Autumn Reading List Catch-Up, Including Story-Driven Music

One of the perks of blogging about Buddhist fiction is that authors and readers of fiction that intersects with Buddhism regularly send emails to let us know of new or newly discovered works. Unfortunately, there is not enough time to review everything that comes our way, or even read every story. But we can certainly list it here for you to discover, read, and enjoy. With that said, here is a brief catch-up listing of books (and music!), alphabetically by author, that have been brought to our attention over the past few months. Thank-you to everyone who alerts us to the ever-growing assortment of Buddhist fiction.

darshan Pulse. Olive Moksha. 2018   https://darshanpulse.com/

darshan Pulse is a group of musicians who create and produce “Revolutionary Buddhist Rock from the Heart of the Rocky Mountains.” Based out of Missoula, Montana, the group recently produced an instrumental concept album to express “the essence of samsara, the Buddhist doctrine of cyclical existence” entitled Olive Moksha. For this their second album, darshan Pulse “focused on how duality can be transcended. . . The narrative of this second project focuses on the story of three tulkus and their willful reincarnation into the belly of the beast – the same matrix described by the first album – to bring about a new era of peace [sic] the world” (from https://darshanpulse.com/theory).

The music is driven by Buddhist narrative. The full story of these tulkus can be found here on the darshan Pulse website and their track Avalokiteshvara can be enjoyed there as well. Below the track they have written a narrative snippet, which begins thusly:

“Three monks, Daleth, Mem and Teth, practice their meditation every morning beneath the olive trees. One day, each of them separately experience the exact same phenomena during meditation. The vision nearly brings each of them to tears, and they separately spend many hours contemplating the surrounding landscape as if for the very first time; as if reborn.” (from https://darshanpulse.com/avalokiteshvara/ )

Gaber, Mark. Rijicho. Wheatmark Inc, 2011.

From Amazon: “The Sho Hondo Convention is over. Three thousand Buddhist Americans have returned from Japan, exhausted but triumphant. Relentlessly the next campaign begins: six months from now, a “Festival on Ice” will be held at the San Diego Sports Arena. Unknown to all, deadly cancer has invaded the body of George M. Williams, supernova nucleus of NSA. Urgent surgery is required, but this would delay the San Diego Convention. Will he save himself, or defy death to pursue the dream of a destitute priest who vowed seven hundred years ago to save humankind?”

Gaber, Mark. Sho Hondo. Wheatmark Inc, 2011.

From Amazon: “October marks the completion of the multimillion-dollar Sho Hondo Grand Main Temple in Taisekiji, Japan. Three thousand Buddhist Americans prepare to embark on a pilgrimage to meet their mentor and pray to the Dai-Gohonzon, the great mandala inscribed by the Buddha Nichiren in 1279 for the salvation of humankind. What will they find? Travel with them on their adventure, seen through the eyes of a 22-year old clarinet player in the NSA Brass Band.”

Merullo, Roland. The Delight of Being Ordinary: a Road Trip with the Pope and the Dalai Lama. Vintage Contemporaries, 2018.

From Amazon: “Roland Merullo’s playful, eloquent, and life-affirming novel finds the world’s two holiest men teaming up for an unsanctioned road trip through the Italian countryside–where they rediscover the everyday joys and challenges of ordinary life.

During the Dalai Lama’s highly publicized official visit to the Vatican, the Pope suggests an adventure so unexpected and appealing that neither man can resist: they will shed their robes for several days and live as ordinary men. Before dawn, the two beloved religious leaders make a daring escape from Vatican City, slip into a waiting car, and are soon traveling the Italian roads in disguise. Along for the ride is the Pope’s neurotic cousin and personal assistant, Paolo, who–to his terror– has been put in charge of arranging the details of their disappearance. Rounding out the group is Paolo’s estranged wife, Rosa, an eccentric entrepreneur with a lust for life, who orchestrates the sublime disguises of each man. Rosa is a woman who cannot resist the call to adventure–or the fun.

