Buddhist Mystery

If you go into one of the mega bookstores on a really busy day take note of the section for Buddhist books.

It’s usually quite a mess;books are laid sideways across the tops of other books, the authors are all alphabetically jumbled, there’s usually a few yoga, self-help or vegetarian cookbooks shoved into the section or books have even been re-shelved upside down or backwards. Display books, that is those with the full cover facing outward, are often covered by 2 or 3 other books and there may even be a stack sitting on the floor.

Then go over to the mystery fiction section. Even though mystery is a genre that outsells Buddhism by about 100 to 1 or more in comparison it is fairly well ordered. People take their time to reshelve the books as they found them.

It’s funny where you do or don’t find mindfulness.

6 comments on “Buddhist Mystery

  1. I have been struck by how rapidly the Buddhism section in big-box bookstores has shrunk. They seem to stock about half as many Buddhist books, or maybe even less, than they did ten years ago. I assume this accurately reflects the level of public interest.


      • I think a lot of “spiritual seekers” used to look into the Buddhist section. Now with people like Tolle, Chopra and other big selling self-helper types (which have their own section which is generally 3-4 times larger than the Buddhism section) the seekers are not really looking at Buddhism but a more generic, easy-to-follow prescription. There is also a huge increase in “New Age” sections. At least twice as large as Buddhism section also.

        A publisher of Buddhist books wrote somewhere (exactly where escapes me at the moment and I’m paraphrasing) that their books are now being packaged in a more generic form, with less obvious Buddhist imagery, titles or references.

        Here’s an example of a few recent very Buddhist books with mass appeal titles that sound like the self-help or New Agey type.

        Unlimiting Mind by Andrew Olendzki
        Stepping Out of Self Deception by Rodney Smith
        Natural Wakefulness: Discovering the Wisdom We Were Born With by Gaylon Jules Ferguson
        Taking the Leap by Pema Chodron (and many others by her)

        Even in Amazon there are separate listings for

        New Age
        Religion & Spirituality
        Health, Mind & Body

        in addition to a Buddhism section so I think a lot of the traffic in the Buddhist sections has been diverted with the explosion of these more generic genres.

        A Buddhist vampire novel might be a big seller. Basic themes like attachment, life and death, identity and the stuff you describe in your about page. It would be kind of cool to read. [I am a longtime fan of vampire lore-though not so much the current stuff-I like my vampires scary/creepy/dangerous like in the original Nosferatu movie]

        • That’s a very interesting observation, about Buddhist books being packaged as more generically spiritual.

          Thanks for the encouragement re: my vampire novel! I have my fingers crossed. It might go viral on the web at some point. (Maybe when we get to the sexy bits. Or the creepy scary bits!) I’m not really intending dead-tree publication, but who knows…


  2. Hmmm, maybe those of us who have untidy minds and recognize this, are drawn to Buddhadharma sections in the bookstore, knowing thats the needed antidote. But because of the mental condition that leads us to the Buddhadharma section, once there, we fail to re-shelve the books and thus flunk the Zen test of ‘leave no trace’.

    By contrast, persons who like to read mystery/detective stories are those of us who want to find a sense of coherance underneath apparent chaos, and have faith that with sufficient information, it is possible to establish a chain of cause and effect.

    So with these tidy instincts, we are more likely to reshelve books properly in the mystery section.

    This said, a Buddhist detective/mystery novel would be an EXCELLENT way to teach Dharma.

    It would be a way to bring across the role of precepts, that everything is interconnected, the principle of dependent origination.

    A Dharma detective would be someone who has recognition that no matter how great the apparent chaos, there is no mystery, that there does exist a chain of cause and effect, but that one needs to be disciplined, patient, and steady minded, so as to avoid jumping to premature conclusions.

    Two, our Dharma Detective would be in a battle not only with external circumstances and vested interests, but would have to be in a struggle to keep his or her own body/mind/speech uncontaminated.

    Robert Heinlein has a concept of fair witness in one of his novels.

    We really could create some remarkable contributions to the genre.

    And I can offer a real life vignette I read in a book by Connie Fletcher entitled Pure Cop–a collection of interviews she did with officers in the specialized divisions within the Chicago Police Department.

    Among them was the unit whose officers go and re-construct the chain of cause and effect that led up to accidents.

    One of these officers said that time and again he noticed how often someone left his or her house upset about something, got into a car or onto a motorcycle, and failed to pay attention in a crucial moment and generated an accident.

    One of these officers said ‘We have an expert who is convinced that an auto accident begins before the person has even left the house’.

    THAT is dependent co-arising.

    And…another of thier accident scene reconstruction officers was killed on his motorcycle in traffic.

    Later that day, the dead experts helmet with a skull fragment rattling in it, was brought to an audience full of police officers and they were told, ‘Look what happened to one of our guys–he was an exert at accident scene analysis, yet he got careless and got killed.’

    The person who told Fletcher this, said, you could gaze out, see the faces of the officers staring at the dead man’s helmet and skull fragment and in their eyes, none of them could believe he too would one day die.

    Great is the matter of birth and death.

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