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KARMA RULES?
David Loy (Rethinking Karma,
Spring 2008) states that karma has tra-
ditionally been used to justify racism,
the caste system, economic inequality,
or the status quo. The suttas, though,
show that the Buddha never used
karma to justify any of these things. In
fact, he used it to expose these things
as empty conventions. Many suttas
state unequivocally that a persons
worth is determined by his or her
behaviorpresent karmarather
than by status or birth. Examples
include Suttas 93 and 96 in the
Middle-Length Discourses, and Sutta
3:24 in the Connected Discourses. The
last chapter of the Dhammapada is
devoted to the theme that a person is a
true brahmin not because of birth but
because of his or her present karma.
Although past karma can be used to
explain why a person is born into a
position of power, it does not necessar-
ily follow that the person deserves to
remain in that position. Sutta 26 in
the Long Discourses describes the case of
a king who forfeited his right to a posi-
tion of universal rule because he did
not follow a principle of good gover-
nance: the distribution of wealth to the
needy. Conversely, the Udana contains
the story of Suppabuddha, a leper who
gains the dhamma eye. The Theragatha
contains the verses of an outcast named
Sunita who, after attaining ara-
hantship, is worshipped by devas. The
message here is that although the
external circumstances of ones birth
may reflect part of ones past karma,
ones worth or karmic potential cannot
be measured by outward appearances.
Later interpreters may have used the
doctrine of karma to justify injustices in
the status quo, but these are obviously
deviations from the original teaching. It
would be interesting to learn how those
deviations were justified. Perhaps some-
one thought they were an improvement
on what the Buddha, supposedly
trapped by the limits of his cultural sit-
uation, was able to teach. If so, these
examples should be brought into the
open as a warning to others who want
to make their own improvements in the
Buddhas teachings.
Loy argues that the Buddha
embraced the principle of imperma-
nence and therefore would not mind if
we made changes in his teachings.
However, the Buddha never said that
change is good. Simply that, like
other things, it happens.
Nigel Millard
Aberdeen, Scotland
I had trouble following the argument
in David Loys article, Rethinking
Karma, in the Spring 2008 issue. He
starts out by saying that the Buddhas
understanding of his own teaching
was limited by the cultural presuppo-
sitions of his times and that the teach-
ing on karma is a case in point. From
this beginning, I would have expected
the article to discuss what the Buddha
letters to the editor
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taught about karma, but instead, it
discusses traditional views on
karma, common views on karma,
and how karma is most often
understood (by whom?), without
indicating whether these views and
understandings are representative of
what the Buddha actually said.
For the record, there was no single
view on karma extant in the Buddhas
time. Digha Nikaya 2 shows that karma
was a hotly debated topic. So the
Buddha, in formulating a doctrine of
action and its results, was not simply
adopting the religious consensus of his
time because there wasnt one. He was
stating something genuinely new.
And even though there may now be a
common misunderstanding that the
teaching on karma is deterministic or
fatalistic, the Buddha himself attacked
that view in Anguttara Nikaya 3:61.
Finally, Loys new understanding
of karmathat the teaching should
focus less on the past and more on the
beneficial effects of purifying ones
motivations in the presentis not new
at all: it is the premise of many of the
early suttas discussing karma.
Debra Kettler
San Juan Capistrano, CA
DAVID LOY RESPONDS
As Nigel Millard says, the Buddha
never used karma to justify inequality,
etc., but the tradition did. It is a clas-
sic example of the tensions that arise
as spiritual teachings become institu-
tionalized and an accommodation is
worked out with authoritarian rulers
in undemocratic societies.
My article does not attempt a com-
prehensive overview of karma but
focuses on our problems with karma
today and what was genuinely new
in the Buddhas understanding: his
emphasis on the motivations of our
actions. My concern is not to correct
the dharma (though there are a few
silly things in the Pali canon) but to
express it in ways that speak more
directly to us and our situation today.
WITHOUT PREMEDITATION
The short but compellingly honest
article by Barry Evans in your Spring
issue (The Myth of the Experienced
Meditator) was, for me, both
refreshing and instructive. The mys-
tique and unattainable promise of
the dharma propounded in books and
magazines often deludes us into
believing that anything short of nir-
vana is merely preparation for better
things to come. At the same time,
beginners and would-be bodhisattvas
are often frustrated by their perceived
lack of progress, even after hours on
the cushion. As in many other spiri-
tual pursuits, the journey provided by
meditation is often lost in the desire to
reach a destination. I truly enjoyed just
sitting today, more than I have in
years. Please thank Mr. Evans for shar-
ing his humility and wisdom.
Chris Kirkwood
Middletown, NJ
A CALL NOT TO ARM
The new dharma hall at the Air Force
Academy (Salute to Buddhism,
Spring 2008) is not a bright spot and
not a symbol of Buddhisms growth in
America. At $85,000 for a 274-square-
foot space, this is a symbol of every-
thing that is wrong with America.
No matter how meticulous the
attention to detail was, it shouldnt
cost over $310 per square foot to
clean up a storage room and use it for
meditation. This is an example of the
obscene overspending that has long
been associated with our military.
As for its overall value, who do the
people involved with this project
think they are kidding? There are all
sorts of arguments for engaging in a
discussion of the militarys role in
death. But only one holds water
death and the military are one and the
10 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
letters to the editor
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same. And while Buddhism may sug-
gest that all beings are one, simply
put, I aint one of themI burned my
draft card 37 years ago.
Frank Solle
Beaver Island, MI
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
Thank you for Andrew Schellings
article Whirling Petals, Windblown
Leaves (Winter 2007). Its good to
see a major publication acknowledge
the connections between haiku, renga,
and the dharma.
However, I was surprised to see Mr.
Schelling quote Bashos famous crow
haiku and then ask, Do you need to
be told that Basho wrote this poem on
his deathbed?
Basho actually died in 1694. His
official death poem was:
Ill on a journey;
My dreams wander
Over a withered moor.
As the late scholar R. H. Blyth
explained, This is Bashos death-
verse, written for his pupils, though
he had declared, the evening before,
that for the last twenty years every
poem had been his death poem.
Keith Heiberg
Boston, MA
ANDREW SCHELLING RESPONDS
Thanks, Keith, for catching the mis-
take. As you note, Basho did say every
poem he wrote for twenty years was a
death poembut I wont hide my
error in that tangled thicket!
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 11
Tricycle welcomes letters to the editor.
Letters are subject to editing. Please
send correspondence to:
Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
92 Vandam Street
New York, NY 10013
Email address: editorial@tricycle.com
tri_SU08_008_019_letters,insights 4/11/08 10:58 AM Page 11
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Without relying on conventions,
You cannot disclose the sublime,
Without intuiting the sublime,
You cannot experience freedom.
Nagarjuna


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THE paradoxical dance of seeking
and finding wears different costumes in
different traditions. In Zen its usually
known as the gateless gate: Until you
crack the combination and pass
through, you cant fully understand the
meaning of the great Zen teachings
but then all your mental effort
inevitably proves fruitless before this
enigmatic and impenetrable barrier.
You need to bring your whole being,
not just your mind, to the process and
allow the paradox to transform you
from the inside. Many Zen koans pose
some version of this paradox, disorient-
ing the mind and evoking an answer
from another dimension of knowing.
Consider the well-known Mahayana
teaching: All beings are inherently
enlightened, but because of their
attachments and distorted views they
cant realize this fact. I can still
remember how these words short-cir-
cuited my mind the first time I heard
them. Hmm, I mused, if we cant realize
it, then how can we possibly say were
enlightened? But if were really enlight-
ened, why cant we realize it?
As a neophyte practitioner, I under-
stood these words to mean that deep
down inside me there was this
enlightened nature that I somehow
needed to discover and meditation
was a kind of excavation project
designed to unearth it. For years I
kept digging, sitting intensive
retreats, contemplating koans, emp-
tying my mind to make room for the
influx of awakening. I was spurred on
in this archaeological exploration by
my teachers, who offered encourage-
ment in private interviews and lav-
ished authority and cachet on those
who passed koans quickly. Eventually I
just wore myself out with the digging,
so I set aside my shovel (and my
monks robes) and went back to living
a more ordinary life. Yet the paradox
continued to gnaw at me, silently,
from the inside.
The fact is, once youre gripped by
the core paradox and recognize that
consensusthat everyday reality is
merely a reflection of some deeper
truth thats close at hand but hidden
from viewyouve embarked on a
search that you can never really aban-
don, no matter how far you seem to
stray. The Zen masters say that
encountering the paradox is like
swallowing a red-hot iron ball you
can neither disgorge nor pass
through. Until you digest this ball,
you can never be completely at peace.
Throughout the centuries zealous
Zen students have meditated long
hours struggling to resolve this para-
dox, only to return home and discover
their original face. In the Rinzai Zen
tradition, practitioners bellow mu (the
key word from one of the most impor-
tant koans) for hours in their fervor to
break through the gate, and the tradi-
tions stories are filled with notable
examples of those who took their prac-
tice to even greater extremes, standing
in the snow for hours, sitting at the
edge of a precipice, walking on foot
from master to master. Monasteries are
places for desperate people, my first
Zen teacher used to say, by which he
meant people whose suffering, urgency,
or intensity drives them forward on
their long and often lonely search.
Many centuries ago, the Persian
mystic poet Rumi described his own
divine desperation in these words:
I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
Ive been knocking from the inside!
Encountering the Gateless Gate
The paradox of enlightenment, says STEPHAN BODIAN, is also the answer.
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Judging from this poem, Rumi
struggled for a long time to penetrate
the paradox with his mind, but the
door eventually opens by itself,
almost in spite of his efforts, and
reveals that hes been living in the
secret chamber all along. Rumis
epiphany when he discovers that hes
been looking from the inside out
mirrors the surprise, relief, and
delight of those seekers who wear
themselves out attempting to unravel
the paradox and drop to the ground,
exhaustedonly to discover that
theyve never strayed from home,
even in their most desperate
moments. No creature ever falls short
of its own completeness, says Zen
master Dogen. Wherever it stands it
does not fail to cover the ground.
Needless to say, this intense long-
ing to crack the code and reveal the
truth at the heart of reality is as
ancient and universal as humankind
itself. You could say that its in our
DNA. According to the Sufis, God
said to the Prophet Muhammad, I
am a hidden treasure, and I want to
be known. In His yearning to be
loved and experienced, God set in
motion an evolutionary pattern that
reached its pinnacle in the human
capacity for spiritual awakening.
God, or Truth, in other words, is
seeking to awaken to itself through
you, to see itself everywhere through
your eyes and taste itself everywhere
through your lips. That which you
are seeking, wrote an anonymous
sage, is always seeking you.
From Wake Up Now: A Guide to the
Journey of Spiritual Awakening,
2007 by Stephan Bodian. Reprinted with
permission from McGraw-Hill Professional.
The Fertile Soil of
Sangha
THICH NHAT HANH on the importance
of community
TWO thousand five hundred years
ago, Shakyamuni Buddha proclaimed
that the next Buddha will be named
Maitreya, the Buddha of Love. I
think Maitreya Buddha may be a
community and not just an individ-
ual. A good community is needed to
help us resist the unwholesome ways
of our time. Mindful living protects
us and helps us go in the direction of
peace. With the support of friends in
the practice, peace has a chance.
If you have a supportive sangha, its
easy to nourish your bodhicitta, the
seeds of enlightenment. If you dont
have anyone who understands you, who
encourages you in the practice of the liv-
ing dharma, your desire to practice may
wither. Your sanghafamily, friends,
and copractitionersis the soil, and you
are the seed. No matter how vigorous
the seed is, if the soil does not provide
nourishment, your seed will die. A good
sangha is crucial for the practice. Please
find a good sangha or help create one.
Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are
three precious jewels in Buddhism,
and the most important of these is
Sangha. The Sangha contains the
Buddha and the Dharma. A good
teacher is important, but sisters and
brothers in the practice are the main
ingredient for success. You cannot
achieve enlightenment by locking
yourself in your room. Transformation
is possible only when you are in touch.
When you touch the ground, you can
feel the stability of the earth and feel
confident. When you observe the
steadiness of the sunshine, the air, and
the trees, you know that you can count
on the sun to rise each day and the air
and the trees to be there. When you
build a house, you build it on solid
ground. You need to choose friends in
the practice who are stable, on whom
you can rely.
Taking refuge in the sangha means
putting your trust in a community of
solid members who practice mindful-
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ness together. You do not have to
practice intensivelyjust being in a
sangha where people are happy, living
deeply the moments of their days, is
enough. Each persons way of sitting,
walking, eating, working, and smil-
ing is a source of inspiration; and
transformation takes place without
effort. If someone who is troubled is
placed in a good sangha, just being
there is enough to bring about a
transformation. I hope communities
of practice in the West will organize
themselves as families. In Asian sang-
has, we address each other as Dharma
Brother, Dharma Sister, Dharma
Aunt, or Dharma Uncle, and we call
our teacher Dharma Father or
Dharma Mother. A practice commu-
nity needs that kind of familial
brotherhood to nourish practice.
If you have a sangha that is joyful,
animated by the desire to practice
and help, you will mature as a
bodhisattva. I always tell the monks,
nuns, and lay practitioners at Plum
Village that if they want to succeed
in the practice, they have to find
ways to live in harmony with one
another, even with those who are dif-
ficult. If they cant succeed in the
sangha, how can they succeed out-
side of it? Becoming a monk or a
nun is not just between student and
teacher. It involves everyone.
Getting a yes from everyone in the
sangha is a true dharma seal.
From Cultivating the Mind of Love,
2008 by Thich Nhat Hanh. Reprinted
with permission of Parallax Press,
parallax.org.
The Stability of Ease
Three qualities every practitioner
should cultivate, by SOGYAL RINPOCHE
THESE days, many people are
very enthusiastic about the dharma,
the teaching of the buddhas. What is
so important, I feel, is that initial
stage, when youre really in love with
the dharma, when you feel inspired
and enthusiastic. Thats the time to
go all out and get a good basis in the
dharma and stabilize it.
What the dharma brings us, what
it teaches us, very essentially, is to be
pure, authentic, and natural. The first
and most important thing is pure
motivation. Theres a famous story
about a hermit long ago in Tibet
called Geshe Ben. He was in retreat,
and one day he heard that his spon-
sors, who were financing his retreat,
were coming to visit him. So he
cleaned his room, arranged the shrine
very neatly, set out all the offerings
perfectly, and then sat and waited for
his sponsors to arrive. Suddenly, just
before they arrived, he reflected on his
motivation and said to himself,
What am I doing? This is all fake.
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Im just hoping to create a good
impression, thats all! He snatched a
handful of ash from the stove by his
side and flung it all over the shrine
and the offerings. A great master
called Padampa Sangye who heard
about this called it the greatest offer-
ing in the whole of Tibet.
Pure motivation and a good heart are
fundamental. I remember how Dudjom
Rinpoche [19041987] always used to
say that a person needs three qualities.
The first, he said, is sampa zangpoa
good heart.
The second is tenpoto be stable and
reliable. One of our greatest problems
is that we lack stability. However
much we want to be stable and reli-
able, everything is so impermanent
that things are always in a state of flux.
Then, if our mind is not strong, we can
be swept away by circumstances and
changes. When everything is so imper-
manent, we become unreliable.
It seems that many people are all
too stable when it comes to being neg-
ativestable in their wrong views.
Sadly, often thats not the case in
terms of the teachings; the teachings
have not become a part of us, so we
dont have that stability.
For example, a string of beads has a
thread running through all the beads,
keeping them together. What we need
is a thread tooof sanity and stability.
Because when you have a thread, even
though each bead is separate, they hang
together. When we have the teachings
in us, stabilizing us, theres a thread to
keep our life together that prevents us
from falling apart. And when you have
this string, you have flexibility, too.
Thats how you can have the freedom
to be unique and special and individ-
ual and still have stability and humor.
This kind of character is what we need
to develop; this character is the thread.
Without discipline, its very difficult
to develop stability; thats why we have
a practice. And when we live according
to the dharma, when we follow a
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teacher, when we follow the Buddha,
the Dharma, and the Sangha, what it
really does is bring us stability within
ourselves. So, for example, when we
have taken refuge, we find a refuge in
ourselves; when we need ourselves, we
are there for us. So often when we need
ourselves, were not there.
The third quality Dudjom
Rinpoche spoke of is lhpoto be spa-
cious, at ease with ourselves. If we are
at ease with ourselves, we are at ease
with others. If we are not at ease with
ourselves, then we will be uncomfort-
able, especially in company. Imagine
you find yourself at a smart party in
Paris. All kinds of people are there,
from different backgrounds, slightly
different from you, and one very suave
and successful person turns round to
greet you. Even the way he says bon-
jour has a supercilious air about it, as
he looks down his nose at you conde-
scendingly. If youre at ease with
yourself, theres no problem. He can
drawl bonjour and look down on
you, and you feel completely fine,
because for you it is actually a bon jour,
since you are well with yourself.
When we are well with ourselves,
then whatever happens, it really doesnt
matter, because we have equilibrium
and stability. We dont feel any lack of
confidence. If not, were always on
edge, waiting to see how someone
reacts to us, what people say to us or
think about us. Our confidence hangs
on what people tell us about how we
are, how we look, how we behave.
When we are really in touch with our-
selves, we know ourselves beyond
what others may tell us. So these three
qualitiesa good heart, stability, and
spaciousnessthese are really what
you could call basic human virtues.
From Finding the Thread in Losing
the Clouds, Gaining the Sky, 2007,
editor Doris Wolter. Reprinted with
permission of Wisdom Publications,
wisdompubs.org.
Thought for Food
VENERABLE YIFA presents the five
contemplations her monastery
uses to appreciate meals.
WHEN we sit down to eat in our
monastery, we try to be conscious of
several things. We eat in silence
because this way you can concentrate
on the food and practice awareness.
Then we eat everything on the plate.
This is our way of honoring the con-
servation of resources. We also try to
make sure that the conservation of
resources takes place before the food
even reaches our plate: the portions we
receive arent too large, and this way it
isnt difficult to eat all thats been
given to us. We also remember the
preparation of the foodthe work of
the cooks and the cleaners and those
who picked the vegetables and
processed the food. We dont choose
what we eat at the monastery. Were
not in the monastery to become gour-
mets. Were there because we need to
cultivate appreciation and nonattach-
ment to all things, including food.
These ritual behaviors are part of
what we call the five contempla-
tions. The first contemplation is to
develop gratitude. We give thanks for
the food and how it came to us. We
reflect on the foods growth from seed
to flowering plant, its harvesting and
journey from the fields to the market;
then we appreciate its arrival and
preparation in the kitchen, and the
effort it took to supply this food. We
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acknowledge the interdependence of
all natural thingshow they work
together in harmony to bring us what
is nutritious and life-giving. We rec-
ognize, too, that life forms may have
been harmed in the gathering of this
food (even though we dont eat meat,
we know that animals may have been
disturbed by the harvesting of the
vegetables, fruits, and grains).
The second contemplation is to
develop humility. In the monastery
were privileged in that we dont pay
money for our meals. However, we
know the meal is not cost-free. Were
also aware that many in the world
dont have access to any food, no mat-
ter what the price. Its a great blessing
to us that we have people who cook for
us and prepare the tables. Were always
at risk of taking them for granted
just as, in society as a whole, we take
for granted the people who work in the
factories or the migrant laborers who
pluck our fruits and vegetables from
the trees and bushes or pull them up
from the ground. That we forget all
those who work out of sight for our
comfort is an unfortunate tendency in
our culture. The second contemplation
forces us, therefore, at least for a
moment, to be aware that they exist
and that we should be grateful for
them. Perhaps such gratitude will
make us more likely to help these
laborers as they advocate for better
work and living conditions.
I remember on one occasion, I was
eating with a young man who asked:
If I paid five dollars for this meal, why
do I still have to say thank you?
Do you think that your five dollars
really bought this meal? I asked him.
Lets count up the economic cost that
led to this food coming together in
this form for you. Think about all the
causes and conditions that were
involved in terms of time and space
for this set of ingredients to be cooked
in such a way and then be available to
eat. And so the young man and I did
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just that. I cant remember the exact
number we came up with, but the
amount of money and the perhaps
unquantifiable effort involved were
considerably more than what he had
paid. The young man ate a bit of
humble pie with his meal that day!
The third contemplation we per-
form is to develop restraint. Restraint
means protecting the integrity of our
mind so that were less likely to depart
from our discipline; this way we avoid
errors such as greed. So, not only
should we not take more than we need
but also always practice consideration
in making sure that everyone has what
they need. We must be aware not to
become selfish, indulge our tastes, and
wish to take more than our share
whether its piling our plate high or
making it so that other people dont
get enough to eat. We shouldnt ask
why we were given the food, complain
about the taste, or disparage the skills
of those who prepared it. We should
accept it with gratitude and grace,
thanking everyone involved for their
work and care.
The fourth contemplation is the
generation of health-providing thoughts
about the food. We should sense it
nourishing us and giving us energy and
vitality, coursing through our bodies.
Thats why the food in the monastery
should always be nutritious. The food
prepared should be good for the diges-
tion, soft on the palate, and flavorful.
Theres no reason that it should be
devoid of taste or pleasure. The Chinese
monastic tradition considers food and
medicine to be from the same source.
Food is always cooked using herbs and
spices together to combine taste, nutri-
tional value, and the healing power of
those herbs and spices. This is a differ-
ent conception of food from that in the
Observing Minds Want to Know
SAYADAW U TEJANIYA gives essential tips for observing the
moment in mindfulness meditation.
Before we start practicing mindfulness meditation, we must
know how to practice. We need to have the right informa-
tion and a clear understanding of the practice to work with
awareness intelligently. This information will work at the
back of your mind when you meditate.
1 Meditating is watching and
waiting patiently with awareness
and understanding. Meditation is
not trying to experience some-
thing you have read about or
heard about.
2 When meditating, both the
body and mind should be com-
fortable.
3 You are not trying to make
things turn out the way you want
them to happen. You are trying to
know what is happening as it is.
4 You have to accept and watch
both good and bad experiences.
You want only good experiences?
You dont want even the tiniest
unpleasant experience? Is this
reasonable? Is this the way of
the dhamma?
5 Dont feel disturbed by the
thinking mind. You are not prac-
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West, where nutrition has, until rela-
tively recently, not been thought of as a
key component in preventing disease
and curing ailments. The fourth con-
templation allows us to consider food as
a medicinal force.
The fifth contemplation aims to
encourage examination of the purpose of
our lives. The entire process of sitting
down to eat, reflecting on food and its
preparation, and then the eating of it
should be a methodone among
manyto take us further on the path
to enlightenment. This again is why
the food in our temples is vegetarian:
because we want to emphasize the life-
giving nature of food and to discour-
age the taking of life.
From Authenticity: Clearing the Junk:
A Buddhist Perspective, 2007 by
Venerable Yifa. Reprinted with the permis-
sion of Lantern Books, New York.
ticing to prevent thinking, but
rather to recognize and acknowl-
edge thinking whenever it arises.
6 The object of attention is not
really important: the observing
mind that is working to be aware is
of real importance. If the observ-
ing is done with the right attitude,
any object is the right object.
7 Just pay attention to the pres-
ent moment. Dont get lost in
thoughts about the past. Dont get
carried away by thoughts about
the future.
From Dont Look Down On the
Defilements: They Will Laugh at
You, Ashin Tejaniya. Reprinted
with permission.
tri_SU08_008_019_letters,insights 4/11/08 10:58 AM Page 19
The path to where you are todayas
a world-famous musician and medi-
tation teacherseems to have been
paved with independence and stub-
bornness. For starters, you were a
hugely precocious child. Its true!
When I was seven years old, shortly
after we fled Tibet for India, I ran
away to Dharamsala, to the Tibetan
Childrens Village, a boarding school
the Dalai Lama established for
refugee children. It was run by his
older sister, Tsering Dolma-la. Then,
when I was thirteen, I begged my
mother to let me become a monk.
Three years after that, I ran away to
join a Tibetan guerrilla group called
the Special Frontier Force, or SFF.
You were a guerrilla soldier at
sixteen? In fact, thats where my real
inspiration for the dharma came
frommy time in the army. A fellow
soldier told me about a great scrip-
ture, the Fifth Dalai Lamas Lamrim
Jamphel ShelungThe Eloquent
Teachings of Manjushri. I borrowed
it from a monk at the military temple
and started reading it. Sometime later
I found Patrul Rinpoches Kunzang
Lamai ShelungWords of My
Perfect Teacherin Freedom News, a
Tibetan-language newspaper that had
a section on Buddha-dharma. Each
week, they printed a part of the scrip-
ture. I used to wait for the paper and
read it with great enthusiasm. These
two teachings really shook my whole
being. After that, all I wanted to do
was become a hermit. The Dalai Lama
gave me his blessing and sponsored
me, offering personal guidance dur-
ing the four years when I was a hermit
in the mountains.
Why did you want to become a hermit?
Its a little bit like somebody who
likes basketball and, instead of just
playing the game here and there,
decides to join a major league team
and focus their whole life on becom-
ing a great basketball player. You
focus one hundred percentbody,
mind, and spiriton developing
your spiritual qualities. You train for
many hours every day, thinking that
maybe you will one day become like
Michael Jordan.
You wanted to be the Michael Jordan
of the meditation world? Yeah, kind
of. It was very difficult! You have
tohow do you say?reverse your
nature. Its like making water flow
upstream. There was a time I almost
never slept at night. I ate very simple
foodjust a small cake made out of
Nawang Khechog is a musical sorcerera self-taught,
Grammy-nominated star of meditation music who has
sold three million albums worldwide (his latest CD,
Tibetan Meditation Music, was No. 9 on the Billboard
chart) and has collaborated with Kitaro, R. Carlos Nakai,
Philip Glass, Paul Winter, Laurie Anderson, and David
Bowie. Drawing on eleven years as a monk and mountain
hermit, Khechog combines the fruits of long, deep prac-
tice with natural acoustic genius to create hauntingly
beautiful compositions that mix earthy Tibetan chants
with ethereal horns. (In addition to the flute, he has mas-
tered the doongchenTibetan long hornAboriginal
didgeridoo, African drums and kalimba, Mayan ocarina,
and Native American drums.)
Born in Kham, in southeastern Tibet, Khechog fled to
India at age six after the 1959 Chinese invasion.
Nowadays, at 54, he occupies a singular place on the
Buddhist scene as a teacher, performer, practitioner, and
Tibetan freedom fighter. His many creative endeavors
include a years-in-the-making documentary, due in
2010, about Tibetan hermit meditators; a workshop
called Awakening Kindness; and even a newly invented
video game, which he describes with the glee of a school-
boy. Having survived a near-fatal car wreck in India last
year, the irrepressible artist is traveling less these days.
(He and his wife live in Boulder, Colorado; he has two
adult children from a previous marriage.) After a recent
performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City, Khechog
took time out to talk with Tricycle contributing editor
Mark Matousek about his hybrid life, transformative
sound, and near-miss with deathand how being a dis-
obedient child gave him the surprising life he has today.
Elevated Music
Grammy-nominated Tibetan composer and musician
Nawang Khechog chats with Tricycles Mark Matousek.
20 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
give & take
tri_SU08_020_023_Give&Take 4/11/08 11:00 AM Page 20
dough and lentil. Eventually I devel-
oped tuberculosis and began to vomit
blood. I didnt take care of my physi-
cal body and became very sick. In the
end, I spent years in and out of hos-
pitals. When I meet new meditators,
I always tell them to please be care-
ful. Dont forget to take care of your
body! Physical health is just as
important as spiritual.
After I got sick, I realized that even
if I couldnt go back up the mountain
and be a hermit, my life was already
different. Whether Im in solitude or
living in a town, I still can practice.
The need to develop love and compas-
sion is important wherever I live. The
law of karma follows me wherever I
go. So I decided to live in the world
and keep practicing the Buddhas
teaching as much as possible in my
day-to-day situation.
When did you realize that you were
an artist? I was quite creative as a
young boy, always the class clown. I
taught myself to play the flute when I
was in school and performed all the
time. Being a monk and dharma prac-
titioner helped me create my kind of
spiritual music. I always meditate
before I play or composeclear my
mind and heart. On the foundation of
that clear, calm, focused state of
mind, I then ask for blessings.
Meditating on universal love, com-
passion, and responsibility, I then go
onstage and play music with that
kind of spirit.
You need to be in an elevated state
of mind before offering transforma-
tive music to the audience? Thats
it. Its like rock and roll. You need to
have that kind of energyonly then
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Musician Nawang
Khechog I always
meditate before I play
or compose.
tri_SU08_020_023_Give&Take 4/11/08 11:00 AM Page 21
22 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
give & take
can you rock! Sometimes my music
is highly energetic, like a piece I
played last time at Carnegie Hall
called The Last Stand of the Wild
Yaks. Its a very wild piece of music
with drums and hornsan explo-
sive energy release. When I perform
such music, I need to tap into that
energy. When Im playing quiet
meditative flute, Im just totally
calm and peaceful and relaxed.
How does being a musician affect
your role as dharma teacher? First,
Im not a lama or guru or anything
like that. Im just a spiritual friend.
