The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha

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9780060723958: The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha

A sometimes funny, always thoughtful, action–packed spiritual travelogue through Southeast Asia where the oldest form of Buddhism is slowly emerging from its post–Khmer Rouge oppression.

The Gods Drink Whiskey is about a relatively unexplored part of Buddhism––the Theravada Buddhist tradition (considered the oldest and purest form of Buddhism, which focuses on the historical Buddha) as it is manifested in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, etc.). An accomplished teacher, Asma tells wonderful, exciting stories about his time in Southeast Asia teaching Buddhist philosophy in Phnom Penh years after that area (and its religion) was decimated in the early 70s by the Communist Khmer Rouge and the invasion by US and Vietnamese troops. Through his first–hand experiences (of drinking with holy men and poets, encounters with overzealous Christian evangelical missionaries, witnessing a political assassination, climbing mountains to visit ancient animistic temples, observing the clash of Western pop culture and Southeast Asian culture, etc.), Asma successfully teaches the reader a great deal about Buddhism.

In addition to observations on Western/Eastern culture clash which these books provide, the edge Asma has going for him is his academic credentials and interests which focus his book more on explaining the tenets and history of Buddhism within the context of a lively travelogue.

o For armchair travellers and those interested in Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy.

o Asma has a wonderful narrative style that draws the reader in and keeps them reading–he's a born storyteller, and this book is all about the stories–both his and the unusual people and places he meets.

o There has been relatively little written about the Theravada Buddhist tradition (the oldest branch, which focuses on the historical Buddha); Asma explores and immerses himself in Theravada Buddhism as it's practiced in Southeast Asia, and finds it much different than he expected.

o Asma has taught Buddhism for several years, and in his travels, experienced Buddhism in its many forms.

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About the Author:

Stephen T. Asma is a professor of Buddhism at Columbia College in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of the illustrated, bestselling Buddha for Beginners and the highly acclaimed Stuffed Animals and Pickled Heads: The Culture and Evolution of Natural History Museums.

From Publishers Weekly:

Asma opens this memoirish spiritual travel guide with a central purpose: by journeying to Cambodia to see the collective manifestations of Theravada Buddhism, the tradition closest to that avowed by the historical Buddha, he will disabuse Western readers of the widespread misconceptions so prevalent in a privatized, narcissistic and consumerist Buddhist mentality. Asma, professor of philosophy and a practicing Buddhist who taught Buddhism in Cambodia in 2003, dispels the basic falsehoods common to all schools of Buddhism, e.g., that nirvana is heavenly bliss, that austere detachment from one's deepest feelings is par for the course or that karmic merit can be acquired by magical or superstitious practices. Curiously, he scarcely discusses the most basic schism between Theravada and Mahayana (the other great school of Buddhism), namely, the consequential difference between an arhat and a bodhisattva. Nor does he, in the field of practice, explain how the magical shamanism pervading Cambodian Buddhism is different from Western practices that also use, for instance, fortune-telling or individualized mantras as magical panaceas. Nonetheless, Asma's descriptions are skillfully interwoven with firsthand encounters from his time in Cambodia. His forays into Southeast Asian politics, violence and globalizing trends, colorfully entertaining as travel writing, illuminate the ways in which Buddhism plays a primary role in the collective welfare of the region. (June)
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