Against a landscape of good humor, intrigue, and spiritual fulfillment, The Delight of Being Ordinary showcases the uniquely charming sensibilities of author Roland Merullo. Part whimsical expedition, part love story, part spiritual search, this uplifting novel brings warmth and laughter to the universal concerns of family life, religious inspiration, and personal identity—all of which combine to transcend cultural and political barriers in the name of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.”

Okita, Dwight. The Hope Store. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.

From Amazon: “Two Asian American men, Luke and Kazu, discover a bold new procedure to import hope into the hopeless. They vow to open the world’s first Hope Store. Their slogan: “We don’t just instill hope. We install it.” The media descend. Customer Jada Upshaw arrives at the store with a hidden agenda, but what happens next no one could have predicted. Meanwhile an activist group called The Natural Hopers emerges warning that hope installations are a risky, Frankenstein-like procedure and vow to shut down the store. Luke comes to care about Jada, and marvels at her Super-Responder status. But in dreams begin responsibilities, and unimaginable nightmares follow. If science can’t save Jada, can she save herself — or will she wind up as collateral damage?”

Padwa, David. Incident at Lukla: A Novel of the Himalayas. Hapax Press, 2013.

From Amazon: “Little Nepal, poor and beautiful, lies sandwiched between China and India and is ravaged by an armed revolution. Brutal Maoist guerrillas are attempting to overthrow a corrupt and half-deranged monarchy. Two middle-aged love-starved American intelligence agents, Elsie and Ripp, are running operations in the Himalayas. They uncover a bizarre weapons trade across the Tibetan frontier which is under the control of a ranking Chinese military officer. As intelligence operatives attempt to outflank each other two young lovers, Annie and Pemba, experienced and adventurous mountaineers, are unwittingly drawn into a gyre of conflicting espionage operations. A dramatic incident at a Sherpa village creates a chain of unforeseen consequences and comes, literally, to a breath-taking climax amidst the world’s highest mountains. A nearby Lama sees a wheel of time turning, fueled by erotic attraction leading to birth and consciousness.”

**All of these novels can be purchased on Amazon.com. **

 

 

 

 

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The Devoted by Blair Hurley, sheds light on psychological bondage

Hurley, Blair. The Devoted: A Novel. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Reviewed by Chris Beal.

In Japan, Buddhism is an established religion, of course, and believers tend to be the more conservative members of society. So, as someone who was introduced to the religion there, I had a bit of trouble wrapping my mind around the idea of conversion to Buddhism as an act of teenage rebellion. But Nicole, the protagonist in The Devoted, arrived at her devotion to Buddhism the Western way: she read Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums.

As the novel opens, Nicole is 32, but her youth is presented in extended flashback. She was raised in Boston, a Catholic at the time the sex abuse scandals were rocking the Church there. Her family’s local church was one of many closed and sold, as the archdiocese sought to raise money to pay the numerous judgments against it. In the midst of all this, Nicole finds a religion she believes to be purer and truer. Her parents neither understand nor approve.

Buddhism is only part of Nicole’s rebellion. She finds a boy as rebellious as she and runs away with him and his friend, without telling her parents. She has read about a Buddhist community in Colorado and sets her sights on it. When things don’t work out, she returns home chastened but still determined to find a Buddhist practice and teacher.

The teacher she finds makes her feel special and valuable – something she missed in her upbringing – and when he begins to teach her privately, she is delighted. Soon she allows him to seduce her. He tells her that in order to get enlightened, she must do everything he says. This is where I, as a reader, began to squirm. How will this dangerous liaison play out? And there is certainly irony in leaving a religion in which sexual misbehavior was rampant only to find such misbehavior in the new, adopted faith.

The Master (he is never given a name) tells Nicole that she needs to overcome her Catholic repression and insists there is nothing wrong with their liaison. Yet his advice is belied by the fact that he sees her only in private meetings, never venturing into public with her, and even in private, he barely acknowledges the sexual nature of their relationship. Why does she continue? Here I think it might help to understand what the student/teacher relationship is like for many dedicated students of Zen and most other types of Eastern spirituality. The teacher – at least in the beginning – is seen as the complete source of wisdom. So when the Master tells Nicole that she must do everything he says, he is only voicing what she already believes. That he uses her belief in him for his own selfish purposes is, of course, unconscionable. And that the reader is meant to see this, while Nicole does not, sets up the primary conflict: when will she see the truth and what will she do about it when she does?

The first hint of her suspicion of his motives comes when she learns that a younger and newer female student is now also the Master’s lover. How many more does he have? We never learn that, but even knowing that he has more than one disciple/lover tells us plenty about this man.

The Master is never physically described, which was the cause of some confusion for this reader. At first, I assumed he was Japanese, so when it was mentioned that he had studied Zen in Japan as a foreigner, I was surprised. A description, even in broad strokes, would have allowed readers to picture this man from the beginning and thus to understand that he shares Nicole’s cultural background.

Portions of the book seem designed mainly or solely to educate the reader about Zen and Buddhism in general. They don’t go on too long, so the already-informed reader doesn’t get bored, but they do slow the action down a bit. The most extended example of this occurs later in the book, when Nicole begins a relationship with a man named Sean, a relationship she hopes will allow her to overcome the hold the Master has on her (although, significantly, she doesn’t tell Sean about the Master). Nicole writes Sean long letters about the dharma, the purpose of which seems unclear. Although it is later revealed that Nicole never sent the letters, this doesn’t really answer the question, in terms of narrative coherence, of why she wrote them.

Another question I had concerned the Master’s teaching the Shin Buddhist mantra, Nembutsu, to Nicole. Having practiced both Zen and Shin Buddhism in Japan, I couldn’t help wondering why he would do this. In Japan, at least, Zen and Shin are completely separate sects with entirely different approaches to attaining enlightenment. I never heard Nembutsu recited in a Zen temple.

Still, these quibbles aside, The Devoted is one of the most successful and well written Buddhist-themed novels I have read. The characters are well drawn – including a number I haven’t mentioned. I especially appreciated the author’s knack for choosing perfectly apt and unique words and phrases to describe both people and places. But mostly, the novel is a success because the point of view works. We know about the Master because of what he does and says not because of any authorial pronouncements. We want Nicole to get a clue, but we know how trapped she is because, most likely, we too have been trapped at some point in our lives by a love that is unfulfilling and yet impossible to jettison.

For all of the above reasons, readers of all persuasions, whether Buddhist or not, will find Blair Hurley’s novel an enjoyable and psychologically penetrating look at devotion. The novel can be purchased at Amazon.com here or at theW. W. Norton & Company web site here.

Announcing New Buddhist Fiction – YASODHARA: A NOVEL ABOUT THE BUDDHA’S WIFE by VANESSA R. SASSON

Vanessa R.  Sasson. Yasodhara: A Novel About the Buddha’s Wife. New Delhi, India: Speaking Tiger Books, June 10, 2018.

Last month I was thrilled to hear from my friend and recently retired colleague, Mavis, about a new novel by Buddhist Studies scholar Vanessa R. Sasson. Yasodhara: A Novel About the Buddha’s Wife is Sasson’s first work of fiction, and it is sublimely captivating.

The novel cuts across various genres. In the book’s Introductory Note, Sasson calls her retelling a work of hagiographical fiction vice historical fiction, drawing attention to the (somewhat sparse) information about Yasodhara in Buddhist narratives and texts given her role in the Buddha’s enlightenment narrative. In this respect, the novel is clearly Buddhist fiction, but also, and perhaps more poignantly, it is a feminist narrative because of Sasson’s skilful retelling. Her scholarly background combined with her talent for storytelling allows Sasson to give a unique voice to Yasodhara and portray her as having some agency while still functioning within the limitations of her cultural and societal contexts.

As I expected, Sasson writes context very well. The timeframe for the Buddha’s narrative is roughly fifth century BCE. The novel is set in Brahmanic northern India at a time when the tales of Rama and Sita from the Ramayana provided social archetypes, especially the archetypes of husband and wife. Sasson recreates the context of the novel by relying on Buddhist and Indian stories to revisit and tell Yasodhara’s story afresh. Readers may recognize Buddhist jatakas, suttas, vinayas, the Therigatha, and the Indian epic Ramayana used in the plot and – more importantly – character development. The Buddhist stories, in particular, were used carefully, thoughtfully, keeping in mind they would not have been circulating at the time Yasodhara’s story transpired (since Siddhattha Gautama had not yet become the Buddha and there was not yet a tradition of Buddhist narratives circulating in India). For example, the Vessantara Jataka is used as both a past life memory and a portentous dream. And while we expect Mahapajapati to show up as a character, (crafted as a very regal lady, I might add), Kisa Gotami is an unexpected but excellent addition to the character roster as well.

What I enjoyed most about the novel was Sasson’s use of traditional stories to help tell Yasodhara’s story. For example, when a troupe of actors and entertainers perform a portion of the Ramayana that contained the story of Suparnakha, Sasson’s imagined ancient minstrel version gave the palace audience a lot to consider. Yasodhara’s reaction to a more compassionate portrayal of Suparnakha, the female demon and sister of Ravana, was echoed by all:

“I thought people would raise their fists against this version of the story, but no one did. Night after night, the troupe transported us elsewhere, telling us the story from her point of view.” (Location 1322 of 5298 of my Kindle edition)

Just as this imagined troupe gave a compassionate voice to a demoness, Sasson gives a courageous voice to Yasodhara and opens up a view to her many challenges in her life-roles of daughter, wife to an awakening being, and mother. Further, this characterization of “the Buddha’s wife” suggests how, like the unfolding of the epic Ramayana instigated by Suparnakha, Siddhattha’s journey to Buddhahood may have been different without his marriage to Yasodhara. 

In Sasson’s careful, elevated retelling, Yasodhara’s hagiography is presented to readers as a gorgeous set of matryoshka dolls: a profound story within stories set in richly decorated, near-mythical domains, skillfully layered in cultural and historical contexts. 

You can buy Yasodhara from the publisher’s site: Speaking Tiger Books or on Amazon. I would love to hear from readers to know if you enjoy it as much as I did.

 

 

The Devoted, by Blair Hurley

First-time novelist Hurley, a Pushcart Prize winner, has written about a subject that is not new in the Zen community: sexual abuse by a Zen Master. But the way she approaches the subject and her description of the psychological hold the Master has on his student is original.

Here is what the publisher, W. W. Norton, says about THE DEVOTED:

“A spellbinding confession of what it means to abandon one life for another, The Devoted asks what it takes, and what you’ll sacrifice, to find enlightenment.

“Nicole Hennessy’s life revolves around her Zen practice at the Boston Zendo, seeking solace in the tenets of Buddhism to the chagrin of her Irish Catholic family. After a decade of grueling spiritual practice under her Master’s tutelage, living on a shoestring budget as a shop clerk, Nicole has become dangerously entangled with her mentor. As Nicole confronts her past—a drug-fueled year spent fleeing her family’s loaded silences and guilt-laden “Our Fathers”—and reinvents herself in New York City, her Master’s intoxicating voice pursues her, an electrifying whisper on the other end of the phone. Somehow, he knows everything.

“In deft, soaring prose that bristles with psychological and erotic tension, Blair Hurley crafts a thrilling exploration of Nicole’s ecstatic quest for spirituality.”

THE DEVOTED will be reviewed here following release, expected in August. It can be pre-ordered from many sources.

