A Conversation with Jason Siff about IF ONLY I HAD LISTENED WITH DIFFERENT EARS

            In late February I had the opportunity to chat with Jason Siff about his recently published book, If Only I Had Listened with Different Ears (Sumeru Press, Inc.: November 2021). The book is a collection of three novellas: “King Bimbisara’s Chronicler,” “After the Parinibbana,” and, “Myth of Maitreya.” The stories are set in Northern India and the timeframes range over a millennia, from the fifth century BCE during the life of the Buddha to around the fifth century CE when Mahayana Buddhism was burgeoning. Since the Buddha himself is characterized in “King Bimbisara’s Chronicler,” and Buddhist monks/scholars such as Vasubandhu and Asanga are characterized in “Myth of Maitreya,” the novellas clearly fall under the umbrella of Buddhist fiction. They are also presented chronologically in this collection, which firmly situates the whole work in the category of historical fiction. Regardless of genre labels, all three novellas are in the category of good reads.

Siff’s characterization is a highlight of his story telling, and the source of narrative mastery behind the themes that recur in each of the novellas. As works of Buddhist fiction, the theme of the path to enlightenment is uppermost. But it’s the supporting themes, the ones that cause friction to the quest for enlightenment, that are most compelling. For example, Siff explores the cultural and personal tensions of the life of a renunciant within a culture that emphasized the importance of fulfilling family roles. He highlights developments in Buddhism as a spiritual movement such as the codifying of the Buddha’s teachings. He explores shifts in ideas about Buddhism as the religion expands both demographically and philosophically. And he does this all through superb characterization – by creating characters who are sometimes begrudgingly, painstakingly, and even mistakenly, living out this new religion. These characters are practicing Buddhism in all walks of life, inscribing the Buddha’s words into text, and spreading the Buddha’s message by imagining the world around them as bigger and broader than what is in front of their own eyes. 

            My discussion with Jason was very engaging, and I will recount some of it below with the intent to whet your curiosity about the novellas without providing any spoilers.

Beek

My first question is very broad. Who is your intended audience? 

Siff

Well, that goes to the history of these stories. I wrote them between 1995 and 2002, and what I did was I basically read them at retreats. They became a kind of staple at my retreats. Every night, before bed, I would read a couple of chapters. So, I initially called them, “Buddhist Bedtime Stories.” Reading them out loud helped me also revise and get a sense of what people were drawn to, how the characters worked in their minds and their meditation settings, and the kind of Dharma teachings that came out. So I initially thought that these stories would work best as audio books, but the printed version came out very well.

Beek

Maybe that’s why some of the prose seems to sing. I especially love some of the lines from “The Myth of Maitreya.” For example: “Truth does not live in the biographical, but in what is true, regardless of who professes it.” You have a compelling way of restating the Buddhist teachings, the buddhavacana, in these stories.

I also appreciate the way that you’ve put these three novellas together chronologically. So when we get to the story of Vasubandhu and Asanga [“Myth of Maitreya”], I actually had to refresh my memory. And yes, of course, Vasubandhu was a Sautrantika. I really get the sense of that progression of the teachings [Theravada into Mahayana].

Siff

Oh, thank you. To me, this is a Dharma book as much as it is a work of fiction. I’ve tried to write more standard Dharma books, with no success, unless you include the Dharma teachings found in my books on meditation through Shambhala. But this one to me was strict Dharma in a sense, and I wanted to show both the historical transformation of the Buddha’s Teachings and how each generation remakes those teachings. And I wanted to have people use these stories to explore the Dharma in different ways…. And I think there’s a way of also understanding the humanity of the Dharma, that the human relationships people have between each other is what the teaching is. It’s not just this abstraction out there.

Beek

That comes through when reading, particularly in your characterizations. Here, I will share with you some of my notes. So, for “King Bimbisara’s Chronicler,” I wrote: “You have created a character that by his very nature in this life, is either memorizing the past or trying to fulfill a future set for him by his culture such that he cannot live in the present moment. And that story, it just struck me that one of the reasons the Buddha had such a hard time teaching the Dharma was not just because it was ineffable, but also because of the temporal knowledge he gained through his enlightenment. How do you convince a group of people to imagine a different future when you were teaching them to live in the present moment?”

