The Life Stories and Wisdom of the Great Spiritual Masters of Tibet
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 A broad sampling of Tibetan Buddhist wisdom, as filtered through the ages. With spiritual-elder juices running through her system after she finished a book on Native American sagacity, Johnson (The Book of Elders, 1994) went in search of the purveyors of ancient Tibetan insight. She traveled from Ladakh to Palm Beach, returning with these singular interviews shaped as autobiographical vignettes. She spoke with all manner of Tibetan ``elder'' (by which she refers not to age, but to ``state of attainment''): oracles, hermits, lamas, scholars, nuns, astrologers, the tailor to the Dalai Lama. She gathered much material on Tibetan Buddhism, its strivings for compassion and kindness, its appreciation of impermanence and karma--little new for anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the philosophy. So turn to the remembrances of China's 1959 occupation of Tibet and subsequent intrusions on Tibetan ways for the most absorbing episodes of the book: the period of sizing up, then full-scale invasion, the flight of Tibetans to India and from there to the four corners, the Red Guard years, the fabric of daily life torn to ribbons (though failure to mention the Lhasa uprising of a few years back makes one wonder if the exiles are too far removed from recent political events). A newcomer to all this strangeness--clairvoyance and dreamscapes and sacred caves--Johnson gets unconvincingly swept away at times (meeting the Dalai Lama, she is ``filled with a feeling of lightness, of time suspended, and being fully present and alive at the moment''), then thankfully leavens the epiphanies with neat comic touches, such as the autographed picture of Richard Gere alongside an ET doll she stumbles across in a Himalayan monk's house. Separating wheat from chaff can be tiresome, but buried here are interesting nuggets of history and glimpses into the childhoods of Tibetan luminaries. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 16th, 1996
ISBN: 1-57322-023-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Riverhead
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1996