ULTIMATE JOURNEY: Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist Monk Who Crossed Asia in Search of Enlightenment

Richard Bernstein, Author ULTIMATE JOURNEY: Retracing the Path of an Ancient Buddhist $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-375-40009-4
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Bernstein, a New York Times book critic and former Time magazine Beijing bureau chief, traces the famous travel route of the seventh-century Buddhist monk Hsuan Tsang in this self-absorbed spiritual travel odyssey. In 629 C.E. the well-connected Hsuan Tsang decided to defy his emperor and travel to India in his quest for greater knowledge and enlightenment. His 15-year epic journey has provided inspiration for Chinese writers and schoolchildren for centuries, although it has not been as influential in the West. Bernstein, a nonpracticing Jew, admits he has only a mild interest in Buddhism, but Tsang's route had not been retraced for several centuries, so Bernstein seized the opportunity. Unfortunately, his lack of focus dulls the book's impact. Given the great travel, religious and political descriptions such a story could generate, Bernstein seems more concerned with understanding his own loneliness and lack of commitment to relationships than describing his adventure fully. The narrative floats along, occasionally stopping for a detailed description of history (as a former student of the late historian John King Fairbank, Bernstein knows his history) or of traveling companions such as Brave King. Readers who are keen on Asian travel and the historical roots of Buddhism will find this book of mild interest, but others will agree with Bernstein's own assessment in the introduction: this is "a story of a man whose biggest problem was an inability, having gotten to a certain point, to get further." (Mar.)

Reviewed on: 02/26/2001
Release date: 03/01/2001
Genre: Religion
Paperback - 368 pages - 978-0-679-78157-8
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