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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 person’s
worth is determined by his or her
behavior—present karma—rather
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 one’s birth
may reflect part of one’s past karma,
one’s 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
Buddha’s 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 Loy’s article, “Rethinking
Karma,” in the Spring 2008 issue. He
starts out by saying that the Buddha’s
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 Buddha’s
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 wasn’t 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, Loy’s “new” understanding
of karma—that the teaching should
focus less on the past and more on the
beneficial effects of purifying one’s
motivations in the present—is 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 Buddha’s 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 Buddhism’s 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 shouldn’t
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 military’s 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
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same. And while Buddhism may sug-
gest that all beings are one, simply
put, I ain’t one of them—I burned my
draft card 37 years ago.
Frank Solle
Beaver Island, MI
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
Thank you for Andrew Schelling’s
article “Whirling Petals, Windblown
Leaves” (Winter 2007). It’s good to
see a major publication acknowledge
the connections between haiku, renga,
and the dharma.
However, I was surprised to see Mr.
Schelling quote Basho’s 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 Basho’s 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 poem—but I won’t 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
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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 it’s usually
known as the gateless gate: Until you
crack the combination and pass
through, you can’t 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
can’t 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 can’t realize
it, then how can we possibly say we’re
enlightened? But if we’re really enlight-
ened, why can’t 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
monk’s 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 you’re gripped by
the core paradox and recognize that
consensus—that everyday reality is
merely a reflection of some deeper
truth that’s close at hand but hidden
from view—you’ve 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-
tion’s 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.
I’ve 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 he’s been living in the
secret chamber all along. Rumi’s
epiphany when he discovers that he’s
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,
exhausted—only to discover that
they’ve 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 it’s 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, it’s
easy to nourish your bodhicitta, the
seeds of enlightenment. If you don’t
have anyone who understands you, who
encourages you in the practice of the liv-
ing dharma, your desire to practice may
wither. Your sangha—family, friends,
and copractitioners—is 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 intensively—just being in a
sangha where people are happy, living
deeply the moments of their days, is
enough. Each person’s 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 can’t 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 you’re really in love with
the dharma, when you feel inspired
and enthusiastic. That’s 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. There’s 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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I’m just hoping to create a good
impression, that’s 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 [1904–1987] always used to
say that a person needs three qualities.
The first, he said, is sampa zangpo—a
good heart.
The second is tenpo—to 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-
ative—stable in their wrong views.
Sadly, often that’s not the case in
terms of the teachings; the teachings
have not become a part of us, so we
don’t 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 too—of 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, there’s a thread to
keep our life together that prevents us
from falling apart. And when you have
this string, you have flexibility, too.
That’s 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, it’s very difficult
to develop stability; that’s 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, we’re not there.
The third quality Dudjom
Rinpoche spoke of is lhöpo—to 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 you’re at ease with
yourself, there’s 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 doesn’t
matter, because we have equilibrium
and stability. We don’t feel any lack of
confidence. If not, we’re 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
qualities—a good heart, stability, and
spaciousness—these 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 aren’t too large, and this way it
isn’t difficult to eat all that’s been
given to us. We also remember the
preparation of the food—the work of
the cooks and the cleaners and those
who picked the vegetables and
processed the food. We don’t choose
what we eat at the monastery. We’re
not in the monastery to become gour-
mets. We’re 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 food’s 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 things—how 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 don’t 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
we’re privileged in that we don’t pay
money for our meals. However, we
know the meal is not cost-free. We’re
also aware that many in the world
don’t have access to any food, no mat-
ter what the price. It’s a great blessing
to us that we have people who cook for
us and prepare the tables. We’re 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.
“Let’s 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 can’t 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 we’re 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 it’s piling our plate high or
making it so that other people don’t
get enough to eat. We shouldn’t 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.
That’s 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.
There’s 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 don’t want even the tiniest
unpleasant experience? Is this
reasonable? Is this the way of
the dhamma?
5 Don’t 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 method—one among
many—to 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. Don’t get lost in
thoughts about the past. Don’t get
carried away by thoughts about
the future. ▼
From Don’t 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 today—as
a world-famous musician and medi-
tation teacher—seems to have been
paved with independence and stub-
bornness. For starters, you were a
hugely precocious child. It’s true!
When I was seven years old, shortly
after we fled Tibet for India, I ran
away to Dharamsala, to the Tibetan
Children’s 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, that’s where my real
inspiration for the dharma came
from—my time in the army. A fellow
soldier told me about a great scrip-
ture, the Fifth Dalai Lama’s Lamrim
Jamphel Shelung—“The Eloquent
Teachings of Manjushri.” I borrowed
it from a monk at the military temple
and started reading it. Sometime later
I found Patrul Rinpoche’s Kunzang
Lama’i Shelung—“Words of My
Perfect Teacher”—in 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?
It’s 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 percent—body,
mind, and spirit—on 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
to—how do you say?—reverse your
nature. It’s like making water flow
upstream. There was a time I almost
never slept at night. I ate very simple
food—just a small cake made out of
Nawang Khechog is a musical sorcerer—a 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 doongchen—Tibetan long horn—Aboriginal
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 death—and 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 Tricycle’s 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 didn’t 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. Don’t 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 couldn’t go back up the mountain
and be a hermit, my life was already
different. Whether I’m 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 Buddha’s
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 compose—clear 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? That’s
it. It’s like rock and roll. You need to
have that kind of energy—only 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.” It’s a very wild piece of music
with drums and horns—an explo-
sive energy release. When I perform
such music, I need to tap into that
energy. When I’m playing quiet
meditative flute, I’m just totally
calm and peaceful and relaxed.
How does being a musician affect
your role as dharma teacher? First,
I’m not a lama or guru or anything
like that. I’m just a spiritual friend.
I’ve 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
brain’s capacity. In the same way, we
use only five to ten percent of our
heart’s capacity to love and feel
kindness. Instead of boxing in our
hearts, loving only me, me, me—the
smallest box—we must try to slowly
expand that box till we’re 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 existence—this 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 don’t? Both challenges and
strengths. Tibetans born in a
Buddhist country are brought up
from childhood to have faith in the
dharma. But we don’t always study
enough—investigate 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 Buddha’s 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, you’d
have the perfect Buddhist. That’s
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 sister’s
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 don’t 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 yourself—the suffering of
the world—and pray for its relief.
It’s 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.”
I’d like to hear about your video
games—The “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.
They’re 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 haven’t lost your precocious-
ness? No! [laughs] Just think of it as
an ex-monk’s 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
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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 don’t 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 that’s
No Gain
Relationships won’t 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
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AND MAKER
OF THEFILM
“AMONGST
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Learn more
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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 can’t 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,
“I’ve been in lots of relationships where
I give and give and give.” But for them
it wasn’t enlightenment; it was
masochism! What they are missing
from Joko’s original account is a descrip-
tion of what relationships are actually
for—what 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. That’s 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 child’s neediness and fear in the
midst of a seemingly adult life.
Relationships aren’t 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.
It’s 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 members—all
help us to develop in ways we couldn’t
on our own. Some aspects of ourselves
don’t 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 don’t 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-
els—others 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 I’ll be able to feel safe and
secure. If only I had a guarantee that
they’ll give me what I need, then I
wouldn’t 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
don’t 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 won’t
feel need, sexuality, anger, or depend-
ency. Then, we imagine, we won’t 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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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 shouldn’t 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 have—from 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 don’t 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 don’t mention the
phrase “right livelihood” to
James Tu. The money-
manager-turned-vegetarian-
restaurateur shrugs off sug-
gestions he’s engaged in
anything of the kind.
“I’m trying to live ‘right living,’
but I’m just a beginner,” he protests,
rattling off a list of mistakes he’s
made in getting his latest venture,
the Zen Burger fast-food chain, off
the ground. But if we take the
Buddha’s definition of right liveli-
hood—work that causes no harm and,
by extension, is consistent with
wholesome values—wouldn’t Tu
agree that’s what he’s engaged in? Put
another way, would he say his spiritu-
al life informs his work life?
“Without a doubt,” he affirms. “I
wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t
have my spiritual life first.”
“This” is Tu’s 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. “It’s critical to
humanity’s survival,” he says, indicat-
ing that the crises we’re facing—
environmental degradation, global
warming, animal disease epidemics,
and the like, not to mention food
shortages and higher food costs—are
attributable to, or at least exacerbated
by, what it takes to put meat on our
plates. And if that weren’t bad
enough, there’s 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 wasn’t until college—
at Tsinghua University, Taiwan’s
equivalent of MIT—that he became a
“real Buddhist,” as he puts it.
Studying with a professor who
taught a combination of Pure Land
and Ch’an (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. “It’s a logical extension
of that. But I just couldn’t 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 didn’t
feel inspired. I was studying a lot of
scripture, but I couldn’t 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
Ch’an 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 master’s 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. “It’s
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 Tu’s Zen Burger offers fast food that’s
better for you, better for the earth.
JOAN DUNCAN OLIVER
28 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
how we live
tri_SU08_028_033_Tu 4/11/08 4:59 PM Page 28
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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 I’d been seeking
for years—a 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 Tu’s 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 Tu’s 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 can’t 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 McDonald’s 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
didn’t 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. (Tu’s translation of
the Heart Sutra from Chinese to
English, with Chang’s commentary,
was privately published in 2001.
He’s 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 café, 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
altogether”—there are now two in
Manhattan and one in Princeton, New
Jersey—“but I decided to buy the
company to preserve the Zen Palate
brand. It has a long history and well-
proven food. It’s 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 aren’t vegetarians. Everything
from the decor—Day-Glo orange,
green, and yellow—to the service is
reminiscent of McDonald’s, Wendy’s,
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 it’s
familiar,” Tu explains. “You don’t
want to change people’s behavior.”
If that sounds contradictory, what
Tu means is that he’s 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 aren’t grate-
ful for the new arrival. Among the
customers on a recent afternoon was
one woman—a vegetarian for 25
years—who 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, “there’ll 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.”)
Tu’s plan is to take Zen Burger
nationwide this year: he’s opening a
second branch on Sunset Boulevard
in Hollywood this summer and will
begin offering franchises in June.
He’s 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, ‘I’m building this com-
pany not for myself but for a pur-
pose.’ And miracles happen. If we can
think about what’s 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? “It’s 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, it’s about
doing the best you can at this moment,
given what you know now.” ▼
Joan Duncan Oliver, Tricycle’s 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 musician’s tuning of
a lute. Reading the mind’s needs in the moment—
to be gladdened, steadied, or inspired—is like a
palace cook’s 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 you’ve acted, spo-
ken, or thought in a skillful way—conducive to happi-
ness while causing no harm to yourself or others—take
joy in that fact and keep on training.”
Of course, saying that meditation should be enjoy-
able doesn’t 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 mind’s 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, there’s 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,
there’s the belief that effort is counterproductive to
happiness, so meditation should involve no exertion
at all: simply accept things as they are—it’s foolish
to demand that they get any better—and relax into
the moment.
While it’s 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 Buddha’s ultimate aim in teaching medita-
tion: nirvana, a totally unconditioned happiness, free
from the constraints of space and time.
That’s 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-
tion—Meditations, Meditations2, and Meditations3—available for
free at accesstoinsight.org.
the joy of effort
The path doesn’t 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
play—a 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 patience—needed to make trust-
worthy observations. Only after this training did he
teach meditation techniques, and even then he didn’t
spell everything out. He raised questions and suggested
areas for exploration in the hope that his questions
would capture his students’ imagination, so they’d
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
isn’t 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 wasn’t
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 he’d 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
don’t 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 you’re doing them, and after they’re done. If you
see that you’ve 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 aren’t good, you’re free to
change your ways.
This attitude is essential for developing honesty in
your meditation as well. If you regard everything—
good or bad—that 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, you’re 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, you’re 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 it’s 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, “I’m
breathing in long;” or breathing out long,
one discerns, “I’m breathing out long.”
2 Or breathing in short, one discerns, “I’m
breathing in short;” or breathing out short,
one discerns, “I’m breathing out short.”
3 One trains oneself, “I’ll breathe in and out
sensitive to the entire body.”
4 One trains oneself, “I’ll breathe in and
out calming bodily fabrication”
[the in-and-out breath].
5 One trains oneself, “I’ll breathe in and out
sensitive to refreshment.”
6 One trains oneself, “I’ll breathe in and out
sensitive to ease.”
7 One trains oneself, “I’ll breathe in and out
sensitive to mental fabrication.”
8 One trains oneself, “I’ll breathe in and out
calming mental fabrication.”
9 One trains oneself, “I’ll 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,
you’ll make some mistakes—I’ve 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. You’ll also catch yourself getting impa-
tient or frustrated, but then you’ll see that when you
breathe through these emotions, they go away.
You’re 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,
you’ll 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 you’ve been
refreshed by feelings of ease and stillness, you’re ready
to look at the mind itself. You don’t leave the breath,
though. You adjust your attention slightly so that
you’re 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 it’s 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 you’ve been virtuous or generous. To steady
the mind when it’s been knocked over by lust or to
reestablish your focus when you’re 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, “I’ll breathe in and out
gladdening the mind.”
11 One trains oneself, “I’ll breathe in and out
steadying the mind.”
12 One trains oneself, “I’ll breathe in and out
releasing the mind.”
13 One trains oneself, “I’ll breathe in and out
focusing on inconstancy.”
14 One trains oneself, “I’ll breathe in and out
focusing on dispassion.”
15 One trains oneself, “I’ll breathe in and out
focusing on cessation.”
16 One trains oneself, “I’ll 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 obstacles—your addictions, anxieties, and
fears—into 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 Chöd, which was originated by the eleventh-cen-
tury Tibetan yogini Machig Lapdrön [see sidebar on page
43], I realized that demons—or maras as they are called
in Buddhism—are 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 existence—ask 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 Chöd 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 Chöd 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 Chöd practice.
When we obsess about weight issues or become drained
by a relationship or crave a cigarette, we give our demons
strength, because we aren’t really paying attention to the
demon. When we understand how to feed the demon’s
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 won’t be interrupted.
Set up two chairs or two cushions opposite each other:
one for you and one for the demon and ally. Once you’re
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.
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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 you’ve 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 you’ve 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. Don’t 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 cliché or a cartoon character, don’t 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 demon’s place, actually chang-
ing places and allowing yourself to see things from the
demon’s 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 demon’s 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 . . .”
It’s 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 that’s 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 demon’s 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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Now we’ve 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? There’s nothing
it’s “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! HE’S! HAVING!,
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The great eleventh-century Tibetan yogini Machig Lab-
drön (1055–1145) received empowerment from her
teacher, Kyotön 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 Machig’s 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 Labdrön 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 Hydra’s 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 Hydra’s 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 kill—rather than engage—the monster pre-
vents us from knowing our own monsters and
transforming them into allies.
The Story of Chöd 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 Rinpoche—to name a few—along with
some of today’s most well-known Vipassana teachers. The center’s 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
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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-
tion—good for bad—and 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 practice—a meditation in which we cultivate
positive mind states toward ourselves and others—we
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] I’ve found that pointing
people to their fundamental goodness will awaken it.
It’s more skillful than pointing to the negative. We are
so loyal to our suffering and to seeing ourselves as
damaged that it’s very easy to use spiritual practice to
reinforce our self-judgment. That doesn’t 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 that’s 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 stories—whether
it’s the details of our personal histories or just
what’s 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. There’s a
great freedom in just being aware of thought and see-
ing that it’s empty. But when somebody says, “I think
all the time,” I’ll 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, “I’ve just inherited $4 million,” I might ask, “How
do you work with planning and attachment?” So some-
times it’s helpful to know the content, and sometimes
you don’t need to. When you see the content of
thought, it’s not in order to rework it, it’s 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 state—I 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 we’re idealistic, we—and 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 teachers—and 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 Buddha’s 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 isn’t 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, delusion—these, 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, “There’s 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 it’s possible at some point in a person’s
life that this experience of nirvana becomes com-
plete—that 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
Enlightenments”—there 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.
There’s 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 tradition—and many others to boot.
Mystics and true practitioners don’t 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
isn’t 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. They’re 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, it’s 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 I’ve 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 mystic—a Hasidic rabbi—who said, “I’ve
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 didn’t 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 tradition—Mother 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,
they’re 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. There’s 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 isn’t one Buddhism. Buddhism also
functions as a religion for many people—there’s 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 Buddha’s
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 it’s very phenomenological? Absolutely.
What happened, then? How did it become a religion?
I can’t 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. There’s 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?
That’s 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 wouldn’t
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, “I’ve got a
slightly different—and better—way to get you to free-
dom.” But they are all a part of the great mandala of
awakening, skillful means.
You’ve 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 others—say, more tradi-
tional teachers or monastics—to do that? It’s harder for
monastics to go outside of their tradition because their
vows and their way of life prevent it. With vows you’re
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. We’ve 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
it’s 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, “What’s
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 aren’t important.” ▼
sitting in the dark
An excerpt from Jack Kornfield’s 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 Chah’s 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 Buddhadasa’s 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
year’s 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 we’ve
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 they’ve 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 I’ve 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
companion’s 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 it’s 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. That’s 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?
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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 don’t know that I’ve changed my mind about
something in Buddhism per se as much as I’ve
changed my mind about needing to hold tightly to
views to deflect what I really don’t know. My first
teacher, S. N. Goenka, told me, “The Buddha did
not teach Buddhism—he 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 death—the 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, I’d
rather try to deal with the fear. I’m convinced I pay
more honest tribute to the Buddhist tradition, to its
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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 haven’t changed my mind about Buddhism; I’ve 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 haven’t 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
Bodhidharma’s 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
don’t 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 can’t
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
Dogen’s 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 didn’t
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 imperatives—and my
vows show me the Tao.
While thus I’ve come to feel that it is deplorable to
try to mix the dharma with other disciplines, I’ve 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.” Let’s keep the simplicity as is!
When I was ten, I discovered—so I thought—that 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 didn’t exist.
It was ten more years before I found a satisfactory disproof of the solip-
sist position—in Wittgenstein’s proof of the impossibility of any “private
language”—but 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, I’ve
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, he’d say:
“Don’t 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 women’s 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 Francisco’s 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, it’s 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 I’ve so often seen
Buddhism help people build bigger, more self-righteous
egos—sometimes 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
life’s hard realities, and my pride in keeping precepts just
made me self-congratulatory. I took seriously the promise
of enlightenment, but I didn’t 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, solipsism—or what is
the same thing, the idea that enlightenment may be
the possession of an individual person—is 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 wouldn’t 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 iyer’s 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, I’d be
through—out 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 energies—that’s 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 age—especially
the patient teachers who’ve spent any time on me.
I grew up in benighted Oxford, England, in the
1960s—everyone has to start somewhere—and 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 Thoreau—all my inspirations in
my early years—taught 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.
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What I’ve 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 I’ve had to, you know, adjust.
andrew cooper is Tricycle’s
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 thought—I was in grad school by
then—and 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 didn’t 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 body—and 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-
manence—frothing cherry blossoms, falling maple
leaves—reminding 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 it’s not just what’s left behind when one sheds
all one’s 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.
I’d 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 didn’t hold any
particularly important position, wasn’t 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. I’d thought fondly of Jerome over
the years since I’d 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, alive—though just barely, it
seemed. I’d spotted him in a back corner of the
dharma hall, his face somehow caved in but unmis-
takably Jerome’s, his large frame slumped against
the wall, apparently dozing. When after the memo-
rial service I introduced myself, I couldn’t 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: “I’d like to buy
the world a home and furnish it with love”…. “I’d
like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.”
Even as a kid I knew this couldn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 don’t
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
taking my human-sized place in the human race.
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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 isn’t 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. It’s 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.
I’ve 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
Pook’s 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 I’d 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 leanings—the Spirit Rock type. I sneered at my mom’s angel
books and my dad’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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
Baba’s holy water. But the real highlight was the fact
that I made two dear friends: a Sicilian-American with
a caveman’s beard and a ponytail who I’ll call Robert;
and Gene, a quiet, witty Seattle native who had read
every book I’d ever heard of.
Rob and Gene were American spiritual practitioners
who were trying to avoid being hippies. Unlike the
other yoga campers, they didn’t 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 didn’t 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 Rob’s story won the prize.
Jaimal Yogis is the author of the upcoming book Saltwater
Buddha: A Surfer’s 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 Ch’an, the
Chinese precursor to Japanese Zen. “I hesitate to even
talk about it,” Rob said, rubbing his beard. “I’m 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 doesn’t get up until noon the next day.
He’s 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.’ I’m
telling you, it’s more Chinese than China.”
“What’s it called?” Gene asked.
“In Mandarin, it’s 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 attend—“you know, if you
think you’re 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
wouldn’t just visit the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas;
we would walk there—a 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 shouldn’t be passed up.
UKIAH—the redneck, pothead town that is home to
the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas—was about two
hundred miles from my mom’s 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 we’d 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 wasn’t 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 can’t 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 Dynasty–style gates inscribed with the
golden words we’d been dreaming of: “The Sagely
City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.”
At the office, an elderly Chinese man in a black lay-
man’s robe greeted Gene and me. We bowed deeply,
and I said: “We are here for the meditation retreat.
We’ve come a long way.”
I figured this man would see the sincerity in our
eyes and get very excited. (“Oh! We’ve 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 isn’t 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 they’re doing what the old Zen masters
did,” Gene said. “Telling students that they can’t come
to the monastery to test their sincerity. Maybe we’re
supposed to kneel outside for three days.”
The idea of being part of a traditional Chinese
scheme was exciting but improbable, I thought.
“I don’t 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. “That’s all we got is empty rooms. But the
retreat don’t 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: “Let’s
throw rocks at ’em—nah, 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 Master—an old Chinese man with
bright eyes and gnarled teeth—I 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. “I’m 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: Jaimal’s mom
in 1979, shortly
before he was born
Right: Jaimal’s 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 Ch’an retreat began,
Doug arranged a meeting to discuss practice.
“Ch’an,” he began, stroking his beard, “is an
extreme sport. And you’re kind of playing against
yourself. During this week you will experience pain
like you’ve never felt, and you’ll probably want to
leave. I’ve seen so many people run out of here in the
middle of retreat; it’s 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 Ch’an. He had sat for months at a time in
snowy Chinese mountains with only one layer of
clothing, and he hadn’t 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.
It’s nice to imagine one’s 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: Jaimal’s
house in San
Francisco, California
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management. It didn’t matter how many cushions I
stacked under my knees, butt, elbows, and shins. It
didn’t matter if I leaned against the wall. It didn’t
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, ‘Who’s feel-
ing pain?’” This sort of worked. After three days of
focusing on nothing but pain, I began to see the
Buddha’s 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 Max’s parents’ cabin in Bodega, about sixty
miles south, to do a little more sitting. Max also invited
a Vietnamese monk I’ll 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
Ch’an 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 void—just
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 sage—maybe even one with a hot Hawaiian
girlfriend—and 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; it’s a bit like jump-
ing in an ice-cold river once a year to remind myself
that I’m 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 doesn’t
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, I’ll comfort myself
with the knowledge that I do have a little fight left in
me: I still don’t 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.
tri_SU08_060_065_yogis 4/11/08 11:49 AM Page 65
like a buddha
talk
MARSHALL GLICKMAN learns how to listen on an
Insight Dialogue retreat.
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I’m 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. Ted’s breathing is
labored, and I can smell his sour breath, yet I feel content. I comfort him—not 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, he’s
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. I’d 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, you’ve 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 it’s 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 better—which 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. Kramer’s 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 practice—student-to-
student dialogues.
Typically, relationship skills have been the domain of
psychotherapists and pop psychologists. During a recent
visit to Manhattan’s East West Living bookstore, I noticed
a big stack of Kramer’s 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 disappointed—not because
he’s 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 Buddha’s 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 it’s 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. I’m 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 we’re 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,
it’s easy to space out; after all, no one else will really
notice. But when you’re eyeball-to-eyeball with someone
you’ve 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 Buddha’s 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. I’m far from a fashion
buff, but her vaguely goth outfit didn’t 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 didn’t 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 else’s
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 Kathy’s 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. “That’s 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 misunderstood—espe-
cially about her claim that I would have treated a man
differently. I told her that I’d been raised by a power-
ful woman, that I was comfortable with strong
women, including my wife, and that we’d 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. Don’t con-
sciously think of what you’ve 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 we’d 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 I’d been
posturing as Mr. At-Ease and that she was right: I
probably wouldn’t 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 we’re 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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, I’d 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 aren’t doing the work—just as in meditation
practice, you often have to experience the hard stuff to
learn something new. Over the years we’ve had maybe
half a dozen people leave a retreat of their own accord,”
he said. “But I’ve 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 didn’t have any “breakthrough”
insights that I’ve 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 pair’s deep connection. I hardly knew
either of them, but this spontaneous spouting of hap-
piness for others’ happiness seemed significant. And it
wasn’t 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, I’d smile at her or in some silent way try
to indicate friendliness, but she didn’t respond in kind.
She didn’t exactly indicate that she was miffed, but she
definitely didn’t 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 don’t like
me, I’m 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?”
“I’m good,” I said, “except I’m concerned you’re mad
at me, and yet I have feelings of goodwill toward you.”
“I’m not mad at you,” she said, and opened her
arms. We hugged.
It wasn’t exactly a coming together of the Hatfields
and the McCoys, but I got choked up, partly from relief
that I hadn’t 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. It’s as though I’ve
developed a new muscle. I spontaneously find myself
truly hearing what people are saying. As Kramer
might put it, I’m 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 it’s become like a life preserver; when I’m feeling
uncomfortable in a conversation, that’s 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 I’m talking with. They feel fully
heard without being judged. Better connections tend
to flow naturally. The irony is, when we don’t 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 he’s slumped over so far that it
seems he is about to slip to the floor; often he can’t
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 world—phantasmagoric, surreal, and luminous.
Michael is a painter, a carpenter, a Zen priest, and a
person with Parkinson’s 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
progressed—to the point where putting on a sock or
eating a meal is a slow and monumental effort—his
commitment to painting has only intensified. When I
stand in Michael’s room, I feel that I’m standing in the
middle of one of the deepest expressions of freedom I’ve
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 Center’s places of prac-
tice, and Michael and Emila have given many years to
its community.
As Michael’s 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 formal—there’s no perfect Buddha up
there in the sky, but someone down here mucking around
with someone else. The illness had something to do with
it—I got looser.” When asked if his paintings are a form
of teaching, Michael replies that he doesn’t 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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Parkinson’s 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.
“That’s the holy truth: Death exists. Don’t 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 there’s 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 I’m
doing, it’s 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 writer’s block—that’s 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 Michael’s
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 Buddha’s tradition that there’s
something before there is good and bad, beautiful and
ugly. Before there are the babies and the skulls, there
is—what? Serenity? That’s 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 don’t like it. If I do teach, it’s
because I don’t know I’m teaching. I’m offering the
To look carefully at Michael’s 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 haven’t 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-
n’t expect.” Michael was ordained as a priest in 1998,
when he was already far into Parkinson’s. 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 isn’t much fun. When I was nine and went
into the hospital to have an operation, I met a man
who was a logger. He’d just lost an eye in a driving
accident. I’ve always admired him. He did his best to
cheer me up. He said of his missing eye, ‘That’s 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 Cat’s). What then? Michael answers
without hesitation: “It’s like saying, ‘If you can’t sit in
the zendo anymore, how can you practice?’” No matter
what, he believes, we find a way to express our life.
One of Michael’s young friends says that visiting
him can be hard—like 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 can’t
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 he’s gone, his
paintings will still be here, delicate, absurd, and dar-
ing—without 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 again—metal
on rock. One of our cook pans is being
moved at the fire pit. A marmot, I
think, and lie listening; squirrels and
chipmunks aren’t 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 or—and my scalp tin-
gles—or 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 it’s 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 don’t
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 can’t 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 bear’s furry bulk, I
sit up, unzipping my bag farther, and I start to
yell—a karate yell, from the diaphragm, deafening,
terrifying. But all that comes out of my tight throat
is Eeeeeeep, eeeeeeep.
Sandy Boucher’s 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 I’m practically sit-
ting on top of Jeri in her sleeping bag. She grumbles
and rolls away. I’m 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 hell’s wrong with her? Why doesn’t 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.
What’s 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 tree—no. It can scramble up after me. Out
through the underbrush in the dark—but 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 Jeri’s 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 fancies—not 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 Chögyam 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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circling the sun of our fire, waiting its chance to move
in close.
Perhaps I am going to die—and in such dramatic
fashion. Who could have predicted this for me—the
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. I’m 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. Don’t 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. We’re 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 you’re 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, let’s 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
What’s in a Mantra?
Donald S. Lopez
takes a close look at
the Heart Sutra.
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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
philosophy—indeed, 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
Avalokiteshvara’s voice, they
transliterated it. (Avalokiteshvara,
the bodhisattva of compassion, is
the sutra’s main speaker.) They
translated the rest of the sutra, but
they left the mantra—in sound if
not in form—in 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
tri_SU08_080_085_Lopez 4/15/08 11:34 AM Page 82
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 doesn’t 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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tri_SU08_080_085_Lopez 4/11/08 3:31 PM Page 83
84 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
on language
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,
didn’t 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
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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.” It’s
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 Avalokiteshvara’s invoca-
tion of the mantra. But in that
case, why doesn’t the mantra come
first? Why didn’t 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 Sutra’s 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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I
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R

