By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
!= A man of distinction and paradox, Alan Clements was the first Westerner to become a Buddhist monk in Burma. The most accomplished parts of his new book, Instinct for Freedom: Finding Liberation Through Living, bear witness to oppression and genocide there and in Bosnia. He was also, he says, "more addicted to more substances than anyone I ever met in my life, with at least 10 different 'me's' inside crying for center stage." Today, having left monkhood and celibacy far behind, he's no longer even a Buddhist, he says. "I'm a lover of freedom." Like Harvey, Clements totally rejects the guru model. "It's the old paradigm out of Asia, commodified and turned into income. Open the window and look at God yourself without a filter!"
When his book tour brought him to New York, he pressed his wildish, iconoclastic message into an Open Center talk and workshop. But his spoken-word performance Spiritually Incorrect remains his preferred method of insurrection, melding sociopolitical views, individualistic spirituality, and a personal, discomfiting rawness that can be felt across a room. Aspiring to the lofty company of Lenny Bruce, Noam Chomsky, and Alan Watts, Clements says he uses his performances to "question the systems that birthed me and challenge the boundaries of my own conformity."
Spiritually Incorrect is "my way of saying how fucked it is to have a spiritual life; it fucking hurts to be alive todaymost of the time," says the man whose 32 years of Buddhist practice have landed him a broken heart and a feeling of marginalization, neither of which he regrets. Authenticity trumps happinessyou know, that thing that Americans feverishly pursue. "We have to have respect for remorse, guilt, shame, transgression, worry, judgment," Clements asserts. "These are healthy signs. Allow them to stay."
MARIANA CAPLAN, www.realspirituality.com
DO YOU NEED A GURU?Thorsons, 268 pp., $24.95
ALAN CLEMENTS, www.worlddharma.com
INSTINCT FOR FREEDOM: FINDING LIBERATION THROUGH LIVING, New World Library, 288 pp., $22.95
ANDREW HARVEY, www.andrewharvey.net
THE SUN AT MIDNIGHT: A MEMOIR OF THE DARK NIGHT, Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 307 pp., $25.95
THE DIRECT PATH, Broadway Books, 291 pp., $24.95
NEW YORK OPEN CENTER, 83 Spring Street, 212-219-2527, www.opencenter.org
SUFI BOOKS, 227 West Broadway, 212-334-5212, www.sufibooks.com