Good Buddhist Novels


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Good Buddhist Novels

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May 8, 2010, 10:24am

It may be that these are few and far between, but please let us know any you've liked.

For me, Breakfast with Buddha by Roland Merullo and Jake Fades by David Guy were both good reads.

May 8, 2010, 11:43am

How about Maugham's Razor's Edge?

May 8, 2010, 11:44am

I wonder, too, about Brook Ziporyn's Omnipotence for the Millions. I haven't read it - it looks wild!

May 10, 2010, 3:37pm

Razor's Edge is a great suggestion; I've never read it but will put it on the TBR. The Brook Ziporyn does look bizarre. I may try to browse that one in a bookstore to get a better idea of how it reads.

May 11, 2010, 7:47am

Then there are pre-modern novels, like The Prince Who Became a Cuckoo or Shilappadikaram. There must also be novels from China and Japan that have strong Buddhist elements.

Back to modern novels, see also Mind to Mind by Seikan Hasegawa. (Hmmm, I am new to LibraryThing! How do I get a touchstone to point to the right book?)

May 11, 2010, 11:49am

I had to learn the touchstones, too. You click on "others" and get options that should get you to the right book, e.g. Mind to Mind: A Novel of Companions by Seikan Hasegawa.

Yes, hopefully we'll hear from other group members and maybe get some from China and Japan.

Another older one: Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

Edited: May 13, 2010, 9:19am

Also: Hermitage Among the Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh.

May 13, 2010, 11:24pm

I thought Hermitage was a great book too. Old Path, White Clouds is another one of my favourites of his.
Van de Wetering has some good books in the 'non-theory' vein, in my opinion e.g The Empty Mirror or A Glimpse of Nothingness

Sep 1, 2010, 5:16pm

By the way, I enjoyed The Razor's Edge on kukulaj's recommendation. I had no idea that was a focus of the book, or that Maugham ever wrote on the subject.

Nov 20, 2010, 11:40am

I forgot about Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light. What a great imagination the author had.

Nov 20, 2010, 1:07pm

8: The van de Wetering you mentioned are non-fiction, not novels. They are about his zendo experience, and, I agree, very interesting. He does, however, write fiction. Inspector Saito's Small Satori is a collection of coupled short stories with a very zen feel. I also enjoyed the Amsterdam cop series. Perhaps The Japanese Corpse is the most zen-like one of the ones I've read.

There's a lot of Buddhist myth in Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt.

And I second Hesse's Siddhartha

Nov 20, 2010, 2:17pm

Maybe not what you are looking for, but I liked Buddha Da very much.

Nov 21, 2010, 11:22pm

Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a Buddhist novel presented (rather unfortunately, in my opinion) as a scifi genre parody. It's also one of the top books I've read this year.

Sep 6, 2011, 1:54am

If you can read Thai, any book by Dungtrin.

Jan 24, 2012, 1:36pm

The Buddha Tree by Fumio Niwa.

Jan 24, 2012, 2:03pm

Ooo, that looks like a good one, Caco. Thank you.

Jan 28, 2012, 11:11am

Short story rather than a novel, but The Spider's Thread by Akutagawa

Apr 7, 2012, 7:43pm

Good Buddhist novels? I recommend Jeanne Larsen's trilogy of books set in an imagined (but well-researched) China: Silk Road, Bronze Mirror, and Manchu Palaces. Each is set in a different dynasty (Tang, Song, and Qing, in that order), and each stands alone. For older books, start with Journey to the West for China (if you don't like Arthur Waley's very very free and abridged version, Monkey), check out Anthony C. Yu's The Monkey and the Monk--also abridged but accurate and readable. Or his four-volume masterpiece version of the whole thing. Japan? The Tale of Genji is where I'd start...various translations & abridgments available--each quite different.

Edited: Apr 8, 2012, 4:05pm

I don't believe that anyone has mentioned Yukio Mishima's 4 vol. "The Sea of Fertility." It's basic focus seems to lean very heavily on plain ol' reincarnation without much reflection on Buddhist ideas of karma, etc. However, in a number of places Mishima does rely heavily (too much for some critics) on considerations of several Buddhist sutras to bolster his plotline.

I enjoyed the books, even if the "Buddhism" sometimes seemed a bit forced in its use...a bit like furniture in a play.

One of the sutras is the Peacock Sutra and the one which gives the fourth volume its theme is from the Pali Canon (however, I cannot recall the nikaya that it is in.) A Buddhist convent figures prominently in the first and fourth volumes - though not at great length, and some have proposed that the rather surprising and "empty" climactic scene of the quartet is a reflection of Zen.

In a different vein is Kenji Miyazawa's The Milky Way Railroad, which is on the order of an adult children's story. He was a devout Buddhist and Gary Snyder had translated some of his poetry, and there is a translations Miyazawa Kenji Selections.

Edited: Apr 8, 2012, 6:12pm

20> I agree with you about "The Sea of Fertility". I am reading it now and nearly finished the third book "The Temple of Dawn". This book goes into some detail about Yogacara (Yuishiki) Buddhist philosophy but as you say, as a prop in the story. But I am often struck by the apparently Zen influence in Mishima. e.g. from Runaway Horses (book 2 in The Sea of Fertility):

Isao gave no heed to the Lieutenent's words. Subtle discourse, exegesis, the "on the one hand this, on the other that" approach - all these were foreign to his way of thinking. His ideal was drawn upon pure white paper in fresh black ink. Its text was mysterious, and it excluded not only translation but also every critique and commentary.

Apr 9, 2012, 1:05pm

I'm not sure it's a "Buddhist novel" (as opposed to a novel with a sympathetic and, for its age, reasonable depiction of a Buddhist), but the first thing to make me want to take a closer look at Buddhism was Rudyard Kipling's Kim.

Apr 12, 2012, 5:05pm

Having glanced at this thread out of mild curiosity, I was not expecting the book I was actually reading to turn out relevant, but it did. Exploring the construction of identity, memory, illusion, and interconnectedness in an elusive and allusive way, Russell Hoban's bizarre avant-garde novel Kleinzeit finally makes its Buddhist reference explicit on the very last page.

Apr 29, 2012, 8:56am

I put the books mentioned in a list here because I kept loosing track of this thread. Feel free to add book or vote (I think there may be some things on the list that aren't novels -- feel free to remove any non-novels that you've read).

Edited: Apr 4, 2014, 6:05pm

The Gate, Natsumi Soseki
The Stones Cry Out, Hikaru Okuizumi
Temple of Wild Geese, The Bamboo Doll of Ichizen, Dennis Mizukami
A Thousand Moons on a Thousand Rivers, Hsiao Li-hung

Jan 24, 2014, 11:45am

Tun-Huang, by Yasushi Inoue, is another one, a Buddhist-themed historical novel set in Song Dynasty China and Central Asia.

Jan 24, 2014, 11:52am

Tun-Huang looks very good. Thank you.

Sep 30, 2019, 1:41pm

Zorba the Greek is by the author Nikos Kazantzakis' own definition, his "Buddha novel" and the book (not the film) explores this on two levels: the contrast between the two main characters (one of action, the other of contemplation and observation), and the book the narrator is working on is about the Buddha. the new translation directly from the Greek by Peter Bien (the earlier popular edition was translated from a French translation from Greek), reveals this more clearly.