Interview With Jim Ringel, Author of Hidden Buddha: Lama Rinzen in the Hungry Ghost Realm

Can you share a bit about your journey to becoming a writer/published author? Any interests or early signs as a child that hinted you would later put pen to paper?

Throughout my grade school years while trying to develop as a person, I remember the nuns complimenting me on my writing skills. I enjoyed the compliments. They gave me value. They gave me a way of seeing myself as unique. The compliments gave me a sense of self and direction.

In high school and college I honed my writing skills, exploring different voices and formats for expressing myself. Later in my professional life I became a video editor and audio engineer, stepping away from writing but in those jobs learning about rhythm. The way people express themselves. The cadence that creates stories by editing different video clips together. Doing audio and video editing taught me observational listening. It lay the foundation for my voice as a writer.

In my fifties I had a life-threatening scare with cancer. That’s when I asked myself If I was to die tomorrow what would I regret not accomplishing in life? Right away, I knew I wanted to write novels. A risky change of life. I knew striking out to be writer so late in life would not support the lifestyle I’d grown used to. So I made a vow to change my lifestyle to support the turbulence of my being a fiction writer,

It's been a tough ride, but I’ve been happy ever since.

Review HERE!
What inspired you to take your journey with Buddhism and fold it into fictional novels? What inspired the main character of Lama Rinzen?

I have been a practicing Buddhist now for about 30 years. I am attracted to Buddhism because it’s a tradition that guides me to question more than settle for answers. In a lot of ways Buddhism is a lot like writing. Both succeed when approached with an open mind. Buddhism teaches me not to pigeonhole my writing or the way I look at the world. Instead it shows me how to clear my mind and enter freely into imagining the new and unfamiliar.

My protagonist Lama Rinzen is really a stand-in for me. Her spiritual quest, the mysteries she finds herself immersed in, these are the questions and explorations I tackle both in meditation and in my everyday life.

One of the traits I admire about Lama Rinzen is her ability to be lost in an incomprehensible world. That stumbling confusion is quite an admirable trait of hers. My Zen teacher after reading Hidden Buddha commented that she’s like so many of us who are trapped in our own delusions and inability to see what’s plainly in front of us. That’s a universal dilemma. Her dilemma, my dilemma, and I imagine the reader’s dilemma as well is that we cling to certainties we believe to be true. But meaningful journeys are not about achieving certain outcomes. They are about immersing into uncertainty and appreciating and learning from its wonder.

Are the principles you wrap into your stories aimed mostly at those who are familiar with Buddhism, or are they accessible to those of us who are new to them?

My intention is that the Lama Rinzen mysteries have a general appeal. I write the books as mysteries, but with elements of Buddhism mixed in to provide a second layer of mystery. I like to think of the series as crime mysteries within Buddhist mysteries. Whodunnits that put us in touch with Buddhist thinking, but without being dogmatic or slamming us over the head with it.

Buddhism is an ancient practice, but it’s also a very pragmatic approach to life. It’s a radical exercise in how to experience the world every moment as something brand new. The emphasis is not on finding certitude. It’s more about allowing ourselves to settle into uncertainty and find comfort in not knowing. That way of thinking is not exclusive to Buddhism. In fact, I find it’s the theme of the truly engaging detective stories that have been written. But even beyond literature, don’t scientists and salespeople and parents walk into uncertainty every day of their lives. The more we corral uncertainty to fit a certain pattern, the more we delude ourselves. The books are intended for readers who live beyond certainty and like exploring.

I call the series mysterious mysteries. They’re not formulaic. I try writing them with a comedic and even a horror genre surprise in them. I write them from the point of view of Isn’t it more fun not knowing where the story’s headed than from the vantage point of having it all figured out long before the story ends.

How does the writing process work for you? Do you schedule a time every day, work madly when inspiration hits or ?

For me, I try not to be too tight in my writing process, but I also try to stay disciplined enough to write every day. Maybe that sounds contradictory. Here’s my one real rule. I meditate, and then I write. In my mind, those two activities link for me. Usually I meditate after waking up and showering. Then I eat breakfast, after that I write. I sit down in front of the computer by 9AM and I write for at least three hours. Often four. I try to leave the afternoon for dealing with business stuff and appointments.

