Reviewed by John Cowan
A great book. This is non -fiction. After you read this a bit you may think otherwise, but it really happened. I am happy to have read it.
Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche was at the time of this adventure a 36 year old Abbot of three large Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and a well know teacher of Buddhism. He came from a lineage of Abbots and teachers, and had been a monk since childhood. Tired of the spiritual limitation of a protected life he decides to jump ship in favor of becoming a wandering monk, a beggar. He leaves a letter for his monks briefly explaining that for some lengthy time he will be gone on this task. Terrified by his decision, late in the night he leaves by the front gate to find the cab he has ordered is not there. He must walk.
And there comes the first of many misadventures. He is not at all suited for this task. He is scared stiff to be riding the train with the poor. A few benches, no seats, leaves him a piece of floor. Everybody looks to him angry with life and most of them have good cause. After a month or so when his money runs out he is, as planned, reduced to begging. Some days he eats enough but not much, and some days he eats not at all. He stinks.
As this section of his life-story unrolls he teaches us about Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism and he introduces us to the sophisticated practice of Tibetan Buddhist monks. They are amazing! He is amazing. Subtle awareness. Mind control! When you hear of psychologists studying the brains of monks, it is usually these Tibetan Buddhist monks being studied, partially for their intense practice and partly because their leader is the Dalai Lama whose interest in science opens the doors. Material I would find not that interesting in a text book, he makes interesting by nesting it in his story.
He becomes extremely ill. Thinks it less than it is. No place to go. Vomiting and defecating diarrhea in the bushes. An acquaintance finds him lying on a path, carries him to a hospital for the poor and pays for a two day stay. He is dying. He does not see much outside of himself but is enormously alert to what is happening inside himself. (These monks practice for this moment. While going to sleep they practice dying!) He observes his own disintegration, and then begins to observe his passage into the final light. Peaceful. Delightful. Glorious. Sinking into the depth of God.
Then he realizes that he is not done with his work He must return to life and continue teaching. So he does. (With help from the medical system.)
I am not confident that all this spiritual athleticism is useful to the spiritual life. Does it create compassion? Love? But it certainly is interesting, and it does shine light into the shadows. If death is like that sign me up. But not right now.
My friend John Battaiola told me of his father’s death. At the last moment, Cipriano sat up straight in bed and looking at something John could not see, pure awe on his face, said “Wow!” three times and then died. John wondered what that was about, but he was pretty confident that his dad had seen something like the face of God.
At the reception after John’s funeral, somebody passed on to me a story making the rounds, that just before dying John sat up in bed and with a radiant expression said, “Wow!”
Makes a guy think.