F
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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
monk’s 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 we’ve 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 another’s
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 WORLD—MANY AND VARIED—
NONE ARE EQUAL TO THE DHAMMA.
DRINK OF THIS, MONKS!
AND HAVING DRUNK
THE MEDICINE OF THE DHAMMA,
YOU’LL BE UNTOUCHED BY AGE AND DEATH.
HAVING MEDITATED AND SEEN—
[YOU’LL BE] HEALED BY CEASING TO CLING.
—MILINDA-PANHO 335
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88 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
reviews
Hard Cash
The inner life of money
MICHAEL CARROLL
IT’S 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 itself—to 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
better—and 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 is—as the
title of his new book aptly pro-
claims—“not 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 Mind—including whether
its promises of happiness are actually
true—we 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 book…is not a financial
how-to-book in spiritual clothing,”
he writes. “Rather, it is a profound
inner journey in which money is the
primary focus…an 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
Story”—the 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 It’s 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 mother’s 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 child”—he’s 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 mother’s 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.
It’s worth reading this book twice.
Once for the story—absorbing and, at
times, amusing—and 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
Coffin’s hands, a wry, at times lyrical
commentary on cultural identity and
Buddhist practice.
Coffin’s name signals his dual her-
itage. His mother chose Jaed (he
doesn’t translate it, but one guesses
she’s 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 taunt—“Chinese
freak” and “fucking refugee”—Coffin
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 protégé, Caine, “You have
two roots,” explaining that a plant
with two roots is stronger than a
plant with one. Coffin’s father
drilled home the message: “You get
that, son?”
During a childhood visit to
Panomsarakram for his grandfather’s
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 Watts’s 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 Coffin’s quest seems less
urgent than he’s led us to believe, it
may be because we’re 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.” He’s 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 Pee—holy
brother—involve nothing of the sort.
We watch Coffin’s 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. Coffin’s most
penetrating—and enduring—lesson
comes from the Luang Pa, or holy
father, of the forest temple. The
Buddha isn’t 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 jai”—the not-
sure heart.
Other lessons come from Coffin’s
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 grandfather’s
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 I’d
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 Coffin’s 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 he’s 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-
oir’s title. It tells of wild elephants
trapped by the king’s men, who kick
and scream at being forced into cap-
tivity. But once they’re 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
kicking—and is on his way to con-
tentment. ▼
Tricycle’s reviews editor, Joan Duncan Oliver,
is the author, most recently, of Coffee with
the Buddha.
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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 Shinshu—literally “the true
school of the Pure Land,” often called
Shin Buddhism—have 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?
There’s a Catch-22 here. The Pure
Land community is large enough
that it’s 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
anyway—they are seen as offerings of
the dharma, not commercial enter-
prises. Yet the relative lack of need
for outreach by the Pure Land com-
munities—some 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, Bloom—a scholar and Shin
priest influential in Buddhist circles
since the 1965 publication of his
Shinran’s Gospel of Pure Grace—
attempts to deepen the West’s appre-
ciation for Shinran, the thirteenth-
century founder of Jodo Shinshu and
one of Japan’s most important reli-
gious thinkers. As Bloom describes it,
Shinran’s “Pure Land teaching is an
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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.
Shinran’s teaching does not encourage
blind faith at the expense of one’s 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 Shinran’s 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 Shinran’s 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 Land’s focus on
Amida Buddha—a single figure
representing wisdom, compassion,
and nirvana—was 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 couldn’t 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 Shinran’s 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 Shinran’s 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
Amida’s 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 Shinran’s voluminous
writings. In some ways it is a map of
The Collected Works of Shinran, a
groundbreaking translation of Shinran’s
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.
Shinran’s 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 Shinran’s mag-
num opus, Kyogyoshinsho (“Teaching,
Practice, Faith, and Realization”), a
collection of quotations from sutras
and commentaries on various topics
with Shinran’s interpretive notes. For
The Essential Shinran, Bloom has taken
extracts from Shinran’s 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.
Shinran’s 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
societies—some of which lasted for
nearly a century before being
destroyed. Shinran’s 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 Shinran’s 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 shinjin—the mind
that awakens to the falsity of the ego
and relies instead on power beyond
the self, leading to Buddhahood. As
Bloom’s 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, Bloom’s
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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History’s neither a searchlight nor a
camera: it’s 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
Buddha’s 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
Melnyczuk’s 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 man’s struggle
with his own past and an illuminat-
ing meditation on our relationship—
our obligation—to 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 Pak’s
desk, sandwiched between various
official files and Pak’s 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, rape—the catalogue
raisonné 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 Affairs—“merely 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 James’s first visit
to Europe, just as the Iron Curtain
between East and West was parting.
James’s father had committed suicide
two weeks before, leaving him a
strange and macabre bequest: a
ragged World War II–era British mil-
itary ID, a “heavy, cracked jar” found
buried in a closet, and a letter that
James couldn’t read, written in
Ukrainian and addressed to his
father’s mother, Vera, whom James
had never met. James carries this
meager stash first to England, where
he meets Marian, an old friend of his
father’s, 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 James’s father,
Andrew, who grew up in London as
a ward of Marian’s 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 you’ll find.”
Through Marian’s account of
Andrew’s 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.
Melnyczuk—director of creative writ-
ing at the University of Massachusetts
Boston and a member of the graduate
Writing Seminars core faculty at
Bennington College—is 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 James’s 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.
Melnyczuk’s 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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“We’ve 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 book—a flirtatious
Indian woman describes her own
“pendulous” earlobes as “one of the
eighty-four signs of the Buddha,” and
two other characters quote the
Buddha’s First Noble Truth—the real
influence of the dharma is, as
Melnyczuk says of his Boston-area
sangha in the acknowledgments,
“invisible yet everywhere.” Melnyczuk’s
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 family’s convoluted his-
tory is “to insist on looking squarely at
everything.” Or consider these lines,
spoken by one of James’s 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 we’re not used to. Pay atten-
tion, or you’ll get hurt. Here
neuroses find bodies. We think
the universe is closed, contained,
self-sufficient. In fact, it’s wide
open, and no matter how you try,
you can’t 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,
Melnyczuk’s 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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©

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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.
Pennebaker’s 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 Fever—a
2004 film now available on DVD,
adapted by Shawn and director Carlo
Gabriel Nero from Shawn’s stage
play—is 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
past—on 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 don’t give a
fuck if they’re 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 Marx’s Capital at
the woman’s 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 item—her 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 whom—and 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 Redgrave’s daughter, Joely
Richardson, and Nero, the film’s
director, is Redgrave’s 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 woman’s vision of the world
according to Marx—the real world
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where, to use Allen Ginsberg’s
phrase, you see what’s “at the end of
everybody’s fork”—terrifies her, but
isn’t it the same as Siddhartha’s 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
father’s parading animals—the 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 Marx’s account
of the secret of commodities in capi-
talist societies. We are enjoined to
remember the work—read, 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 Mara’s 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 world’s.
Many of our parents or children or
friends, not to mention enemies—our
Maras—have 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 example—a sleepless, leg-
torching, shoulder-bruising (the Zen
stick), mind-wracking (koan prac-
tice), heart-wrenching week of sit-
ting—was 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 there’s the Christian excuse,
the one that is put in Jesus’s mouth in
Matthew 26:11—“For 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.
It’s interesting to contrast the per-
spective of The Fever with that of My
Dinner with André, an earlier Shawn
composition (with André Gregory).
104 | T R I C Y C L E S UMME R 2008
film reviews
tri_SU08_088_109_Reviews.rev2 4/11/08 12:55 PM Page 104
There, the challenge is not the mate-
rial, politico-economic reality but a
neglected spiritual reality. To André
Gregory’s urgent Grotowskian call to
transcendence, Shawn’s character (he
pretty much plays himself in Dinner)
responds with a celebration of the
everyday, of simple comforts and quo-
tidian acts—and, 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 André. By
contrast, the protagonist of The Fever
decisively loses the argument. She—
and we—are pronounced guilty of
complicity in the suffering of the
world’s 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 Christian’s 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 evasion—an “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 atrocities—but a worshipper
(played by Angelina Jolie) translates for
her: The sermon is an exhortation to
forgiveness. That worshipper, later the
woman’s 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 wouldn’t 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 us—and 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 Fintushel’s 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 Mansfield
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
SALZBERG—without leaving home
MEDITATION may be our last,
best refuge from iPhones, Treos,
iPods—and our overscheduled lives.
Now Vipassana teacher Sharon
Salzberg has come up with a way we
can slow down, ditch our electronic
gadgets—temporarily, at least—and
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 isn’t 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 guidebook—all 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 there’s enough to
interest seasoned practitioners as
well: the teaching on dedicating
merit, for example, offers a fresh take
on interdependence. Throughout,
Salzberg’s 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 love—and
gurus—in all the wrong places.
Written by Tricycle contributing
editor and yoga teacher Anne
Cushman, Enlightenment for Idiots traces,
with witty flair, Amanda’s encounters
with heartbreak, culture shock, yoga,
and a kooky traveling companion
named Devi Das. The novel’s 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
not—that is our choice.”
On her search for truth and happi-
ness, Amanda might have benefited
from Zen teacher Ezra Bayda’s 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 Bayda’s
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
BUDDHA’S 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 author’s 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, there’s 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 Mansfield’s TIBETAN BUDDHISM
AND MODERN PHYSICS (Templeton
Foundation Press, 2008, $19.95 paper,
192 pp.), which takes up the Dalai
Lama’s call for collaboration between
science and Buddhism. (The book’s
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.)
There’s something in this book for
everyone: physics buffs can revel in
Mansfield’s discus-
sion of photons,
Einstein, and quan-
tum nonlocality,
while non–rocket
scientists will likely
be fascinated by his
insightful commen-
tary on the relationship between the
Buddhist principle of emptiness and
special relativity—and 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 enough—relatively 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 Brunnhölzl’s 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. Brunnhölzl hasn’t
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 Nagarjuna—in
which one’s innate Buddha-nature,
first buried, emerges as one follows the
path of bodhisattvas and eventually
flourishes—becomes more accessible
through Brunnhölzl’s clear prose.
The Tibetan bodhisattva Tara,
revered for her compassion and wis-
dom, is the Angelina Jolie of
Buddhism—peaceful 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
forms—poetry, let-
ters, and artwork
among them—serve
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 Sahn’s 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 you’re 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 isn’t enough
to hold your interest, try focusing on the breath in two
spots at once.
The important point is that you’ve 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 you’re 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 you’ve 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 intentions—the most solid
and refined states of concentration—waver 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. What’s 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
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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 doesn’t 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, you’re not engaged in busywork.
You’re developing a sensitivity to cause and effect
that helps make body and mind transparent. Only
when they’re fully transparent can you let them go.
In experiencing the full body of the breath in medi-
tation, you’re sensitizing yourself to the area of your
awareness in which the deathless—when you’re acute
enough to see it—will appear.
So even though the path requires effort, it’s 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 don’t do
so in a joyless way. The Buddha never asks anyone to
adopt a world-negating—or world-affirming, for that
matter—frame 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. It’s the attitude of a person who has matured.
And as we all know, you don’t 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, it’s 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 possible—with some
practice—to 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 doesn’t 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.
Let’s take the example of a demon of jealousy. I notice,
“Ah, I’m 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
John Daido Loori, Abbot
Geoffrey Shugen Arnold, Resident Teacher

Zen Teacher
and Monastic Staff
in Residence

Lay-Training Center
in the Boerum Hill
section of Brooklyn

Residential Program

Saturday retreats

Daily Meditation
Schedule
To find out more about ZCNYC
call (718) 875-8229 or visit our
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zcnyc@mro.org
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 emotion—anger, 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 don’t 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 don’t
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 demons—universal 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 Chöd, 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
wouldn’t have occurred to me forty years ago, even
though the Buddha’s teaching never ceased exhorting us
that “time passes quickly away,” even though the legend
of young Prince Siddhartha’s quest begins in his
encounter with a sick man, an aging one, and a corpse.
As a young monk, I’d 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 one’s
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 McLeod’s
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
What’s changed? I’ve 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
hour’s peace vigil on the sidewalk in front of Peet’s cof-
fee shop or Chico Natural Foods or the post office. I do
this as a witness for peace in a nation that’s increasingly
given over to the exercise of social, economic, and mili-
tary violence. I’ve 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.
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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
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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 isn’t 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 don’t 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
mantra—“Forget it.” Don’t 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
I’m 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. I’m no longer much interested in
anyone’s state of enlightenment, including my own.
I’m interested in how you and I might bring a little
sanity, kindness, and compassion into the world. I
don’t 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, I’ve pretty much dropped
out of the entire contemplative aspect of Zen. I’ve
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 wouldn’t 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 what’s 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 don’t really believe that,” but that never
bothered me. It didn’t 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. That’s 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
didn’t 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.
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letters to the editor

KARMA RULES?

© NEAL CROSBIE

David Loy (“Rethinking Karma,” Spring 2008) states that karma has traditionally 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 person’s worth is determined by his or her behavior—present karma—rather 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 necessarily 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 position of universal rule because he did not follow a principle of good governance: 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 arahantship, is worshipped by devas. The message here is that although the external circumstances of one’s birth may reflect part of one’s past karma, one’s 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 someone thought they were an improvement on what the Buddha, supposedly trapped by the limits of his cultural situation, 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 Buddha’s teachings. Loy argues that the Buddha embraced the principle of impermanence 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 Loy’s article, “Rethinking Karma,” in the Spring 2008 issue. He starts out by saying that the Buddha’s understanding of his own teaching was limited by the cultural presuppositions of his times and that the teaching on karma is a case in point. From this beginning, I would have expected the article to discuss what the Buddha

SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE

|9

letters to the editor

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 Buddha’s 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 wasn’t 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, Loy’s “new” understanding of karma—that the teaching should focus less on the past and more on the beneficial effects of purifying one’s motivations in the present—is not new at all: it is the premise of many of the early suttas discussing karma.
Debra Kettler San Juan Capistrano, CA

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 mystique and unattainable promise of the dharma propounded in books and magazines often deludes us into believing that anything short of nirvana 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 spiritual 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 sharing his humility and wisdom.
Chris Kirkwood Middletown, NJ A CALL NOT TO ARM

DAVID LOY RESPONDS

As Nigel Millard says, the Buddha never used karma to justify inequality, etc., but the tradition did. It is a classic example of the tensions that arise as spiritual teachings become institutionalized and an accommodation is worked out with authoritarian rulers in undemocratic societies. My article does not attempt a comprehensive overview of karma but focuses on our problems with karma today and what was “genuinely new” in the Buddha’s 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

The new dharma hall at the Air Force Academy (“Salute to Buddhism,” Spring 2008) is not a bright spot and not a symbol of Buddhism’s growth in America. At $85,000 for a 274-squarefoot space, this is a symbol of everything that is wrong with America. No matter how “meticulous” the attention to detail was, it shouldn’t 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 military’s role in death. But only one holds water— death and the military are one and the

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TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008

” Keith Heiberg Boston. However. Frank Solle Beaver Island.same. Keith. And while Buddhism may suggest that all beings are one. It’s good to see a major publication acknowledge the connections between haiku. Blyth explained. “Do you need to be told that Basho wrote this poem on his deathbed?” Basho actually died in 1694. for catching the mistake. simply put. Windblown Leaves” (Winter 2007). I was surprised to see Mr. the evening before. Please send correspondence to: Tricycle: The Buddhist Review 92 Vandam Street New York. Letters are subject to editing. that for the last twenty years every poem had been his death poem. I ain’t one of them—I burned my draft card 37 years ago. “This is Basho’s deathverse. H. though he had declared.com SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 11 . Basho did say every poem he wrote for twenty years was a death poem—but I won’t hide my error in that tangled thicket! Tricycle welcomes letters to the editor. and the dharma. As the late scholar R. MA ANDREW SCHELLING RESPONDS Thanks. MI FAMOUS LAST WORDS Thank you for Andrew Schelling’s article “Whirling Petals. My dreams wander Over a withered moor. Schelling quote Basho’s famous crow haiku and then ask. written for his pupils. As you note. His official death poem was: Ill on a journey. NY 10013 Email address: editorial@tricycle. renga.

Consider the well-known Mahayana teaching: All beings are inherently enlightened. sitting at the edge of a precipice. is also the answer. only to return home and discover their “original face. Until you digest this ball. THE I have lived on the lip of insanity. urgency. Eventually I just wore myself out with the digging. then how can we possibly say we’re enlightened? But if we’re really enlightened.” In the Rinzai Zen tradition. It opens. by which he meant people whose suffering. I can still remember how these words short-circuited my mind the first time I heard them. says STEPHAN BODIAN. For years I kept digging. not just your mind. The fact is. you can’t 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 cannot experience freedom. walking on foot from master to master. Hmm. if we can’t realize it. emptying my mind to make room for the influx of awakening. wanting to know reasons. I mused. The Zen masters say that encountering the paradox is like swallowing a red-hot iron ball you can neither disgorge nor pass through. practitioners bellow mu (the key word from one of the most important koans) for hours in their fervor to break through the gate. Many centuries ago. why can’t we realize it? As a neophyte practitioner. silently. Yet the paradox continued to gnaw at me. You need to bring your whole being. sitting intensive retreats. I understood 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. from the inside. the Persian mystic poet Rumi described his own divine desperation in these words: . once you’re gripped by the core paradox and recognize that consensus—that everyday reality is merely a reflection of some deeper truth that’s close at hand but hidden from view—you’ve embarked on a search that you can never really aban- don. and the tradition’s stories are filled with notable examples of those who took their practice to even greater extremes. You cannot disclose the sublime.insights Without relying on conventions. disorienting the mind and evoking an answer from another dimension of knowing. I was spurred on in this archaeological exploration by my teachers. standing in the snow for hours. –Nagarjuna Encountering the Gateless Gate The paradox of enlightenment. or intensity drives them forward on their long and often lonely search. to the process and allow the paradox to transform you from the inside. “Monasteries are places for desperate people. In Zen it’s usually known as the gateless gate: Until you crack the combination and pass through. so I set aside my shovel (and my monk’s robes) and went back to living a more ordinary life. who offered encouragement in private interviews and lavished authority and cachet on those who passed koans quickly.” my first Zen teacher used to say. knocking on a door. but because of their attachments and distorted views they can’t realize this fact. contemplating koans. I’ve been knocking from the inside! 12 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 © JASON FULFORD paradoxical dance of seeking and finding wears different costumes in different traditions. Throughout the centuries zealous Zen students have meditated long hours struggling to resolve this paradox. Many Zen koans pose some version of this paradox. you can never be completely at peace. Without intuiting the sublime. no matter how far you seem to stray.

the “Buddha of Love. When you build a house. but the door eventually opens by itself. is seeking to awaken to itself through you. God. you build it on solid ground. © 2007 by Stephan Bodian. and the trees. Dharma. “No creature ever falls short of its own completeness. If you have a supportive sangha. Reprinted with permission from McGraw-Hill Professional. No matter how vigorous the seed is.” says Zen master Dogen. You need to choose friends in the practice who are stable. Transformation is possible only when you are in touch. and Sangha are three precious jewels in Buddhism. A good community is needed to help us resist the unwholesome ways of our time. When you touch the ground.” wrote an anonymous sage. Taking refuge in the sangha means putting your trust in a community of solid members who practice mindful- SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 13 . it’s easy to nourish your bodhicitta. and delight of those seekers who wear themselves out attempting to unravel the paradox and drop to the ground. A good sangha is crucial for the practice. and copractitioners—is the soil. in other words. and you are the seed. and I want to be known. or Truth. the air. The Sangha contains the Buddha and the Dharma. When you observe the steadiness of the sunshine. You cannot achieve enlightenment by locking yourself in your room. According to the Sufis. A good teacher is important. if the soil does not provide nourishment. relief. Rumi struggled for a long time to penetrate the paradox with his mind. peace has a chance.” ▼ © KATIE CUMMINGS The Fertile Soil of Sangha THICH NHAT HANH on the importance of community TWO From Wake Up Now: A Guide to the Journey of Spiritual Awakening. thousand five hundred years ago. Mindful living protects us and helps us go in the direction of peace. exhausted—only to discover that they’ve never strayed from home. Your sangha—family. God said to the Prophet Muhammad. you can feel the stability of the earth and feel confident. You could say that it’s in our DNA. even in their most desperate moments.” I think Maitreya Buddha may be a community and not just an individual.” Needless to say.” In His yearning to be loved and experienced. “That which you are seeking. your desire to practice may wither. Shakyamuni Buddha proclaimed that the next Buddha will be named Maitreya. Buddha. this intense longing to crack the code and reveal the truth at the heart of reality is as ancient and universal as humankind itself. the seeds of enlightenment. God set in motion an evolutionary pattern that reached its pinnacle in the human capacity for spiritual awakening. almost in spite of his efforts. If you don’t have anyone who understands you. Rumi’s epiphany when he discovers that he’s been looking from the inside out mirrors the surprise. but sisters and brothers in the practice are the main ingredient for success. Please find a good sangha or help create one. who encourages you in the practice of the living dharma. friends. you know that you can count on the sun to rise each day and the air and the trees to be there. and reveals that he’s been living in the secret chamber all along. “is always seeking you. and the most important of these is Sangha. “Wherever it stands it does not fail to cover the ground. “I am a hidden treasure. With the support of friends in the practice. your seed will die. to see itself everywhere through your eyes and taste itself everywhere through your lips. on whom you can rely.Judging from this poem.

by SOGYAL RINPOCHE THESE 14 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 © TRI LUU days. Suddenly. A practice community needs that kind of familial brotherhood to nourish practice. very essentially. when you feel inspired and enthusiastic. they have to find ways to live in harmony with one another. He was in retreat. and natural. and one day he heard that his sponsors. and lay practitioners at Plum Village that if they want to succeed in the practice. Dharma Sister. Each person’s way of sitting. What the dharma brings us. working. So he cleaned his room. you will mature as a bodhisattva. The first and most important thing is pure motivation. What is so important. even with those who are difficult. I hope communities of practice in the West will organize themselves as families. Getting a “yes” from everyone in the sangha is a true dharma seal. set out all the offerings perfectly. what it teaches us. I feel. the teaching of the buddhas. ▼ From Cultivating the Mind of Love. who were financing his retreat. and smiling is a source of inspiration. were coming to visit him. living deeply the moments of their days. and transformation takes place without effort. just before they arrived. If you have a sangha that is joyful. If someone who is troubled is placed in a good sangha. many people are very enthusiastic about the dharma. we address each other as Dharma Brother. when you’re really in love with the dharma. © 2008 by Thich Nhat Hanh. walking. It involves everyone. is enough.insights ness together. authentic. In Asian sanghas. and then sat and waited for his sponsors to arrive. You do not have to practice intensively—just being in a sangha where people are happy. There’s a famous story about a hermit long ago in Tibet called Geshe Ben. is that initial stage. Dharma Aunt. and we call our teacher Dharma Father or Dharma Mother. “What am I doing? This is all fake. just being there is enough to bring about a transformation. eating. is to be pure. I always tell the monks. Reprinted with permission of Parallax Press. That’s the time to go all out and get a good basis in the dharma and stabilize it. he reflected on his motivation and said to himself. animated by the desire to practice and help. parallax. arranged the shrine very neatly. how can they succeed outside of it? Becoming a monk or a nun is not just between student and teacher. or Dharma Uncle. . If they can’t succeed in the sangha. The Stability of Ease Three qualities every practitioner should cultivate.org. nuns.

When everything is so impermanent. this character is the thread. A great master called Padampa Sangye who heard about this called it “the greatest offering in the whole of Tibet. it’s very difficult to develop stability. When we have the teachings in us. The first. Because when you have a thread. stabilizing us. that’s all!” He snatched a handful of ash from the stove by his side and flung it all over the shrine and the offerings. One of our greatest problems is that we lack stability. Then. It seems that many people are all too stable when it comes to being negative—stable in their wrong views. they hang together. For example. even though each bead is separate. What we need is a thread too—of sanity and stability. often that’s not the case in terms of the teachings. a string of beads has a thread running through all the beads. This kind of character is what we need to develop. Without discipline. keeping them together. if our mind is not strong.© NAME H ERE I’m just hoping to create a good impression. However much we want to be stable and reliable. And when we live according to the dharma. the teachings have not become a part of us. so we don’t have that stability. Sadly. when we follow a SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 15 . That’s how you can have the freedom to be unique and special and individual and still have stability and humor. you have flexibility. I remember how Dudjom Rinpoche [1904–1987] always used to say that a person needs three qualities. we can be swept away by circumstances and changes. is sampa zangpo—a good heart. too. he said. And when you have this string.” Pure motivation and a good heart are fundamental. The second is tenpo—to be stable and reliable. there’s a thread to keep our life together that prevents us from falling apart. we become unreliable. that’s why we have a practice. everything is so impermanent that things are always in a state of flux.

” The first contemplation is to develop gratitude. as he looks down his nose at you condescendingly. its harvesting and journey from the fields to the market. When we are really in touch with ourselves. © 2007. there’s no problem. we are there for us. wisdompubs. it really doesn’t matter. when we have taken refuge. how we behave. We’re not in the monastery to become gourmets. He can drawl “bonjour” and look down on you. Thought for Food VENERABLE YIFA presents the five contemplations her monastery uses to appreciate meals. We also try to make sure that the conservation of resources takes place before the food even reaches our plate: the portions we receive aren’t too large. We also remember the preparation of the food—the work of the cooks and the cleaners and those who picked the vegetables and processed the food. We . we find a refuge in ourselves. since you are well with yourself. we are at ease with others. editor Doris Wolter. waiting to see how someone reacts to us. These ritual behaviors are part of what we call the “five contemplations. and you feel completely fine. Imagine you find yourself at a smart party in Paris. The third quality Dudjom Rinpoche spoke of is lhöpo—to be spacious. we try to be conscious of several things. at ease with ourselves. We eat in silence because this way you can concentrate on the food and practice awareness. If not. the Dharma. So. then we will be uncomfortable. We don’t feel any lack of confidence. and one very suave and successful person turns round to greet you. what people say to us or think about us.org. If we are not at ease with ourselves. from different backgrounds. 16 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 © JAMES HENKEL This is our way of honoring the conservation of resources. how we look. Then we eat everything on the plate. Our confidence hangs on what people tell us about how we are. We reflect on the food’s growth from seed to flowering plant. because for you it is actually a bon jour. because we have equilibrium and stability. We don’t choose what we eat at the monastery. then whatever happens. for example. slightly different from you. and the effort it took to supply this food. including food. All kinds of people are there. and this way it isn’t difficult to eat all that’s been given to us. We’re there because we need to cultivate appreciation and nonattachment to all things. and the Sangha. So these three qualities—a good heart. when we follow the Buddha. So often when we need ourselves. and spaciousness—these are really what you could call basic human virtues. we’re always on edge. When we are well with ourselves. we’re not there. If we are at ease with ourselves. If you’re at ease with yourself. Reprinted with permission of Wisdom Publications. WHEN we sit down to eat in our monastery. We give thanks for the food and how it came to us. stability. what it really does is bring us stability within ourselves. especially in company. ▼ From “Finding the Thread” in Losing the Clouds. we know ourselves beyond what others may tell us. then we appreciate its arrival and preparation in the kitchen. Gaining the Sky. Even the way he says “bonjour” has a supercilious air about it. when we need ourselves.insights teacher.

that life forms may have been harmed in the gathering of this food (even though we don’t eat meat. at least for a moment. and grains).© NAME H ERE acknowledge the interdependence of all natural things—how they work together in harmony to bring us what is nutritious and life-giving. 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. The second contemplation is to develop humility. The second contemplation forces us. too. fruits. we know that animals may have been disturbed by the harvesting of the vegetables. We recognize.” And so the young man and I did SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 17 . we know the meal is not cost-free. “Let’s 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. We’re always at risk of taking them for granted— just as. However. Perhaps such gratitude will make us more likely to help these laborers as they advocate for better work and living conditions. in society as a whole. I remember on one occasion. why do I still have to say ‘thank you’?” “Do you think that your five dollars really bought this meal?” I asked him. In the monastery we’re privileged in that we don’t pay money for our meals. to be aware that they exist and that we should be grateful for them. We’re also aware that many in the world don’t have access to any food. That we forget all those who work out of sight for our comfort is an unfortunate tendency in our culture. therefore. no matter what the price. I was eating with a young man who asked: “If I paid five dollars for this meal. It’s a great blessing to us that we have people who cook for us and prepare the tables.