Siff

Right. Okay, good. But the character is also a character where I’m trying to explore what I would say is the modern condition of someone who doubts the teaching he is receiving as well as the teacher delivering it. But he has to go back and forth and he has to work with certain forces within him around his contact with the teaching. And that’s one thing I wanted to communicate to students of mine and to other Buddhist practitioners is that this is not a teaching to just take on and become a disciple. It’s something that has to throw you about. It has to create some kind of inner turmoil. And so even though the chronicler is focusing on memorizing, which takes him out of what he’s hearing and puts it into a different frame and gives him a certain status and position, he keeps looking around for something else. But he’s confronted with the fact that the teaching is getting inside of him and making him confused. He’s engaging his doubt, but he’s doing it, I think, in a constructive way.

Beek

Yes. And that all became very clear at the end of the story when he actually started practicing what he had been hearing. All of those years. And that’s him listening with those different ears.

Siff

Exactly. Right.

It’s important for me, for him to have his father die or to basically end that tie, for him to kind of really hear differently because he couldn’t hear as long as he was still embedded in that kind of patriarchal culture, he couldn’t take this in. I mean, he still was embedded in the patriarchy, but it wasn’t like he was trying to live his father’s life.

Beek

Well, he was trying to live the life expected of him. He was fulfilling his karma.

Siff

His karma. Exactly. Which is another idea of what the Dharma means. 

Beek

Exactly. So, yeah, it was the culture of his time, and I guess his father was his last tie. But it just struck me, as you were saying, that really we haven’t moved on very far in many ways. I mean, many of us are still fulfilling what society and our family expects of us.

Siff

Right. But Buddhism is always going to counter that.

Beek

Very much so.

Siff

Yeah. That’s the thing. And anyone encountering it is going to have to engage some of these initial tensions even within a culture that accepts it.

Beek

Right. Yes. In many places still. And that idea was carried on thematically in “After the Parinibbana.” I could see the same things happening for the character Sujata. I love that character, by the way. I guess maybe it’s my age and stage, but I could really identify with him feeling like the younger generation didn’t really listen. If he were in our time I could imagine him saying, “Those darn kids!” How did your retreatants react to the novella, “After the Parinibbana”?

Siff

That’s a hard one for me to say. Many of them, I think, just took it as a story of the Parinibbāṇa Sutta, which I go through to a degree. And they kind of felt, at least some feedback I would get at times, they felt touched, like it was more sensitive, like it hit an emotional chord in a way. But when people read it . . . it’s different, actually, the reports I’ve gotten from people who’ve read the story. I never really published the printed form or sent it out. They noticed things in the beginning of the story like the whole beginning of the Samaññaphala Sutta, the different points of view, the whole thing around the shift in ideas about bodhisattvas (in “Myth of Maitreya”). Anyhow, they notice various things that are going on that are in laying out the story and about the Bhikkhunī sangha and things like that. Whereas before it was mostly about the ending.

Beek

Oh, wow! Okay. Well, it is nice when you have the words to review.

Siff

Yeah, it is. Because new ideas and perspectives on Buddha Dharma can just wash over you when you only hear it. In print, you can go back and study it.  

—————————–
This is as much as I can give you, dear reader, without spoiling a good read of three excellent novellas. You can find If Only I Had Listened With Different Ears at the link under the cover photo. You can read an excerpt from “King Bimbisara’s Chronicler” here: https://jasonsiff.com/excerpt-from-king-bimbisaras-chronicler/ You can find If Only I Had Listened With Different Ears at the link under the cover photo. I hope you enjoy the novellas as much as I did.

Three Works that are Not Buddhist Fiction + Currently Reading

I thought I would do something a little different for this post. I have received some very interesting messages from authors, blog readers, and colleagues that are not necessarily about or of Buddhist fiction, but are nonetheless creative, gracious, and unique. So I thought I would share about these three works of “not Buddhist fiction” that have recently crossed my desk.

