Tag Archives: Keith Kachtick

Oxford Bibliographies in Buddhism: “Buddhism and Modern Literature”

buddhismI am very proud to announce the publication of my Oxford Bibliographies in Buddhism article “Buddhism and Modern Literature.” It came online yesterday and I am excited to see how it develops over the next few years, since I am sure I will have to add to it as Buddhism continues to intersect with modern literature in a multitude of forms and ways. The citations cover Buddhism in modern fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, autobiography and biography from around the globe. Have a look here: Buddhism and Modern Literature.

And I am particularly fond of a reference under the heading “Literary Fiction” that our readers might remember from the Buddhist Fiction Blog:

Beal, Chris. “An Interview with Ruth Ozeki about Her New Novel: A Tale for the Time Being.” Buddhist Fiction Blog (10 April 2013).        This engaging interview reveals the Zen aspects, influences, and nuances of Ozeki’s award-winning novel A Tale for the Time Being (2013). Beal’s well-honed questions solicit deep and provocative answers about Zen Buddhism, fiction, and philosophy.

Another reference that might interest Buddhist Fiction Blog readers can be found under the heading “Cross-Genre Fiction”:

Beek, Kimberly. “Telling Tales Out of School: The Fiction of Buddhism.” In Buddhism beyond Borders: New Perspectives on Buddhism in the United States. Edited by Mitchell Scott and Quli Natalie, 125–142. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015.     Beek examines the reception of Buddhist stories narrated inside and outside of Asian contexts by comparing the different reflections of Buddhism in Amy Tan’s Asian American novel The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991) and Keith Kachtick’s Buddhist-infused novel Hungry Ghost (2004), suggesting the emergence of Buddhist fiction.

The whole bibliographic article contains over 80 citations to general overviews, anthologies, primary works, articles, dissertations, web sites, etc. that outline the depth and breadth of Buddhism and Modern Literature. If you cannot access the entire article directly from the Oxford Bibliographies web site, you can probably access it through an institutional library. Happy perusing!!

Will Carter Get the Girl? A review of HUNGRY GHOST

Author Keith Kachtick is a long-time Buddhist practitioner who also edited the collection of stories, YOU ARE NOT HERE AND OTHER WORKS OF BUDDHIST FICTION (2006).” His novel, HUNGRY GHOST, has been designated as Buddhist fiction by Kimberly French in her UUMagazine spring 2010 blog post “Guide to Buddhist Fiction”: http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/162391.shtml, as well as by Pico Iyer in his NY Times Review, “Is the Pope Buddhist?” http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/27/books/is-the-pope-buddhist.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm. It is also reviewed as Buddhist fiction on John L. Murphy’s Blogtrotter: http://fionnchu.blogspot.com/2012/01/keith-kachticks-hungry-ghost-novel.html

 Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Carter Cox, a 39-year-old womanizing New York photographer, befriends a Buddhist teacher of sorts, who takes him to a retreat. There he meets Mia Malone, a Catholic who explores other religions. But her main characteristic is that she is a 26-year-old virgin and wants to remain that way until she marries. Things get complicated when Carter invites Mia to go to north Africa with him to be his assistant on a photo shoot. Will he bed her or not? This is the question, but the conflict is not so much between the characters as it is between Carter’s urges and his conscience.

 The most salient characteristic of this novel, though, is not its plot but its execution. The story is told in second person, so that Carter is addressed as “you” throughout the story. Kachtick, in an interview following the novel’s release, stated that his intention was to have Carter be addressed by his Buddha nature. This Buddha nature can also see into the future and into other characters, so that the narrator has some of the characteristics of a third person omniscient narrator. Another unusual characteristic of the plot is that it has two endings. The point here seems to be to allow the reader to see what could happen if Carter followed his “lower nature” as opposed to the outcome when he follows his Buddha nature.

 The book provides plenty of food for thought and discussion. Here are some questions to chew on:

1.     Does the narrator’s voice feel like your own experience of your Buddha Nature? Or is it more like conscience? Is there a difference?

2.     Do you think Kachtick was able to make the conflict around virginity succeed, given the contemporary time-frame of the novel?

3.     Were you able to buy that Carter’s giving in to his urge to seduce Mia would have the consequences portrayed in the novel?

4.     Did the second person narration work for you? Why or why not? Were you able to identify with Carter? If not, do you think that was necessary in order for the book to succeed?