That’s why the food in the monastery should always be nutritious. 4 You have to accept and watch both good and bad experiences. You want only good experiences? You don’t want even the tiniest unpleasant experience? Is this reasonable? Is this the way of the dhamma? 5 Don’t feel disturbed by the thinking mind. coursing through our bodies. This is a different 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. and wish to take more than our share— whether it’s piling our plate high or making it so that other people don’t get enough to eat. complain about the taste. The young man ate a bit of humble pie with his meal that day! The third contemplation we perform is to develop restraint. There’s no reason that it should be devoid of taste or pleasure. 2 When meditating. thanking everyone involved for their work and care. we must know how to practice. The food prepared should be good for the digestion. 1 Meditating is watching and waiting patiently with awareness and understanding. We should sense it nourishing us and giving us energy and vitality.insights just that. 3 You are not trying to make things turn out the way you want them to happen. Before we start practicing mindfulness meditation. both the body and mind should be comfortable. You are trying to know what is happening as it is. Food is always cooked using herbs and spices together to combine taste. but the amount of money and the perhaps unquantifiable effort involved were considerably more than what he had paid. and the healing power of those herbs and spices. This information will work at the back of your mind when you meditate. I can’t remember the exact number we came up with. The Chinese monastic tradition considers food and medicine to be from the same source. You are not prac- 18 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . Restraint means protecting the integrity of our mind so that we’re less likely to depart from our discipline. So. indulge our tastes. not only should we not take more than we need but also always practice consideration in making sure that everyone has what they need. Meditation is not trying to experience something you have read about or heard about. We need to have the right information and a clear understanding of the practice to work with awareness intelligently. and flavorful. We must be aware not to become selfish. this way we avoid errors such as greed. The fourth contemplation is the generation of health-providing thoughts about the food. We should accept it with gratitude and grace. soft on the palate. We shouldn’t ask why we were given the food. or disparage the skills of those who prepared it. nutritional value.

▼ © NAME H ERE From Don’t Look Down On the Defilements: They Will Laugh at You. © Ashin Tejaniya. Reprinted with the permission of Lantern Books. The entire process of sitting down to eat. and then the eating of it should be a method—one among many—to take us further on the path to enlightenment. where nutrition has. but rather to recognize and acknowledge thinking whenever it arises. | 19 SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE . This again is why the food in our temples is vegetarian: because we want to emphasize the lifegiving nature of food and to discourage the taking of life. reflecting on food and its preparation. not been thought of as a key component in preventing disease and curing ailments. 7 Just pay attention to the present moment. The fifth contemplation aims to encourage examination of the purpose of our lives. The fourth contemplation allows us to consider food as a medicinal force. 6 The object of attention is not really important: the observing mind that is working to be aware is of real importance. any object is the right object. Don’t get carried away by thoughts about the future. If the observing is done with the right attitude. New York. Reprinted with permission. until relatively recently. ▼ From Authenticity: Clearing the Junk: A Buddhist Perspective. ticing to prevent thinking. © 2007 by Venerable Yifa. Don’t get lost in thoughts about the past.West.

shortly after we fled Tibet for India. I begged my mother to let me become a monk. or SFF. (He and his wife live in Boulder. Khechog fled to India at age six after the 1959 Chinese invasion.) Born in Kham. Why did you want to become a hermit? When I was seven years old. Tibetan Meditation Music. Khechog combines the fruits of long. Mayan ocarina. and Tibetan freedom fighter. he has two adult children from a previous marriage. It’s a little bit like somebody who likes basketball and. a boarding school the Dalai Lama established for refugee children. These two teachings really shook my whole being. Philip Glass. offering personal guidance during the four years when I was a hermit in the mountains. After that. due in 2010. Sometime later I found Patrul Rinpoche’s Kunzang Lama’i Shelung—“Words of My Perfect Teacher”—in Freedom News. Carlos Nakai. You train for many hours every day. a workshop called “Awakening Kindness”. was No. which he describes with the glee of a schoolboy. African drums and kalimba. decides to join a major league team and focus their whole life on becoming a great basketball player. mind. the irrepressible artist is traveling less these days.” I borrowed it from a monk at the military temple and started reading it. You were a guerrilla soldier at sixteen? In fact. and even a newly invented video game. Nawang Khechog is a musical sorcerer—a self-taught. You wanted to be the Michael Jordan of the meditation world? Yeah. he has mastered the doongchen—Tibetan long horn—Aboriginal didgeridoo. Laurie Anderson. Three years after that. thinking that maybe you will one day become like Michael Jordan. For starters. R. I ran away to Dharamsala. when I was thirteen. The Dalai Lama gave me his blessing and sponsored me. There was a time I almost never slept at night. You focus one hundred percent—body.) After a recent performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City. transformative sound. Colorado. Grammy-nominated star of meditation music who has sold three million albums worldwide (his latest CD. Drawing on eleven years as a monk and mountain hermit. performer. I used to wait for the paper and read it with great enthusiasm. A fellow soldier told me about a great scripture. Then. Khechog took time out to talk with Tricycle contributing editor Mark Matousek about his hybrid life. Each week. It was run by his older sister.give & take Elevated Music Grammy-nominated Tibetan composer and musician Nawang Khechog chats with Tricycle’s Mark Matousek. It’s true! Nowadays. you were a hugely precocious child. Having survived a near-fatal car wreck in India last year. kind of. His many creative endeavors include a years-in-the-making documentary. (In addition to the flute. they printed a part of the scripture. deep practice with natural acoustic genius to create hauntingly beautiful compositions that mix earthy Tibetan chants with ethereal horns. a Tibetan-language newspaper that had a section on Buddha-dharma. Tsering Dolma-la. and David Bowie. in southeastern Tibet. It was very difficult! You have to—how do you say?—reverse your nature. The path to where you are today—as a world-famous musician and meditation teacher—seems to have been paved with independence and stubbornness. the Fifth Dalai Lama’s Lamrim Jamphel Shelung—“The Eloquent Teachings of Manjushri. to the Tibetan Children’s Village. all I wanted to do was become a hermit. 9 on the Billboard chart) and has collaborated with Kitaro. he occupies a singular place on the Buddhist scene as a teacher. practitioner. Paul Winter. and spirit—on developing your spiritual qualities. and Native American drums. about Tibetan hermit meditators. and near-miss with death—and how being a disobedient child gave him the surprising life he has today. I ran away to join a Tibetan guerrilla group called the Special Frontier Force. It’s like making water flow upstream. that’s where my real inspiration for the dharma came from—my time in the army. instead of just playing the game here and there. I ate very simple food—just a small cake made out of 20 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . at 54.

and responsibility. I always meditate before I play or compose—clear my mind and heart. When did you realize that you were an artist? I was quite creative as a young boy. I realized that even if I couldn’t go back up the mountain and be a hermit. I then ask for blessings. I taught myself to play the flute when I was in school and performed all the time. I didn’t take care of my physical body and became very sick.” COURTESY OF NAWANG KHECHOG dough and lentil.Musician Nawang Khechog “I always meditate before I play or compose. So I decided to live in the world and keep practicing the Buddha’s teaching as much as possible in my day-to-day situation. calm. Eventually I developed tuberculosis and began to vomit blood. In the end. I still can practice. I then go onstage and play music with that kind of spirit. You need to have that kind of energy—only then SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 21 . always the class clown. compassion. Meditating on universal love. I spent years in and out of hospitals. When I meet new meditators. After I got sick. You need to be in an elevated state of mind before offering transformative music to the audience? That’s it. The law of karma follows me wherever I go. my life was already different. It’s like rock and roll. focused state of mind. The need to develop love and compassion is important wherever I live. On the foundation of that clear. Whether I’m in solitude or living in a town. I always tell them to please be careful. Being a monk and dharma practitioner helped me create my kind of spiritual music. Don’t forget to take care of your body! Physical health is just as important as spiritual.

My niece. me. Westerners. Our driver collided with an oncoming truck. We realize interdependence and the transitory nature of existence—this is how we free ourselves from suffering. to go beyond the material. Instead of boxing in our hearts. That’s I’m not a lama or guru or anything like that. me—the smallest box—we must try to slowly expand that box till we’re able to love all humanity. Afterward. I need to tap into that energy. we human beings utilize only five to ten percent of our brain’s capacity.” It’s a very wild piece of music with drums and horns—an explosive energy release. When I’m playing quiet meditative flute. My son and niece were in the car with me. They take the Buddha’s words to heart. Do you find that Western seekers have challenges that Eastern seekers don’t? Both challenges and ness. to find out for themselves. If you put Western enthusiasm together with Eastern faith. but we take it easy when it comes to deeper spiritual practice. where my father lives. you’d have the perfect Buddhist. When I perform such music. I’ve been living in the West since 1985. to celebrate the Tibetan New Year. They really investigate. I’m just a spiritual friend. receiving their highest civilian award. kindness. all sentient beings. tend to work harder. We may go to temple and practice kind- Nepal last February. How does being a musician affect your role as dharma teacher? First. I went to India. like a piece I played last time at Carnegie Hall called “The Last Stand of the Wild Yaks. Tibetans born in a Buddhist country are brought up from childhood to have faith in the dharma. when he said not to take his teachings on faith but to test them. then we become wise. I’m just totally calm and peaceful and relaxed. When we use our maximum intelligence to access these deeper levels. they cut and burn and rub the teachings to see if they are real. I try to relate the Dharma to 21 st -century human beings. we use only five to ten percent of our heart’s capacity to love and feel it! [laughs] Tell me about your accident. my sister’s 22 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . I was in strengths.give & take can you rock! Sometimes my music is highly energetic. loving only me. Like a goldsmith. As Einstein said. In the same way. But we don’t always study enough—investigate enough. Then we can bring a lasting peace and happiness to the world. on the other hand.

” He said. The first one is called are also consultants on this series. and the third is Healing Rhythms. but my son was barely injured. Author of Sacred Voices of the Nyingma Masters. just lying there moaning. you haven’t lost your precociousness? No! [laughs] Just think of it as was doing tonglen. Ph. call 831. Ph. My wife and my son said that I meditated for forty minutes or so. I sat up and started to meditate. You have to bring your heart rate to a certain level. it has guided me through some of the most difficult thorny issues and I am very grateful. Holiness. The games incorporate biofeedback. o321 to sc h e dule a con sultat i on “Sandra welcomes whatever you bring to the table with such openness and a generous spirit. ▼ Is Anyone Listening? When you need support during difficult times. This is the first video game that helps people cultivate love and compassion.” – C.daughter. It brought a blessed feeling. you take the suffering of all beings inside yourself—the suffering of the world—and pray for its relief. then the game begins and you can take the journey. fighting. I was going through agony. I larly powerful practice. killing. (I don’t remember this completely. • 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. I became very peaceful and calm. If you can reach that calm state. who had me flown by charter plane from Orissa State to New Delhi. Most of them are about violence. and represent Tibet. all kinds of awful things. She is instrumental in unraveling difficult issues and bringing about meaningful change. was killed. which is a particu- The Passage. Your practice came to the rescue. I was unconscious.) After some time. but this is how my wife describes it. After blessing me.com SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 23 . In tonglen. yes.B.” I’d like to hear about your video games—The “Journey to Wild Divine” series. www. So. His Holiness called for me to visit him. he lp is within reach. Her approach combines Buddhist and Western psychology and offers practical solutions. People wear sensors while they play and can see their heartbeat on the computer. I am able to play a flute. and by the end. They’re interactive meditation video games? Exactly. 661. the second is Wisdom Quest.D. He found a Red Cross medic who came and got me to surgery. “Can you play a flute?” And I said. has been providing confidential and convenient telephone consultations for more than 20 years.sandra scales. I love her voice. The idea is for people to be able to have fun and at the same time a spiritual experience. “Oh. Then they have to meditate. Sandra Scales. While I was recovering in Delhi Hospital. There are thousands of video games out there. Because of my brain injury. I asked her to bring a pillow. totally without pain. Andrew Weil an ex-monk’s new journey. “Yes. he said. “It is very important for you to travel around. they were not able to give me pain medication in the hospital. Deepak Chopra and Dr. you are the one who came back from the dead!” Then he said. So did Richard Gere. Dr. It’s as if the state of mind created by tonglen healed the pain. That is when my practice really saved me. My son saved my life.D. play music.

BARRY MAGID My teacher Charlotte Joko Beck pretty much sums up her attitude toward relationships when she says.” Rather than talk about everything we normally think that we gain from relationships. if only he were more interested in sex. like love. Antidotes are all versions of “If only. but they can help us grow. She focuses on all the ways relationships go awry when people enter into them with particular sorts of gaining ideas and expect relationships to function as an antidote to their problems. security. always assuming that the one thing that’s 24 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 © GETTY IMAGES/TODD DAVIDSON . and family life.” If only she were more understanding. she looks at relationships from the perspective of no gain. if only she would stop drinking. “Relationships don’t work. For Joko. that kind of thinking about relationships means always externalizing the problem.. companionship..relationships No Gain Relationships won’t solve our problems.

Joko tries to bring people back to their own fears and insecurities. That’s particularly obvious with children. Many people come to me and say.insight-travel.” Learn more about this and our other Buddhist Pilgrimages at www. visit www.com 102 SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 25 .insighttravel. then my life would go the way I want it to. to do that work for us. For more on Ted and his film. Nobody would say to a five-year-old. 2008 LED BY TED BURGER.PILGRIMAGE TO CHINA ROOTS OF ZEN APRIL 1 7– Y MA 9. BUDDHIST SCHOLAR AND MAKER OF THE FILM “AMONGST WHITE . EXPLORER. amongstclouds. We would all agree that children need a certain kind of care and love in order to grow and develop. going to change your life is outside yourself and in the other person. In addition to being aware of the pitfalls that Joko warns us about.com. com. “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 937-767-1 or 800-688-9851 www. If only the other person would get his or her act together. and we can’t ask anyone else. is simply to be willing to respond and be there for the other person without always calculating what we are going to get out of it. a loving relationship. These problems are ours to practice with.” But for them it wasn’t enlightenment. “I’ve been in lots of relationships where I give and give and give. we should also look at all the ways in which relationships provide the enabling conditions for our growth and development. it was masochism! What they are missing from Joko’s original account is a description of what relationships are actually for—what the good part is. including a teacher. To be in a real relationship.“CLOUDS.

as we are all connected and interdependent. Acknowledging this dependency is the first step of real emotional work within relationships. you don’t find much in Aristotle about the necessity of romantic love in order to develop. between friends. we need role models—others who have developed their capacities for courage. none of us can do it all on our own. wisdom. It’s not just a parent-child relationship or a relationship with a partner that does that. and reliance on others means opening yourself to the truth that none of us can do this on our own. sexuality. Some aspects of ourselves don’t develop except under the right circumstances. or dependency. We may imagine that through spiritual practice we will get to a place where we won’t feel need. and justice. Aristotle stressed the importance of community and friendship as necessary ingredients for character development and happiness. Then. and we rationalize that dissociation under the lofty and spiritual-sounding word “detachment. just as we need parents and teachers. If we go for control. Our ambivalence about our own needs and dependency gets stirred up in all kinds of relationships. We really do need each other. anger. We may emphasize different sets of virtues or ideas about what makes a proper role model. Aristotle said that in order for people to become virtuous. longing. We cannot escape our feelings and needs and desires if we are going to be in relationships with others. We need all those people in our lives who make us feel so uncertain. However. dependency. If only I had a guarantee that they’ll give me what I need. a denial of feeling. Basically.” With this strategy. The relationship of a student with a teacher. we go in the opposite direction and try to imagine that we don’t need anyone. we imagine. self-control. He is the real origin of the idea that “it takes a village” to raise a child. We bump up against the fact of change and impermanence as soon as we acknowledge our feelings or needs for others. but Buddhism also asserts that. To open yourself up to need. and among community members—all help us to develop in ways we couldn’t on our own.” which ends up carrying a great deal of unacknowledged emotional baggage alongside its original. We try to squelch our feelings in order not to be vulnerable anymore. between members of a sangha. and in circumstances that are intrinsically uncontrollable and unreliable. Relationships aren’t 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. we won’t be so tied into the vicissitudes of relationships.relationships that child’s neediness and fear in the midst of a seemingly adult life. then I wouldn’t have to face uncertainty. we all tend to go in one of two directions as a strategy for coping with that vulnerability. we may be saying: “If only I can get the other person or my friends or family to treat me the way I want. His emphasis was on friendship. We either go in the direction of control or of autonomy. But that strategy inevitably entails repression or dissociation. To be in relationships is to feel our vulnerability in relation to other people who are unpredictable. With the strategy (or curative fantasy) of autonomy. and learn to use our practice to allow ourselves to experience more of that vulnerability rather than less of it. We have to get to know and be honest about our particular strategies for dealing with vulnerability. simpler meaning as the acceptance of impermanence. we get invested in the control and manipulation of others and in trying to use people as antidotes to our own anxiety. Our 26 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . then I’ll be able to feel safe and secure.

We take care of others for our own sake as well as theirs. we get less controlling and less reactive. wisdompubs.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. as long as we are afraid of feeling vulnerable. SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 27 . it allows us to feel neediness without clinging to the other person. 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. we can learn to both contain and feel them fully. paradoxically. © Barry Magid 2008. because that means opening ourselves to vulnerability. to manipulate ourselves or other people. We begin to see that all our relationships 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 have—from 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. If we let ourselves feel more and more. We learn to keep our relationships and support systems in good repair because we admit to ourselves how much we need them. As long as we think we shouldn’t feel something. our defenses will kick in to try to get life under control. We acknowledge our dependency. Relationships work to open us up to ourselves. to feel more and more. That containment allows us to feel vulnerable or hurt without immediately erupting into anger.org. Reprinted with permission of Wisdom Publications. But first we have to admit how much we don’t want that to happen. ▼ From Ending the Pursuit of Happiness: A Zen Guide. But instead of either controlling or sequestering our feelings.

you have to be a vegetarian. 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. he wanted direction in applying the teachings to daily life.” Still. in reincarnation. now 39. Vegetarianism. animal disease epidemics.” he says. After earning his master’s degree. from Baruch College in New York City. indicating that the crises we’re facing— environmental degradation. “It’s about how things work. “It’s critical to humanity’s survival. and the like. JOAN DUNCAN OLIVER Just don’t mention the phrase “right livelihood” to James Tu. abiding.how we live Make It One with Everything James Tu’s Zen Burger offers fast food that’s better for you. then shifted to financial management. global warming.” Perhaps a different teacher was the answer. how did Tu. “If you believe in Buddhism. But I just couldn’t get rid of meat in my life. “It’s a logical extension of that.” he says.’ but I’m just a beginner. and chicken fingers? As he says. I was studying a lot of scripture. he thought. then the killing of thirty billion animals a year will come back to haunt humanity. which sprang from his deep.” he affirms. But if we take the Buddha’s definition of right livelihood—work that causes no harm and. but I couldn’t find a set of governing principles. And if that weren’t bad enough.” But as his career picked up. but it wasn’t until college— at Tsinghua University.” Tu recalls. is consistent with wholesome values—wouldn’t Tu agree that’s what he’s engaged in? Put another way. by extension.” he says. popcorn shrimp. there’s the spiritual cost of mass slaughtering. It seemed to be easier for me than spiritual growth. “I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t have my spiritual life first.” Tu says. Studying with a professor who taught a combination of Pure Land and Ch’an (the Chinese precursor of Zen). in cause and effect. “I was very interested in the subject.” 28 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . better for the earth.A. Tu practiced meditation and chanting.B. his spiritual quest receded. what it takes to put meat on our plates. or at least exacerbated by. would he say his spiritual life informs his work life? “Without a doubt. he sat with Master Sheng-yen at the Ch’an Meditation Center in Queens. for Tu. but I just didn’t feel inspired. “It has to be stopped. is far more than a meatless diet. New York. the Zen Burger fast-food chain. “I was interested in financial markets pretty much the way I was interested in the spiritual world. and struggled with becoming a vegetarian.” “This” is Tu’s company. “If you really study Buddhism. it started with his spiritual practice. Tu. grew up Buddhist in Taiwan. not to mention food shortages and higher food costs—are attributable to. “A great practitioner. When he came to the United States in 1989 for graduate school.” he protests.” as he puts it. and passionate belief in the power and necessity of a vegetarian way of life. “I even wrote to a friend who had studied Buddhism with me. Tu worked at a hedge fund for eight years.” Tu was also conflicted about Buddhism in general. HOV (for Healthy Original Vegetarian) Group. The moneymanager-turned-vegetarianrestaurateur shrugs off suggestions he’s engaged in anything of the kind. saying I thought maybe I should focus on philanthropic growth. Taiwan’s equivalent of MIT—that he became a “real Buddhist. Still. rattling off a list of mistakes he’s made in getting his latest venture. a chartered financial analyst with an M. off the ground. “I’m trying to live ‘right living.

” © CHAD CARPENTER Then. given by a Chinese master. he looked for related companies to invest in. Worthington was bought by Kellogg. But six years later.Spiritual Guides for Our Time Restaurateur James Tu “ If you really study Buddhism. “Master Chang was a Christian before he was a Buddhist. and then he became a Taoist. it was sold largely through health food stores and vegetarian restaurants catering to the three percent of Americans who are strict vegetarians. “Taoism is a living principle. “I was totally mesmerized. Tu widened Please visit our new e-commerce web-site at www. and Tu’s investment doubled. the ancient Book of Changes. He was able to talk about the I Ching in a very broad sense. he gave up meat without a struggle.” he recalls. It teaches you to do what is timely. and vegetarianism is a timely issue. Henry Chang. at the time the only publicly traded company manufacturing vegetarian meat alternatives. Everything he was talking about was answering my questions.sharchen.com. the availability of vegetarian food was still very limited.” Even more surprising to Tu: Six months later. That was what I’d been seeking for years—a governing principle. He zeroed in on Worthington. in 1997.” As Tu’s commitment to vegetarianism grew. Six months later. where you will find the finest goods and artifacts of the Indo-Tibetan tradition SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 29 . explaining everything within the I Ching system. you have to be a vegetarian. Tu attended a lecture on the I Ching.

Wendy’s. set up HOV Group. It has a long history and wellproven food.how we live his investment search to private companies he could help grow: “I wanted to help an entrepreneur develop a concept that would bring high-quality. “You can’t build a Zen Palate in every corner of the world. He’s now working on a translation of the Tao Te Ching. and I was at a good stage in my career on Wall Street. “That was a pretty bold move.” Tu had by then resumed spiritual practice and was teaching Taoism to small groups. ‘I think a vegetarian McDonald’s would be great. and Burger King. the opportunity to buy Zen Palate came up: the founders were retiring. Deliberately so. “But I heard a few friends say.” Zen Burger has set out to be the brand for the 97 percent of Americans who aren’t vegetarians. writing a business plan for the vegetarian fast-food chain.’ and I wondered how come nobody was doing it. green. New Jersey—“but I decided to buy the company to preserve the Zen Palate brand. “They wanted to close the restaurants altogether”—there are now two in Manhattan and one in Princeton.” He decided to do it himself. with Chang’s commentary. Tu quit his job at Gerstein Fisher. But I felt there was a vision inside me in terms of what I believed. (There is also more conventional 30 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 © ZEN BURGER .) In 2004. as well as translating texts for Master Chang. (Tu’s translation of the Heart Sutra from Chinese to English. and yellow—to the service is reminiscent of McDonald’s.” He initially rejected restaurants as unreplicable. and nongenetically modified soy.” he explains. affordable vegetarian food to the masses. It’s not easy to build a brand in the vegetarian market. referring to an iconic high-end vegetarian restaurant in New York City that he now owns. grains. was privately published in 2001. is built around mock meats and fish concocted from proprietary recipes that combine vegetables. Everything from the decor—Day-Glo orange. While Zen Burger was still in development. because I didn’t know much about the restaurant industry. The menu. and spent the next three months in a neighborhood café. however.

