Jeffery Paine, ed. Adventures with the Buddha: A Personal Buddhism Reader. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. Hardcover, 410 pp.
Buddhism’s arrival in the Western hemisphere is associated with a number of colorful figures—from the French adventuress Alexandria David-Neel, the German-born Lama Anagarika Govinda, the British scholar and traveler John Blofeld, and the Dutch writer-artist-policeman-drifter Janwillem van de Wetering to present-day teachers like the popular African-American professor of Buddhism and Tibeto-Indian Studies Jan Willis, the American-born ex-Buddhist nun and author/teacher Tsultrim Allione, the American vipassana teacher and author/retreat leader Sharon Salzberg, and the Californian diamond dealer and geshe Michael Roach.
Paine has authored several works, including Re-enchantment: Tibetan Buddhism Comes to the West (also published by Norton). In the present volume, he singles out nine individuals who, in the course of the twentieth century, have not only assimilated Buddhist teachings very deeply but also have been instrumental in passing them on to their fellow Westerners. The first four—David-Neel, Govinda, Blofeld, and Wetering—were true trailblazers and belong to what Paine calls the “Era of the Heroic and Almost Magical.” Their pioneering efforts benefited the next four—Willis, Allione, Salzberg, and Roach of the “Era of You and Me”—without sparing them the hardship characteristic of a Buddhist discipleship.
The importation of Tibetan Buddhism into the West can be seen as a long-drawn process of personal translation, which is more obvious with the recent crop of teachers. Everyone’s life story is unique, and so is bound to be everyone’s approach to Buddhism, unless we settle for mere dogmatism and formula. The autobiographical accounts gathered in this volume all demonstrate how, in order to truly assimilate and not merely apishly adopt, the Buddha’s Dharma, we must respect this uniqueness rather than attempt to squash it.
Buddhism definitely has arrived on our Western shores, and it even is developing some uniquely Western features. Whether it will remain authentic will depend largely on the authenticity of its Western practitioners and teachers. The life stories related in this engaging book can point the way.
Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
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