Even in the 1850s life had its pressures and stresses. John Smith has had enough, both of his loveless marriage and his kowtowing Managing Editor job for his father-in-law, industrialist and owner of the Bridgesport Sentinel. He drops it all and takes up light house duty. But maybe its not his surroundings so much, he finds, as himself.
A shipwreck disaster brings him some good fortune when a European scholar and man of the cloth Estabal Marak and a Tibetan lama Geshela Tsering show up on his doorstep, and Jack has the chance to encounter many of the ideas that have occupied his mind -- and then some.
In the end, his better grasp on reality allows something to happen, something wonderful, something perhaps not even possible for him before. The novel features a young lady, Nancy Yates, whose relationship with Jack develops over the length of the story. Of almost equal importance may be Jacks relationship with the old light house horse, Admiral. Other characters include a nameless cat, a cow named Daisy, and an old seaman, Captain Steinholtz.
Set with details and characters of 1850s American coastal life, Sunyata offers a look back into an interesting period of American history, with the technology of the time evident in the light house and other matters. John Smith is a bit of a scholar and has included Buddhist sutras among his studies. He uses these studies, and his own powers of reflection and discernment, to try to understand and conquer the impasse his life has reached.
Sunyata, the Sanskrit word for the void, or emptiness, is a central idea in Buddhist thought. The novel offers a philosophical and practical exploration through the characters of Jack, Geshela Tsering, and Estabal Marak. Yidams as well enter into the story, proving quite important to Jacks development.