Missing the mystical point,
This review is from: The life of Nyanatiloka Thera : the biography of a Western Buddhist pioneer. (Paperback)
Before the hippies and the Beatles made it superficially fashionable, I undertook two years' non-stop Buddhist satipatthana practice under the great Bhikkhu Pannavaddho. This was the spiritual equivalent of going to the moon, and every bit as exciting and dangerous. My two literary companions on that extraordinary journey were Nyanatiloka's `Path to Deliverance', and T. S. Eliot's `Four Quartets'. I still believe that the former remains the best book ever published for anyone wishing to seriously undertake Theravadin Buddhist practice, and that the latter, if properly understood, is the best book to understand its results.
It was with much excitement therefore that I bought this book. The result, though intriguing, left me greatly disappointed, I confess. If I buy a biography of a great Buddhist monk, I shall do so with the expectation of reading of his inner life, rather than the details, however startling, of his outer adventures. I would like to have read of the inner turmoil which prompted him, as a well-connected young man, to abandon a very promising musical career for that of a homeless wanderer. And did he ever fall in love, or contemplate marriage? What about his spiritual experiences as a bhikkhu? Which practices did he undertake, and with what results? Of these we hear nothing. The `Path to Deliverance' itself offers us two tantalising hints, perhaps, of such details, The first is when Nyanatiloka himself refers to Insight-Wisdom which `like lightning suddenly arises and penetrates to the true nature of all existence'; and the second is when he states that in jhana (absorption) `the monk appears to the outside world as if dead', only life and warmth remaining. Such tantalising snippets are absent from this book however, which has little, if anything, to do with this great man's real life, which was that which he found within.
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