Book Review: Buddhaland Brooklyn

By Phoebe Falconer, New Zealand Herald, Mar 24, 2013

Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C. Morais
(Allen & Unwin $36.99)

Auckland, New Zealand -- The premise of Richard C. Morais' Buddhaland Brooklyn is that an apparent fish-out-of-water can eventually find, and adjust to, its new pond. Morais takes rather a long time to get there, but he makes it.

Oda, an 11-year-old boy from what is described as a quaint mountain village (with 15,000 people, no less), is sent to train as a Buddhist monk at the nearby head temple of the Headwater sect of Mahayana Buddhism. After nearly 30 years in this secluded environment, he is chosen to go to New York to set up a new temple in Brooklyn.

Almost greater than the shock of the huge city on Oda's sensibilities is the motley collection of American Buddhists he has to re-educate into the traditional ways of religious practice. Although reportedly proficient in English, Oda has difficulty understanding the Bronx dialect - and he would not be alone in that - but he also has cultural misunderstandings and misguided practices to negotiate.

His arrogance and isolation from his new flock do not endear him to most of his believers. Only when Oda realises his shortcomings and appreciates the care he has unwittingly been receiving does he understand what acceptance really means, and finds the true meaning of his faith.

Morais' style of writing is difficult to analyse. His descriptive passages are convincing, although adjective-heavy, but the frequent juxtapositions of the spiritual with the risible are disruptive.

In one instance, Oda finds solace on a wooded slope beside the river, at peace under the trees as he watches a troop of macaques "pick their noses and scratch their bums".

From the sublime to the gor-blimey, as my mother used to say.

Characterisation is another area where Morais has difficulty. The cast of characters in Buddhaland Brooklyn is wide and varied, but they do not convince or appeal.

They seem uniformly unable or unwilling to accept Oda's form of Buddhism, which was what they had, after all, requested, and all seem to confirm an outsider's rather unsympathetic view of Americans.

But all comes right in the end. The temple is built, Oda decides to stay in New York rather than return to his cloistered life in Japan, and the true meaning of enlightenment reveals itself to this turbulent priest.

Morais does not make life easy for himself either. Rather than writing about what he knows, he reaches for subjects outside his realm of experience and borrows heavily from works of mysticism and religion, which he freely admits.

This imparts a degree of confusion and lack of credibility. Conversation is stilted and unconvincing and the phrasing is often clumsy.

In Morais' first novel, The Hundred-Foot Journey, he followed the path of a young Indian man from humble beginnings in his family restaurant to three Michelin-star success. This rags-to-riches pilgrimage seems to be his schtick. One wonders where he will take it next, but not with a great deal of interest.

Phoebe Falconer is an Auckland reviewer.

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Omniscient Robotic-Being for Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians who wants to donate in MYR, please use the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: