Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Dalai Lama’s Cat

Book Review

Author: David Michie
Publisher: Hay House India, 2013
Pages: 216       Price: Rs 399

This is a good book for those who want to have a quick and fairly meaningful peep into Tibetan Buddhism and its current headquarters in Dharamsala and around.  If you are, however, fairly familiar with Buddhism as well as motivational books, this book may disappoint you.

In most places the approach of the book is quite simplistic.  Simplicity is an adorable quality; but being simplistic is not.  Look at the Dalai Lama’s advice on anger, for example:

“It (anger) is not permanent.  It is not part of you.  You cannot say, ‘I’ve always been an angry person.’  Your anger arises, abides, and passes, just like anyone else’s.  You may experience it more than others.  And each time you give in to it, you feed the habit and make it more likely you will feel it again.  Wouldn’t it be better, instead, to decrease its power?” [p.130]

[If you find that advice profound, please skip the rest of this review.]

The book is full of such advice and thoughts.  There are a few places where the level of the preaching rises to subtlety and even becomes sublime.  For example, “One of the last things Buddha said to his followers was that anyone who believed a word he had taught them was a fool – unless they had tested it against their own experience,” says a monk.  [p. 156-7]

The book is written in the form of a novel.  But novel it is not, in the literary sense of the word.  The book is an attempt to bring Tibetan Buddhism to the reader in the simplest way possible.  It also raises some pertinent questions about the function of religion in general.   It is no use wearing one’s religion like a badge, suggests the book plainly.  The religious medals or other trappings you wear on your body or dress won’t make you religious in the least.  Such things are merely “an extension of (the) ego, a way to present (yourself) as different or special.” [p. 48]

I found the notion of karma quite interesting though not very convincing.  If we do good, good will come back to us, that’s the theory in short.  Or to put it a little more subtly, “as we think, so we become.” [p. 79]  I’m not a religious person.  But I had accepted this notion as a hypothesis much before I read this book, and its practical ground will be my own life.  It does give me a lot of peace and joy doing whatever good I can in my life.  That doesn’t mean I’m a saint.  Far from it, I have too many flaws and weaknesses.  It also doesn’t mean I’m doing it with the expectation that the people to whom I do good will be good in return.  But I believe that goodness will be my reward somewhere, somehow...  It’s a belief.  A hypothesis I’ve chosen to test out in my life.  It seems to have worked for the last few years in which I tried it out.  I hope it will work in the future too.  But, as I have already stated, it is not a religious belief for me.  It is my life’s hypothesis.  And the book helped me to take a re-look at that hypothesis.  The book’s view is not much different from mine in this regard.

Would I have bought the book were it not for a chance occurrence?  No.  Do I regret buying the book?  No, again.  [I bought it at a fabulous discount.:)]  Did I benefit much by reading it?  Not really.


10 comments:

  1. Immensely glad to see you in this space again and again. thanks for the unfailing encouragement.

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  2. Thanks. I'm gonna skip it, but like you said it might benefit who are new to the subject

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  3. thanks for the review sir. the title was appealing but looks like I should go for another book for Tibetan Buddhism philosophy

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    1. If you are a serious seeker of knowledge, this book is not for you.

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  4. nice review. thanks for sharing.

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  5. I too believe in karma and I too am not religious. Even so, I will try to read this book at least once :)

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    1. Good decision, Pankti. Actually every reviewer is biased by his/her interests, knowledge level, etc. Ultimately the reader is the best judge.

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