Yoga Hotel: Stories

Yoga Hotel: Stories

By Maura Moynihan
New York, NY: Regan Books, 2003, Paperback, 304 pages.

Although The Quest generally reviews only scholarly non-fiction books, every so often a remarkable work of fiction comes along, that not only conveys various spiritual messages by the characters in the stories, but does so with meaning and feeling that goes far beyond the fiction genre. These books can convey a message that has more depth than any academic study could ever hope for. Maura Moynihan's Yoga Hotel is such a book. It is a "must read" for Theosophists who desire a more balanced view of the "mystical" East and the "materialistic" West.

When Moynihan was fifteen, she moved to New Delhi, India, where her father, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, took up his U.S. ambassador duties. After numerous years in India and Nepal, she has become a spokeswoman for developing an improved East-West cultural relationship. Her many experiences are reflected in this book.

Hotel Yoga is composed of six stories; most are short except one which is a novella. As she explains in a blurb for the book, "I wanted to write about the India I know ... a place where worlds and people collide, with unpredictable and complex results." As we shall see, when the Indian household tradition meets the lure of Western novelty, it can lead to some interesting stories. Sometimes it is spiritually healthy to be reminded of what happens when the ancient religions are found amid urban chaos.

No matter which story you read, we find an underlying theme: Visitors from the West are most of the time “high maintenance” travelers. More often than not, they can be self-centered, and we, as readers, see this long before the people in the stories can. It's not surprising to sometimes find a Westerner's spiritual ways shallow. While, on the other hand, their Indian host often takes advantage of the Western's traits and exploits them as best they can.

In one of the stories an Indian manservant helps his British boss escape a prearranged wedding. The real intrigue of the story is the motives and scheming of the people involved; all done with a touch of the mysterious Indian culture. A good contrast of East and West is found in another story involving an American embassy worker who becomes disillusioned when her married lover uses her to get a visa. Yet another story brings to light the ultimate test, when a group of wealthy Westerners at a Himalayan retreat are asked to buy dowries for a poor Indian family.

My favorite story was about a dying guru called Masterji, whose disciples, followers, and hangers-on start vying to be his replacement. Among them was a young woman named Sam, who was my choice for his replacement, Her strengths and weaknesses, reminded me of the French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, who was always looking out for the disenfranchised. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Sam was based not on Simone Weil but on the author at that particular time of her life!

There is a Yoga Hotel CD that can be ordered as an accompaniment to the book, on which the multi-talented Moynihan, who is also a musician, sings songs in English, Hindustani, and Tibetan exploring the East-West theme.


May/June 2004