Location: Los Angeles, CA
You’ve said that your childhood and your father’s gambling started you on the Buddha Path.When I was a child, my family often moved. After we would settle down in a city, a year would go by, and I would accumulate stuff. In Paris I once assembled a marvelous collection of dolls of all countries and historical epochs. They were works of art—and costly, too. Then we would leave, but only “for a couple of months,” which usually had something to do with my father’s gambling losses. By the time we returned, either my father would have forgotten to pay the storage, or he couldn’t remember where the storage was—that actually happened, in London! We moved eight to ten times during my childhood, and the cycle of feelings is still fresh in my memory. At first I cried incessantly. I wanted to have my stuff! It seemed important to have it, and its absence had a life of its own. The second time, I was angry; the third time I was no longer surprised. And then it finally crept up on me that I really didn’t care that much: it was clear that the absence of all those things had no real impact. For the rest of my life, stuff came and went. I was even able to get through robberies. Don’t misunderstand me—I’m grateful to the universe, to the great Life Force, for art, and I enjoy beautiful things, but the need to possess them is not a driving factor. The same applies to homes. I vagabond endlessly, feeling sufficiently at home in many places, but always with a degree of detachment.
What attracted you to the Buddha, the person? That is the leitmotif question. The simplicity of his words. The serenity of his smile. I loved all the statues of Buddha I saw and was captivated by that smile. It was like an eagle that soars far above all the problems, the pettiness, the foolishness—as if the distance dramatically reveals the beauty of life and the absurdity of egoism. Also, my mother told me stories of the Dalai Lama when I was 4 years old, about the ways of Buddhist monks, about Zen archery, and it all pointed to one thing: that the interior life, what we have inside, is as powerful and fascinating as the exterior, if not more so—so there began the interest to dive inward and explore the relationship between the interior and the exterior.
How did you go about “harnessing” the Buddha character? There was an affinity. I could identify with his moves—picking up and leaving to search. I knew that something had happened, something profoundly painful and significant that provoked his decision, and I was curious to find out what that was.
What prompted you to write a novel about the life of Siddhartha Gautama? Many books have been written about what others think he said or thought or wanted to say, or how he was understood—and many others [written] on his teachings—but often they are written in a manner that does not make for easy reading. Furthermore, his life was very much a mystery, as words were registered by lore but a person’s actions were not. I wanted to write about who I felt him to be, based on the documents I read and the revealing research by Professor André Bareau [now deceased] of the Collège de France. The story I came across was so rich in substance and adventure and characters and life that I knew there was a way to narrate his life and philosophy, a way to make him accessible, interesting, and comprehensible to the public, and historically the background canvas was all a writer desires: the Silk Road, religious and cultural diversity, economic growth, political ambition.
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