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Review 54: The Chitta Niyama Opportunity by A.R. Haslam

The Chitta Niyama Opportunity
By A.R. Haslam
Copyright © 2008
$20.59 Paperback
293 Pages
ISBN: 9780955983306

Reviewed by Dan Marvin

Once in awhile, I like to take a step back from police thrillers and horror novels and read something that challenges me to learn and grow as a person.  The Chitta Niyama Opportunity by A.R. Haslam definitely fits that description.  The author does a good job of summing it up in the book’s description on the lulu site:

This book will take a special type of willingness to fully appreciate its riches. Readers should be prepared to open their minds to new possibilities

A.R. Haslam is an English author who has spent a lifetime pursuing studies in Engineering, Philosophy, and Religion.  He is also a student, follower, and teacher of Buddhism.  All of these interests are delightfully blended into this book as we follow the paths of 7 primary characters poised to intersect at the end.

In Haslam’s work, the characters are all searching for meaning.  Some of them are searching for the meaning of life, others for the meaning of their lives.  We discover as we go that the two searches are really not so different.  He uses the dialogue between his characters to explore the complex ideas and philosophies with which he is intimately familiar.

We are introduced to Penny, the newly pregnant flower-child who is exploring a new relationship with Toby, the computer programmer with an interest in physics.  Their dialogue is the backdrop for discussions on the search for unifying theories but is also a growing love story which is fun to explore as they do.  Haslam’s writing has the English charm I thoroughly enjoy which is obvious in this description of their second date:

Toby glances over to see if Penny has managed to secure the corner table. She’s tidying up the remnants of crisp packets, dirty glasses and empty bottles that have been left scattered around the table by its last occupants. He catches himself eyeing her up as if he’s seeing her for the first time. She is quite a find - good looking,
beautiful hair, great figure. Smart too, though not threateningly so.

Next up is Professor Julius Hardwicke, a professor of Philosophy whose lectures are the backdrop for in-depth discussions of Schopenhauer and other philosophers.  His story thread shows him as an expert on his subject matter, but something of a simpleton in matters of inter-personal relationships.  His sister is Sarah, a patient undergoing regression therapy to deal with her destructive relationships.  Her awakening self awareness sets off the chain reaction that sends us towards the book’s conclusion.

Sarah opens the door and steps into Dr Hodgson’s consulting room. He’s seated at his desk with his head down, writing up his notes from his last client, his crinkly brown hair stretched back loosely into a pony tail that cascades down in a sprawl over his right shoulder. How young and handsome he is. Tall and slim, with a fresh face and
broad shoulders, he still reminds her more of a pop singer than a therapist. She melts into his presence as effortlessly as butter on hot croissants.

Richard Easton is a central thread.  A recently out gay artist, Richard has forsaken religion and grapples with his own search for meaning through his sensuous art.  Now in his 40’s, we meet Richard as he is wheeled into the hospital with the possibility of cancer looming over his life.  We also meet his partner Justin and his daughter Emily.  Of significant impact to the story is Richard’s ex-wife Sophie, the Buddhist bus driver who opens up the Buddhist faith to us as she goes through the rituals and then brings them with her when she visits the hospital.  It is through Sophie that Richard is given his Chitta Niyama Opportunity.

Other characters include Penny’s parents who explore the ideas of energy fields that direct the development of life and take their dog for a lively walk along the Thames.  It is this intermingling of the ‘normal’ and the ‘cerebral’ that make Haslam’s book such a delightful read.  You can tell that he is truly a master of the information his characters discuss and reflect.  Some of the themes of the book are challenging.  Excerpts like these are interspersed with the development of the characters:

Pure awareness cannot die, for it has never been born. It manifests and then ceases to manifest; the power to manifest is not affected by bodies ceasing to exist; bodies are empowered with awareness and appear to live independently; but at some point the awareness draws back into itself, into domains beyond the appearance of physical form  (Quote from Sophie during Tonglen meditation)

Halfway through the book, I was still wondering how these diverse characters could overlap and I was impressed by how Haslam was able to neatly bring them together. When we are finally given the strings to solve the puzzle, we understand the prelude that we read to start the book.  Through their eyes, we are given a working understanding of many current religious, philosophical, artistic and scientific explanations for why we are here and what it all means.  I personally enjoyed Haslam’s ability to make these sometimes contradictory answers peacefully coexist.

The Chitta Niyama Opportunity is a highly polished and finished book.  The pictographs on the cover put you in the right mindset to enjoy the story.  Other artistic touches inside add to the experience.  The writing is literate, intelligent, and A.R. Haslam is a good story teller in addition to being very well educated.  You’ll quickly get absorbed in the characters and find that the information he is including adds to your enjoyment of them instead of detracting.  I recommend it the next time you’re looking to challenge yourself to grow and learn.

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