A Conversation with Jason Siff about IF ONLY I HAD LISTENED WITH DIFFERENT EARS

In overdue February I had the chance to speak with Jason Siff about his just lately revealed e book, If Only I Had Listened with Different Ears (Sumeru Press, Inc.: November 2021). The e book is a selection of 3 novellas: “King Bimbisara’s Chronicler,” “After the Parinibbana,” and, “Myth of Maitreya.” The tales are set in Northern India and the timeframes vary over a millennia, from the 5th century BCE all the way through the lifetime of the Buddha to across the 5th century CE when Mahayana Buddhism used to be burgeoning. Since the Buddha himself is characterised in “King Bimbisara’s Chronicler,” and Buddhist clergymen/students akin to Vasubandhu and Asanga are characterised in “Myth of Maitreya,” the novellas obviously fall beneath the umbrella of Buddhist fiction. They also are introduced chronologically on this assortment, which firmly situates the entire paintings within the class of ancient fiction. Regardless of style labels, all 3 novellas are within the class of excellent reads.

Siff’s characterization is a spotlight of his tale telling, and the supply of narrative mastery in the back of the subjects that recur in every of the novellas. As works of Buddhist fiction, the theme of the trail to enlightenment is uppermost. But it is the supporting issues, those that reason friction to the search for enlightenment, which can be maximum compelling. For instance, Siff explores the cultural and private tensions of the lifetime of a renunciant inside of a tradition that emphasizes the significance of pleasant circle of relatives roles. He highlights tendencies in Buddhism as a non secular motion such because the codifying of the Buddha’s teachings. He explores shifts in concepts about Buddhism as the faith expands each demographically and philosophically. And he does this right through excellent characterization – via growing characters who’re infrequently begrudgingly, painstakingly, or even mistakenly, dwelling out this new faith. These characters are training Buddhism in all walks of lifestyles, inscribing the Buddha’s phrases into textual content, and spreading the Buddha’s message via imagining the sector round them as larger and broader than what’s in entrance of their very own eyes.

My dialogue with Jason used to be very attractive, and I will be able to recount a few of it underneath with the intent to whet your interest in regards to the novellas with out offering any spoilers.

Beek

My first query may be very huge. Who is your meant target audience?

siff

Well, that is going to the historical past of those tales. I wrote them between 1995 and 2002, and what I did used to be I mainly learn them at retreats. They was one of those staple at my retreats. Every evening, prior to mattress, I might learn a few chapters. So, I first of all referred to as them, “Buddhist Bedtime Stories.” Reading them out loud helped me additionally revise and get a way of what other folks had been interested in, how the characters labored of their minds and their meditation settings, and the type of Dharma teachings that got here out. So I first of all concept that those tales would paintings easiest as audio books, however the revealed model got here out rather well.

Beek

Maybe that is why one of the vital prose turns out to sing. I particularly love one of the vital strains from “The Myth of Maitreya.” For instance: “Truth does not live in the biographical, but in what is true, regardless of who professes it.” You have a compelling method of restating the Buddhist teachings, the buddhavacanain those tales.

I additionally admire the way in which that you’ve got put those 3 novellas in combination chronologically. So after we get to the tale of Vasubandhu and Asanga [“Myth of Maitreya”], I in reality needed to refresh my reminiscence. And sure, in fact, Vasubandhu used to be a Sautrantika. I actually get the sense of that development of the lessons [Theravada into Mahayana],

siff

Oh thanks. To me, it is a Dharma e book up to this can be a paintings of fiction. I’ve attempted to write down extra usual Dharma books, without a good fortune, except you come with the Dharma teachings present in my books on meditation via Shambhala. But this one to me used to be strict Dharma in a way, and I sought after to turn each the ancient transformation of the Buddha’s Teachings and the way every technology remakes the ones teachings. And I sought after to have other folks use those tales to discover the Dharma in several techniques…. And I believe there is a method of additionally working out the humanity of the Dharma, that the human relationships other folks have between every different is what the educating is. It’s no longer simply this abstraction available in the market.

