ROAD TO HEAVEN: Encounters with Chinese Hermits

Bill Porter
Mercury House: San Francisco, 1993.
256 pp., $14.00 (paperback).

Jeffrey Zaleski

RINGING PHONES. Crying babies. Noisy neighbors. Car alarms. It’s the rare lay practitioner who hasn’t been yanked off the sitting cushion or out of some carefully nurtured state of attention by this intrusion or that, and it’s the rarer one still who hasn’t wondered whether the path to freedom might be more easily trod alone, as a hermit.

The hermit’s way is, of course, an ancient one stretching back thousands of years in traditions both East and West. As Bill Porter relates in his congenial new book, Road to Heaven, legend has it that five millennia ago two hermits taught China’s first emperor, Huang-ti, how to conquer his enemies and prolong his life. But do to day’s hermits have lessons to offer us moderns who try to keep our balance not on a mountaintop but amid the snarl of a wired-up world?

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