Ive been living in the West since
1985. I try to relate the Dharma to
21
st
-century human beings. As
Einstein said, we human beings uti-
lize only five to ten percent of our
brains capacity. In the same way, we
use only five to ten percent of our
hearts capacity to love and feel
kindness. Instead of boxing in our
hearts, loving only me, me, methe
smallest boxwe must try to slowly
expand that box till were able to
love all humanity, all sentient
beings. When we use our maximum
intelligence to access these deeper
levels, to go beyond the material,
then we become wise. We realize
interdependence and the transitory
nature of existencethis is how we
free ourselves from suffering. Then
we can bring a lasting peace and
happiness to the world.
Do you find that Western seekers
have challenges that Eastern seek-
ers dont? Both challenges and
strengths. Tibetans born in a
Buddhist country are brought up
from childhood to have faith in the
dharma. But we dont always study
enoughinvestigate enough. We
may go to temple and practice kind-
ness, but we take it easy when it
comes to deeper spiritual practice.
Westerners, on the other hand, tend
to work harder. They really investi-
gate. They take the Buddhas words
to heart, when he said not to take his
teachings on faith but to test them, to
find out for themselves. Like a gold-
smith, they cut and burn and rub the
teachings to see if they are real.
If you put Western enthusiasm
together with Eastern faith, youd
have the perfect Buddhist. Thats
it! [laughs]
Tell me about your accident. I was in
Nepal last February, receiving their
highest civilian award. Afterward, I
went to India, where my father lives,
to celebrate the Tibetan New Year.
My son and niece were in the car with
me. Our driver collided with an
oncoming truck. My niece, my sisters
tri_SU08_020_023_Give&Take 4/11/08 11:00 AM Page 22
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 23
daughter, was killed. I was uncon-
scious, but my son was barely injured.
He found a Red Cross medic who
came and got me to surgery. My son
saved my life. So did Richard Gere,
who had me flown by charter plane
from Orissa State to New Delhi.
Because of my brain injury, they were
not able to give me pain medication
in the hospital. That is when my
practice really saved me. I was going
through agony, just lying there
moaning. (I dont remember this
completely, but this is how my wife
describes it.) After some time, I asked
her to bring a pillow. I sat up and
started to meditate. My wife and my
son said that I meditated for forty
minutes or so, and by the end, I
became very peaceful and calm, totally
without pain.
Your practice came to the rescue. I
was doing tonglen, which is a particu-
larly powerful practice. In tonglen,
you take the suffering of all beings
inside yourselfthe suffering of
the worldand pray for its relief.
Its as if the state of mind created
by tonglen healed the pain. It
brought a blessed feeling.
While I was recovering in Delhi
Hospital, His Holiness called for me
to visit him. After blessing me, he
said, Oh, you are the one who came
back from the dead! Then he said,
Can you play a flute? And I said,
Yes, yes, Holiness, I am able to play
a flute. He said, It is very important
for you to travel around, play music,
and represent Tibet.
Id like to hear about your video
gamesThe Journey to Wild
Divine series. The first one is called
The Passage, the second is Wisdom Quest,
and the third is Healing Rhythms. Dr.
Deepak Chopra and Dr. Andrew Weil
are also consultants on this series. The
games incorporate biofeedback. People
wear sensors while they play and can
see their heartbeat on the computer.
Then they have to meditate.
Theyre interactive meditation video
games? Exactly. You have to bring
your heart rate to a certain level. If
you can reach that calm state, then
the game begins and you can take
the journey. There are thousands of
video games out there. Most of
them are about violence, fighting,
killing, all kinds of awful things.
This is the first video game that
helps people cultivate love and
compassion. The idea is for people
to be able to have fun and at the
same time a spiritual experience.
So, you havent lost your precocious-
ness? No! [laughs] Just think of it as
an ex-monks new journey.
When you need support
during difficult times,
help is within reach.
Sandra Scales, Ph.D.
Author of Sac r ed Voi c es
of t he Nyi ngma Mast er s.
www. sandrascales. com
Is Anyone Listening?
Bringing clarity to complicated relationships
Coping with loss and other major changes
Overcoming inaction and freeing a wealth of
creative energy
Addressing addiction and recovery
Sandra Scales, Ph.D. has been providing confidential and
convenient telephone consultations for more than 20 years.
She is instrumental in unraveling difficult issues and bringing
about meaningful change. Her approach combines Buddhist
and Western psychology and offers practical solutions.
Sandra welcomes whatever you bring to the table with such
openness and a generous spirit. I love her voice, it has
guided me through some of the most difficult thorny issues
and I am very grateful. C.B.
call 831
.
661
.
o321 to sche dule a consultati on
tri_SU08_020_023_Give&Take 4/11/08 11:00 AM Page 23
My teacher Charlotte Joko Beck pretty much sums up her attitude toward relationships
when she says, Relationships dont work. Rather than talk about everything we normally
think that we gain from relationships, like love, companionship, security, and family life,
she looks at relationships from the perspective of no gain. She focuses on all the ways rela-
tionships go awry when people enter into them with particular sorts of gaining ideas and
expect relationships to function as an antidote to their problems. Antidotes are all versions
of If only... If only she were more understanding; if only he were more interested in sex;
if only she would stop drinking. For Joko, that kind of thinking about relationships
means always externalizing the problem, always assuming that the one thing thats
No Gain
Relationships wont solve our problems, but they
can help us grow.
BARRY MAGID


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relationships
tri_SU08_024_027_Magid 4/11/08 11:02 AM Page 24
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 25
APRIL 17
MAY 9, 2008
LEDBY TED
BURGER,
EXPLORER,
BUDDHIST
SCHOLAR
AND MAKER
OF THEFILM
AMONGST
WHITE
.CLOUDS.
Learn more
about this and our
other Buddhist
Pilgrimages at
www.insight-
travel.com. For
more on Ted and
his lm, visit www.
amongstclouds.
com.
ROOTS
OF ZEN
PILGRIMAGETOCHINA
937-767-1102 or 800-688-9851 www.insight-travel.com
going to change your life is outside
yourself and in the other person. If
only the other person would get his or
her act together, then my life would
go the way I want it to.
Joko tries to bring people back to
their own fears and insecurities.
These problems are ours to practice
with, and we cant ask anyone else,
including a teacher, to do that work
for us. To be in a real relationship, a
loving relationship, is simply to be
willing to respond and be there for
the other person without always cal-
culating what we are going to get out
of it.
Many people come to me and say,
Ive been in lots of relationships where
I give and give and give. But for them
it wasnt enlightenment; it was
masochism! What they are missing
from Jokos original account is a descrip-
tion of what relationships are actually
forwhat the good part is. In addition
to being aware of the pitfalls that Joko
warns us about, we should also look at
all the ways in which relationships pro-
vide the enabling conditions for our
growth and development. Thats partic-
ularly obvious with children. We would
all agree that children need a certain
kind of care and love in order to grow
and develop. Nobody would say to a
five-year-old, What do you need
Mommy for? Deal with your fear on
your own! The thing is that most of us
are still struggling with remnants of
tri_SU08_024_027_Magid 4/11/08 11:02 AM Page 25
that childs neediness and fear in the
midst of a seemingly adult life.
Relationships arent just crutches that
allow us to avoid those fears; they also
provide conditions that enable us to
develop our capacities so we can handle
them in a more mature way.
Its not just a parent-child relation-
ship or a relationship with a partner
that does that. The relationship of a
student with a teacher, between mem-
bers of a sangha, between friends, and
among community membersall
help us to develop in ways we couldnt
on our own. Some aspects of ourselves
dont develop except under the right
circumstances.
Aristotle stressed the importance of
community and friendship as necessary
ingredients for character development
and happiness. He is the real origin of
the idea that it takes a village to raise
a child. However, you dont find much
in Aristotle about the necessity of
romantic love in order to develop. His
emphasis was on friendship.
Aristotle said that in order for people
to become virtuous, we need role mod-
elsothers who have developed their
capacities for courage, self-control, wis-
dom, and justice. We may emphasize
different sets of virtues or ideas about
what makes a proper role model, but
Buddhism also asserts that, as we are all
connected and interdependent, none of
us can do it all on our own.
Acknowledging this dependency is
the first step of real emotional work
within relationships. Our ambivalence
about our own needs and dependency
gets stirred up in all kinds of relation-
ships. We cannot escape our feelings
and needs and desires if we are going
to be in relationships with others. To
be in relationships is to feel our vul-
nerability in relation to other people
who are unpredictable, and in circum-
stances that are intrinsically uncon-
trollable and unreliable.
We bump up against the fact of
change and impermanence as soon as
we acknowledge our feelings or needs
for others. Basically, we all tend to go
in one of two directions as a strategy
for coping with that vulnerability.
We either go in the direction of con-
trol or of autonomy. If we go for con-
trol, we may be saying: If only I can
get the other person or my friends or
family to treat me the way I want,
then Ill be able to feel safe and
secure. If only I had a guarantee that
theyll give me what I need, then I
wouldnt have to face uncertainty.
With this strategy, we get invested in
the control and manipulation of oth-
ers and in trying to use people as
antidotes to our own anxiety.
With the strategy (or curative fantasy)
of autonomy, we go in the opposite
direction and try to imagine that we
dont need anyone. But that strategy
inevitably entails repression or dissoci-
ation, a denial of feeling. We may
imagine that through spiritual practice
we will get to a place where we wont
feel need, sexuality, anger, or depend-
ency. Then, we imagine, we wont be so
tied into the vicissitudes of relation-
ships. We try to squelch our feelings in
order not to be vulnerable anymore,
and we rationalize that dissociation
under the lofty and spiritual-sounding
word detachment, which ends up
carrying a great deal of unacknowl-
edged emotional baggage alongside its
original, simpler meaning as the
acceptance of impermanence.
We have to get to know and be
honest about our particular strategies
for dealing with vulnerability, and
learn to use our practice to allow our-
selves to experience more of that vul-
nerability rather than less of it. To
open yourself up to need, longing,
dependency, and reliance on others
means opening yourself to the truth
that none of us can do this on our
own. We really do need each other,
just as we need parents and teachers.
We need all those people in our lives
who make us feel so uncertain. Our
26 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
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S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 27
practice is not about finally getting to
a place where we are going to escape
all that but about creating a container
that allows us to be more and more
human, to feel more and more.
If we let ourselves feel more and
more, paradoxically, we get less con-
trolling and less reactive. As long as
we think we shouldnt feel some-
thing, as long as we are afraid of feel-
ing vulnerable, our defenses will kick
in to try to get life under control, to
manipulate ourselves or other people.
But instead of either controlling or
sequestering our feelings, we can
learn to both contain and feel them
fully. That containment allows us to
feel vulnerable or hurt without
immediately erupting into anger; it
allows us to feel neediness without
clinging to the other person. We
acknowledge our dependency.
We learn to keep our relationships
and support systems in good repair
because we admit to ourselves how
much we need them. We take care of
others for our own sake as well as
theirs. We begin to see that all our rela-
tionships are part of a broad spectrum
of interconnectedness, and we respect
not only the most intimate or most
longed-for of our relationships but also
all the relationships we havefrom the
most personal to the most public
which together are always defining
who we are and what we need in order
to become fully ourselves.
Relationships work to open us up to
ourselves. But first we have to admit
how much we dont want that to hap-
pen, because that means opening our-
selves to vulnerability. Only then will
we begin the true practice of letting
ourselves experience all those feelings
of vulnerability that we first came to
practice to escape.
From Ending the Pursuit of Happiness:
A Zen Guide, Barry Magid 2008.
Reprinted with permission of Wisdom
Publications, wisdompubs.org.
tri_SU08_024_027_Magid 4/11/08 11:02 AM Page 27
Just dont mention the
phrase right livelihood to
James Tu. The money-
manager-turned-vegetarian-
restaurateur shrugs off sug-
gestions hes engaged in
anything of the kind.
Im trying to live right living,
but Im just a beginner, he protests,
rattling off a list of mistakes hes
made in getting his latest venture,
the Zen Burger fast-food chain, off
the ground. But if we take the
Buddhas definition of right liveli-
hoodwork that causes no harm and,
by extension, is consistent with
wholesome valueswouldnt Tu
agree thats what hes engaged in? Put
another way, would he say his spiritu-
al life informs his work life?
Without a doubt, he affirms. I
wouldnt have done this if I didnt
have my spiritual life first.
This is Tus company, HOV (for
Healthy Original Vegetarian) Group,
which sprang from his deep, abiding,
and passionate belief in the power and
necessity of a vegetarian way of life.
Vegetarianism, for Tu, is far more
than a meatless diet. Its critical to
humanitys survival, he says, indicat-
ing that the crises were facing
environmental degradation, global
warming, animal disease epidemics,
and the like, not to mention food
shortages and higher food costsare
attributable to, or at least exacerbated
by, what it takes to put meat on our
plates. And if that werent bad
enough, theres the spiritual cost of
mass slaughtering. If you believe in
Buddhism, in reincarnation, in cause
and effect, then the killing of thirty
billion animals a year will come back
to haunt humanity, Tu says. It has
to be stopped.
Still, how did Tu, a chartered
financial analyst with an M.B.A.
from Baruch College in New York
City, go from managing assets of
$350 million at Gerstein Fisher to
opening a fast-food restaurant in
midtown Manhattan that serves the
meatless equivalent of Big Macs,
popcorn shrimp, and chicken
fingers? As he says, it started with his
spiritual practice.
Tu, now 39, grew up Buddhist in
Taiwan, but it wasnt until college
at Tsinghua University, Taiwans
equivalent of MITthat he became a
real Buddhist, as he puts it.
Studying with a professor who
taught a combination of Pure Land
and Chan (the Chinese precursor of
Zen), Tu practiced meditation and
chanting, and struggled with becom-
ing a vegetarian. If you really study
Buddhism, you have to be a vegetar-
ian, he says. Its a logical extension
of that. But I just couldnt get rid of
meat in my life.
Tu was also conflicted about
Buddhism in general. I was very inter-
ested in the subject, but I just didnt
feel inspired. I was studying a lot of
scripture, but I couldnt find a set of
governing principles. Perhaps a differ-
ent teacher was the answer, he
thought. When he came to the United
States in 1989 for graduate school, he
sat with Master Sheng-yen at the
Chan Meditation Center in Queens,
New York. A great practitioner, Tu
recalls. Still, he wanted direction in
applying the teachings to daily life.
After earning his masters degree, Tu
worked at a hedge fund for eight years,
then shifted to financial management.
I was interested in financial markets
pretty much the way I was interested
in the spiritual world, he says. Its
about how things work. But as his
career picked up, his spiritual quest
receded. I even wrote to a friend
who had studied Buddhism with me,
saying I thought maybe I should
focus on philanthropic growth. It
seemed to be easier for me than spir-
itual growth.
Make It One with Everything
James Tus Zen Burger offers fast food thats
better for you, better for the earth.
JOAN DUNCAN OLIVER
28 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
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Spi ri tual Gui des for Our Ti me
Please visit our new
e-commerce web-site at
www.sharchen.com,
where you will find
the finest goods
and artifacts of the
Indo-Tibetan tradition
Then, in 1997, Tu attended a lec-
ture on the I Ching, the ancient Book
of Changes, given by a Chinese mas-
ter, Henry Chang. I was totally mes-
merized, he recalls. Master Chang
was a Christian before he was a
Buddhist, and then he became a
Taoist. He was able to talk about the
I Ching in a very broad sense, explain-
ing everything within the I Ching sys-
tem. That was what Id been seeking
for yearsa governing principle.
Everything he was talking about was
answering my questions. Even more
surprising to Tu: Six months later, he
gave up meat without a struggle.
Taoism is a living principle. It teaches
you to do what is timely, and vegetari-
anism is a timely issue.
As Tus commitment to vegetarian-
ism grew, he looked for related com-
panies to invest in. He zeroed in on
Worthington, at the time the only
publicly traded company manufactur-
ing vegetarian meat alternatives. Six
months later, Worthington was
bought by Kellogg, and Tus invest-
ment doubled.
But six years later, the availability of
vegetarian food was still very limited;
it was sold largely through health food
stores and vegetarian restaurants cater-
ing to the three percent of Americans
who are strict vegetarians. Tu widened
Restaurateur James Tu If you really study
Buddhism, you have to be a vegetarian.
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how we live
his investment search to private com-
panies he could help grow: I wanted
to help an entrepreneur develop a con-
cept that would bring high-quality,
affordable vegetarian food to the
masses. He initially rejected restau-
rants as unreplicable. You cant build
a Zen Palate in every corner of the
world, he explains, referring to an
iconic high-end vegetarian restaurant
in New York City that he now owns.
But I heard a few friends say, I think
a vegetarian McDonalds would be
great, and I wondered how come
nobody was doing it.
He decided to do it himself. That
was a pretty bold move, because I
didnt know much about the restau-
rant industry, and I was at a good
stage in my career on Wall Street.
But I felt there was a vision inside me
in terms of what I believed. Tu had
by then resumed spiritual practice
and was teaching Taoism to small
groups, as well as translating texts
for Master Chang. (Tus translation of
the Heart Sutra from Chinese to
English, with Changs commentary,
was privately published in 2001.
Hes now working on a translation of
the Tao Te Ching.)
In 2004, Tu quit his job at Gerstein
Fisher, set up HOV Group, and spent
the next three months in a neighbor-
hood caf, writing a business plan for
the vegetarian fast-food chain. While
Zen Burger was still in development,
the opportunity to buy Zen Palate
came up: the founders were retiring.
They wanted to close the restaurants
altogetherthere are now two in
Manhattan and one in Princeton, New
Jerseybut I decided to buy the
company to preserve the Zen Palate
brand. It has a long history and well-
proven food. Its not easy to build a
brand in the vegetarian market.
Zen Burger has set out to be the
brand for the 97 percent of Americans
who arent vegetarians. Everything
from the decorDay-Glo orange,
green, and yellowto the service is
reminiscent of McDonalds, Wendys,
and Burger King. Deliberately so. The
menu, however, is built around mock
meats and fish concocted from propri-
etary recipes that combine vegetables,
grains, and nongenetically modified
soy. (There is also more conventional
tri_SU08_028_033_Tu 4/11/08 4:59 PM Page 30
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 31
vegetarian fare, such as organic soups
and salads.) But why go to such
lengths to make vegetable-based foods
look and taste like meat? Because its
familiar, Tu explains. You dont
want to change peoples behavior.
If that sounds contradictory, what
Tu means is that hes not trying to
make wholesale converts. If we can
shift just 10 or 20 percent of our diet
toward vegetarian, that would make a
big difference, he says. The core Zen
Burger customers are flexitarians
people who eat vegetarian meals a few
times a week. The rest, Tu says, are
just looking for a healthy meal. Not
that die-hard vegetarians arent grate-
ful for the new arrival. Among the
customers on a recent afternoon was
one womana vegetarian for 25
yearswho had walked close to a
mile just to lunch on a mock-chicken
wrap. Her companion, not a vegetar-
ian, found her Zen Burger tastier
than beef and was pleased to think
that if the fast-food vegetarian con-
cept catches on, therell be a lot
fewer animals killed. (She may or
may not have read the tag line on the
recycled-paper menu and placemat:
Zen Burger: Good for you. Good for
the earth.)
Tus plan is to take Zen Burger
nationwide this year: hes opening a
second branch on Sunset Boulevard
in Hollywood this summer and will
begin offering franchises in June.
Hes also introducing Fro-Zen, a line
of frozen vegetarian foods under the
Zen Palate label. Access is the key,
Tu says. Right now, vegetarian
lifestyle is so far away from what
everybody does every day.
Launching HOV and Zen Burger
has meant learning the restaurant
business from the ground up. Tu has
made every mistake possible, he says,
but the work has been his spiritual
practice. When I run into difficul-
ties, I think, Im building this com-
pany not for myself but for a pur-
pose. And miracles happen. If we can
think about whats good for the
whole earth and what we can do to
make a difference, we will receive a
lot of help.
Will Zen Burger be the initiative
that instigates a whole movement
one that facilitates a universal shift to
make people lead a more vegetarian
life? Its not in my hands, Tu says.
I can only do what I think should be
done. Maybe someone else will see
this model and feel they can do bet-
ter with it. I like competition. It cre-
ates more awareness. To me, its about
doing the best you can at this moment,
given what you know now.
Joan Duncan Oliver, Tricycles reviews editor,
writes regularly about spiritual practice in
daily life.
tri_SU08_028_033_Tu 4/15/08 11:46 AM Page 31
WHEN explaining meditation, the Buddha often
drew analogies with the skills of artists, carpenters,
musicians, archers, and cooks. Finding the right
level of effort, he said, is like a musicians tuning of
a lute. Reading the minds needs in the moment
to be gladdened, steadied, or inspiredis like a
palace cooks ability to read and please the tastes of
a prince.
Collectively, these analogies make an important
point: Meditation is a skill, and mastering it should be
enjoyable in the same way mastering any other
rewarding skill can be. The Buddha said as much to
his son, Rahula: When you see that youve acted, spo-
ken, or thought in a skillful wayconducive to happi-
ness while causing no harm to yourself or otherstake
joy in that fact and keep on training.
Of course, saying that meditation should be enjoy-
able doesnt mean that it will always be easy or pleas-
ant. Every meditator knows that it requires serious
discipline to sit with long, unpleasant stretches and
untangle all the minds difficult issues. But if you can
approach difficulties with the enthusiasm with which
an artist approaches challenges in her work, the disci-
pline becomes enjoyable. Problems are solved through
your own ingenuity, and the mind is energized for
even greater challenges.
This joyful attitude is a useful antidote to the more
pessimistic attitudes that people often bring to medi-
tation, which tend to fall into two extremes. On the
one hand, theres the belief that meditation is a series
of dull and dreary exercises, allowing no room for
imagination and inquiry: simply grit your teeth, and
at the end of the long haul your mind will be
processed into an awakened state. On the other hand,
theres the belief that effort is counterproductive to
happiness, so meditation should involve no exertion
at all: simply accept things as they areits foolish
to demand that they get any betterand relax into
the moment.
While its true that both repetition and relaxation
can bring results in meditation, when either is pur-
sued to the exclusion of the other, it leads to a dead
end. If, however, you can integrate them both into the
greater skill of learning how to apply whatever level of
effort the practice requires at any given moment, they
can take you far. This greater skill requires strong
powers of mindfulness, concentration, and discern-
ment, and if you stick with it, it can lead you all the
way to the Buddhas ultimate aim in teaching medita-
tion: nirvana, a totally unconditioned happiness, free
from the constraints of space and time.
Thats an inspiring aim, but it requires work. And
the key to maintaining your inspiration in the day-to-
dharma talk
34 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
Thanissaro Bhikkhu is abbot of Metta Forest Monastery, outside
of San Diego. He is the author of a series of books on medita-
tionMeditations, Meditations2, and Meditations3available for
free at accesstoinsight.org.
the joy of effort
The path doesnt save all its pleasure for the end. You can enjoy it now.
THANISSARO BHIKKHU
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day work of meditation practice is to approach it as
playa happy opportunity to master practical skills,
to raise questions, experiment, and explore. This is
precisely how the Buddha himself taught meditation.
Instead of formulating a cut-and-dried method, he
first trained his students in the personal qualities
such as honesty and patienceneeded to make trust-
worthy observations. Only after this training did he
teach meditation techniques, and even then he didnt
spell everything out. He raised questions and suggested
areas for exploration in the hope that his questions
would capture his students imagination, so theyd
develop discernment and gain insights on their own.
We can see this in the way
the Buddha taught Rahula
how to meditate. He started
with the issue of patience.
Meditate, he said, so that
your mind is like the earth.
Disgusting things get thrown
on the earth, but the earth
isnt horrified by them. When
you make your mind like the
earth, neither agreeable nor
disagreeable sensory impres-
sions will take charge of it.
Now, the Buddha wasnt
telling Rahula to become a
passive clod of dirt. He was
teaching Rahula to be grounded, to develop his pow-
ers of endurance, so that hed be able to observe both
pleasant and painful events in his body and mind
without becoming engrossed in the pleasure or blown
away by the pain. This is what patience does. It helps
you sit with things until you understand them well
enough to respond to them skillfully.
To develop honesty in meditation, the Buddha
taught Rahula a further exercise. Look at the incon-
stancy of events in body and mind, he said, so that you
dont develop a sense of I am around them. Here the
Buddha was building on a lesson he had taught
Rahula when the boy was seven years old. Learn to
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 35
Explosions in the Sky, David Poppie,
2007, mixed-media collage, 24 x 24 in.
tri_SU08_034_037_DharmaTalk 4/11/08 11:20 AM Page 35
look at your actions, he had said, before you do them,
while youre doing them, and after theyre done. If you
see that youve acted unskillfully and caused harm,
resolve not to repeat the mistake. Then talk it over
with someone you respect.
In these lessons, the Buddha was training Rahula to
be honest with himself and with others. And the key
to this honesty is to treat your actions as experiments.
Then, if you see the results arent good, youre free to
change your ways.
This attitude is essential for developing honesty in
your meditation as well. If you regard everything
good or badthat arises in the meditation as a sign
of the sort of person you are, it will be hard to
observe anything honestly at all. If an unskillful
intention arises, youre likely either to come down on
yourself as a miserable meditator or to smother the
intention under a cloak of denial. If a skillful inten-
tion arises, youre likely to become proud and com-
placent, reading it as a sign of your innate good
nature. As a result, you never get to see whether
these intentions are actually as skillful as they
seemed at first glance.
To avoid these pitfalls, you can learn to see events
simply as events and not as signs of your innate
Buddha-ness or badness. Then you can observe these
events honestly, to see where they come from and
where they lead. Honesty, together with patience, puts
you in a better position to use the techniques of medi-
tation to explore your own mind.
THE primary technique the Buddha taught his son
was breath meditation. The Buddha recommended six-
teen steps in dealing with the breath [see box above].
The first two involve straightforward instructions; the
rest raise questions to be explored. In this way, the
breath becomes a vehicle for exercising your ingenuity
in solving the problems of the mind, and exercising
your sensitivity in gauging the results.
To begin, simply notice when the breath is long
and when its short. In the remaining steps, though,
you train yourself. In other words, you have to figure
out for yourself how to do what the Buddha recom-
mends. The first two trainings are to breathe in and
out sensitive to the entire body, then to calm the
effect that the breath has on the body. How do you
do that? You experiment. What rhythm of breath-
ing, what way of conceiving the breath calms its
effect on the body? Try thinking of the breath not as
the air coming in and out of the lungs but as the
energy flow throughout the body that draws the air
in and out. Where do you feel that energy flow?
Think of it as flowing in and out the back of your
neck, in your feet and hands, along the nerves and
dharma talk
36 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
16 steps of breath meditation
1 Breathing in long, one discerns, Im
breathing in long; or breathing out long,
one discerns, Im breathing out long.
2 Or breathing in short, one discerns, Im
breathing in short; or breathing out short,
one discerns, Im breathing out short.
3 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
sensitive to the entire body.
4 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and
out calming bodily fabrication
[the in-and-out breath].
5 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
sensitive to refreshment.
6 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
sensitive to ease.
7 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
sensitive to mental fabrication.
8 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
calming mental fabrication.
9 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
sensitive to the mind.
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blood vessels, in your bones. Think of it coming in
and out every pore of your skin. Where is it
blocked? How do you dissolve the blockages? By
breathing through them? Around them? Straight
into them? See what works.
As you play around with the breath in this way,
youll make some mistakesIve sometimes given
myself a headache by forcing the breath too much
but with the right attitude the mistakes become a
way to learn how your perceptions shape the way
you breathe. Youll also catch yourself getting impa-
tient or frustrated, but then youll see that when you
breathe through these emotions, they go away.
Youre beginning to see the impact of the breath on
the mind.
The next step is to breathe in and out with a sense
of refreshing fullness and a sense of ease. Here, too,
youll need to experiment both with the way you
breathe and with the way you conceive of the breath.
Notice how these feelings and conceptions have an
impact on the mind and how you can calm that
impact so the mind feels most at ease.
Then, when the breath is calm and youve been
refreshed by feelings of ease and stillness, youre ready
to look at the mind itself. You dont leave the breath,
though. You adjust your attention slightly so that
youre watching the mind as it stays with the breath.
Here the Buddha recommends three areas for experi-
mentation: Notice how to gladden the mind when it
needs gladdening, how to steady it when it needs
steadying, and how to release it from its attachments
and burdens when its ready for release.
Sometimes the gladdening and steadying will require
bringing in other topics for contemplation. For
instance, to gladden the mind, you can develop an atti-
tude of infinite goodwill or recollect the times in the
past when youve been virtuous or generous. To steady
the mind when its been knocked over by lust or to
reestablish your focus when youre drowsy or compla-
cent, you can contemplate
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 37
(continued on page 111)
The path takes the daunting prospect of
reaching full awakening and breaks it down
into manageable interim goals.
10 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
gladdening the mind.
11 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
steadying the mind.
12 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
releasing the mind.
13 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
focusing on inconstancy.
14 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
focusing on dispassion.
15 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
focusing on cessation.
16 One trains oneself, Ill breathe in and out
focusing on relinquishment.
