Read The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha by Stephen T. Asma Online


A sometimes funny, always thoughtful, action–packed spiritual travelogue through Southeast Asia where the oldest form of Buddhism is slowly emerging from its post–Khmer Rouge oppression.The Gods Drink Whiskey is about a relatively unexplored part of Buddhism––the Theravada Buddhist tradition (considered the oldest and purest form of Buddhism, which focuses on the historicaA sometimes funny, always thoughtful, action–packed spiritual travelogue through Southeast Asia where the oldest form of Buddhism is slowly emerging from its post–Khmer Rouge oppression.The Gods Drink Whiskey is about a relatively unexplored part of Buddhism––the Theravada Buddhist tradition (considered the oldest and purest form of Buddhism, which focuses on the historical Buddha) as it is manifested in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, etc.). An accomplished teacher, Asma tells wonderful, exciting stories about his time in Southeast Asia teaching Buddhist philosophy in Phnom Penh years after that area (and its religion) was decimated in the early 70s by the Communist Khmer Rouge and the invasion by US and Vietnamese troops. Through his first–hand experiences (of drinking with holy men and poets, encounters with overzealous Christian evangelical missionaries, witnessing a political assassination, climbing mountains to visit ancient animistic temples, observing the clash of Western pop culture and Southeast Asian culture, etc.), Asma successfully teaches the reader a great deal about Buddhism.In addition to observations on Western/Eastern culture clash which these books provide, the edge Asma has going for him is his academic credentials and interests which focus his book more on explaining the tenets and history of Buddhism within the context of a lively travelogue.o For armchair travellers and those interested in Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy.o Asma has a wonderful narrative style that draws the reader in and keeps them reading–he's a born storyteller, and this book is all about the stories–both his and the unusual people and places he meets.o There has been relatively little written about the Theravada Buddhist tradition (the oldest branch, which focuses on the historical Buddha); Asma explores and immerses himself in Theravada Buddhism as it's practiced in Southeast Asia, and finds it much different than he expected.o Asma has taught Buddhism for several years, and in his travels, experienced Buddhism in its many forms....

Title : The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780060723958
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 191 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Gods Drink Whiskey: Stumbling Toward Enlightenment in the Land of the Tattered Buddha Reviews

  • Marie
    2019-02-23 06:33

    My early impression of the book couldn't have been wronger. I feared a new-age smug account of the superiority of 'spirituality' over rationality or some such nonsense. What I found was a thoughtful, self-conscious narrative, interweaving a personal journey with basic tenants of Buddhism and observations of the state of Buddhism in Cambodia, today.I would have liked a little more sociological exploration of modern Theravada Buddhism, but that would have been a different book. It's part self-help, self-exploration, and part "This is what Buddhism really is, dagnabbit." He has some strong digs against the New Age fru-fru that I feared he would be embracing. And there's a nice healthy core of rational naturalism that jives strongly with me and my own atheism. At times I nearly shouted, "Holy crap, I'm Buddhist!"But then, there is no 'me', right? :) I'm just an abstract concept formed by the aggregate of my body and perceptions and volition. And I'm cool with that.

  • Jack Terry
    2019-03-11 07:18

    This book serves a terrific introduction into the different branches of Buddhism while focusing primarily on Theravanda Buddhism and he history of it in Cambodia. The most engaging aspect of the book was that it was very approachable without being feeling like you are reading lecture notes. I actually renewed it from the library not because I needed more time to read it but because I want to be able take notes on all of the resources it offers. The only problem that I had with it, and it is a decidedly minor one, was that from time to time the author would take a paragraph or two to hammer home his own personal opinion in a way that bordered on antagonistic, and there were a few, even shorter passages, where it felt like he was going out of his way to explain that he was just another mid 30's American traveling through South East Asia. He's not. He's a philosophy professor who was specifically invited to go to the heartland of Buddhism to teach Buddhism to people whose families had been, with the possible exception of the period of Pol Pot's atrocities, Buddhists for hundreds of generations. That's not your average American. However, I believe his intention in including these asides was to help illustrate that Buddhism is a part of everyday life and not some super mystical world. All in all a great read.