I think. Her companion. a line of frozen vegetarian foods under the Zen Palate label. “If we can shift just 10 or 20 percent of our diet toward vegetarian.”) Tu’s plan is to take Zen Burger nationwide this year: he’s opening a second branch on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood this summer and will begin offering franchises in June.) But why go to such lengths to make vegetable-based foods look and taste like meat? “Because it’s familiar. SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 31 . ‘vegetarian lifestyle’ is so far away from what everybody does every day. found her Zen Burger tastier than beef and was pleased to think that if the fast-food vegetarian concept catches on. “there’ll be a lot fewer animals killed. but the work has been his spiritual practice. Among the customers on a recent afternoon was one woman—a vegetarian for 25 years—who had walked close to a mile just to lunch on a mock-chicken wrap.” Tu says. given what you know now. writes regularly about spiritual practice in daily life.” 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? “It’s not in my hands.” If that sounds contradictory.” Tu explains. “When I run into difficulties. Tu has made every mistake possible.” (She may or may not have read the tag line on the recycled-paper menu and placemat: “Zen Burger: Good for you. The rest. To me.vegetarian fare. ‘I’m building this company not for myself but for a purpose. it’s about doing the best you can at this moment. Not that die-hard vegetarians aren’t grateful for the new arrival.” Launching HOV and Zen Burger has meant learning the restaurant business from the ground up. what Tu means is that he’s not trying to make wholesale converts. If we can think about what’s good for the whole earth and what we can do to make a difference. Maybe someone else will see this model and feel they can do better with it. we will receive a lot of help. such as organic soups and salads. “I can only do what I think should be done. that would make a big difference.” Tu says.’ And miracles happen. Good for the earth.” he says.” ▼ Joan Duncan Oliver. Tricycle’s reviews editor. Tu says. The core Zen Burger customers are “flexitarians”— people who eat vegetarian meals a few times a week. He’s also introducing Fro-Zen. It creates more awareness. he says. are just looking for a healthy meal. I like competition. not a vegetarian. “Access is the key. “Right now. “You don’t want to change people’s behavior.

it leads to a dead end. it can lead you all the way to the Buddha’s ultimate aim in teaching meditation: nirvana. Rahula: “When you see that you’ve acted.org. which tend to fall into two extremes. they can take you far. free from the constraints of space and time. there’s the belief that effort is counterproductive to happiness. but it requires work. Meditations2. That’s an inspiring aim. and discernment. He is the author of a series of books on meditation—Meditations. is like a musician’s tuning of a lute. unpleasant stretches and untangle all the mind’s difficult issues. THANISSARO BHIKKHU WHEN explaining meditation. Problems are solved through Thanissaro Bhikkhu is abbot of Metta Forest Monastery. or inspired—is like a palace cook’s ability to read and please the tastes of a prince. outside of San Diego. The Buddha said as much to his son. This joyful attitude is a useful antidote to the more pessimistic attitudes that people often bring to meditation. allowing no room for imagination and inquiry: simply grit your teeth. saying that meditation should be enjoyable doesn’t mean that it will always be easy or pleasant. however. This greater skill requires strong powers of mindfulness. steadied. a totally unconditioned happiness. these analogies make an important point: Meditation is a skill. and the mind is energized for even greater challenges. carpenters. On the other hand.dharma talk the joy of effort The path doesn’t save all its pleasure for the end. But if you can approach difficulties with the enthusiasm with which an artist approaches challenges in her work. and if you stick with it. Finding the right level of effort. he said.” Of course. archers. there’s the belief that meditation is a series of dull and dreary exercises. when either is pursued to the exclusion of the other. or thought in a skillful way—conducive to happiness while causing no harm to yourself or others—take joy in that fact and keep on training. Reading the mind’s needs in the moment— to be gladdened. and cooks. so meditation should involve no exertion at all: simply accept things as they are—it’s foolish to demand that they get any better—and relax into the moment. If. and Meditations3—available for free at accesstoinsight. While it’s true that both repetition and relaxation can bring results in meditation. your own ingenuity. musicians. On the one hand. Collectively. and at the end of the long haul your mind will be processed into an awakened state. And the key to maintaining your inspiration in the day-to- 34 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . and mastering it should be enjoyable in the same way mastering any other rewarding skill can be. 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. You can enjoy it now. the Buddha often drew analogies with the skills of artists. the discipline becomes enjoyable. concentration. Every meditator knows that it requires serious discipline to sit with long. spoken.

he said.Explosions in the Sky. day work of meditation practice is to approach it as play—a happy opportunity to master practical skills. Here the Buddha was building on a lesson he had taught Rahula when the boy was seven years old. and even then he didn’t spell everything out. Instead of formulating a cut-and-dried method. mixed-media collage. Disgusting things get thrown on the earth. Meditate. We can see this in the way the Buddha taught Rahula how to meditate. he first trained his students in the personal qualities— such as honesty and patience—needed to make trustworthy observations. to develop his powers of endurance. Now. the Buddha taught Rahula a further exercise. experiment. COURTESY OF PAVEL ZOUBOK GALLERY | 35 . 2007. He started with the issue of patience. so they’d develop discernment and gain insights on their own. He raised questions and suggested areas for exploration in the hope that his questions would capture his students’ imagination. Look at the inconstancy of events in body and mind. 24 x 24 in. When you make your mind like the earth. to raise questions. the Buddha wasn’t telling Rahula to become a passive clod of dirt. but the earth isn’t horrified by them. so that your mind is like the earth. This is what patience does. neither agreeable nor disagreeable sensory impressions will take charge of it. To develop honesty in meditation. David Poppie. so that you don’t develop a sense of “I am” around them. Learn to SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE © DAVID POPPIE. he said. and explore. Only after this training did he teach meditation techniques. This is precisely how the Buddha himself taught meditation. He was teaching Rahula to be grounded. so that he’d 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. It helps you sit with things until you understand them well enough to respond to them skillfully.

you can learn to see events simply as events and not as signs of your innate Buddha-ness or badness. Then. To begin.” 6 2 7 3 8 4 9 look at your actions. In these lessons. simply notice when the breath is long and when it’s short. The Buddha recommended sixteen steps in dealing with the breath [see box above]. you have to figure out for yourself how to do what the Buddha recommends. In other words.” One trains oneself. As a result. the breath becomes a vehicle for exercising your ingenuity in solving the problems of the mind. along the nerves and . the rest raise questions to be explored.” One trains oneself. one discerns. “I’ll breathe in and out sensitive to ease. “I’ll breathe in and out calming mental fabrication. together with patience. To avoid these pitfalls. How do you do that? You experiment. The first two trainings are to breathe in and out sensitive to the entire body. one discerns. resolve not to repeat the mistake. Where do you feel that energy flow? Think of it as flowing in and out the back of your neck.” One trains oneself. “I’ll breathe in and out sensitive to mental fabrication.” One trains oneself. “I’ll breathe in and out sensitive to the entire body. one discerns. then to calm the effect that the breath has on the body. he had said. THE primary technique the Buddha taught his son was breath meditation. you’re likely either to come down on yourself as a miserable meditator or to smother the intention under a cloak of denial. This attitude is essential for developing honesty in your meditation as well. “I’m breathing out short. reading it as a sign of your innate good nature. “I’m breathing in short. to see where they come from and 36 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 where they lead. while you’re doing them. “I’ll breathe in and out sensitive to the mind. “I’m breathing in long. the Buddha was training Rahula to be honest with himself and with others. “I’ll breathe in and out calming bodily fabrication” [the in-and-out breath]. If you regard everything— good or bad—that arises in the meditation as a sign of the sort of person you are. 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. you train yourself.dharma talk 16 steps of breath meditation 1 Breathing in long. “I’ll breathe in and out sensitive to refreshment. In the remaining steps. 5 One trains oneself. Then talk it over with someone you respect. you’re free to change your ways. it will be hard to observe anything honestly at all. Honesty. and after they’re done. though. one discerns.” or breathing out long.” One trains oneself.” One trains oneself. Then you can observe these events honestly.” or breathing out short. If a skillful intention arises. if you see the results aren’t good. you’re likely to become proud and complacent. If an unskillful intention arises.” Or breathing in short. If you see that you’ve acted unskillfully and caused harm. What rhythm of breathing. And the key to this honesty is to treat your actions as experiments. in your feet and hands. before you do them. “I’m breathing out long. puts you in a better position to use the techniques of meditation to explore your own mind. In this way. The first two involve straightforward instructions. you never get to see whether these intentions are actually as skillful as they seemed at first glance. and exercising your sensitivity in gauging the results.

how to steady it when it needs steadying. As you play around with the breath in this way. You adjust your attention slightly so that you’re watching the mind as it stays with the breath.” —From Majjhima Nikaya 62. For instance. though. Where is it blocked? How do you dissolve the blockages? By breathing through them? Around them? Straight into them? See what works. to gladden the mind. Then. you’ll need to experiment both with the way you breathe and with the way you conceive of the breath. in your bones. you’ll make some mistakes—I’ve sometimes given impact on the mind and how you can calm that impact so the mind feels most at ease. they go away. “I’ll breathe in and out gladdening the mind. “I’ll breathe in and out focusing on cessation. You’ll also catch yourself getting impatient or frustrated.” One trains oneself. TAYLOR L.” One trains oneself. Think of it coming in and out every pore of your skin. “I’ll breathe in and out steadying the mind. “I’ll breathe in and out focusing on dispassion. you’re ready to look at the mind itself. You’re beginning to see the impact of the breath on the mind.” One trains oneself.” One trains oneself. Here. you can develop an attitude of infinite goodwill or recollect the times in the past when you’ve been virtuous or generous. when the breath is calm and you’ve been refreshed by feelings of ease and stillness.” 15 11 12 One trains oneself. You don’t leave the breath. “I’ll breathe in and out releasing the mind. To steady the mind when it’s been knocked over by lust or to reestablish your focus when you’re drowsy or complacent. The path takes the daunting prospect of reaching full awakening and breaks it down into manageable interim goals. you can contemplate (continued on page 111) SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE © R. “I’ll breathe in and out focusing on relinquishment.” One trains oneself. | 37 . “I’ll breathe in and out focusing on inconstancy.10 One trains oneself. too. Sometimes the gladdening and steadying will require bringing in other topics for contemplation. 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. but then you’ll see that when you breathe through these emotions. The next step is to breathe in and out with a sense of refreshing fullness and a sense of ease. and how to release it from its attachments and burdens when it’s ready for release.P.M. Notice how these feelings and conceptions have an Here the Buddha recommends three areas for experimentation: Notice how to gladden the mind when it needs gladdening. translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu 13 16 14 blood vessels.A.

have no independent existence. as such. they are within us. and we believe in their existence—ask anyone who has fought an addiction or anxiety attacks. the habit of fighting our demons only gives them strength. and fears—into tranquility and wisdom. Feeding our demons rather than fighting them may seem to contradict the conventional approach of attacking and attempting to eliminate that which assails us. Even common parlance refers to demons. or common problems like depression. Demons are ultimately generated by the mind and. and addiction. anxieties. They are our present fears and Tsultrim Allione is a former Tibetan Buddhist nun and author of Women of Wisdom. from TSULTRIM ALLIONE Artwork by Andrew Guenther DEMONS are not bloodthirsty ghouls waiting for us in dark places. we are integrating these energies. anxiety. rather than rejecting them and attempting to distance ourselves from disowned parts of ourselves. all stemming from the root demon of ego-clinging. our demons. Nonetheless. but manifesting in an infinite variety of ways. She is the founder of the Tara Mandala retreat center in Colorado (taramandala. Our demons. such as a veteran who is home “battling his demons” of post-traumatic stress from the war in Iraq. or the discomfort we feel when we look at ourselves in the mirror. By feeding. obsessions. anxiety we feel when we fly. I realized that demons—or maras as they are called in Buddhism—are not exotic beings like those seen in Asian scroll paintings. the forces that we find inside ourselves. which was originated by the eleventh-century Tibetan yogini Machig Lapdrön [see sidebar on page 43]. whether we want them or not. Demons are our obsessions and fears. not fighting. or projecting them onto others. Brown and Company.into practice feeding your demons Five steps to transforming your obstacles—your addictions. we engage with them as though they were real. might come from the conflicts we have with our lover. Reprinted by permission of Little. NY. feelings of insecurity. New York. In my own process of learning and applying the practice of Chöd. but it turns out to be a remarkable alternative and an effective path to liberation from all dichotomies. This article has been adapted from her new book Feeding Your Demons. We might have a demon that makes us fear abandonment or a demon that causes us to hurt the ones we love. © 2008. I recently heard a woman say she was fighting her “jealousy demon. 38 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . chronic illnesses. Demons show up in our lives whether we provoke them or not.org).” Unfortunately. the issues and emotional reactivity of our own lives. the core of which is ego-clinging.

acrylic and oil stick on canvas.Social Group III. 60 x 50 inches © ANDREW GUENTHER SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 39 . 2007.

which began to be used independently of the Tibetan Chöd practice. Choose a quiet place where you feel safe and comfortable. the stress of losing a job. Set up two chairs or two cushions opposite each other: one for you and one for the demon and ally. I realized that this exercise had a life of its own outside of teaching the traditional Chöd practice. This exercise evolved into a five-step process. the energy tied up in our demon will tend to dissolve and become an ally. Keeping your eyes closed will help you stay focused and present as you imagine this encounter with your demon. perfectionism. During the next three breaths release any emotional tension you might be carrying with the exhalation and in the last three breaths release any mental tension such as worries or concepts that are blocking you. anger. intensify it. depression. As you inhale during the first three breaths. panic attacks. Locate where you are holding this energy by noticing where your attention goes in your body when you think about this issue. we give our demons strength. When we obsess about weight issues or become drained by a relationship or crave a cigarette. exaggerate it. until you know the steps by heart. step one: Find the Demon In the first step you will find where in your body you hold the demon. Arrange a time when you won’t be interrupted. Think about the issue or demon you’ve decided to work with and let your awareness scan your body from head to toe. compulsive eating. like the demons that attacked Machig and subsequently became her aides. When we understand how to feed the demon’s real need with fearless generosity. and illness. or anything that is dragging you down. So first decide what you will work with. without any judg40 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 ments. which means breathing in deeply until you can feel your abdomen expand. because we aren’t really paying attention to the demon. and interpersonal problems at work and at home. 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. Once you find the feeling. the death of a loved one. you may need to glance at the instructions. Now you are ready for the five steps. simply being aware of the sensations that are present. imagine your breath traveling to any physical tension you are holding in your body and then imagine the exhalation carrying this tension away. what would it be? If it had a smell. Begin by generating the motivation to do the practice for the benefit of all beings. Finding the demon in your body takes you out of your head into a direct somatic experience. When they told me the five-step process also helped in dealing with upheavals such as the end of a relationship. However. Feeding a demon will take about half an hour. 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. Your demon might be an illness. draining your energy.into practice The Practice of the Five Steps of Feeding Your Demons WHEN I began to teach the Chöd practice in the West twenty-five years ago. Place your hands on your stomach and notice it rise and fall. an addiction. Once you’re set up you will want to keep your eyes closed until the end of the fifth step. a phobia. Then take nine deep abdominal breaths. I developed an exercise of visualizing and feeding “personal” demons so that the idea of demons would be relevant and applicable for Westerners. My students told me that this method helped them greatly with chronic emotional and physical issues such as anxiety. what would it be? .

you still must find out how the demon will feel if it gets what it needs. and imagine yourself as the demon. because many demons will want your life force. notice its color. expression and especially the look in its eyes. . or everything good in your life. size.step two: Personify the Demon and Ask It What It Needs In the second step you invite the demon to move from being simply a collection of sensations. The demon of alcoholism might want alcohol but need something quite different. or to control you. don’t dismiss it or try to change it. facing your original seat. . actually changing places and allowing yourself to see things from the demon’s point of view. 2006. If something comes up that seems silly. Thus. like this: “What I want from you is . Vividly recall the being that was personified in front of you and imagine you are “in the demon’s shoes. move to the seat you have set up in front of you. which is why we ask the second question. a figure or a monster.” Take a moment to adjust to your new identity before answering the three questions. This will tell you what to feed the demon. you will discover what the demon needs by putting yourself in the demon’s place. You need to become the demon to know the answers. but that’s not what they need. step three: Become the Demon In the third step. I will feel . we address the core issue instead of just the symptoms. let your unconscious mind produce the image. When my need is met. Take a deep breath or two and feel yourself becoming this demon. looking at an imagined form of your ordinary self in front of you. colors. Don’t try to control or decide what it will look like. Work with whatever form shows up without editing it. By feeding the demon the emotional feeling that underlies the desire for the substance. .” Now you know to feed this demon relaxation. 48 x 48 inches © ANDREW GUENTHER SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 41 . . What I need from you is . Then answer the three questions aloud in the first person. like a cliché or a cartoon character. Often what they need is hidden beneath what they say they want. With your eyes still closed. Social Group I. acrylic and oil stick on canvas. . and textures that you’ve identified inside your body to becoming a living entity sitting right in front of you. As a personified form appears. the craving will continue. immediately change places with the demon.” Having learned that beneath the stress demon’s desire to hurry and do more lies a need to feel secure. 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.” It’s very important that these questions make the distinction between wants and needs. probing a little deeper. 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. like safety or relaxation. In response to the question “What do you need?” the stress demon might respond: “What I actually need is to feel secure. . Until we get to the need underlying the craving.

as it is likely to begin to change. so just observe what happens. or acceptance. or accepted when it gets what it needs. and that you are offering it with a feeling of limitless generosity. give free rein to your imagination in seeing how the nectar will be absorbed by the demon. its appearance usually changes significantly. or taking it in some other way. 24 x 22 inches step four: Feed the Demon and Meet the Ally Now we’ve reached the crucial moment when we actually feed the demon. acrylic and oil stick on canvas. Take a moment to settle back into your own body before you envision the demon in front of you again.into practice I! WANT! WHAT! HE’S! HAVING!. 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 should be just that: You offer nectar of the feeling of power. or loved. Does it look different in any way? Does it morph into a new being altogether? At the moment of total satiation. watch it carefully. Whatever develops will arise spontaneously when the demon is fed to its complete satisfaction. 2004. While you feed your demon. It may become something completely new or disappear into smoke or mist. the demon might have said it will feel powerful. so the nectar consists of the answer to the third question in step three. love. Return to your original position and face the demon. imagine that there is an infinite supply of this nectar. It is important that the demon be fed to complete satisfaction. If your demon seems insatiable. Continue imagining the nectar flowing into the demon. What happens when the demon is completely satisfied? There’s nothing it’s “supposed” to do. let the process unfold without trying to create a certain outcome. just imagine how it would look if © ANDREW GUENTHER . Begin by imagining that your consciousness is separating from your body so that it is as if your consciousness is outside your body and just an observer of this process. Now feed the demon this nectar. See the demon drinking in your offering of 42 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 nectar through its mouth or through the pores of its skin. For example.

he buries the immortal head under a large boulder. The head lies before him. a mythic god or bodhisattva. this bypasses our tendency to hold on to our demons. or a familiar person. They approached her as a mass of terrifying magical apparitions. compassionately offering her body as food rather than fighting against them. Kyotön Sonam Lama.” Not only did the aggression of the nagas evaporate but also they developed faith in her and offered her their “life essence. but Hercules cuts through the mortal neck that supports it. (continued on page 113) SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 43 . These capricious beings can cause disruption and disease but can also act as treasure holders or protectors. then invite an ally to appear. The ally could be an animal. 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. “They could not devour her because she was egoless. just as you became the demon in step three. hissing. The tendency to kill—rather than engage—the monster prevents us from knowing our own monsters and transforming them into allies. and justifying their murder. with several other women practitioners. or merely suppressed it? The Hydra’s immortal head. leaving no figure behind. Ask this figure if it is the ally. and flew into a tree above a pond. If so. Young Machig’s arrival in this lone tree above the pond was a direct confrontation for the water spirit. Machig turned the demons into allies. If it replies it is not. This pond was the residence of a powerful naga. Accompanied by his nephew Iolaus. Machig magically rose up from where she was sitting. or water spirit. 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. Hercules discovers that every time he destroys one of the Hydra’s heads. but she remained in meditation. and. When she saw them coming. This infuriated him. and poverty. a nine-headed water serpent. unshakable meditation. where the Hydra. has been attacking innocent passersby. passed through the wall of the temple. the governing force of its energy. Machig instantly transformed her body into a food offering. two more grow back in its place. Among these is the ego inflation of those who identify themselves with the role of the dragon-slaying warrior hero. But what kind of victory has Hercules achieved? Has he actually eliminated the enemy.The Story of Chöd Practice The great eleventh-century Tibetan yogini Machig Labdrön (1055–1145) received empowerment from her teacher. This particular naga was so terrifying that the local people did not even dare to look at the pond. disease.” committing not to harm other beings and vowing to protect her. a human. never mind approach it. Iolaus uses a burning branch to cauterize the necks at the base of the heads as Hercules lops them off. also about a water creature. At the key moment when the wisdom beings descended. But Machig landed in the tree above the pond and stayed there in a state of profound. successfully preventing the Hydra from growing more. The next part of step four is the appearance of an ally. it were completely satisfied. it also poses terrible and largely unacknowledged dangers. a child. After it emerges. Eventually only one head remains. Finally. demonizing them. There is a story. Another is projecting evil onto our opponents. The myth of Hercules exemplifies the heroic quest in Western culture. as her biography states. unafraid. Hercules goes to the lake of Lerna. A satisfied demon may transform directly into a benevolent figure. in Western mythology that stands in stark contrast to the story of Machig Labdrön and the naga. a bird. Hercules and Iolaus fire flaming arrows at the beast to draw it from its lair. is still seething under the boulder and could reemerge if circumstances permitted. He approached her threateningly. considering the monster vanquished. By meeting the demons without fear. you can still meet the ally by inviting an ally to appear in front of you. which may be the ally. while we claim to be wholly identified with good. Or the demon may have disappeared. so he gathered a huge army of nagas from the region in an attempt to intimidate her. This head is immortal.

the room affords an incomparable view of the hills and valleys beyond. Typical of the center. draws freely from a broad range of spiritual traditions. Photographs by Christine Alicino jack kornfield interview the 44 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 © CHRISTINE ALICINO Just inside the gate to the grounds of Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Sri Ramana Maharshi. Pictures of Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike paper the walls: the current Dalai Lama. Anagarika Munindra. and what all religions have in common. Kalu Rinpoche—to name a few—along with some of today’s most well-known Vipassana teachers. Thich Nhat Hanh. citing teachers. in a room used by teachers to interview students. poets. Kornfield has taken a break from leading a silent retreat and sits relaxed. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj. Maha Ghosananda. The center’s leading figure and cofounder. and artists in what he describes as an effort to speak to people using the language and metaphors they know best. California. everyday nirvana.wise heart Tricycle chats with teacher JACK KORNFIELD about Buddhist psychology. . The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. has just been published. casual. and ready to talk. writers. Sayagyi U Ba Khin. Jack Kornfield. in Marin County. His latest book. political leaders. in Woodacre.” 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. stands a modest “gratitude hut. Tricycle caught up with Kornfield on a mid-afternoon in March.

One aspect of the Buddhist approach to psychology you call. In your book you point out that Buddhist psychology is not especially focused on the interaction between student and teacher. Second. “behaviorism with heart. brightly shining is its nature. It provides an enormous and liberating map of the human psyche and of human possibility. Even more important are the inner practices.” Buddhists differ here as well. “Luminous is the mind. My own teacher. It’s more skillful than pointing to the negative. In behaviorism with heart. We are so loyal to our suffering and to seeing ourselves as damaged that it’s very easy to use spiritual practice to reinforce our self-judgment. Or we can view our nature as compassionate and loving. the therapist-client relationship is central.” deluded.” as if the two can be divided. That doesn’t help people become liberated. Often people say. as Augustine might point out. it is not for lack of will to do harm. and Buddhism addresses them all. Can you say something about this distinction? Of course the rela- tionship between the student and teacher is important. “This part of life is spiritual.” [AN 1. on the other hand. So then maybe we should add an “s” and talk about our “natures. In the Theravada sutras. and so on. the Buddha describes the nature of mind this way. Ajahn Chah. Where Western psychiatry has focused largely on mental illness. Through training and practice we discover our true nature and find liberation.” Can you explain what you mean? Western behaviorism grew out of Wordsworth. You believe in the fundamentally compassionate nature of the human heart. where much of the real transformation comes about. Buddhism offers a holistic approach. the Buddha instructs us to see that certain thoughts we have about ourselves or others are not compassionate.” I believe it is most skillful to try to get people to focus on and cultivate the positive. training in compassion. In our own Western tradition this has been debated for centuries. “Heaven lies about us in our infancy!/Shades of the prison-house begin to close/Upon the growing Boy. never made a distinction between the pain of divorce and the pain in your knee and the pain of clinging to self. but it is colored by the attachments that visit it. like metta practice—a meditation in which we cultivate positive mind states toward ourselves and others—we can learn to release negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. Through specific Buddhist trainings. Is Buddhist practice a question of cultivation or allowing our “pure nature” to manifest? We can view our nature as being defiled and rational emotive therapy. The root of Buddhist understanding of mind is that the mind can be trained and awakened to the nature of reality. In Western psychology. They are all forms of suffering. Saint Augustine wrote. But that’s only one part of it. in which thought substitution—good for bad—and retraining an individual to establish healthy habits of mind were central. but for lack of strength. Buddhism focuses on the cultivation of a healthy state of mind through mindfulness.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. that part worldly.49-51] I’ve found that pointing people to their fundamental goodness will awaken it. and teacher-student contact is essential. “If babies are innocent. wrote. So this is SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 45 .

” I’ll ask. My own teachers—and other wonderful masters like Shunryu Suzuki Roshi— emphasize that nirvana is to be found here and now. are nirvana? They are what my teacher Ajahn Buddhadasa sometimes been said in the Western psychological tradition.” Do you mean to say that greed. as love. we—and many 46 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 called “everyday nirvana. it’s in order to see the whole pattern so that you can become free. and ignoring content can also be a trap. and the cessation of suffering is the experience of nirvana. the direct experience of freedom. delusion—these. and delusion) that “we reach below the very synapses and cells to free ourselves from the grasp of these instinctive forces. But liberation is only found here and now.” I might ask. anger. Nirvana appears when we let go. “I think all the time. But when somebody says. hatred. greed. In our life. You talk about the content of our stories—whether it’s the details of our personal histories or just what’s going on right now. then the goal of Buddhist practice takes us far beyond that. sometimes in a moment and sometimes in transformative ways that change our entire life. as generosity. In your terms. to be experienced here and now by all who see wisely. as connectedness. and delusion.” They are tastes of nirvana resting in awareness. beyond the concepts of nirvana or enlightenment. and sometimes you don’t need to. You do the trainings your teacher offers. too. immediate. “There’s no difference between the absence of greed. it’s not in order to rework it.” This is not an esoteric notion of nirvana. that the dharma of liberation is ever present. “How do you work with planning and attachment?” So sometimes it’s helpful to know the content. other times through the simple direct opening to freedom. Do you think it’s possible at some point in a person’s life that this experience of nirvana becomes complete—that one does not return to his or her earlier life or states of mind? Certain people describe their experience that way.a very different approach from focusing on two people sitting in a room together talking. we can actually experience what the Buddha taught: suffering. You claim that Buddhist psychology goes further than Western methods do. timeless. “How do you work with grief?” Or if they say. When you see the content of thought. “I’ve just inherited $4 million. 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. This is the reality of liberation that we can experience. to reach an ordinary level of neurosis. “What do you think about?” If they answer. You say that Westerners sometimes misunderstand nirvana as a transcendent state—I now refer to your previous book After the Ecstasy. the reality of the liberated heart and mind. as clarity. I explain these teachings as “The Nature of Enlightenments”—there are a number of ways to . as has jack kornfield practitioners in Asian Buddhist countries as well— imagine that nirvana exists somewhere high in the Himalayas. and the release of suffering. reserved for monks who have meditated for the whole of their life. the optimum goal of Buddhist psychology. This is a direct and immediate experience. hatred.” I might ask. So these moments in which we experience freedom from anger. This is what happens on our retreats. So one of my tasks as a teacher is to listen to both. and through them you learn to transform and awaken yourself. There’s a great freedom in just being aware of thought and seeing that it’s empty. others who also seem deeply enlightened say not. Nirvana appears in their absence. how important is it to understand those contents and to what extent do they become a trap? Content can be interview a trap. Sometimes we experience this through profound meditation. In the morning and evening chanting in the forest monastery we recite the Buddha’s words. and delusion are dealt with once and for all? If our goal is. Nirvana is to be known here and now. “My son just died six months ago. the cause of the suffering. This isn’t watering down nirvana. And the fact that this is possible for us as human beings is tremendously good news. you write of the Three Poisons (anger. Sorrow arises when the mind and heart are caught in greed. when we live in the reality of the present. we are liberated from the power of those forces. as unshakable freedom. nirvana is the Buddhist definition of mental health. that it is someplace far away to be attained only after a long time. greed. In Buddhist psychology. For instance. He said. and delusion for a moment or for a lifetime. Nirvana manifests as ease. the Laundry— but are you selling nirvana short by giving it such a mundane cast? When we’re idealistic.

setting up a kind of progression. the Mahayana and Theravada worldviews incompatible. It can be experienced as the absence of greed. hatred. It has a number of different dimensions. its causes. as boundless love and as true stability. we know that the Buddha is timeless. and death. A wise therapist can assist you to practice in areas where sitting in meditation alone may not suffice.” This is his description of Buddha-nature. My own teachers from the forests of Thailand. It can be experienced as silence. and delusion. is it the same as Buddha-nature? Yes. There is almost nothing that I can find in the describes. as the void. as peace. Yet the different Buddhist traditions are fraught with contradictions. clear water with the sweetest taste. does traditional therapy fit into your teaching model? Western psychology also has skillful means to help us practice the Four Noble Truths: suffering. they can help you pay attention with compassion and mindfulness to difficulties that may not come up as you sit by yourself. jit derm in Thai. then. my teacher Ajahn Chah and his lineage of Theravada forest monks talk about the unborn nature of consciousness. say. The best of Western psychotherapy is like a paired meditation: If you have a wise therapist. and “lower” teachings. He goes on. But you seem to have no problem lifting from the Mahayana tradition—and many others to boot. and some scholars find. Ajahn Chah Mystics and true practitioners don’t look at liberation from a scholastic point of view. to be experienced here and now. To know this we must go beyond self and no-self. its causes. untouchable. Likewise. This original mind is limitless. and it can help you to know suffering. “When we see with the eye of wisdom. definitely. beyond all opposites and all creations.experience nirvana. You outline twenty-six principles that you call universal to Buddhism. for instance. Nirvana can be experienced as emptiness. One way some Mahayanists have dealt with this is to divide schools into “higher” teachings Mahayana or the Vajrayana or the Pure Land that isn’t also found in its root form in the Theravada. How. SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE © CHRISTINE ALICINO | 47 . as wisdom. as pure awareness. “The original heart-mind shines like pure. and find release. While this is a common Mahayana concept. There’s tremendous value in some of the Western clinical tradition. Within Theravada Buddhism there are teachings of what Vajrayana might call Dzogchen or Mahamudra and Buddha-nature. and the means to that end. or help you with past traumas that are too difficult to handle on your own because the trauma is too great. immediate. it’s also the direct experience of Theraveda monks. talked about the original mind or original nature. The dharma of liberation is ever-present. They’re found within every tradition. its end. but rather from the point of view of inner realization. birth. timeless. And for the mystics of each of the great Buddhist traditions these same common elements exist and are expressed. What did Ajahn Chah mean by original mind. and I’ve heard these same teachings from Tibetan lamas. like facets of crystal.

as a Christian or Muslim you may think you have a soul. we have them too. you would see using material people are familiar with as a skillful means to teach the dharma? Yes. It places no emphasis on a creator god. Buddhism also has a unique emphasis on selflessness. he was never enlightened and was never born and never died. Both are ways to meet the needs of humanity. And this is how our luminosity appears in our Hasidic practice. and the ancient Zen master Ryokan expresses the dharma of impermanence in a poem about young bamboo. 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 replicate it. for example.” And he was so excited. So it’s very phenomenological? Absolutely. Buddhism has a tremendously clear and systematic way to put into practice and experience the wonderful principles we learn in many religious traditions. “Oh yeah. Buddhism also functions as a religion for many people—there’s devotion. They find enormous support and solace in prayers to the Buddha. The Buddha is the ground of all being. You draw from multiple traditions in your teachings. there isn’t one Buddhism. then? How did it become a religion? Do you see the Buddha as a mystic. but in its essence.unborn. Jewish. Muslim. but what is distinctive about Buddhism? versal. Different teachings for different temperaments? That’s a much simpler way to say it. and this is how you liberate the mind and the heart from suffering. So in other words.” And I said. It is a science of mind. There’s also another group that wants to do the practices of inner transformation in a systematic way. 48 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 There are many forms of Buddhism. As a Hindu you may understand atman as a universal principle. You even turn to a non-Buddhist. He looked deeply and had this extraordinary vision of the nature of consciousness and how beings arise and pass away and what brings us to freedom. In this way it functions as other religions do. to describe emptiness. The mystics look at each other and smile. Buddhism seems to function as both a religion and a science.” But again. There are systematic trainings in compassion and forgiveness. through compassion and generosity and the practice of meditation. There’s a lot of commonality.” The scholars tend to argue. There are some people who are primarily devotional by nature. I was with this great mystic—a Hasidic rabbi—who said. So the Buddha was not enlightened in India. the realization of the truth of the unmoving mind. not on the adopting of an external faith. but in the Asian Buddhist cultures where I lived. and this timeless Buddha is our true home.” jack kornfield Where do science and Buddhism part. Christ speaks about turning the other cheek. and so on. The Buddha didn’t take the teachings of anyone and simply copy them. Sri Nisargadatta. Muhammad talks about the compassion of Allah. and when Mary Oliver expresses the dharma of impermanence in a poem about a butterfly. Why is that? I believe that dharma is uni- I can’t say I know. How is Buddhism different from the many traditions you draw from? For instance. Your book is full of quotes from people outside of the Buddhist tradition—Mother Teresa. unrelated to anybody or any history. What happened. and Hindu sages. interview By mystic I mean one who looks profoundly into the nature of reality. In fact. cosmology. You bring these teachings into your own teachings. “I’ve been reading about Buddhism. by making offerings. then? In the opening page of my book. by faith. But when you go back to the fundamental teachings. “Well. the Buddha’s main focus was much more a science of mind: here is how the mind works. Christian. the popular American poet Mary Oliver. I quote the Dalai Lama: “Buddhism is not a religion. as the Buddha taught. they’re both teaching the same dharma. so the emphasis is on our direct experience of liberation. Traveling in Palestine and Israel recently. “Now tell me about the void. . Tell me first about luminosity of consciousness. I also use the language of science. religious rites and rituals. then? Absolutely. I use whatever expressions best help to awaken us. But within Buddhism there are methods that teach you how to develop and practice these principles. our abiding place. there are different ways you can experience the void.” and we talked about that. He said.