From Majjhima Nikaya 62,
translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
tri_SU08_034_037_DharmaTalk 4/11/08 11:20 AM Page 37
into practice
feeding your demons
Five steps to transforming your obstaclesyour addictions, anxieties, and
fearsinto tranquility and wisdom, from TSULTRIM ALLIONE
Artwork by Andrew Guenther
DEMONSare not bloodthirsty ghouls waiting for us
in dark places; they are within us, the forces that we find
inside ourselves, the core of which is ego-clinging.
Demons are our obsessions and fears, feelings of insecu-
rity, chronic illnesses, or common problems like depres-
sion, anxiety, and addiction. Feeding our demons rather
than fighting them may seem to contradict the conven-
tional approach of attacking and attempting to elimi-
nate that which assails us, but it turns out to be a
remarkable alternative and an effective path to libera-
tion from all dichotomies.
In my own process of learning and applying the prac-
tice of Chd, which was originated by the eleventh-cen-
tury Tibetan yogini Machig Lapdrn [see sidebar on page
43], I realized that demonsor maras as they are called
in Buddhismare not exotic beings like those seen in
Asian scroll paintings. They are our present fears and
obsessions, the issues and emotional reactivity of our
own lives. Our demons, all stemming from the root
demon of ego-clinging, but manifesting in an infinite
variety of ways, might come from the conflicts we have
with our lover, anxiety we feel when we fly, or the dis-
comfort we feel when we look at ourselves in the mirror.
We might have a demon that makes us fear abandon-
ment or a demon that causes us to hurt the ones we love.
Demons are ultimately generated by the mind and, as
such, have no independent existence. Nonetheless, we
engage with them as though they were real, and we
believe in their existenceask anyone who has fought an
addiction or anxiety attacks. Demons show up in our lives
whether we provoke them or not, whether we want them
or not. Even common parlance refers to demons, such as a
veteran who is home battling his demons of post-trau-
matic stress from the war in Iraq. I recently heard a woman
say she was fighting her jealousy demon. Unfortunately,
the habit of fighting our demons only gives them
strength. By feeding, not fighting, our demons, we are
integrating these energies, rather than rejecting them and
attempting to distance ourselves from disowned parts of
ourselves, or projecting them onto others.
Tsultrim Allione is a former Tibetan Buddhist nun and author of
Women of Wisdom. She is the founder of the Tara Mandala retreat
center in Colorado (taramandala.org). This article has been adapted
from her new book Feeding Your Demons, 2008. Reprinted by
permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY.
38 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
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Social Group III, 2007, acrylic and oil stick on canvas, 60 x 50 inches
tri_SU08_038_043_OnPractice.1 4/11/08 11:24 AM Page 39
WHENI began to teach the Chd practice in the West
twenty-five years ago, I developed an exercise of visualizing
and feeding personal demons so that the idea of demons
would be relevant and applicable for Westerners. This exer-
cise evolved into a five-step process, which began to be used
independently of the Tibetan Chd practice. My students
told me that this method helped them greatly with chronic
emotional and physical issues such as anxiety, compulsive
eating, panic attacks, and illness. When they told me the
five-step process also helped in dealing with upheavals such
as the end of a relationship, the stress of losing a job, the
death of a loved one, and interpersonal problems at work and
at home, I realized that this exercise had a life of its own out-
side of teaching the traditional Chd practice.
When we obsess about weight issues or become drained
by a relationship or crave a cigarette, we give our demons
strength, because we arent really paying attention to the
demon. When we understand how to feed the demons
real need with fearless generosity, the energy tied up in
our demon will tend to dissolve and become an ally, like
the demons that attacked Machig and subsequently
became her aides.
Feeding a demon will take about half an hour.
Choose a quiet place where you feel safe and comfort-
able. Arrange a time when you wont be interrupted.
Set up two chairs or two cushions opposite each other:
one for you and one for the demon and ally. Once youre
set up you will want to keep your eyes closed until the
end of the fifth step, so put the two seats (chairs or
cushions) close enough to each other that you can feel
the one in front of you with your eyes closed. Keeping
your eyes closed will help you stay focused and present
as you imagine this encounter with your demon. How-
ever, until you know the steps by heart, you may need
to glance at the instructions.
Begin by generating the motivation to do the practice
for the benefit of all beings. Then take nine deep abdomi-
nal breaths, which means breathing in deeply until you
can feel your abdomen expand. Place your hands on your
stomach and notice it rise and fall. As you inhale during
the first three breaths, imagine your breath traveling to
any physical tension you are holding in your body and
then imagine the exhalation carrying this tension away.
During the next three breaths release any emotional ten-
sion you might be carrying with the exhalation and in the
last three breaths release any mental tension such as wor-
ries or concepts that are blocking you. Now you are ready
for the five steps.
into practice
40 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
In the first step you will find where in your body you
hold the demon. Your demon might be an illness, an
addiction, a phobia, perfectionism, anger, depression, or
anything that is dragging you down, draining your
energy. So first decide what you will work with. Finding
the demon in your body takes you out of your head into a
direct somatic experience. Think about the issue or
demon youve decided to work with and let your aware-
ness scan your body from head to toe, without any judg-
ments, simply being aware of the sensations that are
present. Locate where you are holding this energy by
noticing where your attention goes in your body when
you think about this issue. Once you find the feeling,
intensify it, exaggerate it. Here are some questions to
ask yourself: What color is it? What shape does it have?
Does it have a texture? What is its temperature? If it
emitted a sound, what would it be? If it had a smell,
what would it be?
The Practice of the Five Steps of
Feeding Your Demons
step one: Find the Demon
tri_SU08_038_043_OnPractice.1 4/16/08 4:26 PM Page 40
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 41
step two: Personify the Demon and Ask It What It Needs
step three: Become the Demon
In the second step you invite the demon to move from
being simply a collection of sensations, colors, and textures
that youve identified inside your body to becoming a liv-
ing entity sitting right in front of you. As a personified
form appears, a figure or a monster, notice its color, size,
expression and especially the look in its eyes. Dont try to
control or decide what it will look like; let your uncon-
scious mind produce the image. If something comes up that
seems silly, like a clich or a cartoon character, dont dismiss
it or try to change it. Work with whatever form shows up
without editing it. Then ask three questions aloud in the
following order: What do you want from me? What do you
need from me? How will you feel if you get what you need?
Once you have asked these questions, immediately change
places with the demon. You need to become the demon to
know the answers.
In the third step, you will discover what the demon needs
by putting yourself in the demons place, actually chang-
ing places and allowing yourself to see things from the
demons point of view. With your eyes still closed, move
to the seat you have set up in front of you, facing your
original seat, and imagine yourself as the demon. Take a
deep breath or two and feel yourself becoming this
demon. Vividly recall the being that was personified in
front of you and imagine you are in the demons shoes.
Take a moment to adjust to your new identity before
answering the three questions.
Then answer the three questions aloud in the first per-
son, looking at an imagined form of your ordinary self in
front of you, like this: What I want from you is . . .
What I need from you is . . . When my need is met, I
will feel . . .
Its very important that these questions make the dis-
tinction between wants and needs, because many
demons will want your life force, or everything good in
your life, or to control you, but thats not what they need.
Often what they need is hidden beneath what they say
they want, which is why we ask the second question,
probing a little deeper. The demon of alcoholism might
want alcohol but need something quite different, like
safety or relaxation. Until we get to the need underlying
the craving, the craving will continue.
In response to the question What do you need? the
stress demon might respond: What I actually need is to
feel secure.
Having learned that beneath the stress demons desire
to hurry and do more lies a need to feel secure, you still
must find out how the demon will feel if it gets what it
needs. This will tell you what to feed the demon. Thus,
having been asked How will you feel if you get what
you need? the stress demon might answer: I will feel
like I can let go and finally relax. Now you know to feed
this demon relaxation. By feeding the demon the emo-
tional feeling that underlies the desire for the substance,
we address the core issue instead of just the symptoms.


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42 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
Now weve reached the crucial moment when we actually
feed the demon. Return to your original position and face
the demon. Take a moment to settle back into your own
body before you envision the demon in front of you again.
Begin by imagining that your consciousness is separat-
ing from your body so that it is as if your consciousness is
outside your body and just an observer of this process.
Then imagine your body melting into nectar that consists
of whatever the demon has told you it ultimately will feel
if it gets what it needs, so the nectar consists of the answer
to the third question in step three. For example, the
demon might have said it will feel powerful, or loved, or
accepted when it gets what it needs. So the nectar should
be just that: You offer nectar of the feeling of power, love,
or acceptance.
Now feed the demon this nectar, give free rein to your
imagination in seeing how the nectar will be absorbed by
the demon. See the demon drinking in your offering of
nectar through its mouth or through the pores of its skin,
or taking it in some other way. Continue imagining the
nectar flowing into the demon; imagine that there is an
infinite supply of this nectar, and that you are offering it
with a feeling of limitless generosity. While you feed your
demon, watch it carefully, as it is likely to begin to change.
Does it look different in any way? Does it morph into a
new being altogether?
At the moment of total satiation, its appearance usually
changes significantly. It may become something com-
pletely new or disappear into smoke or mist. What happens
when the demon is completely satisfied? Theres nothing
its supposed to do, so just observe what happens; let the
process unfold without trying to create a certain outcome.
Whatever develops will arise spontaneously when the
demon is fed to its complete satisfaction. It is important
that the demon be fed to complete satisfaction. If your
demon seems insatiable, just imagine how it would look if
step four: Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally
I! WANT! WHAT! HES! HAVING!,
2004, acrylic and oil stick on
canvas, 24 x 22 inches
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S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 43
The great eleventh-century Tibetan yogini Machig Lab-
drn (10551145) received empowerment from her
teacher, Kyotn Sonam Lama, with several other women
practitioners. At the key moment when the wisdom
beings descended, Machig magically rose up from where
she was sitting, passed through the wall of the temple,
and flew into a tree above a pond.
This pond was the residence of a powerful naga, or
water spirit. These capricious beings can cause disrup-
tion and disease but can also act as treasure holders or
protectors. This particular naga was so terrifying that
the local people did not even dare to look at the pond,
never mind approach it. But Machig landed in the tree
above the pond and stayed there in a state of profound,
unshakable meditation.
Young Machigs arrival in this lone tree above the
pond was a direct confrontation for the water spirit. He
approached her threateningly, but she remained in med-
itation, unafraid. This infuriated him, so he gathered a
huge army of nagas from the region in an attempt to
intimidate her. They approached her as a mass of terrify-
ing magical apparitions. When she saw them coming,
Machig instantly transformed her body into a food offer-
ing, and, as her biography states, They could not
devour her because she was egoless.
Not only did the aggression of the nagas evaporate but
also they developed faith in her and offered her their life
essence, committing not to harm other beings and vowing
to protect her. By meeting the demons without fear, com-
passionately offering her body as food rather than fighting
against them, Machig turned the demons into allies.
There is a story, also about a water creature, in West-
ern mythology that stands in stark contrast to the story
of Machig Labdrn and the naga. The myth of Hercules
exemplifies the heroic quest in Western culture.
Accompanied by his nephew Iolaus, Hercules goes to
the lake of Lerna, where the Hydra, a nine-headed water
serpent, has been attacking innocent passersby. Her-
cules and Iolaus fire flaming arrows at the beast to draw
it from its lair. After it emerges, Hercules discovers that
every time he destroys one of the Hydras heads, two
more grow back in its place.
Iolaus uses a burning branch to cauterize the necks at
the base of the heads as Hercules lops them off, success-
fully preventing the Hydra from growing more. Even-
tually only one head remains. This head is immortal,
but Hercules cuts through the mortal neck that sup-
ports it. The head lies before him, hissing. Finally, he
buries the immortal head under a large boulder, consid-
ering the monster vanquished.
But what kind of victory has Hercules achieved? Has
he actually eliminated the enemy, or merely suppressed
it? The Hydras immortal head, the governing force of
its energy, is still seething under the boulder and could
reemerge if circumstances permitted. What does this
say about the monster-slaying heroic mentality that so
enthralls and permeates our society?
Although the positive aspects of the myth can lead to
important battles against hatred, disease, and poverty, it
also poses terrible and largely unacknowledged dangers.
Among these is the ego inflation of those who identify
themselves with the role of the dragon-slaying warrior
hero. Another is projecting evil onto our opponents,
demonizing them, and justifying their murder, while
we claim to be wholly identified with good. The ten-
dency to killrather than engagethe monster pre-
vents us from knowing our own monsters and
transforming them into allies.
The Story of Chd Practice
it were completely satisfied; this bypasses our tendency to
hold on to our demons.
The next part of step four is the appearance of an ally. A
satisfied demon may transform directly into a benevolent
figure, which may be the ally. The ally could be an ani-
mal, a bird, a human, a mythic god or bodhisattva, a
child, or a familiar person. Ask this figure if it is the ally.
If it replies it is not, then invite an ally to appear. Or the
demon may have disappeared, leaving no figure behind.
If so, you can still meet the ally by inviting an ally to
appear in front of you. Once you clearly see the ally, ask it
the following questions: How will you serve me? What
pledge or commitment will you make to me? How will
you protect me? How can I gain access to you?
Then change places and become the ally, just as you
became the demon in step three. (continued on page 113)
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Just inside the gate to the grounds of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, in Woodacre,
California, stands a modest gratitude hut. It honors teachers past and present
who have inspired the inclusive style of this Vipassana retreat center nestled in the
hills forty minutes north of San Francisco, in Marin County. Pictures of Buddhists
and non-Buddhists alike paper the walls: the current Dalai Lama, Sri Ramana
Maharshi, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Sayagyi U Ba Khin, Maha Ghosananda,
Anagarika Munindra, Thich Nhat Hanh, Kalu Rinpocheto name a fewalong with
some of todays most well-known Vipassana teachers. The centers leading figure
and cofounder, Jack Kornfield, draws freely from a broad range of spiritual tradi-
tions, citing teachers, political leaders, poets, writers, and artists in what he
describes as an effort to speak to people using the language and metaphors they
know best.
Tricycle caught up with Kornfield on a mid-afternoon in March, in a room used
by teachers to interview students. Typical of the center, the room affords an incom-
parable view of the hills and valleys beyond. Kornfield has taken a break from lead-
ing a silent retreat and sits relaxed, casual, and ready to talk. His latest book, The
Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology, has just
been published.
Tricycle chats with teacher JACK KORNFIELD about
Buddhist psychology, everyday nirvana,
and what all religions have in common.
Photographs by Christine Alicino
wise heart
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What do you hope people will learn from your latest
book? Two things: The first is that Buddhism as a
psychology has a great deal to offer the West. It pro-
vides an enormous and liberating map of the human
psyche and of human possibility. Second, Buddhism
offers a holistic approach. Often people say, This
part of life is spiritual, that part worldly, as if the
two can be divided. My own teacher, Ajahn Chah,
never made a distinction between the pain of divorce
and the pain in your knee and the pain of clinging to
self. They are all forms of suffering, and Buddhism
addresses them all.
One aspect of the Buddhist approach to psychology
you call, behaviorism with heart. Can you explain
what you mean? Western behaviorism grew out of
rational emotive therapy, in which thought substitu-
tiongood for badand retraining an individual to
establish healthy habits of mind were central. In behav-
iorism with heart, the Buddha instructs us to see that
certain thoughts we have about ourselves or others are
not compassionate. Through specific Buddhist trainings,
like metta practicea meditation in which we cultivate
positive mind states toward ourselves and otherswe
can learn to release negative thoughts and replace them
with positive ones. Where Western psychiatry has
focused largely on mental illness, Buddhism focuses on
the cultivation of a healthy state of mind through mind-
fulness, training in compassion, and so on.
You believe in the fundamentally compassionate
nature of the human heart. In our own Western tra-
dition this has been debated for centuries. Saint
Augustine wrote, If babies are innocent, it is not for
lack of will to do harm, but for lack of strength.
Wordsworth, on the other hand, wrote, Heaven lies
about us in our infancy!/Shades of the prison-house
begin to close/Upon the growing Boy. Buddhists dif-
fer here as well. Is Buddhist practice a question of
cultivation or allowing our pure nature to mani-
fest? We can view our nature as being defiled and
deluded, as Augustine might point out. Or we can
view our nature as compassionate and loving. So then
maybe we should add an s and talk about our
natures. I believe it is most skillful to try to get
people to focus on and cultivate the positive. In the
Theravada sutras, the Buddha describes the nature of
mind this way, Luminous is the mind, brightly shin-
ing is its nature, but it is colored by the attachments
that visit it. [AN 1.49-51] Ive found that pointing
people to their fundamental goodness will awaken it.
Its more skillful than pointing to the negative. We are
so loyal to our suffering and to seeing ourselves as
damaged that its very easy to use spiritual practice to
reinforce our self-judgment. That doesnt help people
become liberated.
In your book you point out that Buddhist psychology
is not especially focused on the interaction between
student and teacher. In Western psychology, the
therapist-client relationship is central. Can you say
something about this distinction? Of course the rela-
tionship between the student and teacher is important,
and teacher-student contact is essential. But thats only
one part of it. Even more important are the inner prac-
tices, where much of the real transformation comes
about. The root of Buddhist understanding of mind is
that the mind can be trained and awakened to the
nature of reality. Through training and practice we
discover our true nature and find liberation. So this is
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a very different approach from focusing on two people
sitting in a room together talking. You do the train-
ings your teacher offers, and through them you learn
to transform and awaken yourself. This is what hap-
pens on our retreats.
You talk about the content of our storieswhether
its the details of our personal histories or just
whats going on right now. In Buddhist psychology,
how important is it to understand those contents and
to what extent do they become a trap? Content can be
a trap, and ignoring content can also be a trap. So one
of my tasks as a teacher is to listen to both. Theres a
great freedom in just being aware of thought and see-
ing that its empty. But when somebody says, I think
all the time, Ill ask, What do you think about? If
they answer, My son just died six months ago, I
might ask, How do you work with grief? Or if they
say, Ive just inherited $4 million, I might ask, How
do you work with planning and attachment? So some-
times its helpful to know the content, and sometimes
you dont need to. When you see the content of
thought, its not in order to rework it, its in order to
see the whole pattern so that you can become free.
You claim that Buddhist psychology goes further
than Western methods do. For instance, you write of
the Three Poisons (anger, greed, and delusion) that
we reach below the very synapses and cells to free
ourselves from the grasp of these instinctive forces.
Do you mean to say that greed, anger, and delusion
are dealt with once and for all? If our goal is, as has
sometimes been said in the Western psychological tradi-
tion, to reach an ordinary level of neurosis, then the
goal of Buddhist practice takes us far beyond that. It is
to free us from neurosis or to shift identity so that we
are no longer subject to those forces in an ordinary way;
we are liberated from the power of those forces. And the
fact that this is possible for us as human beings is
tremendously good news.
In your terms, nirvana is the Buddhist definition of
mental health, the optimum goal of Buddhist psychol-
ogy. You say that Westerners sometimes misunder-
stand nirvana as a transcendent stateI now refer to
your previous book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry
but are you selling nirvana short by giving it such a
mundane cast? When were idealistic, weand many
practitioners in Asian Buddhist countries as well
imagine that nirvana exists somewhere high in the
Himalayas, reserved for monks who have meditated for
the whole of their life. My own teachersand other
wonderful masters like Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
emphasize that nirvana is to be found here and now.
In the morning and evening chanting in the forest
monastery we recite the Buddhas words, that the dharma
of liberation is ever present, immediate, timeless, to be
experienced here and now by all who see wisely.
Nirvana appears when we let go, when we live in the
reality of the present. Sorrow arises when the mind and
heart are caught in greed, hatred, and delusion.
Nirvana appears in their absence. Nirvana manifests as
ease, as love, as connectedness, as generosity, as clarity,
as unshakable freedom. This isnt watering down nir-
vana. This is the reality of liberation that we can
experience, sometimes in a moment and sometimes
in transformative ways that change our entire life.
So these moments in which we experience freedom
from anger, greed, delusionthese, too, are nir-
vana? They are what my teacher Ajahn Buddhadasa
called everyday nirvana. They are tastes of nirvana
resting in awareness, the reality of the liberated heart
and mind. He said, Theres no difference between the
absence of greed, hatred, and delusion for a moment or
for a lifetime. This is not an esoteric notion of nir-
vana, that it is someplace far away to be attained only
after a long time. Nirvana is to be known here and
now. Sometimes we experience this through profound
meditation, other times through the simple direct
opening to freedom.
Do you think its possible at some point in a persons
life that this experience of nirvana becomes com-
pletethat one does not return to his or her earlier
life or states of mind? Certain people describe their
experience that way; others who also seem deeply
enlightened say not. But liberation is only found here
and now, the direct experience of freedom, beyond the
concepts of nirvana or enlightenment. In our life, we
can actually experience what the Buddha taught: suf-
fering, the cause of the suffering, and the release of suf-
fering. This is a direct and immediate experience, and
the cessation of suffering is the experience of nirvana.
I explain these teachings as The Nature of
Enlightenmentsthere are a number of ways to
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experience nirvana. Nirvana can be experienced as
emptiness, as the void. It can be experienced as the
absence of greed, hatred, and delusion. It can be expe-
rienced as silence, as pure awareness, as peace, as wis-
dom, as boundless love and as true stability. It has a
number of different dimensions, like facets of crystal.
How, then, does traditional therapy fit into your
teaching model? Western psychology also has skillful
means to help us practice the Four Noble Truths: suf-
fering, its causes, its end, and the means to that end.
The best of Western psychotherapy is like a paired
meditation: If you have a wise therapist, they can help
you pay attention with compassion and mindfulness to
difficulties that may not come up as you sit by your-
self, or help you with past traumas that are too diffi-
cult to handle on your own because the trauma is too
great. A wise therapist can assist you to practice in
areas where sitting in meditation alone may not suffice.
Theres tremendous value in some of the Western clini-
cal tradition, and it can help you to know suffering, its
causes, and find release.
You outline twenty-six principles that you call univer-
sal to Buddhism. Yet the different Buddhist traditions
are fraught with contradictions, and some scholars
find, say, the Mahayana and Theravada worldviews
incompatible. One way some Mahayanists have dealt
with this is to divide schools into higher teachings
and lower teachings, setting up a kind of progres-
sion. But you seem to have no problem lifting from
the Mahayana traditionand many others to boot.
Mystics and true practitioners dont look at liberation
from a scholastic point of view, but rather from the
point of view of inner realization. And for the mys-
tics of each of the great Buddhist traditions these
same common elements exist and are expressed.
There is almost nothing that I can find in the
Mahayana or the Vajrayana or the Pure Land that
isnt also found in its root form in the Theravada.
Within Theravada Buddhism there are teachings of
what Vajrayana might call Dzogchen or Mahamudra
and Buddha-nature. Theyre found within every tra-
dition. My own teachers from the forests of Thailand,
for instance, talked about the original mind or origi-
nal nature, jit derm in Thai. While this is a common
Mahayana concept, its also the direct experience of
Theraveda monks. Likewise, my teacher Ajahn Chah
and his lineage of Theravada forest monks talk about
the unborn nature of consciousness, and Ive heard
these same teachings from Tibetan lamas.
What did Ajahn Chah mean by original mind; is it the
same as Buddha-nature? Yes, definitely. Ajahn Chah
describes, The original heart-mind shines like pure,
clear water with the sweetest taste. To know this we
must go beyond self and no-self, birth, and death.
This original mind is limitless, untouchable, beyond
all opposites and all creations. This is his description
of Buddha-nature. He goes on, When we see with the
eye of wisdom, we know that the Buddha is timeless,
The dharma of liberation is ever-present,
immediate, timeless, to be experienced here
and now.
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unborn, unrelated to anybody or any history. The
Buddha is the ground of all being, the realization of
the truth of the unmoving mind. So the Buddha was
not enlightened in India. In fact, he was never enlight-
ened and was never born and never died, and this
timeless Buddha is our true home, our abiding place.
The scholars tend to argue. The mystics look at each
other and smile.
Traveling in Palestine and Israel recently, I was with
this great mystica Hasidic rabbiwho said, Ive
been reading about Buddhism. Tell me first about
luminosity of consciousness, and we talked about
that. Now tell me about the void. And I said, Well,
there are different ways you can experience the void.
And he was so excited. He said, Oh yeah, we have
them too. And this is how our luminosity appears in
our Hasidic practice.
Do you see the Buddha as a mystic, then? Absolutely.
By mystic I mean one who looks profoundly into the
nature of reality. The Buddha didnt take the teachings
of anyone and simply copy them. He looked deeply
and had this extraordinary vision of the nature of con-
sciousness and how beings arise and pass away and
what brings us to freedom.
You draw from multiple traditions in your teachings.
Your book is full of quotes from people outside of the
Buddhist traditionMother Teresa, the popular
American poet Mary Oliver, Jewish, Muslim,
Christian, and Hindu sages, and so on. You even turn
to a non-Buddhist, Sri Nisargadatta, to describe
emptiness. Why is that? I believe that dharma is uni-
versal, and when Mary Oliver expresses the dharma of
impermanence in a poem about a butterfly, and the
ancient Zen master Ryokan expresses the dharma of
impermanence in a poem about young bamboo,
theyre both teaching the same dharma. I use whatever
expressions best help to awaken us.
So in other words, you would see using material
people are familiar with as a skillful means to teach
the dharma? Yes. I also use the language of science,
because one of the beautiful things about both
Buddhist psychology and Western science is that they
are both experiential and they both undertake to study
experience as it happens and to record it and to repli-
cate it. Theres a lot of commonality.
Where do science and Buddhism part, then? In the
opening page of my book, I quote the Dalai Lama:
Buddhism is not a religion. It is a science of mind.
But again, there isnt one Buddhism. Buddhism also
functions as a religion for many peopletheres devo-
tion, religious rites and rituals, cosmology. In this
way it functions as other religions do. But when you
go back to the fundamental teachings, the Buddhas
main focus was much more a science of mind: here is
how the mind works, and this is how you liberate the
mind and the heart from suffering, through compas-
sion and generosity and the practice of meditation.
So its very phenomenological? Absolutely.
What happened, then? How did it become a religion?
I cant say I know, but in the Asian Buddhist cultures
where I lived, Buddhism seems to function as both a
religion and a science. There are some people who are
primarily devotional by nature. They find enormous
support and solace in prayers to the Buddha, by mak-
ing offerings, by faith. Theres also another group that
wants to do the practices of inner transformation in a
systematic way, as the Buddha taught. Both are ways
to meet the needs of humanity.
Different teachings for different temperaments?
Thats a much simpler way to say it.
How is Buddhism different from the many tradi-
tions you draw from? For instance, as a Christian
or Muslim you may think you have a soul. As a
Hindu you may understand atman as a universal
principle. You bring these teachings into your own
teachings, but what is distinctive about Buddhism?
There are many forms of Buddhism, but in its essence,
Buddhism has a tremendously clear and systematic
way to put into practice and experience the wonderful
principles we learn in many religious traditions. Christ
speaks about turning the other cheek; Muhammad
talks about the compassion of Allah. But within
Buddhism there are methods that teach you how to
develop and practice these principles. There are sys-
tematic trainings in compassion and forgiveness, for
example. Buddhism also has a unique emphasis on
selflessness. It places no emphasis on a creator god, so
the emphasis is on our direct experience of liberation,
not on the adopting of an external faith.
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Would you fall into the camp of thinking that funda-
mentally all of these traditions are talking about the
same thing or hoping for the same goal? I wouldnt
go that far. All of the mystical traditions of
Christianity and Judaism and Hinduism and so forth
are trying to open us from the small sense of self to
some greater reality. The ways that they do so may
lead us to different experiences. In many cases, there
are really strong parallels, but not always.
There are many skillful means. Even within
Buddhist lineages, between one Tibetan master and
another, there are differences. They may say, Ive got a
slightly differentand betterway to get you to free-
dom. But they are all a part of the great mandala of
awakening, skillful means.
Youve said that most American Vipassana teachers
draw copiously from other traditions. And have prac-
ticed in other traditions, sometimes quite deeply, yes.
Why are they more likely than otherssay, more tradi-
tional teachers or monasticsto do that? Its harder for
monastics to go outside of their tradition because their
vows and their way of life prevent it. With vows youre
dedicated to your monastery and to your lineage, in a
very beautiful way. There is a lot less opportunity than a
lay teacher would have to practice in other traditions.
Now in the West we have the riches of all traditions
translated into English. Weve got Tibetan lamas and
Sufis and Hindu gurus and Hasidim visiting Richmond,
Virginia, and Kansas City, Missouri, to teach. In our own
community some of our greatest teachers from Burma,
India, and Thailand have come to our centers. Before
they returned to Asia, they blessed us and said, Now
its up to you. They gave us a freedom to find skillful
languages, skillful means, and also to draw on other lan-
guages or teachings that were complementary.
My own teacher, Ajahn Chah, told me, Whats
important are not the words of the dharma but teach-
ing the way that people can free themselves, so that
they learn compassion and generosity and liberation. If
you do better calling that Christianity, call it
Christianity. Call it whatever you need to call it. The
words arent important.
sitting in the dark
An excerpt from Jack Kornfields new book, The Wise Heart.
Sometimes we forget that the Buddha too had
fears: How would it be if in the dark of the month,
with no moon, I were to enter the most strange and
frightening places, near tombs and in the thick of the
forest, that I might come to understand fear and terror.
