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The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  295 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
Buddhism, Booze, and the Four Noble Truths
Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 25th 2006 by HarperOne (first published May 24th 2005)
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Jun 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
My early impression of the book couldn't have been wronger. I feared a new-age smug account of the superiority of 'spirituality' over rationality or some such nonsense. What I found was a thoughtful, self-conscious narrative, interweaving a personal journey with basic tenants of Buddhism and observations of the state of Buddhism in Cambodia, today.

I would have liked a little more sociological exploration of modern Theravada Buddhism, but that would have been a different book. It's part self-help
Jack Terry
Oct 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book serves a terrific introduction into the different branches of Buddhism while focusing primarily on Theravanda Buddhism and he history of it in Cambodia. The most engaging aspect of the book was that it was very approachable without being feeling like you are reading lecture notes. I actually renewed it from the library not because I needed more time to read it but because I want to be able take notes on all of the resources it offers. The only problem that I had with it, and it is a de ...more
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Unbeknownst to readers of this blog, I've been spending this summer tearing through a bunch of books on Buddhism and especially Buddhist meditation; I've started practicing a secular form of meditation in my personal life over the last year, and the insights I've had about my life because of it was recentl
Sep 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
For the majority of people, Buddhism is linked to Tibet and the Dalai Lama. In this book, we learn about Buddhism in Cambodia called Theravada Buddhism. As it turns out, associating Tibetan Buddhism as "the" Buddhism is like associating Mormonism as "the" Christianity. Only about 6% of the world's Buddhists are Tibetan Buddhists (out of roughly 400 million Buddhists).

Asma was invited to teach Buddhism at the Cambodian Buddhist Institute to a select group of students. He covers his journey throug
Apr 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
"You can labor hard for immortality and fame and recognition, but even if you make a big splash on the global consciousness (with your role in a movie, with your bangin' CD release, with your political victory, with your best-seller book success), in the end you will eventually become just a footnote, and after that you will slip from the record of history and time altogether, finally evaporating like billions and billions of our predecessors. While this realization may seem deflationary at firs ...more
Feb 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: buddhism
An enjoyable book. Part memoir, part history. I really enjoyed the historical aspect of the book in regards to the spread of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia and the gumbo of spirituality and culture. I knew of the pre-Buddhist influence of Hinduism, but did not know of the pre-Theravada establishing of Mahayana Buddhism in Cambodia. While I enjoyed Professor Asma's expounding and quoting verses of beautiful Pali suttas, I was a little put off by moments in the book of his Mahayana bashing. ...more
Mar 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I started to read this book because I'm planning a trip to Cambodia and I really wanted to learn more about the country.

I think that this book gave me lots of info on the culture and also a lot more. I've been living in Asia for quite some time now, and Buddisim has always intrigued me. I've lots of temples and even some festivities, but I've never really understood the docterin. I've asked English speaking Buddists about the religion, but never felt very satisfied with the answers. This book ha
Jul 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, nonfiction
This is an incredible book that gives you a practical view of Buddhism through one American Buddhist's journey in Cambodia. Stephen Asma, the author and star of this nonfiction memoir, mixes phlosophy with entertaining anecdotes of all of the people he encountered on the way. In the end you learn that humans are not perfect, and neither is Buddhism, with its multitude of forms. As the subtitle indicates, a tattered Buddha is the only way to enlightenment. Without being assailed by life's hard ti ...more
Dec 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asianstudies
I really liked this book a lot. It is written by a Buddhist Studies professor from Chicago who works at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh for a semester. Cambodia is a great place to study Buddhism because the practice seems so different from the philosophy but Dr. Asma does a good job connecting them.

If you have traveled to Cambodia before or are interested in Buddhism from a point of view other than the hippie new age one than this book is for you. (I understand that this is a very small se
Elizabeth Schurman
May 29, 2017 rated it liked it
This book has a terribly misleading title, cover, and clips on the back. I learned a lot about the varieties of Buddhism, as it focuses on Buddhism in Cambodia but discusses other types. There is plenty of history and some philosophy. It certainly is not an intro to Buddhism or a hippie travelogue. It also explains how Hinduism and animism and other older belief systems fit into Buddhism in southeast Asia. And does a fair bit of weighing east Asian and Western ideas and lifestyles. Thoughtful an ...more
Jan 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The Buddha explained the two lessons of this parable. First, we see that human understanding is perspectival and subjective in the sense that our personal experiences shape the way we perceive reality. But reality and the truth are bigger than any one perspective. Second, we see how attached we are to our particular perspectives, even to the point of fighting over them. Our egos lead us to be more concerned with winning the debate than with actually knowing the truth.
People who travel, particul
Jun 21, 2015 rated it liked it
"The Buddha Gotama, being liberated from craving and ego, would have no problem engaging in a heroin-tinged orgy down at the local brothel. It would not enslave him. But the Buddha is a pro, and the rest of us should not try this at home." Told in this light-hearted and comical manner, 'The Gods Drink Whiskey' introduces the core and complicated concepts of Buddhism, with a special focus on Theravada Buddhism. I did get lost sometimes, with the microscopic insight into the anatta or 'no-self' an ...more
Jason Hancock
Mar 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: buddhism
This book is written in a topical and humorous fashion, as the title itself makes clear. It was good to read a book that took a walk through southeast asia and elsewhere that had an attitude of taking the practices of buddhism in the heart of buddhist countries with a grain of salt. It was a good dose of reality for me in that sometimes I take my buddhist practice very seriously and it was good to have it knocked down a bit by people who have lived with it as a tradition for a much longer time t ...more
Sep 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-finish
Really interesting. I'm learning about Buddhism and Thailand, via Asma's essays/travelog. He's there in Thailand, helping the new generation of monks learn about their religion. The old monks who would normally pass it on were destroyed by Pol Pot. It reminds me of Spaulding Gray, when he talks about interacting with the people: it's all about the stories and the people. It also reminds me of Bruce Chatwin's novel/travelog about Australia and how the aboriginals lost their culture when the story ...more
Dec 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
An interesting book. Challenges one to think about Buddhism and the practices or rituals associated with it. Makes one reflect on what is Buddhism about. Ultimately what is important is to live for the present (NOW) and practice mindfulness, awareness and compassion, keeping in mind the Four Noble Truth. The rest does not matter.

Sometimes many of us are caught up in rituals - in temples, churches, etc.and associate the rituals as part of the religion 'rules, and that one must comply. One should
Nov 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was not at all the book I thought it was going to be; it was much, much more. Asma's scholarship comes through with every page without beating you over the head or being obnoxious. He also doesn't romanticize either the West or the East. I got a lesson in the denominations (for lack of a better word) of Buddhism, a history lesson in Southeast Asia and a critique of Eastern vs. Western cultural ideas. And, it was all done in an engaging and easy to read manner, though I will say the density ...more
May 31, 2016 rated it liked it
Read this in preparation for a trip to the area later this year. Am also interested in learning more about Buddhism. This book wraps history, culture, and religion into something interesting and digestible. While it focuses on only one man's experience, it gives the reader a good perspective on what to expect in Cambodia, and some insight as to why things are the way they are there. Great primer for my upcoming trip.
Jul 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
A compelling read about an American philosophy teacher's trip to South East Asia, to teach Buddhism, and see how it is practised and lived. It contains many funny moments, as Asma is very candid in his memoir, fessing up to things you wouldn't expect him to say or do. It also gives an eye-opening, poignant account of the history of violence in Cambodia, and other South East Asian countries. Highly recommended.
Tom Kramer
Aug 12, 2013 rated it liked it
I've shared similar experiences in Cambodia, so it gave me a few hearty chuckles of recognition. I read this book several years ago and seem to recall a few episodes of drunkeness (and maybe marijuana use?). I recall wondering how the author reconciles the drug and alcohol use with Buddhist beliefs. There was also a certain smugness to some of it that other reviewers have noted. Still enjoyed reading it.
May 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: asia
Many interesting insights into Cambodian culture (as well as Thai and Vietnamese) and into the diversity of Buddhist thought. I wasn't as engaged as with other travel books (and this may not really qualify any way), but still it is a decent read. Some of the criticism of western ways is warmed over, his observations seemed constrained (a few times I think he held back, when I knew darn well he knew what he really wanted to say or mention). I wasn't encouraged to put Cambodia on an itinerary.
Mindy McAdams
Jul 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
An excellent first-person account of life in early-2000s Cambodia that combines insights about Buddhism, the persistent grip of the Khmer Rouge, the interventions of Vietnam, the psyche of the Cambodia people, and a relatively humble American's view of it all.

Full review:
Michael Foley
Asma is all over the place with this book, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Its obvious that the author learned a lot about himself and his religion as he worked and traveled through Cambodia. As it unfolds, this book is part memoir, part travelogue, and part history lesson. Recommended if you have an interest in Buddhism and its place in Southeast Asia.
Jan 23, 2016 rated it liked it
I didn't get much out of it. A little here on his take on Buddhism. A little there on his take on living in SE Asia. A good section about the different branches of Buddhism. I was waiting for something I didn't get and at the end I was just waiting for it to be over.
Oct 30, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book came to me from Cas. I'm just under halfway through now and it is mostly about the author's experience living in Cambodia. Theravadda Buddhism is also talked about in depth by the author. Very interesting so far. I like it.
Feb 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
Hmm. This book started strong - it hooked me in and got me thinking so much that I took over two pages of notes. But then it became more of a travel recap with seemingly disconnected tidbits about Buddhism thrown in there. I don't regret reading it, but I wouldn't recommend it.
Apr 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
An incredible insight into Buddhist philosophy, South East Asian culture and politics, and the American angst. This fun and, at some points, offhanded account makes me think that Steven Asma just woke up one day and decided to publish his journal. And it is awesome.
Jul 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
A rich and colorful story of an American Buddhism professor exploring Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia. You can read it for either the travelogue or the introspection, but I enjoyed it as both. Wish it had a clearer ending or conclusion... but then again, maybe that's what makes the book.
Mar 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: reference
I really appreciate the academic view of this religion, and so much information about the everyday and local people and customs that Stephen writes about. I have much more to read, so will add more later...
Aug 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Excellent insight into Asian way of thinking and into the Theravada Buddhism. Despite being easy and pleasant to read, this combination of a brief philosophical / religionist introduction and a travel book will definitely enrich you and bring inspiration to you.
Jul 17, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: travelogue
Good examination of the romanticization of Buddhism and Eastern life and spirituality by Western consumer culture. Docked a star for the writer's ego and another for the included details of his pathetic personal life.
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Stephen T. Asma is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia College Chicago, where he holds the title of Distinguished Scholar.

He is the author of "Against Fairness" (University of Chicago Press).

In 2003, he was Visiting Professor at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia. There he taught "Buddhist Philosophy" as part of their pilot Graduate Program in Buddhist Studies. His book, en
More about Stephen T. Asma...

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