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FLIGHT OF THE BÖN MONKS

WAR, PERSECUTION, AND THE SALVATION OF TIBET’S OLDEST RELIGION

A remarkable work of historical insight and dramatic power.

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Rice and Cole present a riveting history of the Chinese invasion of Tibet that highlights the plight of adherents of the ancient Bön religion.

Relatively few have heard of the Bön religion despite the fact that it was long the dominant spiritual practice in Tibet. Ultimately, it was supplanted by Buddhism, though the two religions share many similarities. Central to both are a monastic renouncement of worldly affairs, a commitment to enlightenment through meditative practice, and a belief in the availability of wisdom to all, principles lucidly discussed by the authors. At the heart of the Bön religion is the unflinching recognition of the pain of life, with spiritual emancipation the only antidote: “To avoid the suffering that causes unhappiness and realize enlightenment, true peace must be discovered within each practitioner. Such a discovery is done through meditation and purifying negative thoughts caused by the five poisons: anger, desire, ignorance, jealousy, and pride.” When the communists rose to power under Chairman Mao Zedong, they promised to leave Bön adherents to their own devices and undertake a policy of non-interference, a position they continued to assert as late as 1956. China eventually invaded Tibet, however, compelling the Dalai Lama to flee and Bön monks to either follow suit or violate their vows of peace and take up arms against their oppressors. Rice and Cole grippingly chronicle the perilous flight of three monks—Yongdzin Tenzin Namdak Rinpoche, Samten Karmay, and Sangye Tenzin—from Chinese aggression and their valiant attempts to preserve a religion the communists inarguably intended to eliminate. Tenzin Namdak was entrusted with the protection of the Nyame Kundung, a 600-year-old reliquary that contained the remains of Nyame Sherab Gyaltsen, the founder and first abbot of Menri, the most revered of the Bön monasteries. Samten Karmay and Sangye Tenzin devoted themselves to the preservation of the religion’s sacred texts by establishing a printing press to reproduce them, a task they undertook with the help of David Snellgrove, a famous British scholar.

The authors demonstrate a magisterial command of the historical material, rigorously documenting both the beleaguered history of the Bön religion and the self-interested involvement of the United States. A program run by the CIA was, at least officially, designed to arm and train Tibetan rebels, but, per the authors, it seems clear now that the American government was only interested in dealing a blow to communist interests, not defending the sovereignty of Tibet. For all its impressive scholarly scrupulousness, the book reads like a dramatic novel, filled with suspense and captivating tales of astonishing heroism. Many times, Tenzin Namdak nearly died carrying the reliquary to safety—he was shot and imprisoned and still refused to surrender his mission. It is heartbreaking to consider the moral predicament of the many monks who were spiritually committed to non-violence but were compelled to betrayed their vows to defend themselves, their religion, and the people they loved most. Rice and Cole should be credited for their own efforts to keep the Bön religion alive, and to do so in a way that is as dramatically consuming as it is intellectually edifying.

A remarkable work of historical insight and dramatic power.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2024

ISBN: 9781644118580

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Destiny Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2024

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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