Author Archives: buddhistfictionblogger

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:

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.


  • 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 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



From Fiction to Film – The First Rule of Ten

An acquaintance from my doctoral fieldwork days emailed me last week to let me know of an upcoming television mystery series based on works of Buddhist fiction. He had read the announcement on the buddhistdoor news page and thought I should know. He was right. Thanks go out to D. for the heads up!

If you’re like me and you feel the need to read the original novel of a movie or television series before watching the story brought to life on film, then you will want to read The First Rule of Ten: A Tenzing Norbu Mystery series by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay. Ten, short for Tenzing, is the ex-monk protagonist of this mystery series published by Hay House in 2011. There are now five novels in the series, each based around a theme or “rule” that Ten espouses and/or learns as part of the novel. Ten’s first rule is “Don’t ignore intuitive tickles lest they reappear as sledgehammers.” This series is another example of the intersection of Buddhism and mystery I wrote about in July 2016 that creatively links Buddhist experience to the types of reasoning skills and intuition required to deal with enigmatic situations. You can find the Tenzing Norbu Mystery series on or the Hay House website or Amazon.

I have yet to find a date to mark on a calendar for the airing of the first episode, but viewers are excited that Daniel Dae Kim who owns 3AD production company –  the same company behind the popular television series The Good Doctor – is developing The First Rule of Ten. You can read more about it here:

As an aside, it’s interesting to note that Hendricks’ and Lindsay’s novels are categorized as “spiritual fiction” by the publisher. What do you make of this?


Big Year for Buddhist Author George Saunders

As many of you may know, in October George Saunders’ first novel Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel (New York, NY: Random House, 2017) won the Man Booker Prize for fiction. Saunders is generally considered one of America’s best short story writers. His 2014 story collection “Tenth of December” won the inaugural Folio Prize and his first novel, long anticipated, has spent months at the top of the New York Times Best Seller list.

Saunders is also a practising Buddhist, and his religious orientation is put to use right from the title of the novel – Lincoln in the Bardo – concerning the Tibetan term for a liminal state of being experienced between death and rebirth. This state is discussed in Theravada suttas (Pali, antarabhava) and Mahayana sutras (Chinese, zhongyou), but it is best known in the west as bardo due to Evans-Wentz’s early 20th-century translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Tibetan, bar do thos grol chen mo).

Use of the term bardo in Saunder’s novel refers to the experience of Willie Lincoln, beloved son of 19th century President Lincoln, who passed away from typhoid. The story is based on this real historical event. Saunders imagines Willie’s experience after death, his confusion about the event, and his clinging to his former life, in part due to the grief of his father who visits his corpse.

While Lincoln in the Bardo is based on many historical facts, it is not really a work of historical fiction so much as an historical imaging that produces a metanarrative which complicates and explores the western concept of time. Saunders does this through the narration of the story and also through intertextuality.

Willie’s story unfolds in two main streams: historically and dialogically. Historically, some chapters are clips and quotations of various contemporaneous sources of Lincoln, such as personal papers, books written by historians, newspaper articles, etc. Not all of these sources are real; Saunders adroitly combines authentic pieces of history with fictional creations to convey the flow of events to his reader.

The other form of narrative employed by Saunders is dialogue, pulled together from a whole chorus of spirits who are also in the bardo with Willie. Even the syntax that Saunders uses to portray Willie-in-dialogue denotes a liminal state and lacks important punctuation, notably periods that mark sentence endings.

Saunders’ depiction of an intermediate afterlife state is intertextual and combines aspects of the Tibetan bardo with aspects of Catholic purgatory and a healthy Protestant fear of hell. Many of the spirit characters in this bardo take on the “physical” characteristics of their clinging to life, reminiscent of beings depicted in the Buddhist Wheel of Life or in Dante’s Divine Comedy. So while the bardo in this novel is not the traditional Tibetan bardo that Buddhist Studies scholars would recognize, it can be read as reflective of the transmission of Buddhism to the west.

This is a novel I will have to read more than once in order to fully appreciate the Buddhist elements, but it is written in such an engaging way that I will happily read it again, and again. For now, I appreciate that Saunders’ work is highlighting Buddhism as it intersects with fiction.