Peter Campbell-Kelly Performs Biber’s Mystery Sonata No. 16 ‘Passacaglia’

First, I am very excited to share this YouTube video link sent to me by Peter Campbell-Kelly. I was so busy when I received his email that I confess, I did not watch it right away. When I finally had a chance to go through my emails for this blog, I was humbled. I had been sent a gorgeous gift of calm and soothing, and I am very happy to share it with all of you. It is his gorgeous performance of Biber’s Mystery Sonata No. 16 ‘Passacaglia’:

https://youtu.be/SCn03VpBl9Y

Peter’s video is a gift during these troubled times. He thought I might “be interested in a little lyrical film that I put together last year, in one of the covid lockdowns…It is a sort of musical prayer, intended somehow for the well-being of all of us, in this desperately difficult pandemic.” Add to the lingering pandemic the troubles in the Ukraine and the general chaos of our times, and Peter’s music serves as a balm to our contemporary suffering. Thank you very much Peter!

Alongside the music video, Peter sent a poem he wrote, and a picture.

What the Buddha Never Taught – A Rock Opera

Second, Professor Martin Adam at the University of Victoria, Canada has accomplished something very unique – he has written and produced a Buddhist musical! Here is what he sent: I would like to tell you about a new theatrical production about Buddhism that is scheduled to play in Vancouver this summer (June 30-July 10, 2022). The play is called “What the Buddha Never Taught” and it is very loosely based on a book of that name by Tim Ward. It is an unusual play as it is about Buddhism. More specifically, it is about westerners encountering the Buddha’s teachings for the first time and trying to gain a foothold on the Buddhist path. The play is a musical, and it also is a comedy– there is some humor to be found, after all, in this process of finding the path.

I am a professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Victoria, so I have made certain that the production is very well-informed and respectful to Buddhism. The basic idea behind the play is that it may serve as an example of upāya. The artistic form of musical theatre is very accessible to North American audiences, so it is an ideal way to present Buddhist teachings in our culture. The intention is that audiences will leave the theatre with their interest in Buddhism piqued, and with a wish to find out more about the Buddha’s teachings.

If you would like to support the production with a donation or by buying a ticket, it would be very appreciated, since we are presently fundraising to put on the show. We are offering these tickets in advance to raise funds for the actors’ salaries. If the Kickstarter campaign falls short, the show will be cancelled and your credit card will not be charged. Our fundraising campaign ends on April 1st at 5:15 PM. The performance will be recorded and streamed online, so you do not have to be in Vancouver to attend. Tickets are available on our Kickstarter website. All tickets purchased for the stream of the play can also be redeemed for regular admission to the live performance in Vancouver. They are available here:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/217241625/what-the-buddha-never-taught-a-rock-opera

We are also on Facebook. Please share widely.

https://www.facebook.com/whatthebuddhanevertaught

For more information about the production you can e-mail me — or visit this webpage:

https://www.spiritualmediablog.com/2022/03/13/q-a-with-dr-martin-t-adam-playwright-songwriter-and-producer-of-what-the-buddha-never-taught-a-rock-opera/

With good wishes to all,

Martin Adam
mtadam@uvic.ca


Dr. Martin T. Adam
Associate Professor
Religion, Culture, and Society Program
(Dept. of Pacific and Asian Studies)
University of Victoria
PO Box 1700, Stn CSC
Songhees, Esquimalt & WSÁNEĆ Traditional Lands
Victoria, “British Columbia”
V8W 3P4 CANADA

Adventure in Zanskar – A Memoir

Third, IPPY-award winner and #1 Amazon bestselling author Amy Edelstein has written a memoir about her 1970s Buddhist experiences entitled Adventure in Zanskar. The memoir is described as “A young woman’s solitary journey to reach physical and metaphysical heights.”

Emergence Education Press, November 2021.

