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Bones of the Master: A Journey to Secret Mongolia
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Bones of the Master: A Journey to Secret Mongolia

4.21  ·  Rating Details ·  570 Ratings  ·  63 Reviews
In 1959 a young monk named Tsung Tsai (Ancestor Wisdom) escapes the Red Army troops that destroy his monastery, and flees alone three thousand miles across a China swept by chaos and famine. Knowing his fellow monks are dead, himself starving and hunted, he is sustained by his mission: to carry on the teachings of his Buddhist meditation master, who was too old to leave wi ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 29th 2001 by Bantam (first published January 1st 1999)
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Apr 24, 2011 Jamini rated it it was amazing
Immensely enjoyable! A true tale of a poet meeting a Buddhist monk from Mongolia and then traveling back to Mongolia with him in search of the "Bones of the Master". Gives you chills and thrills as well as excellent history lesson on China/Mongolia and what people went through during communism. Also many beautiful, simple poems sprinkled throughout either written by the author and translated by the author and written by the monk. Any spiritual seeker would love this book!
Dec 02, 2008 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Loved it! It's David Caradine (Grasshopper) meets Henry Miller in Woodstock (and China).
Bish Denham
Aug 08, 2014 Bish Denham rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a beautifully written story, poetic. It is magical, mystical, and human. If you're looking for a fast pace, you're not going to find it here. What you will find is the story of a journey taken by a Buddhist monk and non-believing American man. That these seeming opposite types connect and become fast friends is a testament to the beauty of the human spirit.
Dec 13, 2012 Sheri rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful read! It not only has a compelling plot to carry you through the book, with wonderful characters; it has wonderful philosophy and extremely memorable quotes throughout. I intend to read it more than once! I ended the book with a smile on my face, wishing there were more - and a deeper understanding of Buddhism and Chinese history and Zen poetry.
Nov 07, 2009 Pete added it
An alright read, quick. Crane's voice and personality gets annoying fast. And his poetry is rubbish. However, he keeps the book interesting and relevant through the innumerable dialogues which almost perfectly capture the essence of Tsung Tsai.
Jul 06, 2011 Sydney rated it it was amazing
At first I thought the author would be annoying but I really got into this book and the amazing adventure thru China. Crane relates his friendship w/TsungTsai with honesty and lovely language.
Apr 14, 2013 Helmut rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china
China und seine Religionen - das ist eine lange Geschichte. Buddhismus und Daoismus blühten lange Zeit in einem strahlenden Glanz, bis dieser Glanz Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts mit einem Schlag zerstört wurde. In einem maßlosen, ignoranten Hass verschluckte eine Welle von Gewalt und Fanatismus die Zeugnisse der buddhistischen Kultur.

Ein Mönch floh aus den Wirren, und freundete sich dann später in seinem Exil in Amerika mit dem Schriftsteller George Crane an. Die Geschichte, wie Cran
Sep 18, 2008 Samilja rated it really liked it
Author George is a 40-something poet, cynic and would-be drifter. He moves with his wife and baby daughter to woodsy upstate New York where good fortune provides him the neighbor he never knew he needed.

Neighbor Tsung Tsai is a 70'ish Ch'an Buddhist monk with an extraordinary history highlighted by a year-long escape from Inner Mongolia, narrowly escaping starvation, death by train-hitching and, most importantly, Mao's Cultural Revolution.

