49 Buddhas: Lama Rinzen in the Hell Realm
Lama Rinzen Mystery Series Book 1
by Jim Ringel
49 Buddhas tells of Lama Rinzen in the Hell Realm—a realm of confusion, shifting ground, and anger.
Lama Rinzen awakens from meditation to find himself reincarnated as a detective on Denver’s Colfax Avenue. Immediately he realizes that once again he has been reborn into the Hell Realm—this time charged with finding insurance man Sonny Heller’s killer. Rinzen believes finding Heller’s killer will lead to the Sacred Dorje, which has eluded the lama for many lifetimes. By finding the Dorje, he will become a bodhisattva, allowing him to lead all sentient beings to Nirvana. But should the Dorje escape his grasp, Rinzen will be forced to suffer yet another lifetime in Hell, haunted by past demons and his failure to achieve enlightenment.
**Releasing in ebook for an Amazon Best Seller Day on May 23rd!!**
Jim is a Buddhist practitioner who writes and explores Buddhism in his every day life. His previous works include the novel Wolf, a "sales-werewolf" noir set in a world where vanquished dogs return seeking revenge, and where salesmen sell products they cannot understand.
Jim writes the Writing Like a Buddha blog (www.WritingLikeaBuddha.com), and lives in Colorado with his Tibetan Terrier, Rascal, who is both inspiration and teacher.
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What is something unique/quirky about you?
I don’t know if it’s quirky or not, but I am a Buddhist. And being Buddhist has plunged me into a deep exploration of what the Buddha means when he talks about emptiness.
They tell me that he means all beings are empty of self.
I don’t say Huh lightly. But I do say it sincerely. Here’s why. Sincerely I understand that none of us are one single entity. Each of us is a composite of various contradictory things we’ve thought and done in our lives. And each thing we’ve thought and done has been an interplay with the specific circumstance in which it acted out. Unique to a specific moment.
But I don’t know if that’s quirky, or if it’s just humorous to realize there is no you, no me, no world around us—only the moments we share with each, arising like bubbles that eventually go pop. Moments passing like the notes of a symphony, which we are happy to hear and sad to feel passing in one single moment. That’s emptiness. Like how enlightenment feels.
And so maybe it’s not me who’s quirky. Maybe it’s the Buddha talking about emptiness, he’s the one being quirky. And I’m just sharing in the experience.
Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
I was a stranger traveling in a small Moroccan village, where I managed to gather a crowd by reading instructions from a tube of Preparation H.
It was not my intention to draw attention to myself. I was being showed around by a helpful tour guide when a local approached my guide and asked if I could read the tube’s instructions so the guide could translate them into French so that the elderly local could understand.
I began my recitation, and then paused for translation. That’s when I saw medina shoppers and other passers-by stopping to see what was going on. I went back to reading the instructions, and then paused once more. The crowd around us had grown larger. I read again. This time when the guide translated, I saw men standing eight rows deep, and those men in the back jumping and stretching to better hear the message.
And at that moment I transported back to the days of the Old Testament prophets. Except I was not imparting sacred insights, but a whole new set of instructions to be learned. And I wondered, is this what all prophets and preachers have told us through the ages—how to be rid of the pains in our asses that pop up throughout life?
What are some of your pet peeves?
Tribalism. People abandoning thought and wonder for fear and insecurity. When did America become so scared and angry? Quit the Tribe. That’s a mantra I repeat throughout the day, as a reminder to stay open-minded no matter how adverse the circumstance.
It’s a struggle, I admit. It involves scrutinizing without being judgmental. It’s a difficult lesson that keeps me awake and observant of how I behave in the world.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Newark and grew up in Maplewood, NJ. I had the good fortune of being educated by Benedictines as a young human. First, nuns while in grade school, and then monks in high school. They were far out and a really challenging band of educators. I tell friends about my Benedictine education and it blows their minds. Most of the education, especially as I gre older, centered around debate. Fashioning arguments that helped understand opposing viewpoints. It was never about what we learned. It was about what we questioned.
In college I studied under Franciscans. Another inspiring group to hang out with. Very spiritual, and very much guided by the rebel Saint Francis. I tend to be pretty liberal, and deep down do not really believe tax dollars should go to supporting religious schools. Yet I am the product of a religious education, and I truly appreciate it.
