"Lord of Light" by Roger Zelazny
"It is because I am what I am, demon," said Siddhartha, hurling his energies back at him. "It is because I am a man who occasionally aspires to things beyond the belly and the phallus. I am not the saint the Buddhists think me to be, and I am not the hero out of legend. I am a man who knows much fear, and who occasionally feels guilt. Mainly, though, I am a man who has set out to do a thing, and you are now blocking my way. Thus you inherit my curse - whether I win or whether I lose now, Taraka, your destiny has already been altered. This is the curse of the Buddha - you will never again be the same as once you were."
"Lord of Light" was first published in 1967, and it later received the Hugo Award. They tried and failed to make a movie out of it, and it may interest you to know that some of the props for this failed attempt at a film were later appropriated by the CIA, as part of their plan to repatriate several American citizens held hostage in Iran. This plan was the basis for the movie "Argo," which received the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is funny to think that "Lord of Light," a book now so obscure and so far removed from current trends in science fiction, continues - albeit secondhand - to exercise a hold on our culture.
"Lord of Light" is about the Buddha, translating his exploits into a science fiction context. Recently reincarnated, he takes up arms (often literally) against the gods of the Hindu pantheon, on a world very similar to our own. At times this fusion of the ancient and "modern" works, and at times reading "Lord of Light" can be a jarring experience. It's hard to identify with a Buddha that resembles a character from an Asimov novel, and it's hard to digest the intrusion of sci-fi gadgetry into this story of gods going to war against a new faith. There were moments when I wasn't sure where the author stood in relation to the events he was describing, whether phenomena such as reincarnation were ultimately attributable to scientific causes, or whether the "gods" in this story were truly gods at all. There is an ambiguity to "Lord of Light" that can be frustrating, and it remains an open question as to whether much of this ambiguity was intentional, or the result of sloppy writing.
I'm sure that "Lord of Light" blew people's minds when it first appeared in the late 60s. I cannot think of a book better suited to the time in which it was released. Even so, this exploration of Eastern philosophy will seem a bit dated to modern readers, even if the author is to be applauded for his ambition. He, like the Siddhartha he describes, was a man aspiring to something. This, I think, is the point that ultimately recommends "Lord of Light." If it occasionally fails, its originality more than makes up for its failings.