Here is the press package blurb about the memoir: “The 1970s were a hard decade for independently-minded young women to come of age in America, especially in an East Coast industrial city that was more like the lumbering Midwest than the forward-thinking eastern seaboard. When Amy Edelstein looked around the Pittsburgh neighborhood she grew up in, she concluded that if she was going to find someone who might be able to offer more than a shred of insight and guidance on a path to a life nobly-lived, she knew she had to head much further afield. And so, she did. Leaving Cornell University to celebrate her 21st birthday in the mountains outside of Pokhara, Nepal, she decided to spend the next years walking in the high Himalayas, studying philosophy and meditation with the best teachers she could find, and doing everything she could to tame her restless, anxious, and self-critical mind. She was on the perennial quest. Determined to find that elusive awakened consciousness, in 1983 Amy journeyed to the remote western corner of the Tibetan Plateau in Zanskar, India. Carrying a crumpled Indian Army map to guide her, with dotted lines tracing footpaths and concentric mis-shaped ovals marking elevations, she set out to walk several hundred miles in the oldest Buddhist valley in the world. Traveling alone, without mountaineering gear or guides, she crossed mountain passes as high as 16,000 feet, traversed glacial snow bridges, and slept in caves, shepherds’ huts, and outdoors under a brilliant star-studded sky.
This account of her journey reveals a world of our recent past, yet one radically different from our present—a world prior to the ubiquitous mobile phone and its globalizing influence. A world where we could still adventure and discover great treasures of generosity, wisdom, and kindness. A world where the Buddha’s teachings were in fact embedded in every aspect of life.
Readers of all ages will delight in this story. Adventure in Zanskar is part inner quest, part travelogue, part daring mountain adventure, part feminine empowerment, and part unmitigated conviction in the possibility of living from our better natures and being truly happy. This book is a wonderful escape from our pressured lives, where endless emails, anxieties, and alienations shape our daily experience. It is a call to honor our heart’s restless search for meaning, purpose, and contentedness. Finally, it is also a story of self-honesty, courage, and freedom for all who cherish the notion of an inner awakening that can reveal a way to live that makes sense of our confusing and complex world.”

So there you have it: three works that are not Buddhist fiction. Check below to see what I’m currently reading.

Currently Reading

My next post will return to Buddhist fiction and a focus on author and teacher Jason Siff’s new collection of Buddhist novellas, If Only I Had Listened With Different Ears: Three Buddhist Tales (Ottawa, Vanada: Sumeru Press Inc, 2021). The press kit mentions that Jason Siff was a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s. His novel, King Bimbisara’s Chronicler, was published by Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha in 2001 and nominated for the IMPAC literary award. His nonfiction books include Unlearning Meditation (2010) and Thoughts Are Not the Enemy (2014), both published by Shambhala Publications. Visit Sumeru Books to see more information, as below.

Review of BRIDE OF THE BUDDHA: A NOVEL by Barbara McHugh

I’ve always loved fractured fairytales.  First introduced to them through Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber in the late 1980s, I’ve enjoyed feminist retellings of traditional tales ever since.  Barbara McHugh’s feminist retelling of the life of Siddhartha in Bride of the Buddha is no exception.  Firmly immersed in both Buddhist practice and historical research, it’s a thoroughly satisfying read.

In the original tale, Yasodhara is the wife that Prince Siddhartha leaves upon the birth of their son, Rahula.  Siddhartha knows that he must leave behind worldly attachments if he is ever to find the transcendent truth he is looking for.  Left behind to raise her son on her own, Yasodhara grieves, although she is eventually able to join an order of nuns, and, we are told, attain the status of arhat.

In McHugh’s retelling, Yasodhara is the narrator of her own story.  Rather than a character who only sought spiritual understanding once she came into contact with the Tathagata, McHugh’s Yasodhara wishes for answers about life, death, and the soul at a young age, long before she meets Siddhartha, and Bride of the Buddha is very much the story of Yasodara’s long and surprising spiritual journey.

Barbara McHugh.
Bride of the Buddha: A Novel.
Monkfish Publishing, 2021.

