Breakfast With Buddha
BREAKFAST WITH BUDDHA is Roland Merullo’s story of a man’s journey to self-discovery. The means by which Otto Ringling transforms his viewpoints on life, love, parents, children, siblings and growth is told quite simply. Otto begins a cross-country drive from his home in a New York City suburb to the remote plains of North Dakota, to the farm where he spent his childhood. His novel could read as a travelogue across the mid-section of the United States. However, BREAKFAST WITH BUDDHA is a trip marked by memories revived in the places he now visits.
Told in the first person, the book engulfs the reader immediately into the task that Otto must perform. His parents’ lives have been snuffed in an automobile crash. Otto plans an August itinerary for travel that accommodates his busy schedule as a New York editor. Summer is the slack season for book promotion, an ideal time to re-bond with his flaky sister, Cecilia. She’s a retread from the ’60s, complete with yoga, incense and her spiritual guru, Volya Rinpoche. The crimson-robed Skovordinian monk is a Zen-master in his own right, with the credit of books written and a dedicated following. His popularity reaches into the Midwest where he is scheduled to speak on his favorite subjects.
Arriving at Cecilia’s sanctuary, Otto meets the affable, intelligent monk and plans to whisk his sister off to North Dakota, where they hope to settle the family estate. Otto’s first impression was that Seese was dating the Dali Lama. Trepidation floods him when she states, “Otto, Sweeethart…Rinpoche is going on the trip to North Dakota.” Her brother pretends not to hear her.
Furthermore, she plans to deed her half of the family farm to the monk for a spiritual center. Angry and feeling duped, Otto excuses Rinpoche from the scene. Brother and sister will have a knock-down fight over Seese’s latest revelation. She’s squandering her inheritance! Her ardent pleas sound ridiculous, but Otto loses the argument and agrees to show Rinpoche America. Cecilia’s words stick with him.
“The country needs help, spiritual help. He’ll change your life too, if you just let him.”
Though not overweight, one reads into Otto’s fascination with food choices as a mask for the areas of his life he chooses to ignore. Rinpoche dubs Otto as “angry” toward life in general. While the spiritualist meditates, smiles a Cheshire-like grin and expounds an occasional platitude, Otto plans ahead for the next lodging space and meal. Chicago is a turning point in his journey. There, he accompanies the monk to a yoga class and participates in the activity. Determined to make it through the postures, his face turning crimson, sweat trickling onto his clothing, Otto’s fury miraculously subsides. For a brief time, he has experienced a quietude he has overlooked in an activity-filled life.
Revelation marches toward Otto like a slow-dripping faucet that cannot be ignored. Together, the two unlikely companions share witticism, food, yoga, a round of bowling and silence in the miles they travel. Rinpoche cautions his driver to slow down the fast life, to unlearn the cluttered knowledge of a frantic world and to listen to breathing in a body renewed by yoga. By the time they exit the fast lanes into the quiet country of rural prairie, Otto discovers a new understanding of his world. It is there, in his childhood place, that his final surprise awaits.
Merullo’s skill with the pen enchants the reader with a fresh awareness of how man confronts his spiritual side in a chaotic world. The monk’s character is rich with humor, silence and understanding. It matters not that his audience shares a religious conviction with this man but that change can occur in a skeptical soul.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on December 23, 2010
Breakfast With Buddha
- Publication Date: August 26, 2008
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: Algonquin Books
- ISBN-10: 1565126165
- ISBN-13: 9781565126169