Book Review: Buddha or Bust

Buddha or Bust: In search of truth, meaning, happiness, and the man who found them all by Perry Garfinkel

Recommended if you like your history.

When I picked up this book (in the religion section) the back read more like a travel-log and personal experience than anything else. I’m a sucker for traveler stories. Especially when they seem to have some profound under-layer as well.

In reality, it is and it isn’t. (But what does it matter? You can find Zen anywhere right. *winks*)

This is a comprehensive story of the history and current movements of “engaged Buddhism” across the world. Due to the whirlwind nature of the author’s travels “in the footsteps of Buddha” there are a multitude of incredible snapshots and a great gout of historical and cultural exposition.

This book is in no way objective, but the author clearly delineates his ideas from the ideas around him. And I personally prefer hearing the voice of my narrator in these journeys. I want to know how the author experienced getting the knowledge – if that makes any sense. You get a sense of the meandering path of research in Salt by Mark Kurlansky, for example.

Garfinkel isn’t Kurlansky. The history can be a little dry at times; a little disconnected.

But in spite of those periods, there is a genuine sense of finding peace throughout the work and the reader is introduced to some venerable and fascinating teachers along the way. Heck, he even got an interview with the Dalai Lama. His holiness even wrote a quote for the book. That’s enough of an endorsement for me.

The pace of movement is fast, and there are occasional bouts of cultural ignorance that are woven into and throughout the story as the artist recognizes and deals with those issues. It sometimes feels a little glib, but I assume it’s the nature of the beast. Describing satori or any other form of enlightenment, no matter how small, is practically impossible, but Garfinkel does a fair job of it. All in all it was a good read and a good reference.

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