One of the great pleasures of the book is Yasodara’s gritty humanity.  Once her husband has left her, and then, upon returning, persuaded their son to join him, Yasi is left on her own.  This is when, unable to join the sangha because she is a woman, she finds her own teacher–a shamaness of the forest called Stick Woman.  This is an important turning point in Yasodhara’s search, and it begins with a great humbling.  Stick Woman confronts Yasodhara with the sins of the Sakya clan, including taking slaves, and makes her carry heavy buckets of water from the river to their camp in the hot sun.  This wearing down of Yasi’s royal identity is the first step in her transformation.   I’m sure it’s no accident that McHugh chose a woman as Yasi’s “root guru.”

Yasodhara’s spiritual progress is agonizingly slow.  While parallels to Hesse’s Siddhartha continually came to my mind while I was reading, Bride of the Buddha depicts spiritual striving as a passionate, visceral, and at times ugly process—one which I appreciated, finding it true to my own experience.

In a brilliant twist, McHugh’s retelling has given Yasodhara a secret identity.  After leaving Stick Woman, Yasodhara longs to join the sangha but is unable to because women are not allowed to ordain.  That is when she makes the decision to disguise herself as a man in order to take vows.  As a man, she is none other than Ananda, Buddha’s favorite disciple.  It is as Ananda that Yasi works toward the goal that means more to her than anything—getting the Buddha to give his consent for women to take vows. 

As Ananda, Yasi is perhaps the most practical of Buddha’s disciples, concerning her/himself with the use of herbs to maintain the health of the monks, learning to write in order to more efficiently relay instructions to those serving the sangha, and comforting the very young monks who have left their families.  In other words, rather than aspiring to lofty goals of transcendence, Yasi/Ananda practices everyday kindness.

It is in pursuit of her dearest goal—securing the right of women to ordain—that she most suffers.  Making a series of risky moves, Yasi/Ananda returns to her former home to persuade her stepmother to approach the Tathagata yet again to request ordination.  In doing so, she risks not only her life, but also revealing who she really is, thus dishonoring the sangha for all time.  I will not reveal all the ups and downs of her adventure, but they do show that Bride of the Buddha is not only a good story—it also embodies the push and pull of practice. 

..it was fear that was paralyzing me—a Mara-self paralyzing my reason and plunging me into its own terrifying thoughts….unless I got free of the fear, I had no chance to save myself at all.  Taking a breath, I turned my attention to my emotion—as I had done so many times in practice—and slowed down time. 

Mara was far stronger than usual.  I understood now why Tathagata used the words “Mara’s army” to describe the thoughts and sensations assailing me: confusion tumbling behind my eyes, a sense of danger stabbing my heart, a deadly weakness clawing my abdomen, a craving to run away from my own life pounding in my throat. 

McHugh’s bio reveals that she has been a Buddhist practitioner for many years.  The passage quoted above testifies to the fact that McHugh is familiar with the turbulence and struggle that so often accompanies the search for serenity. 

Bride of the Buddha is a thoroughly engaging story.  If you are a Western Buddhist practitioner like me, it is more than that—an empathetic reminder of what a struggle it is to control one’s own mind.

In other words, this book gives you spiritual wisdom you can use.

Review of STREET LEGAL: A NOVEL by Rafi Zabor

If you are looking for a comedic noir with a 1970s flavor, Street Legal may be for you.  If you want a story with well-drawn, quirky characters—Eli, a young man, possibly on the spectrum, who hires himself out as henchman to large-scale marijuana growers for want of a better idea about how to make a living; his wealthy, widowed mother Lina;  an American lama named Tony, who mows his lawn in his robes and spouts wisdom in a New Jersey accent; as well as sundry other good and bad guys—you will like this book.  There are high stakes—car chases, and a mother in imminent danger of losing a son–and the jittery, highly stylized, stream-of-consciousness brand of writing may be just your cup of tea.  But if you are looking for a novel that accurately embodies Buddhist concepts or practices, Rafi Zabor’s latest may not be the ticket.  

The cover features a laughing buddha (Hotei) with what looks like a popsicle stick in his mouth, looming over a mountainside.  The picture of Hotei seems to be an allusion to Tony Torrezini, the Italian former tough guy recognized as an emanation by several tulkus in the Kagyu sect.  Tony now manages a Tibetan Buddhist Center, and instructs Lina, Eli’s mother, in Tibetan meditation and visualization techniques.  