And doing so, a wild animal would approach or the
wind rustle the leaves and I would think, Perhaps the
fear and terror now comes. And being resolved to dispel
the hold of that fear and terror, I remained in whatever
posture it arose, sitting or standing, walking or lying
down. I did not change until I had faced that fear and
terror in that very posture, until I was free of its hold
upon me . . . . And having this thought, I did so. By fac-
ing the fear and terror I became free.
In the traditional training at Ajahn Chahs forest
monastery, we were sent to sit alone in the forest at night
practicing the meditations on death. Stories of monks
who had encountered tigers and other wild animals
helped keep us alert. At Ajahn Buddhadasas forest
monastery we were taught to tap our walking sticks on
the paths at night so the snakes would hear us and move
out of the way. At another monastery, I periodically sat all
night at the charnel grounds. Every few weeks a body was
brought for cremation. After the lighting of the funeral
pyre and the chanting, most people would leave, with
only monks remaining to tend the fire in the dark forest.
Finally, one monk would be left alone to sit there until
dawn, contemplating death. Not everyone did these prac-
tices. But I was a young man, looking for initiation, eager
to prove myself, so I gravitated toward these difficulties.
As it turned out, sitting in the dark forest with its
tigers and snakes was easier than sitting with my inner
demons. My insecurity, loneliness, shame, and boredom
came up, along with all my frustrations and hurts. Sit-
ting with these took more courage than sitting at the
charnel ground. Little by little I learned to face them
with mindfulness, to make a clearing within the dark
woods of my own heart.
From The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teach-
ings of Buddhist Psychology 2008 by Jack Kornfield.
Reprinted with the permission of Bantam Dell.
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The always provocative website Edge.org poses an
annual question to a long list of prominent thinkers,
mostly scientists, and then posts their responses. This
years question was: What have you changed your mind
about, and why?
We at Tricycle thought it would be no less intriguing to
ask the same question with a Buddhist spin. So weve
approached a wide range of old Buddhist hands with our
own adapted version:
what in buddhism have you changed
your mind about, and why?
What follows is a cross-section of the answers we
received. A larger sampling is available on tricycle.com.
And now the ball is in your court. We invite you to visit
us online to post your own responses and comment on
what strikes you most. As we wrote in our original invita-
tion to those we asked: Surprise us!
From reincarnation to reading Proust, seventeen
Buddhists tell us what theyve changed their minds
about, and why. Illustrations by Michael Wertz
thequestion
?
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Reincarnation is a concept I could never accept.
It seems absurdly egotistic, chafes against every princi-
ple we know of natural history, and contradicts the
Buddhist teachings Ive cracked my thoughts against
for thirty years. Yet in the Mumonkan, when the old
man tells Pai-chang that for giving a slipshod answer
to a kind of pointless question, he was reborn five
hundred times as a fox, I feel a shiver go up my spine.
Most of my friends have aged or dying parents. Our
children are no longer young. One friend shot himself
last year. Others have had health concerns that could
snatch them away tomorrow. I try to envision what
comes after old-age-sickness-and-death, and find a
companions description of tall-grass prairie much bet-
ter solace than notions of rebirth.
So I change my mind about reincarnation all the
time. When otherwise pragmatic friends describe
Tibetan lamas getting born again, it strikes me as silly.
Within a few days a fox slips past and I know its a
girl or some old man I had relations with in a former
life. And last week I read something that comes close
to what I believe today: Those who eat will be eaten.
This accords with my studies in ecol-
ogy. The body will be eaten by
wind, rain, earth, bacteria,
corrosives, prairie grass,
coyote, ravens. It will fer-
ment, decompose, break
apart into nutrients. Thats a
pretty good
reincarnation.
Almost as
good as five
hundred fox
lifetimes. But
then I wonder,
what eats our
dreams, thoughts,
fears, hopes, and
notebooks? What
will eat our chang-
ing minds?
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 51
andrew schelling is a poet, translator, and essayist. He is on the
faculty of the Writing and Poetics program at Naropa University.
sharon salzberg is a cofounder of the Insight
Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Her most
recent book is The Force of Kindness.
I dont know that Ive changed my mind about
something in Buddhism per se as much as Ive
changed my mind about needing to hold tightly to
views to deflect what I really dont know. My first
teacher, S. N. Goenka, told me, The Buddha did
not teach Buddhismhe taught a way of life. This
idea became the foundation of my approach to medi-
tation practice.
That foundation, however, was later overtaken by a
tendency to be attached to tenets of the tradition, the
metaphysics and the cosmology of Theravada
Buddhism, which I held on to with a pretty strong
degree of rigidity.
I remember getting into an argument with a stu-
dent of Tibetan Buddhism while at Naropa Institute
in 1974, when I first returned from my studies in
India. We were discussing what happens to someone at
the time of deaththe Theravada view being that
rebirth occurs in the next mind-moment, the Tibetan
view being that there is an intermediate period of up
to forty-nine days before rebirth. Our discussion got
quite strident, and of course the question remained
completely unresolved.
It was only later, as I looked back on that afternoon,
that I realized we were probably two people with some
fear of dying, both of us hoping for reassurance
through doctrine, as though we actually knew what
was going to happen when we died. Nowadays, Id
rather try to deal with the fear. Im convinced I pay
more honest tribute to the Buddhist tradition, to its
extraordinary insights and methodology and inspira-
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robert aitkenis a retired master of the
Diamond Sangha, a Zen Buddhist society in
Honolulu, Hawaii. He is also a cofounder of the
Buddhist Peace Fellowship.
will stewart has been practicing Zen for
twenty-five years, or thereabouts. He sees little
reason for optimism.
I havent changed my mind about Buddhism; Ive changed my
mind about who I am.
martine batchelor was a Zen Buddhist nun in Korea for ten years.
She now lives in France and teaches meditation retreats around the world.
Thirty years ago, when I was living in Korea as a
Zen nun, I thought that Korean Zen was the Way.
A friend coming from another tradition
started to make me see that maybe
Korean Zen was not the only way, even
though it was and is a very good one.
Ten years later I did some research
for a book on women and Buddhism.
Until then I had the idea that some
Buddhisms were better than others and
some practices definitely inferior to oth-
ers. I interviewed forty Buddhist women
from many different traditions: Zen,
Theravada, Tibetan, Pure Land. This convinced me
that the tradition and the practice did not really matter as
long as the person did it with sincerity, dedication,
humility, and an open heart. I learned a lot from
these women, and the one who impressed me
the most was actually one from a supposedly
inferior tradition!
Nowadays, having become a teacher
myself, I can see clearly that no prac-
tice can fit everyone. Generally I
would say most practices suit sixty per-
cent of the people who encounter them
and try them out for a certain period of
time. So I have become what could be called
a pluralistic liberal in terms of Buddhist practice.
I havent really changed my mind about the dharma, but I have
changed my views about how it should be presented. I am much
less tolerant of the attempt to make it accessible by mixing it with
Vajrayana, Vipassana, Christianity, psychology, or libertarianism.
A monk asked Zhaozhou, What is the meaning of
Bodhidharmas coming from the West?
Zhaozhou said, The cypress tree in the front courtyard.
Can you hear the primordial echoing in that response? As much
as I admire the Dalai Lama and Buddhadasa, I do not find such
depth in their words.
As well as I relate to Meister Eckhart and Brother Lawrence, I
dont feel any resonance with the Heart Sutra and its presentation of
utter vacancy when I read them.
As much as I have availed myself of psychological therapy, I cant
get past its purpose to enhance the ego.
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eliot fintushel is an author,
teacher, and performance artist. He lives
in Santa Rosa, California.
When I practiced Zen as a monk in my twenties,
I fervently believed what my teachers and Dogen Zenji
said about the transformative, awakening power of sit-
ting meditation. In my mind, zazen was the royal road
to enlightenment, the one true dharma gate, as
Dogens Fukanzazengi suggests. Yet after sitting devot-
edly for more than a decade, many hours each day, I
still had experienced only the most superficial glimpse
of my essential nature.
Discouraged and disillusioned, I set aside my robes
to study Western psychology, and my sitting practice
became more casual and sporadic, though my dedica-
tion to truth didnt
fade. Finally, six
years after leaving
the monastery, I met
a teacher of Advaita
Vedanta who insisted
that meditation
was not only
unnecessary but could actually become a routine that
habituated and dulled the mind and made it less avail-
able to truth.
The words of this teacher resonated deeply for me,
and one day, while I was driving, a single phrase float-
ed into my awareness: The seeker is the sought.
Suddenly my world turned inside out, and the teach-
ings of the Zen masters I had struggled for years to
comprehend became crystal clear.
As a result of my experience, I no longer believe, as
my Buddhist teachers insisted, that meditation is
essential preparation for the transformative experience
of awakening. Rather, I believe other skillful means
are equally effective at revealing the illusion of a sepa-
rate self: earnest self-inquiry, the pointing-out instruc-
tions of an awakened teacher, a silent gaze, a sudden
crisis . . . the cypress tree in the garden. Since each
individual is different, each of these has the power at
the right moment to catalyze a direct insight into the
nature of reality.
stephan bodianis a teacher in the Zen and Advaita
Vedanta traditions and the author of Wake Up Now.
As much as I sympathize with masters who warn
against involvement in politics, my heart opens to the
wails of widows in Detroit, Iraq, and everywhere the
autocrats have imposed their imperativesand my
vows show me the Tao.
While thus Ive come to feel that it is deplorable to
try to mix the dharma with other disciplines, Ive real-
ized that it is even worse to remove the discipline. I
see the dharma watered down everywhere. Actually,
the purity of the dharma is its simplicity. It is made
complicated beyond recognition by the effort to make
it new. Lets keep the simplicity as is!
When I was ten, I discoveredso I thoughtthat no mind existed
but my own. I came upon the idea in bed at night a moment before
falling asleep. Why next morning, with great excitement, did I confide
this to my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Lyons? After all, she didnt exist.
It was ten more years before I found a satisfactory disproof of the solip-
sist positionin Wittgensteins proof of the impossibility of any private
languagebut only my intellect was rehabilitated. I was still a solipsist
at heart.
In the meantime I had become a sort of Buddhist. I gourmandized
every book in the Rochester Public Library that mentioned Buddhism. I
read D.T. Suzuki and W. Y. Evans-Wentz and Dwight Goddard and Alan
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Since I began to actually practice Buddhism, Ive
changed my mind about almost everything that I
thought was Buddhism. My original Zen teacher used
to talk about a monk who would sit and call out his
own name, and when he answered himself, hed say:
Dont be fooled by anyone! I remember in 1985 sit-
ting in a Thai temple outside of Denver, being stared at
lewdly by a chain-smoking bhikkhu who had obviously
never heard of womens liberation and who was so senior
that no one dared say anything; and standing in a South
Korean nuns temple in 1988, watching in horror as a
Korean nun vigorously sprayed a spider, then grinned,
and said in her best schoolbook English: Kill. I
remember, with my teacher, climbing rickety stairs to a
top-floor temple in San Franciscos Chinatown, where a
golden animal, a lamb or a ram, was enshrined on a
golden altar along with bowls of oranges. Intrigued, I
pulled out a camera, and several Chinese women
pounced on me, ready to knock the offending instru-
ment from my hand. During these travels I never knew
what was going on, and no one ever explained anything.
I realized that in Buddhism, if we believe completely
what we read, hear, or think, its just another way of
allowing ourselves to be fooled or sidetracked. The big
Buddhist world is filled with real people with real
struggles, and real dirt, noise, confusion, and great
beauty. All of this was the best preparation I could have
had to give birth to and raise a real Buddhist son.
My opinion about whether I can fully transform
myself for the better through Buddhism has definitely
changed. When I first got started I was in college and full
of optimism. But over the years Ive so often seen
Buddhism help people build bigger, more self-righteous
egossometimes while pretending (or honestly believing)
that they were progressing toward genuine selflessness.
Seeing the spiritual pretensions of longtime Buddhists
was disappointing; discovering my own limitations and
untrustworthiness was devastating. My attention to the
present moment turned out to mostly be escapism from
lifes hard realities, and my pride in keeping precepts just
made me self-congratulatory. I took seriously the promise
of enlightenment, but I didnt pay attention to the enor-
mous amount of multifaceted effort Buddhists have
always said it takes. Buddhist scriptures stress that you
mushim ikeda-nashis a writer, community activist, and longtime liter-
acy tutor in the Oakland public schools. She teaches meditation retreats for
people of color at Vallecitos Mountain Refuge, Manzanita Village, and Spirit
Rock Meditation Center, and is a core teacher at the East Bay Meditation
Center in Oakland, California.
jeff wilsonis an assistant professor of Religious Studies and East Asian
Studies at Renison College, in Waterloo, Ontario, and a Tricycle contributing editor.
Watts, etc., etc., etc. I even taught myself some classi-
cal Chinese.
Naturally, at the core of my obsession was a desire
for enlightenment, which was, to me, a kind of grand
solipsism. Enlightenment would make me safe and
fully in control: All being would be subsumed in me.
Enlightenment would be a lukewarm bath of all in all.
I tried extreme psychological innovations. Trying to
relax behind my conscious mind, I once wet my bed. I
took psychedelics and had friends read me the Tibetan
Book of the Dead while I tripped. I also tried straining
to the limit and beyond the limit, limit after limit,
outraging family and friends with my bizarre behavior,
and twice attempting suicide. Of course.
Then came Zen. Now I had to get through the koan
Mu. For five years I drilled and ground and shouted
and strained till my pips squeaked. I think my solip-
sism just wore me out. After all, solipsismor what is
the same thing, the idea that enlightenment may be
the possession of an individual personis a big No
that takes a lot of energy to sustain. It imagines
boundaries between oneself and the rest of the world
and then spends itself trying to efface them.
What a relief it was, at long last, to chuck it. If Mrs.
Lyons were here today, I wouldnt even bother to tell
her. I mean, duh.
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need many, many lifetimes to develop any substantial level
of awakening, but I never seemed to hear that message
somehow it seemed like all it took was dedicated medita-
tion and that Buddhahood was right around the corner.
Strangely, though, changing my mind about self-effort
eventually led me to a calmer, happier, more honest
approach to Buddhism. To my surprise, a more devotional
attitude releases some of the get enlightenment now
pressure and allows me to appreciate a greater diversity of
Buddhists and a wider range of traditional Buddhist prac-
tices. And it lowers the tension between my hard-striving
efforts for awakening on the one hand and my everyday
responsibilities (and loving attachments) to my family,
work, and real life on the other.
pico iyers new book, The Open Road, examines more than thirty years
of talks and travels with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.
david schneider is an acharya
(senior teacher) in the international
Shambhala Buddhist community.
He is currently working on a biography
of Beat poet and Zen master
Philip Whalen.
I have changed my mind about the depth and
power of the kleshas [conflicting emotions], especially
aggression. From early, exciting Zen reading in 1970,
I imagined it would be simply a matter of some disci-
plined, dedicated sitting, along with a bit of skillful
provocation from the master, and bling-o, Id be
throughout the other side, freely functioning,
grooving along.
Years of dedicated, disciplined sitting have hap-
pened; also skillful provocation from the masters and
from the phenomenal world. Though my relationship
with the kleshas has changed somewhat, I am
impressed anew each day by how thoroughly they pen-
etrate the world and my being. (I am not talking
about a tantric approach to the energiesthats anoth-
er story.) I mean here plain old passion, aggression,
and ignorance. Samsara is worse than I thought.
This has had the effect of deepening my respect and
gratitude for the dharma teachers of this ageespecially
the patient teachers whove spent any time on me.
I grew up in benighted Oxford, England, in the
1960severyone has to start somewhereand thought
that Buddhism meant sutras and holy texts, the ideas and
traditions thrashed out with such intensity by the philoso-
phers all around me. Besides, Hermann Hesse, Somerset
Maugham, Emerson, and Thoreauall my inspirations in
my early yearstaught me that Buddhism had to do
with the quest for the truth beyond and inside the self,
with finding a right angle on the world, with imperma-
nence and the release from suffering that any of us can
effect if we commit ourselves to clear thinking.
Then my parents moved to California, and when I

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What Ive changed my mind about in
Buddhism is how one realizes interdependence or
interconnection. I grew up to the tune of a Coke com-
I thought I would be more enlightened by now.
So Ive had to, you know, adjust.
andrew cooper is Tricycles
editor-at-large.
tracy cochranis a Tricycle
contributing editor and a senior
editor at Parabola magazine.
got there, I began to hear that Buddhism was all about
meditation and nonattachment and learning the
everyday wakefulness that was then being brought
into the neighborhood by many wise men from
the East. We had to tear off the masks behind
which we hid, I thoughtI was in grad school by
thenand see through to the emptiness and interde-
pendence behind all our words and ideas. Seeing how
Thomas Merton did this, and Epictetus and Etty
Hillesum and many others who had probably
not heard the word Buddhism, I realized that
part of what was so fortifying about the tra-
dition was that right view led to right
action, and the emptying out of self meant a fill-
ing up with other people and sentient beings.
And then I moved to Japan and saw a Buddhism
in action that was so instinctual (or, perhaps, woven
into other cultural habits) that I could no more
describe it than I could breathing. My new friends and
neighbors knew less about the sutras than many of my
teenage friends had in England. They didnt have
spiritual teachers, usually, and regarded formal medi-
tation as more alien than surfing. My Kyoto-born
sweetheart set foot in a Zen temple only because
an American woman had brought her there. But
here, in some human, everyday way, was a keen
(and therefore selfless) kind of attention. Here was
(and is) a natural tendency to see the self as something
larger than this bodyand perhaps as large as a com-
munity that is more global by the minute. And here,
every spring and autumn, playing out before our eyes
and behind our ideas, is the annual pageant of imper-
manencefrothing cherry blossoms, falling maple
leavesreminding us that delight sits within what we
seem to be losing.
I suppose once upon a time I believed that Buddhism
was something outside the lives we acquired. Now I
wonder if its not just whats left behind when one sheds
all ones clutter. Marcel Proust, My Life Without Me, and
the lady down the street at the Isokawa supermarket are
how I learn about it now. I wonder if we really need the
term at all.
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Recently I found myself sitting next to an old
dharma friend following a memorial service for stu-
dents and teachers who had passed away since the
founding of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in 1967.
Id met Jerome almost forty years ago at the San
Francisco City Center; I was in my early twenties and
he was about as old as I am now. He didnt hold any
particularly important position, wasnt asked to give
dharma talks. He was a big, goofy, friendly guy on
whom I relied for idle, not particularly elevated con-
versations. He was my bodhisattva ballast to the drive
for enlightenment. Id thought fondly of Jerome over
the years since Id left the Zen Center, wondering if he
was still hanging out in the flop room, or if he was
even still alive.
And here he was, alivethough just barely, it
seemed. Id spotted him in a back corner of the
dharma hall, his face somehow caved in but unmis-
takably Jeromes, his large frame slumped against
the wall, apparently dozing. When after the memo-
rial service I introduced myself, I couldnt at first
tell if he remembered me, but when I mentioned
events in our common past he perked up. I had to
listen carefully, as his words were slurred, his
mouth empty of teeth. The hall by now nearly
empty, I helped him to his feet and watched as he
picked his bent way to offer incense at the altar.
How long would it be before I was offering incense
for him? And how long before someone else would
offer it for me?
patrick mcmahonrecently
celebrated his sixtieth birthday and
forty years of Zen practice.
(continued on page 116)
mercial that took place in a huge field near what I
always assumed was San Francisco. It featured pretty,
smiling young hippies standing with young people
representing every nationality, race, and creed.
Everybody held Coke bottles and sang: Id like to buy
the world a home and furnish it with love. Id
like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.
Even as a kid I knew this couldnt be the real thing.
Could this be what it meant to be generous? Did all
those people really want to be there singing that stu-
pid song? Although I wouldnt have used this word,
it felt a little narcissistic to me.
But I used to think of meditation in a similar way. I
thought it would eventually bring me into harmony
with the whole world. Now I have more respect for dif-
ference. It is also obvious to me now that the world is
interdependent but also unstable and unjust. Now I
think there can be for me no end to the search for
truth, including, especially, the truth of what I am like,
my capabilities and limitations. These days, I dont
envision inner peace as the cessation of struggle, arriv-
ing at some sun-washed placeless place from which I
can distribute refreshments. Now it comes down to
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I PAINT these monkeys with a brush and
hand-ground Chinese ink. What began as a
response to the death of a friend has become
something I lean on, just as I depend on the
alphabet to be there when I want to write.
I found the paintbrush when I was working on
my novel Cruddy, getting nowhere because I was
trying to write it on a computer. The problem
with writing on a computer was that I could
delete anything I felt unsure about. This meant
that a sentence was gone before I even had a
chance to see what it was trying to become.
When I was a kid, I never wrote without first
having a book to write in. The simple act of
folding sheets of paper and stapling them
inside a construction paper cover was the first
step in writing a book. The second was the
movement of a pencil on paper. For most kids,
once the experience of writing or drawing is
over, the story itself isnt so important.
Some studies show that for children, handwriting and stories are intertwined. The very
motion of writing by hand encourages creativity. The same is true for drawing. Its only later
in life that action and intent part ways.
I decided to try to write my book with a brush, mostly because I wanted to get as far from
the computer as I could. I was surprised by the instant change in my experience of writing.
Without a delete button, I could allow the unexpected to grow. I finished my novel.
As it turns out, people have been aware of the power of the paintbrush for over two
thousand years. Brush, ink, and Buddhism are all bound together. The history of
brush and ink in Asia cannot be studied without encountering the Buddha, who long
ago traveled, via brush and ink, across China to Japan. He crossed entire centuries to
my studio that day.
Ive used the brush ever since. These monkey paintings are fossils of experience, the remnants
of a hand in motion, of breath and being. The vehicle of ink and brush is available to anyone.
The picture you make is not so important.
Move your brush not to make a picture, but
make a picture in order to move your brush.
monkey business
Artist LYNDA BARRY on the power of the paintbrush
Lynda Barry is the creator of the weekly comic strip Ernie
Pooks Comeek and the author of several books. Her new
book is What It Is (May 2008, Drawn & Quarterly).
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Jack Kerouac wrote that the teenage years are an ideal age to be intro-
duced to the Dharma. I agree, but it can also be a complicated time.
Take the summer just after high school, shortly after Id decided to be
an official, practicing Buddhist. Like many teens, I was trying to do
anything possible to differentiate myself from my obviously backwards
parents. Unfortunately, my parents had been practicing Buddhism from
the time I was born, while I was only now falling in love with the
dharma. How could I become a Buddhist without becoming them?
My rebellion was characterized by a nuanced differentiation strategy of
the Karl Rove variety: I framed my parents as flaky New Age hippies with
Buddhist leaningsthe Spirit Rock type. I sneered at my moms angel
books and my dads yoga guru, who changed his name every few months.
Meanwhile, I would break free of their fluffiness and be the real deal. I
would become a northern California Buddhist without a trace of hippiness,
an endeavor that I now realize could be compared to living in France and
shunning cheese.
diehard
As a teenager sour on flower power, JAIMAL YOGIS
sought authenticity at an orthodox Chinese monastery. dharma
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The first step on my new path was finding an Asian
guru, the real McCoy. I pictured three options: a gor-
geous female kung fu master (think Michelle Yeoh from
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon), who would teach me to
do one-finger handstands; an old Japanese Zen master
who would hit me with a stick and demand, Jaimal!
where is your mind?, or a Tibetan lama who could fly.
I didnt need all three. Just one would do.
My dad was very happy that I wanted to dedicate
my time to spiritual goals. As a graduation gift, he
enrolled me in a six-week yoga camp at the Sierra
foothills ashram where we used to go as a family. I
tried to get excited, but yoga camp was exactly the
type of thing I was trying to avoid. The ashram was
basically a burnt-out hippie commune that had
replaced drugs with aggressive breathing exercises.
Doing yoga every morning with a bunch of other
white kids whose parents were like mine was just what
I didnt want. I needed the real thing, dammit: snow,
ancient Chinese characters, disgustingly bland food.
But not accepting the gift from my dad seemed, well,
un-Buddhist. So I went to yoga camp and actually had
an okay time. I learned to touch my toes and stand on
one leg for a very long time; I blessed people with Sai
Babas holy water. But the real highlight was the fact
that I made two dear friends: a Sicilian-American with
a cavemans beard and a ponytail who Ill call Robert;
and Gene, a quiet, witty Seattle native who had read
every book Id ever heard of.
Rob and Gene were American spiritual practitioners
who were trying to avoid being hippies. Unlike the
other yoga campers, they didnt sing folk songs or greet
strangers with hugs and they only used the word love
except in the most divine of contexts. They wanted to
learn Sanskrit and live in caves and generally inflict
pain on themselves. Of course, it was a little embarrass-
ing to us that three hardcore guys like us had met at a
fluffy yoga camp, but as the summer continued, we
chalked it up to a mere prelude to the main event.
Sure, we didnt know what that main event would be.
But we knew it would be epic.
One day, over a lunch on a grassy knoll, we compared
spiritual centers and teachers. Rob and Gene were both
older and more experienced than I was, and I listened
intently as they described Thai forest monasteries,
Tibetan lamas, and other, more authentic yoga
retreats. There was a distinct sense of competition in
their excited voices, and Robs story won the prize.
Jaimal Yogis is the author of the upcoming book Saltwater
Buddha: A Surfers Quest to Find Zen on the Sea (March
2009, Wisdom Publications).He is pictured here, below.
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Before yoga camp, Rob had been living at an orthodox
Chinese Buddhist monastery, studying Chan, the
Chinese precursor to Japanese Zen. I hesitate to even
talk about it, Rob said, rubbing his beard. Im telling
you, these monks scare me. Gene and I settled in on the
grass, letting Rob know that we were ready for the tale.
Rob shook his head and laughed as his mind
churned through memories of this apparently dark
place. They sleep in cells, he said, in full lotus. I kid
you not, the monks and nuns never lie down. They
have vows to never touch their ribs to the floor or the
bed. I pictured a prison full of monks chained to the
wall, their limbs contorted, and shuddered. In winter,
they meditate for fourteen hours a day. They fast for
weeks at a time. The abbot sits down at noon to medi-
tate, and he doesnt get up until noon the next day.
Hes completely still, probably in the fourth dhyana
heaven, at least. Every day they chant: We are like
fish in a shrinking pond. What joy is there in this?
We must cultivate like our heads are at stake. Im
telling you, its more Chinese than China.
Whats it called? Gene asked.
In Mandarin, its called Wan Fo Chan. In English,
The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Half of me felt nauseated. I was still trying to learn to
sit Indian style for thirty minutes without my legs
falling asleep. But the other half was elated. A place
more Chinese than China might be just what I needed
to say goodbye to my hippie roots for good.
Yawning and stretching his arms, Rob casually men-
tioned that The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas had an
upcoming retreat we could attendyou know, if you
think youre ready for that sort of thing.
If I was ready? Please. This was not a challenge that
could be turned down. Gene and I decided that we
wouldnt just visit the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas;
we would walk therea pilgrimage. That sounds
proper, Rob said, when he heard our plan. I might
just join you. But by the time the end of yoga camp
rolled around, Rob had conveniently fallen for a cute
massage therapist at camp. He said he needed to spend
a week seeing what their karma was. She wanted to try
tantric sex, and we all agreed this was an opportunity
that shouldnt be passed up.
UKIAHthe redneck, pothead town that is home to
the City of Ten Thousand Buddhaswas about two
hundred miles from my moms house in Sacramento.
On day one, Gene and I walked twenty miles along
Highway 80 in 110-degree heat. We passed massive
supermarkets, huge malls with full parking lots, and
dozens of gas stations. This is America, Gene said.
This is where we come from. It was ugly, true. But
as I saw it, we were the remedy. Pilgrimages like this
that would show people the way out of this mess. We
were the ones wed been waiting for.
That night, we slept behind a used car lot in Davis,
which seemed like perfect preparation for the kind of
austerities we anticipated. I kept thinking that what
we were doing wasnt rigorous enough, so I tried not
to eat much. The fourth day, we ran out of water with
no cars or gas stations in sight. Then we found a
mountain spring where we filled our bottles, which
confirmed to us that despite our hardships, the uni-
verse was behind us all the way. On the fifth day, our
blisters were so bad that we had to cover each foot in
moleskin. I cant remember the rest of the trip; I only
remember chanting Om mani padme hum while we cov-
ered almost thirty miles one day, our stomachs con-
taining only peanut butter and wild blackberries. On
the eighth day, by now emaciated savages, we walked
through Tang Dynastystyle gates inscribed with the
golden words wed been dreaming of: The Sagely
City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
At the office, an elderly Chinese man in a black lay-
mans robe greeted Gene and me. We bowed deeply,
and I said: We are here for the meditation retreat.
Weve come a long way.
I figured this man would see the sincerity in our
eyes and get very excited. (Oh! Weve been awaiting
your arrival.)
Ahh, very sorry, the man said instead. No English.
Med-ee-tay-shun, I said, closing my eyes peacefully,
then opening them and smiling. Yes? We need room
How could I become
a Buddhist without
becoming my
parents?
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for sleep. We want do practice.
Ah, okay okay, the man said. Sorry. No room
available this time. He smiled a warm smile. Gene
and I walked out for a powwow.
There isnt anyone staying here. I said to Gene,
whose face was covered in dirt and dry flakes of sweat.
