“The Believers here know all about karma. All about it. I spent three session explaining the concept.” “This is very efficient. In Japan we believe it takes a lifetime to understand karma. At deep level.” “Yeah, well, you’ll find things go a lot quicker in America.” – Buddhaland Brooklyn
Seido Oda’s self-narrative, from young boy to Buddhist priest, begins in Mount Nagata, Japan, where the first eleven years of his life were spent helping his parents and siblings tend to their Inn. When his Father elects him to enter the Priesthood at the local Buddhist Monastery, a position usually relegated to the first born son, Seido’s life of domestic and familial ties is forever changed. Thrown in to the rituals of the monastery, day long prayers, lessons and chores, Seido tries to overcome the loneliness and confusion this new position brings. Slowly, he finds comfort in the steady pace of ritual and is just beginning to make friends, and some sense of why he is where he is, when the unthinkable happens. Chronically depressed, his Father tries to set fire to himself, burning down the Inn and the rest of his family, unknowingly (Seido hopes), in the process. Alone, orphaned, grieving, Seido throws himself in to his role with fervor, convinced prayer and the Monastery are his only hope at survival.
As the years pass and Seido grows from boy to man, as well as spiritually, quickly climbing the ranks of Priesthood, he manages to find a sort of placid happiness in surroundings. So when Reverend Fukuyama summons him to the head Temple, it is not without trepidation that Seido goes, and with reason. He has been reassigned. To Brooklyn. New York.
Tasked with the building of their first American Temple, in charge of overseeing the construction and maintaining budget, Seido leaves behind the only thing that he has known, the gentle hills, redolent with plum blossoms and winding, burbling creeks of fresh, cool waters, for mad, crazy, bustling America, where serenity and peace seem the furthest intent on anyone’s mind.
With the aide of his quirky, but devoted American assistant, the bundle of energy called “Miss Meli”, Seido settles in to his apartment above a grocery store in an old Italian neighborhood and begins his duties. First he meets his Believers, and one by one, discovers his job isn’t going to be an easy one, by any means. Each encounter is meticulously detailed, each character fleshed out so immaculately, that the reader is instantly transported to Brooklyn, in Seido’s shoes, sensing his frustration at the language barrier, the lack of knowledge and the aloofness, sadness and disrespect he feels with each new meeting. Determined to retrain the Believers, to bring them to the Buddha with his teachings, steeped in history and ritual, Seido immerses himself in to their lives, only to discover that once you scratch beneath the surface, revelations of all sorts, like a Pandora’s box, are exposed. Building the Temple itself brings about a whole other set of issues.
As his relationship with Jenny (Miss Meli) begins to change and deepen, Seido begins to realize that sometimes, tradition and ritual are not what people need in order to learn. That enlightenment comes with a price, one that is extracted from each individual with a different fee. The TRUE and ONE way, is not always black and white. In essence, despite the inner turmoil Seido experiences, trying to guide his new students, he begins to realize, the Teacher is also and always, the Student, too.
As a book reviewer, I know I speak for many others, when I say that we all love the written word to the degree that some have and some wish to have, a book of their own, written by their own hand, someday. If I had a book I could call my own, it would be this one. Eloquent, unique, funny, tender, sad, and pristine in it’s delivery, Buddhaland Brooklyn challenges, motivates, placates, and seduces it’s readers in to reaching one conclusion. Live life fully. Simple. Understated. Perfection.
Also by Richard C. Morais: The Hundred-Foot Journey
Claudia lives on beautiful Cape Cod with her husband and two children.
The review copy of this book was provided free of any obligation by Inkwell Management. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.