Lopez imagines a sutra in which Buddha uses baseball to explain the world in Buddha Takes the Mound (St. Martin’s Essentials, May.).
What inspired you to write this book?
Here at Michigan, I teach a giant intro to Buddhism class. And for the final assignment, I ask students to write a sutra, to take the genre and language and imagine what the Buddha would say to us in the modern world. I thought I should sort of practice what I preach.
Your work is mostly academic. How does it feel to publish a trade book?
I’ve always been interested in the best way to present Buddhism to an audience who doesn’t know much about it. We’re stuck between very highly technical language, what we call in our field “Buddhist Hybrid English,” a special jargon that is incomprehensible to the uninitiated, and new age language, which I also don’t find particularly appealing. I’ve been always looking for ways to come up with a way to present Buddhism in a way that’s accessible, but engaging and accurate. It’s a challenge, and this is my experiment in that.
What was it like for you to imitate the genre of sutra literature?
Buddhist sutras were written for centuries after the death of the Buddha. There are all sorts of ways in which that’s talked about in the tradition, and many of these sutras we regard as someone’s visions or dreams, like taking dictation from the Buddha. So writing the Sutra actually came very easily. There was something about this visionary nature of taking dictation from the Buddha, his teaching the Dharma in Yankee Stadium. And so that part actually went very well and was almost like automatic writing, strangely.
What audience would you like to reach with this?
There are two. One is the audience of people interested in Buddhism who may know a little or may know a lot. I hope that they find it interesting and entertaining, and that they would catch on to a number of Buddhist jokes buried in the text. For those who can see it, I have allusions to the Heart Sutra, the Diamond Sutra, the Lotus Sutra, the Pure Land sutras—and for those who can’t, it’s fine, they can be missed. And then we have the baseball audience, who might be interested in Buddhism. To them, I wanted to present the basics of Buddhism within the language of baseball, and to make the argument that baseball is a way to teach us about suffering without really having to suffer in a real way, to allow our desire, hatred, and ignorance to run wild in the stadium or while we’re watching it on TV, and yet to understand exactly how they work as the Buddha would explain it.