Monthly Archives: July 2011

Dear Curious Readers

Dear Curious Readers,

A few of you have emailed me asking for fuller descriptions of some of the works of Buddhist Fiction listed on the main page and noted in the links on the “Links and Reviews” page of this blog. I have been trying to do this on a new blog page, but I am having issues with the layout, so I thought I would provide a sampling of some of what has been published over the last 20 years in a blog post. I have not given up on a blog page so when I figure out the layout I will transfer this information and gradually fill it up.

By way of preamble, about seven years ago, I began to come across many novels in the fiction section of large book stores, popular fiction novels that had major Buddhist themes, characters, and messages. These were contemporary novels, published in English, for Western audiences. From reading book reviews of these works I noticed that the genre label “Buddhist Fiction” was used to describe many of these popular fiction novels. When two short story anthologies, published by Wisdom Publications (a Buddhist Publication house), used the term “Buddhist Fiction” in their sub-title, I realized that a new genre of fiction was emerging and it was being called “Buddhist Fiction.” These novels and short stories are published in English and they are contemporary. They combine Western forms of story telling (adventure, romance, and detective stories) with snippets of Buddhist narratives (like a quest for a lost sutra so familiar from the Chinese classic The Journey to the West). So they are a combination of Western fiction writing with Buddhist narrative modes worked into the plots and characterization of the novels or short stories.

Below I have listed a few and provided very brief descriptions.

Mark Salzman. 1992. The Laughing Sutra. New York, NY: Vintage.

In this story set in the 1970s that borrows from Journey to the West, characters Hsun-ching and his mentor, Colonel Sun, travel from China to San Francisco in their quest for the Laughing Sutra, a text that allegedly holds the key to immortality.

Ken Mitchell. 1993. Stones of the Dalai Lama. New York, NY: Soho Press.
Canadian author Ken Mitchell penned this yarn about down-and-out college professor Bob Harlow. While on a teaching assignment in China and Tibet, he pockets some mani stones from a Tibetan religious and archeological site. Upon return to North America, his life is turned upside down and he concludes that the stones are cursed and he must return them to their original site. His return to Tibet is an adventure akin to a visualized journey into a mandala, complete with holy men and demons.

Eliot Pattison. 1999. The Skull Mantra. New York, NY: Soho Crime.

This political thriller set in Tibet is the first in a series of novels featuring former inspector Shan Tao Yun General from the Ministry of Economy cum current political prisoner. Shan has survived his imprisonment in a Himalayan camp with the acceptance, support and spiritual guidance of his fellow prisoners, most of whom are Tibetan Buddhists. Life in the camp is almost bearable until the day a headless body is discovered near the prison camp and Shan is called to duty by local officials to solve this murder.

Keith Kachtick. 2003. Hungry Ghost. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publisher.

Womanizer, hedonist, would-be Buddhist and photographer Carter Cox has adventures, desires and cravings that drive him to an experience in the hungry ghost realm.

John Burdett. 2004. Bangkok 8. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a Thai police detective who should have been a Buddhist monk. His ideas of justice and his detecting skills both derive from his deep understanding of karma. This is the first book in a series by John Burdett.

Anne Donovan. 2004. Buddha Da. New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers.

Jimmy is a Scottish father (“Da”) and housepainter who takes a liking to Buddhist meditation. When he decides to become a vegetarian, his family thinks his behavior is odd. But when he tells his fertile wife that he wants to be celibate for a while, the real action in this novel begins.

Kate Wheeler, Ed. 2004. Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree and Other Works of Buddhist Fiction. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA.
This anthology of short stories with Buddhist themes was published by the Buddhist publishing house Wisdom. Note that the subtitle contains the genre category “Buddhist Fiction.”

Keith Kachtick, Ed. 2006. You Are Not Here and Other Works of Buddhist Fiction. Wisdom Publications: Somerville, MA.

This is the second anthology of short stories of Buddhist Fiction published by Wisdom publications. Keith Kachtick, author of the novel Hungry Ghost above, edited this volume with a view for stories that highlighted mindfulness of the present moment.

Dai Sijie. 2010, Translated reprint edition. Once on a Moonless Night. New York, NY. Random House, Inc.

A young Western scholar in China hears an account of a precious scroll inscribed with a lost Buddhist sutra, once owned by Pu Yi, the last emporer of China. She falls in love with the tale-teller, Toomchooq, and his tale. When Toomchooq and other people enveloped in the mystery of the scroll start to disappear, she embarks on a journey that begins with the words “Once on a moonless night . . .”

I hope this whets your appetite for some good summer reading!