In The Open Road: The Global Journey Of The Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Vintage, $14.95) Pico Iyer blends spiritual teaching with a personal account of the character of the man Tenzin Gyatso. Iyer charts how political circumstances and the Dalai Lama’s own intellectual and scientific curiosity have caused him to lead once-isolated Tibet in a direction unanticipated when Gyatso was born. Iyer simultaneously debunks the mythical hype and elaborates the mystical appeal of traditional Tibetan Buddhist practice, providing a complex portrait and fascinating historical study of an internationally influential and intriguing public figure.
After an early life of raucous dinner-table sparring and an involved public feminist intellectualism, all of which was decidedly “noisy,” in her middle years the English writer Sara Maitland converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism, and actively sought out a life of silence. Maitland is interested in her own growing love of silence and solitude primarily as it enacts an essential tension of the spiritual life. Is silence life-affirming, or deathly? Is it an absence, or a presence? Is it essentially either “’mad’ …or ‘bad’ (selfish, antisocial)”? A Book Of Silence (Counterpoint, $25) is Maitland’s effort to comprehend the magnetism of quiet, and to settle upon a “rule” for her own practice of it. In Sinai and Scotland, her narrative dwells upon gardens, Genesis, psychoanalysis, landscapes, monks, menopause, and supporting anecdotes from literature, world religions, and her own colorful life.