suffering world.
But as much as I loved the book and felt it to be perfect as it is, I was left wishing for more insight into the teachings of Tsung Tsai's teacher. I surely hope that the omission of details about actual teachings is an indication of another book yet to come to complete this Dharma record.
The chapter on the wayward ex-student of Tsung Tsai's is quite unique, very powerful and disturbing. Such an archetypal encounter seems lifted straight out of a Tolkien fantasy, yet it actually happened, amazing. The seductive temptations of the tantric/kundalini power are so graphically depicted. As well as the perennial worldly rewards of wealth and status to those infatuated with the charismatic aspects of spiritual power, in contrast to the poverty and renunciation of the true bhikku and their ministrations of healing power.
Finally, I pay homage to the monks of Puuh Jih, 108 bows! May their tree of Dharma grow strong and provide comfort and shade for many suffering in this world of samsara!
Let's start from the title "Bones of the Master", relics? A Christian would call them that. The corporal spoils of a saint are relics. To our modern christian mind the adoration of relics has something of medieval flavour and the translation of body rests seems really out of our time. To a Buddist monk this practice has perfect sense and so it seems to us when we are immersed in his cultural world. However, while we read we find out that the goal is not the fact in itself but the Way, the actions, the intentions, the experiences and so it dawns on our mind how religions are very similar. This is the principal reflection I made putting down this book, after a passionate and absorbing read.
Since to remember I must cathegorize I firmly settled this book in the cathegory of "disciple and master" and I went back to my adolescent enthusiasm with Castaneda and Don Juan. I also brought back to mind the only book on buddist monks I read years ago: The third eye by Lobsang Rampa. A rapid internet search revealed that maybe Don Juan never existed and Lobsang Rampa was an english plumber. Reading the amazon reviews I found out that readers before me had experienced the same emotions. To believe or not to believe, does Tsung Tsai exist or not?
But really these considerations are outside the pure emotion and pleasure of reading the book. It's a wonderful and absorbing tale, it teaches us something about Zen, about Chinese history, about Inner Mongolia, it makes us want to know more. I personally took down all the books on Buddism from my father's and my brothers libraries and have them stacked on my night table.
The appeal these kind of books have for westeners probably depends on the fact that one has the impression of being able to understand a different civilization. But deep insight escapes because our differences in backround are enormous. George Crane underlines this point with great determination and much humor, showing us how reciprocal acceptance must be the rule in our multiethnical reality. Another point of interest is the emphasis on translation, and especially the translation of poetry which is the first interaction between master and disciple. To understand a different culture we have to be able to translate it into our own language. Translation as an exercise in comprehension.
Another notation on language. The titles of the chapters are a poem of their own and very Zenish indeed. The broken english spoken by Tsung Tsai is beatifully rendered. How to forget: "Hurry-worry no good"?
A truely enchanting book !
A window into the China I will never see for myself. Danger, friendship, deprivation and the will to complete an unusual
task. You'll both hold your breath and laugh out loud.