Be Like Water and Enjoy the Paddle Out - Jaimal Yogi's Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer's Quest to Find Zen on the Sea
Saltwater Buddha is an autobiographical account of journalist Jaimal Yogis’ journies in his late teens and early twenties to discover himself and learn to surf.
The story begins at the age of 16 when he runs away from his comfortable, but disaffected, NorCal suburban life, where he is apparently suffering from the boredom and monotony-induced disease we now called "Affluenza" and on his way to juvenile delinquency. Seeking the comfort and nostalgia of time spent in his youth on the coast of Portugal prior to his parent's divorce, he heads for Hawaii. His goal is ostensibly to learn to surf, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to leave behind the negative influences and find himself.
Having grown up in a household with parents influenced by Eastern religious philosophies and seeing himself as a modern-day Siddhartha, the famous Buddhist teacher, he decides to live simply on the North Shore of Maui and take lessons from the sea. These initial explorations in both meditation and surfing are short-lived; after two weeks, amid feelings of loneliness and home sickness, not to mention hunger, worry of how to make a living and the threat of being reported for violating his probation, his him father convinces him to return to California to complete high school. His story does not end there however. Even after returning to his ordinary life he feels the inescapable draw of two things: the quest for Zen and the ocean.
Throughout his story he bounces around with a confused enthusiasm, from spending a year in a monastery to returning to Hawaii time-and-time-again to landing at one of the top Journalism schools in the country. Yogis sprinkles in histories of Zen Buddhism and Hawaii, but manages to do so with the humility of someone who has learned lessons through hard-won experience. Brutally honest about his failings, his teachings come across as gentle and genuine, never forceful. Seemingly encapsulating one of the historical episodes that he recounts in the book, in which Siddhartha explains that the "true mind" cannot be described with words, he simply lays forth his lessons, but leaves it is up to the reader as to what to do with them.
His stories are inspiring to the adventurous. Along his journey, Yogis appears to have some incredible turns of fortune, starting with his name and his philosophical upbringing to his nearly unbelievable knack for stumbling across the right people and places at the right times. But the hidden lesson is that he makes his own luck by boldly acting to obtain what he truly seeks.
Eventually he reveals the primary discovery from mixing Zen and surfing - surfing can be considered a metaphor for life. The time spent riding a wave makes up only a small fraction of the time spent 'surfing'. In the same way, the good and enjoyable things in life are only a small fraction of the time spent living. Much of life is spent doing monotonous things (watching the horizon for the next set) or even difficult or painful things (paddling out). But it is the good things that make the paddling and waiting worthwhile.
Saltwater Buddha is a short and engaging read. The writing is unique, with chapters divided into short, mostly self-contained units. Regardless of your religious persuasions, I believe the lessons in the book are valuable insights into human nature.
And if you should find yourself intrigued by the lessons in the book, you may find that, like the ocean, it is something you return to again and again; something that is always slightly different but also comfortingly the same.