We meet Tony toward the beginning of the novel, when Lina comes to him for advice about her son (who has a knack for attracting trouble) and not again until much later, when he leaves his robes behind, sacrificing sanctity and family to help Lina commit a crime in order to keep her son out of jail.  That’s when the action really gets going, and if you like thrillers, you will probably enjoy this book.

At the center of the book is — pot.  Eli works for Teddy, a man who is convinced marijuana will become legal any day now, and grows fields of it.  Pot is big business, and various shady characters revolve around it.  One of these is Pitch, who seems to embody the “dark” side of the Buddhist concept of emptiness:

Those old dogs in Asia knew what they were up to.  If he bought a dog, a business-end Rottweiler with its vocal cords cut so there’d be no warning, he’d name it that: Shunyata.  If he had another daughter—Celeste caught in her mother’s BCBG bullshit hadn’t sent him word in years, by now she was just one more gorgeous piece of teenage Paris ass strutting her cocky bottom and perky tits …If he had another daughter he’d name her Shunyata too, because when you come down to it, face the facts, love privileges no one really.

In contrast to Pitch, Tony’s understanding of Buddhism is more nuanced; able to dance with the contradictions.  

We are given to understand that Tony’s lineage lies within the “crazy wisdom” tradition popularized by Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan master and trickster who was fond of turning people’s preconceptions upside down.  In that tradition, the teacher-as-trickster helps students loosen their own rigid, limiting self-concepts to become freer and more open.  

But does Tony’s decision to ditch his robes and jeopardize his family in order to help Lina commit a crime fall within the “crazy wisdom” tradition?  In Tibetan history, there are precedents for killing in the service of Buddhism.  In the 9th century, for instance, a hermit named Lhalung Pelgyi Dorje is said to have assassinated the evil king Langdarma, who set himself to destroy Buddhism in Tibet.  Langdarma forbade monks to practice their religion, and forced those who disobeyed to go hunting, thereby violating their own vows.   The hermit resolved to sacrifice his own merit and sully his own karma in order to rid the country of an evil king.

But the characters who end up getting killed in Street Legal don’t pose much threat to Buddhism.  The unspoken understanding in the novel seems to be that it’s OK if two people die as a result of Tony’s and Lina’s actions because after all, the ones who died were bad guys.  I don’t know.  Somehow that doesn’t represent the Bodhisattva ideal to me.

In his book Prisoners of Shangri-la: Tibet and the West, Donald S. Lopez Jr. illuminates the many ways that Westerners have misinterpreted aspects of Tibetan Buddhism to fit their own needs and preconceptions.

Introduced by Western supporters to the notion of culture, Tibetan refugees could look back at what Tibet had been.  But this gaze, at least as it is represented in the West, saw the Land of Snows only as it was reflected in the elaborately framed mirror of Western fantasies about Tibet.

It could be argued that all of Western Buddhism suffers from such fantasies, and that may be true.  I suppose I just had more of a problem with Zabor’s particular version.  

My favorite parts of Street Legal were the relationships.  Lina’s relationship with her self-destructive son Eli, the one who always needs to be saved but pushes her away every chance he gets, is one every mother of an adult son can connect to.  Here’s an exchange between Lina, Eli, and Eli’s girlfriend Sukey after Lina has come down to bail her son out of jail at his request:

…Lina wished, oh wished, that Sukey wouldn’t come out with the probably unanswerable banality, but Lina was sure she would, and paused to listen, wishing she could replay for Sukey her heroic crashing like a madwoman though the courtroom to wrap her arms around Eli before he could slug the bailiffs, but Sukey pronounced the words to her mother in law: “You’re so controlling, Mrs. Chase.”

And her relationship with Tony is close-knit and sympathetic.  Lina places a lot of trust in Tony, and also understands him:

And she was sure of one thing for the first time: Tony keeping his heavy Jersey accent was in part an affectation.  And a technique to ward off people who might holify him.