Announcing New Buddhist Fiction – October 2017 Edition

With the autumnal equinox behind us, and the western world thinking about all things harvest and Hallowe’en, the introduction of two new works of spooky Buddhist fiction is apropos of the season.


The Haunting of Cragg Hill House by Elyse Salpeter, 2017  Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform/Amazon Digital Services LLC.

Here’s what goodreads has to say about Elyse and the Kelsey Porter, Buddhist Thriller series:

“Elyse Salpeter is an author who loves mixing “the real with the fantastic” in her books. She likes nothing better than taking different scenarios and creating worlds where things just aren’t what they appear to be.

Her suspense thriller series, THE HUNT FOR XANADU, THE QUEST OF THE EMPTY TOMB and THE CALL OF MOUNT SUMERU are [sic] about a brilliant and fearless young woman named Kelsey Porter, whose life is steeped in Buddhist spiritual mysteries and she is constantly discovering the world around her is not what she believed it to be.”

Elyse Salpeter’s most recent book is #4 in her Kelsey Porter, Buddhist Thriller series: THE HAUNTING OF CRAGG HILL HOUSE. She says: “I truly believe folks should read the books in order, as I take them through the series and reveal in book #1 startling things about the main character’s spiritual path. That said, I did write Book #4 as a standalone.”

Promotional Blurb for The Haunting of Cragg Hill House:

All she wanted was a weekend away…

“Kelsey and Desmond escape to a Gothic Victorian mountain resort for the weekend, but when they arrive, their idyllic plans begin to unravel fast. Kelsey feels a sinister, dark presence pervading the hotel, and with a snowstorm raging, they are stranded with an evil she cannot name. A fleeting figure screaming down the hallway, staff with missing body parts, and then Desmond disappears, leaving behind a trail of blood. Kelsey soon discovers she’s fighting a deep magic she hasn’t seen in eons and she must figure out what is happening at Cragg Hill House… before it is too late.”

UK Amazon:





Waking the Fake Snake: The Mystery of the Blue Robe Manuscripts by Mat Skybrook, 2017  Publisher: Vajra Books, Nepal.

Mat Skybrook is the pseudonym of an American author who, after many years of living in Asia and elsewhere, is now based on the West Coast of the USA. He has written what has been called “A remarkable debut novel on separation, delusive attachments and seeing through them.”


It is summer 1985 and the young American teacher Richard Tatem heads for the Himalayas, there discovering a rare manuscript of the secret Blue-Robes cult. Hoping to kick-start his career and regain the affection of Miki Tojinbara, an unforgettable Japanese junior colleague from Osaka who has recently ditched him, Tatem returns to India. His search goes dangerously awry when he finds himself hunted by ruthless later-day guardians of the supposedly dead Blue Robe cult. Meanwhile, Tatem and Miki try a second time to see whether Buddhist love is really a contradiction in terms.

Touching a fake snake for Tibetan Buddhists can symbolize overcoming false fears through insight. Filled with both lofty Buddhist philosophies and gritty Tibetan reality, this novel thus explores perceptively the limits of obsessive attachment and romantic love for Buddhists.


“Buddhism is not only a profound spiritual and philosophical tradition. As proven by Mat Skybrook’s wonderfully written Waking the Fake Snake, its world and ideas can also provide the setting for an enthralling narrative of adventurous discovery and revealing self-discovery.”—Florin Deleanu, PhD, Professor of Buddhist Studies, ICPBS/IIBS (Tokyo)

“A hopeful novel for the century that lies ahead, with plenty of inter-cultural romance, ample sex, and a stiff dose of danger–though less violence than expected. Even more than in great classic novels, it’s all about seeing under, around or through the delusions thus created, and Skybrook obviously knows his delusions.” –Dr. gDan Martin, author of Tibet.Logic blog

“Skybrook’s fascinating mystery is three books in one: an Asian adventure, a love story and an intellectual puzzle. It vividly evokes the place and people of the Tibetan exile scene in Dharamsala and Tibetan friends in India as we knew them decades ago.” –Prof. Ramon Prats, Barcelona

Like A. S. Byatt’s Possession did for English literary research, this compelling Himalayan mystery dramatizes Tibetan and Buddhist studies field-work, with nearly as many true historical wrinkles as The Da Vinci Code.

Kindle version:

The novel is also available in book form from the website

Buddhist Literary Festival – Toronto, ON, Canada 24 September 2017

I’m pleased to announce what I hope is the first of many Buddhist Literary Festivals to be held in conjunction with the Word on the Street Book and Magazine Festival in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on 24 September, 2017.  This inaugural event is founded and coordinated by Professor Suwanda Sugunasiri, himself an author of Buddhist fiction, poetry, and academic works. If you’re in the area, stop by!

Nepali storyteller brings Buddhist tale of adventure to Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 27 August

Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Religion and Culture, in collaboration with the University of Toronto’s Ho Centre for Buddhist Studies, presents a retelling of the Avadāna of the Merchant Simhala at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto on Sunday, Aug. 27.

The full announcement about this event from the Wilfrid Laurier University web site reads as follows:


Nepali storyteller brings Buddhist tale of adventure to ROM in Laurier-organized event


It’s an epic tale of adventure involving merchant sailors shipwrecked on an island that’s home to shape-shifting ogresses. It’s also part of a storytelling tradition of major significance to Buddhist scholars as well as to the Nepali and Tibetan communities.

A prominent Buddhist scholar will conduct a retelling of the Avadāna of the Merchant Simhala at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto on Sunday, Aug. 27. It’s an event being organized by Associate Professor Jason Neelis of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Religion and Culture, in collaboration with the University of Toronto’s Ho Centre for Buddhist Studies, to kick off a mini-conference on the past lives of the Buddha.

The storytelling will be performed in English by Professor Naresh Man Bajracharya, vice-chancellor of Lumbini Buddhist University in Nepal. Accompanying the story will be a reproduction of a nine-metre (30-foot) painted scroll from the Kathmandu Valley that illustrates the tale. Parts of the scroll will also be digitally projected onto screens.

The event will take place at the Eaton Theatre Auditorium of the ROM, from 10 a.m. to noon. It should be of interest to a wide audience ranging from children eager to hear an exciting tale of magic and heroism to Buddhist scholars, says Neelis. The version of the tale being told is from the Newar people of Nepal.

Doors open at 9:30 a.m. and the event is free but does not include ROM admission. Attendees wishing to visit the ROM after the event must buy tickets. No pre-registration is necessary and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Bajracharya will be introduced by Associate Professor Christoph Emmrich of the University of Toronto and Deepali Dewan, the ROM’s curator of South Asian art and culture. Honorary Consul General of Nepal Kunjar Sharma will also speak briefly. Professor Todd Lewis of College of the Holy Cross (Massachusetts) will speak after the storytelling to put it in context.

In the story, the hero, Simhala-Sarthavahu, is rescued from the island by a horse that is a bodhisattva, destined to be reborn as the Indian prince who came to be known as the Buddha.

Exploring narratives of “Where the Buddha was Previously Born, Seen, and Heard” is the topic of the mini-conference, which will be attended largely by members of the International Association of Buddhist Studies (IABS) following that organization’s XVIIIth Congress at the University of Toronto.

The conference will bring together leading international Buddhist studies scholars and graduate students who will contribute to interdisciplinary academic panels on the transmission and transformation of Buddhist rebirth narratives in texts and art across Asia.

It will also feature a roundtable discussion of the results of a two-year collaborative research project in which art historians and textual specialists have been working on collecting and cataloguing artistic representations and summaries of previous-birth narratives in early Buddhist manuscripts from ancient Gandhāra, situated in what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The conference and storytelling event are supported by grants from the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation for Buddhist Studies and from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

For more information, see or contact Jason Neelis.




