Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reviewing ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’.

It pays to have a snazzy, succinct title although to be accurate, this book should be called, ‘The Hot-Shot Lawyer who sold his Ferrari and became a Monk’.

Author, Robin Sharma, is a lawyer who became a Leadership guru, a Life Coach and the CEO of the multi-million dollar leadership development firm, Sharma Leadership International.

Reading his books or seeing him on CNN, Sharma is an able communicator. This book is not a series of PowerPoint Presentations on coping with stress and finding life’s secrets. Instead, Sharma tells the captivating fable of the superstar lawyer who has a cardiac arrest in the court room which is the wakeup call to discover the things that are most important in life. Leaving the courts he treks the mountains to learn from monks who agree to impart their wisdom on the proviso that he shares these lessons with others on his return. The book is predominantly a twelve hour conversation between this Ferrari-less monk and Sharma. It is a good format for the book but in places the conversation becomes contrived.

Anyone who is working long hours, is having a struggle to keep to their diet and is sensing that their life is empty will find themselves in this story. Just as the lawyer had a values overhaul, this book strikes the note that life is short and that personal transformation is possible. Deviating from the traditional storytelling method Sharma has the monk sharing seven virtues (similar to Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits’) each encapsulated in a symbol such as a garden or Sumo wrestler. Following the seven virtues readers are encouraged to do certain things for twenty days (the time needed to install new habits) which will address all of one’s life—body, mind, soul and spirit.

It is not entirely clear from the book whether Sharma is advocating that readers embrace the Buddhist religion but the monk expresses an eclectic range of truths with a coating of eastern mysticism. Sharma is a skilful popularizer of Buddhism and eastern philosophy who presents wisdom in non-religious ways.

Readers will resonate with the call to simplicity, the need to know yourself, to cherish life and to live in the now. Sharma writes about dealing with fear and how to sleep contentedly. In an age when plastic surgery is commonplace, this book advocates a transformation pathway that changes people from the inside out. Several weeks out of the courtroom and exercising in the mountains with a wise exposure to the sun and a vegetarian diet did wonders for the monk’s complexion and countenance.

Many sayings from David Suzuki to George Bernard Shaw are given that distill wisdom in a nutshell. Who can argue with this adage: “There is a huge difference between making a lot of money and making a lot of life.”

Readers will find this book to be inspirational, like its author. It is a self-improvement book with a veneer of spirituality that is individual (rather than communal) and non-institutional (rather than calling readers to sign up to a religious community). While The Monk who sold his Ferrari prescribes a holistic overhaul, the facet that is least addressed in this book is the development of one’s spiritual life. Whatever is mentioned is framed in ways that will help people to aspire, reach their dreams and discover their true passion in life. Unlike many self-help books which tend to encourage improvement for selfish gains such as success and happiness, Sharma writes about giving to others and how happiness springs from contributing to other people.

Robin S Sharma, The Monk who sold his Ferrari (London: Harper Element, 2004; first published, 1997), is available in the United Arab Emirates from Magrudy’s bookshops at a cost of Dh70.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front Cover.