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by Martha Sherrill

Pub Date: April 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-679-45275-3
Publisher: Random House

The unique story of an American woman whose life was launched on an ``extraordinary trajectory'' after she was identified as the reincarnation of a16th-century Tibetan saint.

In 1984, Catherine Borroughs was leading a spiritual group in Maryland when a visiting Buddhist leader recognized her to be a tulka—an enlightened creature who returns to earth to help ``sentient beings,'' or all living things. She had taught her students something incredibly close to Tibetan Buddhism without ever having learned it, as if remembered from a previous life. She takes the name Jetsunma, and Washington Post reporter Sherrill casts both a critical and a sympathetic eye on this powerful, inspiring, and rather bizarre woman. Jetsunma founds the largest Tibetan monastery in America, telling her students that ``the future of Dharma in the west'' depends on their example. The Tibetan practice, offering a quick path to enlightenment, has a particularly American appeal, explains Sherrill, and the nexus of eastern and western cultures that she documents is stunning. Faced with the task of performing the 100,000 prostrations required in a Buddhist purification rite, students dress as if for aerobics class and keep count on ``plastic clickercounters.'' Even after her recognition, Jetsunma wears red acrylic fingernails and works out at Bally's in thongs and tank tops to lure a student into her group. Jetsunma's constant fight with obesity, her fourth divorce, and her love affairs with students are all parts of this puzzling story. Immersed the world of Jetsunma and her students, Sherrill's journalism captures the humor of the culture clash as well as the subtle emotional and social influences of the Tibetan practice on members of the group.

A fascinating indepth examination of spirituality in America, and a close look at the fine line between religion and cult.