Title: The Novice: Why I Became a Buddhist Monk, Why I Quit, and What I Learned
Author: Stephen Schettini
Rating: Must Read!
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Web Page: www.greenleafbookgroup.com
Reviewed by: Eric Jones
We Americans hold something of an enchanted view of Eastern Philosophy. Buddhist Monks turn up regularly in our films to dispense just the right advice at just the right time to the hero, and we sell calendars every year full of Buddhist sayings like “see the truth, and you will see me”. We don’t stop and think about how terrible the plumbing might be in a monastery, or how awful it might be to refuse to swat the mosquitoes infecting you with dysentery because they might be your mother incarnate. For us, Stephen Schettini’s memoir, “The Novice”, is an injection of pure unbridled truth that forces us to see rather than simply suggesting it.
Stephen Schettini grew up Catholic and, disenchanted with the blind structuralism of his native religion, left to become an ordained Buddhist monk and taught in Switzerland for eight years. “The Novice”, is a remarkable tale of religious extremes, and how Schettini left both respectfully, to achieve a wisdom of his very own. The dichotomy that’s created between Catholicism and Buddhism is part of what makes this book so engaging. Schettini manages to remain respectful to both even while admitting his own disengagement as a childhood student of a strict Catholic school, and in turn as an adult teacher of Buddhism. His prolific sincerity pushes the narrative forward with intelligent humor and insight, and the steady stream keeps you afloat from beginning to end. A remarkable feat given the sensitivity of its subject.
Ultimately, Schettini’s book is more about Schettini himself than either of the religions that he addresses, and that might just be what makes it so agreeable. Rather than agreeing or disagreeing with him, you’re more apt to take from “The Novice” exactly what you bring to it. If you are unshakable in your Christian faith you’ll see Schettini’s incredible journey as that of a lost and wandering soul. The book would agree with that. However, if you’re agnostic or atheist, then “The Novice” will second that as well. Schettini leaves the book on somewhat of an ambiguous note, with his leaving the monastery for good, uncertain of what he is to do next. This reinforces the notion that each individual’s spiritual future is in their own hands, and that as much as man might try, there are no strict rules in matters of faith.
“The Novice” is an enlightening and enthralling read that
towers as high as any religious text in its counter stance
of uncertainty. Schettini reminds us that “faith, belief and
devotion are means to an end” rather than “ends in
themselves”. Even its title suggests the futility of ever
really knowing the answers that organized religion feigns to
solve. His book puts so poignantly what could take a
lifetime to discover, and devout followers of any religion,
or no religion, would be wise to listen.
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