The Truth of a Young Woman’s Experience
September 18, 2011 § Leave a comment
Special Karma is a fascinating novel, of interest to anyone who has attempted to do meditation practice or follow a spiritual discipline, to anyone who has fallen in and out of young love. In it one experiences the intensity of life deeply apprehended, the attractiveness of a character who is both honest about and just slightly amused by the events of her life.
The author’s extraordinary sensitivity to nature prompts some luminous writing on the seasonal changes that the protagonist observes from the shelter of her Zen center. And the relationships in the book reveal a developed sense of the subtleties of human interaction.
Central to the story is the theme of a spiritual teacher (the Japanese Zen Roshi) who abuses his position by initiating sexual liaisons with his female students—and whose approaches to the protagonist, Iris, ultimately lead to her disillusionment about practicing Zen and living in a Zen center. The recent real-life ousting of New York Zen teacher Eido Roshi for his sexual misdeeds attests to the relevance of this subject matter. Special Karma is the only novel I know of that presents the theme of the sexual misconduct of a Zen master. But the book is not an expose or diatribe. Benezra eschews sensational treatment of this delicate subject, and handles it instead with an understatement and irony consistent with the thoughtful, personal tone of the whole book.
Iris’s own relationships with the three male students reveal a number of aspects of Zen training, a number of options of how one may pursue a spiritual discipline.
Benezra is a gifted writer who, in Special Karma, has evoked, with restraint and fidelity to the truth of a young woman’s experience, a chronicle of events in a spiritual setting defined and controlled by men. Her honesty about her own motives and capacities precludes hasty judgment of any of the characters (yet she never seeks to gloss over or excuse the Roshi’s behavior). Her facility with language allows her to evoke the feel and taste of beginning Zen practice. Her insight into male-female relationships makes the sensual/sexual encounters of the Zen students vivid and convincing.
I hope you will read Special Karma with as much pleasure as I have.
Sandy Boucher, Author of Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the New Buddhism; Opening the Lotus: A Woman’s Guide to Buddhism; Discovering Kwan Yin: Buddhist Goddess of Compassion; Hidden Spring: A Buddhist Woman Confronts Cancer; Dancing in the Dharma: the Life and Teachings of Ruth Denison.