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Lions Roar : November 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2008 100 behind bars. Letters from Dhamma Brothers describes a ten-day Goenka-style vipassana (“insight”) meditation program deliv- ered at a maximum-security Alabama prison in 2002. The book also collects some of the 200 letters the twenty participants sent to the course leaders over the next four years, documenting their difficulties practicing in prison and their ongoing experiences of personal transformation. Razor Wire Dharma, a collection of autobiographical stories by Calvin Malone, currently serving the final days of a twenty-year sentence for aggravated assault, gives us a window on life “on the inside.” Through his stories of a com- mitted Buddhist placed under great pressure, Malone asks us to reflect on the nature of difficult circumstances and the obstacles to practice. “Prison can be a hard place,” Malone says, “so can the world outside the prison gates.” What both these books illus- trate is that, however narrow or broad our freedoms, we all make choices that will either imprison or liberate us. TURTLE FEET: The Making and Unmaking of a Buddhist Monk By Nikolai Grozni Riverhead Books, 2008; 326 pp., $24.95 (cloth) In this travel/spiritual memoir, Nikolai Grozni, a gifted young pia- nist and novelist from Bulgaria, has a crisis of meaning and quits his college music program in America to study at the Dalai Lama’s university in Dharamsala. Quickly, Grozni becomes a monk, and nearly as quickly becomes disenchanted with the dogma and ritual of the Tibetan monastic system. Grozni falls under the influence of a lusty young Bosnian expat monk who keeps him engaged with the material world at the same time that he struggles to observe his vows. (“There’s nothing like a taste of healthy Balkan irreverence after overdosing on emptiness,” he writes.) Inevitably, Grozni hands in his robes and returns with renewed appreciation to the world’s pleasures. This memoir is not without reverence for the search for meaning, but above all Grozni’s candidness is a tonic for mindless piety and naive belief in the pristine sanctity of religious life. WHY I CAME WEST: A Memoir By Rick Bass Houghton Mifflin, 2008; 250 pp., $24 (cloth) Rick Bass is best known as a top-flight American nature writer, but the one-time oil geologist has also gained a reputation with his neighbors as an environmental activist—a passionate war- rior in a long fight to save the wilderness of his chosen home in northern Montana. Bass’ memoir is a paean to the wildness of the Yaak Valley, an ardent defense of activism, and a sad com- mentary on the inevitable clash between the foot soldiers of de- velopment and the ordinary folks (and beasts) who just want to get by. “I never wanted to go to war,” Bass writes, “and the war, I realize, will never end.” Why I Came West is a biography of a place and person, and the opportunities for interactions between the two that should be preserved for the future. But, grasping Bass’ weariness and sense of futility, one is left to worry over the per- sonal cost and outcome of such a fight. ♦ NOV 84-105.indd 100 NOV 84-105.indd 100 9/1/08 12:25:02 PM 9/1/08 12:25:02 PM