Apologies, dear reader, for the delay of this review post. I have been travelling. And I have discovered that short stories are the perfect genre choice for journeys with many stops. On my recent travels, I have been reading and re-reading An Tran’s short story collection, Meditations on the Mother Tongue (C&R Press, 2016). These twelve stories span the world, from Alaska to Vietnam, from caves to zoos. The collection is a symphony of imagery that will give you goose bumps. They are told through the voices of men, women, and children, young and old, Asian and Caucasian. More than once my breath caught while reading one of Tran’s stories; his prose can be simultaneously incisive and surreal as it lays bare what it means to be human. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect from these stories, perhaps because they can be categorised into so many intersecting genres. The short works of fiction would fit just as well into a collection of Asian American Literature as they would in a collection of Buddhist Fiction. You might think that the intersection of Asian American Literature and Buddhist Fiction is ubiquitous across these kinds of literature, but it is not a given that any work of fiction by an Asian American author includes major Buddhist themes or characters. Many of Tran’s short stories include both, and others of his stories have neither, but still, resonate with vibrations of the Buddha dharma. Some of the short stories could be further sub-categorized as realistic fiction, suspense, mystery and even mythopoeia. But none of these categories fully encapsulates the insightful, engaging experience of reading Tran’s first collective offering.

The stories in Meditations on The Mother Tongue comprise a discourse on language and its centrality to human identity. Tran accomplishes this through brilliant characterization that positions his reader for deep listening. It’s as if he ushers you to the best seat in the concert hall based on the particular piece of music on the program. And of course, Tran has composed the music to be performed. Which is perhaps why his prose is so musical. For example, in the story “A Clear Sky Above” the young protagonist Teuku ventures into a cave and experiences this:

“Teuku is hypnotised by the music of the cave, the way it accompanies human speech. A voice emerges small and then bounces off cavern walls, splits into a chorus that comes from all around, its vibration like warm electricity on the skin. It is a reverent hymn, and he follows every word like a scripture” (p. 17).

Since this story is written from the third person point-of-view, the reader is able to venture into the cave with Teuku and is then immersed in this natural yet unique world through sound imagery. Tran interweaves the natural world with the human experiences of language and sound to remind his reader that language is universal.

In the short story “Conversations with the Rest of the World” a deaf girl named Lily learns to communicate with the world around her through sign language. As she is learning, she realises certain things about language, such as: “Reading and writing were conventions made for the hearing” (p. 63) and “silence was a punishment” (p. 66). And in an insightful moment in which Lily compares her mode of communication to those around her, she wonders how being human feels (p. 69).

The connection between language and humanness is further blurred when, some weeks later, Lily goes to the zoo with her teacher. There she sees gorillas signing to each other, and she leans over the rail to get a closer look.

Lily signed down, Hello, friends!

Frantically, the gorillas signed their responses, simple words and ideas that described their moods and desires.

Lily watched the fragmented conversations of the animals. She imagined a future life: Lily, the adult; Lily, the scientist; Lily, the bridge between humanity and the rest of the world . . .  She imagined ripping away all the invisible railings in the world, all the barriers to speaking up. She saw herself filling up that moat with dirt, mud, soil, and all the richness of the earth.

In this story of a deaf girl who talks with a nonverbal gorilla, silence speaks volumes. Tran’s adept development and placement of characters in the natural world positions the reader to consider how – or why – language makes us human.

At this point, you may be wondering what, if anything, is Buddhist about any of the examples I have provided thus far? Based on the title of the short story collection, I posit that Tran uses his experience of Buddhism to interrogate the idea that language makes us human. Even if there is no mention of Buddhist concepts or teachings in the story, Tran’s narratives create a space for his reader to imagine human experience without words. This type of experience-without-language is like a samadhi meditation that opens up a “broad field of awareness” of being and knowing in non-discursive ways. (Keren Arbel, Early Buddhist Meditation: The Four Jhanas as Actualization and Insight. Routledge: New York, NY, 2017, p. 94). It’s a sweet irony, to be sure, that words can point to non-discursivity, like a finger pointing to the moon. But this is just one of the ways that Tran’s stories are meditations.

