Category Archives: Announcing New Buddhist Fiction

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.

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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.

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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.”

Book #1 THE HUNT FOR XANADU
AMAZON: http://amzn.to/1CEvEab
UK Amazon: http://amzn.to/1Cp2awz

Book #2 THE QUEST OF THE EMPTY TOMB
US AMAZON: http://amzn.to/1EvXExO
UK AMAZON: http://amzn.to/1JSRNqT

Book #3 THE CALL OF MOUNT SUMERU
US AMAZON: http://amzn.to/1SUskAv
UK AMAZON: http://amzn.to/1nPF6TO

Book #4 THE HAUNTING OF CRAGG HILL HOUSE:
US AMAZON: http://amzn.to/2pb1HyT
UK AMAZON: http://amzn.to/2pVJLGB

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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.”

Blurb:

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.

Reviews:

“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:

https://www.amazon.com/Waking-Fake-Snake-Mystery-Manuscripts-ebook/dp/B01MZZM05X/

The novel is also available in book form from the website vajrabookshop.com:

http://www.vajrabookshop.com/categories/vajra-publications/products/waking-the-fake-snake-the-mystery-of-the-blue-robe-manuscripts

Announcing New Buddhist Fiction – White Tiger Legend by Hu Yuan Nabe

bookcoverThe novel White Tiger Legend by Hu Yuan Nabe was written for young readers, particularly those with a passion for the martial arts. The authorial pseudonym is a play on Chinese and Japanese words that begs the questions “who you wanna be?” The first-time author behind the pseudonym, Kory Juul, is an accomplished Hollywood visual effects artist who has worked on movies such as The BFG, DeadpoolAvatar, the Hobbit Trilogy, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and the Matrix sequels. He has also harnessed his visual effects skills to bring White Tiger Legend to the screen. The animated movie is currently in post-production but to get an idea of the characters in the story, check out the website http://www.whitetigerlegend.com .

Juul’s first novel tells the marvelous adventures of Zi, a young Shaolin monk who lived about 400 years ago in China. But it is more than just a young reader’s adventure story. Juul combines Buddhas, bodhisattvas and an understanding of Taoism with extensive martial arts knowledge, wisdom gleaned from a deep empathy of many cultures, and a sense of humour that bubbles through the story like a babbling brook.

Below is a summary and some reviews from the PR package for White Tiger Legend. As one of the reviewers noted, I wish this story was around when I was a kid! Enjoy.


“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” meets “The Alchemist.”


Buddhism is awesome. It is liberating. Everyone loves freedom.

But how do you present such amazing concepts in a way the next generation will connect? Knowing an idea is one thing, but breathing it and feeling it enhance your life is another!

It was for this reason that White Tiger Legend was written. It is a Buddhist sneak attack on the heart of every young adult beginning to fall into maya.  It’s time to dance again!

“In some ways I am disappointed this was not written and available when I was a child. This would have fallen into the list of titles that sparked my young and exploring mind to expand and evolve, and likely would have stayed with me forever.” – Xonrad (Goodreads)

Journey back to 12th century China, and discover the tale of Zi, a young Buddhist monk who loses everything – his home, his family, and the Shaolin Temple.  Armed only with his pet grasshopper and courageous little heart, Zi embarks on an epic quest for enlightenment and to become a Kung Fu Master.  Such an impossible journey can only have an incredible ending!

“The message in this book is timeless. It reframes many ideas that you might have read from various sources into a coherent and integrated understanding of universality. I firmly believe that this book will become a spiritual evergreen for many many years to come.” – Adnan (Amazon)

What a gift to learn such life enhancing lessons so early in life!

White Tiger Legend is now available in Audiobook, Paperback, and Ebook formats at Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Nobles.

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Announcing New(ish) Buddhist Fiction – BUDDHALAND BROOKLYN by Richard C. Morais

Buddhaland Brooklyn by Richard C. Morais was published by Scribner in December, 2013. The novel is modelled on nostalgic fictional memoirs that condense a lifetime into a symbolic year. And so is told the story of curmudgeonly, repressed Buddhist monk Reverend Seido Oda whose Japanese superiors send him to an Italian neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York, to build a temple. By all accounts, and reviews, Morais’ novel is a wonderful story that is worth reading and savouring.

“The Hunt for Xanadu” led me to the Buddhist Fiction listopia on goodreads!

One of the unexpected blessings of this blog is a connection with authors. I started the blog at the request of a few colleagues who wanted me to create a list of Buddhist fiction and even point out works that would be useful in university classrooms. Since then, the blog has taken on a life of its own and one aspect of that life is interest from authors who feel their works may fit into the category of Buddhist fiction. In fact, this is how I met the Buddhist Fiction Blog’s wonderful contributing editor Chris Beal, who is herself an author and was a creative writing teacher.

