An erudite backpacking journey by a true dharma bum.



Peripatetic journalist and translator Porter (Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits, 1993) ventures again deep into the mountainous reaches of China, seeking the remote paths of the first six patriarchs of Zen Buddhism.

The author’s folksy, seemingly spontaneous day-by-day travelogue invites the reader along on an arduous ten-week trek into China, where during the first century CE Buddhist monks sought refuge from persecution. From the Yunkang caves near Tatung, 225 miles west of Beijing, to various monasteries in Loyang, Wuhan and Shaokuan, by bus, train or taxi, the author revisited the places sacred to Chinese Buddhists. Although his style is casual, the history Porter explores is dense. He traces the growth of Zen from the spiritual roots planted by the Prajnaparamita scriptures, which arrived in China in the second and third centuries, to its establishment as a separate school of Buddhism by the Indian monk Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch, who brought it to China around 475. Traveling to the places associated with these historic developments, Porter offers intriguing glimpses of a stunning and (to Westerners) little-known countryside and monuments, including the Nanhua Temple near Shaokuan, where Hui-neng lived for 40 years after he became the Sixth Patriarch in 677. The author penetrated many working monasteries severely repressed during the Cultural Revolution that are only now making a comeback. Porter titles his chapters to reflect the concept of “the life of no-mind” dear to Buddhists—and difficult for others to grasp—such as “No Home,” “No Dust or Mirrors,” “No Day Off” and so forth. Fluent in Chinese, the author brings a freshness to the snippets of ancient texts he translates here.

An erudite backpacking journey by a true dharma bum.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59376-132-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2008

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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