by Bhikkhu S.
“Going for Broke” consists of letters written by a young American who quit his lucrative job to travel the world on a spiritual quest. It tells the story of a man who took to heart Thoreau’s urging to “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams” and “Live the life you’ve imagined.”
The author worked as a programmer during the technology boom of the late 1990s. Although seemingly content with his life, he had long harbored a desire to become a Buddhist monk. When he learned that one of his computer programs was being used for animal testing, he gave up his job and apartment and sold his car, using the money to finance a back-packing trip — to see the world and see if he could renounce it and become a monk.
His journey takes him across the Pacific, from Buddhist monasteries in California, to Hawaii, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, India, Nepal, Thailand and finally to Myanmar. Along the way he works, surfs, camps, hikes, walks over a lava flow, extreme bungee-jumps, climbs a glacier, rides a camel on a safari, visits meditation centers and spiritual sites, and treks in Nepal. In Fiji he finds himself in the middle of a coup and has to be evacuated.
Throughout the trip he sends detailed accounts of his adventures to a growing list of friends. He writes with joy and humor about what he sees and does and about the people he meets. He ponders his future, questioning whether he has the resolve to become a monk. One morning, in a magical moment on the shore of an island, he makes a discovery that convinces him of his true destiny. His resolve to ordain is later tested in Nepal when he falls in love with a German woman.
The second half of the book consists of notes sent from monasteries in Thailand and Myanmar describing the process of becoming a monk and his first years living as a monk, first a forest monastery in Thailand, and then at the Pa-Auk Forest Monastery in Myanmar, where he studies under the Venerable Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw. He describes daily life in detail, his monk’s vows, and the basics of samatha (concentration) meditation.
The final account narrates a visit to his home state of Connecticut seven years after his trek began, where his family sees him in his robes for the first time, and he sees them and the United States from a new perspective.
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