Recently I was contacted by author Elyse Salpeter who thinks that her novel The Hunt for Xanadu fits into the category of Buddhist fiction. While I am currently overwhelmed with all sorts of writing and cannot review Elyse’s novel, I wanted to tell you about it here. Her web site summarizes the book with the tag phrase: “A girl, the Buddhist devil and a mystical world, tying them all together in ways unimaginable . . . ” The Amazon.com blurb reads:

“Twenty-two year old Kelsey Porter has dedicated her life to avenging the death of her parents, murdered in their quest to find the mystical land of Xanadu. Before she can locate the murderers, she has to discover their motives for the brutal crime and finds herself at the epicenter of a Buddhist mystery as old as time. With the help of her companion, Detective Desmond Gisborne, she hunts the killers across the globe and discovers a darkness in her spiritual past that tests the very limits of her soul. Soon she realizes that it is not she who is doing the hunting, but the one being hunted. Kelsey must find a way to survive, while ancient demons attempt to destroy her.”

The novel sounds thrilling, to say the least. I am so grateful to Elyse for letting me know about her work, and especially thankful for one further piece of information. In our brief email chats, Elyse noted that her novel is currently # 1 on the goodreads Buddhist Fiction listopia. I had to look twice. Goodreads has a list of works of Buddhist fiction? Indeed it does! Why is this notable? Because goodreads is the largest social network for book worms on the internet with over 25 million members. Yes, that’s right, 25 million readers log on, review, and chat about what they are reading on goodreads, including reviews of works of Buddhist fiction.

Right about now the lovely Chris Beal is probably laughing as she reads this, because our contributing editor has been reviewing works on goodreads for a while. She reads and reviews so much that I can hardly keep up with her. Chris knows the value of goodreads, a value that is reviewed in this 12 Feb 14 article in The Atlantic.

So The Hunt for Xanadu author Elyse Salpeter led me to a new list of Buddhist fiction. Thank-you Elyse! I am always amazed at how Buddhism is imagined in fiction, and at the breadth and depth of the popular imagination.

Announcing New Buddhist Fiction – DREAMERS AND THEIR SHADOWS by Douglas J. Pennick

41Zw-QuHy3L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_ Kimberly here. As I did not have time this past week to write up this announcement, I would like to thank the author himself, Douglas Pennick, for providing the information below.

Dreamers and Their Shadows by Douglas J. Pennick. Mountain Treasury Press, July 2013.

Two ancient scrolls, The Secret Annals, are discovered in the 1950’s in a Tokyo bombsite. They purport to be the history of an unknown 15th-Century Japanese spiritual teacher who, in a time of social chaos, sets out to establish enlightened society. He begins his teaching saying: “Abstinence is no path at all. We are gambling on true love. It is an untested path.” In documents from students and spies, the Annals then give an intimate portrait of a charismatic leader, his teachings and the transformative journey he shares with his eccentric band of followers. The scrolls are unmasked as forgeries, but ten years later, a retired professor becomes obsessed. Who created this hoax? And why? To the professor the Annals offer new possibilities from a kind of parallel reality. On his deathbed, he makes his American assistant promise to continue searching and to translate the scrolls. The assistant moves to New York. It is the time of the Vietnam war and the counter-culture. He has doubts about the professor, but the world of the Secret Annals begins to seep into his life. He finds within the Prince’s teaching a path through this world of trackless uncertainty. Tantalized, he senses a new world of passionate intensity just within reach.

Reviews:
“A compelling, passionate evocation, an ethos of the imagination, a new kind of metaphoric history, DREAMERS AND THEIR SHADOWS channels a chorus of intimacies in a chronicle of age-old conflicts.” – Gaetano Kazuo Maeda, Founding Director – International Buddhist Film Festival and Festival Media

“This incredibly beautiful and unique. DREAMERS AND THEIR SHADOWS entices the reader into rich new worlds of understanding and enjoyment.” – William Osborne, composer, author, journalist and, with Abbie Conant, founder of The Wasteland Company.

“The writer probes, by means of mysteriously interwoven characters, events and psychic convergences, something very deep in all of us: our longing for perfection, and the implacable resistance to it of our human selves. Can we achieve utopian peace within? Can we create a utopian society in the world? Is this the best use of our humanity? (perhaps love matters more?) These questions are explored through a tension set up between the rarified world of academic study and the direct, in-your-face, crude, frightening, sometimes beautiful, utterly strange world of life with a charismatic, enlightened, “crazy wisdom” Teacher.” – Susan Merwin

Announcing New(ish) Buddhist Fiction – THE HUNGRY GHOSTS by Shyam Selvadurai

the-hungry-ghosts-cover Shyam Selvadurai’s third novel, The Hungry Ghosts, hit books stores in May. Ian McGillis of The Montreal Gazette described the protagonist as follows: “a half-Tamil, half Sinhalese Shivan Rassiah, a young gay man torn between the difficult adjustment to Canadian life and the unresolved dramas he and his family left behind when they fled the civil war in Sri Lanka.” An interview with Selvadurai by Eric Volmers of The Calgary Herald can be read here.