Tuesday, February 05, 2013

rebirth novels Buddhist?

I'm reading Cloud Atlas, and if it's rebirth that makes it Buddhist, then I don't think it's necessarily Buddhist. Also there's a book, Years of Rice and Salt, that has that story device, too. 

Hinduism has rebirth, so there has to be something that distinguishes between Buddhism and Hinduism to make it Buddhist if the novel is framed around rebirth. And not all Buddhist believe in rebirth as a kind of soul transfer, that's a wrong headed notion. Conditionality notes that all the elements will unform and then possibly reform. 

A friend of mine says that consciousness has such momentum that it's hard to imagine it doesn't continue, and canonical references liken it to candle flame doing from one candle to another. 

And other friends suggest that if you don't believe in reincarnation, then you have to get enlightened in this life. I'm not sure that's true either. For me moving towards enlightenment is worth it. Anyway, there are some Buddhist that see rebirth as part of the litmus test about who is a Buddhist, but I disagree with them.

The review on Wildmind agrees. Here is a quote from Drops in the ocean: Buddhist reflections on David Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas” by Danamaya:

"...most of the characters realized something more about themselves and their world, prompting me to examine myself, my values, and the world around me. Putting myself in their shoes, I wondered: how can I better use awareness and kindness to respond to the confusion and unsatisfactoriness in and around me? A book that makes you question, maybe makes you squirm — that’s an excellent use of one’s reading time, no?"

Deep internal questioning isn't particularly Buddhist, seems all spiritual traditions do this. Is there a kind of Buddhist questioning that is unique? Sure, but it would take too long to articulate it now. And thus Danamaya says it's not a Buddhist book, though as a Buddhist she was deeply stirred by it's artistry, and has lots of thoughts that have a dharma aspect to them.

As an artistic device, I think it's excellent. Is it necessarily Buddhist? No. Could a Buddhist love the artistry of Cloud Atlas? I think many do, in fact that's why I'm reading it.

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