Welcome back to the October 2013 edition of the Reader's Den!
We are at the half-way mark, Week 3 (chapters 5-8; pages 70-137), of Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C. Morais, a continuation of this year's New York theme. If you need a copy of the book, then you can reserve one through the NYPL catalogue. The book is available in both print and electronic formats. If you already have a copy, then please join the discussion. There are a few questions at the end of this post, but feel free to discuss any points that came to mind as you read the book.
"After the long stillness of my life at the Temple of Everlasting Prayer, Brooklyn appeared through the haze of my jet lag as a singularly belligerent attack on my central nervous system".
Oda has arrived in America! He is jarred at every turn by the constant tumult of life and chaos that surround him. How will this quiet mountain priest find his way? He attempts to hide behind his robes as he did in Japan; however, the American believers are looking for a leader not someone to herd them into submissive practice. Time after time, his sensibilities are assaulted as he interacts with his new congregation. The preconceived notions and expectations that Oda brings with him often work against his efforts and alienate him from his congregation. He finds them materialistic, in poor practice, unfocused, and ill-informed. His continued sense of rigidness is a point of contention for the believers, which also taxes his energy. Oda regards his personal assistant, Ms. Jennifer, with mild distaste due to her informality and directness. Similarly, he views the temple council as squabbling children vying for the highest honor. In fact, one of the believers is even attempting to gather his own following, apart from the temple, after Oda publicly admonishes him for his self-proclaimed expertise. He often retreats to the solitude of his studio apartment after these interactions in order to let off some steam.
The author's use of sensory imagery allows the reader to have a peek at the nuances of the city. New York neighborhoods are introduced through accents, sights, sounds, and smells as Oda walks block-by-block through city's streets. During these walks, Oda realizes that though one area appears congruous at first glance, there is a vast richness of diversity to be found. As time passes, he begins to appreciate this richness more and more. Similarly, Oda recognizes that his first impressions and harsh judgments of the believers may not truly reflect their inner characters and intentions; they may not be as narrow-minded and one dimensional as he first thought. However, he still has difficulty in relating to and connecting with the believers on a personal level. His approach remains overly rigid and as he spends more time in their company, voluntarily and otherwise, he exudes a sense of exhausted resignation. Oda knows that he must participate in the activities of the congregation, but at the same time, he is also weary of becoming overly familiar with them for fear of breaking down the hierarchy.
Upon Oda's arrival, we are witness to his slow unraveling. The constant stimulation from his new surroundings paired with the demands of his new position wear down his ability to cope with life's pressures. He must adjust to urban life or he will fail in his mission, which would mean failing his friend. Much to his chagrin, in this foreign land, he is forced to rely on and to trust others. Oda's lack of psychological resilience becomes more apparent as his mental health ebbs as a result of constant stress.
Week 3 Questions:
- In Oda's opinion, the American believers practice religion as a means to gain worldly desires. Do you agree with his assertion and why/ why not?
- One evening, as Oda prays, the Third Voice joins him. "And that was when the Third Voice joined us in prayer. For the first time. I looked about me, but no one else was in the room. Where did this voice come from? I did not know. I shook and trembled and fought the rising tide of fear..." Who or what is this third voice? Discuss.
- Life of a temple priest in America is not what Oda anticipated. Oda is very preoccupied with image and hierarchy of relationships. Does this make him any different from the believers?
Feel free to comment on any other points of interest or to pose your own questions.
Revisit past weeks to see what you missed or to continue the discussion.
Next week we will discuss pages 138-197 (chapters 9-12).
If you missed any previous Reader's Den discussions it is not too late to join in on them now.
I look forward to your comments and insights.