Beek

That comes via when studying, in particular for your characterizations. Here, I will be able to proportion with you a few of my notes. So, for “King Bimbisara’s Chronicler,” I wrote: “You have created a personality that via his very nature on this lifestyles, is both memorizing the previous or looking to satisfy a long run set for him via his tradition such that he can not reside within the provide second. And that tale, it simply struck me that one of the vital causes the Buddha had one of these exhausting time educating the Dharma used to be no longer simply because it used to be ineffable, but additionally as a result of the temporal wisdom he won via his enlightenment. How do you persuade a bunch of other folks to believe a special long run whilst you had been educating them to reside within the provide second?”

siff

Right. Okay, just right. But the nature may be a personality the place I’m looking to discover what I might say is the fashionable situation of any person who doubts the educating he’s receiving in addition to the trainer turning in it. But he has to head from side to side and he has to paintings with positive forces inside of him round his touch with the educating. And that is something I sought after to be in contact to scholars of mine and to different Buddhist practitioners is that this isn’t a educating to simply tackle and turn out to be a disciple. It’s one thing that has to throw you about. It has to create some roughly internal turmoil. And so even supposing the chronicler is specializing in memorizing, which takes him out of what he is listening to and places it into a special body and provides him a definite standing and place, he helps to keep having a look round for one thing else. But he is faced with the truth that the educating is getting inside him and making him puzzled. He’s attractive his doubt, however he is doing it, I believe, in a optimistic method.

Beek

Yes. And that each one was very transparent on the finish of the tale when he in reality began training what he have been listening to. All of the ones years. And that is him listening with the ones other ears.

siff

Exactly. Right.

It’s necessary for me, for him to have his father die or to mainly finish that tie, for him to roughly actually pay attention another way as a result of he could not pay attention so long as he used to be nonetheless embedded in that roughly patriarchal tradition, he couldn’ t take this in. I imply, he used to be nonetheless embedded within the patriarchy, nevertheless it wasn’t like he used to be looking to reside his father’s lifestyles.

Beek

Well, he used to be looking to reside the lifestyles anticipated of him. He used to be pleasant his karma.

siff

His karma. Exactly. Which is some other concept of ​​what the Dharma approach.

Beek

Exactly. So, yeah, it used to be the tradition of his time, and I assume his father used to be his ultimate tie. But it simply struck me, as you had been pronouncing, that actually we’ve not moved on very a ways in some ways. I imply, many people are nonetheless pleasant what society and our circle of relatives expects people.

siff

Right. But Buddhism is all the time going to counter that.

Beek

Very a lot so.

siff

Yes. That’s the article. And somebody encountering it’ll have to have interaction a few of these preliminary tensions even inside of a tradition that accepts it.

Beek

Right. Yes. In many puts nonetheless. And that concept used to be carried on thematically in “After the Parinibbana.” I may see the similar issues taking place for the nature Sujata. I really like that personality, via the way in which. I assume possibly it is my age and level, however I may actually establish with him feeling like the more youthful technology did not actually concentrate. If he had been in our time I may believe him pronouncing, “Those darn kids!” How did your retreatants react to the novella, “After the Parinibbana”?

siff

That’s a troublesome one for me to mention. Many of them, I believe, simply took it as a tale of the Parinibbāṇa Sutta, which I’m going via to some extent. And they roughly felt, a minimum of some comments I might get from time to time, they felt touched, love it used to be extra delicate, love it hit an emotional chord in some way. But when other folks learn it. , , it is other, in reality, the experiences I’ve gotten from individuals who’ve learn the tale. I by no means actually revealed the published shape or despatched it out. They spotted issues to start with of the tale like the entire starting of the Samaññaphala Sutta, the other issues of view, the entire thing across the shift in concepts about bodhisattvas (in “Myth of Maitreya”). Anyhow, they understand quite a lot of issues which can be occurring which can be in laying out the tale and in regards to the Bikkhunī sangha and such things as that. Whereas prior to it used to be most commonly in regards to the finishing.

Beek

Oh wow! Okay. Well, it’s great if in case you have the phrases to check.

siff

Yes, it’s. Because new concepts and views on Buddha Dharma can simply wash over you whilst you most effective pay attention it. In print, you’ll return and learn about it.

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This is up to I will provide you with, pricey reader, with out spoiling a just right learn of 3 superb novellas. You can in finding If Only I Had Listened With Different Ears on the hyperlink beneath the duvet photograph. You can learn an excerpt from “King Bimbisara’s Chronicler” right here: https://jasonsiff.com/excerpt-from-king-bimbisaras-chronickler/ You can in finding If Only I Had Listened With Different Ears on the hyperlink beneath the duvet photograph. I’m hoping you benefit from the novellas up to I did.

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