Call it whatever you need to call it. and Thailand have come to our centers. From The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology © 2008 by Jack Kornfield. a wild animal would approach or the wind rustle the leaves and I would think. but not always. between one Tibetan master and another. If you do better calling that Christianity. My insecurity. As it turned out. sitting in the dark forest with its tigers and snakes was easier than sitting with my inner demons.” But they are all a part of the great mandala of awakening. Sometimes we forget that the Buddha too had fears: “How would it be if in the dark of the month. I remained in whatever posture it arose. With vows you’re dedicated to your monastery and to your lineage. and boredom came up. Before they returned to Asia. so I gravitated toward these difficulties. to make a clearing within the dark woods of my own heart. Missouri. And have prac- ticed in other traditions. they blessed us and said. After the lighting of the funeral pyre and the chanting. I did so. yes. The ways that they do so may lead us to different experiences. shame. The words aren’t important. “Now it’s up to you. until I was free of its hold upon me . India. Finally. “What’s important are not the words of the dharma but teaching the way that people can free themselves. . and Kansas City. skillful means. And having this thought. There are many skillful means. In our own community some of our greatest teachers from Burma. along with all my frustrations and hurts. call it Christianity. Every few weeks a body was brought for cremation. In many cases. Ajahn Chah. I were to enter the most strange and frightening places. most people would leave. so that they learn compassion and generosity and liberation. one monk would be left alone to sit there until dawn. that I might come to understand fear and terror. sometimes quite deeply. with only monks remaining to tend the fire in the dark forest. we were sent to sit alone in the forest at night practicing the meditations on death. there are differences. 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. told me. Even within Buddhist lineages. skillful means. with no moon. At Ajahn Buddhadasa’s 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. looking for initiation. They may say.” They gave us a freedom to find skillful languages. You’ve said that most American Vipassana teachers draw copiously from other traditions. Perhaps the fear and terror now comes. Would you fall into the camp of thinking that fundamentally all of these traditions are talking about the same thing or hoping for the same goal? I wouldn’t go that far. At another monastery. Reprinted with the permission of Bantam Dell. I did not change until I had faced that fear and terror in that very posture. Little by little I learned to face them with mindfulness. near tombs and in the thick of the forest. Why are they more likely than others—say.” In the traditional training at Ajahn Chah’s forest monastery. We’ve got Tibetan lamas and Sufis and Hindu gurus and Hasidim visiting Richmond. loneliness. sitting or standing. My own teacher. contemplating death. Virginia. walking or lying down. And being resolved to dispel the hold of that fear and terror. and also to draw on other languages or teachings that were complementary. Sitting with these took more courage than sitting at the charnel ground. . more traditional teachers or monastics—to do that? It’s harder for monastics to go outside of their tradition because their vows and their way of life prevent it. And doing so. eager to prove myself. in a very beautiful way. there are really strong parallels. I periodically sat all night at the charnel grounds. Stories of monks who had encountered tigers and other wild animals helped keep us alert. But I was a young man. The Wise Heart.sitting in the dark An excerpt from Jack Kornfield’s new book.” ▼ SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 49 . “I’ve got a slightly different—and better—way to get you to freedom. Not everyone did these practices. . to teach. Now in the West we have the riches of all traditions translated into English. By facing the fear and terror I became free. There is a lot less opportunity than a lay teacher would have to practice in other traditions.

seventeen Buddhists tell us what they’ve changed their minds about. Illustrations by Michael Wertz thequestion The always provocative website Edge. This year’s question was: What have you changed your mind about.org poses an annual question to a long list of prominent thinkers. and why? We at Tricycle thought it would be no less intriguing to ask the same question with a Buddhist spin.From reincarnation to reading Proust. and why? What follows is a cross-section of the answers we received. and why. As we wrote in our original invitation to those we asked: Surprise us! 50 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . So we’ve ? approached a wide range of old Buddhist hands with our own adapted version: what in buddhism have you changed your mind about. and then posts their responses.com. mostly scientists. And now the ball is in your court. A larger sampling is available on tricycle. We invite you to visit us online to post your own responses and comment on what strikes you most.

When otherwise pragmatic friends describe Tibetan lamas getting born again. He is on the faculty of the Writing and Poetics program at Naropa University. One friend shot himself last year. N. to its extraordinary insights and methodology and inspiration. That’s a pretty good reincarnation. coyote. Yet in the Mumonkan. chafes against every principle we know of natural history. when I first returned from my studies in I don’t know India. corrosives. rain. It will ferment.” and find a companion’s description of tall-grass prairie much better solace than notions of rebirth. bacteria. I remember getting into an argument with a student of Tibetan Buddhism while at Naropa Institute in 1974. earth. Her most recent book is The Force of Kindness. the metaphysics and the cosmology of Theravada Buddhism. “The Buddha did not teach Buddhism—he taught a way of life. decompose. And last week I read something that comes close to what I believe today: “Those who eat will be eaten. Almost as good as five hundred fox lifetimes. Others have had health concerns that could snatch them away tomorrow. it strikes me as silly. ravens. Reincarnation is a concept I could never accept. told me. as though we actually knew what was going to happen when we died. both of us hoping for reassurance through doctrine. however. Goenka. the Tibetan view being that there is an intermediate period of up to forty-nine days before rebirth. Within a few days a fox slips past and I know it’s a girl or some old man I had relations with in a former life. hopes. So I change my mind about reincarnation all the time. thoughts. Most of my friends have aged or dying parents.” This accords with my studies in ecology. as I looked back on that afternoon. and of course the question remained completely unresolved. Our discussion got quite strident. was later overtaken by a tendency to be attached to tenets of the tradition. Our children are no longer young. Nowadays. translator. what eats our dreams. I’d rather try to deal with the fear. and notebooks? What will eat our changing minds? sharon salzberg is a cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre. We were discussing what happens to someone at the time of death—the Theravada view being that rebirth occurs in the next mind-moment.” This idea became the foundation of my approach to meditation practice. That foundation. by doing just that. It was only later. prairie grass. SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE © MICHAEL WERTZ | 51 . I’m convinced I pay more honest tribute to the Buddhist tradition. that I’ve changed my mind about something in Buddhism per se as much as I’ve changed my mind about needing to hold tightly to views to deflect what I really don’t know. and essayist. S. break apart into nutrients. which I held on to with a pretty strong degree of rigidity. that I realized we were probably two people with some fear of dying.andrew schelling is a poet. Massachusetts. I try to envision what comes after “old-age-sickness-and-death. The body will be eaten by wind. It seems absurdly egotistic. 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. fears. But then I wonder.” I feel a shiver go up my spine. and contradicts the Buddhist teachings I’ve cracked my thoughts against for thirty years. My first teacher.

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 others. 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 practice can fit everyone. Generally I would say most practices suit sixty percent 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.

will stewart has been practicing Zen for
twenty-five years, or thereabouts. He sees little reason for optimism. I haven’t changed my mind about Buddhism; I’ve changed my
mind about who I am.

robert aitken is a retired master of the
?
thequestion
Diamond Sangha, a Zen Buddhist society in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is also a cofounder of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. I haven’t 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 Bodhidharma’s 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 don’t 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 can’t get past its purpose to enhance the ego.
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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 imperatives—and my vows show me the Tao. While thus I’ve come to feel that it is deplorable to

try to mix the dharma with other disciplines, I’ve realized 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.” Let’s keep the simplicity as is!

stephan bodian is a teacher in the Zen and Advaita
Vedanta traditions and the author of Wake Up Now. 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 sitting meditation. In my mind, zazen was the royal road to enlightenment, the one true dharma gate, as Dogen’s Fukanzazengi suggests. Yet after sitting devotedly 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 dedication to truth didn’t 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 available to truth. The words of this teacher resonated deeply for me, and one day, while I was driving, a single phrase floated into my awareness: “The seeker is the sought.” Suddenly my world turned inside out, and the teachings 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 separate self: earnest self-inquiry, the pointing-out instructions 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.

eliot fintushel is an author,
teacher, and performance artist. He lives in Santa Rosa, California. When I was ten, I discovered—so I thought—that 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 didn’t exist. It was ten more years before I found a satisfactory disproof of the solipsist position—in Wittgenstein’s proof of the impossibility of any “private language”—but 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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Watts, etc., etc., etc. I even taught myself some classical 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 solipsism just wore me out. After all, solipsism—or what is the same thing, the idea that enlightenment may be the possession of an individual person—is 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 wouldn’t even bother to tell her. I mean, duh.

mushim ikeda-nash is a writer, community activist, and longtime literacy 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.
Since I began to actually practice Buddhism, I’ve
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, he’d say: “Don’t be fooled by anyone!” I remember in 1985 sitting in a Thai temple outside of Denver, being stared at lewdly by a chain-smoking bhikkhu who had obviously never heard of women’s 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 Francisco’s 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 instrument 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, it’s 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.

?
thequestion

jeff wilson is an assistant professor of Religious Studies and East Asian
Studies at Renison College, in Waterloo, Ontario, and a Tricycle contributing editor. 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 I’ve so often seen Buddhism help people build bigger, more self-righteous egos—sometimes 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 life’s hard realities, and my pride in keeping precepts just made me self-congratulatory. I took seriously the promise of enlightenment, but I didn’t pay attention to the enormous amount of multifaceted effort Buddhists have always said it takes. Buddhist scriptures stress that you

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exciting Zen reading in 1970. changing my mind about self-effort eventually led me to a calmer. Years of dedicated. aggression. also skillful provocation from the masters and from the phenomenal world. with impermanence and the release from suffering that any of us can effect if we commit ourselves to clear thinking. Emerson. examines more than thirty years of talks and travels with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. Somerset Maugham. disciplined sitting have happened. with finding a right angle on the world. work. (I am not talking about a tantric approach to the energies—that’s another story. The Open Road. though. especially aggression. I imagined it would be simply a matter of some disciplined. 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 practices. Besides. I have changed my mind about the depth and power of the kleshas [conflicting emotions]. david schneider is an acharya (senior teacher) in the international Shambhala Buddhist community. pico iyer’s new book. From early. This has had the effect of deepening my respect and gratitude for the dharma teachers of this age—especially the patient teachers who’ve spent any time on me. To my surprise.) I mean here plain old passion. grooving along. Then my parents moved to California. and when I SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 55 . but I never seemed to hear that message— somehow it seemed like all it took was dedicated meditation and that Buddhahood was right around the corner. Samsara is worse than I thought. freely functioning. and ignorance. England. the ideas and traditions thrashed out with such intensity by the philosophers all around me. many lifetimes to develop any substantial level of awakening. 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. Hermann Hesse. and bling-o. dedicated sitting. I grew up in benighted Oxford. He is currently working on a biography of Beat poet and Zen master Philip Whalen. Strangely. happier. in the 1960s—everyone has to start somewhere—and thought that Buddhism meant sutras and holy texts. along with a bit of skillful provocation from the master.need many. I am impressed anew each day by how thoroughly they penetrate the world and my being. more honest approach to Buddhism. I’d be through—out the other side. and Thoreau—all my inspirations in © MICHAEL WERTZ my early years—taught me that Buddhism had to do with the quest for the truth beyond and inside the self. Though my relationship with the kleshas has changed somewhat. and real life on the other.

playing out before our eyes and behind our ideas. I wonder if we really need the term at all. 56 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 What I’ve changed my mind about in Buddhism is how one realizes interdependence or interconnection. you know. 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. Seeing how Thomas Merton did this. tracy cochran is a Tricycle contributing editor and a senior editor at Parabola magazine. adjust. We had to tear off the masks behind which we hid. in some human. Here was (and is) a natural tendency to see the self as something larger than this body—and perhaps as large as a community that is more global by the minute. Marcel Proust. I thought—I was in grad school by then—and see through to the emptiness and interdependence behind all our words and ideas.” and the emptying out of self meant a filling up with other people and sentient beings. But here.? thequestion got there. every spring and autumn. I realized that part of what was so fortifying about the tradition was that “right view” led to “right action. My Kyoto-born sweetheart set foot in a Zen temple only because an American woman had brought her there. is the annual pageant of impermanence—frothing cherry blossoms. My Life Without Me. So I’ve had to. and regarded formal meditation as more alien than surfing. And here. everyday way. And then I moved to Japan and saw a Buddhism in action that was so instinctual (or. usually. woven into other cultural habits) that I could no more describe it than I could breathing. I thought I would be more enlightened by now. My new friends and neighbors knew less about the sutras than many of my teenage friends had in England. They didn’t have spiritual teachers. perhaps. I suppose once upon a time I believed that Buddhism was something outside the lives we “acquired. and the lady down the street at the Isokawa supermarket are how I learn about it now. andrew cooper is Tricycle’s editor-at-large.” Now I wonder if it’s not just what’s left behind when one sheds all one’s clutter. falling maple leaves—reminding us that delight sits within what we seem to be losing. I grew up to the tune of a Coke com- © MICHAEL WERTZ . and Epictetus and Etty Hillesum and many others who had probably not heard the word Buddhism. was a keen (and therefore selfless) kind of attention.

not particularly elevated conversations. I helped him to his feet and watched as he picked his bent way to offer incense at the altar. it felt a little narcissistic to me. I was in my early twenties and he was about as old as I am now. I’d spotted him in a back corner of the dharma hall. Recently I found myself sitting next to an old dharma friend following a memorial service for students and teachers who had passed away since the founding of Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in 1967. alive—though just barely. But I used to think of meditation in a similar way. race. my capabilities and limitations. He was my bodhisattva ballast to the drive for enlightenment.mercial that took place in a huge field near what I always assumed was San Francisco. I thought it would eventually bring me into harmony with the whole world. including. Now it comes down to taking my human-sized place in the human race. I had to listen carefully. I don’t envision inner peace as the cessation of struggle.” Even as a kid I knew this couldn’t be “the real thing. Everybody held Coke bottles and sang: “I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love”…. his large frame slumped against the wall. It is also obvious to me now that the world is interdependent but also unstable and unjust. as his words were slurred. smiling young hippies standing with young people representing every nationality. goofy. Now I think there can be for me no end to the search for truth. arriving at some sun-washed placeless place from which I can distribute refreshments. I’d thought fondly of Jerome over the years since I’d left the Zen Center. And here he was. It featured pretty. The hall by now nearly empty. “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company. I couldn’t at first tell if he remembered me. wasn’t asked to give dharma talks. but when I mentioned events in our common past he perked up. When after the memorial service I introduced myself.” Could this be what it meant to be generous? Did all those people really want to be there singing that stupid song? Although I wouldn’t have used this word. his face somehow caved in but unmistakably Jerome’s. friendly guy on whom I relied for idle. patrick mcmahon recently celebrated his sixtieth birthday and forty years of Zen practice. his mouth empty of teeth. I’d met Jerome almost forty years ago at the San Francisco City Center. apparently dozing. Now I have more respect for difference. and creed. it seemed. the truth of what I am like. How long would it be before I was offering incense for him? And how long before someone else would offer it for me? (continued on page 116) SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE © MICHAEL WERTZ | 57 . wondering if he was still hanging out in the flop room. or if he was even still alive. He didn’t hold any particularly important position. He was a big. especially. These days.

I was surprised by the instant change in my experience of writing. the remnants of a hand in motion. just as I depend on the alphabet to be there when I want to write. mostly because I wanted to get as far from the computer as I could. The very motion of writing by hand encourages creativity. Without a delete button. When I was a kid. getting nowhere because I was trying to write it on a computer. and Buddhism are all bound together. across China to Japan. I’ve used the brush ever since. Lynda Barry is the creator of the weekly comic strip Ernie Move your brush not to make a picture. It’s only later in life that action and intent part ways. The history of brush and ink in Asia cannot be studied without encountering the Buddha. ▼ book is What It Is (May 2008. I found the paintbrush when I was working on my novel Cruddy. The simple act of folding sheets of paper and stapling them inside a construction paper cover was the first step in writing a book. What began as a response to the death of a friend has become something I lean on. via brush and ink. The second was the movement of a pencil on paper. who long ago traveled. The vehicle of ink and brush is available to anyone. the story itself isn’t so important. I could allow the unexpected to grow. The problem with writing on a computer was that I could delete anything I felt unsure about.monkey business Artist LYNDA BARRY on the power of the paintbrush I PAINT these monkeys with a brush and hand-ground Chinese ink. ink. As it turns out. These monkey paintings are fossils of experience. I decided to try to write my book with a brush. handwriting and stories are intertwined. Drawn & Quarterly). The picture you make is not so important. I finished my novel. I never wrote without first having a book to write in. 58 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 © LYNDA BARRY . once the experience of writing or drawing is over. Brush. Her new make a picture in order to move your brush. This meant that a sentence was gone before I even had a chance to see what it was trying to become. Some studies show that for children. but Pook’s Comeek and the author of several books. people have been aware of the power of the paintbrush for over two thousand years. He crossed entire centuries to my studio that day. of breath and being. The same is true for drawing. For most kids.

© LYNDA BARRY SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 59 .

my parents had been practicing Buddhism from the time I was born. Unfortunately. . practicing Buddhist. Like many teens. Jack Kerouac wrote that the teenage years are an ideal age to be introduced to 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 leanings—the Spirit Rock type. Meanwhile. while I was only now falling in love with the dharma.diehard dharma As a teenager sour on flower power. but it can also be a complicated time. I would become a northern California Buddhist without a trace of hippiness. JAIMAL YOGIS sought authenticity at an orthodox Chinese monastery. I was trying to do anything possible to differentiate myself from my obviously backwards parents. Take the summer just after high school. I sneered at my mom’s angel books and my dad’s yoga guru. who changed his name every few months. an endeavor that I now realize could be compared to living in France and shunning cheese. I agree. shortly after I’d decided to be an official. I would break free of their fluffiness and be the real deal.

over a lunch on a grassy knoll. “more authentic” yoga retreats. or a Tibetan lama who could fly. Rob and Gene were both older and more experienced than I was. dammit: snow. “Jaimal!— where is your mind?”. who would teach me to do one-finger handstands. disgustingly bland food. Doing yoga every morning with a bunch of other white kids whose parents were like mine was just what I didn’t want. an okay time. . witty Seattle native who had read every book I’d ever heard of. The ashram was basically a burnt-out hippie commune that had replaced drugs with aggressive breathing exercises. but yoga camp was exactly the type of thing I was trying to avoid. they didn’t sing folk songs or greet strangers with hugs and they only used the word “love” except in the most divine of contexts. we compared spiritual centers and teachers. As a graduation gift. and Rob’s story won the prize. it was a little embarrassing to us that three hardcore guys like us had met at a fluffy yoga camp. Unlike the other yoga campers. Tibetan lamas. One day. we didn’t know what that main event would be. I tried to get excited. an old Japanese Zen master who would hit me with a stick and demand.He is pictured here. Of course. So I went to yoga camp and actually had Jaimal Yogis is the author of the upcoming book Saltwater Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea (March 2009. but as the summer continued. But the real highlight was the fact that I made two dear friends: a Sicilian-American with a caveman’s beard and a ponytail who I’ll call Robert. a quiet. I pictured three options: a gorgeous female kung fu master (think Michelle Yeoh from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon). and I listened intently as they described Thai forest monasteries. un-Buddhist. They wanted to learn Sanskrit and live in caves and generally inflict pain on themselves. the real McCoy. he enrolled me in a six-week yoga camp at the Sierra foothills ashram where we used to go as a family. and Gene.The first step on my new path was finding an Asian guru. ancient Chinese characters. But we knew it would be epic. well. But not accepting the gift from my dad seemed. I needed the real thing. Wisdom Publications). below. My dad was very happy that I wanted to dedicate my time to spiritual goals. I didn’t need all three. and other. Rob and Gene were American spiritual practitioners who were trying to avoid being hippies. we chalked it up to a mere prelude to the main event. There was a distinct sense of competition in their excited voices. I learned to touch my toes and stand on one leg for a very long time. I blessed people with Sai Baba’s holy water. Sure. Just one would do.

What joy is there in this? We must cultivate like our heads are at stake. “That sounds proper.” Gene said. ‘The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. “In winter. But as I saw it. if you think you’re ready for that sort of thing. “I might just join you. I only remember chanting Om mani padme hum while we covered almost thirty miles one day. pothead town that is home to the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas—was about two hundred miles from my mom’s house in Sacramento. Yawning and stretching his arms. On the fifth day. the universe was behind us all the way. They fast for weeks at a time.’” Half of me felt nauseated. Rob casually mentioned that The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas had an upcoming retreat we could attend—“you know.” “Med-ee-tay-shun. then opening them and smiling. We’ve come a long way.’ In English. I was still trying to learn to sit Indian style for thirty minutes without my legs falling asleep. they meditate for fourteen hours a day. and he doesn’t get up until noon the next day. “In Mandarin.” Gene and I settled in on the grass.” Rob said. I kid you not.” At the office. This was not a challenge that could be turned down. We passed massive supermarkets. Pilgrimages like this that would show people the way out of this mess. That night.” Rob said.” But by the time the end of yoga camp rolled around. by now emaciated savages. we walked through Tang Dynasty–style gates inscribed with the golden words we’d been dreaming of: “The Sagely City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. “I’m telling you. at least. On the eighth day. which confirmed to us that despite our hardships.” I said. I kept thinking that what we were doing wasn’t rigorous enough. But the other half was elated.Before yoga camp. UKIAH—the redneck. closing my eyes peacefully. “This is America. Then we found a mountain spring where we filled our bottles. We were the ones we’d been waiting for.’ I’m telling you. We bowed deeply. Gene and I decided that we wouldn’t just visit the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. true. “I hesitate to even talk about it.” I figured this man would see the sincerity in our eyes and get very excited.” he said. “No English. very sorry. I can’t remember the rest of the trip. huge malls with full parking lots.” the man said instead. “They sleep in cells. these monks scare me. They have vows to never touch their ribs to the floor or the bed. The abbot sits down at noon to meditate.”) “Ahh. He’s completely still. our stomachs containing only peanut butter and wild blackberries. A place “more Chinese than China” might be just what I needed to say goodbye to my hippie roots for good. studying Ch’an. (“Oh! We’ve been awaiting your arrival. the monks and nuns never lie down. Rob had conveniently fallen for a cute massage therapist at camp. an elderly Chinese man in a black layman’s robe greeted Gene and me. The fourth day. and I said: “We are here for the meditation retreat. and dozens of gas stations.” “What’s it called?” Gene asked. their limbs contorted. and shuddered. we ran out of water with no cars or gas stations in sight.” It was ugly. “in full lotus. He said he needed to spend a week seeing what their karma was. Every day they chant: ‘We are like fish in a shrinking pond. it’s called ‘Wan Fo Chan. and we all agreed this was an opportunity that shouldn’t be passed up. we were the remedy.” If I was ready? Please. rubbing his beard. so I tried not to eat much. 62 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 On day one. She wanted to try tantric sex. Rob had been living at an orthodox Chinese Buddhist monastery. our blisters were so bad that we had to cover each foot in How could I become a Buddhist without becoming my parents? moleskin. we slept behind a used car lot in Davis. when he heard our plan. it’s more Chinese than China. Gene and I walked twenty miles along Highway 80 in 110-degree heat. we would walk there—a pilgrimage. “This is where we come from. the Chinese precursor to Japanese Zen. 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. which seemed like perfect preparation for the kind of austerities we anticipated.” I pictured a prison full of monks chained to the wall. “Yes? We need room . probably in the fourth dhyana heaven.

Unfortunately.” I said to Gene. it had been an institution for the criminally insane. We tried to test our patience by meditating at the other side of the lake. Ciel that charmed us.” he assured us. The senior monks sat up front. Maybe we’re supposed to kneel outside for three days. and I renewed my vows to follow in his footsteps. the “nice” lake was a watering hole for very big men with skulls painted on their very big trucks. Rob showed up from his week of debauchery.” “Ah. “I don’t know.” He was followed. No room available this time. “But we do smell pretty awful.. one small window in each room. One of the boys. “There isn’t anyone staying here. Even SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE COURTESY OF JAIMAL YOGIS | 63 . okay okay.for sleep. “Oh. befriended us and explained the history of our monastery. Gene and I were delighted with the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas’ general vibe. shortly before he was born Right: Jaimal’s dad and his sister. Gene and I walked out for a powwow. we went to recorded lectures given in Mandarin by the late Master Hsuan Hua. coming back for the evening lectures.” Skip suggested that we camp at the nice local lake for a few days. “I’m drained.” he said. In the evenings. lay people behind them. “That’s all we got is empty rooms. to my surprise. whose face was covered in dirt and dry flakes of sweat.” The idea of being part of a traditional Chinese scheme was exciting but improbable. Not a hippie in sight.” Gene said. But we soon heard voices: “Let’s throw rocks at ’em—nah. the parking lot is empty. by a caravan of other young aspiring Buddhists from Berkeley. It was the militancy Left: Jaimal’s mom in 1979. Before The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas had become the largest Buddhist monastery in the U.” We ended up sleeping at a nice firm spot under Highway 101. novices in the back.” He smiled a warm smile. so we walked around to case the joint and ran into a white guy named Skip. They all struck me as spiritual soldiers.” the man said.” “Maybe they’re doing what the old Zen masters did. The buildings still had three-foot-thick walls and bars on the windows. We want do practice. But the retreat don’t start for three more days. The monks sat perfectly still in their golden sashes as if someone might whip them if they moved. “Tantric sex is harder than I thought. “Sorry. I thought. “Telling students that they can’t come to the monastery to test their sincerity.” We were sure some discriminatory conspiracy was afoot. cold linoleum floors. drinking cases of beer. get a bottle. a bubbly nineteen-year-old named Aran. “The grounds are empty.S. The monks slept sitting up in the cells of former patients: steel-frame beds.” I said. we got room. There has to be room. Looking at photos of the Master—an old Chinese man with bright eyes and gnarled teeth—I knew instantly that he had been a real saint. Two days later.

