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In the Shadow of the Buddha: Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet Hardcover – January 20, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Pistono draws on his experiences as a journalist, activist, and student of Tibetan Buddhism to explore the intersection between spirituality and politics. He weaves together the stories of his pilgrimages in Tibet, his role in smuggling out evidence of the Chinese government's human rights abuses to the West, and the history of Terton Sogyal, a lama who served as spiritual and political adviser to the current Dalai Lama's predecessor in the late 19th and very early 20th centuries. Pistono follows the path of Terton Sogyal across vast expanses of the Tibetan landscape while hearing testimonies to suffering by Tibetans who sought him out to share their stories. The phurba, a "great weapon of compassion" in Tibetan ritual to destroy anger, provides a continuing motif. Spiritual aspirations and political realities collide tragically in present-day Tibet, and through this complex set of narratives Pistono explores his own search for freedom from anger when faced with massive injustice and the apparent ineffectiveness of activism on behalf of Tibet. These inner and outer journeys are no less astonishing for being told matter-of-factly, accompanied by keen analysis of modern realpolitik. (Jan.)
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*Starred Review* From Wyoming to Himalayan meditation caves to Capitol Hill, Pistono’s account of his quest for spiritual illumination and political justice is heartbreaking and awe-inspiring. Pistono, raised with the belief that social activism is a core responsibility, began traveling to Tibet in 1999, motivated, in part, by his fascination with Tertön Sogyal, a nineteenth-century mystic and “Tibet’s great champion and protector.” Pistono follows in Tertön Sogyal’s footsteps while telling the mystic’s astonishing story, from his father’s insistence that he join a band of highway robbers to serving as teacher to the XIII Dalai Lama and guiding Tibet through political turmoil and the intrusion of British forces. Traveling as both a journalist and a Buddhist pilgrim, Pistono also found himself at the crossroads of spirituality and politics when he was asked to serve as a human-rights courier, carrying to the West hard evidence of China’s systematic brutality in occupied Tibet. Pistono tells chilling cloak-and-dagger tales and offers mesmerizing descriptions of haunting landscapes and miracle-performing lamas. But what shimmers most in this riveting and mysterious chronicle, which includes a foreword by Tibet activist Richard Gere, is the courage of those dedicated to “the Dalai Lama’s vision for real autonomy and religious freedom in Tibet through nonviolent means.” --Donna Seaman
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Matteo Pistono began with a plan to write a biography of Terton Sogyal, a highly realized holy man and revealer of hidden teachings, who lived in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He was a close advisor to the thirteenth Dalai Lama during years when Tibetan sovereignty was threatened by both the British and Chinese and used his considerable spiritual powers to guard against these threats. The book provides beautifully written and inspiring accounts of important events in the life of Terton Sogyal and of the author's visits to the places where those events took place.
During his decade of arduous travels in the Land of Snows, Matteo Pistono lived in a monastic encampment, sought out Buddhist masters and hermits, received advanced teachings, learned special practices, and witnessed the seemingly miraculous. He also encountered evidence of human rights abuses, including destruction of homes, imprisonment, torture, and even death meted out to monks, nuns, and others whose only crimes were to practice their religion, peacefully protest, express devotion to the Dalai Lama, or merely decline to denounce him. Before long he was spiriting evidence of these violations out of Tibet so that they could be seen by policy makers in Washington, Europe, and the UN. At the same time he was bringing in messages from the Dalai Lama. These were, to say the least, perilous activities, and the book often reads like the page-turning mystery thrillers of Eliot Pattison - except that this is no fiction.
So we have a biography of Terton Sogyal, accounts of Chinese government abuses, and of the adventures undertaken to expose them. Interwoven with these elements is the author's description of his own spiritual journey as a student and practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism during the decade that he took to research and write the book. Central to this spiritual journey is his struggle to reconcile anger at the actions of the Chinese government with his efforts as a Buddhist to practice meditative equanimity and cultivate compassion. As we learn how he resolved this conflict, we learn much about Tibetan Buddhism, about its practices and its teachings on wisdom, compassion, impermanence, and death, and the awakened mind's ability to transform thoughts and emotions.
In the Shadow of the Buddha is an amazing book - a gift for all who care about human rights, the Tibetan people, and the teachings of the Tibetan Buddhist masters.
I love this book, and I have not wanted to put it down. I force myself to do so because I want to savor it, spend more time with it.
Often, when authors write such accounts, jumping from one century to another, I find it challenging to follow and often, clumsy. Not so here. There is continuity, a smooth flow that moves the reader from the time of Terton Sogyal to the recent past and back again without having to look back and see where you jumped off.
In the Shadow of the Buddha is a moving book. Matteo's devotion to his teachers' instructions is inspiring. His willingness to risk his own well being to tell the truth of the atrocities to which the Tibetan people are subjected, shows that he is a brave and compassionate person. This book is mystical, tragic and loving all at the same time. Bravo.