“A Tale of Two Bodhis”: Real Buddha Quotes in a novel

I seem to have made an entry into the world of fiction. A book I read recently — “Dark Path,” by Melissa F. Miller — happens to have a Buddhist protagonist called “Bodhi.”

I, of course, am a Buddhist called Bodhi.

This fictional Bodhi is Dr. Bodhi King, who is a forensic examiner. He’s a lanky, long-haired fellow who meditates and occasionally dispenses advice about mindfulness. The physical description is reminiscent of me twenty years ago.

Please note, in the photograph below, the shoulder-length hair I sported back in 1999. And although there’s no way to assess my height from the photograph, I am six feet tall and was, at that time, skinny enough to be termed “lanky.”

Your humble author, 1999, still lanky and rocking the long curly hair.

I’ve never been a forensic examiner, although I do have a degree in medicine (veterinary, though, not human).

No, I don’t think that Melissa F. Miller based her character on me. But I’m 100% confident that she took some of the Buddha quotes in the novel from two of my websites, including this one.

But first, I was delighted that there weren’t any Fake Buddha Quotes in the book! Many fiction authors, I’ve found, aren’t particularly good researchers. If they want to make a character appear wise, they simply grab something from a quote site and off they go. If they’re inclined to do a little “fact-checking” they’ll confirm that the quote in question can also be found on another quote site, and maybe a Facebook page or two. Of course is it’s on Facebook it must be true.

Miller, to her great credit, doesn’t put any Fake Buddha Quotes in her hero’s mouth.

Even more to her credit, she uses genuine quotations the headings for some chapters of the book. She even provides scriptural citations for those quotes. While most writers are happy to dangle the word “Buddha” at the end of their quotes, Miller gives the names of suttas. For example, here’s one quote she uses, accompanied by its attribution:

Ardently do today what must be done. Who knows? Tomorrow, death comes.
The Buddha, Bhaddekaratta  Sutta

It can’t be a coincidence that every single quote she uses is found either on this site or on RealBuddhaQuotes.com (the sibling site to this one), that the wording in every one of the quotes is identical to what’s found on those sites, and that, similarly, the attributions are identically worded as well.

So I congratulate Ms. Miller on her diligent research. The only thing she didn’t do was give my Real Buddha Quotes or Fake Buddha Quotes sites any acknowledgement, but I can forgive that.

One slightly jarring note in the novel was a description of Bodhi King meditating:

Her eyes drifted up to the rearview mirror and she checked on Bodhi. He appeared to be meditating. His head was unbent and his eyes were closed. His hands rested on his thighs and his forefingers and thumbs met in two ovals. His lips were not moving, but she could have sworn she heard a vibrating sound coming from his throat.

The whole “meditating with the forefingers and thumbs making circles on the knees” thing is such a stereotype — and an inaccurate one at that. Any time I look for stock photos of people meditating, there it is. And yet I don’t think I’ve ever once, in almost 40 years of meditating, seen a Buddhist adopt that hand gesture.

You’re more likely to find me meditating in a turnip field wearing a sports bra than you are to see me doing that thing with my hands.

The most common position for the hands in Buddhism is  “dhyana mudra” (literally “meditation hand-position”) with the hands resting in the lap, the fingers of the right hand on top of the fingers of the left, with the tips of the thumbs touching.

There are four other books in the Bodhi King series, and I’m curious to know if Miller uses any more quotes from my website in them. I’m unlikely to read them to find out, though. Miller is a pretty good writer, but her style isn’t my cup of tea. If you happen to have copies, please let me know!

Here’s a complete list of the quotes that Miller borrows, with links to the Fake and Real Buddha Quotes sites:

PS: If you’re curious about “Dark Path” it might still be free on Apple Books and the Amazon Kindle store.

PPS: My name does actually appear in a novel written by a former meditation student of mine, Penelope J. Holt, who borrowed it for the name of a character who was a Buddhist monk. The book is called “The Painter’s Gift.” Penelope was kind enough to send me a copy when the book was published.

4 thoughts on ““A Tale of Two Bodhis”: Real Buddha Quotes in a novel”

  1. Well this is weird…the “leave a comment” link on one page takes me to a completely different page, with completely different content, to leave my comment, which, if I hadn’t noticed, might have led to my comment being unclear as it has nothing to do with the content of the page on which it appears. So:

    I just want to point out a couple of inconsistencies I’ve encountered on the site, to wit:

    Regarding Matty Weingast’s supposed “translation” of the Therigatha, there are problems with the letters…or the one letter and the blog post…not sure. The (first?) letter argues that the reader will be deceived into thinking the book in question is a translation of the Therigatha, and then turns around says later that, “It should be clear to someone who does no more than glance at the cover that this is not a translation of a sacred text.” Counteracting one’s own argument with another of one’s own arguments.

    The second letter…or the blog post? includes the following:

    =-=-=

    Here’s another example, from Weingast’s “free translation” of Muttā Therī’s words:

    So this is what it feels like—
    to be free.

    Forever free
    from playing the mortar
    to my crooked husband’s
    crooked little pestle.

    Enough.

    For my mother.
    For my daughter.
    And for all the daughters
    I might have had.

    The cycle ends here.

    It’s so earthy! How daring for Muttā to compare herself to a mortar, having to endure her husband’s cooked mortar of a penis. And that dedication to her mother, daughters and (most touchingly) the daughters she gave up on having because of going forth! And that declaration, “The cycle ends here”! How inspiring! She’s determined to be enlightened!

    Except what Muttā says, literally, is this:

    I am well-released, properly released by my release from the three crooked things, from the mortar, the pestle, and my crooked husband. I am released from birth and death; everything which leads to renewed existence has been rooted out.

    How disappointing! No sex. (But they say that sex sells.) No dedication to her mother and daughters. And no boring reference to rebirth, no doubt removed because it might be off-putting to some non-Buddhist readers, as well as some contemporary Buddhists, even. Once again, she’s no longer enlightened…

    =-=-=

    That last paragraph is confused much like the conflicting arguments previously mentioned. The first four sentences (“How disappointing! No sex. (But they say that sex sells.) No dedication to her mother and daughters.”) refers to what Mutta actually said, and then the focus abruptly switches, apparently without the author noticing, to Weingast’s “translation”, saying, “And no boring reference to rebirth, no doubt removed because it might be off-putting to some non-Buddhist readers, as well as some contemporary Buddhists, even. Once again, she’s no longer enlightened…”

    So I just wanted to point these things out. They just make the attempted arguments a little less consistent/coherent.

    Thanks and be well!

    1. Hi, Ian.

      I don’t know why the comment field would take you to a different post. This is a standard WordPress installation, so it should work.

      Sorry for confusing you with apparent inconsistencies. The sentence “It should be clear to someone who does no more than glance at the cover that this is not a translation of a sacred text” is in the context of recommendations to Shambhala on what they need to do to fix the problem they’ve created. So “it should be clear” here means “It must be made clear.” So this doesn’t contradict the overall message of the letter that readers will be deceived into thinking the book is a translation of the Therigatha. I’d assumed that in context the meaning of “should” would be obvious, but it seems not. Unfortunately the letter has been sent, and so it can’t be corrected.

      I’ve untangled the jumbled paragraph you spotted. Thanks for pointing that out. I remember editing that particular paragraph as I was rereading, and it seems I lost track of which quote I was commenting on.

  2. Oh wow, that’s terrible…in composing my post I used all kinds of line and paragraph breaks to make my meaning clear and when I clicked the Submit button, all that went away. Hmm. It’s ugly and more difficult to understand now. (And ordinarily I would start a new paragraph here, but now I see that such niceties are lost here. Alas.)

    Maybe I’ll just stop concerning myself with the content of this website. Such concern is time-consuming! 😀

    1. Your paragraph breaks are just fine, Ian. Your first comment hadn’t been published when you wrote the second comment, so I’m not entirely sure what it was you were seeing. Was it an email notification of your comment having been submitted? If so, it may be that the email system treats formatting differently from the comment system. Birth, old age, suffering, death, and technology are all dukkha! 🙂

      This is the first time ever that anyone’s tried to comment on one post and ended up commenting on another. So that’s a mystery. I’ll watch out for it happening again.

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