Announcing New Buddhist Fiction: THE ASTONISHING COLOR OF AFTER by Emily X. R. Pan

About six weeks ago I got a message from my colleague and friend, Daniel, alerting me to an interview in Tricycle Magazine with a young lady named Emily X.R. Pan. The interview focused on Pan’s debut novel, The Astonishing Color of After. Published in March 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, the novel was an instant bestseller, and after reading it, I understand why. If you like Young Adult Literature, Pan’s new novel is a must read. It is marketed as magical realism, but it most definitely has Buddhist elements that drive the plot and infuse the characters.

The Astonishing Color of After is the beautiful, wistful yet heartwrenching story of Leigh, a teenaged girl grieving the loss of her beloved mother, Dory. The novel begins with these words: “My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.” The tone and voice articulated in these first few sentences instantly alert the reader to prepare themselves for time spent with an exceptional teenager. Leigh is the creative, insightful, quirky daughter of a Taiwanese mother and an American father. She describes her experiences in a synesthetic manner, assigning a color to a bicycle ride or a kiss. Her life filled with art classes, indie music and a teenaged crush was irrevocably changed by her mother’s suicide. The novel opens after Leigh has lost her mom, which immediately renders the story arc on a trajectory between grieving and healing. Shortly after the death, Leigh is visited by a large red bird who brings her gifts and a note. Leigh comes to believe that the bird is her mother and that the gifts are clues to family secrets that may explain why her mother suffered so much. Leigh and her father travel to Taiwan to visit with her maternal grandparents, and Leigh experiences her Taiwanese heritage, including its Buddhist and Taoist elements, while gaining some clarity about who her mother was, who her grandparents are, and – ultimately – who she is herself.

Pan’s debut novel is a liminal narrative. The storyline weaves between grieving and healing, between America and Asia, between then and now, between this life and the next. The discourse is liminal as well. Pan writes from her experience as an Asian-American, but her protagonist Leigh is bi-racial and feels isolated and out-of-place almost everywhere. She is ‘othered’ throughout the novel; a boy at her school refers to her as exotic, and the Taiwanese people she encounters call her “mixed blood” (hunxie).

The Buddhist aspects of the novel are liminal too. Leigh had been exposed to family altars and bodhisattva images but did not know about Taiwanese Buddhist death practices, such as the burning of joss paper crafts or the 49 days of liminality between the previous life and the next rebirth. This liminal period becomes a temporal framework for the story.

One of the strongest aspects of Pan’s novel is the way she tackles mental illness and contemporary discourse (and stigmatization) around mental illness. This aspect is made very poignant in Chapter 10, when Leigh thinks:

“I can’t stop myself from wondering about the physical pain of the experience. I try to imagine suffering so hard that death would be preferable. That’s how Dr O’Brien explained it. That Mom was suffering.

Suffering suffering suffering suffering suffering.

The word circles around in my head until the syllables lose their edges and the meaning warps. The word begins to sound like an herb, or a name, or maybe a semiprecious stone. I try to think of a color to match it, but all that comes to mind is the blackness of dried blood.

I can only hope that in becoming a bird my mother has shed her suffering.”  Chapter 10 Loc 516 of 5168, Kindle edition

As the First Noble Truth of Buddhism, suffering is the problem of the human condition, and also the description that a psychiatrist attached to Dory’s therapy-resistant depression. Pan does not shy away from writing about depression and suicide and how this disease affects individuals and families alike. She writes in her Author’s Note:

“I grew up witnessing firsthand the effects of depression, and watching how my family let the stigma surrounding it become one of the darkest, stickiest traps. That stigma is perpetuated by not talking.” Author’s Note, Loc 5093 of 5168, , Kindle edition

This stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide is an important contemporary issue that Pan tackles in her novel, and she is surprisingly vocal about her perceived greater intensity of this stigma for Asian families. In fact, in another debut novel interview on the website hellogiggles, Pan suggests that the cultural stigma surrounding mental illness is “5000 times worse in Asian families.” Her first YA fiction book should go some way to breaking down the stigma of silence surrounding mental illness and suicide, and Pan and her publishers make sure to provide real-life (not magical realism) resources for suicide prevention and for suicide loss survivors after her Author’s Note. In this way, Pan’s novel functions as a Buddhist act of compassion, as a gift of dana to her readers. 

