From one of the central figures in Buddhism’s introduction to the West and the founder of Tricycle magazine comes Lotus Girl: My Life at the Crossroads of Buddhism and America by Helen Tworkov, 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.

Interweaving experience, research, and revelation, 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 her own search for the truth, but into the ways each of us can better understand and transform ourselves.

As the daughter of an artist, she grew up in the heady climate of the New York school of abstract expressionism. Yet from an early age, restless within the conventions of her own society, for disenchantment with the world, energize a quest for a religion of greater meaning.

In this new memoir by the founding editor of Tricycle magazine, opens with a 1963 Pulitzer Prize winning image of Thich Quang Duc, the Vietnamese monk sitting in formal meditation as he burns to death after self-immolating to protest, his government crackdown on the Buddhist clergy. “Within an inferno of his own making, Quang Duc sat so still that the whole world stopped,” writes the author. “When it moved again, to me, it never looked quite the same.”

It was at that moment that she realize that radically different states of mind truly existed, stirring up questions from her childhood, and initiating her own attempts to integrate, political and spiritual liberation.

Today, Buddhism’s influence is ubiquitous: approvals in new psychotherapies, neuroscience research into the mind and the brain, equestrian training, performance, art, and the practice of mindfulness and meditation in classrooms, prisons, hospitals, and corporate board rooms. But when she became interested in Buddhism, few Americans were acquainted with the ideals of the east. Set against the arresting, cultural backdrop of the 60s and their legacy, this intimate self-portrait to fix her 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, she explores the relationship between Buddhist wisdom and American values, presenting a singular look at the developing landscape of Buddhism in the west. “My life in Buddhism started with the confusion and rebel spirit that defined the counterculture of the 1960s,” she writes. “While spiritual, narratives, often prioritize, lightning bolt insights, I wanted to add to the history of Buddhism in America, something of the impolite, naïve, and despairing side of this wondrous journey.”

Lotus Girl offers insight, not only into Tworkov’s own search for the truth but also the ways each of us can better understand and transform ourselves. The book ends with the worlds in the grip of political and climate catastrophes, and hear the burning monk again becomes a haunting reflection of staying steady in a world on fire.

About Helen Tworkov:

Helen Tworkov is the founding editor of Tricycle: the Buddhist review, the first, and only independent Buddhist magazine; the author of Zen in America: Profiles of Five Teachers; and the co-author, with Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, of In Love with the World: A Monk’s Journey through the Bardos of Living and Dying. She first encountered Buddhism in Japan and Nepal during the 1960s, and has studied in both the Zen and Tibetan traditions. She began studying with Mingyur Rinpoche she in 2006 and currently divides most of her time between New York and Nova Scotia.