The Unravelers

: Rasa, Becoming, and the Buddhist Novel

  • Michael Barber

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The Unravelers is a Buddhist novel of literary fiction, which to my knowledge is the first in the last one hundred years to synthesize the Buddhist teachings and values found in the suttas of the Pāli Canon, the theory of ancient Indian kāvya literature, and the latest stylistic and structural innovations of contemporary literary fiction. The narrative follows four characters from the moment of their deaths as they manipulate the process of becoming—the mental act of creating and entering into “worlds”. The novel depicts the characters’ development of dispassion for a variety of realms, resulting in their eventual return to the human world with the motivation necessary to practice the Buddhist path.
My critical essay opens with an introduction to kāvya and Theravāda Buddhist
concepts that are particularly relevant to the process of creating a fictional world—
namely, saṅkhāra (fabrication) and bhava (becoming)—and the inherent karma of
writing. Section II “Literary Review” explores narrative modes from Theravāda
Buddhist literature and develops them through experimental narrative modes of
contemporary literary fiction. Section III discusses the depiction of becoming,
fabrication, and dispassion through the novel’s characters. Section IV “Rasa,” explains the theory of how a reader experiences the work’s savor, while relating the use of rasa in The Unravelers to the early Buddhist kāvyas (the Pāli Canon’s Udāna and Dhammapada, and two works by Aśvaghoṣa). Section V evaluates the classic use of Buddhist concepts and metaphors in Aśvaghoṣa’s Handsome Nanda as compared to The Unravelers. Section VI examines Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums as a forerunner to the genre of the Buddhist novel and Keith Kachtick’s Hungry Ghost as archetypal. Section VII concludes by detailing The Unravelers’ contribution to the Buddhist novel.
Date of Award30 May 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorPeter Jaeger (Supervisor) & Ariel Kahn (Supervisor)


  • Buddhism, Buddhist Literature, Buddhist Fiction, Rasa, Kāvya, Buddhist Romanticism, Becoming, Fabrication, Aśvaghoṣa, Salinger, Kerouac, Theravāda

Cite this

The Unravelers : Rasa, Becoming, and the Buddhist Novel
Barber, M. (Author). 30 May 2017

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis