I admit, I love reading about seekers. I love it when people chuck their workaday lives and go live in Nepal, or when they leave NYC to live in a tiny town in Montana for a few days. As soon as I picked up Buddha or Bust: In Search of Truth, Meaning, Happiness and the Man Who Found them All by Perry Garfinkel—a national bestseller now in paperback about how he traipsed the globe to find the heart of Buddhism—I was hooked.
Garfinkel’s a smart, funny writer, nicknamed “Mr. Turtle" because he could fit all his possessions into his car. His career seems busted, his back hurts, his latest romance has fizzled, and when National Geographic gives him the opportunity to span the globe investigating Buddhism , he grabs it like it’s the solid brass ring. Already I love it because how can you help but root for him?
Garfinkle travels from Sri Lanka to Thailand, China, Tibet, Japan, Europe and San Francisco., exploring how Buddhism has adapted to each culture, morphing from a religion into a household world. And what a journey it is! In Poland, there is a Bearing Witness retreat set around Auschwitz. Ecology monks in Thailand wrap saffron robes around trees to keep them from being illegally cut down. Each incident is truly revelatory, and the panoramic cast of characters Garfinkle includes adds to the depth. (I liked the Buddhist stand-up comic, myself.) Most moving, however was Garfinkle’s talk with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, where Garfinkle’s preconceived notions about God fall away and give rise to something deeper and more meaningful.
Teaming with life, bristling with wry humor, and undeniably smart (I know, I said that already, but smart always matters in a book) Buddha or Bust is both deeply thoughtfully and friskily rambunctious.
And as for me, I may not follow Buddhism, but I’d happily trail after Garfinkle on any journey he wants to take.