I've been on a bit of a reading-rampage lately. I read a couple of good Buddhist related books and got really in to the topic. Next thing I knew, I've read a dozen or so. All of them have been good, but "Buddha or Bust" by Perry Garfinkel has been one of the most enjoyable, entertaining and well rounded that I've laid eyes on.
I tend to gravitate toward the slightly off-beat books about Buddhism, and prefer a very "real-life" (for lack of a better way to say it) style of writing about Buddhism. The books that have a little comedy, or at least the ones that try a little less to convince me that they hold the key to everlasting peace are the ones that catch my eye the most (though I have read plenty of both!).
So, while perusing the shelves after a mindful walk to the bookstore recently, I found the intriguingly titled "Buddha or Bust: In Search Of Truth, Meaning, Happiness and The Man Who Found Them All" by Perry Garfinkel and between the title and the cover art, I was immediately hooked.
I snagged the book, and read it all the way through in record time for me. I tend to get through books slowly because I have very little time to read, but I simply couldn't put this one down! I read it every single moment I could, and was glad I had some travel time while reading it, which allowed me more time than normal to devote to it.
What made this book such a great read for me (besides Garfinkel's excellent style which is sort of a more tame version of Bill Bryson's humor mixed with some solid journalism and a down to earth sprinkle of the "everyman") was the overall birds' eye view he gives of Buddhism. It's very easy, when you are new to all of this stuff (as I am) to be confused by all the variations of Buddhism and even easier to find an author you like and find yourself following them down whatever path they themselves follow. There's nothing wrong with any of that, it's just that you don't necessarily get a "big-picture" view of Buddhism, what it's about and how it got that way.
Perry Garfinkel takes you with him on his journey to trace Buddhism from it's beginnings up to today's Socially Engaged Buddhism ethics, and he does so in a very entertaining, yet educational way. When you finish off this book, you'll find yourself a little tired from your travels, but all the wiser for it! The best thing I took from this book is the overall sense that Buddhism has evolved in an organic way that has allowed it to survive and thrive, and that regardless of what tradition you follow, it's all really the same thing adapted to suit the needs of the people practicing it. He does a great job of driving home the fact that the core messages of Buddhism are the same, whether you are following a strict Japanese Zen path or a western Socially Engaged Buddhism path or anywhere in between.
In a great example of his fun and relatable style, he is talking about a view of Buddhism he received from someone, and his understanding of what they told him and he says:
"Clinging to anything - hopes and dreams as well as a craving for a mocha frappuccino - causes suffering." ~ Perry Garfinkel from "Buddha or Bust"
As someone who drank 1-2 Venti Mocha Fraps per day for YEARS, up until I started this blog, I can definitely agree and empathize with this point!
Another of my favorite quotes was when he had a profound realization that all of the external things such as where he performed his meditations, the setting, his clothing, etc...none of these matter and that just doing it is all that matters!
"What came up for me was this slowly growing sense that by sitting in this manner with any group, anywhere, of any origin, there was my Sangha." ~ Perry Garfinkel from "Buddha or Bust"
This last bit, about the practice being more important than anything else, is a common theme I am running in to in my learning. It's advice that I think is perhaps the most important to beginners. There is a tendency to either feel you don't have the right *Insert whatever it is you don't have here* to "DO Buddhism" or meditation practice, or to feel that it's some mystical thing you can't be a part of because you don't live on another continent. Neither of these things matters at all. When I first started sitting in meditation, I did so for 10 minutes, and in my LaZBoy! I increased the time but was still using the LaZBoy until a couple of months ago. When I travel for work, I either do walking meditation only, or I meditate in a chair or sometimes I even just choose to do lying meditation in my hotel room bed! Guess what? It works JUST as well in all these situations! As Perry says..."Any group, anywhere, of any origin, THERE was my Sangha!"
I truly loved "Buddha or Bust", and if you are new to Buddhism, or just exploring it's concepts, or if you're already a Buddhist and you want a fun overview of it's history, this book will not let you down.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!