BUDDHALAND BROOKLYN by Richard C Morais – Book Review by David Edwards

Buddhaland Brooklyn is a fictional work highlighting the clash between the purist expression of Buddhist belief as practised in Japan contrasted against that emerging in the material, cosmopolitan world of Brooklyn, New York. Richard Morais Book Cover

The story commences in the 1950’s and is told through the eyes of Seido, a boy of eleven living with his parents and brothers in the village of Katsurao, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. There the family run an Inn, built in the late1800’s by their great grandfather. The children play an active role in running  the Inn and through their eyes we learn of a frugal and spartan lifestyle in a village that has changed little over many hundreds of years.

Morais paints vivid word pictures of village and family life and of the surrounding natural beauty. Through the village flows the Kappa-gawa; a wild river that cascades from the slopes of nearby Mount Nagata. While fishing for trout along the river, Seido and his brothers learn of the rich spiritual significance associated with the pools, waterfalls, trees, boulders and animals. All have a place in the Buddhist beliefs of the local people.

Buddhist teachings are central to the story. From their parents the boys learn of Buddhas early life. How Buddha chose to shun privileges of the royal court he was born into and instead ‘. . . . searched for spiritual practice that could overcome the four great sufferings – birth, old age, sickness and death.’ They learn how Buddhist doctrine attributed human suffering to worldly illusions and attachments.Richard Morais

Seido’s Mother remarks, ‘ . . . . it is my greatest wish that one of you boys will become a Priest of the Headwater Sect. I pray for this great honour.’ That honour falls to Seido. At age eleven he becomes an acolyte at the nearby Believers of the Headwaters Sect; an order of monks held in the highest esteem throughout the land. Over the next seven years, Seido follows a rigorous training regime steeped in the beliefs and philosophy of Buddhism. His whole being is governed by adherence to Buddhist practice that has remained unchanged through the centuries. Virtually no consideration is given to the relevance of traditional beliefs in the modern world without. Seido’s mantra is to stay true and firm to the original beliefs of the faith.Richard Morais Book Illustration

From the sheltered monastic life, Seido is suddenly thrust into Brooklyn where he has been tasked with supervising the construction of a Buddhist temple for the growing number of devotees in New York. He is appalled by the lackadaisical American approach to Buddhism and the apparent ignorance regarding the teachings of Buddha. So begins a fascinating journey for Seido as he challenges and then begins to understand and appreciate the cultural differences separating Japan and the USA. He moves from a position of intolerance to another, contemporary and more pragmatic interpretation of Buddhism. In the process, he comes to re-evaluate many his own beliefs and principles.

The author has skilfully woven many aspects of Buddhism into this well told story. For Buddhists, they may find the story does not do justice to their faith but Buddhaland Brooklyn is not intended to be a treatise. It is a warmly human account of different cultures coming together, of people exploring new opportunities and new challenges.

Buddhaland Brooklyn is highly recommended.

Published in Australia and New Zealand by Allen and Unwin in 2012.

Available on Kindle

First published in the United States in 2012 by Scribner, a division of Simon and Schuster Inc.