However, that’s not to say sometimes late at night while relaxing with a book or listening to music I don’t suddenly get the urge to write. At these times I get to the desk and write into the early morning. Or sometimes morning appointments are unavoidable, and so I adjust and move my meditation and writing to later in the day. I take Sundays off, but not strictly, and on Saturdays I meditate with my Zen community from about 8 until 11AM and start writing sometime in the afternoon.

I stay disciplined but flexible. I do not write on ski days. I rarely write on vacation. Basically, I go by the old Buddhist adage If you’re washing the dishes, wash the dishes. Don’t be distracted by something else you think you should be doing instead. If I am skiing, I ski. If I am hiking, I hike. If I am writing, I write. I give myself enough free time to stay invigorated, and enough discipline to apply that vigor to my craft. I do not feel guilty missing a writing session, and I do not feel guilty about staying indoors on a beautiful to write. I let things be what they are and I roll with it.

As an author - what do you enjoy most about the writing process or comes easily to you? What feels most like a chore - a struggle?

I am an active writer. When writing I stand up and walk around and act out scenes before committing them to the screen. Activity creates flow and flow leads to deeper insight into my characters. It shows me how they speak and act. I like that. I like acting out the scenes I am writing because I like meeting new people. Even the characters I am conjuring up for the page. I like building relationships with people, both those who are imaginary and those who are real.

But it’s not always easy. Sometimes I struggle with being patient enough to let the scene reveal itself. When I get rolling, I am eager to get it down. I rarely fully realize the completeness of a scene in its first writing. So then I can get in a rut of re-working it and re-working it and not getting a whole lot of words written. That’s when I discipline myself not to be too rigid. I let it flow to the extent it can flow at that moment. Then I let it go and write deeper into the scene allowing myself the imperfection of my writing.

Sometimes the trick for me is admitting to just how much or how little I can accomplish right here and now. So I just move on. I keep going. Because I know later I can come back with fresh eyes and new zeal and hone it into something I can live with.

What do you hope readers take away from reading your books? Is there one underlying message that runs through three of your titles?

I hope my readers feel entertained. I hope they enjoy the twists and turns of riding the plot through to its conclusion. I hope they feel the exhilaration of a thrilling and fun journey that keeps them guessing from beginning to end.

I hope my Buddhist readers see familiar Dharma lessons being applied to tropes of a mystery novel. I hope the books present for them a new enjoyment for Buddhism as an everyday practice.

The same for my non-Buddhist readers. I hope they gain a new appreciation for the practical lessons Buddhism teaches. I hope by reading a whodunnit they find lessons they maybe had not considered before.

And above all, I hope the Lama Rinzen mysteries teach how not to take things so seriously. Because life’s a lot more fun than that.

What's next for you as an author?

The Lama Rinzen mysteries are built around Lama Rinzen being reborn into one of the six Buddhist realms. Once reborn the lama must solve a mystery while learning the realm’s lesson. Solving the mystery and learning the lesson run in parallel and allow the lama at the end of the book to die and be reborn into the next book and into the next realm along the path toward enlightenment.

In the series’ first book, 49 Buddhas, Lama Rinzen learned in the Hell Realm what it takes to be a bodhisattva and care for others while solving who killed insurance man Sonny Heller.

In this newest book, Hidden Buddha, the lama needs to understand why her patients are disappearing from Humboldt Hospital while she also must learn the secret of the Hungry Ghost Realm and what the Buddha means when he speaks about emptiness.

There are six realms. That means four more books to go. The next takes place in the Animal Realm and deals with what it takes to survive a savage environment where the lama must evade unscrupulous marijuana dealers whose crop she has stolen. I’ve written a preview of Lama Rinzen in the Animal Realm at the end of Hidden Buddha.

So what’s next for me is walking into that unknown world and figuring this next book out. I’ve started writing it. But I am still in the long process of learning what it means.

connect with the author: website ~ facebook bookbub ~ goodreads


  1. Great interview, Hidden Buddha sounds like a great book to read!

    Thanks for sharing it with me and have a terrific day!

    1. I love author interviews. Glad you enjoyed it too.

  2. Replies
    1. I love author interviews. Glad you enjoyed it too.


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