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Book Review: Enlightenment for Idiots

July 7, 2008

I love when I come across a good book accidentally – or by all appearances accidentally anyway. I found a copy of Anne Cushman’s Enlightenment for Idiots at my local library, while browsing cookbooks of all things (it was on the next shelf over, in New Fiction.) This book is the perfect summer read for those spiritually inclined, interested in yoga, or all things India. It is Ms. Cushman’s first novel, although she has co-authored a nonfiction book on spiritual travel to India, as well as many magazine articles and essays (you can read more about her at http://www.enlightenmentforidiots.com/pages/bio.html.) In any case, on the spiritual front, she has clearly walked the walk.

This novel chronicles a year or so in the life of Amanda, an almost thirty, somewhat yoga-obssessed, romantically-challenged writer living in San Francisco. She is commissioned to travel to India and write a guidebook for spiritual seekers entitled – you guessed it – Enlightenment for Idiots (with all the commercialization of spirituality these days, it’s hard to believe this book hasn’t actually been written!) She spends 6 months there, and encounters a dozen or so different spiritual teachers, covering virtually every major spiritual tradition of India. From hot yoga, to Buddhist Vipassana, to tantric sexuality, to complete renunciation, she has it covered. With a quick wit and an adorable, quirly sidekick named Devi Das, she comments on everything and everyone she meets with insight and affection.

What I really love about the book (and the reason I have recommended it to my own meditation students) is that it offers a real education on all of the Indian spiritual traditions in an easy to read context. The book reads like your standard chick-lit summer fare, but in the end, the concepts it is covering are more than a little sophisticated. It affectionately paradies many of the most famous (or infamous) contemporary spiritual teachers, such as Amma, Sai Baba, and Gangaji, and some of their more over-the-top devotees (all of whom I think I have met!) It manages to do this in a way that doesn’t diminish these teacher’s spiritual lessons, but does pose important questions about what true faith and spiritual inquiry is.

All of this is within the context of Amanda’s more personal story, which is fraught with the usual chick-lit romantic issues, and a larger twist that I won’t reveal, so that you can discover it for yourself. Overall, I highly recommend giving it a try. You can read more about the book at http://www.enlightenmentforidiots.com/pages/about.html, and read a guest post from the author at http://www.annemini.com/?p=976 .

For other book reviews on this site, go to the Book category.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2008 1:11 pm

    Perhaps you’d be interested in reading a true story about an idiot trying for enlightenment–me! ::)

    It’s called The 99th Monkey: A Spiritual Journalist’s Misadventures with Gurus, Messiahs, Sex, Psychedelics and Other Consciousness-Raising Adventures.

    You can read the Prologue here to see if it grabs you: http://www.the99thmonkey.com

    Thanks!

    All the best,
    Eliezer Sobel

  2. mommymystic permalink*
    July 10, 2008 4:56 pm

    Eliezer – I will check it out, partly because I am familiar with Santa Monica Press, and they do some interesting stuff, and partly because I am always in search of something that will make me laugh:-)

  3. July 15, 2008 12:00 am

    Hey MommyMystic. I agree with you. Discovering “Enlightenment for Idiots” was one of the great literature treats for me this year. I keep telling all my friends about it.
    Glad it rocks your boat. My wife is reading it right now and my sister also loved it.

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