So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas

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9780679743637: So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas
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For more than a thousand years Tibet, Sikkim, Ladakh, and Bhutan were the santuaries of Tantric Buddhism. But in the last half of this century, geopolitics has scoured the landscape of the Himalayas, and only the reclusive kingdom of Bhutan remains true to Tantric Buddhism. As she travels through Bhutan and its neighbots, Crossette introduces readers to a world that has emerged from the middle ages only to find itself peering into the abyss of modernity.

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"There is no other full-length contemporary American account of this likable and largely unvisited kingdom....Crosette unravels the intricacies of Buddhism with considerable clarity."--The New York Times Book Review

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Tantric Buddhism, with its complex and fascinating rites, rose to its highest levels on the trans-Himalayan Tibetan plateau, where it had flowered since the eighth century. But now the small kingdoms - Sikkim and Ladakh among them - where the teachings and miracles of the great lamas were revered have been gobbled up by bigger powers. The story of that loss is a prelude to Barbara Crossette's richly evocative journey into the historical past and courageous present of Bhutan, where the Buddhist world can still be seen intact, peaceful, harmonious - and threatened. We enter a landscape of frozen peaks, high windy flatlands, and deep verdant valleys where, until the 1960s, the Bhutanese lived a medieval existence - where temples and monasteries, monks and lamas, provided not only spiritual but legal and even medical sustenance. We move through farmlands, villages, and towns whose clusters of painted ornamental buildings and wooden half-timberings might be illustrations for old fairy tales, where thanks to Bhutan's devoted rulers change has thus far been gradual; where the tolerance, good humor, generosity - and gorgeous ritual - of Himalayan Buddhism continues to shine through. Into this setting creep the tensions, deep and destructive, that threaten to wound Bhutan despite its best efforts to ward off the outside world. We see how open borders and recent air links have led to high-stakes smuggling of temple treasures and gold, as well as the ravages of AIDS; how tourism is importing dollars, distance from village roots, and a new urban phenomenon - burglary.

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