January 13, 2012
This fall a copy of Merry White Benezra's novel Special Karma: A Zen Novel of Love and Folly arrived in the Tricycle office. The book closely tracks the experiences of the narrator, Iris (modeled on the author,) as she makes her way through an unspecified Zen Monastery dealing with an unspecified and unscruplulous Roshi. Those who have paid attention to the Zen scandals that finally broke through to the mainstream recently will know just what is being referred to, and Ms. Benezra clearly speaks from experience. But even if you have no idea what the book might be based on, you will still be able to understand the book.
The intimate descriptions of life in the monastery are convincing and moving in their details as the story moves on, month by month. Knowing how it is to end, it might be thought painful or depressing, but actually it fits in the tradition of Zen-practice-narratives-by-bundering-Westerners that is something of a sub-genre. The ending of the book is far more uplifting than the stories of many women who shared in the actual events, so don't stay away on that account. We'll have a few stories of this kind in the upcoming issue of Tricycle this February (Spring 2012 issue): How do we come back to the practice after things fall apart with our sangha?
Special Karma is a beautiful little book, and anyone interested in Zen practice viewed through a very personal lens will find value in it, and those who have experienced pain and betrayal in their sangha will certainly see their own epxeriences reflected and validated there. You can read more about the book here and buy it on Amazon.com.