The grounds are empty, the parking lot is empty.
There has to be room.
Maybe theyre doing what the old Zen masters
did, Gene said. Telling students that they cant come
to the monastery to test their sincerity. Maybe were
supposed to kneel outside for three days.
The idea of being part of a traditional Chinese
scheme was exciting but improbable, I thought.
I dont know, I said. But we do smell pretty awful.
We were sure some discriminatory conspiracy was
afoot, so we walked around to case the joint and ran
into a white guy named Skip. Oh, we got room, he
assured us. Thats all we got is empty rooms. But the
retreat dont start for three more days. Skip suggested
that we camp at the nice local lake for a few days, com-
ing back for the evening lectures. Unfortunately, the
nice lake was a watering hole for very big men with
skulls painted on their very big trucks, drinking cases of
beer. We tried to test our patience by meditating at the
other side of the lake. But we soon heard voices: Lets
throw rocks at emnah, get a bottle. We ended up
sleeping at a nice firm spot under Highway 101.
In the evenings, we went to recorded lectures given
in Mandarin by the late Master Hsuan Hua. Looking
at photos of the Masteran old Chinese man with
bright eyes and gnarled teethI knew instantly that
he had been a real saint, and I renewed my vows to
follow in his footsteps.
Gene and I were delighted with the City of Ten
Thousand Buddhas general vibe. It was the militancy
that charmed us. The monks sat perfectly still in their
golden sashes as if someone might whip them if they
moved. The senior monks sat up front, novices in the
back, lay people behind them. They all struck me as
spiritual soldiers. Not a hippie in sight.
Two days later, Rob showed up from his week of
debauchery. Tantric sex is harder than I thought, he
said. Im drained. He was followed, to my surprise, by
a caravan of other young aspiring Buddhists from
Berkeley. One of the boys, a bubbly nineteen-year-old
named Aran, befriended us and explained the history of
our monastery. Before The City of Ten Thousand
Buddhas had become the largest Buddhist monastery in
the U.S., it had been an institution for the criminally
insane. The buildings still had three-foot-thick walls
and bars on the windows. The monks slept sitting up
in the cells of former patients: steel-frame beds, cold
linoleum floors, one small window in each room. Even
Left: Jaimals mom
in 1979, shortly
before he was born
Right: Jaimals dad
and his sister, Ciel
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in China, Aran said, it was known as one of the most
austere monasteries in the world.
This suited our crew perfectly. We were all extrem-
ists. Gene was a mountaineer; Robert, a surfer and for-
mer championship high school wrestler. Jon had been
expelled from high school; Max was a rapper and
devoted martial artist. Phillip was a former hard-core
Catholic who enjoyed reading thousand-page classics
for days at a stretch with no sleep.
Doug was our leader. He was a high school teacher
who had introduced everyone, with the exception of
Robert, Gene and me, to the City. A former high-school
football star who had never lost his go-hard-or-go-home
attitude, Doug had channeled all of his machismo into
Buddhist practice. He had done and seen it all: nearly
died on a Himalayan peak, studied martial arts in China,
fasted for weeks at a time. He was the laid-back yet stern
father figure many of us longed for.
The first night before the Chan retreat began,
Doug arranged a meeting to discuss practice.
Chan, he began, stroking his beard, is an
extreme sport. And youre kind of playing against
yourself. During this week you will experience pain
like youve never felt, and youll probably want to
leave. Ive seen so many people run out of here in the
middle of retreat; its the City of Ten Thousand
Buddhas marathon. The ego is going to kick and
scream. Just watch it. Keep sitting.
After the pep talk, we went to the lecture in the
Buddha hall, where a recorded Master Hsuan Hua
informed us that we should never move while sit-
ting Chan. He had sat for months at a time in
snowy Chinese mountains with only one layer of
clothing, and he hadnt moved. Then he told us
how to sit. If we sat in lotus, we were sitting in a
golden pagoda. If we sat in half-lotus, it was a sil-
ver pagoda. No lotus was a mud pagoda. I
laughed nervously: I was going to be sitting in the
mud for a week.
That night I dreamt that Master Hsuan Hua was a
general, ordering me to sit in full lotus. I tossed and
turned until 2:30 a.m., when the sharp clack-clacking
of wooden sticks woke us in our cells. We filtered
groggily into the room full of monks sitting motion-
less on tatami mats, staring at a white wall. Some of
the monks had bent spines. But others sat like upright
Buddha statues, the picture of serenity.
With the light chime of a bell, the sit began in
the darkness of early morning. We would do four-
teen hour-long sits, punctuated by twenty-minute
walks and a break for lunch. We ended at midnight
and would wake again at 2:30 a.m. and start over. I
was petrified.
Its nice to imagine ones first meditation retreat as a
peaceful event. But thirty minutes into the first sit, I
realized this retreat would be about one thing: pain
From left to right:
Aran, Jaimal, and
Phillip relax in
Berkeley, California.
Far right: Jaimals
house in San
Francisco, California
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management. It didnt matter how many cushions I
stacked under my knees, butt, elbows, and shins. It
didnt matter if I leaned against the wall. It didnt
matter if I was in a gold pagoda, a silver one, or a tub
of mud. Some part of my body was always screaming
for help. Hippie yoga camp was starting to sound
pretty nice.
When I asked Doug about it, he said, Make the
pain your meditation topic. Ask yourself, Whos feel-
ing pain? This sort of worked. After three days of
focusing on nothing but pain, I began to see the
Buddhas point that suffering is born of the mind. For
brief moments, the pain became just heat, or pin-
pricks, or tension, and I was able to stay present with
it without judgment. It was my resistance to the pain
and the anticipation of it that were so horrible.
But that brief moment would end as quickly as it
came. I would begin to think of how much longer I
had at this damn retreat and start swearing under my
breath at the monk who timed the sits and hit the
bell: Hit the fucking bell, bell boy. The bell, yeah, that
thing in front of you. Hit it. It was my little mantra.
After two weeks of silence and pain, our crew decided
to go to Maxs parents cabin in Bodega, about sixty
miles south, to do a little more sitting. Max also invited
a Vietnamese monk Ill call Heng De who had four
fingers on one hand. He had recently chopped off the
fifth with a kitchen knife, something a few famous
Chan masters had done in ancient times to test their
attachment to the body. We were all very impressed, if
a bit torn about the actual wisdom of the act.
After many hours of meditation, Heng De decided
to intuit what each of us needed to work on in our
practice. Max needed to open up to the voidjust
relax. Jon needed to use a mantra to quiet his overac-
tive mind. Everyone had a profound-sounding issue to
work with. Then Heng De got to me. He looked at
me worriedly. I think you in a lot of pain, he said.
Maybe try some stretching.
FOR about another year, I tried hard to be a non-hippie
Buddhist. I ended up living at a City of Ten Thousand
Buddhas branch monastery. I slept on a hardwood
floor, tried to learn Chinese and kung fu, and even
came close to ordaining as a monk. Eventually,
though, my hippie roots caught up with me. I blame
it largely on surfing. Just before I left the monastery
at the age of nineteen, I was thoroughly confused
about what I would do next. One of the most stoic
senior monks told me that riding waves was a legiti-
mate spiritual practice. I envisioned myself as an old
surfing sagemaybe even one with a hot Hawaiian
girlfriendand before I knew it, I was living in a
commune of A-frame huts along a cliff in Hawaii,
playing in the saltwater six hours a day and living off
purple sweet potatoes and coconuts. I had tried to
maintain my monastic rigidity at first, but I found
myself signing up for free workshops on water mas-
sage and aboriginal healing through music. Resistance
was futile.
As for the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, I still
occasionally attend retreats there; its a bit like jump-
ing in an ice-cold river once a year to remind myself
that Im alive. But I go to Spirit Rock and to Thich
Nhat Hanh teachings, too. Rather than live in a cold
monastery, I now live in San Francisco, renting a room
covered in murals of Saint Francis and various sea ani-
mals. I am a freelance writer. If that job alone doesnt
qualify me as a hippie, I also wear my hair wild and
use the word love frequently.
I feel as if I am studying the dharma as authentically
as I ever have. But on occasion, Ill comfort myself
with the knowledge that I do have a little fight left in
me: I still dont own any angel books.
A place more Chinese than China might
be just what I needed to say goodbye to my
hippie roots for good.
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like a buddha
talk
MARSHALL GLICKMAN learns how to listen on an
Insight Dialogue retreat.
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Im sitting knee-almost-touching-knee with Ted, a chubby and towering sixty-something-
year-old with a few days gray stubble, bushy eyebrows, and nose hairs calling for a trim.
We met just fifteen minutes ago, and tears are running down his face. Teds breathing is
labored, and I can smell his sour breath, yet I feel content. I comfort himnot so much
with words but simply by being present, by gently meeting his gaze and accepting him
and the moment. During our hour together, I work at remaining openhearted and mind-
ful, and it seems to help Ted regain his balance. When our hour together is over, hes
much calmer, maybe even happy.
Normally, a distraught, unkempt stranger would likely cause me to create some imagi-
nary distance between him and me. But this happened toward the end of my first seven-
day Insight Dialogue retreat. Id spent most of the week meditating and meeting with
various partners or in small groups while focusing on staying mindful. By the end of the
week, I was feeling as kind, present, and relaxed with others as I have ever felt.
Odds are, youve never heard of Insight Dialogue. I
have somewhere between little and no instinct for pro-
motion, said Gregory Kramer, the retreat leader and
co-creator of Insight Dialogue. A Vipassana meditation
teacher since 1980, Kramer began teaching Insight
Dialogue in 1995. Since then, he has taught this gentle
yet powerful Buddhism-informed, relationship-based
practice to thousands of students. Yet, even in Buddhist
circles, his methods are still largely unknown.
Part of why Insight Dialogue is so low-profile is
that its hard to explain. Before I headed off to the
Insight Dialogue retreat, my exceedingly practical
78-year-old dad asked, What makes this one differ-
ent? I hemmed and hawed, then mumbled some-
thing about listening betterwhich is true enough,
but it is only part of the practice. You also work on
speaking from your heart, as well as simply observing
how you interact, ideally finding a calm concentra-
tion in the midst of conversation. Kramers retreats
include a variety of activities: seated meditation,
dharma talks, dharma walks, dharma contemplation,
some movement exercises, group conversation, and
what I consider the heart of the practicestudent-to-
student dialogues.
Typically, relationship skills have been the domain of
psychotherapists and pop psychologists. During a recent
visit to Manhattans East West Living bookstore, I noticed
a big stack of Kramers new book, Insight Dialogue: The
Interpersonal Path to Freedom, prominently displayed in the
Relationships section under Love. When I told
Kramer this, he was clearly disappointednot because
hes dismissive of romantic relationships, but because he
takes his dharma intentions and roots very seriously. From
his point of view, Insight Dialogue turns the challenge of
relationships into a potent spiritual opportunity.
While Kramer is confident that Insight Dialogue
directs us toward the heart of the Buddhas teaching
on ultimate freedom, I suspect most practitioners are
drawn to it (as I was) as a practice for developing skill-
ful speech and open listening. This may sound like a
goal only a bit larger than improving romantic rela-
tionships, but its much bigger than that. Mindful
speech and the ability to really listen are at the heart
of all relationships. And thoughtful, kind, and effec-
tive interactions are at the center of our ethical core,
the foundation of any spiritual practice.
For most of us, the hardest precept to honor is to
speak the truth. Im not talking about staying clear of
Marshall Glickman is the author of Beyond the Breath:
Extraordinary Mindfulness Through Whole-Body
Vipassana Meditation.
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bald-faced whoppers that cover up sordid
affairs or some headline-grabbing misdeeds,
but about our everyday exaggerations, self-
aggrandizements, and self-image facelifts. In
other words, what usually happens when we
talk uninterrupted for more than a few min-
utes. Besides, even when we do speak the
truth, are we able to listen to whoever is
talking without an agenda or obsessing about
what were going to say next? And how com-
fortable are we if there is nothing to say?
Like surfing, staying present is always a
challenge, but doing it while interacting
with others tends to be like managing in
choppy, cross-current seas. We have not only
our own thoughts and impulses to contend
with but also those of our conversational
partners. So if we can stay present and com-
passionate when, say, a coworker is kvetch-
ing, odds are we can do it anytime.
KRAMER identifies the six instructions that pro-
vide the scaffolding for Insight Dialogue: Pause; Relax;
Open; Trust Emergence; Listen Deeply; Speak the Truth.
These guidelines remain the same whether Insight
Dialogue is undertaken as a formal meditation practice
or is embraced as a path for wise living. Taken
together, these guidelines offer essential support for
awakening amid the rich challenges of interpersonal
encounter, Kramer writes. Each guideline calls forth
different qualities, and all of them are complementary.
In brief, Pause calls forth mindfulness; Relax, tran-
quility and acceptance; Open, relational availability
and spaciousness; Trust Emergence, flexibility and let-
ting go; Listen Deeply, receptivity and attunement;
and Speak the Truth, integrity and care.
The mainstays of an Insight Dialogue practice are
dharma contemplations and the dialogue format.
The contemplations are the content or topic of conver-
sation, and the dialogue format is the semi-structured
student-to-student exchange. For instance, while we
work on relax, Kramer suggests discussing a past
incident that still feels unresolved. I talk about get-
ting yelled at by a spiritual teacher, and my partner
speaks about a fight with his sister. These are loaded
incidents for each of us. Talking about them could eas-
ily turn into a kind of charged support group or
mutual therapy session, and at times it veers in that
direction. Yet the guidelines Kramer gives before each
conversation, and the ongoing suggestions he provides
when everyone is meeting, help keep practitioners
focused on process, on our awareness in the moment.
More important than the why and how of our unre-
solved stories is the effort to relax and maintain a
mental spaciousness while telling it; likewise, as a lis-
tener your effort goes not toward offering solutions
but toward remaining receptive. After we all split off
into groups or pairs, Kramer wanders through the
room, his measured steps acting as a subtle reminder
to be mindful. At times he interrupts to make general
comments; other times he rings a chime that invites
you to silence.
The intensity of meeting with others in this format
helps grab and keep your attention. When meditating,
its easy to space out; after all, no one else will really
notice. But when youre eyeball-to-eyeball with someone
youve never met (with each new set of dialogues, you
work with someone new), you naturally pay attention.
Not surprisingly, sometimes this intensity can be
uncomfortable. The challenge then is trying to relax into
staying present and open even amid that discomfort.
After the introductory sessions, the topics you dia-
logue about explore explicit Buddhist themes, typi-
cally in an interpersonal context. Take, for instance,
the Buddhas teaching on the Second Noble Truth
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that the origin of suffering is craving, that the mind
tends to grasp at something or push it away. Kramer
points out that the social manifestation of this is our
desire to be seen on the one hand and the urge to hide
on the other.
When exploring our tendency to either want recog-
nition or to disappear, I happened to be partnered
with Kathy. Before the retreat began, I had noticed
Kathy as she made her way through the dining hall as
if peering out from under a blanket. She was in her
mid-forties, small and skinny. Im far from a fashion
buff, but her vaguely goth outfit didnt match her lit-
tle-girl haircut. The first time our eyes met across the
salad table, I smiled at her; in return, she flashed a
pained grin. Involuntarily, I said to myself: Avoid
her. After the retreat started, however, I noted Kathy
often had something interesting to say at group com-
ment times. I decided I had wrongly prejudged her
and sought her out for a partnership.
Our encounter began with Kathy rambling, bounc-
ing between quoting sayings of a previous spiritual
teacher and interpreting what Gregory meant by his
social framing of the Second Noble Truth. She looked
very uncomfortable, and I didnt say much. Hoping to
put her at ease, I let her know that I had wanted to
partner with her because I found her group comments
interesting. But the truth was I was feeling a bit
smug. Her tension made me feel like I was the most
relaxed person around, kind of the way someone elses
fear of the dark can make one feel more bold and dis-
missive of anything lurking in the night. Clearly, I
told myself, my years of meditating have paid off.
Hoping to steer Kathys philosophizing to a more
present-moment exchange, I said I thought she
seemed uncomfortable. Not only did this not help
but it also made her more uncomfortable and our
interaction more awkward. At first she blamed her
uneasiness on my height (at six-foot-three, even
while we were both sitting, I loomed over her).
Eventually, though, through a halting, disjointed
back-and-forth, she said that she found it offensive
that I had said she seemed uncomfortable. Thats no
way to put someone at ease, she said, adding, I bet
you would have never said that to a man. Hmm. So
much for my kind and comfortable Buddhist self-
image. I tried to remain relaxed and accepting, but I
was starting to feel tense and misunderstoodespe-
cially about her claim that I would have treated a man
differently. I told her that Id been raised by a power-
ful woman, that I was comfortable with strong
women, including my wife, and that wed raised our
daughters as feminists. Though I kept it to myself, I
was concluding that Kathy was a bit crazy.
Then Kramer rang his bell. Take a break, he said
in his way that hinted at the relax piece of the dia-
loguing instructions. Go for a little walk. Dont con-
sciously think of what youve just been talking about.
Simply walk mindfully and return in ten minutes;
come back together with your same partner. It was a
beautiful fall day, and I tried to notice the leaves
crunching underfoot, but my mind kept going back to
my conversation with Kathy.
Throughout the week, Kramer often stopped us mid-
conversation for ten-minute walks. These were extend-
ed versions of the pause instruction, and I came to see
them as a wonderful part of the practice, invariably
giving me a fresh and helpful perspective. Imagine how
much better off wed all be if before every difficult con-
versation, we agreed to set a timer and, unless things
were going swimmingly, take a ten-minute break when
it rang. This would put a built-in release valve into any
heated exchange. This little pause alone could probably
do more to promote world peace than armies of medi-
tators dispatched across the globe.
Before returning to Kathy, I came to see Id been
posturing as Mr. At-Ease and that she was right: I
probably wouldnt have asked a man, especially a big
guy, if he was feeling uncomfortable. After I told
Kathy she was probably right and that I hoped she
could forgive me, she melted. She thanked me for my
Even when we do speak the truth, are we
able to listen without an agenda or obsessing
about what were going to say next?
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honesty and got teary-eyed. We talked some more and
held hands for a few moments. Soon after, though, she
was waxing philosophical again and talking about
some personal history in yet another flight from the
present. This time, I didnt feel superior to her, but I
wanted to try to keep the exchange in the moment. I
wanted to avoid my usual pattern of asking questions
that kept the other person talking while I would disen-
gage. Having gained some trust from weathering our
crisis, I felt we had a good opportunity to genuinely
meet together again, so I told her that I was disappear-
ing, that I didnt know what I wanted to talk about
but hoped to be more involved. I said something to the
effect of Will you play with me? Recounting it now,
I realize that might sound goofy, but it came from a
light and engaged heart. Yet it went over like the
proverbial lead balloon. Kathy was put off; she felt I
was being egotistical, domineering, and manipulative,
trying to steer the conversation to be about me. We
limped to the end of the session, but I still felt grateful
for the exchange. Even if I was misunderstood, Id been
able to open to this person that I had once dismissed,
and I had used the opportunity to speak honestly and
kindly even after I was rejected.
My meeting with Kathy made me wonder if the dia-
logue encounters sometimes go seriously awry. Of
course difficult situations do come up, Kramer told me.
In some sense, if there are no difficult conversations
people arent doing the workjust as in meditation
practice, you often have to experience the hard stuff to
learn something new. Over the years weve had maybe
half a dozen people leave a retreat of their own accord,
he said. But Ive never had to ask someone to leave or
mediate a fight or console someone for love gone bad.
The atmosphere and awareness of the group tends to
work as a container, even when difficult emotions arise.
Perhaps what helps account for this impressive track
record is the requirement that before signing up for
one of the longer Insight Dialogue retreats, you must
have attended at least one seven-day meditation
course. At my retreat, almost everyone I spoke with
was a longtime meditator. And the practice itself cre-
ates an atmosphere that is conducive to a loving
awareness. We were all sitting for many hours a day,
and we got to know each other, one by one, in inti-
mate conversations.
ALTHOUGH I didnt have any breakthrough
insights that Ive heard other Insight Dialogue practi-
tioners describe, I felt quite content with many small
epiphanies and the general increase in compassion I
experienced over the course of the retreat. At one
point, I welled up from the sympathetic joy of wit-
nessing another pairs deep connection. I hardly knew
either of them, but this spontaneous spouting of hap-
piness for others happiness seemed significant. And it
wasnt just me. A palpable sense of goodwill settled
throughout the center. For everyone, except maybe
Kathy and me.
After our dialogue ended, I consciously tried to wish
Kathy well whenever I bumped into her. When our
paths crossed, Id smile at her or in some silent way try
to indicate friendliness, but she didnt respond in kind.
She didnt exactly indicate that she was miffed, but she
definitely didnt return any warmth. After a while, this
started to wear me down and near the end of the
retreat, I realized I was feeling some animosity toward
her. My unconscious reasoning was: If you dont like
me, Im not going to like you. So I decided to make a
strong effort to send her wishes of lovingkindness.
After doing this in a focused way for five or ten min-
utes, I found myself and Kathy alone together in the
dining room, standing near the coffee machine.
Breaking the silence that was observed throughout the
center except when in formal dialogues, she asked in a
small, tentative voice, How are you?
Im good, I said, except Im concerned youre mad
at me, and yet I have feelings of goodwill toward you.
Im not mad at you, she said, and opened her
arms. We hugged.
It wasnt exactly a coming together of the Hatfields
and the McCoys, but I got choked up, partly from relief
that I hadnt hurt her feelings, but even more because I
was moved by her courage. This happening on the last
Mindful speech and the ability to really listen
are at the heart of all relationships.
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day of the retreat seemed like an exclamation point for
the positive effect the practice could have.
Since the retreat has ended, I have yet to follow up
on my intention to join an Insight Dialogue group
and formally practice it year round. Yet now, many
months later, I still feel the benefits. Its as though Ive
developed a new muscle. I spontaneously find myself
truly hearing what people are saying. As Kramer
might put it, Im learning to trust emergence, sim-
ply listening while someone is speaking without any
expectations or nervousness about what comes next. In
fact, I now have such confidence in simply listening
that its become like a life preserver; when Im feeling
uncomfortable in a conversation, thats what I reach
for. At times, I find a deep calm and openness in the
midst of conversation similar to states of meditation.
And at the same time, simply listening seems to be
better for whomever Im talking with. They feel fully
heard without being judged. Better connections tend
to flow naturally. The irony is, when we dont need
things to be better than they are, they tend to end up
that way.
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HIDDENlike a Chinese hermit or a coyote in his
den, Michael Sawyer lives at Green Gulch Farm Zen
Center, in a narrow valley north of San Francisco. To
visit him you must walk past the formal zendo and
Japanese teahouse, up to a converted trailer at the very
edge of the open hills.
There you are likely to find him sitting in a motor-
ized chair, just inside a door that looks out to the hills
and sky. Some days hes slumped over so far that it
seems he is about to slip to the floor; often he cant
speak, or can speak only in an indecipherable, whisper-
ing mumble. Despite this, he will almost certainly greet
you with a smile that reaches all the way to his deep
brown eyes, full of subtle humor and intelligence.
Next, you may notice that you are surrounded by
visions: on the walls all around you are images of
Buddhas, flying birds, naked women, skulls, monks,
trees, waterfalls, a chimpanzee playing the clarinet, an
ocelot, a hummingbird. You have entered another,
secret worldphantasmagoric, surreal, and luminous.
Michael is a painter, a carpenter, a Zen priest, and a
person with Parkinsons disease. He noticed the first
signs of the disease in 1985, when his hand began los-
ing its steadiness with a brush. Now he is in a state of
near bondage to its demands. But as the disease has
progressedto the point where putting on a sock or
eating a meal is a slow and monumental efforthis
commitment to painting has only intensified. When I
stand in Michaels room, I feel that Im standing in the
middle of one of the deepest expressions of freedom Ive
ever known. To look carefully at his paintings is to be
reminded that the unfolding of inner freedom is not
ultimately constrained by physical limitations.
When a man like Michael tells you that the last five
years have been the happiest in his life, you know you
are no longer in the territory of conventional under-
standing. So what is the territory that Michael is
painting and living within? What is its geography?
What are its deep roots?
Michael was born in 1942 and grew up in the
ranching and mining town of Kamloops, British
Columbia. He began painting watercolors when he
was in his twenties, after his first experiences with
psychedelics. Largely self-taught, he was interested in
fine detail, the meeting of the animal, human, and
divine realms, and archetypal imagery. He received a
prestigious grant from the Canada Council for the
Arts, then worked as a landscaper and carpenter
before moving to San Francisco in 1975, where he
became a resident of the San Francisco Zen Center
and met his wife, Emila Heller. Green Gulch Farm is
one of the San Francisco Zen Centers places of prac-
tice, and Michael and Emila have given many years to
its community.
As Michaels condition worsened, he was less able to
work for the community and had more time to paint.
While it once took him a year or more to finish one
exquisitely detailed painting, now he paints like a mad-
man. And his painting has changed. He says, The
paintings are less formaltheres no perfect Buddha up
there in the sky, but someone down here mucking around
with someone else. The illness had something to do with
itI got looser. When asked if his paintings are a form
of teaching, Michael replies that he doesnt see them as
Zenshin Florence Caplow is a Soto Zen priest, conservation
biologist, and writer. She is working on a collection of
essays about her two-year pilgrimage, Not Dwelling
Anywhere. For more artwork by Michael Sawyer, visit
michaelsawyerart.org.
no inter
no interference
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Parkinsons disease has offered artist Michael Sawyer a rare path to freedom.
ZENSHIN FLORENCE CAPLOW
Sky Wheel, 1972,
diameter 17.5 inches
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teachings, but rather as the dance of life and death.
Thats the holy truth: Death exists. Dont forget it.
I ask Michael how his last five years have been his
happiest. Early on when I was painting, he
responds, there were lots of blocks. Now theres not
anything blocking at all. No more hesitating, not
knowing what to put somewhere. So the feeling of
not being interfered with means that whatever Im
doing, its not me. Everything flows. I can sit for
hours and paint and never even stop. My body feels
good. I could say that the joy is occurring in the
painting, but actually the joy is in the body. People
talk about writers blockthats interference. But for
me, for the last five or ten years, I just go from one
painting to another. When I get close to the end of a
painting, the next painting appears. This is pure
magic, pure oneness. It delivers itself. That, he says,
is happiness.
Lou Hartman is a Zen priest in his nineties who
owns a print of Ocean Samadhi [above], one of Michaels
paintings. In this painting, a Buddha sits in the sun-
light above an ocean beach as a flock of birds rises up
through his body. On one side of the beach is a pile of
playing babies; on the other, a pile of skulls. Lou says,
We are taught in Buddhas tradition that theres
something before there is good and bad, beautiful and
ugly. Before there are the babies and the skulls, there
iswhat? Serenity? Thats what I see there.
Although Michael is hidden, and his art is mostly
hidden, people have a way of finding him. Residents
of Green Gulch bring him meals, sit with him, and
end up turning to him as an elder and friend.
Yet Michael is not interested in being a teacher, at
least not in the usual way. Teaching is a set up for dual-
ism, he says, and I dont like it. If I do teach, its
because I dont know Im teaching. Im offering the
To look carefully at Michaels paintings is to be
reminded that the unfolding of inner freedom is
not ultimately constrained by physical limitations.
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painting, but not necessarily as teaching. When people
appreciate my work, their comments often are about
something I havent seen. In that way, they create the
paintings, which then include their perceptions. Viewers
help me to see new things about my work, things I did-
nt expect. Michael was ordained as a priest in 1998,
when he was already far into Parkinsons. Why did he
choose to accept ordination when his teacher suggested
it? I was spending too much time thinking about
myself, Michael says. I wanted to think about others.
Michael has his own story of inspiration: Some
people say that they admire you, but hey, chronic
illness isnt much fun. When I was nine and went
into the hospital to have an operation, I met a man
who was a logger. Hed just lost an eye in a driving
accident. Ive always admired him. He did his best to
cheer me up. He said of his missing eye, Thats all
right, cause I still have one left.
Everyone knows that one day Michael will no longer
be able to paint or speak or perhaps even smile
(though I suspect that his smile will be the last to go,
like the Cheshire Cats). What then? Michael answers
without hesitation: Its like saying, If you cant sit in
the zendo anymore, how can you practice? No matter
what, he believes, we find a way to express our life.
One of Michaels young friends says that visiting
him can be hardlike seeing death. In the face of this
death, though, Michael laughs as he struggles to get
his foot onto the chair, roars like a tiger when he cant
speak, chants sutras as best he can, and continues to
paint naked women and monks and Buddhas cavorting
together, fearless in the face of the messy mystery. His
life is a reminder that illness and disability can be a
path to freedom, even joy. And when hes gone, his
paintings will still be here, delicate, absurd, and dar-
ingwithout interference.
Opposite: Ocean Samadhi, 1986, 24.25 x 15.25 inches; Below left: Buddha Nature, 1999, 13.5 x 18 inches;
Below right: Cosmic Silence, 1974, 13.5 x 8 inches
tri_SU08_072_075_sawyer 4/11/08 3:16 PM Page 75
On a camping trip, SANDY BOUCHER faces fear head on.
vs.
buddhist
bear
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When I awake, it is so cold that my
cheeks are numb; all around me the
night is thickly black under a starless
sky. The sound comes againmetal
on rock. One of our cook pans is being
moved at the fire pit. A marmot, I
think, and lie listening; squirrels and
chipmunks arent big enough to move
a pan like that.