If you knew you'd die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
If I was to die tomorrow I would:
- Sleep in, so that I am fully rested,
- Eat salted scrambled eggs with a double order of bacon,
- Walk Coot Lake with my dog Rascal, watching him sniff it all in,
- Listen to Zbigniew Preisner’s Requiem for a Friend one last time. Maybe twice,
- Re-watch the following movies:
- The Third Man
- Drink a really good Pilsner. Maybe twice,
- Smoke a joint,
- Clean my glasses,
- Put on my white pants, some colorful socks, and a pink beach shirt if it’s warm, an old Irish sweater if chilly,
- and meditate…
Who is your hero and why?
The hero of the book is Lama Rinzen, a Buddhist monk of the Kagyu lineage who is reborn onto Denver’s Colfax Avenue. His mission: to lead all beings to enlightenment. Because if he succeeds, he ensures his own enlightenment. All he needs to do is find the Sacred Dorje, an object of importance in Tibetan Buddhism. It has been hidden to him over many lifetimes. But in this lifetime, on Colfax Avenue, he knows he will find it, and upon finding it will hold it, and upon holding it all will be enlightened.
Lama Rinzen is the hero of the book because like its author, he lives in confusion. He copes with confusion by clinging to the certainty of expectation. By living a practiced diligence he learned as a young monk. And by atoning for past wrongs in previous lives so that now he may be set free and continue on his path to Nirvana.
Like me—like many of us, I imagine—he runs from his faults, hoping that leaving them behind will make them disappear. Like all troubled detectives, he follows a code that defeats him in the end. And in defeat, he succeeds. He learns the lesson of Hell, and therefore progresses. He is my hero because in the end he becomes a better Buddhist, and learns to see the world as it exists.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
I’d be the kind of ruler people would deserve. Because as Thomas Jefferson said, people only get the rulers they deserve. Although, I don’t think he said rulers—I think he said leaders, people get the leaders they deserve. Although, I am unsure if he said “leaders” or “liters”, like maybe we were on the metric system back then. So I’d be that kind of ruler. The kind that would spend all amounts of the national treasury trying to find out what Thomas Jefferson meant when he said “leaders” or “liters” or whatever he said.
What are you passionate about these days?
I am passionate that people stay involved in the discussion, no matter how black it gets. Democracies around the world are under threat because the populace wants to trade security for freedom. I am passionate about freedom. And I accept the change and challenges it brings.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I’m a hiker. I’m a biker. I’m a midnight television liker of programs like Bill Maher and High Maintenance and old movies. I meditate daily. And I camp, ski, and go to bars for the noise and entertainment. Sometimes the music, if the band’s any good.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Neither here nor there!
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
You can tell yourself that you’re a writer for an entire lifetime, but there needs to be that one specific moment when you know it’s true.
Being a writer is not like being a skier, or a music lover. It’s when you start changing habits and lifestyle to accommodate writing in your life. It’s when you stop doing everything else, and point writing front and center, accepting the barbs and threats that such a decision brings. It’s when you write, and then do all the other things in your life in the leftover that writing allows.
For me, this moment occurred in a rather inglorious brush with cancer about 12 years ago. I got the cancer under control quickly enough, but felt I had stepped a bit closer to death. That made me ask—what’s the thing you most want to accomplish in life. Not just a bucket-list wanna-do, but the thing that would haunt me in the afterlife if I had not done it while alive. It didn’t take but a moment for me to say, “Stop saying someday you want to write and just start writing.” I’ve made a lot of sacrifices since that time. I have more sacrifices to make still. The daily confusion of will I make it, or how do I earn any money scares me. But I live with that. These things scare me a lot, but not while I’m writing.
Do you have a favorite movie?
No doubt about it. The Third Man. Followed by Badlands. See previous answer.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I think of my first novel Wolf as a cinematic piece. It’s dark and foggy, and a true werewolf story of survival, and how returning to our animal instincts is a human’s path to freedom.
I envision 49 Buddhas more as a serialized TV special. Lots of chop and confusion that deepens the mystery week to week. I imagine viewers trying to guess their way through it, slowly piecing together the little clues as they try to imagine the story that will unfold next week, and the week after.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
I’ve haunted my way through a few Jack Kerouac/Neal Cassidy hangouts in Denver. My Brother’s Bar being the most famous. And the Satire on Colfax. I visited the house of Seven Gables on a recent trip to Massachusetts, and I once visited Stephen King at his place in Maine as part of a television crew conducting an interview with him. He gave us an interview, and we gave him Red Sox tickets. Everyone was happy. And on the Steven King theme, I have visited the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO, which was the inspiration for The Shining. The place creeps me out.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
The Laughing Buddha, but maybe dressed up in a dancing bear outfit.
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