Some of the monks had bent spines. The ego is going to kick and scream. a surfer and former championship high school wrestler. California. Jaimal. He had done and seen it all: nearly died on a Himalayan peak. We were all extremists.” After the pep talk. I was petrified. He was the laid-back yet stern father figure many of us longed for. This suited our crew perfectly.m. If we sat in lotus. Max was a rapper and devoted martial artist. Just watch it. Jon had been expelled from high school. But others sat like upright Buddha statues. punctuated by twenty-minute walks and a break for lunch. Then he told us how to sit. During this week you will experience pain like you’ve never felt. we went to the lecture in the Buddha hall. We filtered groggily into the room full of monks sitting motionless on tatami mats. He had sat for months at a time in snowy Chinese mountains with only one layer of clothing. it was known as one of the most austere monasteries in the world. and start over. the picture of serenity. studied martial arts in China. I’ve seen so many people run out of here in the middle of retreat. Aran said.” If we sat in half-lotus. stroking his beard. “Ch’an. staring at a white wall. California The first night before the Ch’an retreat began. we were sitting in “a golden pagoda. But thirty minutes into the first sit.in China. He was a high school teacher who had introduced everyone.” I 64 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 laughed nervously: I was going to be sitting in the mud for a week. Doug had channeled all of his machismo into Buddhist practice. where a recorded Master Hsuan Hua informed us that we should never move while sitting Ch’an. and he hadn’t moved. it’s the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas marathon. with the exception of Robert. I tossed and turned until 2:30 a.” he began. We ended at midnight and would wake again at 2:30 a. Robert. Doug arranged a meeting to discuss practice. Keep sitting. It’s nice to imagine one’s first meditation retreat as a peaceful event. I realized this retreat would be about one thing: pain COURTESY OF JAIMAL YOGIS .m. Phillip was a former hard-core Catholic who enjoyed reading thousand-page classics for days at a stretch with no sleep. the sit began in the darkness of early morning. when the sharp clack-clacking of wooden sticks woke us in our cells. A former high-school football star who had never lost his go-hard-or-go-home attitude. That night I dreamt that Master Hsuan Hua was a general. ordering me to sit in full lotus. “is an extreme sport. Doug was our leader. and you’ll probably want to leave. And you’re kind of playing against yourself. Far right: Jaimal’s house in San Francisco. With the light chime of a bell. We would do fourteen hour-long sits. Gene was a mountaineer. fasted for weeks at a time. it was a “silver pagoda. From left to right: Aran..” No lotus was a “mud pagoda. Gene and me. and Phillip relax in Berkeley. to the City.

and even came close to ordaining as a monk. I now live in San Francisco. that thing in front of you. bell boy. renting a room covered in murals of Saint Francis and various sea animals. It didn’t matter if I leaned against the wall. I am a freelance writer. butt. But I go to Spirit Rock and to Thich Nhat Hanh teachings. The bell. He had recently chopped off the fifth with a kitchen knife. I also wear my hair wild and use the word love frequently. I’ll comfort myself with the knowledge that I do have a little fight left in me: I still don’t own any angel books. I tried hard to be a non-hippie Buddhist. Then Heng De got to me. I was thoroughly confused about what I would do next. It was my resistance to the pain and the anticipation of it that were so horrible. Everyone had a profound-sounding issue to work with. One of the most stoic senior monks told me that riding waves was a legitimate spiritual practice. my hippie roots caught up with me. and shins. ▼ SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 65 . If that job alone doesn’t qualify me as a hippie. “I think you in a lot of pain. I envisioned myself as an old surfing sage—maybe even one with a hot Hawaiian girlfriend—and before I knew it. Just before I left the monastery at the age of nineteen. I was living in a commune of A-frame huts along a cliff in Hawaii. if a bit torn about the actual wisdom of the act. Max needed to “open up to the void—just relax. Ask yourself. I ended up living at a City of Ten Thousand Buddhas branch monastery. I feel as if I am studying the dharma as “authentically” as I ever have. tried to learn Chinese and kung fu. I began to see the Buddha’s point that suffering is born of the mind. but I found myself signing up for free workshops on water massage and aboriginal healing through music. he said. For brief moments. 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. or tension. playing in the saltwater six hours a day and living off A place “more Chinese than China” might be just what I needed to say goodbye to my hippie roots for good. Resistance was futile. about sixty miles south.” he said. and I was able to stay present with it without judgment. too. But that brief moment would end as quickly as it came. It didn’t matter how many cushions I stacked under my knees. He looked at purple sweet potatoes and coconuts. It was my little mantra. Some part of my body was always screaming for help. a silver one. Rather than live in a cold monastery. After two weeks of silence and pain. something a few famous Ch’an masters had done in ancient times to test their attachment to the body. I still occasionally attend retreats there. But on occasion. We were all very impressed.” Jon needed to use a mantra to quiet his overactive mind. I would begin to think of how much longer I me worriedly. “Maybe try some stretching. I had tried to maintain my monastic rigidity at first. ‘Who’s feeling pain?’” This sort of worked. the pain became just heat. Eventually. “Make the pain your meditation topic. yeah. I blame it largely on surfing. or a tub of mud. Max also invited a Vietnamese monk I’ll call Heng De who had four fingers on one hand. though. elbows. As for the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas.management. After three days of focusing on nothing but pain. After many hours of meditation. Hippie yoga camp was starting to sound pretty nice. Hit it. it’s a bit like jumping in an ice-cold river once a year to remind myself that I’m alive. When I asked Doug about it.” FOR about another year. Heng De decided to intuit what each of us needed to work on in our practice. to do a little more sitting. It didn’t matter if I was in a gold pagoda. or pinpricks. our crew decided to go to Max’s parents’ cabin in Bodega. I slept on a hardwood floor.

talk like a buddha MARSHALL GLICKMAN learns how to listen on an Insight Dialogue retreat. .

and relaxed with others as I have ever felt. This may sound like a goal only a bit larger than improving romantic relationships. relationship skills have been the domain of psychotherapists and pop psychologists. I was feeling as kind. I’m not talking about staying clear of SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE © CYNTHIA ABBOTT | 67 . group conversation. and tears are running down his face. Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom. Part of why Insight Dialogue is so low-profile is that it’s hard to explain. by gently meeting his gaze and accepting him and the moment. Typically. During a recent visit to Manhattan’s East West Living bookstore. I suspect most practitioners are drawn to it (as I was) as a practice for developing skillful speech and open listening. unkempt stranger would likely cause me to create some imaginary distance between him and me. present. Odds are. Before I headed off to the Insight Dialogue retreat. For most of us. relationship-based practice to thousands of students. yet I feel content. a distraught. and effective interactions are at the center of our ethical core. When our hour together is over.” When I told Kramer this. he was clearly disappointed—not because he’s dismissive of romantic relationships.I’m sitting knee-almost-touching-knee with Ted. Insight Dialogue turns the challenge of relationships into a potent spiritual opportunity. and it seems to help Ted regain his balance. Since then. I work at remaining openhearted and mindful. the hardest precept to honor is to speak the truth. bushy eyebrows. what I consider the heart of the practice—student-tostudent dialogues. But this happened toward the end of my first sevenday Insight Dialogue retreat. he has taught this gentle yet powerful Buddhism-informed. my exceedingly practical 78-year-old dad asked. as well as simply observing how you interact. but it’s much bigger than that. “I have somewhere between little and no instinct for promotion. he’s much calmer. dharma contemplation. even in Buddhist circles. some movement exercises. Kramer’s retreats include a variety of activities: seated meditation. prominently displayed in the “Relationships” section under “Love. dharma walks. I noticed a big stack of Kramer’s new book. maybe even happy. I comfort him—not so much with words but simply by being present. but because he takes his dharma intentions and roots very seriously. Ted’s breathing is labored. From his point of view. ideally finding a calm concentration in the midst of conversation. A Vipassana meditation teacher since 1980. And thoughtful. By the end of the week. a chubby and towering sixty-somethingyear-old with a few days’ gray stubble. his methods are still largely unknown. but it is only part of the practice. and— Marshall Glickman is the author of Beyond the Breath: Extraordinary Mindfulness Through Whole-Body Vipassana Meditation. the retreat leader and co-creator of Insight Dialogue. “What makes this one different?” I hemmed and hawed. Normally. While Kramer is confident that Insight Dialogue directs us toward the heart of the Buddha’s teaching on ultimate freedom. We met just fifteen minutes ago. the foundation of any spiritual practice. During our hour together. then mumbled something about listening better—which is true enough. Mindful speech and the ability to really listen are at the heart of all relationships. Kramer began teaching Insight Dialogue in 1995.” said Gregory Kramer. you’ve never heard of Insight Dialogue. I’d spent most of the week meditating and meeting with various partners or in small groups while focusing on staying mindful. kind. and I can smell his sour breath. Yet. and nose hairs calling for a trim. dharma talks. You also work on speaking from your heart.

Trust Emergence.… Taken together. and all of them are complementary. tranquility and acceptance. We have not only our own thoughts and impulses to contend with but also those of our conversational partners. a coworker is kvetching. Speak the Truth. More important than the why and how of our unresolved stories is the effort to relax and maintain a mental spaciousness while telling it. even when we do speak the truth. I talk about getting yelled at by a spiritual teacher. receptivity and attunement. as a listener your effort goes not toward offering solutions but toward remaining receptive. and at times it veers in that 68 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 direction. For instance. integrity and care. his measured steps acting as a subtle reminder to be mindful. Relax.bald-faced whoppers that cover up sordid affairs or some headline-grabbing misdeeds. In other words. Relax. it’s easy to space out. flexibility and letting go. When meditating. Listen Deeply. what usually happens when we talk uninterrupted for more than a few minutes. and the dialogue format is the semi-structured student-to-student exchange. In brief.” The mainstays of an Insight Dialogue practice are “dharma contemplations” and the dialogue format. for instance. After we all split off into groups or pairs. Trust Emergence. the topics you dialogue about explore explicit Buddhist themes. KRAMER identifies the six “instructions” that provide the scaffolding for Insight Dialogue: Pause. other times he rings a chime that invites you to silence. Kramer wanders through the room. Talking about them could easily turn into a kind of charged support group or mutual therapy session. These are loaded incidents for each of us. and my partner speaks about a fight with his sister. “Each guideline calls forth different qualities. but doing it while interacting with others tends to be like managing in choppy. but about our everyday exaggerations. the Buddha’s teaching on the Second Noble Truth— © 1998 MARK STANDEN . these guidelines offer essential support for awakening amid the rich challenges of interpersonal encounter. staying present is always a challenge. Open. you naturally pay attention. help keep practitioners focused on process.” Kramer suggests discussing a past incident that still feels unresolved. relational availability and spaciousness. selfaggrandizements. So if we can stay present and compassionate when. Take. cross-current seas.” Kramer writes. you work with someone new). sometimes this intensity can be uncomfortable. while we work on “relax. After the introductory sessions. Besides. likewise. Not surprisingly. Open. and Speak the Truth. Listen Deeply. odds are we can do it anytime. on our awareness in the moment. But when you’re eyeball-to-eyeball with someone you’ve never met (with each new set of dialogues. The challenge then is trying to relax into staying present and open even amid that discomfort. “These guidelines remain the same whether Insight Dialogue is undertaken as a formal meditation practice or is embraced as a path for wise living. after all. Pause calls forth mindfulness. say. no one else will really notice. are we able to listen to whoever is talking without an agenda or obsessing about what we’re going to say next? And how comfortable are we if there is nothing to say? Like surfing. typically in an interpersonal context. At times he interrupts to make general comments. Yet the guidelines Kramer gives before each conversation. and the ongoing suggestions he provides when everyone is meeting. The intensity of meeting with others in this format helps grab and keep your attention. and self-image facelifts. The contemplations are the content or topic of conversation.

I noted Kathy often had something interesting to say at group comment times. she said that she found it offensive that I had said she seemed uncomfortable. come back together with your same partner. I said to myself: “Avoid her. When exploring our tendency to either want recognition or to disappear. but her vaguely goth outfit didn’t match her little-girl haircut. including my wife. I let her know that I had wanted to partner with her because I found her group comments interesting.that the origin of suffering is craving. but my mind kept going back to my conversation with Kathy. “Go for a little walk. small and skinny. that the mind tends to grasp at something or push it away. Even when we do speak the truth. I was concluding that Kathy was a bit crazy. I smiled at her. But the truth was I was feeling a bit smug. Clearly. even while we were both sitting. especially a big guy. After I told Kathy she was probably right and that I hoped she could forgive me. The first time our eyes met across the back-and-forth. disjointed Then Kramer rang his bell. we agreed to set a timer and. Before the retreat began. though. Kramer often stopped us midconversation for ten-minute walks. bouncing between quoting sayings of a previous spiritual teacher and interpreting what Gregory meant by his social framing of the Second Noble Truth. my years of meditating have paid off. however. Eventually. I loomed over her). So much for my kind and comfortable Buddhist selfimage. if he was feeling uncomfortable. she melted. and that we’d raised our daughters as feminists. and I came to see them as a wonderful part of the practice. She looked very uncomfortable. I’m far from a fashion buff. Don’t consciously think of what you’ve just been talking about. Our encounter began with Kathy rambling. This little pause alone could probably do more to promote world peace than armies of meditators dispatched across the globe. At-Ease and that she was right: I probably wouldn’t have asked a man. Involuntarily. I told her that I’d been raised by a powerful woman. in return. Hoping to put her at ease. This would put a built-in release valve into any heated exchange. take a ten-minute break when it rang. Throughout the week. Simply walk mindfully and return in ten minutes. she flashed a pained grin. At first she blamed her uneasiness on my height (at six-foot-three. I decided I had wrongly prejudged her and sought her out for a partnership. I said I thought she seemed uncomfortable. kind of the way someone else’s fear of the dark can make one feel more bold and dismissive of anything lurking in the night. Imagine how much better off we’d all be if before every difficult conversation. “That’s no way to put someone at ease. invariably giving me a fresh and helpful perspective. Hoping to steer Kathy’s philosophizing to a more present-moment exchange. and I tried to notice the leaves crunching underfoot. through a halting.” It was a beautiful fall day.” Hmm. Not only did this not help but it also made her more uncomfortable and our interaction more awkward. and I didn’t say much. Before returning to Kathy. adding. Though I kept it to myself. I came to see I’d been posturing as Mr. “I bet you would have never said that to a man. I had noticed Kathy as she made her way through the dining hall as if peering out from under a blanket. that I was comfortable with strong women. She was in her mid-forties.” she said.” he said in his way that hinted at the “relax” piece of the dialoguing instructions. I tried to remain relaxed and accepting. These were extended versions of the “pause” instruction. 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.” After the retreat started. She thanked me for my SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 69 . Her tension made me feel like I was the most relaxed person around. I happened to be partnered with Kathy. I told myself. but I was starting to feel tense and misunderstood—especially about her claim that I would have treated a man differently. are we able to listen without an agenda or obsessing about what we’re going to say next? salad table. “Take a break. unless things were going swimmingly.

but even more because I was moved by her courage. My unconscious “reasoning” was: “If you don’t like me.” I felt we had a good opportunity to genuinely meet together again. Mindful speech and the ability to really listen are at the heart of all relationships. ALTHOUGH I didn’t have any “breakthrough” insights that I’ve heard other Insight Dialogue practitioners describe. almost everyone I spoke with was a longtime meditator. but she didn’t respond in kind. For everyone. “In some sense. and manipulative. she felt I was being egotistical. We were all sitting for many hours a day. you must have attended at least one seven-day meditation course. And the practice itself cre70 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 Breaking the silence that was observed throughout the center except when in formal dialogues. I realize that might sound goofy. After doing this in a focused way for five or ten minutes. but I wanted to try to keep the exchange in the moment. even when difficult emotions arise. And it wasn’t just me. We hugged. I hardly knew either of them. “except I’m concerned you’re mad at me. one by one. After a while. and I had used the opportunity to speak honestly and kindly even after I was rejected. though. except maybe Kathy and me. trying to steer the conversation to be about me. partly from relief that I hadn’t hurt her feelings. I’d been able to open to this person that I had once dismissed. but this spontaneous spouting of happiness for others’ happiness seemed significant. in intimate conversations. but she definitely didn’t return any warmth. half a dozen people leave a retreat of their own accord. that I didn’t know what I wanted to talk about but hoped to be more involved.” he said. Over the years we’ve had maybe ates an atmosphere that is conducive to a loving awareness. We limped to the end of the session. standing near the coffee machine. but it came from a light and engaged heart.” she said. I’m not going to like you. “But I’ve never had to ask someone to leave or mediate a fight or console someone for love gone bad. It wasn’t exactly a coming together of the Hatfields and the McCoys.” “I’m not mad at you. I realized I was feeling some animosity toward her. This happening on the last . but I got choked up. so I told her that I was disappearing. The atmosphere and awareness of the group tends to work as a container. I said something to the effect of “Will you play with me?” Recounting it now. and yet I have feelings of goodwill toward you. domineering.” So I decided to make a strong effort to send her wishes of lovingkindness. “How are you?” “I’m good. and opened her arms. At one point. this started to wear me down and near the end of the retreat. She didn’t exactly indicate that she was miffed. and we got to know each other. Even if I was misunderstood. I felt quite content with many small epiphanies and the general increase in compassion I experienced over the course of the retreat. “Of course difficult situations do come up. I consciously tried to wish Kathy well whenever I bumped into her. you often have to experience the hard stuff to learn something new. if there are no difficult conversations people aren’t doing the work—just as in meditation practice. I wanted to avoid my usual pattern of asking questions that kept the other person talking while I would disengage. After our dialogue ended. I didn’t feel superior to her. A palpable sense of goodwill settled throughout the center. I welled up from the sympathetic joy of witnessing another pair’s deep connection. My meeting with Kathy made me wonder if the dialogue encounters sometimes go seriously awry. Having gained some trust from weathering our “crisis.” Perhaps what helps account for this impressive track record is the requirement that before signing up for one of the longer Insight Dialogue retreats. she asked in a small.honesty and got teary-eyed. We talked some more and held hands for a few moments. Kathy was put off.” Kramer told me.” I said. I found myself and Kathy alone together in the dining room. I’d smile at her or in some silent way try to indicate friendliness. tentative voice. Soon after. but I still felt grateful for the exchange. This time. At my retreat. Yet it went over like the proverbial lead balloon. she was waxing philosophical again and talking about some personal history in yet another flight from the present. When our paths crossed.

I now have such confidence in “simply listening” that it’s become like a life preserver. It’s as though I’ve developed a new muscle. when I’m feeling uncomfortable in a conversation. I spontaneously find myself truly hearing what people are saying. Since the retreat has ended. Yet now. And at the same time.day of the retreat seemed like an exclamation point for the positive effect the practice could have. In fact. I’m learning to “trust emergence. many months later. that’s what I reach for. As Kramer might put it. At times. when we don’t need things to be better than they are. The irony is. I find a deep calm and openness in the midst of conversation similar to states of meditation. I still feel the benefits. they tend to end up that way. I have yet to follow up on my intention to join an Insight Dialogue group and formally practice it year round. They feel fully heard without being judged. Better connections tend to flow naturally.” simply listening while someone is speaking without any expectations or nervousness about what comes next. ▼ SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE © 1998 MARK STANDEN | 71 . “simply listening” seems to be better for whomever I’m talking with.

naked women. Despite this.org. but someone down here mucking around with someone else. he was interested in fine detail. The illness had something to do with it—I got looser. full of subtle humor and intelligence.” When asked if his paintings are a form of teaching. often he can’t speak. conservation biologist. and Michael and Emila have given many years to its community. As Michael’s condition worsened. after his first experiences with psychedelics. Not Dwelling Anywhere.” And his painting has changed. Michael is a painter. a Zen priest. human. Largely self-taught. up to a converted trailer at the very edge of the open hills. in a narrow valley north of San Francisco. and luminous. you know you are no longer in the territory of conventional understanding. flying birds. or can speak only in an indecipherable. he was less able to work for the community and had more time to paint. He noticed the first signs of the disease in 1985. now he paints “like a madman. Next. Now he is in a state of near bondage to its demands. While it once took him a year or more to finish one exquisitely detailed painting. he will almost certainly greet you with a smile that reaches all the way to his deep brown eyes. secret world—phantasmagoric. waterfalls. British Columbia. and archetypal imagery. you may notice that you are surrounded by visions: on the walls all around you are images of Buddhas. He says. a hummingbird. Some days he’s slumped over so far that it seems he is about to slip to the floor. surreal. “The paintings are less formal—there’s no perfect Buddha up there in the sky. When I stand in Michael’s room. skulls. just inside a door that looks out to the hills and sky. 72 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . There you are likely to find him sitting in a motorized chair. and divine realms.no inter no interference middle of one of the deepest expressions of freedom I’ve ever known. He received a prestigious grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. an ocelot. Michael Sawyer lives at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. whispering mumble. the meeting of the animal. 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. Emila Heller. visit michaelsawyerart. She is working on a collection of essays about her two-year pilgrimage. and a person with Parkinson’s disease. a carpenter. a chimpanzee playing the clarinet. He began painting watercolors when he was in his twenties. But as the disease has progressed—to the point where putting on a sock or eating a meal is a slow and monumental effort—his commitment to painting has only intensified. Green Gulch Farm is one of the San Francisco Zen Center’s places of practice. and writer. For more artwork by Michael Sawyer. monks. where he became a resident of the San Francisco Zen Center and met his wife. then worked as a landscaper and carpenter before moving to San Francisco in 1975. when his hand began losing its steadiness with a brush. To visit him you must walk past the formal zendo and Japanese teahouse. trees. When a man like Michael tells you that the last five years have been the happiest in his life. Michael replies that he doesn’t see them as HIDDEN like a Chinese hermit or a coyote in his den. To look carefully at his paintings is to be reminded that the unfolding of inner freedom is not ultimately constrained by physical limitations. You have entered another. I feel that I’m standing in the Zenshin Florence Caplow is a Soto Zen priest.

ZENSHIN FLORENCE CAPLOW © MICHAEL SAWYER Sky Wheel. 1972.5 inches SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 73 . diameter 17.rference Parkinson’s disease has offered artist Michael Sawyer a rare path to freedom.

there is—what? Serenity? That’s what I see there. Residents of Green Gulch bring him meals. “and I don’t like it. a pile of skulls.” he says. In this painting. No more hesitating. Before there are the babies and the skulls. it’s not me. he says. sit with him. So the feeling of not being interfered with means that whatever I’m doing. but rather as the dance of life and death.” Although Michael is hidden. I’m offering the © MICHAEL SAWYER . 74 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 Lou Hartman is a Zen priest in his nineties who owns a print of Ocean Samadhi [above]. and his art is mostly hidden. “We are taught in Buddha’s tradition that there’s something before there is good and bad.” he responds. If I do teach. for the last five or ten years. teachings. “Early on when I was painting. it’s because I don’t know I’m teaching. On one side of the beach is a pile of playing babies. It delivers itself. When I get close to the end of a painting. but actually the joy is in the body. is happiness. people have a way of finding him. Lou says.” That. and end up turning to him as an elder and friend. My body feels good. a Buddha sits in the sunlight above an ocean beach as a flock of birds rises up through his body. the next painting appears. “there were lots of blocks. at least not in the usual way.To look carefully at Michael’s paintings is to be reminded that the unfolding of inner freedom is not ultimately constrained by physical limitations. on the other. This is pure magic. Now there’s not anything blocking at all. Don’t forget it. pure oneness. Everything flows. Yet Michael is not interested in being a teacher. I can sit for hours and paint and never even stop. one of Michael’s paintings. I just go from one painting to another. But for me. “That’s the holy truth: Death exists. I could say that the joy is occurring in the painting. not knowing what to put somewhere. beautiful and ugly. “Teaching is a set up for dualism. People talk about writer’s block—that’s interference.” I ask Michael how his last five years have been his happiest.

their comments often are about something I haven’t seen. Michael laughs as he struggles to get his foot onto the chair.25 x 15. like the Cheshire Cat’s). ‘That’s all right.25 inches. we find a way to express our life. ’cause I still have one left. 1986. but not necessarily as teaching. and continues to paint naked women and monks and Buddhas cavorting together. He’d just lost an eye in a driving accident. and daring—without interference. One of Michael’s young friends says that visiting him can be hard—like seeing death. when he was already far into Parkinson’s. ▼ SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE © MICHAEL SAWYER | 75 . Below right: Cosmic Silence. 13. 1999. Viewers help me to see new things about my work. What then? Michael answers without hesitation: “It’s like saying. fearless in the face of the messy mystery. which then include their perceptions. His life is a reminder that illness and disability can be a path to freedom. 1974. He said of his missing eye. roars like a tiger when he can’t speak. In that way. I’ve always admired him. 24.5 x 8 inches painting. When people appreciate my work.5 x 18 inches. absurd. Why did he choose to accept ordination when his teacher suggested it? “I was spending too much time thinking about myself. 13. In the face of this death. even joy. he believes. how can you practice?’” No matter what.” Michael says. Below left: Buddha Nature.” Michael was ordained as a priest in 1998. ‘If you can’t sit in the zendo anymore. I met a man who was a logger. And when he’s gone. When I was nine and went into the hospital to have an operation. “I wanted to think about others. though. He did his best to cheer me up. chronic illness isn’t much fun. chants sutras as best he can. his paintings will still be here.’” 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. delicate. but hey. things I didn’t expect. they create the paintings. ” Michael has his own story of inspiration: “Some people say that they admire you.Opposite: Ocean Samadhi.

. SANDY BOUCHER faces fear head on.bear buddhist vs. On a camping trip.

I listen with strained attention. “A Footprint on the Shore. squirrels and chipmunks aren’t big enough to move a pan like that. Encased in her mummy bag.When I awake. The sound comes again—metal on rock. against all reason and backcountry wisdom. eeeeeeep. Either it is the sound of my partner Jeri unzipping her sleeping bag or—and my scalp tingles—or it is the sound of claws dragging across canvas. But all that comes out of my tight throat is Eeeeeeep. I direct the light at our backpacks. Jump up and down. all around me the night is thickly black under a starless sky. My body is paralyzed for a few moments. “Yell. But I can’t just lie here and let the animal take our food! Something instinctual. Keeping the flashlight on the bear’s furry bulk. Only don’t mess with a female bear who has cubs.” That information sucks me fully into the moment. Silence. its massive forelegs wrapped around my pack.” appeared in the Spring 2003 issue. propped against the log near our feet. trying to identify it. The light does not frighten it. unzipping my bag farther. The animal is hunched over from behind the log. and lie listening. A marmot. Sandy Boucher’s last essay for Tricycle. 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. slowly. I turn over again. from the diaphragm. and I start to yell—a karate yell. and flick the switch. No way to know if this is a daddy bear or a mommy bear! I tilt on a knife edge. Looking straight at me in the circle of light are two yellow eyes in a dark furry head. a little at a time. I turn over on the ground inside my bag until I lie facing Jeri. Beat on pans. leaps up in me. loud in the night. “Make noise. adrenaline sharpening my senses. How I wish this were not happening.” they had advised. pulling things out the hole it’s made. yet hearing from some far-off place my own voice objecting. deafening. as quietly as possible. I am ready to protect our supplies. while my mind leaps back to a conversation with some campers in Junction Meadow. SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE SYLVIA PARK © NAME HERE | 77 . One of our cook pans is being moved at the fire pit. Fast asleep. it is so cold that my cheeks are numb. I sit up. territorial. Then another noise. Stealthily. terrifying. she lies turned away from me. There is another scratching noise. I think. It goes on ripping at the side pocket of the pack.

