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Posted September 3, 2000
As one whose study of Hindu traditions is a bit weak, I hesitate to praise too highly a book which, in the end, I cannot be sure I am judging by correct standards. But I want to praise it very highly anyway. I teach a college course that touches upon world religions. The religion of India best known to most college students is a rather sophisticated version, influenced strongly by the non-dualistic religious philosophy of Shankara. This philosophy builds upon certain of the Upanishads ¿ early philosophical meditations on ultimate questions inspired by a relatively few and later lines in the Rig Veda. This philosophy says that ultimately there is but one single reality. When we are conscious that this reality is beyond all specific attributes, we can best call it Brahmin. When we think of it as the ultimate Self, we can recognize our own selfhood as but a minute instance of that single Self. Jonah Blank revels in other aspects of the traditions of India. He helps the reader perceive the stern and noble moral standards that inspire people when they read of Rama, of his moral rectitude, his deep and devoted love, of his submission to demands of duty. Blank also exposes the terrible beauty of the fatalism that runs through Indian life. In this life we receive only what we have earned in previous lives. Where we are in life is where we are supposed to be. I looked in Blank's pages for more of the tension that I suspect must exist in India between fatalism and the imported Western ambitious individualism. I found little of it. Yet I have seen it claimed that India has 300 million middle class city people. Perhaps Blank has it exactly right, however, in portraying even the ambitious entrepreneur as a person who believes firmly in karma, consults the astrological charts before any important action, and hopes to succeed in life through personal effort. Blank tells his stories, ancient and modern, with flair. My students are fascinated by it. It is wonderful that Grove/Atlantic is bringing it back into print. I have placed my own order. A colleague has borrowed mine and failed to return it, perhaps lending it in turn to still another to read. It is a book one wants to share.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.