In 1959 a young monk named Tsung Tsai (Ancestor Wisdom) escapes the Red Army troops that destroy his monastery, and flees alone three thousand miles across a China swept by chaos and famine. Knowing his fellow monks are dead, himself starving and hunted, he is sustained by his mission: to carry on the teachings of his Buddhist meditation master, who was too old to leave with his disciple.
Nearly forty years later Tsung Tsai now an old master himself persuades his American neighbor, maverick poet George Crane, to travel with him back to his birthplace at the edge of the Gobi Desert.
They are unlikely companions. Crane seeks freedom, adventure, sensation. Tsung Tsai is determined to find his master's grave and plant the seeds of a spiritual renewal in China. As their search culminates in a torturous climb to a remote mountain cave, it becomes clear that this seemingly quixotic quest may cost both men's lives.