78 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 In the underbrush twenty feet from us we hear the stealthy padding of feet. crumple the reassuring words of a dharma talk. The great body rears up clumsily off the pack. This is the pivotal moment. no one to save me. I see the branches shudder.The creature goes on looting my pack. the noises from the weeds stop. black night reigns outside our circle of light. the enormous 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. But perhaps there would have been nothing she could have done if she had tried to help. the small branches splutter. The bear stops all motion. Jeri is still curled in her sleeping bag. All I have is the flashlight. Anywhere! Up the nearest tree—no. aim. while the bear stalks us and we scramble to build a fire with the few spindly sticks on the ground. no negotiation. or would he simply smile. It sails toward the bear and bounces off its head just above the eyes. These I stuff under the twigs. yow. nodding in approval as I flutter out here? The minutes pass. I keep moving backwards as I try to yell. and one half is left dangling like a cigar butt down its chin. spiraling up to send a beam of light looping crazily in the darkness. until I’m practically sitting on top of Jeri in her sleeping bag. This brochure brings an image of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. spilling peanuts and sunflower seeds down the front of the pack as the plastic splits. roll up the article about the Western man who has created a Buddhist institution. stunned. The creature moves around us like a planet . Everything holds still: There is no escape. Jeri is an artist. And in that I jump in the cold air. I pull a brochure out of my pack. stunned. but afraid to turn my back to the bear. The little eyes watch me warily as the claws pull a bag of trail mix from the hole and stuff it in the mouth. The small shiny eyes watch me. It can scramble up after me. Jeri and I move in a circle. rip out the glossy photos of cheerfully smiling Tibetan monks. nudging them against the little tongues of fire. yellow eyes flash. when I turn and look back into the gaping mouth of time. I’m torn. with a sometimes eccentric imagination. 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 Jeri’s explanation. reflecting our fire. hup. I pull back my arm. Would he recognize the space where my mind is floating? Would he reel in my mind like a scarf twisting in the wind. bites into it. whose teachings I have been reading. The bear stops all motion. smoothing it and wrapping it around his fingers. She tells me each of the thoughts that had passed through her mind as she lay there almost asleep. What’s going on? Here I am. knees jerking up and down. The bear teeters there on tense hind legs. shouting Yow.” they had said in Junction Meadow. Out through the underbrush in the dark—but surely it can move faster than I. usually I am charmed by her fancies—not tonight. hup! Amazingly. My anger at her sputters and dies. a furry snout poke through. no petition. Yellow claws pull a chocolate bar from the frayed hole in the canvas. until the final moment when she saw the light spiral crazily in the darkness and thought it was a space ship landing. At last! Out comes a tampon. The paper flares up. “Throw something. The creek is too far down the slope. my yell getting louder now. There is no place to go. dancing like a madwoman and screeching not eight feet from this creature and it just continues with its midnight snack. or someone with a flashlight stumbling down upon us. shouting Hup. each one giving her an excuse not to act. let fly. and I look around for a place to run to. The animal shoves it in its mouth. yow! A quick glance behind shows me Jeri unzipping her bag. hesitates. And in that instant I know I have made a terrible mistake. Desperate to feed the flames. then start again. wanting to shake her awake. trying to keep the bear on the other side of the fire pit from us. She grumbles and rolls away. or confusing her. What the hell’s wrong with her? Why doesn’t she get up to help me? I leap and stamp and throw one arm out like a pump handle.

determined to stand on its 14. Legs firmly planted. I had done the most dangerous thing anyone could choose to do! But after the long slow passage of the night. on the condition that he guarantee he will not run away during the night. ▼ SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 79 . while the force in the underbrush stays as stubbornly committed as we to the standoff. I silently thank the sun for returning.) My stomach lurches as I see the lumbering dark form break from the bushes and pace deliberately toward us. The bear must be as weary as we. open to the dawn silence. when I experienced absolute. when we drove to Sequoia National Forest and set out hiking. if the bear grabs your food. We’re here: We made it through. The moment goes on forever. down to the Mojave Desert. where we were the only people. in a book called Bear Attacks. It stops its lumbering. Then I thank the bear for leaving us to this exhausted empty space. Perhaps I am going to die—and in such dramatic fashion. Then. Normally we would have hung our food supplies high up on a tree limb. and he will violently defend them from any being who may threaten them. our tormentor turns and waddles off into the morning. Unwittingly. Probably Trungpa would find my predicament fortunate. who returns my glance. I’m not reassured by this last detail. Desperately. He asks them to wait until morning to kill him so that he will have time to attain full enlightenment before he dies. tilted against the log. waiting its chance to move in close. just back off and let him have it. Don’t try to scare him away. then back at us. it melts back into the bushes. the sight of a tiny twig immobile on a branch. brown shaggy haunches disappearing into the underbrush. I see the indecision in its arrested pose. I love the morning. in hot dry August. I pick up a hiking boot and throw it. then it seems to have gone. hinted at in Tibetan and Theravada texts. then swings its head to look at the torn backpack. finally a glow squeezes up above the surrounding peaks to lift the dark lid of sky. peering at us. The boot strikes the bear on its side. and through diligent effort he is able to attain full liberation by morning light. I put my palms together to bow in reverential greeting. we endure the long grueling hours. adrenaline-fired clarity. as our pathetic fire crackles between us. reading texts. secretly hungering for the breakthroughs pointed to in some Zen books. the book advised. We were on our way to Mount Whitney. did I read that once a bear has gotten hold of your supplies. Not until years later. I might have broken through in those few minutes after awaking. but it always returns. pockets ripped open. awake and trembling from the cold. I turn to look at Jeri. we see its eyes gleaming out there among the leaves. They will do so. My mind feels stretched beyond its margins.500-foot summit and look out over the Sierras. Once more the bear glances at its interrupted meal. sitting day after day. but in our eight days of hiking we had seen no sign of bear. Who could have predicted this for me—the earnest Buddhist practitioner. newly embracing meditation. instant I know I have made a terrible mistake. Then he enters samadhi. Circling us. That evening we had made it to Crabtree Meadow. The trip had started nine days before. a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So. It shakes its shoulders. the creature shows its teeth in an outraged growl but stops. it stands peering at us. because he may attack you. It comes near. blowing a juicy snort from its muzzle. Jeri and I move to keep the flames between us and this animal. and this night we let fatigue overcome our better judgment. to shatter his leg bones so he cannot walk. and they agree to let him live a few hours more. watching the sky go from charcoal to dove gray to palest blue streaked with pink. And if I were sufficiently cooked. We meet the gaze of the bright little eyes. When finally the sun pops up over the dark shadowed rib of the mountain. I remember the story about the monk meditating in the forest who is attacked by bandits who threaten to murder him. (At which point the bandits kill him. he considers them his kill. they say. Taking a deep breath. He picks up a big rock Now.circling the sun of our fire. Jeri and I sit on the dirt beside the dying fire. we throw small sticks on the fire to keep it going.

no wisdom. the mantra that completely pacifies all suffering. no aging and death up to and including no extinction Excerpt from the Heart Sutra in Japanese Kanji characters © ISTOCKPHOTO/JUNJI TAKEMOTO of aging and death. no origin. the unsurpassed mantra. But then. So you’re sitting there. either the long version or the short version. the mantra of the perfection of wisdom is the mantra of great wisdom. Perhaps you do so every day. Because it is not false. In the same way. you come to the part. no cessation. no attainment. Lopez takes a close look at the Heart Sutra. the mantra equal to the unequaled. ga-tay pa-ra- SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 81 . The mantra of the perfection of wisdom is stated thus: gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha” (pronounced ga-tay. complete. let’s imagine that you do.on language What’s in a Mantra? Donald S. perfect enlightenment relying on the perfection of wisdom. “Therefore. no suffering. without the person reciting it necessarily paying much attention to the meaning (whatever that might mean). no extinction of ignorance. But today. After dutifully negating each of the major categories of Buddhist philosophy (“no eye constituent up to and including no mental consciousness constituent. “All the buddhas who abide in the three times have fully awakened into unsurpassed. so good.” So far. no ignorance. no path. reciting the Heart Sutra. It has been recited millions of times over the centuries. it should be known to be true. no nonattainment”).

Hence. the dissonance in the text. a cut-and-paste job of pieces from a number of Perfection of Wisdom (prajnaparamita) texts. they transliterated it. a transition that begins with a “therefore” that seems more like a non sequitur than a conjunction. But should you? There are several ways to explain the presence of the mantra in the sutra. but in China. (Avalokiteshvara. of the perfection of wisdom. a dissonance that you find so jarring. you are suddenly confronted with the mumbo jumbo of a mantra. the word of the Buddha. into Tibetan. but they left the mantra—in sound if not in form—in Sanskrit. instead. Buddhism has philosophy—indeed. Some have argued 82 that it was not even compiled in India. its adherents were faced with the task of translating its scriptures. reciting the sutra in Sanskrit. And philosophy entails critical analysis and reasoned argumentation to arrive at the real. into Chinese. But this kind of historical information provides little explanatory comfort to the Buddhist who regards the Heart Sutra as buddhavachana. The Indian monk. Philosophy and superstition are different. Philosophy belongs in sutras. remnants of primitive superstition about the performative power of sound. 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. and the question of whether Buddhism is (also) a form of magic is a question you may not wish to consider. pa-ra-sam-ga-tay bo-dhi sva-ha). You should recognize. Why do you find this shift so jarring? Perhaps it is because the Heart Sutra is considered the most concentrated expression of the most profound doctrine in Buddhist philosophy. You might find some comfort in recognizing that the problem is not restricted to twenty-first century Americans. recited.on language ga-tay.) They translated the rest of the sutra. modes of thought. a composite. and incompatible. are magic spells. unintelligible syllables. for example. The first is your rather defensive conviction that despite its long exclusion from university philosophy departments. did not translate the mantra. You might instead try to renounce your view of the Heart Sutra as philosophical in the first place. As Buddhism spread far beyond the confines of the Indian subcontinent. into Korean. sophisticated philosophy. then. in an effort to duplicate. is the sutra’s main speaker. and thereby preserve. at funerals to dispel demons. is to accept the well-founded view of scholars that the Heart Sutra is a pastiche. the bodhisattva of compassion. Yet as you reach its end. into Japanese. Yet the translators of the Heart Sutra. the doctrine of emptiness. and then translated from Chinese into Sanskrit. or shunyata. seeing the entire sutra as a kind of long mantra. and simplest. acknowledging that it has functioned as such in Asia for centuries. the sound of Avalokiteshvara’s voice. Any number of culturally conditioned responses may be at play here. the heart. The second is the nineteenth-century European view that mantras. A transition has occurred. would intone a Sanskrit | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . The first. The Heart Sutra is the essence. a dharani. But demons raise the question of superstition again. The vocabulary has shifted. Something odd just happened. magic belongs in tantras.

reciting along in Chinese. because for such a reading the vowel ending the first four words (gate gate paragate parasamgate) is not grammatically correct. On the most practical level. it should also not be transferred from its natural medium to some other. to render it grammatically illegible. the | 83 SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE . and so you read it. leading some scholars to speculate that it is in the feminine vocative. come to a phrase marked by its incomprehensibility. from sound to writing.” It doesn’t quite say that. as an element of ritual discourse. with its traditional primeval primacy over the derivations of script. gone beyond. But it has been. not only should a mantra not be translated from Sanskrit into another language. gone.mantra. For the Indian monk. gone completely beyond. The Chinese monk. But more importantly. and events resist translation. a view strongly held in both Hindu and Buddhist thought. As we often read in books about Buddhism. The translators did not translate the mantra because mantras are not translated. like you. measured against the model of classical Sanskrit. they can only be repeated. a mantra is often untranslated simply because. would. the mantra would not be incomprehensible. it is untranslatable. enlightenment. reading a transliteration to produce sounds that were clearly not Chinese. it would evoke something. svaha. whether intentional or not. a mantra is as much an event as a statement. the mantra has undergone sufficient modification. a mantra can only be in Sanskrit and must remain so in order to retain its potency as speech. Indeed. an invocation of the goddess Prajnaparamita. the mantra seems to mean something like: “Gone. And from the Indian perspective.

the path of preparation. Eight commentaries survive from India. In their efforts to decode the sutra in this way.on language mother of all buddhas. receiving commentaries for over a millennium. you (feminine) who have gone. except to say that it does not exist (“in the same way. that did not make immediate sense. no suffering. The open teaching set forth the final nature of reality. by the way. the Heart Sutra appears both among the sutras and among the tantras). they turned to that part of the sutra that seemed encoded. In that case. no origin. no path”). an exposition that is ostensibly absent. emptiness. Among the Indian works preserved in the Tibetan canons (where. didn’t know quite what to do with the mantra either. Therefore. they turned to the mantra. the path of meditation.” So what to do? You can do what Buddhists have long done when confronted with a scriptural conundrum: you can look at the commentaries. one of the most commented upon of all the Buddhist sutras. and the path of no further 84 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . the path of vision. and the bodhisattva traverses five paths: the path of accumulation. And indeed much of the text is devoted to emptiness. these commentators took it as their task to discover in the sutra an exposition of the structure of the path. there are more commentaries on the Heart Sutra than on any other text. among whom are such famous figures as Kamalashila and Atisha. The majority of the many commentaries on the Perfection of Wisdom corpus are concerned primarily with the second topic. 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 teaching. of course. Yet there is no mention of the path. and up to the present day. and you might take some comfort from the fact that at least some of the commentators. The mantra (not counting svaha) has five words. The hidden teaching set forth the myriad realizations that occur over the path of the bodhisattva. The Heart Sutra is. it should contain pithy expositions of both of these themes. the mantra would mean “O. no cessation. The Heart Sutra thus presents the Buddhist scholastic with the following dilemma: as the quintessence of the Perfection of Wisdom sutras.

But in that case. but raises others. Atisha. took a somewhat different tack: he apportions the sutra up to the point of the mantra under the headings of the five paths. as is always the case. It works like magic.learning. And. the third word is different from the first two. the last word is bodhi. answers some questions. ▼ Donald S. many commentators over the centuries have done so. What he is suggesting is that the entire structure of the path to enlightenment becomes clear to these bodhisattvas of acute intellect simply upon hearing Avalokiteshvara’s invocation of the mantra. “enlightenment. Lopez is Arthur E. adding para to gate. a sound that communicates nothing (except to those really smart bodhisattvas). the path of no further learning. Yet they left the mantra untouched by translation and the apparent limitation that that would entail. SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 85 . ghost. why is the mantra necessary. He discusses the Heart Sutra’s mantra at greater length in his book Elaborations on Emptiness: Uses of the Heart Sutra. why doesn’t the mantra come first? Why didn’t Avalokiteshvara begin with the mantra and let the smart bodhisattvas go home? So reading the commentaries. is synonymous with buddhahood. it marks the initial direct vision of emptiness and destroys all seeds for future rebirth as an animal. The third path is different from the first two. But if the entire path has been presented to that point. The translators of the Heart Sutra could have translated the mantra. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan. The last of the five paths. It maintains its potency by eluding any conventional comprehension of its meaning. the not-sobright bodhisattvas (relatively speaking). sure enough. whereas the mantra is the exposition of the five paths for bodhisattvas of sharp faculties. the smart bodhisattvas. why is it not superfluous? 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. writing in the eleventh century. sure enough. leaving the mantra unreconciled with the tongue of the reader but protected as sound. or hell being. and.” It’s a convincing homology.

” (Mahavagga 8.26) “You monks no longer have mother or father to care for you. Then the Buddha called together all the monks of the community and asked why this monk had been left unattended in his distress. he came across a monk who was very ill with dysentery.thus have I heard Medicine for the World If we do not take care of each other. enjoining the monks to care for each other in times of illness. who will? ANDREW OLENDZKI 86 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 © OLIVIER FOLLMI One time when the Buddha was walking among the dwellings of his monks. who else will care for you?” He then used the occasion to lay down one of the 227 rules for the monastic community. It is a poignant story. “If you do not care for one another. lying alone in his own excrement.” the Buddha said to them. Surely one of the main problems we face. More importantly. from garbage and debris to chemical toxins and exotic poisons. All the waste products produced by our consumption. so they left him to cope with his illness alone. as a species and as a planet. He asked the monk why none of the others were caring for him and was told that he was of no use to the other monks. revealing a side to the Buddha seldom seen in the Pali texts. is that we are lying in our own excrement. and it can offer inspiration and guidance on how we can best get ourselves out of difficulty. And what the Buddha says about everything else surely applies . I think it has something to say to us about the situation we all find ourselves in today. The Buddha immediately sent his attendant Ananda for a bowl of water and together they washed the monk and raised him onto a bed. Lord. are oozing out of us and soiling the environment we inhabit. He was given the same answer: “He is of no use to us.

Mother Earth can and does get worn down by giving and forgiving in the face of our persistent demands. The Buddha. “He is of no use to us?” For better or worse. as the dominant authority in our society. and then diligently follow a detailed regimen for effecting the cure. MONKS! AND HAVING DRUNK THE MEDICINE OF THE DHAMMA. hatred. But the medicine can only cure if it is taken. and finally upon all his companions. though perhaps immensely old and lord over a host of devas (as the Buddhists view him). then upon his teacher. Ph. be on our own. The world we inhabit is the product of our actions. He is the editor of Insight Journal. then it is up to each and every individual to step up and personally lend a hand. What if we administer the medicine of the dhamma to one another. DRINK OF THIS. 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.. The Buddha has suggested that we are without a mother and father to take care of things for us. 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 particular consequences. each lifting the other up and showing compassion for one another’s suffering? Even those we do not particularly like or understand. There is no one else to whom the duty can be passed. —MILINDA-PANHO 335 here: Nothing happens without a cause. once thought to be all-forgiving and capable of absorbing any abuse we could heap upon her. we might say that we look first to our elected officials. understand their causes. whether we like it or not. even. If they prove inadequate. The toxins of greed. he placed the responsibility first upon the ill monk’s preceptor. which are themselves reflections of our minds. kindness. in his role as physician. Learning how to care for one another is a central part of the path and of the practice. If we do not care for one another. even those who are “of no use” to us. use this knowledge to remove the causes. and delusion oozing from the human psyche are cleansed with generosity. with our own hand? ▼ Andrew Olendzki. As we learn of our own mothers at a certain point of maturity. Transposing this to our col- lective secular situation. And our Father who is in heaven. is not the infinitely benevolent resource we thought she was. YOU’LL BE UNTOUCHED BY AGE AND DEATH. has laid out in the Four Noble Truths a protocol for recovery: Identify the symptoms. SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 87 . is nevertheless subject to the laws of karma and is not sufficiently omnipotent to make it all work out for us in the end. Massachusetts. who else will care for us? Who among us has the right to say of another. The filth of dysentery is washed away with clear water. dare I say. As the Buddha laid down the monastic injunction for the monks to care for each other. We may also. and wisdom. like the early Buddhist community. we are all in this together. HAVING MEDITATED AND SEEN— [YOU’LL BE] HEALED BY CEASING TO CLING. to take responsibility for helping clean up our mess and healing ourselves. Mother Earth.D. we can begin the gradual process of healing. Once we’ve been lifted from the dirt onto a place of greater purity and dignity. is executive director and senior scholar at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Barre.WHATEVER MEDICINES ARE FOUND IN THE WORLD—MANY AND VARIED— NONE ARE EQUAL TO THE DHAMMA.

But rest assured.reviews Hard Cash The inner life of money MICHAEL CARROLL IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY: UNLOCK YOUR MONEY TYPE TO ACHIEVE SPIRITUAL AND FINANCIAL ABUNDANCE BRENT KESSEL San Francisco: Harper Collins. while some of us have enormous wealth yet lead wretched lives. But according to Brent Kessel. the unsettling irony we face is—as the title of his new book aptly proclaims—“not about the money” but about taming our “wanting mind” and developing spiritual freedom.. the less there seems of it.” For the skeptics among us. 2008 336 pp. focusing on taming our “Wanting Mind” while the stock market crashes and our mortgage payments balloon may appear a bit naive at best. meeting with a disciplined financial planner can make all the difference in the world. “And unless we inquire into the subtle and often hidden workings of the Wanting Mind—including whether its promises of happiness are actually true—we remain its slave and will likely spend a lifetime chasing images of freedom. Now. But money never seems to cooperate.” Kessel points out. As president and cofounder of Abacus Wealth Partners. money poses a most unsettling irony: The more we need money. named one of the “top 250 wealth-management firms . the more money we have. Kessel is no slouch when it comes to the practicality department. Some of us have little money and seem quite content. “The Wanting Mind is always craving 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. $24. leaving most of us feeling a bit edgy and concerned. and budget better—and no doubt.95 (cloth) FOR many of us. All of us to a great degree would like money 88 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 to behave itself—to show up when we need it and not make too many demands. we could go to a financial planner who could show us how to save more. the more we seem to need. invest smarter.

seeking a higher vision. always alert and inclined to fret about money. economic facts. But just as important is the fact that he has been practicing yoga and meditation for over fifteen years. reveals how we can be spiritually free and confident in a world of material possessions. And his financial advice is sound indeed. is our impulsive buyer. specializes in applying mindfulness to challenges in organizational settings. when properly cultivated.00 a month. hoping for the best. and just plain good writing. AN APPEAL FOR THE PRECIOUS SEEDS OF TIBET Children. Using stories. The Star wants attention. hands-on experience to offer sound financial advice. Of course. a Buddhist teacher. practices. is the worrier within us. often going overboard with generosity.50 to $33. practical resource for coming to know yourself through money. Kessel has the practical. AAW Associates (awakeatwork.” by Bloomberg Wealth Manager. it is a profound inner journey in which money is the primary focus…an intimate. and the author of Awake at Work and The Mindful Leader . The Guardian.” he writes. giving him a unique perspective for bridging the seemingly disparate worlds of finance and spirituality. And he outlines an excellent exercise to help bring this conflict into sharp personal focus for reflection. Through sponsorship of as little as $3. Kessel does a splendid job guiding us through these styles of relating to wealth to help us discover our “Core Story”—the conflict we feel between our vision of freedom and how we program ourselves for defense against pain and suffering. 877-TIBET-AID www. The Pleasure Seeker. Kessel outlines in detail these eight collective financial habitual patterns. “This book…is not a financial how-to-book in spiritual clothing. while the Saver struggles with impoverishment and seeks reassurance in abundance. The Caretaker seeks harmony. and the Innocent sticks his head in the sand.” And throughout this 336-page discourse packed with practical exercises and exemplary case studies.tibetaid. Many arrive traumatized and destitute. His consulting group. ▼ Michael Carroll is a former corporate executive. a bit brash and fascinated with having fun. Kessel skillfully reveals the natural wisdom of our feelings about money: we all possess an innate wisdom that. 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. unearthing hidden fees.org SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 89 . above the distasteful discourse of commerce. For Kessel.S. But what makes It’s 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 does just that: He leads us on an insightful journey of our inner life of money. and planning estates. you can help save a life and preserve the Tibetan culture. “Rather. 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. The Idealist stands aloof.books in the U. nuns and monks continue to escape from Tibet by making a perilous journey across the Himalayas to seek freedom in Nepal and India.net). Kessel ends his book with practical advice about managing diversified portfolios. lest he be accused of writing some Pollyanna New Age theory. while the Empire Builder is the part of us that thrives on power and innovation.

For adolescents.. moved to the United States.00 (paper) “YOU have to be somebody before you can be nobody.books film reviews The Strength of Two Roots A young biracial American returns to his mother’s Thai village to become a monk. for many people. the question had particular resonance. How he chose to resolve his identity crisis follows in the tradition of young men throughout southern Asia: He became a monk at Wat Takwean. “Who am I?” remains a lifelong koan. the temple in Panomsarakram. 2008 224 pp. the quest for identity is an accepted rite of passage. $16. JOAN DUNCAN OLIVER A CHANT TO SOOTHE WILD ELEPHANTS: A MEMOIR JAED COFFIN Cambridge. then divorced when Coffin was two. For Jaed Coffin. his mother’s village 90 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . author of A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants. MA: Da Capo Press.” the psychologist Jack Engler famously wrote. A look-krung— Thai for “half-white child”—he’s the son of a Thai mother and an American father who met and married on a military base in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

“You have two roots. His parents. tells his biracial protégé. Once for the story—absorbing and. where Coffin and his older sister were raised by their mother. What could have been a simple coming-of-age tale is. in Coffin’s hands. notwithstanding the occasional taunt—“Chinese freak” and “fucking refugee”—Coffin seems to have weathered his youth with little sense of dislocation. Coffin was told by a temple monk he should return and ordain. at times. amusing—and once more for the poetry: crystalline observations of people and place that float alongside the narrative. son?” During a childhood visit to Panomsarakram for his grandfather’s funeral. Coffin dismissed Watts as a “phony” but concluded “that everything in the material world [is] fake and meaningless. SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 91 . Coffin’s father drilled home the message: “You get that. we gather. but one guesses she’s referring to “jade”) in the hope that it would give him “a strong mind and a compassionate heart. saw to that. a wry.” In college. Apart from her.” explaining that a plant with two roots is stronger than a plant with one. One night. Coffin’s name signals his dual heritage. Caine. But it was not until he had “an adolescent philosophical crisis” that an interest in Buddhism emerged. the only Asians he encountered in the lily-white community “worked behind the counters in Chinese restaurants. Reading Alan Watts’s The Way of Zen.” Still. the old Chinese teacher in the series. A Chant to Soothe Wild Elephants chronicles that experience. at times lyrical commentary on cultural identity and Buddhist practice. Maine. he shaved his head.in Thailand.” His surname is as quintessentially Yankee as Brunswick. It’s worth reading this book twice. while Coffin and his father were watching reruns of the TV show Kung Fu. His mother chose Jaed (he doesn’t translate it. his dad replayed a moment when Master Po.