Silence.
Then another noise. I listen with strained attention,
trying to identify it. Either it is the sound of my partner
Jeri unzipping her sleeping bag orand my scalp tin-
glesor it is the sound of claws dragging across canvas.
Stealthily, a little at a time, I turn over on the
ground inside my bag until I lie facing Jeri. Encased
in her mummy bag, she lies turned away from me.
Fast asleep.
There is another scratching noise, loud in the night.
I turn over again, slowly, as quietly as possible, and
when I am lying on my right side I unzip the top of
my bag and reach a careful hand out into the cold to
close it around the flashlight. I direct the light at our
backpacks, propped against the log near our feet, and
flick the switch.
Looking straight at me in the circle of light are two
yellow eyes in a dark furry head. The animal is
hunched over from behind the log, its massive forelegs
wrapped around my pack.
The light does not frighten it. It goes on ripping at
the side pocket of the pack, pulling things out the
hole its made.
My body is paralyzed for a few moments, while my
mind leaps back to a conversation with some campers
in Junction Meadow. Make noise, they had advised,
Yell. Jump up and down. Beat on pans. Only dont
mess with a female bear who has cubs.
That information sucks me fully into the moment.
No way to know if this is a daddy bear or a mommy
bear! I tilt on a knife edge, adrenaline sharpening my
senses, yet hearing from some far-off place my own
voice objecting, How I wish this were not happening.
But I cant just lie here and let the animal take our
food! Something instinctual, territorial, leaps up in
me; against all reason and backcountry wisdom, I am
ready to protect our supplies.
Keeping the flashlight on the bears furry bulk, I
sit up, unzipping my bag farther, and I start to
yella karate yell, from the diaphragm, deafening,
terrifying. But all that comes out of my tight throat
is Eeeeeeep, eeeeeeep.
Sandy Bouchers last essay for Tricycle, A Footprint on the
Shore, appeared in the Spring 2003 issue.

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The creature goes on looting my pack. I keep mov-
ing backwards as I try to yell, until Im practically sit-
ting on top of Jeri in her sleeping bag. She grumbles
and rolls away. Im torn, wanting to shake her awake,
but afraid to turn my back to the bear.
Yellow claws pull a chocolate bar from the frayed hole
in the canvas. The small shiny eyes watch me, the enor-
mous furry shoulders hunch tighter around the pack.
I struggle upright out of my warm covering and
dance in my thermal underwear on top of my sleeping
bag, shouting Hup, hup, hup!
Amazingly, Jeri is still curled in her sleeping bag.
What the hells wrong with her? Why doesnt she get
up to help me?
I leap and stamp and throw one arm out like a
pump handle, my yell getting louder now.
The little eyes watch me warily as the claws pull a
bag of trail mix from the hole and stuff it in the
mouth, spilling peanuts and sunflower seeds down the
front of the pack as the plastic splits.
I jump in the cold air, knees jerking up and down,
shouting Yow, yow, yow! A quick glance behind shows
me Jeri unzipping her bag. At last!
Out comes a tampon. The animal shoves it in its
mouth, bites into it, and one half is left dangling like
a cigar butt down its chin.
Whats going on? Here I am, dancing like a mad-
woman and screeching not eight feet from this creature
and it just continues with its midnight snack. Throw
something, they had said in Junction Meadow.
All I have is the flashlight. I pull back my arm, aim,
let fly.
It sails toward the bear and bounces off its head just
above the eyes, spiraling up to send a beam of light
looping crazily in the darkness.
The bear stops all motion, stunned. And in that
instant I know I have made a terrible mistake. The
great body rears up clumsily off the pack, hesitates,
and I look around for a place to run to. Anywhere! Up
the nearest treeno. It can scramble up after me. Out
through the underbrush in the darkbut surely it can
move faster than I. The creek is too far down the
slope. There is no place to go.
This is the pivotal moment, when I turn and look
back into the gaping mouth of time. Everything holds
still: There is no escape, no negotiation, no petition, no
one to save me. The bear teeters there on tense hind legs.
Could it be as paralyzed as I? Or perhaps not frozen at
all but only taking its time to decide what it will do?
LATER I listen to Jeris explanation, while the bear
stalks us and we scramble to build a fire with the few
spindly sticks on the ground. She tells me each of the
thoughts that had passed through her mind as she lay
there almost asleep, each one giving her an excuse not
to act, or confusing her, until the final moment when
she saw the light spiral crazily in the darkness and
thought it was a space ship landing, or someone with a
flashlight stumbling down upon us. Jeri is an artist,
with a sometimes eccentric imagination; usually I am
charmed by her fanciesnot tonight. But perhaps there
would have been nothing she could have done if she had
tried to help. My anger at her sputters and dies.
In the underbrush twenty feet from us we hear the
stealthy padding of feet. I see the branches shudder, a
furry snout poke through; yellow eyes flash, reflecting
our fire.
Jeri and I move in a circle, trying to keep the bear
on the other side of the fire pit from us. Desperate to
feed the flames, I pull a brochure out of my pack, rip
out the glossy photos of cheerfully smiling Tibetan
monks, crumple the reassuring words of a dharma
talk, roll up the article about the Western man who
has created a Buddhist institution. These I stuff under
the twigs, nudging them against the little tongues of
fire. The paper flares up, the small branches splutter.
This brochure brings an image of Chgyam Trungpa
Rinpoche, whose teachings I have been reading.
Would he recognize the space where my mind is float-
ing? Would he reel in my mind like a scarf twisting in
the wind, smoothing it and wrapping it around his
fingers, or would he simply smile, nodding in
approval as I flutter out here?
The minutes pass, black night reigns outside our
circle of light, the noises from the weeds stop, then
start again. The creature moves around us like a planet
The bear stops all motion, stunned. And in that
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S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 79
circling the sun of our fire, waiting its chance to move
in close.
Perhaps I am going to dieand in such dramatic
fashion. Who could have predicted this for methe
earnest Buddhist practitioner, newly embracing
meditation, reading texts, sitting day after day,
secretly hungering for the breakthroughs pointed to
in some Zen books, hinted at in Tibetan and
Theravada texts. Probably Trungpa would find my
predicament fortunate, a once-in-a-lifetime opportu-
nity. And if I were sufficiently cooked, I might have
broken through in those few minutes after awaking,
when I experienced absolute, adrenaline-fired clarity.
I remember the story about the monk meditating in
the forest who is attacked by bandits who threaten
to murder him. He asks them to wait until morning
to kill him so that he will have time to attain full
enlightenment before he dies. They will do so, they
say, on the condition that he guarantee he will not
run away during the night. He picks up a big rock
to shatter his leg bones so he cannot walk, and they
agree to let him live a few hours more. Then he
enters samadhi, and through diligent effort he is
able to attain full liberation by morning light. (At
which point the bandits kill him. Im not reassured
by this last detail.)
My stomach lurches as I see the lumbering dark
form break from the bushes and pace deliberately
toward us. I pick up a hiking boot and throw it. The
boot strikes the bear on its side; the creature shows its
teeth in an outraged growl but stops, peering at us. I
see the indecision in its arrested pose. Jeri and I move
to keep the flames between us and this animal.
The trip had started nine days before, in hot dry
August, when we drove to Sequoia National Forest and
set out hiking. We were on our way to Mount Whitney,
determined to stand on its 14,500-foot summit and
look out over the Sierras, down to the Mojave Desert.
That evening we had made it to Crabtree Meadow,
where we were the only people. Normally we would have
hung our food supplies high up on a tree limb, but in our
eight days of hiking we had seen no sign of bear, and this
night we let fatigue overcome our better judgment.
Now, awake and trembling from the cold, we
endure the long grueling hours. Desperately, we
throw small sticks on the fire to keep it going,
while the force in the underbrush stays as stubborn-
ly committed as we to the standoff. It comes near, it
melts back into the bushes, we see its eyes gleaming
out there among the leaves, then it seems to have
gone, but it always returns. Circling us. Not until
years later, in a book called Bear Attacks, did I read
that once a bear has gotten hold of your supplies, he
considers them his kill, and he will violently defend
them from any being who may threaten them. So,
the book advised, if the bear grabs your food, just
back off and let him have it. Dont try to scare him
away, because he may attack you. Unwittingly, I
had done the most dangerous thing anyone could
choose to do!
But after the long slow passage of the night, finally
a glow squeezes up above the surrounding peaks to lift
the dark lid of sky. The bear must be as weary as we.
It stops its lumbering. Legs firmly planted, it stands
peering at us, then swings its head to look at the torn
backpack, tilted against the log, pockets ripped open,
then back at us. We meet the gaze of the bright little
eyes. The moment goes on forever, as our pathetic fire
crackles between us. Once more the bear glances at its
interrupted meal. It shakes its shoulders.
Then, blowing a juicy snort from its muzzle, our tor-
mentor turns and waddles off into the morning, brown
shaggy haunches disappearing into the underbrush.
Jeri and I sit on the dirt beside the dying fire,
watching the sky go from charcoal to dove gray to
palest blue streaked with pink. I love the morning.
Taking a deep breath, I silently thank the sun for
returning. Then I thank the bear for leaving us to this
exhausted empty space. My mind feels stretched
beyond its margins, open to the dawn silence, the
sight of a tiny twig immobile on a branch. I turn to
look at Jeri, who returns my glance. Were here: We
made it through.
When finally the sun pops up over the dark shad-
owed rib of the mountain, I put my palms together to
bow in reverential greeting.
instant I know I have made a terrible mistake.
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So youre sitting there, reciting the Heart
Sutra, either the long version or the short ver-
sion. Perhaps you do so every day. It has been
recited millions of times over the centuries,
without the person reciting it necessarily pay-
ing much attention to the meaning (whatever
that might mean). But today, lets imagine
that you do. After dutifully negating each of
the major categories of Buddhist philosophy
(no eye constituent up to and including no
mental consciousness constituent, no igno-
rance, no extinction of ignorance, no aging
and death up to and including no extinction
Whats in a Mantra?
Donald S. Lopez
takes a close look at
the Heart Sutra.


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on language
Excerpt from the
Heart Sutra
in Japanese
Kanji characters
of aging and death. In the same way, no suffering, no origin, no
cessation, no path, no wisdom, no attainment, no nonattain-
ment), you come to the part, All the buddhas who abide in
the three times have fully awakened into unsurpassed, com-
plete, perfect enlightenment relying on the perfection of wis-
dom. So far, so good. But then, Therefore, the mantra of the
perfection of wisdom is the mantra of great wisdom, the
unsurpassed mantra, the mantra equal to the unequaled, the
mantra that completely pacifies all suffering. Because it is
not false, it should be known to be true. The mantra of
the perfection of wisdom is stated thus: gate gate paragate
parasamgate bodhi svaha (pronounced ga-tay, ga-tay pa-ra-
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ga-tay, pa-ra-sam-ga-tay bo-dhi sva-ha).
Something odd just happened. The
vocabulary has shifted. A transition
has occurred, a transition that
begins with a therefore that
seems more like a non sequitur
than a conjunction.
Why do you find this shift so jar-
ring? Perhaps it is because the Heart
Sutra is considered the most concen-
trated expression of the most pro-
found doctrine in Buddhist philoso-
phy, the doctrine of emptiness, or
shunyata. The Heart Sutra is the
essence, the heart, of the perfection
of wisdom. Yet as you reach its end,
you are suddenly confronted with
the mumbo jumbo of a mantra.
Any number of culturally condi-
tioned responses may be at play
here. The first is your rather defen-
sive conviction that despite its long
exclusion from university philoso-
phy departments, Buddhism has
philosophyindeed, sophisticated
philosophy. And philosophy entails
critical analysis and reasoned argu-
mentation to arrive at the real. The
second is the nineteenth-century
European view that mantras, unin-
telligible syllables, are magic spells,
remnants of primitive superstition
about the performative power of
sound. Philosophy and superstition
are different, and incompatible,
modes of thought. Philosophy
belongs in sutras; magic belongs in
tantras. Hence, the dissonance in
the text, a dissonance that you find
so jarring. But should you?
There are several ways to explain
the presence of the mantra in the
sutra. The first, and simplest, is to
accept the well-founded view of
scholars that the Heart Sutra is a pas-
tiche, a composite, a cut-and-paste
job of pieces from a number of
Perfection of Wisdom (prajna-
paramita) texts. Some have argued
that it was not even compiled in
India, but in China, and then trans-
lated from Chinese into Sanskrit.
But this kind of historical informa-
tion provides little explanatory com-
fort to the Buddhist who regards the
Heart Sutra as buddhavachana, the
word of the Buddha.
You might instead try to
renounce your view of the Heart
Sutra as philosophical in the first
place, seeing the entire sutra as a
kind of long mantra, a dharani,
acknowledging that it has func-
tioned as such in Asia for centuries,
recited, for example, at funerals to
dispel demons. But demons raise
the question of superstition again,
and the question of whether
Buddhism is (also) a form of magic
is a question you may not wish
to consider.
You might find some comfort in
recognizing that the problem is not
restricted to twenty-first century
Americans. As Buddhism spread far
beyond the confines of the Indian
subcontinent, its adherents were
faced with the task of translating its
scriptures. Yet the translators of the
Heart Sutra, into Chinese, into
Japanese, into Korean, into Tibetan,
did not translate the mantra;
instead, in an effort to duplicate,
and thereby preserve, the sound of
Avalokiteshvaras voice, they
transliterated it. (Avalokiteshvara,
the bodhisattva of compassion, is
the sutras main speaker.) They
translated the rest of the sutra, but
they left the mantrain sound if
not in formin Sanskrit. You
should recognize, then, that the
experience of reciting the Heart
Sutra would be very different for a
Chinese monk than it would have
been for an Indian monk. The
Indian monk, reciting the sutra in
Sanskrit, would intone a Sanskrit
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S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 83
mantra. The Chinese monk, reciting
along in Chinese, would, like you,
come to a phrase marked by its
incomprehensibility, reading a
transliteration to produce sounds
that were clearly not Chinese.
The translators did not translate
the mantra because mantras are not
translated. On the most practical
level, a mantra is often untranslated
simply because, measured against
the model of classical Sanskrit, it is
untranslatable; the mantra has
undergone sufficient modification,
whether intentional or not, to render
it grammatically illegible. But more
importantly, as an element of ritual
discourse, a mantra is as much an
event as a statement, and events
resist translation; they can only be
repeated. And from the Indian per-
spective, a mantra can only be in
Sanskrit and must remain so in order
to retain its potency as speech, with
its traditional primeval primacy over
the derivations of script, a view
strongly held in both Hindu and
Buddhist thought. Indeed, not only
should a mantra not be translated
from Sanskrit into another language,
it should also not be transferred
from its natural medium to some
other, from sound to writing. But it
has been, and so you read it.
For the Indian monk, the mantra
would not be incomprehensible; it
would evoke something. As we often
read in books about Buddhism, the
mantra seems to mean something
like: Gone, gone, gone beyond,
gone completely beyond, enlighten-
ment, svaha. It doesnt quite say
that, because for such a reading the
vowel ending the first four words
(gate gate paragate parasamgate) is not
grammatically correct, leading some
scholars to speculate that it is in the
feminine vocative, an invocation of
the goddess Prajnaparamita, the
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mother of all buddhas. In that case,
the mantra would mean O, you
(feminine) who have gone.
So what to do? You can do what
Buddhists have long done when
confronted with a scriptural conun-
drum: you can look at the commen-
taries. The Heart Sutra is, of course,
one of the most commented upon of
all the Buddhist sutras, receiving
commentaries for over a millenni-
um, and up to the present day.
Among the Indian works preserved
in the Tibetan canons (where, by the
way, the Heart Sutra appears both
among the sutras and among the
tantras), there are more commen-
taries on the Heart Sutra than on any
other text. Eight commentaries sur-
vive from India, and you might take
some comfort from the fact that at
least some of the commentators,
among whom are such famous fig-
ures as Kamalashila and Atisha,
didnt know quite what to do with
the mantra either.
Indian Buddhist scholars like
Kamalashila and Atisha knew that
the Perfection of Wisdom sutras were
renowned for having two teachings:
an open teaching and a hidden teach-
ing. The open teaching set forth the
final nature of reality, emptiness. The
hidden teaching set forth the myriad
realizations that occur over the path
of the bodhisattva. The majority of
the many commentaries on the
Perfection of Wisdom corpus are
concerned primarily with the second
topic. The Heart Sutra thus presents
the Buddhist scholastic with the
following dilemma: as the quintes-
sence of the Perfection of Wisdom
sutras, it should contain pithy
expositions of both of these themes.
And indeed much of the text is
devoted to emptiness. Yet there is
no mention of the path, except to
say that it does not exist (in the
same way, no suffering, no origin,
no cessation, no path).
Therefore, these commentators
took it as their task to discover in the
sutra an exposition of the structure of
the path, an exposition that is osten-
sibly absent. In their efforts to decode
the sutra in this way, they turned to
that part of the sutra that seemed
encoded, that did not make immedi-
ate sense; they turned to the mantra.
The mantra (not counting svaha) has
five words, and the bodhisattva trav-
erses five paths: the path of accumu-
lation, the path of preparation, the
path of vision, the path of medita-
tion, and the path of no further
tri_SU08_080_085_Lopez 4/11/08 3:31 PM Page 84
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 85
learning. The third path is different
from the first two; it marks the ini-
tial direct vision of emptiness and
destroys all seeds for future rebirth
as an animal, ghost, or hell being.
And, sure enough, the third word is
different from the first two, adding
para to gate. The last of the five
paths, the path of no further learn-
ing, is synonymous with buddha-
hood, and, sure enough, the last
word is bodhi, enlightenment. Its
a convincing homology.
Atisha, writing in the eleventh
century, took a somewhat different
tack: he apportions the sutra up to
the point of the mantra under the
headings of the five paths. But if
the entire path has been presented
to that point, why is the mantra
necessary, why is it not superflu-
ous? He accounts for the presence
of the mantra by explaining that
everything in the sutra up to the
mantra has been the teaching for
those of dull faculties, the not-so-
bright bodhisattvas (relatively
speaking), whereas the mantra is
the exposition of the five paths for
bodhisattvas of sharp faculties, the
smart bodhisattvas. What he is
suggesting is that the entire struc-
ture of the path to enlightenment
becomes clear to these bodhisattvas
of acute intellect simply upon
hearing Avalokiteshvaras invoca-
tion of the mantra. But in that
case, why doesnt the mantra come
first? Why didnt Avalokiteshvara
begin with the mantra and let the
smart bodhisattvas go home?
So reading the commentaries, as
is always the case, answers some
questions, but raises others. The
translators of the Heart Sutra could
have translated the mantra; many
commentators over the centuries
have done so. Yet they left the
mantra untouched by translation
and the apparent limitation that
that would entail, leaving the
mantra unreconciled with the
tongue of the reader but protected
as sound, a sound that communi-
cates nothing (except to those really
smart bodhisattvas). It maintains
its potency by eluding any conven-
tional comprehension of its mean-
ing. It works like magic.
Donald S. Lopez is Arthur E. Link Distin-
guished University Professor of Buddhist and
Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan.
He discusses the Heart Sutras mantra at
greater length in his book Elaborations on
Emptiness: Uses of the Heart Sutra.
tri_SU08_080_085_Lopez 4/16/08 5:11 PM Page 85
One time when the Buddha
was walking among the
dwellings of his monks, he
came across a monk who
was very ill with dysentery,
lying alone in his own
excrement. He asked the
monk why none of the oth-
ers were caring for him and
was told that he was of no
use to the other monks, so
they left him to cope with
his illness alone. The Buddha
immediately sent his
attendant Ananda for a bowl of water
and together they washed the monk
and raised him onto a bed. Then the
Buddha called together all the
monks of the community and asked
why this monk had been left unat-
tended in his distress. He was given
the same answer: He is of no use to
us, Lord. (Mahavagga 8.26)
You monks no longer have moth-
er or father to care for you, the
Buddha said to them. If you do not
care for one another, who else will
care for you? He then used the
occasion to lay down one of the 227
rules for the monastic community,
enjoining the monks to care for each
other in times of illness. It is a
poignant story, revealing a side to
the Buddha seldom seen in the Pali
texts. More importantly, I think it
has something to say to us about the
situation we all find ourselves in
today, and it can offer inspiration
and guidance on how we can best
get ourselves out of difficulty.
Surely one of the main problems
we face, as a species and as a planet, is
that we are lying in our own excre-
ment. All the waste products pro-
duced by our consumption, from
garbage and debris to chemical tox-
ins and exotic poisons, are oozing out
of us and soiling the environment we
inhabit. And what the Buddha says
about everything else surely applies


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86 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
thus have I heard
Medicine for the World
If we do not take care of each other, who will?
ANDREW OLENDZKI
tri_SU08_086_087_Olendzki 4/11/08 11:59 AM Page 86
here: Nothing happens without a
cause. Things are the way they are
not because of chance or the will of a
deity but because people have acted
in particular ways and generated par-
ticular consequences. The world we
inhabit is the product of our actions,
which are themselves reflections of
our minds.
We may also, like the early Buddhist
community, be on our own. The
Buddha has suggested that we are with-
out a mother and father to take care of
things for us. Mother Earth, once
thought to be all-forgiving and capable
of absorbing any abuse we could heap
upon her, is not the infinitely benevo-
lent resource we thought she was. As we
learn of our own mothers at a certain
point of maturity, Mother Earth can and
does get worn down by giving and for-
giving in the face of our persistent
demands. And our Father who is in
heaven, though perhaps immensely old
and lord over a host of devas (as the
Buddhists view him), is nevertheless
subject to the laws of karma and is not
sufficiently omnipotent to make it all
work out for us in the end.
If we do not care for one another,
who else will care for us? Who among
us has the right to say of another, He
is of no use to us? For better or
worse, whether we like it or not, we
are all in this together. Learning how
to care for one another is a central part
of the path and of the practice.
As the Buddha laid down the
monastic injunction for the monks to
care for each other, he placed the
responsibility first upon the ill
monks preceptor, then upon his
teacher, and finally upon all his com-
panions. Transposing this to our col-
lective secular situation, we might say
that we look first to our elected offi-
cials, as the dominant authority in our
society, to take responsibility for
helping clean up our mess and heal-
ing ourselves. If they prove inade-
quate, then it is up to the many other
people in positions of influence to
take the lead and show the way. If
they too cannot manage to do so, then
it is up to each and every individual to
step up and personally lend a hand.
There is no one else to whom the duty
can be passed.
The filth of dysentery is washed
away with clear water. The toxins of
greed, hatred, and delusion oozing
from the human psyche are cleansed
with generosity, kindness, and wis-
dom. Once weve been lifted from the
dirt onto a place of greater purity and
dignity, we can begin the gradual
process of healing. The Buddha, in his
role as physician, has laid out in the
Four Noble Truths a protocol for
recovery: Identify the symptoms,
understand their causes, use this
knowledge to remove the causes, and
then diligently follow a detailed regi-
men for effecting the cure.
But the medicine can only cure if it
is taken. What if we administer the
medicine of the dhamma to one
another, each lifting the other up and
showing compassion for one anothers
suffering? Even those we do not par-
ticularly like or understand; even
those who are of no use to us; even,
dare I say, with our own hand?
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 87
Andrew Olendzki, Ph.D., is executive director
and senior scholar at the Barre Center for
Buddhist Studies in Barre, Massachusetts. He
is the editor of Insight Journal.
WHATEVER MEDICINES ARE FOUND
IN THE WORLDMANY AND VARIED
NONE ARE EQUAL TO THE DHAMMA.
DRINK OF THIS, MONKS!
AND HAVING DRUNK
THE MEDICINE OF THE DHAMMA,
YOULL BE UNTOUCHED BY AGE AND DEATH.
HAVING MEDITATED AND SEEN
[YOULL BE] HEALED BY CEASING TO CLING.
MILINDA-PANHO 335
tri_SU08_086_087_Olendzki 4/16/08 4:42 PM Page 87
88 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
reviews
Hard Cash
The inner life of money
MICHAEL CARROLL
ITS NOT ABOUT THE MONEY:
UNLOCK YOUR MONEY TYPE TO ACHIEVE
SPIRITUAL AND FINANCIAL ABUNDANCE
BRENT KESSEL
San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2008
336 pp.; $24.95 (cloth)
FOR many of us, money poses a
most unsettling irony: The more we
need money, the less there seems of it;
the more money we have, the more
we seem to need. Some of us have lit-
tle money and seem quite content,
while some of us have enormous
wealth yet lead wretched lives. All of
us to a great degree would like money
to behave itselfto show up when we
need it and not make too many
demands. But money never seems to
cooperate, leaving most of us feeling a
bit edgy and concerned.
Now, we could go to a financial
planner who could show us how to
save more, invest smarter, and budget
betterand no doubt, meeting with
a disciplined financial planner can
make all the difference in the world.
But according to Brent Kessel, the
unsettling irony we face isas the
title of his new book aptly pro-
claimsnot about the money but
about taming our wanting mind
and developing spiritual freedom.
The Wanting Mind is always crav-
ing an experience different from the
one it currently has[and] takes us
out of the present moment in its
attempts to make us happy in some
better tomorrow, Kessel points out.
And unless we inquire into the sub-
tle and often hidden workings of the
Wanting Mindincluding whether
its promises of happiness are actually
truewe remain its slave and will
likely spend a lifetime chasing images
of freedom.
For the skeptics among us, focusing
on taming our Wanting Mind
while the stock market crashes and
our mortgage payments balloon may
appear a bit naive at best. But rest
assured, Kessel is no slouch when it
comes to the practicality department.
As president and cofounder of Abacus
Wealth Partners, named one of the
top 250 wealth-management firms
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 12:55 PM Page 88
in the U.S. by Bloomberg Wealth
Manager, Kessel has the practical,
hands-on experience to offer sound
financial advice. But just as impor-
tant is the fact that he has been prac-
ticing yoga and meditation for over
fifteen years, giving him a unique
perspective for bridging the seemingly
disparate worlds of finance and spiri-
tuality. This bookis not a financial
how-to-book in spiritual clothing,
he writes. Rather, it is a profound
inner journey in which money is the
primary focusan intimate, practical
resource for coming to know yourself
through money. And throughout
this 336-page discourse packed with
practical exercises and exemplary case
studies, Kessel does just that: He
leads us on an insightful journey of
our inner life of money.
The core of the book revolves around
the Eight Financial Archetypes
styles of relating to money that can be
either expressed intelligently or
repressed into anxiety and confusion.
Using stories, practices, economic
facts, and just plain good writing,
Kessel outlines in detail these eight
collective financial habitual patterns.
The Guardian, always alert and
inclined to fret about money, is the
worrier within us. The Pleasure Seeker, a
bit brash and fascinated with having
fun, is our impulsive buyer. The
Idealist stands aloof, above the dis-
tasteful discourse of commerce, seek-
ing a higher vision, while the Saver
struggles with impoverishment and
seeks reassurance in abundance. The
Star wants attention, and the Innocent
sticks his head in the sand, hoping
for the best. The Caretaker seeks har-
mony, often going overboard with
generosity, while the Empire Builder
is the part of us that thrives on power
and innovation.
Kessel does a splendid job guiding
us through these styles of relating to
wealth to help us discover our Core
Storythe conflict we feel between
our vision of freedom and how we pro-
gram ourselves for defense against pain
and suffering. For Kessel, exploring
and resolving this conflict is central if
we want to cultivate spiritual health
while we engage the daily challenges
of livelihood and material wealth. And
he outlines an excellent exercise to
help bring this conflict into sharp per-
sonal focus for reflection.
Of course, Kessel ends his book
with practical advice about managing
diversified portfolios, unearthing hid-
den fees, and planning estates, lest he
be accused of writing some Pollyanna
New Age theory. And his financial
advice is sound indeed.
But what makes Its Not About the
Money truly a refreshing addition to
the spirituality and livelihood genre
is how it helps the reader explore the
powerful and deeply influential
impact our emotions have on our
daily challenge of making a living.
Instead of taking the predictable
road of trying to solve our money
problems, Kessel skillfully reveals
the natural wisdom of our feelings
about money: we all possess an
innate wisdom that, when properly
cultivated, reveals how we can be
spiritually free and confident in a
world of material possessions.
Michael Carroll is a former corporate exec-
utive, a Buddhist teacher, and the author
of Awake at Work and The Mindful
Leader. His consulting group, AAW
Associates (awakeatwork.net), specializes
in applying mindfulness to challenges in
organizational settings.
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 89
AN APPEAL FOR
THE PRECIOUSSEEDS OF TIBET
Children, nuns and monks continue to escape
from Tibet by making a perilous journey across
the Himalayas to seek freedom in Nepal and
India. Many arrive traumatized and destitute.
Through sponsorship of as little as $3.50 to
$33.00 a month, you can help save a life and
preserve the Tibetan culture.
877-TIBET-AID www.tibetaid.org
books
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 12:55 PM Page 89
90 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
film reviews books reviews
The Strength of
Two Roots
A young biracial American returns
to his mothers Thai village to
become a monk.
