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Book Report on The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Re-Discovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India - Essay Example

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Book Report on The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Re-Discovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India

The main subject matter of the book is an account of a real life meeting of some representatives of modern Judaism with the Dalai Lama, at the latter’s special invitation, to discuss how the Jews had coped with centuries of diaspora. It is clear that this experience of dispersal and persecution over two thousand years resonates with the situation facing the Dalai Lama and his followers who are still, in the twentieth century, suffering persecution in their homeland of Tibet, and forced to make a life for themselves in neighboring India, and further afield. The book proves that there is, in fact, much more that unites Jews and Buddhists than this single shared aspect of their history. There is a provocative starting point for the book, as the author describes landing on German soil on the way to New Delhi. The Jewish participants in the dialogue which was scheduled to take place in the Dalai Lama’s residence, were drawn from New York, Boston, London and Israel, and with some considerable irony they chose to fly out from Frankfurt. (Kamenetz, p. 5) The author notes his instinctive feelings of fear and dread at hearing the German language spoken in anger by a passenger nearby, and his equally intuitive joy at catching a glimpse of the Torah in the hands of his colleague. This tendency to react emotionally, rather than rationally, to images and events that the group encounters is one which continues throughout the book. It undoubtedly adds interest to the narrative but it detracts somewhat from the arguments put forward, because it demonstrates that Kamenetz is anything but objective in his analysis. Having declared this bias at the outset, the book then proceeds at a leisurely pace, introducing the main characters of the narrative, including of course principally the author and the Dalai Lama himself. A full sixty-five pages are devoted to the long journey through India, and this allows time also for some reflection on the cultural environment of the Indian sub-continent, and the crowded social conditions under which people lived. Some preliminary discussions between the Jewish delegation members are reported, which serves to highlight the heterogeneous nature of the group. They seem to disagree on most things, and the author soaks up the debates with commendable openness. Chapter 6 is entitled “Contact” as if to indicate the first meeting with an alien species, and it is introduced with a quote from a Hasidic tale about a student who went to see the rebbe tie his shoes, which is a metaphor for sitting at the feet of the great man. A certain amount of hero-worship is evident in the author’s attitude. From this point onwards the book debates many of the similarities that exist between Jewish and Buddhist traditions. There is less discussion on major differences, such as the insistence on one God in the Jewish faith, and the somewhat different view of divinity, and the doctrine of reincarnation that infuses the Buddhist tradition. Towards the end of the book the author tries to work out the implications of what he has learned, and he follows up the JUBU (Jewish Buddhist) trail with a reflection on the life and writings of American beat poet Alan Ginsberg. The journey to India appears to have brought the author into touch with his own religious tradition, and he seems at the end of the book to be far more tolerant towards Jewish practices, particularly those of the renewal movement, than he was at the beginning. Paradoxically, then, the book sets out ...Show more
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Book report: The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Re-Discovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India. At first sight this book looks like an unlikely subject, because there does not seem to be very much of an obvious linkage between Jewish Poetry and the practice of Buddhism in India…
Book Report on The Jew in the Lotus: A Poets Re-Discovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India
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