CIRCLING THE SACRED MOUNTAIN by Robert Thurman

CIRCLING THE SACRED MOUNTAIN

A Spiritual Adventure Through the Himalayas
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A guru-and-disciple account of a pilgrimage to a Tibetan Buddhist sacred site. Thurman (Religion/Columbia Univ.; Inner Revolution, 1998, etc.), president of Tibet House in New York City, teamed up with his former student and surrogate son, Wise (Tesla, 1994) and other pilgrims on a 1996 journey to Mount Kailash in Tibet. This is their account of the journey—or rather, Wise’s account, because apart from Thurman’s autobiographical introduction, his contributions consist of his daily teachings from the trip, which Wise tape-recorded. Since all of the trip participants were novices to Buddhism, this dharma/teaching is geared for the beginner and offers a helpful introduction to esoteric (tantric) Buddhism. As the pilgrims circle Mount Kailash, the most revered peak in Tibet, Thurman outlines the spokes of “the blade wheel of mind reform,” encouraging the hikers to empty themselves of samsara (suffering) and to practice compassion for all beings. (All beings, that is, except for the occupying Chinese, who are vilified and stereotyped throughout the book as warlike, secular, and universally cruel, while the Tibetans’ “whole culture . . . [is] magical.”) Apart from its overt political message and more oblique spiritual instruction, the book also extends to us the rare chance to enjoy armchair traveling in an area off-limits to casual tourists. Wise’s sections make for an absorbing travelogue, complete with descriptions of altitude sickness and an exciting tundric mountain climb near the end (shades of Into Thin Air). But his own spiritual odyssey gets wearisome; his struggles with personal responsibility, alcoholism, and narcissism are so pervasive that the reader begins to wish for a less introspective narrator. Wise’s relationship to Tenzin (as Thurman is called by friends and family) is also much less interesting than Wise thinks it is. Valuable for its teaching and its setting, then, but marred by Wise’s self-preoccupation. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 9th, 1999
ISBN: 0-553-10346-6
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1999