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Lions Roar : September 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2005 79 between life and death, hope and despair. They shine brightest when describing everyday life in Cambodia, offering details other travelers might block out, if only to spare themselves too much reality. It’s a little- known side of Buddhism, set against a backdrop of corruption, child prostitu- tion, a rampant AIDS epidemic, and extreme poverty. In this way, the author hits all the right notes with respect to Khmer culture, managing to honor without exoticizing a people whose Buddhism mixes equally with animism and Christian missionary efforts. However, unlike his forays into Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam—colorful diversions which complement his explo- ration of Theravada in the region— Asma’s too-frequent excursions into the realm of American pop culture, not to mention the heady waters of Buddhist doctrine, seem out of place in such a straightforward and honest collection of tales. One would wish that he had kept on the path, letting his meetings with remarkable men and women stand on their own. Because what touching por- traits! From the land-mine-survivor- turned-amputee-panhandler, to the prostitute working for women’s rights in the ubiquitous sex industry, to the chil- dren of the Killing Fields, Asma puts the first noble truth in perspective for Westerners, giving the armchair traveler a glimpse into what suffering looks like on the other side of the world. Gods can tend toward the didactic at times, but when it’s real, it’s all too real: one part political journalism, one part dharma travelogue. Those curious about the murky side of Theravada Buddhism in Asia couldn’t ask for a better guide- book through this broken land on the road to recovery. © PAUL W. MORRIS is the editor of KillingTheBuddha.com and is currently the director of marketing and special projects at BOMB Magazine.