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Book Review of Vajragupta's book 'Wild Awake'

On Mon, 23 April, 2018 - 14:46
Sadayasihi's picture
Sadayasihi

In Wild Awake: Alone, Offline and Aware in Nature Vajragupta draws on twenty-five years of experience going into nature alone. He recounts how these ‘solitary retreats’ have changed him, how he fell in love with the places he stayed in and the creatures there and includes a helpful A-Z guide on how to go about your own solitary retreat.  Wild Awake is available from Windhorse Publications as a paperback or an eBook.

Here is a review of Wild Awake by Mitra Ben Atmer:

“Vajragupta, a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order and writer, has had published a new book based on his long and deep immersion in the practice of solitary retreat. He attempts, for the most part remarkably successfully, to convey his sense of intimacy with the natural world, and tries to suggest just what it is about solitary retreat which is so valuable and rewarding, and why we, as Buddhists, might consider following in his footsteps. It is to be hoped that through books like this, the practice of thinking about and being with nature will once more come to occupy the same important place in the spiritual life as poetry and music and the other arts, making explicit the profound connections between religious practice and other forms of contemplative experience. 

A strong tradition of nature writing, distinct from but not completely unrelated to travelogue or memoir, has been developing in the English speaking world in the last few decades, and in this review I would like to reflect on how Vajragupta’s book, as a literary work, could be placed in this tradition. This recent tradition of nature writing can be seen as a reflection of more distant precedents, particularly in the American tradition – the works of Thoreau or John Muir, both rooted in a kind of proto-environmentalism, being obvious exemplars. In the European tradition too, the Enlightenment fascination with the ‘sublime’ generated a renewed interest in the natural world, in both visual and literary arts, which have had echoes into the 20th and 21st centuries, with poets such as Edward Thomas, and writers such as W.G. Sebald, being pre-eminent examples of a certain kind of muscular and complex appreciation of nature. 

In the last few years, perhaps the most prominent of writers in this tradition in English has been Robert Macfarlane,[1] following directly the precedents set by naturalists such as Roger Deakin and J.A. Baker, and heavily influenced by a previous generation of writers including, most significantly, Nan Shepherd, whose work The Living Mountain Macfarlane acknowledges as seminal. His focus has been on the phenomenology of landscape and nature, and the intimacy and sense of particularity which certain spaces might evoke in the observer. This is far removed from the grand narratives of some previous travel writing, and Macfarlane’s tradition is a gentler, more mindful immersion in small landscapes, accompanied by an acute sense of literary context and of the cultural and historical relativity of our gaze…” [Read the full book review here]

Ben Atmer is a Mitra living in Bristol, who is irresistibly drawn to wild places and to the arts, and who tries to combine these in his love of landscape photography. Samples of his work can be seen at www.benatmer.com.   

[1] Robert Macfarlane was interviewed by Ratnagarbha in Urthona: Journal of Buddhism and the Arts, issue 28.

Buy a copy of Wild Awake from Windhorse Publications.

Listen to an interview with Vajragupta about the book.

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Responses

Ashwini's picture

Interesting talk by Vajragupta last evening at Bristol Buddhist Centre. I was confused how to go alone on a solitary retreat for 2 weeks which would be so boring and frustrating after few days. However could completely relate with the answer when thought about it - one can observe and find companionship with the nature which would be so wonderful.
Talk reminded me of a lovely spiritual film on Netflix - ‘Into the Wild’ where this guy after finishing college goes on a solitary retreat to understand and define Happiness and observes if I remember correctly that Happiness is meaningful if shared with others.