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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Literature, mystery, Tibet and Buddhism...

As things unfold around the current crisis in Tibet, I realize that my most in-depth knowledge of the situation there comes not from news or research, but from reading one of my favourite fiction series - the Inspector Shan series by Elliot Pattison. This series of mysteries takes place in modern Tibet. In addition to being great page-turners, they are set against a brilliant backdrop of the Tibetan landscape, Buddhism, and the Chinese occupation. (Oh yes, and I believe the first Pattison book I read was a gift from Susan!)

The Books

Here's a brief overview of The Skull Mantra, the first in the series:

When a headless corpse is found on a remote Tibetan mountainside, veteran inspector Shan Tao Yun is the perfect candidate to solve the crime--except he's been stripped of rank and imprisoned in the gulag for offending the Party in Beijing. Desperate to close the case before the arrival of high-profile American tourists, the district commander grants Shan a temporary release. The embittered but brilliant Shan soon discovers the victim was notorious for persecuting Tibetan priests.

When Party officials try to thwart Shan's investigation by arresting an innocent monk, Shan is thrown into a maelstrom of political and religious intrigue. His search for justice takes him from an American mining project in Tibet to a secret, illegal monastary. Gradually, Shan exposes a massive crime machine that can only be stopped with the help of an unlikely alliance of Americans, aged monks, and even a sorcerer. This is a novel of great hope and great tragedy, of incredible greed and stalwart selflessness, and of the tremendous gulf between those who live for enlightenment and those who live for power.

The Author

Elliot Pattison is one cool guy. He's been to Tibet many times and done his research too. More importantly, here is some of his response to "Why Tibet?"

"Conveying the realities of modern Tibet and the drama of Tibetan resistance in all its many aspects is as important to me as creating a spellbinding mystery. Of all the labels that are applied to me, I wear none more proudly than that of being part of the Tibetan resistance. My sentiments run deep:

-I write about Tibet not because I am a Buddhist but because I am not a Buddhist, because the ultimate treasures of Tibet are ones that transcend religion or philosophy, lessons that the rest of the world needs desperately to learn. Converting to the cause of Tibet does not mean a conversion to Buddhism, it means a conversion to compassion, self-awareness, human rights and political equality.

-I write about Tibet to give those who do not have the opportunity to travel there to understand what it feels like to witness an armed policeman assault a praying monk.

-I write about Tibet because in a war between an army of monks bearing prayer beads and an army of soldiers bearing machine guns I will side with the monks every time.

-I write about Tibet because of the despair and shame I feel over what prior generations did to the American Indians and many other original peoples. I know that though the same thing is happening in Tibet, this is our generation, it is happening on our watch, and I don’t want my descendants shamed by what you and I allowed to happen there.

-I write about Tibet because there is no purer symbol on earth of the struggle of soulless bureaucracy and sterile global economic forces versus tradition, spirituality, and ethnic identity.

-I write about Tibet because the world below is starved for heroes and saints and there are so many unsung ones living on the roof of the world.

-I write about Tibet because I can hear more in one hour beside a silent monk than in a hundred hours listening to Western media.

-I write about Tibet because in it lies the seeds of the antidote for the troubled world we have created.

-I write about Tibet because Tibet is a monk sitting in front of a steamroller, and if enough people around the world sit with him we can stop the steamroller.

The ultimate credo of the ideologue who commanded the invasion of Tibet was that political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. In this as in so many other aspects Tibet has shown us a new truth -- for Tibetan resistance has proven the opposite."

Eliot Pattison

Just Ask

I have four of his books and am happy to put one in the mail if you ask.

I'm going to check out this book. Thanks.
Thanks so much for posting about Eliot Pattison . I did so very early on but hardly anyone would have seen it. The most recent novel was 'Prayer of the Dragon' and one of the things he deals with is the troublesome tendency among some Tibetans of trying to improve their own situations by becoming as bad (or worse) than their Communist Chinese oppressors. He's always very fair in dealing with the backgrounds and personal history of his characters so there is no painting everyone with broad brushes coloured only black or white.
In spite of the essential misery of the situation in Tibet, the books are spiritually and morally uplifting and there are moments of sheer transcendant delight.
His books are available here in the US but aren't very popular (the shelves at bookstores I've seen rarely have more than one or two) so I recommend Amazon if anyone's interested.. and I hope your friends here are.
Hello, Gary.
Thanks for the tip.
I'll put that on my reading list once I can clear a few things off my to-do list.

I really liked the "Why Tibet?" part.
Thanks for posting that.
Thank you for this post Gary!
You managed to stir my interest beyond the remote and detached view I have about Tibet, detached mixed with sadness.
Not trying to get into a "religious discourse" here, that wouldn't be the point.
But when the Taliban blew up and shredded those big Buddha sculptures in Afghanistan, all bells and sirens in my head went off. Unfortunately the same thing happens with me now about the Tibetan Chinese conflict. Sure, other doctrines are involved this time - the miserable ignorance and cruelty remain equal - may it be the Taliban, or that of the Chinese army and government.
Time to get a somewhat organized boycott of the Olympics into gear.
After all, the "Olymics" were stamped as a game AND time of peace when they were inaugurated.
I have always found the best way to understand a period in history or a culture is through a story with characters who can really take you there. I will check this one out.
I agree with Mary. Other than the filtered news that I watch on television, I know nothing about the goings-on in the lives of people in different countries. Most of what I know about people in Afghanistan, I've learned from reading The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.

This book you've recommended is going on my book list. Thanks.
I'm not asking you for ANYTHING, dear man, because you have done enough for me. You know I'm a book whore. Hey, have you read Tillie Olsen?

I am FINALLY reading Moral Disorder and loving it. I love Margaret Atwood. Sometimes I wish I WAS her, you know? Thanks, dearest friend.
My favourite response – “I write about Tibet because in a war between an army of monks bearing prayer beads and an army of soldiers bearing machine guns I will side with the monks every time.”

Tibetan Exiles Plan Their Own Counter-Olympics, May 15-25
. (According to The Times of India)
“One World, Many Dreams” is their slogan, a counter-point to the official Beijing Olympics slogan of “One World, One Dream”.
I didn't know about Pattison. His answers to "Why Tibet?" really touched me.
wow! a good whodunnit, great research AND social commentary, all in one jacket! thanks for the tip; i'll check him out.
I'll see if my library has any of these.
"I write about Tibet to give those who do not have the opportunity to travel there to understand what it feels like to witness an armed policeman assault a praying monk. "
thats a very, very strong image.
Thanks there, will put it on my reading list...and having travelled in Nepal for several months, and feeling the peace and serentiy of these people, well before the current troubles, I can completey see and feel it all. I just find it funny that this struggle has been going on for so long and what seemed like a radical hippie action then is now normalized by the attention of the American media...what is wrong with this picture?
PS which book should I start with?
Terrific comments. Thanks for the link Seraphine - cool story.

Nomad - the first book is The Skull Mantra - that's the best place to begin. If you like it, there are four more.
Dear Gary,
pardon the long absences, but like a homing pigeon, I'm always back!!Eventually anyway. The way this author educates his readers is kind of the way Law and Order have brougth political and social issues to the fore; you think it's about 'one' thing, a particular subject, and then BAM..in the last minute to 30 seconds of the show, some commentary just sums it all up for everyone to see. No preaching kind of tv show, but like a culinary treat, wrapped in bacon with a hint of this and that, and when you have finally chewed and swallowed the whole thing, do you get its essence..
LOL.ok, weird examples but that's what came to mind..YES ditto hear..I will have to look for his books at the library!
great find Gary AND susan as well...


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