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Re-enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West Paperback – November 17, 2004
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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"By far the best of the recent popular books exploring the amazing impact of Tibetan Buddhism. Paine's witty, erudite, flowing prose creates A memorable album of many characters--saints, rascals, and ordinary folks. He glosses over nothing, is ruthlessly critical where it is deserved, but is also secure enough to appreciate the beauty and the power of the 'magic and mystery': the profound practical wisdom and compassion of Tibetan civilization gone global."
About the Author
Jeffery Paine is the author of Reenchantment and Father India and is the editor of The Poetry of Our World. He is former literary editor of The Wilson Quarterly and lives in Washington, DC.
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A regular contributor to national publications, Paine knows how to keep a reader's attention. The book never lags and I would guess that most readers will be unwilling to put it down at the end of the evening. When the occasion warrants, Paine also lets his sense of humor shine, as in his discussion of actor Steven Segal, the world's most unlikely reincarnated lama and the only one, Paine observes, capable of uttering _Dalai Lama_ and _motherf......_ in the same sentence.
The book's most interesting insights are found in the chapter on Hollywood, a place where many are infatuated with the Dalai Lama and where you can even find a few practicing Buddhists, most prominently Richard Gere. Paine argues that actors already share a world view consistent with Buddhism, that thoughts and actions create reality. This dovetails nicely with the American ethos of being able to reinvent oneself, to start a new life. Paine sees a correlation in the growth of Buddhism in a society raised on film. Where the Buddha declined to discuss the soul and instead focused on our moment-to-moment experience of life, so too does the cinema ignore the metaphysical in building reality from sound, motion, and feeling.
The first of the book's five sections covers what little was known about Tibet in the west before the Chinese invasion of 1951 through the story of Alexander David-Neel (1868-1969), one of the first westerners (and the first western woman) to spend years in Tibet and to return home to write about it. This is followed by chapters on two lamas who had a lasting influence on North American Buddhism: Thubten Yeshe, whose teaching tours sprouted more than a hundred study and mediation centers across the United States and Canada; and Chogyam Trungpa, who started what is today the only accredited Buddhist university in North America. From the exiles Paine moves on to profile two homegrown lamas, the first generation of western teachers: Tenzin Palmo (Diane Perry), who spent 12 years in retreat and was only the second woman to be ordained in a Tibetan tradition; and Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo (Alyce Zeoli), the world's first female western-born reincarnated lama. The fourth section traces Hollywood's infatuation with Buddhism, and the last features sketches of three work-a-day North American converts.
Except for those in the last section, the figures profiled here are quite well known and for many of those already familiar with Tibetan Buddhism in North America, Paine has little new to offer to the story. What he brings is a deft sense of narrative, as well as a sensitive and sympathetic understanding of people and Buddhism. It's not clear from the text nor from online references whether Paine is a practicing Buddhist. But his balanced treatment of some of Tibetan Buddhism's more controversial characters, ones that often invite polarized reactions, suggest more than a need to live up to journalistic standards, more than a desire to protect these figures (and by implication Buddhism) from ridicule, but a genuine Buddhist-like concern for the welfare of others and an ability to see that none of us are perfect beings.
All these people are very, very interesting (sometimes controversial) teachers of tibetan buddhism. That's why it's so surprising he doesn't include them. They're all so interesting!!! That said, this is very much worth reading. It's well done and he doesn't candy coat any of the bad stuff (refreshing). There were plenty of new things (to me, anyway) here that made me seriously think. I particularly liked the great dzogchen master that one man put up in his lavish upstairs bedroom, only to have the master move into a walk-in closet and convert it into a version of a "himalayan cave." I loved the story where some man in a western audience said to the dalai lama, "Just tell us the fastest way to
enlightenment-" only to have the Great One burst into tears (tears of compassion, to my mind; read it and come to your own conclusion). Anyway, you get the idea.
So, the bottom line is I'm very glad I read this book. However, the definitive story of tibetan buddhism in the west remains to be told. That said, you'll enjoy this book a lot. I know I did.