Two summers ago I wrote a work of speculative fiction about a world that had the technology to identify exactly who we were in our past lives. I used the Buddhist principle of rebirth as the basis for the novel. The book explored how our world would change as a result of this technology. Could you claim yourself as Beneficiary in your Will?--after all, if you "inherit" your karma, why can't you inherit property from your previous life? What would we do if we found Abe Lincoln, or say Hitler, in their next (for lack of a better word) "incarnations"?
I thought the book would take right off, but alas I was wrong! What surprised me the most was the lack of Buddhist fiction out there; or rather, the lack of interest in Buddhist fiction. I haven't found one book--besides fictional accounts of the Buddha's life (a la Herman Hesse, Thich Nhat Hanh, Deepak Chopra)--by a contemporary Buddhist author written for a Western audience.
Personally, I see the need for Buddhist fiction. Fiction is a great medium to explore Buddhist-related themes: impermanence, delusion, emptiness, and most of all suffering. For while these are common topics in Western literature, they're perfect for Buddhist fiction. I also think that Buddhist fiction would help solidify or further establish Buddhism in America. (I know that I've said it before, but I'll say it again. Did anyone notice that in President Obama's inaugural address, he acknowledged Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Christians, but left out Buddhists? This is telling. Buddhist fiction would help give Buddhism the voice it deserves in Western art and culture. Not to mention, it could help educate non-Buddhists, for Buddhism is all too often misunderstood by the average Westerner.)
Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by Buddhist fiction--stories set in the West with a Buddhist audience in mind, where Buddhist characters (although they don't need to be, but it would be a nice change of pace from the standard Judeo-Christian characters who take the lead in most fiction) grapple with traditional Buddhist themes. How cool--not to mention refreshing--would that be?
I teach Creative Writing, and whenever my students tell me they don't know what to write a story about, I tell them, "Write the story you wish had been written." In other words, write the kind of story you would love to read.
So I'm going to follow my own advice. In the next couple of weeks (or "months," would be more like it) I'm going to write some Buddhist-themed stories and posting them here. After a year or so, I might have enough to string them together into a collection. I already have a couple story lines in mind.
What do you think? Is there a demand for such titles, or is this just wishful thinking? Also, if there are any authors who currently explore this genre, please let me know.
Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: dolmansaxlil.