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Turtle Feet: The Making and Unmaking of a Buddhist Monk

A music student renounces all to become a Buddhist monk – and then has second thoughts.

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Nikolai Grozni was a piano prodigy studying jazz performance and composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston when he had an epiphany. It was nothing dramatic; he simply woke up one morning, went to the bathroom to brush his teeth, and then, “somewhere between the bathroom and the living room,” he lost all sense of purpose.

He subsequently abandoned his studies, his possessions, and even his name to travel to Dharamsala, India and become a Buddhist monk known as Lodro Chosang. Turtle Feet: The Making and Unmaking of a Buddhist Monk, Grozni’s fourth book (the other three were published in his native Bulgaria), is a memoir of his time becoming and living as a monk, and why he ultimately gave it all up to hatch wild schemes, fall in love, and write “silly books.”

For four years, Grozni studied Tibetan texts at the Institute of Buddhist Dialects, which is part of the Dalai Lama’s headquarters. There, he lived in chastity and squalor, memorizing texts, gazing from afar at the “prettiest Tibetan prostitute in town,” and taking classes with Buddhist masters. For a time, renouncing relations with the opposite sex and general participation in the material world seemed worth it.

But slowly, over time, Grozni began to question his decision. He wondered if “dropping out of school, giving up piano after 15 years of practice, ending friendships, destroying my parents’ hopes, changing my name and identity – to be humiliated by some belligerent old monk who hated Westerners and couldn’t talk to people unless he was debating” was really providing him with the spiritual answers he sought.

After all, he concluded, “one didn’t have to be particularly bright to memorize texts and debate emptiness.”


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