The Novice

April 10, 2012

“If I’ve learned one thing it’s that the pursuit of truth has more to do with letting go of certainty than finding it.” These words, the final ones in Stephen Schettini‘s memoir, The Novice: Why I Became a Buddhist Monk & Why I Quit, sound the most hopeful note in a several decade story of anguish. From his earliest days as a child in post-war England, Stephen says, “I tried to solve the latent insecurities of my life by latching on to a series of belief systems: I began as an enforced Catholic and, when I realised I couldn’t swallow that any more, pursued communism, sixties counter-culture, spiritualism, astrology, divination and, most usefully, Buddhism.” (

I was never willing to lash out at life in any of the different ways that Stephen did (indeed, I have lived a conventional life with more than my share of success in school, work, and family life), but his story of insecurity and alienation resonated with my own and kept me turning pages. His harrowing journey to India, his close calls with near fatal illnesses, and his eight year encounter with Tibetan Buddhism and culture, make for an absolutely fascinating read. Anyone who thinks Tibetans (or any other type of Buddhist) have all the answers for what ails a person would do well to read this book. But I will let Stephen speak for himself:

(from the Epilogue) “I’m sure of very little. I think the core teachings are deeply relevant to our hurried, fragmented world, but reincarnation strikes me as unlikely and I don’t see the point of Awakening if it’s beyond plain human experience. I’m deeply inspired by the Buddha but don’t call myself a Buddhist, mainly because I don’t identify with any establishment, and don’t want to.

What do I believe? That we have an instinct for right and wrong, and push it aside when it’s inconvenient. That the more deeply we’re motivated by emotion, the more insistently we pass it off as reason. That denial is a force to be reckoned with, and our principal obstacle. … That life leads nowhere until we consciously take the direction it provides.”

Learn more at The Quiet Mind.

PS If you ever get the chance, stop by the Deschutes Public Library and tell them “thank you” for making this book available to me through interlibrary loan. The citizens of Bend must be very enlightened to maintain a library of this caliber.


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