There is another, more overtly Buddhist way that Tran’s stories are meditations, and this relates directly to his mother tongue. He is a Vietnamese American, the son of refugees who fled to the U.S. at the end of the Vietnam War. Buddhism is his birthright. His experience of growing up in a country foreign to his parents’ culture, and his experience of growing up with two languages, deeply influences his work (Anjali Enjeti, “Getting Lost in Language: An Tran On His Debut Collection, Meditations on the Mother TongueBrooklyn Magazine, 24 May 2017 ). Tran’s stories are not the alienated, traumatic, situated testimonies of immigrants that are often associated with early Asian American Literature. Rather, his stories represent the experiences of later generations who are alienated from both their family’s cultural heritage and their birth country’s promises of freedom and prosperity. And for Tran, this cultural heritage includes Buddhism.

In my view, Tran’s best meditations on his mother tongue are comprised of stories in which the protagonist is Asian, for these protagonists position the reader to see cultures and worlds in tension. Take for example the first person point-of-view protagonist in “Once I Wed a White Woman.” In this story, an unnamed Asian (-American?) protagonist meets, courts, proposes to, and marries a white woman. As the reader is shown this developing relationship, we are privy to the protagonist’s feelings and thoughts. For example, after just meeting her in a bar, the protagonist and his future wife discuss jazz and he reflects: “She’d only named singers and I believed real jazz had no room for singers. Words were obstructions; music was to be heard, not listened to” (p. 119). This distinction between hearing and listening speaks directly to the way in which each of these culturally representative characters make meaning from their backgrounds, their contexts. The distinction made between hearing and listening is a theme throughout the story. Hearing is a non-discursive activity – the act of perceiving sound – but listening somehow requires transference of meaning, an act that implies and emphasizes a gap between self and other.

On the concept of self, the protagonist thinks thusly: “It is a delusion. We only exist through our relationships” (p.122). When his relationship with his white significant other progresses to cohabitation, he states “We took down my altar to Gautama Buddha . . . We put up framed pictures of ourselves” (p. 122). The process of “blending” his culture with his partner’s culture requires more compromise on his part, and he describes how he comes home to his “culture in a corner” quite insightfully when he states: “Westerners couldn’t look at a swastika without a sense of shame, and so I was supposed to feel this shame too. Shame for my own faith” (p. 123). The lingering colonialism that informed his relationship experience takes centre stage as the couple decides the wedding location; she wants the wedding to take place in a church. He says:

“Neither of us are Christian.” She said, “I just want a normal wedding” (p 123).

The protagonist tries to maintain a Buddhist viewpoint of his relationship: “I thanked her for releasing me from my own dogmas, but I didn’t know if I believed myself” (p. 123). If he only existed through his relationship to others, then his existence in relation to his partner is challenged even in their marriage ceremony.

The church was a small building with white walls. From the gutters at the edge of the roof hung ribbons of rust that settled into the paint, staining it in oranges and browns and ambers. The paint had cracked and formed fissures at the corners of all the door and window frames. I thought about the space between the cracks, how a house of God wore rivers of absence. . . A man in a black robe talked to us about togetherness and God and eternity. I stopped listening (p. 125).

Throughout the rest of the story, the protagonist makes attempts to be heard, to rescue his relationship by various means, including exposing his partner to Buddhist meditation, as if he is trying to teach his partner to hear as well as listen. Tran’s descriptions of altar Buddhas and meditation spaces are transportive, like the beginnings of a guided meditation that sets the mental stage for practice.

As a meditation on the mother tongue, this story, “Once I Wed a White Woman,” juxtaposes two cultures, east and west, Buddhist and Christian, through an exploration of the distinctions between hearing and listening. I cannot help but read the title of this short story and wonder if it is an allusion to the traditional opening to western folk tales beginning with “Once upon a time,” a phrase that serves as a verbal cue to begin listening. For the protagonist, this western folk tale phrase has displaced the traditional opening to Buddhist stories from sutras: “Thus have I heard.” In the tension between hearing and listening, this story provides a subtle and nuanced meditation on language, culture, contexts, and colonialism.

Regardless of what languages are represented in his stories, taken together, Tran’s meditations on the mother tongue form a discourse about how language shapes our experience of the world around us, and how non-discursive experience – being without words – can relieve suffering and open us to reality. Once again I am left appreciating the irony of how Tran’s stories can be read as a meditation on the benefits of not constantly creating stories, of experiencing life without reversion to mental narrating.