Friday, April 5, 2013

nine lives

Last week, I started reading Nine Lives, the Search for the Sacred in Modern India, by William Dalrymple. Highly recommended. He re-tells the life stories of nine different people he has met and interviewed in India, each of whom follows a different religious practice. Some of the stories are quite poignant if not outright moving. Two stories really stand out for me thus far. The first chapter relates the story of a wandering Jain nun, Mataji, who is ritually starving herself to death, after the death of her friend and travelling companion, because she was still too attached to her. Her story gave a poignant view of the austerity and beauty of the Jain religion.

The other story that I found quite moving was that of a Tibetan monk, Passang, who gave up his vows for 30 years or so, first to fight the Chinese in Tibet, and then as a member of the Indian army. His story is so complicated emotionally and philisophically, apparently there is a history of monks renouncing vows to fight to defend the faith, a type of Tibetan warrior deity/protectors (like what you see in their art)..although the dali lama focuses on the ahimsa inherent to Buddhism. The monk questions whether once a monk, he ever really could have renounced his vows, and what the effects of his participating in the army, in war, and in killing other people, and now his constant repentance of those acts, will have on the rest of his life, his chances at forgiveness, his death and his rebirth. Furthermore, he was one of the monks who escorted the dali lama out of Tibet.

yamantaka, slayer of death, image taken from here

The stories that I have most enjoyed are of people who have a compelling tale to tell..the author's writing about the places and history is decent, but I am not as interested in that sort of writing as a rule.

Best book on religion that I have read this year.

click here

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