December 02, 2010

The Buddha in Fiction: How Should A Person Be? By Sheila Heti

How is the Buddha depicted in fiction? In 10,000 different ways. We'll share some of these different ways with you on the Tricycle Blog as we come across them, as I did this morning on my commute to work reading the Fall 2010 issue of n+1.

From How Should A Person Be? by Sheila Heti, when the narrator is looking at at a recent painting done by her friend Margaux:


She had depicted herself as a fat, smug Buddha figurine—her face and body made of glistening porcelain, with jewels and coins covering her arms and fingers. She sat cross-legged, her peroxide hair falling down over her shoulders, and her expression was one of smiling, greedy self-satisfaction. The title of the painting, printed on a small card, was Self-Portrait as Future Buddha.

I grew worried. She had never painted herself this way before. Paul laughed, sensing nothing, but I knew how Margaux felt about things. She saw no glory in being Buddha. Buddha was the one who turned his back on the suffering of the world to sweeten himself with good feelings—privileged feelings of peace and Nirvana, just like her worst fears about what it meant to be a painter: that it was decadent, narcissistic, meaningless, and vain.

I had done this to her. I didn't know how to undo what I had done by showing her what we looked like.

Do you know of Buddha references—good, bad, ugly, and beautiful—in modern fiction? Point us toward them at editorial@tricycle.com.

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