JOAN DUNCAN OLIVER
A CHANT TO SOOTHE WILD ELEPHANTS:
A MEMOIR
JAED COFFIN
Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2008
224 pp., $16.00 (paper)
YOU have to be somebody before
you can be nobody, the psychologist
Jack Engler famously wrote. For ado-
lescents, the quest for identity is an
accepted rite of passage; for many
people, Who am I? remains a life-
long koan.
For Jaed Coffin, author of A Chant to
Soothe Wild Elephants, the question had
particular resonance. A look-krung
Thai for half-white childhes the
son of a Thai mother and an
American father who met and mar-
ried on a military base in Southeast
Asia during the Vietnam War, moved
to the United States, then divorced
when Coffin was two. How he chose
to resolve his identity crisis follows in
the tradition of young men through-
out southern Asia: He became a monk
at Wat Takwean, the temple in
Panomsarakram, his mothers village
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 12:55 PM Page 90
in Thailand. A Chant to Soothe Wild
Elephants chronicles that experience.
Its worth reading this book twice.
Once for the storyabsorbing and, at
times, amusingand once more for
the poetry: crystalline observations of
people and place that float alongside
the narrative. What could have been a
simple coming-of-age tale is, in
Coffins hands, a wry, at times lyrical
commentary on cultural identity and
Buddhist practice.
Coffins name signals his dual her-
itage. His mother chose Jaed (he
doesnt translate it, but one guesses
shes referring to jade) in the hope
that it would give him a strong
mind and a compassionate heart.
His surname is as quintessentially
Yankee as Brunswick, Maine, where
Coffin and his older sister were raised
by their mother. Apart from her, the
only Asians he encountered in the
lily-white community worked
behind the counters in Chinese
restaurants. Still, notwithstanding
the occasional tauntChinese
freak and fucking refugeeCoffin
seems to have weathered his youth
with little sense of dislocation. His
parents, we gather, saw to that.
One night, while Coffin and his
father were watching reruns of the
TV show Kung Fu, his dad replayed a
moment when Master Po, the old
Chinese teacher in the series, tells his
biracial protg, Caine, You have
two roots, explaining that a plant
with two roots is stronger than a
plant with one. Coffins father
drilled home the message: You get
that, son?
During a childhood visit to
Panomsarakram for his grandfathers
funeral, Coffin was told by a temple
monk he should return and ordain.
But it was not until he had an ado-
lescent philosophical crisis that an
interest in Buddhism emerged.
Reading Alan Wattss The Way of Zen,
Coffin dismissed Watts as a phony
but concluded that everything in the
material world [is] fake and meaning-
less. In college, he shaved his head,
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 91
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 12:55 PM Page 91
began to identify with his Asian roots,
and secretly believed his heritage gave
him privileged insight into ancient
sutras. There was only one way to
resolve his spiritual and cultural crisis,
he decided: He arranged a travel grant
to Thailand and Wat Takwean.
If at times Coffins quest seems less
urgent than hes led us to believe, it
may be because were diverted by his
window on Thai Buddhist practice,
both lay and monastic. How different
it is from the convert Buddhist expe-
rience in the West. Curious about
Buddhism in America, a monk asks
Coffin, Is it good? His reply: It is
expensive. Hes thinking of all the
meditation retreats and workshops
run by white men with long beards
and attractive women with fit yoga
bodies. Suffice it to say that his
adventures as a Luang Peeholy
brotherinvolve nothing of the sort.
We watch Coffins fumbling attempts
to follow temple procedure and his
puzzlement that so many of the
monks, instead of meditating, spend
their days reading newspapers or nap-
ping or watching reruns of NBA
games on TV. One young monk tells
Coffin he has ordained for two weeks
to please his grandmother; his room,
stacked with food and cartons of cig-
arettes, made it look like he was
away at summer camp.
Among the other monks we meet
is Narong: Assigned to teach Coffin
the dharma, he babbles fractured
English and god-language as the
two spend a week wandering in the
forest. And there is Boi, the temple
boy who gives the horrified Coffin a
lesson in impermanence: Same-
same, Boi explains as he tosses a
dead puppy on the rubbish heap atop
some wilted flowers. Coffins most
penetratingand enduringlesson
comes from the Luang Pa, or holy
father, of the forest temple. The
Buddha isnt to be found in all those
places where Coffin has been looking,
the elder monk says, but in the heart
that is always mai nae jaithe not-
sure heart.
Other lessons come from Coffins
encounters with his colorful rela-
tives, though they, too, bring him no
closer to resolving his identity crisis.
At one point a family friend chides
Coffin for his indecisiveness about
his beliefs: If your uncle [a crack
para-sailor], the shortest man in
Panomsarakram, has the courage to
92 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
books reviews
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 12:55 PM Page 92
go higher than everyone else, then
why are you not able to make up
your mind?
Some of the most evocative moments
in the book are not dharmic but
descriptive. Coffin recalls watching a
traditional dancer at his grandfathers
funeral twirling her golden-tipped
fingers like spinning flowers. His
first night back in Panomsarakram
brings up childhood memories: The
darkness was the same darkness Id
known as a boy, and I always felt
bound to it like a thief or a stow-
away. Sitting by the canal, he pic-
tures his mother in the same spot
forty years before: I began to think
of the brown oily water of the canal
as a kind of blood, and that each
night I was bathing in the liquid of
my ancestry. At Coffins ordination
ceremony, thirty monks were spread
across a stage in an orange fan, and
when his mother bowed deeply at his
feet, never had she seemed so barely
my mother, and never had I felt so
barely her son. Coffin arrives at Wat
Takwean speaking only marginal
Thai, but the Luang Pa of the temple
fares little better with English at
their first meeting: I waited while
he stared at the ceiling, searching for
the word as if it was a bird trapped in
the rafters.
Two and a half months after his
ordination, Coffin disrobes and
returns home to finish college. There
have been no epiphanies, though
there are hints hes made peace with
his not-sure heart. Fast forward a few
years, and Coffin is back from his
post-college travels and settling down
to be a writer. In a book of Thai
poems he finds the chant of the mem-
oirs title. It tells of wild elephants
trapped by the kings men, who kick
and scream at being forced into cap-
tivity. But once theyre placated by
the monks chanting, they see that
living in the palace is an honor, and
they bow before the king. Give up
your kicking, fighting, and thrashing
about/Soothe your vicious temper,
the verses say. Once you are dutiful
and valiant in battle/You will be well
fed and content.
Coffin, we sense, is done with
kickingand is on his way to con-
tentment.
Tricycles reviews editor, Joan Duncan Oliver,
is the author, most recently, of Coffee with
the Buddha.
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 93
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94 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
books reviews
Essential and Pure
Core Principles in Shin Buddhism
JEFF WILSON
FOR more than a hundred years,
American Pure Land Buddhists have
been publishing sutra commentaries,
dharma talks, and personal reflec-
tions. Indeed, those affiliated with
Jodo Shinshuliterally the true
school of the Pure Land, often called
Shin Buddhismhave produced far
more Buddhist works in America
than any other sect. Why, then, are
this venerable Buddhist publishing
tradition and the many small presses
that support it relatively unknown
outside Pure Land circles? Most
Tricycle readers are probably familiar
with Wisdom Publications and
Shambhala Publications, but how
many have heard of Buddhist Study
Center Press or the Nembutsu Press?
Theres a Catch-22 here. The Pure
Land community is large enough
that its never had to court main-
stream bookstores; the widespread
network of Shin temples and period-
icals ensures that new books will get
attention from a built-in audience.
Many of these books were never
intended to turn a substantial profit
anywaythey are seen as offerings of
the dharma, not commercial enter-
prises. Yet the relative lack of need
for outreach by the Pure Land com-
munitiessome of which are nur-
turing their fifth and sixth genera-
tions of American Buddhists
means that their publications are
often eclipsed by those of smaller
and more recent imports, such as
Tibetan Buddhism and Vipassana.
These traditions, along with Zen,
have actively marketed themselves to
a white, affluent American audience
that often encounters Buddhism in
the bookstore, rather than in a tradi-
tional temple.
The net effect is that, despite the
regular appearance of new books on
Pure Land Buddhism, the wider read-
ing public is aware only of the one or
two books produced annually by
mainstream presses. The most recent
of these is The Essential Shinran: A
Buddhist Path of True Entrusting
(World Wisdom, 2007), edited by
Alfred Bloom. With The Essential
Shinran, Blooma scholar and Shin
priest influential in Buddhist circles
since the 1965 publication of his
Shinrans Gospel of Pure Grace
attempts to deepen the Wests appre-
ciation for Shinran, the thirteenth-
century founder of Jodo Shinshu and
one of Japans most important reli-
gious thinkers. As Bloom describes it,
Shinrans Pure Land teaching is an
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 12:55 PM Page 94
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 95
inclusive, human faith. It is non-
authoritarian, non-dogmatic, egalitar-
ian, non-superstitious religious faith.
Through deepening religious under-
standing it liberates people from reli-
gious intimidation and oppression,
which trade on the ignorance of peo-
ple and their desire for security.
Shinrans teaching does not encourage
blind faith at the expense of ones rea-
son and understanding.
To counter common misconcep-
tions of the Pure Land tradition, par-
ticularly among Western convert
Buddhists, Bloom takes care to point
out Shinrans vigorous opposition to
superstition and ignorance. Pure
Land Buddhism has some superficial
similarities to monotheism, which
sometimes leads to ill-informed
characterizations of Jodo Shinshu
and related traditions by disgruntled
ex-Christians. However, any similari-
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 12:55 PM Page 95
ties between Pure Land and
Christianity are far fewer than over-
laps between Vajrayana and
Hinduism, for example, or Zen
Buddhism and Confucianism. If any-
thing, we could say that Pure Land
takes advantage of the strengths of a
rather Unitarian quasi-monotheistic
religious approach but does so with-
in a context of Buddhist insight into
emptiness and liberation.
By Shinrans time the vast pan-
theon of Mahayana Buddhism had
multiplied to the point where there
was a Buddha or spirit under virtu-
ally every stone, all demanding ven-
eration through prayer, ritual, and
(sometimes expensive) offerings and
ceremonies. Pure Lands focus on
Amida Buddhaa single figure
representing wisdom, compassion,
and nirvanawas a way of cutting
through the pomp and superstition
surrounding Japanese Buddhism and
returning to core principles, while at
the same time maintaining a devo-
tional practice for ordinary laypeople
who couldnt hope to meditate at
length or adhere to hundreds of
monastic precepts. In The Essential
Shinran, Bloom elucidates the thor-
oughly Mahayana Buddhist founda-
tion of Shinrans ideas about reliance
on Amida Buddha:
Though this teaching may appear
similar to ideas in Western religion,
there is a world of difference result-
ing from its root in Mahayana
Buddhist philosophy. Mahayana
teaching distinguishes between con-
ventional thought and belief and the
truth of the absolute realm. The
level of conventional thought
denotes thinking based on naive
realism and objectivity. Such knowl-
edge informs our egocentrism and
perpetuates our ignorance of our
true nature and of the world. The
absolute truth, while inconceivable
and inexpressible, exposes the unre-
ality and distortions created by our
delusory, self-centered knowledge
and interests. The Mahayana per-
spective on religion rejects the liter-
alism, dogmatism, objectivism, and
moralism found in many religious
traditions. Mahayana Buddhism
recognizes that all people are at dif-
ferent stages of spiritual develop-
ment and affirms people as they are.
It is a more accepting, compassion-
ate teaching.
THE dialectic between truth in its
ultimate nature and in its form adapt-
ed to our current capacities is the
engine that drove Shinrans quest for
an authentic Buddhist spirituality
available to everyone, not just monks
and members of the elite. This dis-
tinction between absolute and con-
ventional truth appears in his core
teachings, as numerous passages of
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The Essential Shinran demonstrate. For
example, Shinran wrote: Supreme
Buddha is formless, and because of
being formless is called jinen (natural-
ness). Buddha, when appearing with
form, is not called supreme nirvana.
In order to make it known that
supreme Buddha is formless (empti-
ness), the name Amida Buddha is
expressly used; so I have been
taught. Shinran and his school
understand Amida to be a symbol for
the Buddha-nature that all beings are
universally endowed with. Because
Amidas light embraces all beings and
never abandons anyone, all creatures
without exception will be liberated
from suffering and ignorance.
The Essential Shinran is not a
straightforward exposition of Jodo
Shinshu doctrine and practice but
rather a masterfully organized refer-
ence tool that collects and arranges
key ideas from Shinrans voluminous
writings. In some ways it is a map of
The Collected Works of Shinran, a
groundbreaking translation of Shinrans
complete writings published in 1997
by the Hongwanji International Center.
The importance of The Collected Works
becomes clear when we consider that
there is no similar collection in English
for any of the other major founders of
Japanese Buddhism: Dogen, Eisai,
Saicho, Honen, Nichiren, and Kukai.
Nor do we have such a comprehensive
collection for comparable great thinkers
from other parts of Buddhist Asia, such
as Nagarjuna, Buddhaghosa, and
Tsongkhapa.
Of course, having such abundant
riches as are provided by The Collected
Works presents its own challenges.
Shinrans life encompassed ninety
years of one of the most pivotal eras in
Japanese history, and his writings
range from profoundly abstruse sutra
commentaries for fellow scholars to
colloquial letters intended to be read
aloud to illiterate peasants. A mine of
ideas like this requires well-informed
guidance, such as Bloom offers in The
Essential Shinran.
Bloom has organized The Essential
Shinran along the lines of Shinrans mag-
num opus, Kyogyoshinsho (Teaching,
Practice, Faith, and Realization), a
collection of quotations from sutras
and commentaries on various topics
with Shinrans interpretive notes. For
The Essential Shinran, Bloom has taken
extracts from Shinrans own words and
provided short introductions or anno-
tations that are clear and helpful. (He
provides full citations so that readers
can go to The Collected Works and
explore the context of the quotes.)
The Essential Shinran also includes
substantial biographical information.
Shinrans life is easily one of the most
interesting of any historical monk:
ordained at age nine, he practiced for
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decades in the greatest monastic school
of Japan. His convictions led him into
the new Pure Land community, for
which he was persecuted by the
emperor, who was acting on behalf of
the Buddhist establishment, which
saw the egalitarian Pure Land
approach as a threat. Shinran endured
exile, humiliation, and governmental
cancellation of his ordination. But
even in the far provinces where he was
sent to die, he held on to his faith in
Amida and developed a new Buddhist
path suited for the peasants and fish-
ermen he encountered. He married
and raised a family, and spread the
Pure Land way in parts of Japan and
Japanese society ignored by the main-
stream Buddhist schools of the day.
His teaching that Amida embraced
the lowly led to the formation of peas-
ant associations that threw off the
shackles of provincial landlords and
to self-governing, utopian Buddhist
societiessome of which lasted for
nearly a century before being
destroyed. Shinrans relevance contin-
ues today: his status as neither monk
nor layperson offers one possible
model for householder Buddhists in
the West.
For those who are looking to go
deeper into Shinrans thought but
are intimidated by the complexity of
works like Kyogyoshinsho, The
Essential Shinran is a highly useful
tool, particularly for understanding
how Shinran approached specific
topics, such as Buddha-nature, the
Pure Land, and practice. Bloom has
lined up everything Shinran wrote
about each topic, eliminating the
need to hunt through his extensive
writings for relevant passages. Thus
the reader can discover, for example,
the nuances of shinjinthe mind
that awakens to the falsity of the ego
and relies instead on power beyond
the self, leading to Buddhahood. As
Blooms quotes make clear, shinjin is
neither a dogmatic adherence to
faith nor a dry acknowledgment of
no-self but a deeply transformative
moment of overwhelming joy, lead-
ing to a fresh approach to religion
through the practice of gratitude
and humility.
Like The Collected Works, Blooms
Essential Shinran has the potential to
dramatically increase Western appre-
ciation of one of the largest, yet least
understood forms of Buddhism. As
such, the book ranks among the most
important publications on Pure Land
Buddhism of the past decade, valu-
able to scholars and Buddhist practi-
tioners alike.
Contributing editor Jeff Wilson is an assis-
tant professor of Religious Studies and East
Asian Studies at Renison College, in
Waterloo, Ontario.
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Historys neither a searchlight nor a
camera: its a flickering candle we use
to read the marks on the wall as we
crawl from that cave where only shad-
ows of images play.
Askold Melnyczuk
BUDDHISTS have an unusual
view of history. On the one hand, we
are always looking backward. We
study ancient texts and traditions.
Zen monks receive lineage papers
tracing the dharma all the way back
from teacher to teacher to the great
historical Buddha, while Tibetan
tulkus can trace their own spiritual lin-
eage of past incarnations for centuries.
On the other hand, we have the fre-
quent metaphor of a stream, carrying
us forward to enlightenment and,
ultimately, to nirvana. We have the
Buddhas exhortation in the Heart
Sutra to go beyond, to that other
shore. Yet the Zen masters say that
this other shore is simply our original
nature. Enlightenment is our own
prior condition, what the late
Japanese thinker Masao Abe termed
the return which is simultaneously
an advance. History, in other words,
is both our path and our destination.
Buddhist author Askold
Melnyczuks bold, ambitious new
novel spans vast swaths of the twenti-
eth century and the early years of the
twenty-first, and is simultaneously a
moving account of one mans struggle
with his own past and an illuminat-
ing meditation on our relationship
our obligationto history and truth.
In the opening pages of The House of
Widows, a minor functionary at the
American Embassy in Vienna receives
a package. This bulky manila mailer
sits uncomfortably on James Paks
desk, sandwiched between various
official files and Paks own unfinished
memoir. It is a collection of secret tes-
timonies recorded from U.S. soldiers
in Iraq, documentary evidence of
unspeakable crimes including tor-
ture, beheadings, rapethe catalogue
raisonn of all wars. So what should
he do? And why has someone smug-
gled these files to him, the forty-year-
old Assistant to the U.S. Counsel of
Public Affairsmerely an ashtray
in the diplomatic world? As he asks
himself: Why pass such ugly truths
on to the public, whose delicate sensi-
bilities might short-circuit? Why
spread the poison?
What follows is a fascinating chron-
icle of the tangled web of family his-
tory and world events that led James
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 99
History and Truth
The path to the present
DAN ZIGMOND
THE HOUSE OF WIDOWS
ASKOLD MELNYCZUK
St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2008
256 pp.; $16.00 (paper)
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 12:55 PM Page 99
to sit in that Vienna office, facing
those difficult questions. Soon after
its opening in this sadly recognizable
present-day world, the book jumps
back sixteen years to Jamess first visit
to Europe, just as the Iron Curtain
between East and West was parting.
Jamess father had committed suicide
two weeks before, leaving him a
strange and macabre bequest: a
ragged World War IIera British mil-
itary ID, a heavy, cracked jar found
buried in a closet, and a letter that
James couldnt read, written in
Ukrainian and addressed to his
fathers mother, Vera, whom James
had never met. James carries this
meager stash first to England, where
he meets Marian, an old friend of his
fathers, and Selena, her beautiful and
enigmatic adopted daughter. From
there he travels to Vienna and to Vera,
whose life after the war turns out to
be not at all as James had grown up
believing and whose illicit enterprise
provides the title of the book.
Within these two wholly engross-
ing narratives, Melnyczuk weaves
yet a third, that of Jamess father,
Andrew, who grew up in London as
a ward of Marians family long
before immigrating to the United
States. Vera had sent Andrew, at the
age of ten, alone to England to
escape the mounting violence in
Ukraine, and he arrived at the
Liverpool docks on a cold and gray
day as lost as any boy youll find.
Through Marians account of
Andrews formative years, we finally
learn how he came to serve in the
British military, the true contents of
that mysterious jar, and the terrible
choices behind both.
Melnyczukdirector of creative writ-
ing at the University of Massachusetts
Boston and a member of the graduate
Writing Seminars core faculty at
Bennington Collegeis the author of
two previous novels, both of which
also take the experience of Ukrainian
immigrants as their launching point
and delve into the myriad ways our
past informs our future. Of the major
three stories that comprise this newest
novel, the account of Jamess later life
in Vienna is the least deeply developed,
amounting to just a few dozen pages
that bookend the core chapters. But
these crucial passages punch well
above their apparent weight.
Melnyczuks eye for detail immerses
us in modern Vienna quickly and
convincingly, with trees itching to
blossom in early May and blond
whippets from Prague flocking to
the newly thriving city. And it is in
this contemporary setting that James
must face the culmination of his true
inheritance, both physical and
karmic. Who is to blame for the
unspeakable suffering in Iraq?
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Weve already asked these questions
once, argues a doctor with the Red
Crescent, referring James to the
Nuremberg Trials. But did we
answer them?
Although there are a few overt ref-
erences to Buddhism scattered
throughout the booka flirtatious
Indian woman describes her own
pendulous earlobes as one of the
eighty-four signs of the Buddha, and
two other characters quote the
Buddhas First Noble Truththe real
influence of the dharma is, as
Melnyczuk says of his Boston-area
sangha in the acknowledgments,
invisible yet everywhere. Melnyczuks
nearly perfect prose and spirited dia-
logue provide a treasure trove of
inspired wisdoms, almost endlessly
quotable. James comes to realize, for
example, that the only way he can
understand his familys convoluted his-
tory is to insist on looking squarely at
everything. Or consider these lines,
spoken by one of Jamess traveling com-
panions on a train in Eastern Europe
during that fateful summer in 1989:
Most of us live in imaginary
time. Fantasyland. In our heads:
our dreams, hopes, neuroses. Not
here. Here, things get real in a
way were not used to. Pay atten-
tion, or youll get hurt. Here
neuroses find bodies. We think
the universe is closed, contained,
self-sufficient. In fact, its wide
open, and no matter how you try,
you cant keep this reality out.
Not every loose string is tied up
satisfactorily in the end. A severed
hand, for example, appears and then
seems to be forgotten a little too
quickly. And by the time the con-
tents of that jar are revealed to be not
quite what we were led to imagine,
subsequent events have rendered this
unexpected twist largely irrelevant.
But perhaps this is exactly the point.
Among the many revelations
Melnyczuk has packed into his finely
crafted novel lies the question of how
much we can ever know about even
our own personal history, let alone
the history of others. As the present-
day James declares early on, All is
layers: stacks on stacks, facts cover-
ing fictions resting on facts, sedi-
ments of a century hardly begun yet
already sagging, waiting for the
inevitable tectonic shifts to shake
things up. Where so many writers
might try to boil these wonderful
stories down to some easy essence,
Melnyczuks masterful novel serves
up all the layers.
Contributing editor Dan Zigmond is a father,
writer, and Zen priest living in Menlo Park,
California.
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H
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O

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O
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E

V
I
D
E
O
102 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
books
A Devastating
Introspection
The privileged and
the impoverished
ELIOT FINTUSHEL
THE FEVER
CARLO GABRIEL NERO, DIRECTOR
HBO Home Video, 2007
DVD; $26.98
IN a famous pub scene in D. A.
Pennebakers 1967 documentary film
Dont Look Back, the young Bob Dylan
tells a Time reporter what his magazine
would look like if it were really inter-
ested in the truth: a plain picture of a
tramp vomiting into the sewer . . . and
next door, Mr. Rockefeller.
Like many of us, consciously or
unconsciously, Mr. Rockefeller and
Time wanted to obscure a situation
that Dylan and, more recently,
Wallace Shawn have sought to illu-
minate. The thesis of The Fevera
2004 film now available on DVD,
adapted by Shawn and director Carlo
Gabriel Nero from Shawns stage
playis that a person is more truly
defined by politico-economic class
than by inner experience. Scratching
and screaming, but driven to the dis-
covery by her own curiosity and con-
science, the protagonist realizes at last
that the interiority she has always so
deeply prized is . . . a dodge. Her views
are no better than bourgeois apologies
of her friends, which, she comes to
realize, are completely interchange-
able; our beliefs reflect our station
in society. More fundamental than
her love of Beethoven and Matisse is
the fact that she is a well-to-do
Englishwoman desperately dependent
on the disenfranchisement of hordes
of the poor, both at present and in the
paston their oppression, abuse,
rape, torture, and slaughter.
There is a paradox at the center of
this view, in that the film itself repre-
sents an inner journey, a devastating
introspection. Shawn, at one point,
revived his play as a monologue, the
reflections of someone stuck in a
third-world hotel room, and the
movie retains this feel. A lot of
footage is devoted to close-ups of
Vanessa Redgrave against a blank
mauve screen. Occasional sequences
of animated line drawings in warm
pastels, rapid jump cuts, as in a flip
picture book, and melodramatic
comic-strip staging reinforce the
sense of interiority, twilight tones of
subjectivity over everything. Indeed,
the whole film unfolds as a flashback,
events remembered and considered by
the protagonist as she vomits and
writhes on the bathroom floor.
How did she get here? A series of
coincidences shakes her, a stylish older
woman, from the comfort of her plush
film reviews
Vanessa Redgrave in The Fever
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 12:55 PM Page 102
office job, fancy apartment, and high-
cultural pastimes. First, she becomes
aware of ubiquitous offhand remarks,
both by friends and by strangers,
involving blanket condemnations of
the rich as social pariahs. I dont give a
fuck if theyre nice or not, says a tippler
at an art show, because the actual func-
tion of the rich in society is cruel and
destructive. Someone anonymously
leaves a copy of Karl Marxs Capital at
the womans doorstep, and she reads all
about the fetishism of commodities, a
concept that she rightly experiences as
a challenge to her own way of life.
We see the pleasure she takes in
buying fancy stockings and in sur-
rounding herself with nice things,
things she deserves to have, she
believes, because she can afford them.
We see her panic when deprived of a
small but expected itemher morn-
ing coffee. In dreams and in remem-
brance, Christmas presents become a
symbol of the false consciousness that
separates the products of labor from
the circumstances of their production.
As Marx showed, it is as if a social
relation existed between money and
commodities instead of between
human beings; money, rather than
human need, determines what will be
produced by whomand at what
human cost. When, in a dream, the
protagonist sees through the curtain
of capitalist ideology to the suffering
on the other side of the dolls in pretty
paper, she shrieks to her astonished
dream family that although she loves
them, she can no longer bear to give
them presents.
A stranger at a bus stop gives the
woman a medallion earring from an
unnamed Eastern European nation
where a socialist revolution has
recently taken place. The medallion is
inscribed: The people united cannot
be defeated. By chance, she then
shares a cab with an expatriate of that
nation (who can now return). He
exhorts her to visit, and she does so.
(The stranger at the bus stop is played
by Redgraves daughter, Joely
Richardson, and Nero, the films
director, is Redgraves son.)
The socialist paradise we are then
shown strongly reminded me of revo-
lutionary Cuba as it was portrayed by
sympathetic visitors I met in the late
1960s. (Happy Cubans in harmo-
nious living arrangements were
working hard against great odds, but
with universal literacy, health care,
and so forth.) Here, over ice cream
sundaes, a socially conscious reporter,
played by Michael Moore, persuades
the protagonist to visit, for contrast,
one of the neighboring fascist states.
There she sees miserable poverty, des-
titution, oppression, death squads,
and brutal police, alongside protect-
ed areas of luxury and wealth. (Only
here, and in a sequence near the end
in which she debates her serene,
beatific, better self, is this otherwise
absorbing film tainted with a didac-
tic banality that even superior acting
cannot redeem.)
While staying at a high-class hotel
in the fascist country, the woman
becomes feverish. Now she experi-
ences a dark night of the soul, during
which she must defend the sanctity of
her inner life against her demons, who
want to define her by her (politico-
economic) history.
The womans vision of the world
according to Marxthe real world
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where, to use Allen Ginsbergs
phrase, you see whats at the end of
everybodys forkterrifies her, but
isnt it the same as Siddharthas leg-
endary rose-apple tree vision? As a
child, sitting under a rose-apple tree,
so the story goes, he became aware of
all the creatures being smashed up
(to use a favorite Noam Chomsky
phrase) under the hooves of his
fathers parading animalsthe inter-
dependence of joys and sorrows. It
could just as well have been the pro-
letariat and the bourgeoisie. Why did
the same vision have one effect on
Siddhartha (transcendent bliss),
another on Karl Marx (revolutionary
ardor), and on our protagonist, quite
another (crushing guilt)?
Simple, say the demons: because
of their class outlook. Siddhartha
was a patrician, Marx identified
with the working class, and our pro-
tagonist is a bourgeoise (albeit a
bourgeoise in crisis).
IN an article for Turning Wheel
(Summer 1993: Why Buddhists
Should Read Marx), Tricycle editor-
at-large Andrew Cooper pointed out
that the Zen meal chant is fundamen-
tally in harmony with Marxs account
of the secret of commodities in capi-
talist societies. We are enjoined to
remember the workread, misery
that feeds us. Cooper writes: Misery
inheres in the [capitalist] production
system, and all the best intentions in
the world cannot change that.
The conflict of inner and outer
realities is, of course, quite a live
issue for Buddhist practitioners. The
conscience that drives us inward also
pricks us for abandoning everything
outside. Sometimes it comes up as an
obstruction to meditation, distract-
ing thoughts about duties and
responsibilities outside the medita-
tion hall, when not to respond to the
call appears to be a virtuous act! On
the storied night under the Bo tree,
at the end of which the Buddha
enters enlightenment, one of the
tempter Maras challenges to the
Buddha-to-be is What right do you
have to become enlightened? In his
famous response, Siddhartha calls
upon the earth as witness, by touch-
ing it. It is everywhere soaked with
his blood: his suffering is one with
the worlds.