This novel will stay with me for a long time, and I have already recommended it to adults and teens alike. I would even assign this novel in a university level syllabus, especially in a course on death and dying. Put this novel on your list of books to read sooner than later. Purchase the hardcover, ebook, or audiobook:
INDIEBOUND | AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOKS-A-MILLION

 

 

 

 

 

Announcing More New Buddhist Fiction – Modern Monk Motifs

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the Rohingya tragedy that’s been recently highlighted in the news but ongoing for decades now in Myanmar and bordering areas. I am always surprised when acquaintances ask me about the situation, and they react in disbelief that Buddhist monks would commit and/or be complicit in such atrocities. These reactions reveal the power of the cultural imaginary; for various reasons, (which I don’t have space to discuss herein), many Westerners often stereotype Buddhist monks as pacifist, vegan, spiritually advanced meditating ascetics. The example of the hardline Buddhist monks in Myanmar problematizes imagined versions of Buddhist monks.

Perhaps no Buddhist narrative motif is more common throughout Buddhist literature – commentaries, folktales, hagiographies, miracle tales of all sorts, suttas/sutras, vinaya texts, etc. – than that of the eminent monk. The earliest examples of the motif of an eminent monk are stories of the historical Śākyamuni Buddha. Following this pattern, every school of Buddhism has chronicled stories of its own eminent monks, and according to Kieschnick (1997)*, the ideals contained in these narratives fall into the categories of asceticism, scholarship, and thaumaturgy or magical potency. This does not mean there is only one Buddhist monk narrative motif. For example, the warrior monk motif is based in Buddhist literature and is also popular in the West. It has been imagined in many films highlighting a connection between spiritual advancements and martial arts abilities such as karate and kung fu to grow far beyond its origins through other forms of media such as Japanese anime and manga. But only when we look beyond these two easy-to-find narrative motifs do we begin to discover other monk ‘characters.’ Schopen (2004)* describes “Ascetic monks, meditating monks, and learned monks” in the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya (MSV) as “slightly ridiculous characters in unedifying, sardonic, and funny stories or as nasty customers that “good” monks do not want to spend much time around.” He further relates that “The monks that the redactors of the Mūlasarvāstivāda-vinaya envisioned, and the monks that modern scholarship has imagined, are then radically different, and this difference is extremely important for the historian of Buddhism in India.” This difference is also extremely important for the contemporary reader of Buddhist fiction, as it’s been some time since I’ve read a novel with a Buddhist monk character who fits into the narrative motif of the eminent monk.

The three works of Buddhist fiction announced in this post present their readers with Buddhist monks who are most decidedly non-eminent. The monk protagonists in these novels and short stories read more like a case study in crazy-wisdom or characterized examples of upaya (skilful means); they do not flinch at boundaries but jump over the boundaries with glee. These monks are imagined for the 21st century.

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Naked Monk: A Novel by Hugo Bernard, 2018

The novel is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle format. It is free to read for Kindle Unlimited readers until June 2018.

Press Release:

 Naked Monk is a debut novel by Hugo Bernard, inspired by the story of Mara’s attempt to seduce Siddhartha moments before his awakening.  The story explores the struggles between sexual desires and spiritual awakening and is filled with unexpected twists that bring the wisdom from Pali Canon alive. Hugo explains why he thinks Buddhist Fiction is useful:

Many students of Buddhism focus on a rational understanding of the teaching. They intellectualize– to not say argue– what is the right and wrong interpretation of a given sutra. Fiction is a platform that releases us from these logical constraints and permits an exploration of how the Dharma can be used when living painfully difficult situations. In fiction as in life, characters may apply the Dharma correctly or not, either way, the reader may discover the rightful path for themselves through these simulated life experiences.”

Here is the description  from Amazon:

A wonderfully dangerous force lurks within us all, bringing misery, love, or total emancipation. 