5,     There is a lot of discussion of karma in the novel, especially with respect to what will happen if the future as a consequence of present actions. But would it have been useful to know something about Carter’s past – such as what kind of parents he had and how he was raised? Would this help to understand how he became who he is as the book opens?

 We look forward to responses from those who have read the book, and, perhaps, an interesting dialogue among readers.

Can There Be Such a Thing As Buddhist Fiction?

When I start explaining to friends, family and acquaintances the locus of my dissertation project, Buddhist Fiction, I get a lot of interesting responses: blank stares; gracious smiles and nods followed by a quick change of topic; and a reaction range from polite curiosity to not-so-polite dismissal at the very thought that precious time could be wasted on fiction when Buddhist practice is so squarely focused on reality. To be fair, most people have never heard of this emerging sub-genre of popular literature, so I have come to expect such responses. Still, I continually question, and get the question, can there be such as thing as “Buddhist fiction”?

After learning of the genre label Buddhist fiction I began to search everywhere for it. When I found the first short story anthology of Buddhist fiction, Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree and Other Works of Buddhist Fiction (Wisdom Publications, 2004), I hoped for some sort of guidance or illumination from the opening portions of the book. The collection was edited by former Buddhist nun and fiction author Kate Wheeler who says early in the intro, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheeky way, that “You can’t just lump Buddhism and fiction together, and start talking about “Buddhist fiction.” I want to take my royal seat as the editor of the world’s first anthology of “Buddhist fiction” and say there is no such thing, or at least that “Buddhist fiction” is a rather strange and impossible category.” I was off to a bumpy start.

In this introduction Wheeler also discusses the danger of words and the juxtaposition of fiction with the real that inevitably comes up when faced with the phrase “Buddhist fiction.” She leads her reader through a history of her thinking about this sub-genre and how it could and could not be delineated. She talks of Buddhist fiction as a form of writing that “dramatizes the dharma.” Eventually Wheeler turns to her job as editor and relates that she agreed to take on the editing project “with the stipulation that we would not define what the nature of the Buddhist connection [in the short stories] had to be. Rather, we’d leave that to the writers, and they didn’t have to identify themselves as Buddhists” (my parentheses). So if someone is a Buddhist practitioner who writes fiction it does not necessarily follow that their short stories or novels would fall into the category of Buddhist fiction. For a bit more on this, see Daniel Burke’s November 23rd, 2007 article in the Salt Lake Tribune entitled “A Bevy of Buddhist Fiction Writers” (recounted here on the Buddhist Channel) Herein, Burke interviews celebrated author and Buddhist George Saunders, who recounts to Burke that while he “believes his religion and his work are inseparable, he’s not inclined to pen any Karma-lized junk food. ‘I wouldn’t write a story where a guy has an identifiable Buddhist thought.'” And here is the heart of the matter – identity.

If author identification as a Buddhist and a fiction writer does not help delineate the genre-category Buddhist fiction then how did Wheeler choose which stories to include in the first short story anthology of Buddhist Fiction? She states that the main criterion she rigorously applied was that every story be satisfying. I like her use of this word, as it seems to me a solid translation of sukkha, the opposite of dukkha or unsatisfactoriness, dis-ease, or suffering (which in my humble opinion is not the best translation of the term dukkha).

In similar fashion, Buddhist practitioner, fiction author and editor Keith Kachtick takes up the task of choosing Buddhist fiction stories that “dramatize the Dharma” in You Are Not Here and Other Works of Buddhist Fiction. In his introduction to this 2006 follow-up volume by Wisdom Publications, Kachtick notes that from a Buddhist perspective (or his understanding and practice of it), anyone can be identified as Buddhist: “As long as you’re paying attention to now–this moment and no other; and treat the neighbors the way you like to be treated; and understand that material things–your body, your house, this book you hold–are sandcastles, destined, by design, to eventually wash away with the tide to become something else, you are Buddhist.” Kachtick applied the same ideas to his selection process for choosing stories that would be included in the second anthology. He states that “Without exception, all of these stories say with verve: Pay attention–this life, right here, right now.”

So can there be such a thing as “Buddhist fiction”? I think so, particularly because literati and interested readers are paying attention and applying the label to many different works of popular fiction (see the “Reviews and Lists” page of this blog). The more pointed and complex question about Buddhist Fiction I have been sidestepping is “how do you identify it?” Any answer to this question is somewhat subjective, based on the novel or short story being read, the reader, and the familiarity with or experience of Buddhism they bring to the reading. For now I will make use of United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous phrase: “I know it when I see it.”