Bones of the Master: A Journey to Secret Mongolia
By George Crane. Bantam, 2000, 293 pp.
Bones of the Master
, an engrossing story of a pilgrimage, revolves around Tsung Tsai, an extraordinary Buddhist monk, who fled Mongolia in 1959, when Chinese communists were destroying monasteries and killing monks. In 1995, now living in upstate New York, he decides he must return to his homeland, find the bones of his teacher, and properly cremate and build a stupa for them in the cave where his teacher lived.
For this journey, he recruits his good friend and neighbor George Crane, who raises the necessary funds for the journey by selling a book proposal, and in 1996, the two set off.
While establishing the background for the journey, Crane introduces us to the two main characters, who form an improbable couple. Tsung Tsai is a true Ch’an monk, dedicated to meditation, solitude, reading, celibacy. Though when the two first meet in Crane’s backyard in 1987, Crane doesn’t know—and wouldn’t guess from the rags that Tsung Tsai is wearing—the man is a Buddhist and Sanskrit scholar, whose paintings are collected in Hong Kong. And as we see throughout the Mongolian journey, he is a well-known and highly respected monk.
Crane, on the other hand, a poet in his 40s, describes himself as “a cerebral ne'er-do-well with a love of books, women, and travel and a distaste for long-term employment.” (more…)