Many of our parents or children or
friends, not to mention enemiesour
Marashave accused us of self-indul-
gence or irresponsibility for our
navel-gazing. That we are concerned
about the accusation is proved by the
existence of so many aphorisms and
anecdotes that seem designed to neu-
tralize it. While I was at the
Rochester Zen Center, people would
routinely insist that a Rohatsu
sesshin, for examplea sleepless, leg-
torching, shoulder-bruising (the Zen
stick), mind-wracking (koan prac-
tice), heart-wrenching week of sit-
tingwas the hardest thing a human
being could endure, bar nothing: boot
camp, gulag, trench war, shipwreck,
grinding poverty, torture table, what-
ever. A ridiculous claim, but such was
our zealotry. Often, the teacher, Philip
Kapleau Roshi, would cite the exam-
ple of the solitary monk in a mountain
cave, who, Roshi said, was vitally
helping the world just by the power of
his meditation.
Then theres the Christian excuse,
the one that is put in Jesuss mouth in
Matthew 26:11For ye have the
poor always with you; but me ye have
not always. Bourgeois excuses, all of
them. After seeing The Fever, I am
inclined to confess that we Zennies
were an economically privileged
group, and whatever emptiness we
aspired to in the mind was nullified
by the plenty in our pockets.
Its interesting to contrast the per-
spective of The Fever with that of My
Dinner with Andr, an earlier Shawn
composition (with Andr Gregory).
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There, the challenge is not the mate-
rial, politico-economic reality but a
neglected spiritual reality. To Andr
Gregorys urgent Grotowskian call to
transcendence, Shawns character (he
pretty much plays himself in Dinner)
responds with a celebration of the
everyday, of simple comforts and quo-
tidian actsand, in a way, he wins
the argument. Dinner ends with
Wally (Shawn) going home to his
Debbie, eager to tell her all about the
fun he had talking with Andr. By
contrast, the protagonist of The Fever
decisively loses the argument. She
and weare pronounced guilty of
complicity in the suffering of the
worlds poor, and there will be no
deferral, no suspended sentence, no
mercy, no excuse. And so far as we
know, no remedy, either. It is the
nightmare of our condition. There is,
however, struggle, in countless forms,
and with that comes some measure of
hope, no longer for the remedy of a
great revolution but for small victo-
ries: hope tempered by anguish.
Of course, there is a Christians reme-
dy, the secret of passing through the eye
of the needle, to go and sell that thou
hast, and give to the poor (Matthew
19:21), but what are we to make of the
postscript: and come and follow me?
From the perspective of The Fever, that
is another evasionan opium, Marx
called it. In an ambiguous scene,
whether intentionally so or not, the
protagonist attends a church service in
the evil country and hears a preacher
whom she thinks must be describing
horrible atrocitiesbut a worshipper
(played by Angelina Jolie) translates for
her: The sermon is an exhortation to
forgiveness. That worshipper, later the
womans confidante, turns out to be a
gun-toting revolutionary.
We teeter on a ridgepole. Cross your
legs and lower your eyes: The truth is
certainly within. Then stand up and
open them: You are what you see, your
money and its history. Deny one side
of this dilemma and you are an enemy
of the people; ignore the other, and
you are your own enemy.
Defending the Beatniks from accu-
sations of navel-gazing social irrespon-
sibility, Jack Kerouac protested,
Who wouldnt help a dying man on
an empty road? That may sound
childish, but I believe that no one
could have given a deeper or more
decisive answer. That is, our essential
humanity must save usand nothing
else can. There are, however, two cru-
cial provisos: (1) we have to clear the
channel to our own humanity; and (2)
we have to see those dying people on
that empty road.
Contributing editor Eliot Fintushels last essay
for Tricycle, Remembrance of Toni Packer,
appeared in the Summer 2007 issue.
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 105
What do Buddhism and physics have in common?
Readers will surely be rewarded by the light
this book shines on the corresponding, but
quite different, approaches to reality taken
by Tibetan Buddhism and modern physics.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Tibetan Buddhism & Modern Physics
TOWARD A UNION OF LOVE AND KNOWLEDGE
By Vic Manseld
Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
www.templetonpress.org
1-800-621-2736
More than you might think!
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 12:55 PM Page 105
106 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
multimedia reviews
Unplug Yourself
Go on retreat with SHARON
SALZBERGwithout leaving home
MEDITATION may be our last,
best refuge from iPhones, Treos,
iPodsand our overscheduled lives.
Now Vipassana teacher Sharon
Salzberg has come up with a way we
can slow down, ditch our electronic
gadgetstemporarily, at leastand
go on retreat without leaving home.
Unplug, her new interactive kit
(Sounds True, 2008, $26.95), provides
everything you need to visit your
inner Wyoming (that place of
peace, spaciousness, clarity, and free-
dom that exists within each of us) for
a restorative hour or day or week-
end. This isnt just spa-in-a-box:
Salzberg packs thirty years of experi-
ence leading Buddhist retreats into
two-plus hours of guided meditations,
a set of contemplation cards, and a
companion guidebookall designed
to help us center the mind, let go of
limiting beliefs, deal with hindrances,
and open our hearts. There are two
CDs containing ten different medita-
tions drawn from traditional Buddhist
practices, including breath tech-
niques, mindful walking, and metta
(lovingkindness) practice. The thirty-
two flash cards offer pithy teachings
for reflection. (Example: Awareness
of the breath serves as a clear mir-
ror, not for or against anything
but simply to reflect the moment,
without the obstruction of concepts
and judgments.)
With basic tools for learning med-
itation and easing into the experi-
ence of solitude, Unplug is ideal for
beginners. But theres enough to
interest seasoned practitioners as
well: the teaching on dedicating
merit, for example, offers a fresh take
on interdependence. Throughout,
Salzbergs voice is calm and support-
ive. Unplugging, she assures us, is
an adventure: It allows us the space
to be creative and the freedom to
examine options.
Joan Duncan Oliver
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/16/08 4:47 PM Page 106
SARAH TODD
AN unplanned pregnancy, a rocky
romance, an unsatisfying job, and a
milestone birthday: Amanda, the
intrepid twenty-nine-year-old hero-
ine of ENLIGHTENMENT FOR IDIOTS
(Random House, 2008, $24.00 cloth,
384 pp.), has got a lot on her plate
even before a spiritual pilgrimage
gets thrown into
the mix. When
Amanda receives an
assignment to write
a travel guide for
aspiring awakened
ones, she finds her-
self in India, look-
ing for loveand
gurusin all the wrong places.
Written by Tricycle contributing
editor and yoga teacher Anne
Cushman, Enlightenment for Idiots traces,
with witty flair, Amandas encounters
with heartbreak, culture shock, yoga,
and a kooky traveling companion
named Devi Das. The novels warm-
hearted spirit is captured in the advice
Amanda receives from a friendly waiter:
What happens to us in life is for God
to decide. Whether to be happy or
notthat is our choice.
On her search for truth and happi-
ness, Amanda might have benefited
from Zen teacher Ezra Baydas new
guide to spiritual practice, ZEN HEART:
SIMPLE ADVICE FOR LIVING WITH MINDFUL-
NESS AND COMPASSION (Shambhala
Publications, 2008, $21.95 cloth, 208
pp.). Bayda recommends dividing the
practice of Zen into three stages: the
Me-Phase, in which we learn to rec-
ognize our deeply-rooted behaviors and
beliefs; Being Awareness, in which
the emphasis moves away from the self
toward practicing mindfulness, and
finally Being Kindness, in which the
practitioner learns to cultivate and con-
nect with the lovingkindness and com-
passion that are our true nature. Zen
Heart also includes several practices for
daily life: mapping the mind, gatha
walking meditation
(in which the practi-
tioner repeats a verse
silently as he or she
walks), and nightly
reflection. The book
is marked by Baydas
optimism: Rather
than become discouraged and guilt-rid-
den when we fall below our own expec-
tations, we are encouraged to strive for
self-knowledge without self-judgment.
The Buddha-curious everyman
might also find inspiration in THE
BUDDHAS TEACHINGS ON PROSPERITY: AT
HOME, AT WORK, IN THE WORLD (Wisdom
Publications, 2008, $16.95 paper, 200
pp.). Bhikkhu Basnagoda Rahula, a Sri
Lankan monk (and English Lit Ph.D.)
who teaches at the Houston Buddhist
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 107
books in brief reviews
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 4:10 PM Page 107
Vihara, aims to make Buddhist
teachings applicable to worldly matters,
from financial debt to proper parenting.
Occasionally, the authors interpreta-
tions can seem dated,
particularly when the
book addresses gen-
der roles (While he
might not mind
driving a decade-old,
rusty truck, she
would prefer a beau-
tiful new car, Bhikkhu Rahula writes).
Still, theres some good advice in this
straightforward book, and its organized
structure (lots of numbered lists, steps,
and summaries) makes it a handy
resource for secular readers who like
their Buddhism strained of abstractions.
Abstractions are the order of the day
in Vic Mansfields TIBETAN BUDDHISM
AND MODERN PHYSICS (Templeton
Foundation Press, 2008, $19.95 paper,
192 pp.), which takes up the Dalai
Lamas call for collaboration between
science and Buddhism. (The books
contributors represent the promise of
such a partnership: Mansfield is a pro-
fessor of physics and astronomy at
Colgate University, while the Dalai
Lama himself penned the foreword.)
Theres something in this book for
everyone: physics buffs can revel in
Mansfields discus-
sion of photons,
Einstein, and quan-
tum nonlocality,
while nonrocket
scientists will likely
be fascinated by his
insightful commen-
tary on the relationship between the
Buddhist principle of emptiness and
special relativityand how a better
understanding of modern physics
could help bring about a lasting
peace. Though Mansfield dapples his
book with intimidatingly titled dia-
grams like The Galaxy cluster as
gravitational lens, his ample use of
anecdotes and personal commentary
make even quantum physics seem sim-
ple enoughrelatively speaking.
How does Buddha-nature reveal
itself over time? A new translation of
Nagarjuna breaks down his classic
hymn to the process by which
Buddha-nature can surface. Translator
Karl Brunnhlzls IN PRAISE OF DHAR-
MADHATU (Snow Lion Publications,
2008, $29.95 cloth, 304 pp.) takes on
both the teachings of Nagarjuna, the
founder of the Madhyamaka (Middle
Path) school of Mahayana Buddhism,
and commentary by the 13
th
-century
Tibetan master Rangjung Dorje, the
Third Karmapa. Brunnhlzl hasnt
exactly written a beach book.
However, his thor-
ough, comprehen-
sive approach to his
subject makes the
book a useful refer-
ence for students.
And the three-stage
process of Buddha-
hood outlined by Nagarjunain
which ones innate Buddha-nature,
first buried, emerges as one follows the
path of bodhisattvas and eventually
flourishesbecomes more accessible
through Brunnhlzls clear prose.
The Tibetan bodhisattva Tara,
revered for her compassion and wis-
dom, is the Angelina Jolie of
Buddhismpeaceful warrior, mother-
protector, and noted beauty all in one.
As with any much-
admired public fig-
ure, there are many
who would like to
follow in her foot-
steps. Thanks to
SKILLFUL GRACE: TARA
PRACTICE FOR OUR
TIMES (North Atlantic Books, 2007,
$15.95 paper, 184 pp.), by the late
Kagyu masters Tulku Urgyen
Rinpoche and Trulshik Adeu
Rinpoche, eager readers now have a
lucid, elegant introduction to Tara prac-
tice and Vajrayana Buddhism at their
fingertips. Tulku Urgyen and Trulshik
Rinpoche ground the book in The
Essential Instruction on the Threefold
Excellence, the root treasure text by
Chogyur Lingpa, which aims to meld
all Buddhist schools into a single path
that one person can follow. With
guided meditations, yoga postures, and
visualizations, the emphasis here is on
action, and the authors take care to
acknowledge the challenges of practice.
Until true devotion arises genuinely,
they write of one practice, you need to
create a facsimile of devotion at the
beginning of each session. In other
words, fake it till you make it.
There is another place/for convers-
ing/heart to heart, Zen master Muso
Soseki wrote almost seven centuries
ago. The full moon/and the breeze/at
the half-open window. The timeless
words of Zen masters running the
gamut from the well-known (Dogen
and Bodhidharma) to the more obscure
(miscellaneous Chinese nuns) can be
found in ZEN SOURCEBOOK: TRADITIONAL
DOCUMENTS FROM CHINA, KOREA, AND
JAPAN, edited by Stephen Addiss,
with Stanley Lombardo and Judith
Roitman (Hackett Publishing
Company, 2008, $12.95 paper, 312
pp.). The teachings,
which come in many
formspoetry, let-
ters, and artwork
among themserve
as primary texts,
while pithy intro-
ductions provide his-
torical background on topics ranging
from the declining influence of Zen
masters in seventeenth-century Japan
to Korean master So Sahns famous
army of five thousand monks. This col-
lection of Zen delights offers plenty of
teachings to sink your teeth into,
including this Blue Cliff Record koan:
A monk asked Yun-men, What is the
teaching that goes beyond Buddhas and
Patriarchs? Yun-men said, A sesame
bun. Bon appetit.
108 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
books in brief reviews
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/16/08 4:54 PM Page 108
death, realizing that death
could come at any time and you need to prepare your
mind if youre going to face it with any finesse. At
other times, you can gladden or steady the mind sim-
ply by the way you focus on the breath itself. For
instance, breathing down into your hands and feet can
really anchor the mind when its concentration has
become shaky. When one spot in the body isnt enough
to hold your interest, try focusing on the breath in two
spots at once.
The important point is that youve now put yourself
in a position where you can experiment with the mind
and read the results of your experiments with greater
and greater accuracy. You can try exploring these skills
off the cushion as well: How do you gladden the mind
when youre sick? How do you steady the mind when
dealing with a difficult person?
As for releasing the mind from its burdens, you pre-
pare for the ultimate freedom of nirvana first by releas-
ing the mind from any awkwardness in its concentra-
tion. Once the mind has settled down, check to see if
there are any ways you can refine the stillness. For
instance, in the beginning stages of concentration you
need to keep directing your thoughts to the breath,
evaluating and adjusting it to make it more agreeable.
But eventually the mind grows so still that evaluating
the breath is no longer necessary. So you figure out
how to make the mind one with the breath, and in
that way you release the mind into a more intense and
refreshing state of ease.
As you expand your skills in this way, the intentions
that youve been using to shape your experience of
body and mind become more and more transparent.
At this point, the Buddha suggests revisiting the
theme of inconstancy, learning to look for it in the
effects of every intention. You see that even the best
states produced by skillful intentionsthe most solid
and refined states of concentrationwaver and
change. Realizing this induces a sense of disenchant-
ment with and dispassion for all intentions. You see
that the only way to get beyond this changeability is
to allow all intentions to cease. You watch as every-
thing is relinquished, including the path. Whats left
is unconditioned: the deathless. Your desire to explore
(continued from page 37)
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 111
dharma talk : the joy of effort
tri_SU08_034_037_DharmaTalk 4/11/08 11:20 AM Page 111
112 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
the breath has taken you beyond desiring, beyond the
breath, all the way to nirvana.
But the path doesnt save all its pleasures for the end.
It takes the daunting prospect of reaching full awaken-
ing and breaks it down into manageable interim goals
a series of intriguing challenges that, as you meet them,
allow you to see progress in your practice. This in and of
itself makes the practice interesting and a source of joy.
At the same time, youre not engaged in busywork.
Youre developing a sensitivity to cause and effect
that helps make body and mind transparent. Only
when theyre fully transparent can you let them go.
In experiencing the full body of the breath in medi-
tation, youre sensitizing yourself to the area of your
awareness in which the deathlesswhen youre acute
enough to see itwill appear.
So even though the path requires effort, its an effort
that keeps opening up new possibilities for happiness
and well-being in the present moment. And even
though the steps of breath meditation eventually lead to
a sense of disenchantment and dispassion, they dont do
so in a joyless way. The Buddha never asks anyone to
adopt a world-negatingor world-affirming, for that
matterframe of mind. Instead, he asks for a world-
exploring attitude, in which you use the inner world of
full-body breathing as a laboratory for exploring the
harmless pleasures the world as a whole can provide
when the mind is steady and clear. You learn skills to
calm the body, to develop feelings of refreshment, full-
ness, and ease. You learn how to calm the mind, to
steady it, gladden it, and release it from its burdens.
Only when you run up against the limits of these
skills are you ready to drop them, to explore what
greater potential for happiness there may be. In this
way, disenchantment develops not from a narrow or
pessimistic attitude but from an attitude of hope that
there must be something better. This is like the disen-
chantment a child senses when he or she has mastered a
simple game and feels ready for something more chal-
lenging. Its the attitude of a person who has matured.
And as we all know, you dont mature by shrinking
from the world, watching it passively or demanding
that it entertain you. You mature by exploring it, by
expanding your range of usable skills through play.
dharma talk : the joy of effort
tri_SU08_034_037_DharmaTalk 4/11/08 11:20 AM Page 112
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 113
into practice : feeding your demons
When you have finished feeding the demon to complete
satisfaction and the ally has been integrated, you and the
ally dissolve into emptiness. Then you just rest. When the
thinking mind takes a break for even a few seconds, a kind
of relaxed awareness replaces the usual stream of thoughts.
We need to encourage this and not fill this space with any-
thing else; just let it be. Some people describe the fifth step
as peace, others as freedom, and yet others as a great vast-
ness. I like calling it the gap, or the space between
thoughts. Usually when we experience the gap we have a
tendency to want to fill it up immediately; we are uncom-
fortable with empty space. In the fifth step, rather than fill-
ing this space, rest there. Even if this open awareness only
occurs for a moment, its the beginning of knowing your
true nature.
Although the method of personifying a fear or neuro-
sis is not unfamiliar in Western psychology, the value of
the five-step practice of feeding your demons is quite
different, beginning with the generation of an altruistic
motivation, followed by the body offering (which works
Having become the ally, take a
moment to fully inhabit this body. Notice how it feels to
be the protective guardian. Then, speaking as the ally,
answer the questions above. Try to be as specific as possi-
ble in your answers.
Once the ally has articulated how it will serve and
protect you, and how you can summon it, return to
your original place. Take a moment to settle back into
yourself, seeing the ally in front of you. Then imagine
you are receiving the help and the commitment the ally
has pledged. Feel this supportive energy enter you and
take effect.
Finally, imagine the ally itself melting into you and feel
its deeply nurturing essence integrating with you. Notice
how you feel when the ally has dissolved into you. Realize
that the ally is actually an inseparable part of you, and then
allow yourself to dissolve into emptiness, which will natu-
rally take you to the fifth and final step.
(continued from page 43)
step five: Rest in Awareness
tri_SU08_038_043_OnPractice.1 4/11/08 11:24 AM Page 113
114 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
into practice : feeding your demons
directly with ego-clinging) and finally the experience of
nondual meditative awareness in the final step of the
process. This state of relaxed awareness, free from our
usual fixation of self versus other, takes us beyond
the place where normal psychotherapeutic methods end.
Direct Liberation of Demons
Once we have practiced feeding the demons for some time,
we begin to become aware of demons as they form. We
learn to see them coming: Ah, here comes my self-
hatred demon. This makes it possiblewith some
practiceto liberate demons as they arise without going
through the five steps, by using what is called direct
liberation. This most immediate and simple route to
liberating demons takes you straight to the fifth step,
but it is also the most difficult to do effectively.
Direct liberation is deceptively simple. It involves
noticing the arising energy or thoughts and then turn-
ing your awareness directly toward it without giving it
form as we do in the five steps. This is the energetic
equivalent of turning a boat directly into the wind when
sailing; the boat travels because of its resistance to the
wind and stops when its power source has been neutral-
ized. Similarly, if you turn your awareness directly into
an emotion it stops developing. This doesnt mean you
are analyzing it or thinking about it but rather turning
toward it with clear awareness. At this point, if you are
able to do it correctly, the demon will instantly be liber-
ated and vanish on the spot. The technique of direct lib-
eration is comparable to being afraid of a monster in the
dark and then turning on the light. When the light goes
on we see that there never was a monster in the first
place, that it was just a projection of our own mind.
Lets take the example of a demon of jealousy. I notice,
Ah, Im getting jealous, my heart rate is increasing. My
body is tensing. If at that moment I turn toward the
energy of jealousy and bring my full awareness to it, the
jealousy will pop like a balloon. When we feed a demon
using the five steps, by the time you get to the fifth step
both you and the demon have dissolved into emptiness and
there is just vast awareness. Here we are short-circuiting
the demon as it arises by meeting its energy consciously as
soon as it surfaces, going directly to the fifth step.
Another example of a situation in which you might
practice direct liberation would be an interaction with
tri_SU08_038_043_OnPractice.1 4/11/08 11:24 AM Page 114
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 115
Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism
ZEN CENTER OF
NEW YORK CITY
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Georey Shugen Arnold, Resident Teacher

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and Monastic Sta
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into practice : feeding your demons
other people. You might be sitting with your lover, for
instance, when you discover that something he com-
mitted to doing has not even been started. You feel
irritation welling up. But then if you turn your aware-
ness to this sensation of irritation, looking right at it,
it disappears.
One way I explain direct liberation at my retreats is
through an experiment. You might try it. Consciously
generate a strong emotionanger, sadness, disappoint-
ment, or desire. When you get this feeling, intensify it,
and then turn your awareness directly to that emotion
and rest in the experience that follows. Liberation of the
demon can be so simple and instantaneous that you will
distrust the result, but check back on it, and, if you have
done it correctly, the emotion will have dissolved.
With considerable practice the next stage becomes
possible: Here immediate awareness, clear and unmodi-
fied, is already stable, not something you just glimpse
periodically. At this stage, you dont have to do any-
thing; awareness simply meets emotions as they arise so
that they are naturally liberated. Emptiness, clarity, and
awareness are spontaneously present. Emotions dont
get hold of you; they arise and are liberated simultane-
ously. This is called instant liberation. An emotion
arises but finds no foothold and dissolves. At this point
we have no need for feeding demons, because we are
governed by awareness, rather than by our emotions.
The process of acknowledging our collective demons
begins with our personal demonsuniversal fears, para-
noia, prejudices, arrogance, and other weaknesses. Fami-
lies, groups, nations, and even society as a whole can
create demons that are the sum of unresolved individual
demons. If we do not acknowledge these personal
demons, our weaknesses and fears can join those of oth-
ers to become something monstrous.
Through shifting our perspective away from attack-
ing our enemies and defending our territory to feeding
our demons, we can learn to stay in dialogue with the
enemy and find peaceful solutions. In this way we begin
a quiet revolution. Drawing on the inspiration of the
teachings of an eleventh-century yogini, we can change
our world.
For more on Chd, the Tibetan practice that inspired
Feeding Your Demons, visit tricycle.com.
tri_SU08_038_043_OnPractice.1 4/11/08 11:24 AM Page 115
Those were thoughts that
wouldnt have occurred to me forty years ago, even
though the Buddhas teaching never ceased exhorting us
that time passes quickly away, even though the legend
of young Prince Siddharthas quest begins in his
encounter with a sick man, an aging one, and a corpse.
As a young monk, Id been more concerned with getting
through the next meditation period, getting on to the
next retreat, getting it on with a pretty nun.
Enlightenment, I supposed in my youthful practice, had
to do with the no sickness, no old age and death of the
Heart Sutra we recited daily in this dharma hall. But now,
watching the incense drift through the hall, I suddenly
saw what has so gradually come true: that we ourselves, my
dharma brothers and sisters, are the sick, the aging, the
soon-to-be corpses. That all things pass quickly away can
be grasped in an instant, but apparently it takes ones
mind changing in time to finally get it.
116 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
A collective Buddhist voice for peace and justice
with wisdom and compassion
Membership includes subscription to Turning Wheel
PO Box 3470, Berkeley, CA 94703
www.bpf.org
Buddhist Peace
Fellowship
Available online
unfetteredmind.org
In its quietly relentless way, this pithy and
unorthodox commentary to the Heart Sutra
leaves you with nowhere to stand but right here.
Stephen Batchelor, author of Buddhism Without Beliefs
from Ken McLeods
new commentary
An Arrow to the Heart
This non-traditional
commentary on the
Heart Sutra takes
you right into the
emptiness of experience
through a delightfully irreverent
combination of wit, irony, poetry, and prose.
Step into
the jaws
of experience
A
n
A
rrow
to
the
H
eart
A COMMENTARY ON THE HEART SUTRA
BY
KEN M
CLEOD
(continued from page 57)
THE QUESTION
Whats changed? Ive taken to the streets. Literally.
I strap my meditation mat and cushion on the back of
my bike and pedal into downtown Chico and sit an
hours peace vigil on the sidewalk in front of Peets cof-
fee shop or Chico Natural Foods or the post office. I do
this as a witness for peace in a nation thats increasingly
given over to the exercise of social, economic, and mili-
tary violence. Ive been going downtown like this most
every day for nearly three years now.
lin jensenis senior Buddhist chaplain at High Desert State
Prison in Susanville, California; his most recent book is Pavement.
t
h
e
q
u
e
s
t
i
o
n
?


M
I
C
H
A
E
L

W
E
R
T
Z
tri_SU08_050_057_the_question_jp_3 4/11/08 11:31 AM Page 116
S UMME R 2008 T R I C Y C L E | 117
Buddhist
Studies
Distance Learning
Postgraduate Programmes
from the UK
Certificate,
Diploma and MA
Part-time, web-based
No residency requirements
Course leader: Peter Harvey
Modules: Buddhist Traditions;
Buddhist Ethics; Buddhist
Meditation and Psychology;
Buddhist Philosophy.
http://www.sunderland.ac.uk/buddhist/
Student evaluations:
"extensive and comprehensive coverage"
"very stimulating discussions"
"an incredibly valuable learning experience"
THE QUESTION
wes nisker is a dharma teacher, author, performer, and the founder and
co-editor of the Buddhist journal Inquiring Mind. He is the author of the
newly published book Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again!
I once thought Buddhism would save me from
suffering. That was before I started to grow older and
wiser. And it isnt so much the wisdom that changed
my mind about the end of suffering as it is the aging.
Yes, I know that there is no one here who is growing
old, no separate self, just empty phenomena rolling on
and all that. But damn it, I dont see as well as I used
to, or hear as well, and my joints are getting stiffer,
and my bowels are struggling to do their work, and
my memory keeps repeating two words to me like a
mantraForget it. Dont get me wrong: I feel
supremely fortunate to have the dharma close at hand
as I go through this process, and I often take refuge in
the natural great perfection and the eternal now and
Im a Zen Buddhist, and Zen has pretty much
dropped out of the picture for me as a philosophy or
belief or even as a spiritual practice of any sort. Zen
has simply become what I do, and the doing of it is all
that matters now. Im no longer much interested in
anyones state of enlightenment, including my own.
Im interested in how you and I might bring a little
sanity, kindness, and compassion into the world. I
dont go to retreats anymore, I go to the prison
instead, preferring to save the retreat fee to buy zafus
for the prison inmates I work with. I go to city council
meetings as well, most recently to protest a shopping
mall that threatens to bury a historic burrowing owl
colony under a parking lot. I write books on the
defense of the earth and in promotion of fairness and
social justice. Though my days are anchored in my
morning sitting meditation, Ive pretty much dropped
out of the entire contemplative aspect of Zen. Ive
thrown the whole of my life into the marketplace
these days.
tri_SU08_050_057_the_question_jp_3 4/11/08 11:31 AM Page 117
118 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
THE QUESTION
I wouldnt emphasize what in Buddhism I have
changed my mind about as much as the fact that
Buddhism has changed my mind. To begin with, from
the first dharma talks that I heard more than thirty
years ago, I came away feeling excited and hopeful
that I could develop a new capacity for meeting chal-
lenges in my life. I sensed in my teachers that they
were less frightened about life than I was. I believed
the dharma I heard. Long before I had any real under-
standing of meditation instructions and, so, long
before I had any insight into the workings of my mind
or any ability to abide peacefully, I had faith. That
alone made me a happier person. And now, after all
these years of practice, I know my mind is more
shock-absorbent. It manages upsets better than it used
to. I still get frightened or mad or envious or whatever
else might be the startle response to the moment, but
I know whats happening and I recover (usually) easily.
My capacity to respond to hard times (in me or around
me) with compassion is more readily available.
I know that there were teachings associated with
Buddhism that I learned along the way about which I
thought, I dont really believe that, but that never
bothered me. It didnt seem relevant. I wanted the
practice to work. I wanted to replace my frightened
mind with a wiser, more comfortable mind, and I
believed that would happen. Thats what seemed, and
still seems, important to me.
the warmth of lovingkindness, but I still live in this
decaying flesh pit, and there are times, at least once a
day, when I curse this incarnation and its aches and
pains, along with its inevitable destiny. No, dharma
didnt bring me to the end of suffering. But I prom-
ise to try harder next time.
sylvia boorsteinis a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation
Center in Marin County, California. Her most recent book is Happiness Is
an Inside Job.
t
h
e
q
u
e
s
t
i
o
n
?
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