Book Review: In Search of Buddha’s Daughters
In Search of Buddha’s Daughters
A Modern Journey Down Ancient Roads
by Christine Toomey
The Buddhist nuns encountered in Christine Toomey’s In Search of Buddha’s Daughters are not the quiet and gentle women that one might imagine. In chapters that trace the author’s journey around the world, Toomey tells readers of nuns in Nepal practicing kung fu, a Zen Buddhist nun in Japan who has won literary prizes for erotic fiction, and other surprising and inspiring stories that shed light on what is for many the unfamiliar world of Buddhist women.
“In this rapidly changing age, which is forcing many of us to question what is meaningful, the path these women have chosen is not just different but somehow defiant,” Toomey writes. This sense of defiance is brought to life through interviews the author conducts with nuns in Nepal, India, Burma, Japan, North America, and Europe while living alongside them in monasteries, temples, and meditation centers.
After more than two decades working as a foreign correspondent and feature writer for the U.K.’s Sunday Times, Toomey is at her best when bringing her journalist’s eye to describe scenes and her investigative skills to portray the women she meets. While reflecting on the oppression of the Burmese people over the centuries, the sight of a woman weaver makes her think of Buddhism as a thread of resilience and generosity in the country. “As she throws a giant bobbin back and forth to create a weft, sunlight catches a glint of golden thread running through the fabric,” she writes, “bringing the rest of the colours alive.”
Part travelogue and part Buddhist history lesson, In Search of Buddha’s Daughters is also part memoir as Toomey reflects on the recent loss of both her parents as motivation for embarking on the journey. Searching for a way to heal, she observes that “those who choose to become Buddhist nuns make it their business to deal on a daily basis with some of the most profound and intractable problems of human existence.”