I don’t usually do this, but I’m recommending a book called Buddha’s Tooth.
The book is somewhat about a mislaid molar of the historical Buddha—a mislaid molar, a tooth, found and duly deemed a dusty dentine relic, so much so that an actual Temple was built over its final resting place.
All the bones of St. Stephen (ample enough to reconstruct him several times over according to Mark Twain) never met such an impressive fate in all of the cathedrals of Europe.
Here’s a nutshell review of my favorite book in recent years:
The narrator and author, one U. C. Fate (can this be a real name?), begins ‘a magical mythos tour’ at the Temple of the Tooth in Sri Lanka, where, shortly after arriving, Fate is beaten to ruddy pulp by an angry mob.
Fate awakens to find he is in possession of a God consciousness that easily collapses time and faith systems and permits him to travel with Dante and Virgil on excursion after excursion, encountering ancient Greeks, tribal American Indians, modern Rock-n-Rollers, Catholic conquistadors, Mormons, and, perhaps most importantly, the original owner of Buddha’s tooth: Buddha himself.
The book is an interfaith pilgrimage, with both Eastern and Western religious ideas and a nod to atheists and humanists along the way.
It’s partly a philosophic critique of religious history, partly a biography of Buddha, partly a screenplay, partly poetry, and partly impartial partisanship. The whole of it is porous to genre.
There’s a conspicuous display of the author’s erudition on many religious traditions. Plainly, decades of reading support this book. I might suspect there is a Ph.D. degree hanging in U. C. Fate’s closet. The knowledge proffered is jarring, and the writing flies and flows like the Kano River waterfalls.To crown all, the book is absolutely hilarious in parts, offering both the horselaugh of the sports bar and a deeply funny, surgically tooled, crystalliferous wit—sharp at the point and sides. The humor is deeply satisfying.
And there is something else about this book that is so far out that it’s on the rim of the edge of the fringe of the border of the verge of the future of understanding about religion.
It’s a cliché to say someone is ahead of his time, and, really, the phrase is probably inaccurate every time it’s used. It is impossible to think thoughts before their time, and no one could ever cogitate a twenty-third-century idea as a resident of the twenty-first.
Yet this book, this book, even as it is written in the twenty-first century, feels like a Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance made in and for the twenty-third century. Were it possible for a book to be ahead of its time, this is the book.
U. C. Fate has provided the signal for a new trajectory in freewheeling, learned writing on religion. I would call it Religio-Theatrico.
Its dramedy does not offend, though it certainly bends the viewer’s sensibility a half inch shy of snapping. It’s a volume for every thinker on religion.
You will read it twice and ponder it in every third thought for forty days afterwards.
Featured image ‘Temple of the Tooth’ by Sandeera Brose via Flickr