If you are interested in a novelization of an old parable this in not the book for you. I honestly think the same applies if you have no interest in Buddhist thought at all; though, many non-Buddhist would gain insight with this tiny book. It’s not a novel and shouldn’t be expected to be one. It reads a lot like the stories my old Abbot would tell us during services after we sat Zazen. It’s conversational storytelling and uses simple language. You will find most of Buddhas teachings and stories use simple language for a reason. It should be accessible and this is. I could read this to a child easily yet it still brought me to tears. This book reminded me of some lessons I’ve been struggling with lately and touched me deeply.
The parable is that of a girl who wants to became a monk and gives up everything to disguise herself as a monk. A young girl falls in love with the monk and feeling rejected accuses the monk of fathering her child out of wedlock. It is a surprising tale of love, resentment, acceptance and compassion.
That said, the real gem of this book are the essays by Sister Chan Khong and Thay Thich Nhat Hanh in the back. They reveal some history of their practice during the Vietnam War and their eventual exile. One of the things I am often confronted with when I explain that I am a pacifist is doubt as to the practicality; I myself struggle with how to respond during times of war and the violence I see on the news every day. These essays gave me a deeper understanding and I found them very touching and valuable.
These particular quote touched me deeply
“Being magnanimous does not mean suppressing suffering, nor does it mean gritting our teeth and bearing things with resentment or even resignation. These reactions are not the inclusiveness or magnanimity (kshanti parasite) and cannot take us over to the other shore.” (64)
“The Buddha said, ‘Go home to the island within yourself. There is a safe island of self inside. Every time you suffer, every time you are lost, go back to your true home. Nobody can take that true home away from you.” (140)