The Word: Awestruck by Nirvana

The Indian Express, Oct 31, 2004

An almost Buddhist disengagement with the world runs through Pankaj Mishra?s book on the Enlightened One, finds Sam Miller
London, UK --
Pankaj Mishra spent much of the 1990s in a damp Himalayan cottage reading and thinking about the Buddha. The result is an immensely ambitious book. Mishra interweaves his retelling of the life and legacy of the Buddha with the story of his own intellectual awakening as a writer. This is not quite the impertinence it sounds.

Mishra is not comparing himself to Buddha, but, in often minute ways, attempting to show how the teachings of the Buddha can have contemporary relevance. He portrays Buddhism not so much as a religion but rather as a philosophy, even at times as a therapy, that can bring solace, and as the title of the book proclaims, lead to the ?end of suffering?.

There is very little artifice in this book. When something trivial or humdrum happens to Mishra, he feels no need at all to exaggerate the incident in a way which might excite the interest of the reader. This is honest. It can also get a little dull. We hear how a neighbour would sometimes give him sizzling puris, how he?d occasionally get a letter from his parents, or hear some cows mooing forlornly. A bit of all this is fine, but Mishra is no Proust (whose famous madeleine passage he quotes admiringly), and the descriptive passages about his life in Mashobra are uneventful and often plodding. Running through the text is a note of subdued melancholy, an almost Buddhist disengagement with the world, which may have helped the writer get closer to his subject, but which became rather tiresome for this reader.

Mishra is far from tiresome. He is one of the most talented and incisive English-language political essayists of our day. His journalism in The New York Review of Books and elsewhere, about Kashmir, Afghanistan and Indian politics always bears rereading. The fact that Mishra is so open about his own intellectual growth makes it easy to understand what has gone wrong with this book. He refers to ?his provincial ability to be easily impressed?, to his desire to ?bathe in the aura of men whom I had revered since the time when... I had read their works?: he talks of himself as someone ?who revered the great thinkers of the Europe?. In short, he is starstruck.

Mishra is one of the most talented and incisive English-language political essayists of our day. The fact that he is so open about his own intellectual growth makes it easy to understand what has gone wrong with his book

He shows too much reverence for Plato, Heraclitus, David Hume, Nietzsche (and many more) and not enough respect for his readers. He fills many pages with clumsy summaries of the ideas of his great thinkers, stopping only occasionally to take a few schoolboy pot-shots at those (like Rousseau and Marx) he does not like. Worse still, he descends into psychobabble when discussing the Buddha?s ideas. ?Salvation?, he tells the exhausted reader on page 266 out of 404, ?is the purest kind of awareness, which consists of knowing the conditioned nature of phenomena: of knowing how past karmic activities become present predispositions and determine the quality of the current of consciousness that survives the death of the physical body.? Is this really the same writer who, in simple, clear prose, courageously and trenchantly took the Indian authorities to task over the Chitisinghpura killings; who has written so sharply on the rise of both Islamic and Hindu extremism? It is.

What is even sadder about this book is how good it could have been. In passing, he touches on several themes that deserve serious study and could have made this a very important book. Why, for instance, did Buddhism all but disappear in the land of its birth? Why did it thrive in so many other Asian countries? Why did so many 19th-century philosophers and writers find the Buddha such an attractive figure? Just how Buddhist are the neo-Buddhist followers of Dr Ambedkar? Why, most recently, does Buddhism appeal to such a broad cross-section of international celebrities (from Tina Turner to Roberto Baggio)? Mishra does not, in the course of book, seem to feel it necessary to talk to any Buddhists (except an American Buddhist nun who he also deliberately avoids). And why does he not visit any Buddhist countries?

Instead he sits in Mashobra, London and San Francisco, contemplating a world that he sees as full of violence and confusion. He has a minor epiphany on 9/11 and no longer sees the Buddha as a half-mythical figure from antiquity, but as a ?true contemporary? capable of bringing wisdom and redemption. If he is right, then it is my loss, the reader?s loss, that Mishra is unable to provide a clear exposition of that wisdom.

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
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
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: