When twenty-year-old Meng Ning declares that she wants to be a Buddhist nun, her mother is aghast. In her eyes, a nun’s life means only deprivation- “no freedom, no love, no meat.” But to Meng Ning, it means the chance to control her own destiny, and to live in an oasis of music, art, and poetry far from her parent’s unhappy union.
With an enigmatic nun known as Yi Kong, “Depending on Emptiness,” as her mentor, Meng Ning spends the next ten years studying abroad, disdaining men, and preparing to enter the nunnery. Then, a fire breaks out at her Buddhist retreat, and Meng Ning is carried to safety by Michael Fuller, a young American doctor. The unprecedented physical contact stirs her curiosity. And as their tentative friendship grows intimate, Meng Ning realizes she must choose between the sensual and the spiritual life.
On the evening after her thirteenth birthday, Meng Ning is accidentally bumped into and she falls into a deep garbage well. Onlookers call for help and family and neighbors gather around at the top of the well yelling words of encouragement to her until help can arrive. Frightened, she prays to Guan Yin the Goddess of Mercy to protect her. Feeling something graze her head she finds someone has thrown down to her a pendant of Guan Yin and as she clutches it she looks up in time to see the bald head of a Buddhist nun as she leaves. This event is what precipitates her decision to live a spirital life as a nun.
During a spiritual retreat when a fire breaks out in the monastery, Meng Ning meets Michael a neurologist in America. They spend some time together, have a whirlwind affair and fall in love. By the end of the retreat, Michael proposes. Meng Nin, still unsure of her future declines the marraige proposal. She is determined to follow in the footsteps of her mentor Yi Kong who has always taught her that men are evil and not to be trusted.
Meng Ning agrees to travel to America to stay with Michael to learn more about him. She is very confused with the feelings she begins to have for not only Michael, but another man she meets. Where are these feelings, so long buried coming from? Could Yi Kong be wrong about men? What of her vow to be a Buddhist nun?
I enjoyed reading about the Buddhist way fo life which I knew nothing about. I loved the conflict of the heart that Meng Ning goes through although I did find Michaels reactions to things that happen along the way to be a little creepy where Meng Ning thinks they are a beautiful testment of his love for her. I learned a lot about Chinese art and learning something new is always a good thing. While I would only give this book a rating of 3 out of 5 stars, it was a high 3 rating. Well worth the time I spent on it.
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