This coming Tuesday, March 31
With Rob Wilder, another writer well worth hearing
Miriam’s Well: In the novel ALL THINGS TENDING TOWARDS THE ETERNAL, you talk about “traditionless Buddhism” or your character Bruno does. How do you see that? Can you talk a bit about Buddhism as an influence?
KL: I’m not sure there’s a clear answer or not one that’s clear to me so here are some partial answers:
1. When traveling in China, I always visited whatever Buddhist temple or monastery was in a town or village, in part to have something to do. So I spent a lot of time around Buddhism, in whatever condition it was in.
2. I found the various traditions of Buddhism a distraction and kept trying to view plain buddhism. Buddhism Buddhism, instead of Tibetan Buddhism or Theravadan Buddhism, or Zen, or Soto….
3. I must have made up the term ‘traditionless Buddhism.’
4. Your (Miriam Sagan’s) first husband, Robert Winson, who was a Zen Buddhist monk, died when he and I were 36 years old and it affected me on the one hand in a completely ordinary and comprehensible way, and on the other hand in a way that remained invisible and mysterious to me. That sense of not understanding what had happened was an irritatant, a seed for writing.
5. Extended, uncomfortable solo travel is its own kind of practice in concentration, not unlike a meditation or koan practice.
6. When my characters meet their own inner emptiness, they realize the wisdom of no-escape.
Miriam’s Well: I feel the novel takes an ethical approach, like the 19th century novel, only in a modern non-overt fashion. The two central Chinese characters exemplify some moral conflict–self vs. family, wealth vs. authenticity, etc. but they come from a rigid world (hard on individuals but good for fiction!). Can you address this–and maybe mention how the other characters fit in to a moral framework?
KL: One of the many things I miss about the 19th century is the loss of a sort of grand, cosmic ethical framework against which people, or characters, throw themselves. I’m interested in that kind of pressure or friction and how it affects a person and since this isn’t the 19th century, that pressure or friction takes place mostly, at least in my novel, within each character; each character has a conscience or not, crosses a line, and suffers, or not. The place that ethics seems to exist now is within the self, and within relationships, and so, in a sense, each person is left to police themselves.