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Buddhadharma : Winter 2008
69 winter 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly many, it is also a vehicle for a single argument, which Fischer advances with lucidity and force. Focusing on Homer’s Odyssey, Fischer proposes that this epic poem of love and war, with its cast of warriors, temptresses, goddesses, and gods, be viewed as an allegory for the spiritual journey in general and the med- itative life in particular. Homer’s Odyssey is the story of the return of the Greek hero Odysseus to his home in Ithaca after the Trojan War. In the view of Robert Fitzgerald, one of the poem’s most distinguished translators, it is also the story of “a man who cared for his wife and wanted to rejoin her.” As Ben HoWaRD is a poet and professor emeritus of english at alfred University in alfred, new York, where he leads the Falling leaf sangha, a Zen meditation group. His most recent poetry collection is Dark Pool. many, it is also a vehicle for a single argument, which Fischer advances with lucidity and force. Focusing on Homer’s Odyssey, Fischer proposes that this epic Fischer sees it, however, the core meaning of the poem lies in the symbolic action of coming home, an action performed by warrior-hero and meditative practitioner alike. “Spiritual practice,” he contends, “in all its manifestations is the prac- tice of coming home.” And in Fischer’s vision, the wily Odysseus (whose name, he reminds us, means “Son of Pain”) becomes a kind of spiritual Everyman, enacting in his wanderings a process that Fischer views as universal. In this analy- sis, each of the famous episodes in The Odyssey has its counterpart in the spiri- tual journey, and Odysseus’s ultimate reunion with Penelope represents not only a husband’s return to his wife but also the Buddhist practitioner’s return to nirvana, “our inherent nature.” The twenty-four books of The Odys- sey have conventionally been divided into three main sections. The first sec- tion portrays Odysseus’s son Telema- chus as he gathers the courage to “speak his grief” and sail off in search of his father. The second section depicts the adventures of Odysseus on his long voy- age home. Those adventures include the hero’s narrow escape from the Cyclops Polyphemous, his sojourn with the sor- ceress Circe, his journey to the Land of the Dead, and his harrowing passage between Scylla and Charybdis. The third section portrays Odysseus’s ordeals in Ithaca, where he must reconcile with his father and kill Penelope’s suitors before he can be reunited with his wife. In keeping with the structure of his chosen text, Fischer has divided his commentary into three sections, enti- tled “Setting Forth,” “Disaster,” and “Return.” And, not coincidentally, he has organized his book into twenty-two chapters, approximating the form of The Odyssey itself. In each chapter he For more than two decades, Zoketsu Norman Fischer has been a promi- nent voice in the Western Buddhist community. A Soto Zen priest in the lin- eage of Shunryu Suzuki, Fischer is also an essayist and poet who has embod- ied, in his life and work, the oneness of poetry and Zen. And in contrast to many of his fellow priests, who have confined their literary interests to Asian poets in the Zen tradition, Fischer has endeavored to integrate European poetic modes with those of the East, taking his bearings from Dante and Emily Dickin- son in addition to Dogen and Matsuo Basho. Fischer’s latest book is an ambitious extension of that effort. Like many books by Buddhist teachers, Sailing Home is a collection of talks delivered on numerous occasions, supplemented by exercises in meditation. But unlike Reviews Sailing hoMe: using the wisdom of homer’s Odyssey to navigate life’s Perils and Pitfalls By norman fischer free Press, 2008 237 pages; $25 (hardcover) reviewed by Ben howard a Buddhist odyssey