Questions of Heaven: The Chinese Journeys of an American Buddhist

Gretel Ehrlish, Author, Gretel Ehrlich, Author
Gretel Ehrlish, Author, Gretel Ehrlich, Author Beacon Press (MA) $20 (144p) ISBN 978-0-8070-7310-0
Reviewed on: 03/31/1997
Release date: 04/01/1997
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In spare, lyrical prose, Ehrlich inventively recounts her 1995 spiritual trip to China and Tibet. ""I had come to China to pick up the threads of a once flourishing Buddhist culture,"" she writes, ""and thought I could find it in their sacred mountains."" First on Ehrlich's itinerary was to climb Emei Shan, one of China's four sacred Buddhist mountains. She interweaves the tale of her climb-encounters with nasty monkeys, Frisbee-tossing monks and countless Buddhist temples being renovated by the Chinese government for tourist purposes-with concise meditations on the meaning of mountains to Chinese religious culture: ""The Chinese phrase for `going on a pilgrimage' actually means `paying one's respects to the mountain.' "" Ehrlich's gentle idealization of the beautiful arts of Chinese dynastic Buddhism is all but blasted away when she witnesses the religious shards left by the Cultural Revolution. Her book is an elegantly kaleidoscopic fusion of travelogue, musings on traditional Chinese Buddhism and appreciation of Chinese landscape paintings of mountains. Like one of the landscape paintings of which she writes, Ehrlich's book is at once delicate, deeply considered and moving. (May)
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