Pistono. Matteo Pistono. Buddhist superspy, teaching bad guys the disappointments that come from attachment.
Since 1999, Pistono has been journeying into Chinese-occupied Tibet, porting in messages from the Tibetan government in exile, stealing out with evidence of official misdeeds, such as the mistreatment of a cleric “who was scalded with boiling water and then jailed for five years for publicly praying to the Dalai Lama”—an act that the Chinese government considers to be a crime of sedition and “separatism.” The author came to this work honestly, if circuitously, having been an environmental activist in Wyoming on one hand and a Buddhist devotee on the other hand, working in the best tradition of the warrior-monk. Pistono clearly regards this espionage as a kind of religious obligation, observing that as a sworn bodhisattva he is obligated to benefit others in all his future lives, which might involve “a couple hundred thousand years of working for others, depending on how many lifetimes the vow took to accomplish.” By all accounts, not least this modest and suitably self-effacing one, he has been successful in this work, smuggling out documents, posters, court records and other materials that have wound up in the hands of human-rights organizations and legislators around the world, often placed there by Pistono’s frequent employer, the actor and activist Richard Gere, who provides the book’s foreword. “I would occasionally meet with Richard in India, Nepal, or New York,” writes the author, “to show him recent photographs and tell him what Tibetans were telling me.” This earnest memoir has its adventuresome moments, but it is less action-packed than readers might wish. Instead, it is peppered with asides concerning “positive karmic seeds,” memories of tutelage under a kindly monk named One-eye Wangde, and puzzlement over whether the Buddha’s enlightened state is truly possible and whether he violates any religious precepts by telling lies and stealing state secrets.
James Bond it’s not, but this book isn’t quite like any other, and it makes a useful primer for anyone contemplating making a right livelihood along dangerous paths.