There are many wonderful exchanges between characters in this novel.  Here’s one of my favorites between Tony and Lina:

“Stop,” Tony told her.  “Cut it out.”

“I was only thinking.”

“But pretty loud, pretty legible.”

And there is an abundance of over-the-top, vivid sentences: 

It was a beautiful day for a ride in the country, Bob Poholek thought five hundred feet above he peaks and forest slopes of the Coastal Range, worlds’ worth of intricately figured Godmade green, sometimes swooping down for low sweeps over the treetops and early in the day a couple of landings to check acreages of weed almost ripe for harvest, up there with Major John Emigh, a man he’d said at least hello to for years, former United States Marine, glory be and luck of the draw, combined special agent and pilot with the DEA in the specially-modified OH-6B a long shot better than the copters the country had, with a high-resolution belly camera, an extra pair of rotors for faster quieter running even if that didn’t make it a black whirly of paranoid local legend, and best of all a configurable GPS screen on which Emigh had already correct old weedpatch markings and added outlines to the map Poholek had scounted and shown him today.  

Zabor’s style in Street Legal has been compared to Elmore Leonard, and if you like that kind of writing, you will love this book.  It’s also quite funny in places; the characters are vivid, and the stakes compelling.

But don’t look for anything transcendent in Street Legal.  You won’t find it.  

Finishing 2021: Three Great Books and Three Updates

The year is all but complete and we’ve added many new and rediscovered works of Buddhist fiction to the blog. But there are three books published in 2021 that need special mention here before the year is through.

First and foremost I must mention Bride of the Buddha by Barbara McHugh. Published in January, 2021 by Monkfish Book Publishing, McHugh’s novel retells the story of Yasodhara in the form of an alternative history. If you have read Gabriel Constans’ Buddha’s Wife (2014), and Vanessa Sasson’s Yasodhara: A Novel About the Buddha’s Wife (2018) [reprinted by Bloomsbury Academic as Yasodhara and the Buddha in 2021], then you absolutely MUST read Bride of the Buddha. The prose is engaging and lively, and the alternative history twist pushes at the boundaries of feminist retellings of Yasodhara’s story.

The second book I need to mention is A Life with Alexandra David-Neél by Frédéric Campoy and Mathieu Blanchott. This is the first book in a graphic novel series about the life of the adventurous Alexandra David-Neél, explorer, philosopher, writer, and the first Western woman to enter Lhasa, Tibet in 1924. The graphic novel series is based on Marie-Madeleine Peyronnet’s account 10 ans avec Alexandra David-Néel (10 Years With Alexandra David-Néel). This particular medium really brings the story to life before our eyes.

Third and finally, I would like to introduce the latest publication of Buddhist fiction fresh off the press this November from Sumeru Press, Inc. If Only I Had Listened with Different Ears: Three Buddhist Tales is a compilation of three novellas by Jason Siff. The press kit states: “These three tales belong to the same genre as Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. The first two fictional stories take place in Northern India at the time of the Buddha, while the third story is about the next Buddha, Maitreya.” This is definitely going on my TBR (to be read) list.

As for the three updates, they are as follows:

  1. I have finally finished updating the list of Buddhist fiction on the right hand side of the main page of this blog. Hopefully I can keep it up to date throughout 2022!;
  2. Be on the lookout for a very fresh review of Street Legal: A Novel by Rafi Zabor (2022) from Contributing Editor Kate Brandt in January; and,
  3. The Buddhist Fiction Blog was recognized at the recent Buddhist Literary Festival Canada (10-12 December 2021) as an honoree for pioneering Buddhist fiction through blogging. I am very humbled and grateful for this recognition.

And with all that, 2021 will come to a close for this blog. Happy New Year to all our readers. May we all be well, happy, and peaceful, and may no harm come to us in 2022 and beyond.

Register Soon! Buddhist Literary Festival Canada 2021

Buddhist Literary Festival Canada 2021

Friday-Sunday, December 10–12, 2021 2–5 p.m. EST Daily

Online and free

Register here: https://uoft.me/cricevents