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  • Tendrel: A Memoir of New York and the Buddhist Himalayas by Harold Talbott
  • Maria Turek
TENDREL: A MEMOIR OF NEW YORK AND THE BUDDHIST HIMALAYAS. By Harold Talbott. Marion: Buddhayana Foundation, 2019. 344 pp.

The Tibetan term tendrel describes, among other things, auspicious connections, which benefit those involved. Harold Talbott's autobiography, thus entitled, chronicles the many people who rendered the author's existence a life worth living, indeed a precious human life—in the words of Buddhist teachings, to which the author devoted the largest part of his life. Sadly, Harold Talbott passed away shortly after the publication of this volume. His book may therefore serve as a commemoration of the author's remarkable life, of his contribution to American Buddhism as well as a celebration of the early era of Buddhism's rapid globalization in the twentieth century.

In his modesty, the author does not devote many lines to report on his own achievements, important for the activity and support of his Buddhist mentors and friends. Yet Harold Talbott was an influential scholar and practitioner of Buddhism, supporter and benefactor of Tibetan lamas, prolific book editor, and cofounder of the practice center in Marion, Massachusetts, the site of early encounters between Americans and Tibetan masters.

Following the epiphany paradigm found in narratives of conversion, the memoir is divided into two parts, the "before" and the "after," devoted to, respectively: the time in the author's life before he was able to meet with and appreciate the teachings of the Buddha; and the part of his life since that happened.

The book's first part describes the sophisticated society amid which Harold Talbott was raised and educated. In light of the author's openness about his homosexuality and effeminate boyhood persona, the title "Swanning About" of part 1 appears quite reflective of Talbott's brilliant and self-deprecating humor—a trait that he displays throughout his work. Wit is merely one of the many merits that makes this account so delightful to read. The author impresses us with an erudite knowledge of various faith traditions. The scintillating and thoughtful descriptions of encounters with an imposing amount of cultural and religious luminaries of his day are delivered in the matter-of-fact, yet refined, narrative style we can expect of a man born into the elite and educated in the finest of American schools, but who chose to live a nearmonastic life as a full-time, lay practitioner of Buddhism. [End Page 479]

Beyond the many pleasures that this book undoubtedly offers, Talbott's memoirs also provide significant insights into the emergence of networks of cooperation necessary for the functioning of contemporary Buddhism as a world religion. The operation of these plexuses, initiated by tendrel (auspicious connections), is described in the book's part 2 "In Search of the Nature of Mind." This title is, first of all, an homage to the spiritual path and goal of the Tibetan Buddhist Dzogchen tradition, of which Harold Talbott became a devoted practitioner. The author also recognizes the role that intersectarian Buddhist connections played in his spiritual quest—his most notable relationship being with the Dalai Lama himself, who is the most celebrated representative of another Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the Gelukpa. Talbott also pays great respect to the two champions of interfaith dialogues that occurred during the 1960s and the 1970s: the Benedictine Prior and theologian Dom Aelred Graham (1907–1984) and the Trappist friar and poet Thomas Merton (1915–1968). In Harold's youth, the mentorship of these two Catholic monks, both fascinated by Buddhism, had a lasting impact on the formation of the author's religiosity and his later conversion to Buddhism.

At the end of Talbott's book are eight appendices: transcripts of interviews with and about Dom Aelred and Merton, excerpts from teachings by great Dzogchen masters, and a list of books edited by Talbott for one of his Tibetan teachers, Tulku Thondup Rinpoche. The final appendix, and thus the closing section of the book, is an expression of the author's enduring esteem for and gratitude to the Christian faith of his childhood and youth, which takes the form of a reproduction of the emotively beautiful...


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