We learn the details of Tsung Tsai's story, and grippin
Bernie Gourley
Feb 17, 2013 Bernie Gourley rated it really liked it
Shelves: wisdom
Some people are attracted to the girl next door, but I'm a sucker for a tale of the sage next door. In an unwise world, it's comforting to believe that the wise exist, and they walk among us. They are not relegated to secluded retreats. In Bones of the Master a quirky Asian man drops in on his neighbor. The neighbor turns out to be the author of this book, poet George Crane. The visitor is Tsung Tsai, a Cha'an monk who trekked from Inner Mongolia to Hong Kong in 1959 in order to ensure the teach ...more
Jun 22, 2008 Feral rated it liked it
Reading this book was a very mixed experience. It's the story of an american poet who is neighbor to a buddhist monk from Mongolia who escaped the ravages of the cultural revolution (in the 60's?). The monk's story of escape is woven in flashbacks through the course of the book. The relationship of the two poets is explored, and then they both go back to Mongolia so the monk can build a shrine to his teacher, so then it becomes travelog. Which I don't know how to spell. The thing is, I found the ...more
Apr 14, 2015 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
Borrowing from another reviewer: I found this book enjoyable but I also found myself wishing the author would shut up about his own thoughts and opinions and focus more on his traveling companion. I totally agree with this, it was the life of the monk that I was drawn to. This is one of those books you can read over and over and each time, come away with a different lesson to be learned and understood.
To me the story very much mirrors the life of those around me in their hustle and bustle to be
Sep 11, 2012 Enso rated it liked it
I found this book enjoyable but I also found myself wishing the author would shut up about his own thoughts and opinions and focus more on his traveling companion, a monk of some 50+ years, whose journey this was to find his master's grave. The fact that the author was/is pretty much a layabout and, for lack of a better term, loser, who sleepwalks through his life and can't even bring himself to bow to his own teacher because of his own issues, made it a bit less enjoyable. Not a bad person but ...more
Marvin Soroos
An interesting example of adventure travel in which the author, a poet living in rural New York State, accompanies a neighbor, an ageing Buddhist monk back to Inner Mongolia from where the monk had fled in 1959. The book tells of the monk's harrowing escape from China through Hong Kong and the rigors of contemporary life in the bleak landscape of Inner Mongolia forty years later. The author tells of the challenges and frustrations of traveling with a monk who is set in his ways as they search fo ...more
Jul 10, 2007 Anita rated it it was amazing
Shelves: buddhism
I picked up this book by chance, needing to spend bookstore credit after returning a duplicate item--and I'm so glad I did! It's non-fiction, the tale of a Woodstock, NY, writer and free spirit who discovers that a Buddhist monk has moved nearby; they become friends and go to Mongolia, from which he fled through China during a harrowing famine, to find the bones of his master (thus the book's title). It's about suffering, as one may expect of a Buddhist story, but also about compassion, survival ...more
Mary Helene
Aug 03, 2012 Mary Helene rated it really liked it
Beautifully written; sentences of joy and adventure. What I liked most, though, was the story of two very different men learning to trust one another. Maybe's it's "believe in one another". I appreciated, too, the reflection this book inspired on what it means to practice, in a Zen sense. (Spoiler alert) The final showdown between Power-Money-Sex and Pure Zen leaves me thinking that this story is multi-layered and to be continued, but perhaps not in this lifetime.

