Book Review: Buddha Or Bust

by Cameron Karsten Apr 26, 2007

buddhaThe Buddha once said, “All living things, whether they know it or not, are following this Path.”

The enlightened prince 500-some years before the birth of Jesus knew what he was talking about.

He spoke of the path of life; a winding tumultuous trail of crags, thorns, mountains and exquisite vistas that all creatures must travel on Earth.

New York Times contributor Perry Garfinkel was on the path, though he didn’t know it when National Geographic accepted Perry’s pitch to travel around the world documenting the chronology of Buddhism and its revival as the 21st century’s “engaged” Buddhist Movement-all expenses paid.

It was a dream job for any writer — a “cosmic bailout” of constant movement, interviews, hours of taxi rides and plane flights, with swarms of luggage, language barriers and a precarious lumbar structure. The journey would land Perry a 24-page spread in one of the world’s most renowned periodicals and the book, Buddha or Bust.

Perry Garfinkel began as another American seeking answers to the insatiatable materialism of the West. He sets out from his mother’s New Jersey home eastward in search of the modern world’s Buddhism.

The cold reality of Auschwitz is Perry’s first hard awakening. Dug within the shallow grave of his Jewish lineage, he comes face-to-face with his own denial. From the start, the ego continues its play, dominating the truth, meaning, happiness and true healing.

Perry’s experiences undermine his ability to remain on the meditation cushion in the face of such suffering and horror.

He continues into the heart of the East. India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Hong Kong and China, Tibet, Japan’s Kyoto and Tokyo, exploring how Buddhism has confronted the daily suffering in the world.

Through the directions and words of various Eastern philosophies, Perry Garfinkel’s questions are never answered. He is instead filled with ponderings of possibility.

The Buddha has as many faces as he does sutras. He exhibits as many ways to smile upon the world as the number of steps in which Gandhi trekked. If one thing is true today, it’s that citizens continue to strive for a more compassionate world.

Engaged Buddhism continues to hold the one true purpose: a means to look inward upon one’s Self. After the months of movement, Perry recognizes his own inner light, where his questions have been leading him all along.

Here, only in the present moment, beneath all judgment and self-righteous assurance of who he thinks he is, does the simple joy of being reside. He is Perry Garfinkel: writer, author, world traveler, and spiritual practitioner.

With keen observance, Perry believes the Buddha’s message continues to thrive. The question is: are we willing to stop and listen?

Cameron Karsten writes a weekly spiritual travel column for Brave New Traveler. He left his formal classroom studies to indulge in dreams of travel at 19 years old, and has been wandering ever since. Visit his personal website.

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