Why would someone from a privileged Western background experience a deep sense of estrangement from industrial society? The claim has been that a Western secular scientific civilization represents the
pinnacle of social evolution. Why then would anyone feel the need to retreat to an island devoid of modern conveniences to connect with their essential humanity? As a photographer in war-torn Sri Lanka, travelling illegally into
Tamil Tiger held territory, Beatty recalls the time before this brutal conflict when he stayed on a remote Buddhist hermitage island on the south coast. On a long retreat sharing the monks’ simple life he began a healing journey into the past through
diaries that form the heart of this memoir, in which the island, as the still centre of the book, becomes a poetic metaphor for the paradoxical nature of self.
Part memoir, part travelogue,
and part philosophical inquiry, this is a book of journeys, outwardly through the beauty and tragedy of the landscapes of Africa and India, and inwardly through the nihilism of post-war Europe and Britain’s decline. Born after the Second World War into
a family with close links to the imperial project, he gives an illuminating account of an emotionally unstable childhood, divided between America with its Cold War obsessions and Britain still afflicted with the myth of empire. A restless nature and an early
broken marriage initiate a quest for authenticity. Immersed in the island’s natural rhythms, and with an injured owl he rescues as a feathered companion, he engages with memory, solitude and silence, while his vivid and searching travels through post-colonial
worlds provide a scathing indictment of the project of empire. Employing the lens of Buddhist self-enquiry Beatty chronicles his own dissent from the values of the West, exposing the pathologies behind the narrative of progress.
This is a very personal, but also universal, journey that examines the contemporary relevance of the Buddhist Dhamma in our postmodern world, and asks what it means to be awakened in coming to terms with grief, loss, and impermanence,
while seeking an answer to the question Who Am I? In the context of recent history, mindfulness alone, he suggests, is not enough. At the heart of this exploration of the Indian mind he finds something authentic and profoundly challenging in the Buddha’s
path to end suffering. Wide-ranging, evocative, full of incident and deep insight into our global predicament, this is a passionate and honest engagement with a teaching that perhaps can provide a cure for the delusions and violent excesses of our age.
THE BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT Between The Lines Bookshop, Village
Market, Elysium Booskshop, Hardy Shopping Centre, Karen, Bookstop, YaYa Centre and Text Book Centre (available online). Price: 1,800 Kes.