Feb 12, 2009 Andrea rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
And so continues my obsession with all things Tibetan, Mongolian and/or Buddhist... I just loved this book! The fact that it was written by a poet was perfect in keeping with the subject matter... the descriptions of wind, land, faces unbelievable. I also like the tie in with my hometown (or near-hometown)... the book so very "woodstock" and one of the main characters so like the adults I knew growing up. Fabulously written, engaging story... loved it!
Aug 27, 2013 Michael rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, orient
A very intersting book about a Buddhist monk and an American poet traveling together to Mongolia to honor the former's Teacher. I found their relationship intriging; I think I like the monk better.
I was amazed that there was no government interference with their trek. The descriptions of the land did not make me want to go to Mongolia.
Jan 08, 2009 Kirsten rated it it was amazing
pure fun to read, with the quest narrative running through and the earthy narrator whose honest expression of his doubts and desires as he follows his zen master friend to mongolia i found endearing. made me want to learn more about ch'an buddhism, which, as i understood it, is the chinese version of the japanese zen buddhism.
Jul 29, 2008 Therese rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Therese by: my friend, Sara, in California
A story, a saga, an epiphany of travel. George Crane writes beautifully. He's a poet and his language caresses your heart. Tsung Tsai will stay in your mind as a wonderful human being who transcends suffering through helping others. If there isn't a God, there is a buddha. Read it and pass it on to others! Peace, Therese
Apr 07, 2014 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having been dabbling in Buddhist meditation the past few months, I think this was the right time for me to read this book, as I could "understand" and relate to the philosophy represented. George Crane does a nice job of putting forth his story of accompanying his friend, Tsung Tsai, a Buddhist monk, back to his homeland in Mongolia, in search of his teacher's grave, after 40 years of exile.
Sumangali Morhall
May 01, 2013 Sumangali Morhall rated it it was amazing
Gritty and honest (gruesome in places) this book feels like a friend, and I missed it when it was finished. I love the characters, the descriptions of inner and outer experiences, the insights into Ch'an Buddhism, and the poetry. It inspires and instructs, powerfully but with a light touch, like a poem in itself. Highly recommended to anyone interested in spiritual memoir and/or travel writing.
Jessica Zu
Aug 19, 2015 Jessica Zu rated it really liked it
Very well written. Good teaching material. the Puji Si in the book was built in late Qing by local gentries, became quite popular during the Republican China and then destroyed during CR, rebuilt in 2008 by Master Xuyun's overseas (maybe also HOngkong and Taiwan) disciples. not sure what the role this book played in the rebuilding of this temple.
an interesting research project for later
Sep 28, 2010 Robert rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 25, 2016 Dpdwyer rated it it was ok
I found the fractured speech patterns of the Chan master to be mesmerizing. His quiet wisdom shone through, reminding me of Castaneda's Don Juan. The writer I found less attractive. He seemed too attached to his rebellious self. To his credit he did not wallow in or bemoan the many discomforts of the journey. Quite an adventure.
Tom Hickman
Feb 18, 2009 Tom Hickman rated it really liked it
This is a book about adventure, determination and honor shared between unlikely characters, a monk and an author, who journey to inner mongolia in quest of the remains of a Ch'an master. It is full of Chinese wisdom and examples of cultural challenges.
Becky Prise
Jan 05, 2015 Becky Prise rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I first read it for a Chinese Thought class in college. I quickly fell in love with it. Crane's writing style was very easy to follow and you could tell how much his teacher meant to him. I recommend this book whenever possible and I plan on rereading this year.
May 13, 2009 Janice rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting, absorbing book. Has a lot of elements I like ;interesting story and characters- especially that of the master- and Buddhism and travel and adventure in another culture.Good stuff !
Nov 21, 2007 Michelle marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
this is the book i've picked for my human geography report. The report is to write about the strong sense of place an author can create. I'm looking forward to this book for many reasons, but i need a copy. If anyone has one i'd love to buy it from you or even just borrow it.
Deborah Varga
I had this book on my shelves for years before I read it. I was glad I did because I found it to be a tresure. Good, honest writing led me into the quest. I did not want the journey to end with the last page so I ordered "Beyond the House of the False Lama" and just started reading it.
Aug 17, 2012 Nick rated it really liked it
An exciting story, a wise monk, and (sort of) the education of the writer/narrator as he accompanies his ch'an teacher on a return to Inner Mongolia decades after he fled Chinese persecution. This is a stirring adventure story heightened by poetry, a tale of personal growth, and Buddhist teaching.
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Writer, journalist, editor and world traveler holds a Bachelors from the University of Illinois in English Literature and Art History and a Masters in Creative writing from San Francisco State University. He has taught at Manhattanville College, University of Indianapolis and has given seminars and readings around the world (New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Athens, Paris, Prague, Buch ...more
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“Buddha rode in the trunk, which had to be roped shut. I thought this was going to be the first in a long line of hassles. But, as it turned out, Tsung Tsai was right: Buddha was a breeze. He flowed through the porters, ticket checkers, and security at JFK, gliding on a benevolent cloud. His strange gray Buddha shadow floated on the x-ray monitor.

'Jesus!' said the x-ray operator to the guard.
'Similar', Tsung Tsai said.”
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