Books by Usha Alexander

  • A lone woman travels fearlessly into the jungle to confront the enemy. She holds the fate of an entire world in her hands.

  • When Craig Olsen returns to Idaho to say goodbye to his dying uncle, who raised him, he comes face to face with matters he can no longer evade.

  • "A suspenseful narrative weaves the stories and secrets of two generations into one seamless drama ... a worthy literary journey." —Kirkus Discoveries

Namit Arora's Photography

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October 30, 2007



Why did you feel sorry for him? I wouldn't worry about schizophrenia if he is a 'happy' schizophrenic. He's probably fine where he is, doing what he is doing.

You're right that I probably shouldn't feel sorry for him, Sujata. But at the time when I met him, I did; for at least two reasons.

One reason was that, in fact, I did not observe that he was a "happy" schizophrenic. He struck me as a deeply troubled individual. He was trying to make sense of the mental anguish that plagued him. The guidance he'd received from his monastic colleagues was an explanation that he was some kind of great soul who had been filled with several lifetimes' worth of mental torments as a kind of test; he believed the spirits around him were experimenting on him—all in the service of ultimately helping humanity, mind you. He clearly found this unfair, but also believed that he was being used this way because he had a profound spiritual strength, and he seemed to take some comfort in feeling that his role in all of this made him a very special person.

Whether or not he is schizophrenic, he surely has some mental disorder that modern western doctors would diagnose and treat, most likely with drugs. He may even be better off in a monastery in India than in the western medical system because at least he's freely moving about and seems to be surrounded by people who care for him (though he had to ditch his family to pursue monastic life; they did not approve) at least for now. Hopefully, his condition will not deteriorate too terribly as he gets older.

More generally, though, I felt sorry for him because I believe that he labors under enormous delusions that he'll never find his way clear of. Indeed, I expect that the fantasies he tells himself (and others tell him) will just get higher and thicker and deeper with time. I am strongly averse to the practice of minds getting lost in landscapes of self-delusion. Of course, this aversion is felt especially when those who are deeply self-deluded are not actually crazy. But even here I saw a man who on some level was striving for clarity and truth, and in that pursuit—and also because of his mental issues—he only wanders more deeply into the forests of delusion.

In fact, during our travels in India, we had the opportunity to talk to several monks. All of them left the distinct impression that—far from being closer than any of us to "enlightenment," wisdom, or inner-peace, the attainment of which was surely at least in large part their goal—they were miserably troubled souls. I find that pretty sad.

Usha, please accept my compliments for an excellent piece of evocative writing and for the deeply perceptive comment.

I second VP.

One question. Is the Great Buddha statue of recent or ancient vintage? When and by whom was it erected? I do not recall hearing of such a statue in India. How large is it?

This great Buddha statue is part of the Japanese monastery complex in Bodh Gaya; the design and sculpting was done by Indians but it was commissioned by the Doijokyo sect of Nagoya Japan. The current Dalai Llama unveiled it in a ceremony in 1989—it's not yet 20 years old and so it's in beautiful condition. It's quite large, too: The seated Buddha, himself, is reported to be 64 feet tall; his lotus is 6 feet high; and the pedestal is 10 feet. But it's not a monolith; it's constructed from separate blocks of pink, chunnar limstone. Here's another view.

I think that your observation about "He clearly found this unfair, but also believed that he was being used this way because he had a profound spiritual strength, and he seemed to take some comfort in feeling that his role in all of this made him a very special person." explains his attitude coping with the delusions that plague his mental landscape. His monastic superiors may have done him quite a favor by portraying it in that way, so that he derives a modicum of comfort, even in the midst of mental problems.

It's a pity that the searchers for enlightenment and the truth (monks that you spoke to) are no closer to finding it than armchair philosophers.

Gorgeous photos in the essay and great writing too!

I have heard that the original tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment was cut down by Pushyamitra Sunga. I also heard that the Brahmanical king had acid poured on the tree trunc so that it will never grow back. Is this true?

I have never heard this story about the cutting of the original tree or pouring acid upon it. At Bodh Gaya, they tell that the original tree lived to be extremely ancient and finally died its own death. At that point (several hundred years ago—it's not clear exactly when) a cutting was brought from its daughter in Sri Lanka, which grew into the great tree that stands on the site today.

Of course, with all histories and mythic stories, fact and fiction can be difficult to separate; people promote the versions of history that support their own politics and beliefs. To my knowledge, the tree has not been genetically tested nor has this story (or any other story regarding the tree) been otherwise confirmed.

I am Banu from INDIA. I am a Communication & Journalism student in Bangalore. It's very nice site. I want some more information about U.. please send me one test mail.

Dear, Friend
BodhGaya is a city in Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar. It is famous for being the place of Buddha's attainment of Enlightenment. For Buddhists, Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related to the life of Gautama Buddha, the other three being Kushinagar, Lumbini, and Sarnath. In 2002, Mahabodhi Temple, located in Bodh Gaya, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site."Bodh Gaya is the place where Gautama Buddha attained unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment. It is a place which should be visited or seen by a person of devotion and which would cause awareness and apprehension of the nature of impermanence"."Here on this seat my body may shrivel up, my skin, my bones, my flesh may dissolve, but my body will not move from this seat until I have attained Enlightenment, so difficult to obtain in the course of many kalpas". Please Visit For More Detail:

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New Book by Namit Arora

  • The Lottery of Birth reveals Namit Arora to be one of our finest critics. In a raucous public sphere marked by blame and recrimination, these essays announce a bracing sensibility, as compassionate as it is curious, intelligent and nuanced.” —Pankaj Mishra

Shunya Website

Namit wins 3QD Arts & Literature Prize 2011

Namit Arora's India Photo Archive