A lonesome monk is summoned to help Milos, an accomplished fighter deeply troubled by mysterious sorrows. Together they travel to a remote forest and are joined by another monk, recently expelled from his monastery for inappropriate behaviours. Secluded in the forest, the three monks unwittingly release an ill-tempered god from an ancient curse. The god offers the monks a special gift: the perfect virtue of their choice. Although virtue should make a monk’s spiritual path easier, the god is determined to make them fail.

Can the monks find the wisdom needed to resist all the god’s temptations? Is such restraint humanly possible?

In this richly imaginative tale discover a giant golden Buddha with a compassionate kick, a meditation hall filled with monks bearing beetle heads, and ten thousand irresistible goddesses dancing in the forest. A story that wisely explores the struggles between sensual desires and spiritual awakening.

 ” … Told with the typical twists and turns of any good Buddhist tale, NAKED MONK also serves up many wayside delicacies of wisdom to savour during this most peculiar journey we call life. ” (Five Stars) – Readers’ Favorite Review 

“[…] This books gets deep and will hit you if you slow down, pay attention, and allow the lessons to wash over you. I know that people want “fast reads” these days, but I slowed down on this book. The payoff was immense. Five stars!” – Greg Soden, host of Classical Ideas Podcast. 

You can listen to Greg Soden discuss Bernard’s novel on The Classical Ideas Podcast, Episode 46, 21 March 2018 here: https://classicalideaspodcast.libsyn.com/ep-46-hugo-bernard-on-naked-monk-diligence-and-buddhist-practice  In the podcast Bernard reads from a chapter of Naked Monk: A Novel and discusses both his Buddhist and writing experiences. 

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The Dalai Camel by C.E. Rachlin, 2018

Press Release

Have you heard of the Dalai Lama? Well, let me introduce you to the Dalai Camel, a decidedly more irreverent character, quite likely to offend those of a sensitive nature right out of the gate. On a fantastic 500 year journey to enlightenment, the Dalai Camel follows his guru from the Buddhic Plane to the Sahara Desert, from Medieval France to pre-Columbian Brazil, all the way to modern-day New York and Los Angeles. Along the way, you will meet madcap characters including his adopted son Ugavinny; his long-lost brother Nicholas, who accidentally chiselled off the nose of the Great Sphinx; and the Holy One and People magazine enthusiast the Dalai Lama himself. Truly a bizarre tale of Bliss and Bewilderment, The Dalai Camel is a once in a lifetime read. Unless it is reincarnated.  But that would be a different lifetime.

“A screwball comedy mixed with spiritual insight.”  — Kirkus Reviews

C. E. RACHLIN was a pre-med student when he had the epiphany that he should change course and become a writer. He has lived and worked in Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles, where he developed marketing strategies for a major Hollywood studio.

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Mad Monk Improper Parables: Zen and the Art of the Art World by Larry Littany Litt, 2017

From Amazon blurb:

You need Zen to navigate the global art world. Curators say, “Every artist should read this book.” Mad Monk Improper Parables offers sixty timeless wise, witty and intense tales whose Eastern wisdom can be enjoyed by every artist, anytime and anyplace. These enlightening tales of life, love and work are inspired by a renegade Korean Zen/Chan monk-artist who traveled on and as often off the strict Zen Way. This intriguing, timeless character is a non-conforming yet dedicated Buddhist, successful artist, caring lover, avowed hedonist and above all social moralist. He’s a respected community hero and conversely a renowned trickster fighting authority, deceit and injustice. These stories joyously dramatize Mad Monk’s Buddhist and community based philosophy. They offer practical self-help advice about social status, competition, ageing, career choices, romance, filial obligation, friendship, dedication to purpose, the meanings of charity and kindness. Above all discovering who you are and how you can develop that person. In this genre-bending book of Asian parables, Larry Littany Litt brings his Chan/ Zen wit, wisdom and storytelling art to the dilemmas and contradictions of modern art life.

