In the Shadow of the Buddha:

Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories, and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet


Part spiritual biography, part nail-biting undercover reporting, In the Shadow of the Buddha brings together Pistono’s quest to uncover long-hidden spiritual truths and real-time violations of religious freedom in Tibet.

For nearly a decade, Matteo Pistono secretly carried out of Tibet evidence of atrocities by the Chinese government, showing it to the US government, human rights organizations, and anyone who would listen. Yet, Pistono did not originally intend to fight for social justice in Tibet—he had gone there as a Buddhist pilgrim.

Disillusioned by a career in American politics, he had gone to the Himalayas. After encountering Buddhism in Nepal, Pistono’s quest led him to Tibet and to a meditation master whose spiritual brother is Sogyal Rinpoche, bestselling author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. Pistono not only became the master’s student, but also couriered messages to him in Tibet from the Dalai Lama in India. This began an extraordinary, and ultimately vital, adventure.

In the Shadow of the Buddha is a book about Tibet through the eyes of a devotee—a stranger hiding in plain sight. It’s about how a culture’s rich spiritual past is slipping away against the force of a tyrannical future. It’s about how Tibetans live today, and the tenacity of their faith in the future in spite of dire repression and abuse. It’s also about Pistono’s own journey of merging political activism with Buddhist mysticism, a man who traveled thousands of miles and risked his own life to pursue freedom and peace.



Richard Gere's Foreword to In the Shadow of the Buddha


"For more than a decade, Matteo Pistono has lived in Nepal and Tibet, and worked in the fields of human rights and religious freedom. He knows the territory well, and it shows in both the grit and scope of his narrative. In the many years and many places that I’ve known him, from India to Washington, Matteo has remained an informed, reliable, skillful, and joyously energized individual. He is a true student of Buddhism, and has had the great fortune of having received significant teachings from some of the world’s greatest teachers, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Sogyal Rinpoche, and the late Khenpo Jikmé Phuntsok inside Tibet—a rarity indeed.

The book you hold in your hands is the story of how great spiritual practitioners from Tibet, like the mystic Tertön Sogyal, and the thirteenth and fourteenth Dalai Lamas, are able to bring the full force of the bodhisattva commitment—the burning desire to free all beings from suffering—into whatever situation they face, including the world of politics. The experiences Matteo writes about in this context are often esoteric, but never less than deeply human. He speaks to us of the vital importance of a complete commitment to nonviolence and of an insistence, as Gandhi used to say, on the truth—the profound truth of interdependence and selflessness—as the only doors that can lead us and others to genuine happiness. For Matteo, the world of politics only has meaning when motivated by a selfless compassion, at which point politics and social action can themselves become a powerful spiritual practice.

In the Shadow of the Buddha is a fascinating journey to the Tibet of the present and of the past, which at times is both heartbreaking and inspiring, as the people Matteo writes about demonstrate what courage and commitment to truth are really about when you are motivated by a vast sense of responsibility to all beings—be they friend or enemy. So whether you want to venture beyond the Himalayas to glimpse a sacred world that is almost lost, or whether your interests lead you to the halls of political power, or whether you are finding your path in the Western Dharma world, I trust this book will give you a deeper appreciation of the ancient wisdom tradition of Tibet and how vitally relevant it is to us today, whether in your heart, your community, or in the world at large."

Richard Gere

Buddhas work for the benefit of others,
Ordinary people work for the benefit of themselves,
And just look at the difference between them.
Shantideva, seventh century











This story of Matteo Pistono’s quest to visit places in Tibet associated with Tertön Sogyal, the adept who was a companion of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, is revealing not only of the Tertön’s life but also of circumstances in contemporary Tibet.


The Dalai Lama

Matteo Pistono chose a journey that, inside and outside, would lead him into unfamiliar territory. He followed the path of one of Tibet’s great mystics through the Land of Snows, but what he encountered was a mass of contradictions: the elusive past and the intrusive present; brutality and torture greeted with nonviolence and compassion; his own anger against all the abuses; and a desire for peace and enlightenment. It is this tension of opposite forces and Matteo’s desire to transcend them that makes this story fascinating.


Peter Gabriel, humanitarian, musician

What a fabulous saga! A mystical tale of defending the land of the Buddha Dharma at the turn of the 20th century interwoven with the life and death struggle now going on at the turn of the 21rst! This moving account is written beautifully from the heart, and it lifts the heart to read it. It is both unearthly and powerfully real. I recommend it with the strongest enthusiasm.


Robert Thurman
Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Buddhist Studies at Columbia University and President, Tibet House US, and
author of Inner Revolution, Infinite Life, Infinite Light, among others

Part spy thriller, part Dharma travelogue, part spiritual autobiography, In the Shadow of the Buddha is one hundred percent page-turner. Matteo Pistono’s tale of journey’s both inner and outer comes packed with adventure and inspiration—a real treat anyone can relish.


Daniel Goleman
Author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ and Social Intelligence: The New Science of Social Relationships, among others

Matteo Pistono is the James Bond of Tibetan Buddhism. In the Shadow  of the Buddha is filled with perilous motorcycle rides, secret documents and romantic liaisons. Pistono also manages to find time to meditate and ponder the nature of the Buddha mind. A heroic, compelling tale that will leave you both shaken and stirred.


Eric Weiner
Author of The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World