Stories of spirituality

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly the Shadow of the Buddha, One Man’s Journey of Discovery in Tibet
By Matteo Pistono
Plume, 2012

When Matteo Pistono first traveled to Tibet, he went as a Buddhist pilgrim. But after living among Tibetans and hearing their stories, he spent nearly 10 years smuggling out photos of prisons, secret government documents, and firsthand interviews from individuals who were tortured and had suffered other atrocities at the hands of the Chinese government — all because they refused to denounce the exiled Dalai Lama.

“Shadow of the Buddha” is the story of a man from Wyoming who merges his initial journey toward spiritual enlightenment with political activism in a fight for human rights. During his journey, Pistono begins to study under a venerated meditation master in Tibet. Shortly after, Pistono begins couriering messages between his teacher and the Dalai Lama in India.

Throughout his travels, Pistono was always aware of the danger he was in for smuggling sensitive information in and out of Tibet. Although he did worry for his own safety, he was often more concerned about the individuals who would be implicated and faced severe punishments for wanting to share their truths.

“Shadow of the Buddha” gives readers a glimpse into a country with a rich spiritual past that is slowly fading, but not without a fight. No matter how much and how severely they are tortured and punished — often for small crimes or crimes they never committed — the people of Tibet never give up hope that the Dalai Lama will return and they will once again be free.

While some may think this mindset is delusional, I find it admirable because in dire situations, sometimes, hope is all you have.’ Wives
By Lisa Takeuchi Cullen
Plume, 2013

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be married to a man who is also married to God?
For Ruthie Matters, this question became a reality when her Wall Street husband Jerry (short for Jeremiah, like the bullfrog) got the call from God to become a pastor. The New Jersey couple moves to the fictional Atlanta suburb of Magnolia where Jerry becomes a pastor at Greenleaf, a “megachurch” where smoke machines and jumbo screens are the norm during a Sunday sermon.

There, Ruthie — whose Catholic upbringing and subsequent questioning of faith mirrors Cullen’s own life — meets Candace and Ginger. Candace is the wife of Greenleaf’s senior pastor and Ginger is the wife of Candace’s son, a globetrotting pastor who tends to put his traveling ministry before his family.

“Pastors’ Wives” follows the lives of these three women and the struggles they face with faith, duty, marriage, and love. Their stories are derived from interviews Cullen — who grew up with an Irish-Catholic father and Japanese-Buddhist mother (who converted to Catholicism) — conducted of pastors’ wives during her time as a journalist.

Ruthie, Candace, and Ginger’s lives are fascinating. The three women have varying levels of faith, from Candace, who will do anything and everything for her husband and the church, to Ginger, who believes she was saved from her disrepute the day she met her husband, to Ruthie, who questions whether she even believes.

They are all tested when chaos strikes Greenleaf and are forced to face possibly devastating decisions that could change their lives forever.

Through these differences, readers discover how difficult life can be for a pastor’s wife as she always comes second to God and His work (sometimes third). Each woman deals with the situation differently and readers will really think what they would do if it was them. in Crimson: How the Dalai Lama Conquered the World but Lost the Battle with China
By Tim Johnson
Nation Books, 2011

As his six-year stint as a foreign journalist and bureau chief in China for McClatchy Newspapers came to an end, Tim Johnson decided to end his tenure with a book about the country’s issues with Tibet.

As part of his research, Johnson met with and eventually began to travel with the Dalai Lama — an individual whose name is practically synonymous with Tibet. Through these travels, we see the Dalai Lama at work and learn that while he is a great figure in the Western world, he is reviled by the Chinese and controversial among his own people.

In Johnson’s recounting of his time with the Dalai Lama, readers will see that despite some people’s views that he is a king-god, the great Tibetan leader is also human. He holds strong opinions about various topics and is not afraid to criticize others — calling Chinese government leaders narrow minded.

In addition to interviews with the Dalai Lama, Johnson also includes conversations he has had with monks, nomads, and exiled activists. All throughout the book, he is painting a larger picture of what exactly is at stake should the Chinese succeed in their mission to erase Tibet’s indigenous cultures.

For those who have grown up in a country that allows people to be who they are and practice whatever religion they wish, this stark contrast can be difficult to swallow, but it is necessary to show that no matter how far we may have come as the human race, there is still a long way to go. (end)

Samantha Park can be reached at

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