To write a book about the most profound philosophy on the planet is difficult. To write a novel based on Nichiren Buddhism is even harder. But Eddy Canfor-Dumas achieved this in 2005 with The Buddha, Geoff and Me, and has done it again with Bodhisattva Blues the delightful and much anticipated sequel to ‘Geoff’. One man’s search for meaning in a world of confusion and uncertainty, ‘BB’ is a thoroughly absorbing read, not least because when we catch up with our hero Ed, he has long since abandoned his Buddhist practice and is stuck in a rut – no career, no love life and no cash.
Plunged unwittingly into a world of street crime and dodgy property deals, Ed finds himself dusting down his beads and reluctantly picking up his Nichiren Buddhist practice to guide him through a series of dramas, dilemmas and big decisions.
The bloke next door
Ed is an engaging character. Nobody special though, just your typical bloke next door. We all know someone like Ed. Or do we? For what is perhaps most compelling about this novel is that Ed barely knows himself at all, until spiritual insights begin to spring from his daimoku and from Buddhist discussion meetings as he grapples with the grit, grime and SNAFUs of everyday life. In fact a strong and compelling theme in the book is how people expand their lives by having the vulnerability to be honest with themselves and other people, instead of burying their suffering in layers of booze, prejudice or feigned perfection.
We share in Ed’s battles with his Fundamental Darkness: “Maybe this Buddhism lark is just a bunch of bollocks after all,” (by the way, the language is more building site than boudoir… ) And he battles constantly with his old, lesser self, ‘cynical, booze-loving, lazy’ as he gradually builds a life where there is more to look forward to than just ‘a Chinese, a bottle of red wine and Match of the Day.’
BB also shows the unique power of the SGI discussion meeting movement, as Ed checks in once a month with his local Buddhists to share his challenges and victories. It is here that we encounter themes familiar to Nichiren Buddhists, including Human Revolution, Bodhisattva Never Disparaging and the eternity of life. The Devil King of the Sixth Heaven also puts in an interesting appearance… The story is a great reminder that SGI is a unique and precious movement of ordinary people leading ordinary people to enlightenment.
Send in the truffle hounds!
The book also gives possibly the best ever explanation of the wisdom that comes from chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo: “Like sending a truffle hound to root around in the leaf-litter of my subconscious and dig up what’s bothering me.”
By turns unsettling and uplifting, BB will also get you thinking about complex issues of our time such as depression, homophobia, racism, bereavement, suicide and youth crime. These topics are seamlessly woven into a compelling plot that bowls along at a decent pace, with a big shock at the half way point on which the whole story pivots. The novel is infused with a sometimes wry and always warm humour, thanks in part to a strong cast of plausible cameo characters and a series of tragi-comic events.
Enjoy life. Win.
By the end of the book, Ed has changed for the better. Someone who has put in the hard yards, done his human revolution and is beginning to live one of the key messages of the book: “Enjoy Life. Win.” The description by the publisher (Rider) is spot on – this absolutely is a book “for everyone who’s ever wondered whether enlightenment really is compatible with the daily commute.” So, welcome back Ed, lovin’ yer truffles…
PS. If you’ve never read The Buddha, Geoff and Me, I would heartily recommend it. BB stands alone as a novel, but you will love meeting Geoff first. Not least because, as Ed reminds us in BB, Geoff is a ‘diamond geezer’.