In the Shadow of the Buddha: Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet

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Spiritual biography meets edge-of-your-seat undercover reporting: how an American Buddhist smuggled out hard evidence of abuse and torture in Tibet.

For nearly a decade, Matteo Pistono smuggled out of Tibet evidence of atrocities by the Chinese government, showing it to the U.S. government, human rights organizations, and anyone who would listen. Yet Pistono did not originally intend to fight for social justice in Tibet- he had gone there as a ...

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Overview

Spiritual biography meets edge-of-your-seat undercover reporting: how an American Buddhist smuggled out hard evidence of abuse and torture in Tibet.

For nearly a decade, Matteo Pistono smuggled out of Tibet evidence of atrocities by the Chinese government, showing it to the U.S. government, human rights organizations, and anyone who would listen. Yet Pistono did not originally intend to fight for social justice in Tibet- he had gone there as a Buddhist pilgrim.

Disillusioned by a career in American politics, he had gone to the Himalayas looking for a simpler way of life. After encountering Buddhism in Nepal, Pistono's quest led him to Tibet and to a meditation master whose spiritual brother is Sogyal Rinpoche, bestselling author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Pistono not only became the master's student but also couriered messages to him in Tibet from the Dalai Lama in India. This began an extraordinary, and ultimately vital, adventure.

In the Shadow of the Buddha is a book about Tibet through the eyes of a devotee-a stranger hiding in plain sight. It's about how a culture's rich spiritual past is slipping away against the force of a tyrannical future. It's about how Tibetans live today, and the tenacity of their faith in the future in spite of dire repression and abuse. It's also about Pistono's own journey from being a frustrated political activist to becoming a practicing Buddhist mystic, a man who traveled thousands of miles and risked his own life to pursue freedom and peace.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Pistono draws on his experiences as a journalist, activist, and student of Tibetan Buddhism to explore the intersection between spirituality and politics. He weaves together the stories of his pilgrimages in Tibet, his role in smuggling out evidence of the Chinese government's human rights abuses to the West, and the history of Terton Sogyal, a lama who served as spiritual and political adviser to the current Dalai Lama's predecessor in the late 19th and very early 20th centuries. Pistono follows the path of Terton Sogyal across vast expanses of the Tibetan landscape while hearing testimonies to suffering by Tibetans who sought him out to share their stories. The phurba, a "great weapon of compassion" in Tibetan ritual to destroy anger, provides a continuing motif. Spiritual aspirations and political realities collide tragically in present-day Tibet, and through this complex set of narratives Pistono explores his own search for freedom from anger when faced with massive injustice and the apparent ineffectiveness of activism on behalf of Tibet. These inner and outer journeys are no less astonishing for being told matter-of-factly, accompanied by keen analysis of modern realpolitik. (Jan.)
Library Journal
Pistono (founder & executive director, Nekorpa), a practicing Buddhist and self-proclaimed activist, entwines three major themes in this memoir of his life from 1999 to around 2005. Presented in tones of high drama for general readers, his book reads as one part spiritual quest inspired by a 19th-century Tibetan mystic; one part contemporary travel memoir following that mystic's physical journey as guided by his reincarnation, Sogyal Rinpoche; and one very large part an account of Pistono's exploits smuggling photos, stories, and documents to the West to verify continuing Chinese atrocities against the Tibetan people. Unfortunately, the author's prose comes across as superficial and egotistical. In spite of the mission to expose Chinese malfeasance, none of the photos the author claims to have taken proving the atrocities and none of the related documents he and others risked so much to smuggle out are included in the book (the photos are of key religious figures and objects). VERDICT Not recommended. Instead, seek out Arjia Rinpoche's Surviving the Dragon: A Tibetan Lama's Account of 40 Years under Chinese Rule both for its insight into a religious quest and for its perspective on Chinese-Tibetan relations.—James R. Kuhlman, Univ. of North Carolina at Asheville Lib.
Kirkus Reviews

Pistono. Matteo Pistono. Buddhist superspy, teaching bad guys the disappointments that come from attachment.

Since 1999, Pistono has been journeying into Chinese-occupied Tibet, porting in messages from the Tibetan government in exile, stealing out with evidence of official misdeeds, such as the mistreatment of a cleric "who was scalded with boiling water and then jailed for five years for publicly praying to the Dalai Lama"—an act that the Chinese government considers to be a crime of sedition and "separatism." The author came to this work honestly, if circuitously, having been an environmental activist in Wyoming on one hand and a Buddhist devotee on the other hand, working in the best tradition of the warrior-monk. Pistono clearly regards this espionage as a kind of religious obligation, observing that as a sworn bodhisattva he is obligated to benefit others in all his future lives, which might involve "a couple hundred thousand years of working for others, depending on how many lifetimes the vow took to accomplish." By all accounts, not least this modest and suitably self-effacing one, he has been successful in this work, smuggling out documents, posters, court records and other materials that have wound up in the hands of human-rights organizations and legislators around the world, often placed there by Pistono's frequent employer, the actor and activist Richard Gere, who provides the book's foreword. "I would occasionally meet with Richard in India, Nepal, or New York," writes the author, "to show him recent photographs and tell him what Tibetans were telling me."This earnest memoir has its adventuresome moments, but it is less action-packed than readers might wish. Instead, it is peppered with asides concerning "positive karmic seeds," memories of tutelage under a kindly monk named One-eye Wangde, and puzzlement over whether the Buddha's enlightened state is truly possible and whether he violates any religious precepts by telling lies and stealing state secrets.

James Bond it's not, but this book isn't quite like any other, and it makes a useful primer for anyone contemplating making a right livelihood along dangerous paths.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525951193
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/20/2011
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 1.94 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Matteo Pistono is a writer, practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, and author of In the Shadow of the Buddha: Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet. Pistono’s images and writings about Tibetan and Himalayan cultural, political, and spiritual landscapes have appeared in BBC's In-Pictures, Men's Journal, Kyoto Journal, and HIMAL South Asia. Pistono was born and raised in Wyoming where he completed his undergraduate degree in Anthropology from the University of Wyoming, and in 1997 he obtained his Masters of Arts degree in Indian Philosophy from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. After working with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. on Tibetan cultural programs, Pistono lived and traveled throughout the Himalayas for a decade, bringing to the West graphic accounts and photos of China’s human rights abuses in Tibet. He is the founder of Nekorpa, a foundation working to protect sacred pilgrimage sites around the world, and he sits on the Executive Council of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, Rigpa Fellowship, and the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture. Pistono and his wife, Monica, divide their time between Colorado, Washington D.C., and Asia.

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