  • Jason Pettus
    2019-02-24 09:07

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)Unbeknownst to readers of this blog, I've been spending this summer tearing through a bunch of books on Buddhism and especially Buddhist meditation; I've started practicing a secular form of meditation in my personal life over the last year, and the insights I've had about my life because of it was recently referred to by a friend as "accidentally Buddhist" in nature, so I thought it'd be interesting to learn a little more about actual Buddhism and to see why my friend made this comment in the first place. The books have generally been hit-and-miss, the natural side-effect of just grabbing a bunch of random titles off the shelf of my neighborhood library; but one of the best writers on the subject of Buddhism in America has turned out to be a local, Columbia College professor Stephen Asma who takes a decidedly blue-collar, rationalist, and no-bullshit approach to his interpretations of these ancient texts, and how they can be applied to the practical lives of contemporary Westerners, without needing all the hippie New Age accoutrements that have typically been carried with them into our country. And thus have I ended up making my way this summer through nearly the entirety of Asma's oeuvre, from practical guides to meditation to a "for dummies" style introduction to the philosophy.His latest that I've read, though, 2005's The Gods Drink Whiskey, I thought was finally the kind of book that could be justified writing about here at the blog for a general audience; and that's because this is not just a hyper-specialized guide to Buddhism itself, but a sprawling and fascinating look at a year Asma spent in southeast Asia (headquartered in Cambodia but traveling extensively through the rest of the region), where he blends lessons about religion and philosophy with an engaging travelogue, a primer on the politics of these developing nations, and an astute sociological look at how Buddhism has been warped and changed by various local populations in order to fit what they've needed to get out of it. And indeed, by constantly comparing this process to the one Christianity has gone through in the Western world (think of prim Mormons in their Sunday finest, snake handlers in Texas, suburban liberals in New England, and Midwestern fundamentalists flailing about and speaking in tongues, all of whom are supposedly worshipping the same Jesus), Asma makes it easy to understand why there's so many different forms of Buddhism in southeast Asia, why they've been so influenced by the local culture of each area, and why there's so much disagreement between different sects over how to "properly" practice. (Just for one example, and probably the biggest surprise to Americans in the entire book, the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism only comprises six percent of all practicing Buddhists worldwide, and is considered by most Buddhists to be an overly fussy, overly ritualistic form of the philosophy that relies way too heavily on mysticism and supernatural elements.)All this would be interesting enough; but like I said, what makes this book truly spectacular is the way Asma weaves in his personal anecdotes about his travels there, and especially the ironic surrealism of being one of the most experienced veterans at the Cambodian Buddhist Institute where he was hired to teach, which is what brought him over there in the first place. (Although Cambodia is one of the nations where Buddhism was first cultivated thousands of years ago, the monstrous Pol Pot dictatorship of the 1960s and '70s systematically murdered nearly an entire generation of Buddhist teachers and practitioners, leaving an all-consuming gap in expertise after that radical Communist regime was defeated that has forced the nation to do things like hire Americans to come and teach their newest generation of Buddhist youths.) A funny, moving, eye-opening and always informative book, despite this now being a decade old it turned out to be one of the most illuminating and enjoyable travel journals I've read in years, which is why I wanted to do a writeup of it here for the main blog and not just my usual quick mention at, like I've been doing with all the other Buddhism books I've been reading this summer. It comes very strongly recommended, as does Asma's other books, to anyone looking to get a better sense of what Buddhism is all about as a practical, secular philosophy, apart from the spiritual trappings it's picked up along the way from the various regional communities who have adopted it over the centuries.

  • Amanda
    2019-03-20 06:36

    For the majority of people, Buddhism is linked to Tibet and the Dalai Lama. In this book, we learn about Buddhism in Cambodia called Theravada Buddhism. As it turns out, associating Tibetan Buddhism as "the" Buddhism is like associating Mormonism as "the" Christianity. Only about 6% of the world's Buddhists are Tibetan Buddhists (out of roughly 400 million Buddhists).Asma was invited to teach Buddhism at the Cambodian Buddhist Institute to a select group of students. He covers his journey through a new country and new version of Buddhism in this really well written and engaging book.*Tibetan Buddhism encourages deities when in reality Buddha did not want deities. People should be focused on themselves and achieving nibbana (enlightenment or cooling - having a cool heart). Although holy relics are still sacred to Theravadan Buddhists - such as Buddha's eyebrow or tooth.*The title of the book comes from the fact that whiskey is offered up to the spirits to keep the peace. Families and businesses have little spirit houses where they make offerings to keep the bad stuff from happening to them. And in this case, spirits like whiskey.*Theravada Buddhism is mixed with a bit of Hinduism and most still worship Vishnu and Shiva, even though Buddha says there are no gods. Most religions are a mix of others and one would probably be hard pressed to find a pure religion.*Theravadan Buddhists meditate on corpses. This is to pound in the fact of impermanence. I don't think I want to do that.* Cambodia is a hot mess. Politics, assassinations on the streets, Khmer Rouge. It's no wonder the peace of Buddhism is practiced.*Penises aka phallic symbols are worshiped by some.There is a ton more information and it's all very interesting and gives a great perspective of religion in Southeast Asia.

  • Kim
    2019-02-20 07:27

    "You can labor hard for immortality and fame and recognition, but even if you make a big splash on the global consciousness (with your role in a movie, with your bangin' CD release, with your political victory, with your best-seller book success), in the end you will eventually become just a footnote, and after that you will slip from the record of history and time altogether, finally evaporating like billions and billions of our predecessors. While this realization may seem deflationary at first, it proves to be rather inspiring after the ego-bruises fade away. Because now all motivation and purpose and rationale have to go to the work itself rather than to the "success" - to the journey rather than the destination. Since only the now really exists and obscurity awaits on either side of it, I resolved that I should try to live more deeply in the life I had - not the life I craved."

  • cesar
    2019-02-27 10:31

    An enjoyable book. Part memoir, part history. I really enjoyed the historical aspect of the book in regards to the spread of Theravada Buddhism in Southeast Asia and the gumbo of spirituality and culture. I knew of the pre-Buddhist influence of Hinduism, but did not know of the pre-Theravada establishing of Mahayana Buddhism in Cambodia. While I enjoyed Professor Asma's expounding and quoting verses of beautiful Pali suttas, I was a little put off by moments in the book of his Mahayana bashing. Thank goodness they were brief, nevertheless a little disappointing. In the end, I would find myself giggling anyways.

  • Jesse
    2019-03-08 14:20

    I started to read this book because I'm planning a trip to Cambodia and I really wanted to learn more about the country.I think that this book gave me lots of info on the culture and also a lot more. I've been living in Asia for quite some time now, and Buddisim has always intrigued me. I've lots of temples and even some festivities, but I've never really understood the docterin. I've asked English speaking Buddists about the religion, but never felt very satisfied with the answers. This book has definitely cleared up a lot of my questions.So, I would recomend this book to anyone who is interested in the Cambodian culture (there is also some stuff about Thailand and Vietnam) and people who want to learn about the history and practices of Buddisim. I am not a big non-fiction reader, but this book kept me interested the whole way.

  • Beth
    2019-03-02 13:19

    This is an incredible book that gives you a practical view of Buddhism through one American Buddhist's journey in Cambodia. Stephen Asma, the author and star of this nonfiction memoir, mixes phlosophy with entertaining anecdotes of all of the people he encountered on the way. In the end you learn that humans are not perfect, and neither is Buddhism, with its multitude of forms. As the subtitle indicates, a tattered Buddha is the only way to enlightenment. Without being assailed by life's hard times, one cannot fully become enlightened.If you are not one for dabbling in religions that you do not believe, pick this one up anyway, if only for the amusing and often stark descriptions of everyday life in Cambodia

  • Tobey
    2019-02-20 11:24

    I really liked this book a lot. It is written by a Buddhist Studies professor from Chicago who works at the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh for a semester. Cambodia is a great place to study Buddhism because the practice seems so different from the philosophy but Dr. Asma does a good job connecting them.If you have traveled to Cambodia before or are interested in Buddhism from a point of view other than the hippie new age one than this book is for you. (I understand that this is a very small segment of the reading population but you are out there).

  • Elizabeth Schurman
    2019-03-11 14:21

    This book has a terribly misleading title, cover, and clips on the back. I learned a lot about the varieties of Buddhism, as it focuses on Buddhism in Cambodia but discusses other types. There is plenty of history and some philosophy. It certainly is not an intro to Buddhism or a hippie travelogue. It also explains how Hinduism and animism and other older belief systems fit into Buddhism in southeast Asia. And does a fair bit of weighing east Asian and Western ideas and lifestyles. Thoughtful and worthwhile.

  • Linda
    2019-03-09 13:19

    The Buddha explained the two lessons of this parable. First, we see that human understanding is perspectival and subjective in the sense that our personal experiences shape the way we perceive reality. But reality and the truth are bigger than any one perspective. Second, we see how attached we are to our particular perspectives, even to the point of fighting over them. Our egos lead us to be more concerned with winning the debate than with actually knowing the truth. People who travel, particularly those who spend time in exotically different cultures, tend to learn this lesson of the elephant almost automatically. When many of the things you fervently believe or practice are turned upside down by experiences in another country, you can't help but develop a little healthy skepticism toward your own beliefs. You start to feel like you've had your hand on the tail of the truth, but now you're getting some new acquaintance with its legs and trunk. This kind of immersion travel really cures national and personal smugness. 4In America people spend a lot of time and energy trying to maximize the most satisfactory choice. They gather data about their choice and stress out about their imminent decisions. They regret many of their decision, because the possibilities are so endless, and then this regret is compounded by their worry that they wouldn't be able to avoid regret after making their decisions. Frequently, all these choices leave people paralyzed and unable to commit. When they do commit, they obsess and fret over the missed opportunities that their actual choice forced upon the, This is why shopping has become a science for many Americans, and perhaps it is also why romance itself now seems more like shopping. But our overabundance of choices often leaves s living in the past and future rather than the present. 136

  • Arcadia
    2019-03-09 11:25

    "The Buddha Gotama, being liberated from craving and ego, would have no problem engaging in a heroin-tinged orgy down at the local brothel. It would not enslave him. But the Buddha is a pro, and the rest of us should not try this at home." Told in this light-hearted and comical manner, 'The Gods Drink Whiskey' introduces the core and complicated concepts of Buddhism, with a special focus on Theravada Buddhism. I did get lost sometimes, with the microscopic insight into the anatta or 'no-self' and all the different Suttas and dhammas or dharmas. And I did feel it did get a little preachy sometimes, trying to prove Buddhism's deeper grasp on everything. Disbanded a couple of myths surrounding buddhism, such as the famous 'nibanna', 'nirvana', it has many meanings in the vast web of Buddhism, and the 'yuppie westerners' have grabbed the one thats the 'coolest'. Hm, it was interesting. Filled with funny stories, for example his encounter with the marihuana-spiced pizza in Phnom Penh. Very insightful into Cambodia's present-making history. The Khemer Rouge, the name given to the followers of a communist party that ruled (or destroyed) Cambodia under Pol Pot. Summary, he annihilated 30% of Cambodia's whole population. And because religion is considered an enemy to communism, all the monks were pursued and wats, temples, were burned down. The notorious S-21 prison were women, children, men, peasants, monks, were taken to be tortured, housed an estimated number of 17,000 prisoners. Only 12 made it out alive. And the S-21 was one of 150 of these torture chambers in all Cambodia. It really gave you historical context for the role of Buddhism in the country, I'll give it that.

  • Jason Hancock
    2019-03-10 06:26

    This book is written in a topical and humorous fashion, as the title itself makes clear. It was good to read a book that took a walk through southeast asia and elsewhere that had an attitude of taking the practices of buddhism in the heart of buddhist countries with a grain of salt. It was a good dose of reality for me in that sometimes I take my buddhist practice very seriously and it was good to have it knocked down a bit by people who have lived with it as a tradition for a much longer time than I. The author is a professor of buddhist studies and is an american. He shows in his writing how people in the theraveda tradition of buddhism sway between the truly spiritual and the banal and almost kitch aspects of their beliefs; much the same way people in the west sport 'what would jesus do?' bumper stickers and darwin fish emblems on their cars, there they offer whiskey to the buddha and trapse into the realm of phallus worship as part of the everyday.

  • refgoddess
    2019-03-20 14:27

    Really interesting. I'm learning about Buddhism and Thailand, via Asma's essays/travelog. He's there in Thailand, helping the new generation of monks learn about their religion. The old monks who would normally pass it on were destroyed by Pol Pot. It reminds me of Spaulding Gray, when he talks about interacting with the people: it's all about the stories and the people. It also reminds me of Bruce Chatwin's novel/travelog about Australia and how the aboriginals lost their culture when the storytellers died without passing on their Dreamtime knowledge. Sadly, I've run out of gas on this one. Because it's a series of essays, it's easy to put it down after each one.

  • Ymfoo1
    2019-02-21 08:20

    An interesting book. Challenges one to think about Buddhism and the practices or rituals associated with it. Makes one reflect on what is Buddhism about. Ultimately what is important is to live for the present (NOW) and practice mindfulness, awareness and compassion, keeping in mind the Four Noble Truth. The rest does not matter.Sometimes many of us are caught up in rituals - in temples, churches, etc.and associate the rituals as part of the religion 'rules, and that one must comply. One should ask - What really matters?

  • Dale
    2019-02-24 12:27

    This was not at all the book I thought it was going to be; it was much, much more. Asma's scholarship comes through with every page without beating you over the head or being obnoxious. He also doesn't romanticize either the West or the East. I got a lesson in the denominations (for lack of a better word) of Buddhism, a history lesson in Southeast Asia and a critique of Eastern vs. Western cultural ideas. And, it was all done in an engaging and easy to read manner, though I will say the density of this book makes it a slower read than one might think.

  • Karla
    2019-03-03 12:07

    Read this in preparation for a trip to the area later this year. Am also interested in learning more about Buddhism. This book wraps history, culture, and religion into something interesting and digestible. While it focuses on only one man's experience, it gives the reader a good perspective on what to expect in Cambodia, and some insight as to why things are the way they are there. Great primer for my upcoming trip.

  • Susan
    2019-03-14 14:12

    A compelling read about an American philosophy teacher's trip to South East Asia, to teach Buddhism, and see how it is practised and lived. It contains many funny moments, as Asma is very candid in his memoir, fessing up to things you wouldn't expect him to say or do. It also gives an eye-opening, poignant account of the history of violence in Cambodia, and other South East Asian countries. Highly recommended.

  • Tom Kramer
    2019-02-28 08:18

    I've shared similar experiences in Cambodia, so it gave me a few hearty chuckles of recognition. I read this book several years ago and seem to recall a few episodes of drunkeness (and maybe marijuana use?). I recall wondering how the author reconciles the drug and alcohol use with Buddhist beliefs. There was also a certain smugness to some of it that other reviewers have noted. Still enjoyed reading it.

  • Jim
    2019-02-27 07:24

    Many interesting insights into Cambodian culture (as well as Thai and Vietnamese) and into the diversity of Buddhist thought. I wasn't as engaged as with other travel books (and this may not really qualify any way), but still it is a decent read. Some of the criticism of western ways is warmed over, his observations seemed constrained (a few times I think he held back, when I knew darn well he knew what he really wanted to say or mention). I wasn't encouraged to put Cambodia on an itinerary.

  • Mindy McAdams
    2019-03-14 11:29

    An excellent first-person account of life in early-2000s Cambodia that combines insights about Buddhism, the persistent grip of the Khmer Rouge, the interventions of Vietnam, the psyche of the Cambodia people, and a relatively humble American's view of it all. Full review:

  • Michael Foley
    2019-02-25 10:12

    Asma is all over the place with this book, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Its obvious that the author learned a lot about himself and his religion as he worked and traveled through Cambodia. As it unfolds, this book is part memoir, part travelogue, and part history lesson. Recommended if you have an interest in Buddhism and its place in Southeast Asia.

  • Chelsea
    2019-03-03 14:36

    I didn't get much out of it. A little here on his take on Buddhism. A little there on his take on living in SE Asia. A good section about the different branches of Buddhism. I was waiting for something I didn't get and at the end I was just waiting for it to be over.

  • Abby
    2019-03-16 11:27

    This book came to me from Cas. I'm just under halfway through now and it is mostly about the author's experience living in Cambodia. Theravadda Buddhism is also talked about in depth by the author. Very interesting so far. I like it.

  • Robin
    2019-03-05 06:37

    Hmm. This book started strong - it hooked me in and got me thinking so much that I took over two pages of notes. But then it became more of a travel recap with seemingly disconnected tidbits about Buddhism thrown in there. I don't regret reading it, but I wouldn't recommend it.

  • Kichi
    2019-03-16 08:28

    An incredible insight into Buddhist philosophy, South East Asian culture and politics, and the American angst. This fun and, at some points, offhanded account makes me think that Steven Asma just woke up one day and decided to publish his journal. And it is awesome.

  • Michelle
    2019-03-19 08:10

    A rich and colorful story of an American Buddhism professor exploring Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia. You can read it for either the travelogue or the introspection, but I enjoyed it as both. Wish it had a clearer ending or conclusion... but then again, maybe that's what makes the book.

  • Char
    2019-02-21 12:17

    I really appreciate the academic view of this religion, and so much information about the everyday and local people and customs that Stephen writes about. I have much more to read, so will add more later...

  • Eurik
    2019-03-03 06:33

    Excellent insight into Asian way of thinking and into the Theravada Buddhism. Despite being easy and pleasant to read, this combination of a brief philosophical / religionist introduction and a travel book will definitely enrich you and bring inspiration to you.

  • Alicia
    2019-03-11 07:12

    Good examination of the romanticization of Buddhism and Eastern life and spirituality by Western consumer culture. Docked a star for the writer's ego and another for the included details of his pathetic personal life.