The Saffron Road

A Journey with Buddha's Daughters

Christine Toomey

Published: 7 April 2016
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 384 pages
ISBN: 9781846274930


A brief meeting with a Buddhist nun in India made a deep impression on Christine Toomey. It sent her on a two-year, 60,000-mile odyssey to learn more about the contemporary women choosing in their thousands to become part of a long tradition of female spirituality that stretches back through the centuries and now embraces the radical possibility that the next Dalai Lama could be female.

In The Saffron Road, Toomey follows in the footsteps of earlier generations of Buddhist nuns to trace the routes by which the philosophy has spread from a solitary order in a remote area of India in the 5th century BC, via 1950s San Francisco where Zen was popularised by the Beat generation, to the globally-renowned practitioners of mindfulness of today. Beginning her journey in the Himalayas, close to the birthplace of the Buddha, Toomey travels from Nepal, to India, through Burma, Japan and on to North America and Europe, along the way visiting contemporary nunneries to meet the women who practise there. Amongst those she talks to are a group of "kung fu" nuns, an acclaimed novelist, a princess, a concert violinist, a former BBC journalist, and a one-time Washington political aide. Through these conversations, the daily reality of the Buddhist existence is gradually revealed, together with the diverse spiritual paths leading these women towards nirvana.

Combining travelogue, history, interviews and personal reflection, The Saffron Road opens the door to a rarely glimpsed world of ritual, discipline and enlightenment.

About the author

Image of Christine Toomey

CHRISTINE TOOMEY has been a foreign correspondent and feature writer for the Sunday Times for more than 20 years, reporting extensively from Latin America, the Middle East and throughout Europe. She has investigated the sinking of Russia's Kursk nuclear submarine and the mass murder of women in Guatemala, reported from Kosovo and Bosnia on the fate of children born to women raped during the Balkans wars, tracked down a wanted Nazi war criminal, and lived for a week with the two wives of a Hamas politician in the West Bank. She has received several prizes for her journalism, including two Amnesty International Awards for Magazine Story of the Year. More about the author


‘[The Saffron Road] beautifully depicts the quintessential personal journey to find freedom, as exemplified by Buddhist nuns. These stories of courage and inspiration may be contemporary-but they connect us to a timeless quest for a better life’ Sharon Salzberg, author



‘[The Saffron Road] is a gift for troubled times, a profoundly beautiful and inspiring spiritual odyssey that traces the lineages and present day lives of Buddhist nuns around the world. I am moved and heartened by these women, who dedicate their lives to the awakening of all beings, and deeply grateful, as well, to Christine Toomey, for bringing us their remarkable stories’ Ruth Ozeki, author

‘[A] revelation’ ‘Top 10 holiday reads: June 2015’

‘[This book] is not only a beautiful reportage engagingly written but a good guide to enlightenment in itself. It is at once a transformative and an informative book. We have heard and read much about pioneering male prophets and their stories of spiritual awakening. In this book Christine Toomey takes us on a rare journey and discovers many women of profound wisdom and compassion. This book is a pilgrimage tracing the lives of amazing women who have followed the hard road of self-realisation. At the end of her journey Christine Toomey herself is transformed. I recommend this book not only to all the aspiring women seeking spiritual wisdom but also to men who are on the pilgrimage of life. The books shows that the path to enlightenment passes through many dark nights of the soul Satish Kumar, Founder, Schumacher College and Editor-in-Chief

The Saffron Road is a mala - prayer beads as stories, threading together brave, pioneering and sometimes lost women. It has a wild cast, and Toomey dances elegantly between the nuns' stories and her own journey in this graceful book of devotion and the devoted’ Justine Hardy, author

‘A compelling mix of interviews, history and personal memoir...[a] captivating journey’ Amanda Hopkinson

‘An expansive exploration of Buddhism and the plight of Buddhist nuns across the globe... Toomey introduces us to [many] women, all with a different, fascinating story to tell. It's packed with detail [and] the lengths the women have gone to in search of fulfilment must be admired’ Rachel Farrow

‘Beguiling and often very moving... Toomey deals gently with her own experiences elegantly weaving them into the narratives of others and pausing for reflection... [A] beautiful book’ Isabella Tree

‘Christine Toomey takes us on a heart-felt journey around the world meeting women of all ages embarked upon "The Saffron Road". Her book is a beautifully written, here-and-now account of both traditional and new ways for women to live as Buddhist nuns. For each, Buddhism is about finding out who she is so she can become a more powerful force for good in the world. As teachers, they ask us, "Instead of cursing the darkness, why don't you light a candle?" There is no doubt in my mind that Jack Kerouac would have bought this book for his mother. In fact, he might have benefitted from reading it himself Ann Charters

‘Illuminating... As well as affording her interviewees ample room, Toomey admirably attempts to place herself in the footsteps of those she studies, adding depth to her reporting’ Suzanne M Bessenger

‘Like all memorable nonfiction, [this book] is about storytelling-and Christine Toomey is a masterful storyteller. What emerges, Chaucer-like, is a cycle of stories within a story that irresistibly propels readers forward. The sum is even greater than the parts and a deeply moving experience’ Mark Kurlansky, author

‘Rich and compelling... [a book] with the power to inspire a new perspective on how to live, how to view those around us, and how to find deep and lasting happiness in what we already possess’

‘There are lessons for life on every step of The Saffron Road. [Toomey] shows that philosophies are sometimes best understood from a suitcase, writing as she learns and learning as she writes. Fortunate is the reader who follows’ Peter Stothard, author

‘Toomey is an astute and watchful observer and a sympathetic listener who writes movingly of her travels and encounters’

‘What a marvellous journey shared with such sensitivity, eloquence, and heart! We meet extraordinary women through Christine's kindness and courage-it is a privilege to read and travel with her. Everyone should try it-you will not be disappointed’ Professor Robert Tenzin Thurman, author

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