writing a fantasy novel

Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shamanism, Oh My!: Or, a Dissection of Spirituality in Fantasy

One of the most common (yet ironically controversial) axioms regarding “polite conversation” goes as follows: Stay away from politics and religion. Do not touch them with a hundred-foot vaulting pole. By extension, it seems that the vast majority of books (which are, let us be clear, intended to be sold to a curious yet faceless audience) would do well to veer away from these hot-button issues. Those who read my work will find a head-on confrontation with political issues, albeit in a fantasy-based context that takes heavy liberties with analogues and allegories. Spirituality, however, is where most of the veils are stripped away. Even the least attentive readers of my work will find themselves meandering through characters’ experiences of meditation, ego death, and so forth.

This is not a new trend, nor is it confined to the realm of eastern philosophy. CS Lewis and Tolkien constructed many of their stories within a Christian moral framework, and in recent years, we’ve seen stunning releases (The Golem and the Jinni immediately springs to mind) that draw from Judaism, Islam, pagan cultures, and every other religious system under the sun. There is, of course, a distinction to be made here. The authors of stories with spiritual elements do not always adhere to the religions they write about, and that’s A-okay. The world of literature has seldom been a battleground for asserting universal truths or dogmas.

In my own case, I was compelled to write a series that reflects many of my own beliefs and practices in “normal” life. No, that isn’t to say that I keep satyr-like creatures locked in my basement. Frank Herbert’s Dune was a tremendous influence on me, as it guided me toward meditation and a process of deep insight into the nature of fear, time, etc. When I initially started working on Scribes, I was rather lax in my meditative practice, and the book itself reflects this mild relationship with spirituality. Now that I’m neck-deep in writing the series’ third book, Scions, it’s fascinating to look back and examine how the protagonist’s journey has mirrored my own. I spend about as much time meditating as I do writing, and the two activities have become interwoven in countless ways.

Image result for Enlightenment

Readers who are well-versed in Hindu or Buddhist traditions (particularly Dzogchen and Vajrayana Buddhism) will find ample material that coincides with their own teachings or experiences, and I hope that these books can bridge the gap between spirituality and fantasy in a meaningful way, perhaps providing a dose of motivation that sidesteps the usual lectures or non-fiction texts.

Additionally, the primary motivation for involving spirituality in the series was to foster the same curiosity in others that Frank Herbert instilled in me. Sure, a fantasy or science-fiction book is a surface-level introduction to the innumerable philosophies and doctrines that exist throughout our world, but it’s something. My deepest hope is that at least one person will read through the book (hopefully series, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves) and find themselves wondering if the book’s descriptions of bliss, cessation, etc., are truly possible for everyday people. I’ve been largely mum about my own beliefs until now, but as the eve of the first book’s release draws near, it seems impossible to avoid speaking about such a weighty and important topic.

This is not to say, of course, that I promote (or even enjoy) literature that reads more like a religious text than a genuine story. There’s a fine line between proselytizing and entertaining, and I hope that I’ve stayed well within my boundaries as a storyteller. People of all faiths should be able to take something important away from your story, even if it’s the intention to perform a single act of kindness in their community.

Tl;dr: Peace, love, and kindness, everybody.

P.S. If you still haven’t checked out Scribes, you can pre-order your copy (on Audible, e-reader, or in print) by clicking this thing!