Lotus Girl: My Life at the Crossroads of Buddhism and America (Hardcover)

Lotus Girl: My Life at the Crossroads of Buddhism and America By Helen Tworkov Cover Image
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From one of the central figures in Buddhism's introduction to the West and the founder of Tricycle magazine comes a brilliant memoir of forging one’s own path that Pico Iyer calls "unflinching" and "indispensable."

The daughter of an artist, Helen Tworkov grew up in the heady climate of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism; yet from an early age, she questioned the value of Western cultural norms. Her life was forever changed when she saw the iconic photo of Thich Quang Duc, the Vietnamese monk who, seated in meditation, set himself on fire to protest his government’s crackdown on the Buddhist clergy. Tworkov realized that radically different states of mind truly existed and were worth exploring. At the age of twenty-two, she set off for Japan, then traveled through Cambodia, India, and eventually to Tibetan refugee camps in Nepal.

Set against the arresting cultural backdrop of the sixties and their legacy, this intimate self-portrait depicts Tworkov's search for a true home as she interacts with renowned artists and spiritual luminaries including the Dalai Lama, Pema Chödrön, Joseph Goldstein, Bernie Glassman, Charles Mingus, Elizabeth Murray and Richard Serra.

Interweaving experience, research, and revelation, Helen Tworkov explores the relationship between Buddhist wisdom and American values, presenting a wholly unique look at the developing landscape of Buddhism in the West. Lotus Girl offers insight not only into Tworkov's own search for the truth, but into the ways each of us can better understand and transform ourselves.

About the Author

Helen Tworkov is founding editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, the first and only independent Buddhist magazine, and author of Zen in America: Profiles of Five Teachers (North Point Press; 1989). She first encountered Buddhism in Asia in the 1960s and has studied in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions. Since 2006 she has been a student of the Kagyu and Nyingma Tibetan master Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and has assisted him in the writing of In Love with the World: A Monk's Journey Through the Bardos of Living and Dying (Spiegel and Grau; 2019) and Turning Confusion into Clarity: A Guide to the Foundation Practices of Tibetan Buddhism (Shambhala Publications; 2014).

Praise For…

"[A] stimulating and elegant memoir....With abundant self-awareness, Tworkov traces how she sought enlightenment only to find herself on a winding and ultimately rewarding Buddhist 'path of confusion,' while also providing an incisive insider’s look at the naivete of the first generation of American converts to Buddhism. This enlightens."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Revealing and intellectually stimulating [...] She's a graceful writer who possesses well-developed insight and a wealth of stories to share from her encounters with an array of fascinating spiritual teachers."
Shelf Awareness

“Other books have told us, engagingly, of how West began to meet East in the 1960s and beyond. But none I have read cuts through every illusion and projection with the warmth, the clarity, the unflinching self-awareness of Helen Tworkov’s indispensable memoir. She takes us, exhilaratingly, to Kyoto, Saigon and Kathmandu and she offers us fond, indelible portraits of some of the seminal figures of our time. But the great gift of Lotus Girl is to share with every reader a wise, undeluded, deeply searching enquiry into mind and how we can start to transform it.”
Pico Iyer, bestselling author and journalist

“My favorite parts of this very American and far-ranging story chart Helen Tworkov’s deeply personal discovery of the vast, boundless dimensions of mind. As she recognizes mind itself as the source of suffering and the key to liberation, we are treated to a forthright account of an absorbing journey filled with honesty, humor, and wisdom.”
Pema Chödrön, author of When Things Fall Apart

"In Lotus Girl the brilliant writer Helen Tworkov shares the splendid details of a life lived fully. Her discerning sensibility shines through in her captivating, delightful, and wondrous telling of tales that would be enough for several ordinary lifetimes. An extraordinary treat."
Daniel Goleman, New York Times bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence and psychologist

"This plainspoken account is studded with diamonds of wisdom. Allowing herself the full panoply of human feeling, Helen Tworkov takes us on a winding journey that ends with a stunning meditation on the bardo of aging. Her clear-eyed account of her life and times inspires us to revisit our own with as much honesty and heart. "
Maggie Nelson, MacArthur Fellowship recipient and author of Argonauts and On Freedom

"This beautiful and moving self-portrait is filled with unexpected and marvelous juxtapositions. But as we learn that Helen Tworkov never stops questioning conventional perceptions or orthodoxy of any kind, it makes perfect sense that two of her closest friends are Pema Chödrön and Richard Serra; or that she knew not just Charles Mingus, but also John Cage; or that she divides her time between Manhattan, Buddhist monasteries in Nepal, and Cape Breton’s isolated coast. Through it all, Tworkov’s tenacious search for what’s real and what’s true will enrich anyone fortunate enough to read this important book."
Laurie Anderson, artist