Reviewers are calling Mad Monk Improper Parables: “inspiring”, “delightfully and intellectually entertaining”, “magical”, “riveting”, “wonderfully deep”, “thoughtful and sensitive”.

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*Kieschnick, John. The Eminent Monk: Buddhist Ideals in Medieval Chinese Hagiography, Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 1997.

*Schopen, Gregory. Buddhist Monks and Business Matters: Still More Papers on Monastic Buddhism in India. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2004, p. 15.

Shambhala Publications Launches a New Imprint for Children

This fall, Shambhala Publications will launch a children’s imprint called Bala Kids. The aim of the imprint is to inspire “the next generation through the Buddhist values of compassion and wisdom. ”  Shambhala has put out a call for submissions for this children’s picture book series which will also award a book prize. Here is the link to the call and I have copied the information below: https://www.shambhala.com/call-for-submissions-bala-kids-the-khyentse-foundation-childrens-book-prize/

Just last November I presented a paper about Buddhist fiction and young adult literature (YAL) at Buddhism and Youth: A Symposium at the University of British Columbia for the 7th Annual Tung Lin Kok Yuen Canada Foundation Conference hosted by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Program in Buddhism and Contemporary Society of UBC. In a session entitled “Literary Adventures,” my presentation lamented a lack of Buddhist fiction intersecting with YAL.  Other presentations, however, focused on Buddhist literature for children, which is apparently growing. Buddhist Anglophile literature is indeed growing in the West for readers of all ages.

Thank you to my friend James for alerting me to this great news.

Copy of the call for submissions . . . .

Call for Submissions: Bala Kids & The Khyentse Foundation Children’s Book Prize

We are delighted to announce that Shambhala is launching a children’s imprint named Bala Kids in the Fall of 2018. Bala Kids will be devoted to inspiring the next generation through the Buddhist values of compassion and wisdom.

With a shared vision to inspire and educate generations to come, and to encourage the development of Buddhist resources for parents and children, Khyentse Foundation and Bala Kids are teaming up to offer the Khyentse Foundation Children’s Book Prize for the best Buddhist children’s book manuscript. Submissions of exceptional stories for children ages 0–8, both fiction and nonfiction, from all Buddhist traditions, are warmly welcomed, and new authors are especially encouraged to apply. The winning submission will receive a prize of $5,000 and will be offered a publishing contract from Bala Kids.

Guidelines

  • Content: Any complete manuscript in English for a picture book for children ages 0-8, expressing Buddhist values, themes, and traditions, is welcome. Submissions on secular mindfulness, meditation, or yoga will not be considered for this award.
  • Format: The book should be conceived as a full-color, full-size standard children’s picture book (not a board book). The exact trim size and page number will depend on the content and will be determined by the publisher, but generally the book should be conceived as ranging between 24 and 48 pages.
  • Illustrations: The prize is offered for the manuscript itself, which may or may not be submitted with illustrations, although submission of illustrations (with permissions cleared) is encouraged. Choosing the final illustrations for the book will be the responsibility of the publisher.
  • Consideration: All submissions will be reviewed by both Khyentse Foundation and Bala Kids, and will be assessed based on their creativity, message, and significance. It is possible that Bala Kids will make publication offers to multiple submissions; however, the Children’s Book Prize will be awarded to only one recipient. If there are no submissions that meet the standards of Khyentse Foundation and Bala Kids, the prize will be withheld until there is a new round of open submissions.
  • Contract: The winner of the prize will be offered a publishing contract by Bala Kids. All terms and conditions of the contract offer will be worked out between the author(s) and the publisher. Khyentse Foundation will not be directly involved in this process.

How To Submit

All manuscripts, along with accompanying illustrations, should be submitted with a cover letter that includes a short author biography, book summary, and the intended message of the book.

Please e-mail submissions to balakids@shambhala.com with the subject line: KF Book Prize Submission.

The winning author will be notified by May 15, 2018.

Closing date: February 15, 2018

Prize award: $5,000 and publication offer with Bala Kids

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