Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo
by Ven. Wayne Hughes (Ren Cheng)
Breakfast with Buddha is a road trip book where the affluent meets the monastic. An upper-middle class American finds himself driving cross country in the company of a strange man that seems to be a Buddhist monk. Think Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums but with a better cash flow.
Otto is a successful editor of culinary literature and a dedicated foodie. His life is good but still he occasionally experiences a feeling of emptiness, a feeling that there is a potential that he is missing.
Volya Rinpoche may be a Russian monk . . . or is he? It is certain that he is Otto’s sister’s spiritual advisor and guru. She coerces Otto into taking the enigmatic and frequently frustrating maroon robed man along with him as Otto takes a road trip.
Merullo exposes both character to the humor and visions of the American landscape and the quirky people that inhabit it. It is a tale well worth reading with lessons well worth learning.
Otto insists in the beginning that the monks name is Volvo. This monk is a “Buddhist buffet” amalgam of a wide variety of worldviews, faiths and traditions. Volya is likely to quote from Tibetan, Soto Zen, Catholicism, Yogic, and others but hia insights always seem to fit the situation. In the Author’s Notes, Mr. Merullo writes, “Rinpoche’s ideas are drawn from thirty years of reading across the religious, philosophical, and psychological spectrum and meditation retreats at Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, and nondenominational retreat centers and monasteries.” Merullo notes contain a bibliography of books that influenced Volya.
Volya Rinpoche recognizes and practices the values of interspiritual and interfaith dialogue. He prostrates himself before a statue of the Virgin Mary as willing as he teachs a yoga class to a culturally diverse group of middle Americans. His message is situationally tailored to his audience. This skillful means is a way to bring Otto closer to a personal Awakening.
Some might read this book and think they have learned about Buddhism. The danger of that is far outweighed by the chance they could awaken to the realities of our interconnected Universe. As Otto and Rinpoche travel across America they discover how they view the causal Universe has an effect on how others do, too. Otto also realizes that how others interact with the Universe directly effects his own experiences.
Volya Rinpoche’s initial teaching is a familiar one, except to Otto. At breakfast in a mid-Western Bed and Breakfast Rinpoche tells Otto that he can ask his first question. The question is, “What is the meaning of life?” Rinpoche leans across the table and drops a finger full of dirt into Otto’s water glass. Otto’s mind then is muddy like the water but with the potential to become clear with realization. Mr. Merullo’s composite Buddhist is a good teacher.
Buddhist or not, being mindful of how our actions matter in this causal Universe is valuable knowledge. Recognizing that each situation is unique requiring unique responses is valuable knowledge. Putting these things into practice . . . priceless.
Hey, a little humor can’t hurt.
Breakfast with Buddha, Roland Merullo, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007, 323 pages, ISBN 3233357103.