“Helen takes us on a great ride! Lotus Girl is a fabulous description of being right in the creative middle of the Dharma flowering in the West. Honest and poignant, engaging and deep, both touching and enlightening, leaving us with a smile and a tear.”
Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart

"With Tricycle magazine, Helen Tworkov had the vision to create a forum for dialogue about Buddhism in the West. Lotus Girl provides an inside look at how her art world background and the political issues of those days prompted her personal search for wisdom and spiritual development. This rich and unique memoir has value for any reader interested in the possibilities of positive change."
Philip Glass, composer

"A vivid account of an amazing, lifelong spiritual odyssey by a woman who never took no for an answer."
Lawrence Shainberg, author of Ambivalent Zen and Four Men Shaking

"For a lotus flower, an emblem of the beauty of human life, which exists in muddy water, Helen Tworkov's Lotus Girl is at once the most unsullied and compellingly unsentimental memoir I've read in years. With regard to the cultural differences between the West's emphasis on individualism, and the East's evocation of ancestral and communal solidarity, her journey speaks generously of our perpetual struggle to reach a truth and compassion that is so urgently needed now. It's a must-read for all walks of life, especially those who are under pressure to choose either side of life's endless dualism."
Phong H. Bui, Publisher and Artistic Director, The Brooklyn Rail, The River Rail & Rail Editions

"In the mid-sixties, Helen traveled alone to Nepal, discovered Buddhism in a Tibetan refugee camp, and returned to New York to study with many important teachers of the dharma. This time, she takes us back with her, sharing her struggles and her surprising discoveries, leading to her founding Tricycle, the first journal of Buddhist thought, art, and practice. It’s a journey I loved and learned from through this wonderful new book by one of the pioneer women of American Buddhism."
Mirabai Bush, founder of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and author with Ram Dass of Walking Each Other Home

"Lotus Girl is not only a beautiful memoir of one strong, Buddhist woman’s journey through the social and political upheavals of the 1960s until now, it is also one of the most powerful and compelling accounts I’ve read of how Buddhist practices found their way into American culture. No one is better qualified than Helen Tworkov, founder of the ground-breaking Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, to tell this important story. She does so with unflinching honesty about this fascinating history, revealing the hopes and heartbreaks, naivety, idealism, and resilience in the convert Buddhist community. Readers will be grateful for this gift of her hard-won spiritual insights, knowledge, personal experience, and wisdom."
Charles Johnson, author of the National Book Award-winning novel, Middle Passage

“Not since Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums has there been a work that so captures the excitement, the charm, and the thrill of discovery of the Western encounter with Buddhism. Helen Tworkov’s Lotus Girl is exhilarating from start to finish. I loved it. It is sober, smart and completely unpretentious while soaring to unimaginable heights. This is a brilliant and moving book.”
Mark Epstein, M.D., author of The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life and Thoughts without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective

"[A] terrific book. I could not put it down. It’s the book I’ve been waiting for and gives so many answers to how we unfold and become who we are. Gorgeously written. In her story, I also discover myself."
Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones and Three Simple Lines

"When the history of Buddhism in America is one day chronicled, this book—brutally honest and beautifully written—will form an essential chapter. New York and Nova Scotia, Kathmandu and California, Helen Tworkov was there."
Donald S. Lopez, Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan

"Lotus Girl is an intimate review of an American life that is at once individual and unique yet also embodies the yearnings of a generation—its search, its revelations and its disappointments. We each travel in many directions looking for a home, a spiritual place or a family. Helen lets us see her most personal and relatable journey from the inside; and her search for a true home against the background of cultural dislocation yields insights that not only define the ethos of an era but also help us understand the challenges that we face today.”
Sharon Salzberg, co-founder of Insight Meditation Society and author of Real Life

"Helen has led a unique life…daughter of a famous abstract expressionist and then student of great Buddhist teachers…that’s how she was able to combine wisdom and art in Tricycle. What a gift to the rest of us."
Ram Dass, spiritual teacher and writer, from a letter to Mirabai Bush

Product Details
ISBN: 9781250321558
ISBN-10: 1250321557
Publisher: St. Martin's Essentials
Publication Date: April 16th, 2024
Pages: 336
Language: English