” Suffice it to say that his adventures as a Luang Pee—holy brother—involve nothing of the sort.” There was only one way to resolve his spiritual and cultural crisis. How different it is from the convert Buddhist experience in the West. both lay and monastic. The Buddha isn’t to be found in all those places where Coffin has been looking. or holy father. the temple boy who gives the horrified Coffin a lesson in impermanence: “Samesame. he decided: He arranged a travel grant to Thailand and Wat Takwean. And there is Boi. If at times Coffin’s quest seems less urgent than he’s led us to believe. but “in the heart that is always mai nae jai”—the notsure heart. of the forest temple. One young monk tells Coffin he has ordained for two weeks to please his grandmother. a monk asks Coffin. stacked with food and cartons of cigarettes. Other lessons come from Coffin’s encounters with his colorful relatives. spend their days reading newspapers or napping or watching reruns of NBA games on TV.books reviews began to identify with his Asian roots. We watch Coffin’s fumbling attempts to follow temple procedure and his puzzlement that so many of the monks. his room. though they. bring him no closer to resolving his identity crisis. and secretly believed his heritage gave him “privileged insight into ancient sutras. “made it look like he was away at summer camp.” Among the other monks we meet is Narong: Assigned to teach Coffin the dharma. “Is it good?” His reply: “It is expensive. he babbles fractured English and “god-language” as the two spend a week wandering in the forest. instead of meditating.” He’s thinking of “all the meditation retreats and workshops run by white men with long beards and attractive women with fit yoga bodies.” Boi explains as he tosses a dead puppy on the rubbish heap atop some wilted flowers. the elder monk says. has the courage to 92 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . Coffin’s most penetrating—and enduring—lesson comes from the Luang Pa. it may be because we’re diverted by his window on Thai Buddhist practice. the shortest man in Panomsarakram. too. Curious about Buddhism in America. At one point a family friend chides Coffin for his indecisiveness about his beliefs: “If your uncle [a crack para-sailor].

and that each night I was bathing in the liquid of my ancestry. and Coffin is back from his post-college travels and settling down to be a writer. But once they’re placated by the monks’ chanting. “thirty monks were spread across a stage in an orange fan.” the verses say. of Coffee with the Buddha.” Coffin arrives at Wat Takwean speaking only marginal Thai. SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 93 . and never had I felt so barely her son. Fast forward a few years. though there are hints he’s made peace with his not-sure heart. searching for the word as if it was a bird trapped in the rafters. In a book of Thai poems he finds the chant of the memoir’s title. ▼ Tricycle’s reviews editor.” His first night back in Panomsarakram brings up childhood memories: “The darkness was the same darkness I’d known as a boy. and I always felt bound to it like a thief or a stowaway. who kick and scream at being forced into captivity.go higher than everyone else. “Give up your kicking. fighting.” and when his mother bowed deeply at his feet. and thrashing about/Soothe your vicious temper. he pictures 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.” At Coffin’s ordination ceremony. Joan Duncan Oliver. is done with kicking—and is on his way to contentment. Coffin disrobes and returns home to finish college. Coffin recalls watching a traditional dancer at his grandfather’s funeral “twirling her golden-tipped fingers like spinning flowers.” Two and a half months after his ordination. we sense. “Once you are dutiful and valiant in battle/You will be well fed and content.” Sitting by the canal. is the author. “never had she seemed so barely my mother. There have been no epiphanies. 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. It tells of wild elephants trapped by the king’s men.” Coffin. but the Luang Pa of the temple fares little better with English at their first meeting: “I waited while he stared at the ceiling. and they bow before the king. most recently. they see that living in the palace is an honor.

but how many have heard of Buddhist Study Center Press or the Nembutsu Press? 94 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 There’s a Catch-22 here. Yet the relative lack of need for outreach by the Pure Land communities—some of which are nurturing their fifth and sixth generations of American Buddhists— means that their publications are often eclipsed by those of smaller and more recent imports. 2007). American Pure Land Buddhists have been publishing sutra commentaries. the wider reading public is aware only of the one or two books produced annually by mainstream presses. The net effect is that. As Bloom describes it. Indeed. The most recent of these is The Essential Shinran: A Buddhist Path of True Entrusting (World Wisdom. edited by Alfred Bloom. the thirteenthcentury founder of Jodo Shinshu and one of Japan’s most important religious thinkers. Shinran’s “Pure Land teaching is an . then. These traditions. affluent American audience that often encounters Buddhism in the bookstore. along with Zen. With The Essential Shinran. 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. not commercial enterprises. have actively marketed themselves to a white. rather than in a traditional temple. the widespread network of Shin temples and periodicals ensures that new books will get attention from a built-in audience. despite the regular appearance of new books on Pure Land Buddhism. those affiliated with Jodo Shinshu—literally “the true school of the Pure Land. Many of these books were never intended to turn a substantial profit anyway—they are seen as offerings of the dharma. Why. Bloom—a scholar and Shin priest influential in Buddhist circles since the 1965 publication of his Shinran’s Gospel of Pure Grace— attempts to deepen the West’s appreciation for Shinran.” often called Shin Buddhism—have produced far more Buddhist works in America than any other sect. and personal reflections. such as Tibetan Buddhism and Vipassana. The Pure Land community is large enough that it’s never had to court mainstream bookstores. dharma talks.books reviews Essential and Pure Core Principles in Shin Buddhism JEFF WILSON FOR more than a hundred years.

Through deepening religious understanding it liberates people from religious intimidation and oppression. human faith. egalitarian. However. non-superstitious religious faith. Pure Land Buddhism has some superficial similarities to monotheism.” To counter common misconceptions of the Pure Land tradition. which sometimes leads to ill-informed characterizations of Jodo Shinshu and related traditions by disgruntled ex-Christians. It is nonauthoritarian. particularly among Western convert Buddhists. which trade on the ignorance of people and their desire for security. non-dogmatic.inclusive. Bloom takes care to point out Shinran’s vigorous opposition to superstition and ignorance. any similari- SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 95 . Shinran’s teaching does not encourage blind faith at the expense of one’s reason and understanding.

objectivism. By Shinran’s time the vast pantheon of Mahayana Buddhism had multiplied to the point where there was a Buddha or spirit under virtually every stone. Such knowledge informs our egocentrism and perpetuates our ignorance of our true nature and of the world. or Zen Buddhism and Confucianism. there is a world of difference resulting from its root in Mahayana Buddhist philosophy. Bloom elucidates the thoroughly Mahayana Buddhist foundation of Shinran’s ideas about reliance on Amida Buddha: Though this teaching may appear similar to ideas in Western religion. we could say that Pure Land takes advantage of the strengths of a rather Unitarian quasi-monotheistic religious approach but does so within a context of Buddhist insight into emptiness and liberation. The Mahayana perspective on religion rejects the literalism. and moralism found in many religious traditions. and (sometimes expensive) offerings and ceremonies. Mahayana teaching distinguishes between conventional thought and belief and the truth of the absolute realm. compassion. and nirvana—was a way of cutting through the pomp and superstition surrounding Japanese Buddhism and returning to core principles. all demanding veneration through prayer. If anything. not just monks and members of the elite.film books reviews ties between Pure Land and Christianity are far fewer than overlaps between Vajrayana and Hinduism. as numerous passages of 96 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . THE dialectic between truth in its ultimate nature and in its form adapted to our current capacities is the engine that drove Shinran’s quest for an authentic Buddhist spirituality available to everyone. This distinction between absolute and conventional truth appears in his core teachings. The level of conventional thought denotes thinking based on naive realism and objectivity. while inconceivable and inexpressible. In The Essential Shinran. It is a more accepting. while at the same time maintaining a devotional practice for ordinary laypeople who couldn’t hope to meditate at length or adhere to hundreds of monastic precepts. ritual. Mahayana Buddhism recognizes that all people are at different stages of spiritual development and affirms people as they are. for example. Pure Land’s focus on Amida Buddha—a single figure representing wisdom. compassionate teaching. The absolute truth. exposes the unreality and distortions created by our delusory. dogmatism. self-centered knowledge and interests.

Buddha. In order to make it known that supreme Buddha is formless (emptiness). and Tsongkhapa. Shinran’s life encompassed ninety years of one of the most pivotal eras in Japanese history. and Kukai.The Essential Shinran demonstrate. when appearing with form. Kyogyoshinsho (“Teaching. Bloom has taken extracts from Shinran’s own words and provided short introductions or annotations that are clear and helpful. having such abundant riches as are provided by The Collected Works presents its own challenges. such as Nagarjuna. (He provides full citations so that readers can go to The Collected Works and explore the context of the quotes. Faith. Because Amida’s light embraces all beings and never abandons anyone. a groundbreaking translation of Shinran’s complete writings published in 1997 by the Hongwanji International Center.” Shinran and his school understand Amida to be a symbol for the Buddha-nature that all beings are universally endowed with. In some ways it is a map of The Collected Works of Shinran. so I have been taught. 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. Practice. and his writings range from profoundly abstruse sutra commentaries for fellow scholars to colloquial letters intended to be read aloud to illiterate peasants. Buddhaghosa. Of course. the name Amida Buddha is expressly used. Shinran’s life is easily one of the most interesting of any historical monk: ordained at age nine. The Essential Shinran is not a straightforward exposition of Jodo Shinshu doctrine and practice but rather a masterfully organized reference tool that collects and arranges key ideas from Shinran’s voluminous writings.) The Essential Shinran also includes substantial biographical information. all creatures without exception will be liberated from suffering and ignorance. is not called supreme nirvana. and because of being formless is called jinen (naturalness). Nichiren. Eisai. Shinran wrote: “Supreme Buddha is formless. a collection of quotations from sutras and commentaries on various topics with Shinran’s interpretive notes. and Realization”). such as Bloom offers in The Essential Shinran. A mine of ideas like this requires well-informed guidance. Bloom has organized The Essential Shinran along the lines of Shinran’s magnum opus. For example. For The Essential Shinran. he practiced for SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 97 . Honen. Nor do we have such a comprehensive collection for comparable great thinkers from other parts of Buddhist Asia. Saicho.

for example. His teaching that Amida embraced the lowly led to the formation of peasant associations that threw off the shackles of provincial landlords and to self-governing. eliminating the need to hunt through his extensive writings for relevant passages. and governmental cancellation of his ordination. Like The Collected Works. leading to a fresh approach to religion through the practice of gratitude and humility. he held on to his faith in Amida and developed a new Buddhist path suited for the peasants and fishermen he encountered. humiliation. the book ranks among the most important publications on Pure Land Buddhism of the past decade. such as Buddha-nature. shinjin is neither a dogmatic adherence to faith nor a dry acknowledgment of no-self but a deeply transformative moment of overwhelming joy. Ontario. The Essential Shinran is a highly useful tool. particularly for understanding how Shinran approached specific topics. leading to Buddhahood. As Bloom’s quotes make clear. for which he was persecuted by the emperor. valuable to scholars and Buddhist practitioners alike. He married and raised a family. ▼ Contributing editor Jeff Wilson is an assistant professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison College. yet least understood forms of Buddhism. His convictions led him into the new Pure Land community. in Waterloo. Bloom’s Essential Shinran has the potential to dramatically increase Western appreciation of one of the largest.books reviews decades in the greatest monastic school of Japan. Shinran’s relevance continues today: his status as “neither monk nor layperson” offers one possible model for householder Buddhists in the West. As such. Thus the reader can discover. which saw the egalitarian Pure Land approach as a threat. the nuances of shinjin—the mind that awakens to the falsity of the ego and relies instead on power beyond the self. who was acting on behalf of the Buddhist establishment. and spread the Pure Land way in parts of Japan and Japanese society ignored by the mainstream Buddhist schools of the day. But even in the far provinces where he was sent to die. the Pure Land. Bloom has lined up everything Shinran wrote about each topic. 98 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . utopian Buddhist societies—some of which lasted for nearly a century before being destroyed. and practice. For those who are looking to go deeper into Shinran’s thought but are intimidated by the complexity of works like Kyogyoshinsho. Shinran endured exile.

Paul.” History.S. carrying us forward to enlightenment and. soldiers in Iraq. Yet the Zen masters say that this other shore is simply our original nature. 2008 256 pp. ultimately. while Tibetan tulkus can trace their own spiritual lineage of past incarnations for centuries. This “bulky manila mailer” sits uncomfortably on James Pak’s desk. Enlightenment is our own prior condition. what the late Japanese thinker Masao Abe termed the “return which is simultaneously an advance. We study ancient texts and traditions. In the opening pages of The House of Widows. Counsel of Public Affairs—“merely an ashtray” in the diplomatic world? As he asks himself: “Why pass such ugly truths on to the public. whose delicate sensibilities might short-circuit? Why spread the poison?” What follows is a fascinating chronicle of the tangled web of family history and world events that led James SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 99 . —Askold Melnyczuk BUDDHISTS have an unusual view of history. to that other shore. a minor functionary at the American Embassy in Vienna receives a package. we are always looking backward. On the other hand. and is simultaneously a moving account of one man’s struggle with his own past and an illuminating meditation on our relationship— our obligation—to history and truth. in other words. $16. we have the frequent metaphor of a stream.00 (paper) History’s neither a searchlight nor a camera: it’s a flickering candle we use to read the marks on the wall as we crawl from that cave where only shadows of images play. MN: Graywolf Press. sandwiched between various official files and Pak’s own unfinished memoir.. ambitious new novel spans vast swaths of the twentieth century and the early years of the twenty-first. We have the Buddha’s exhortation in the Heart Sutra to go beyond. Buddhist author Askold Melnyczuk’s bold. It is a collection of secret testimonies recorded from U. beheadings. the forty-yearold Assistant to the U. “documentary evidence of unspeakable crimes” including “torture. is both our path and our destination. Zen monks receive lineage papers tracing the dharma all the way back from teacher to teacher to the great historical Buddha.S. On the one hand. to nirvana. rape—the catalogue raisonné of all wars.History and Truth The path to the present DAN ZIGMOND THE HOUSE OF WIDOWS ASKOLD MELNYCZUK St.” So what should he do? And why has someone smuggled these files to him.

and a letter that James couldn’t read. Vera. at the age of ten. and the terrible choices behind both. that of James’s father. cracked jar” found buried in a closet. written in Ukrainian and addressed to his father’s mother.books reviews to sit in that Vienna office. Of the major three stories that comprise this newest novel. the account of James’s later life in Vienna is the least deeply developed. Andrew. an old friend of his father’s. Melnyczuk weaves yet a third. Soon after its opening in this sadly recognizable present-day world. the true contents of that mysterious jar. Melnyczuk’s eye for detail immerses us in modern Vienna quickly and convincingly. Vera had sent Andrew. alone to England to escape the mounting violence in Ukraine. leaving him a strange and macabre bequest: a ragged World War II–era British military ID. And it is in this contemporary setting that James must face the culmination of his true inheritance. James’s father had committed suicide two weeks before. just as the Iron Curtain between East and West was parting. But these crucial passages punch well above their apparent weight. Melnyczuk—director of creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Boston and a member of the graduate Writing Seminars core faculty at Bennington College—is the author of two previous novels. with “trees itching to blossom” in early May and “blond whippets from Prague” flocking to the newly thriving city. From there he travels to Vienna and to Vera. the book jumps back sixteen years to James’s first visit to Europe. and he arrived at the Liverpool docks on a cold and gray day “as lost as any boy you’ll find. whom James had never met. James carries this meager stash first to England. 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. facing those difficult questions. who grew up in London as a ward of Marian’s family long before immigrating to the United States. her beautiful and enigmatic adopted daughter. 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. both physical and karmic. a “heavy. and Selena. Within these two wholly engrossing narratives.” Through Marian’s account of Andrew’s formative years. we finally learn how he came to serve in the British military. amounting to just a few dozen pages that bookend the core chapters. where he meets Marian. Who is to blame for the unspeakable suffering in Iraq? 100 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 .

subsequent events have rendered this unexpected twist largely irrelevant. In fact. as Melnyczuk says of his Boston-area sangha in the acknowledgments. for example. appears and then seems to be forgotten a little too quickly. let alone the history of others.“We’ve already asked these questions once. As the presentday James declares early on. “All is layers: stacks on stacks. Not every loose string is tied up satisfactorily in the end. hopes. “invisible yet everywhere. California.” Or consider these lines. ▼ Contributing editor Dan Zigmond is a father. Melnyczuk’s masterful novel serves up all the layers. But perhaps this is exactly the point. James comes to realize. neuroses. In our heads: our dreams.” Melnyczuk’s nearly perfect prose and spirited dialogue provide a treasure trove of inspired wisdoms. you can’t keep this reality out. writer. contained. spoken by one of James’s traveling companions on a train in Eastern Europe during that fateful summer in 1989: Most of us live in imaginary time. referring James to the Nuremberg Trials. A severed hand. and no matter how you try. SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 101 . self-sufficient. Pay attention. waiting for the inevitable tectonic shifts to shake things up. things get real in a way we’re not used to. it’s wide open. sediments of a century hardly begun yet already sagging.” Where so many writers might try to boil these wonderful stories down to some easy essence. But did we answer them? Although there are a few overt references to Buddhism scattered throughout the book—a flirtatious Indian woman describes her own “pendulous” earlobes as “one of the eighty-four signs of the Buddha. facts covering fictions resting on facts. Here. and Zen priest living in Menlo Park.” and two other characters quote the Buddha’s First Noble Truth—the real influence of the dharma is. almost endlessly quotable. And by the time the contents of that jar are revealed to be not quite what we were led to imagine. Not here.” argues a doctor with the Red Crescent. for example. Fantasyland. Here neuroses find bodies. or you’ll get hurt. that the only way he can understand his family’s convoluted history is “to insist on looking squarely at everything. 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. We think the universe is closed.

Mr. and slaughter. twilight tones of subjectivity over everything. a dodge. adapted by Shawn and director Carlo Gabriel Nero from Shawn’s stage play—is that a person is more truly defined by politico-economic class than by inner experience.” and the movie retains this feel. from the comfort of her plush © HBO HOME VIDEO . our beliefs reflect our station in society. $26. There is a paradox at the center of this view. Her views are no better than bourgeois apologies of her friends. A lot of footage is devoted to close-ups of Vanessa Redgrave against a blank mauve screen. Indeed. torture. the whole film unfolds as a flashback. . are completely interchangeable. but driven to the discovery by her own curiosity and conscience. in that the film itself represents an inner journey. revived his play as a monologue. the reflections of someone “stuck in a third-world hotel room. . Shawn. a devastating introspection. Occasional sequences of animated line drawings in warm pastels. consciously or unconsciously. rape. the protagonist realizes at last that the interiority she has always so deeply prized is . Rockefeller. Wallace Shawn have sought to illu102 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 minate. 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 past—on their oppression.98 IN a famous pub scene in D. she comes to realize. The thesis of The Fever—a 2004 film now available on DVD. rapid jump cuts. Rockefeller and Time wanted to obscure a situation that Dylan and. Scratching and screaming.books film reviews Vanessa Redgrave in The Fever A Devastating Introspection The privileged and the impoverished ELIOT FINTUSHEL THE FEVER CARLO GABRIEL NERO. . a stylish older woman. and next door. the young Bob Dylan tells a Time reporter what his magazine would look like if it were really interested in the truth: “a plain picture of a tramp vomiting into the sewer . How did she get here? A series of coincidences shakes her. 2007 DVD. more recently. events remembered and considered by the protagonist as she vomits and writhes on the bathroom floor. . at one point. which. Mr. abuse. DIRECTOR HBO Home Video. A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary film Dont Look Back. and melodramatic comic-strip staging reinforce the sense of interiority.” Like many of us. as in a flip picture book.

fancy apartment. beatific. one of the neighboring fascist states. during which she must defend the sanctity of her inner life against her demons. because she can afford them.) Here. Christmas presents become a symbol of the false consciousness that separates the products of labor from the circumstances of their production. 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. better self. alongside protected areas of luxury and wealth. and in a sequence near the end in which she debates her serene. who want to define her by her (politicoeconomic) history. “I don’t give a fuck if they’re nice or not. and highcultural pastimes. she believes. and brutal police. is this otherwise absorbing film tainted with a didactic banality that even superior acting cannot redeem. (Happy Cubans in harmonious living arrangements were working hard against great odds. she then shares a cab with an expatriate of that nation (who can now return). she shrieks to her astonished dream family that although she loves them. He exhorts her to visit.” says a tippler at an art show. in a dream. health care. because the actual function of the rich in society is cruel and destructive. First. the woman becomes feverish. rather than human need. and so forth. a socially conscious reporter. As Marx showed. over ice cream sundaes. it is as if a social relation existed between money and commodities instead of between human beings. but with universal literacy. for contrast.) The socialist paradise we are then shown strongly reminded me of revolutionary Cuba as it was portrayed by sympathetic visitors I met in the late 1960s.” a concept that she rightly experiences as a challenge to her own way of life. death squads. There she sees miserable poverty. determines what will be produced by whom—and at what human cost. involving blanket condemnations of the rich as social pariahs. money. and Nero. When. played by Michael Moore. things she deserves to have. and she does so. she becomes aware of ubiquitous offhand remarks. We see her panic when deprived of a small but expected item—her morning coffee. The medallion is inscribed: “The people united cannot be defeated. she can no longer bear to give them presents.) While staying at a high-class hotel in the fascist country. We see the pleasure she takes in buying fancy stockings and in surrounding herself with nice things. and she reads all about “the fetishism of commodities. destitution.” By chance. Someone anonymously leaves a copy of Karl Marx’s Capital at the woman’s doorstep. the film’s director. In dreams and in remembrance. is Redgrave’s son.office job. oppression. persuades the protagonist to visit. (The stranger at the bus stop is played by Redgrave’s daughter. Joely Richardson. Now she experiences a dark night of the soul. The woman’s vision of the world according to Marx—the real world SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 103 . (Only here. both by friends and by strangers. the protagonist sees through the curtain of capitalist ideology to the suffering on the other side of the dolls in pretty paper.

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where, to use Allen Ginsberg’s phrase, you see what’s “at the end of everybody’s fork”—terrifies her, but isn’t it the same as Siddhartha’s legendary 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 father’s parading animals—the interdependence of joys and sorrows. It could just as well have been the proletariat 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 protagonist is a bourgeoise (albeit a bourgeoise in crisis).

IN an article for Turning Wheel (Summer 1993: “Why Buddhists Should Read Marx”), Tricycle editorat-large Andrew Cooper pointed out that the Zen meal chant is fundamentally in harmony with Marx’s account of the secret of commodities in capitalist societies. We are enjoined to remember the work—read, 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, distracting thoughts about duties and responsibilities outside the meditation hall, when not to respond to the call appears to be a virtuous act! On the storied night under the Bo tree,
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at the end of which the Buddha enters enlightenment, one of the tempter Mara’s 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 touching it. It is everywhere soaked with his blood: his suffering is one with the world’s. Many of our parents or children or friends, not to mention enemies—our Maras—have accused us of self-indulgence 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 neutralize it. While I was at the Rochester Zen Center, people would routinely insist that a Rohatsu sesshin, for example—a sleepless, legtorching, shoulder-bruising (the Zen stick), mind-wracking (koan practice), heart-wrenching week of sitting—was the hardest thing a human being could endure, bar nothing: boot camp, gulag, trench war, shipwreck, grinding poverty, torture table, whatever. A ridiculous claim, but such was our zealotry. Often, the teacher, Philip Kapleau Roshi, would cite the example of the solitary monk in a mountain cave, who, Roshi said, was vitally helping the world just by the power of his meditation. Then there’s the Christian excuse, the one that is put in Jesus’s mouth in Matthew 26:11—“For 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. It’s interesting to contrast the perspective of The Fever with that of My Dinner with André, an earlier Shawn composition (with André Gregory).

There, the challenge is not the material, politico-economic reality but a neglected spiritual reality. To André Gregory’s urgent Grotowskian call to transcendence, Shawn’s character (he pretty much plays himself in Dinner) responds with a celebration of the everyday, of simple comforts and quotidian acts—and, 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 André. By contrast, the protagonist of The Fever decisively loses the argument. She— and we—are pronounced guilty of complicity in the suffering of the world’s 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 victories: hope tempered by anguish. Of course, there is a Christian’s remedy, 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 evasion—an “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 atrocities—but a worshipper (played by Angelina Jolie) translates for her: The sermon is an exhortation to forgiveness. That worshipper, later the woman’s 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 accusations of navel-gazing social irresponsibility, Jack Kerouac protested, “Who wouldn’t 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 us—and nothing else can. There are, however, two crucial 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 Fintushel’s last essay for Tricycle, “Remembrance of Toni Packer,” appeared in the Summer 2007 issue.

What do Buddhism and physics have in common?

More than you might think!
“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 Mansfield Foreword by His Holiness the Dalai Lama www.templetonpress.org 1-800-621-2736

SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE

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multimedia

reviews

Unplug Yourself
Go on retreat with SHARON
SALZBERG—without leaving home

MEDITATION may be our last, best refuge from iPhones, Treos, iPods—and our overscheduled lives. Now Vipassana teacher Sharon Salzberg has come up with a way we can slow down, ditch our electronic gadgets—temporarily, at least—and 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 freedom that exists within each of us”) for

a restorative hour or day or weekend. This isn’t just spa-in-a-box: Salzberg packs thirty years of experience leading Buddhist retreats into two-plus hours of guided meditations, a set of “contemplation cards,” and a companion guidebook—all 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 meditations drawn from traditional Buddhist practices, including breath techniques, mindful walking, and metta

(lovingkindness) practice. The thirtytwo flash cards offer pithy teachings for reflection. (Example: “Awareness of the breath serves as a clear mirror, not for or against anything but simply to reflect the moment, without the obstruction of concepts and judgments.”) With basic tools for learning meditation and easing into the experience of solitude, Unplug is ideal for beginners. But there’s enough to interest seasoned practitioners as well: the teaching on dedicating merit, for example, offers a fresh take on interdependence. Throughout, Salzberg’s voice is calm and supportive. Unplugging, she assures us, is an adventure: “It allows us the space to be creative and the freedom to examine options.” ▼ —Joan Duncan Oliver

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208 pp. 384 pp. Written by Tricycle contributing editor and yoga teacher Anne Cushman.). The book is marked by Bayda’s optimism: Rather than become discouraged and guilt-ridden when we fall below our own expectations. When Amanda receives an assignment to write a travel guide for aspiring awakened ones. 200 pp.). $16. AT WORK. Amanda might have benefited from Zen teacher Ezra Bayda’s new guide to spiritual practice.” in which the emphasis moves away from the self toward practicing mindfulness.) who teaches at the Houston Buddhist SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 107 . $21. looking for love—and gurus—in all the wrong places. an unsatisfying job.” On her search for truth and happiness. we are encouraged to strive for “self-knowledge without self-judgment. 2008. Enlightenment for Idiots traces.” Zen Heart also includes several practices for daily life: mapping the mind. Amanda’s encounters with heartbreak. the intrepid twenty-nine-year-old heroine of ENLIGHTENMENT FOR IDIOTS (Random House. ZEN HEART: SIMPLE ADVICE FOR LIVING WITH MINDFULNESS AND COMPASSION (Shambhala Publications.95 paper.D. IN THE WORLD (Wisdom Publications. “Being Awareness. Whether to be happy or not—that is our choice. and nightly reflection.).95 cloth. has got a lot on her plate even before a spiritual pilgrimage gets thrown into the mix. gatha walking meditation (in which the practitioner repeats a verse silently as he or she walks). Bayda recommends dividing the practice of Zen into three stages: the “Me-Phase. culture shock. $24. yoga.” The Buddha-curious everyman might also find inspiration in THE BUDDHA’S TEACHINGS ON PROSPERITY: AT HOME.” in which the practitioner learns to cultivate and con- nect with “the lovingkindness and compassion that are our true nature. and finally “Being Kindness. with witty flair. and a kooky traveling companion named Devi Das. 2008. she finds herself in India. a rocky romance.” in which we learn to recognize our deeply-rooted behaviors and beliefs.00 cloth. Bhikkhu Basnagoda Rahula.reviews books in brief SARAH TODD AN unplanned pregnancy. a Sri Lankan monk (and English Lit Ph. The novel’s warmhearted spirit is captured in the advice Amanda receives from a friendly waiter: “What happens to us in life is for God to decide. 2008. and a milestone birthday: Amanda.

and the authors take care to acknowledge the challenges of practice. “There is another place/for conversing/heart to heart.’” Bon appetit. 312 pp. and summaries) makes it a handy resource for secular readers who like their Buddhism strained of abstractions.) There’s something in this book for everyone: physics buffs can revel in Mansfield’s discussion of photons. the root treasure text by Chogyur Lingpa. 192 pp. ▼ 108 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . and artwork among them—serve as primary texts. $12. the Third Karmapa. and its organized structure (lots of numbered lists.95 paper.) takes on both the teachings of Nagarjuna.” they write of one practice. The teachings. “Until true devotion arises genuinely. letters.). by the late Kagyu masters Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche and Trulshik Adeu Rinpoche. AND JAPAN. aims to make Buddhist teachings applicable to worldly matters.). eager readers now have a lucid.books in brief reviews Vihara. $19. including this Blue Cliff Record koan: “A monk asked Yun-men. and visualizations.95 cloth.” Zen master Muso Soseki wrote almost seven centuries ago. particularly when the book addresses gender roles (“While he might not mind driving a decade-old.” In other words. 184 pp. which aims to meld all Buddhist schools into “a single path that one person can follow. while pithy introductions provide historical background on topics ranging from the declining influence of Zen masters in seventeenth-century Japan to Korean master So Sahn’s famous army of five thousand monks. KOREA. and noted beauty all in one.” With guided meditations. elegant introduction to Tara practice and Vajrayana Buddhism at their fingertips. the author’s interpretations can seem dated. there are many who would like to follow in her footsteps. And the three-stage process of Buddhahood outlined by Nagarjuna—in which one’s innate Buddha-nature. “you need to create a facsimile of devotion at the beginning of each session. is the Angelina Jolie of Buddhism—peaceful warrior. comprehensive approach to his subject makes the book a useful reference for students.” 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. Translator Karl Brunnhölzl’s IN PRAISE OF DHARMADHATU (Snow Lion Publications. his thorough. Einstein. while non–rocket scientists will likely be fascinated by his insightful commentary on the relationship between the Buddhist principle of emptiness and special relativity—and how a better understanding of modern physics could help bring about a lasting peace. while the Dalai Lama himself penned the foreword. 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. 304 pp. ‘What is the teaching that goes beyond Buddhas and Patriarchs?’ Yun-men said. (The book’s contributors represent the promise of such a partnership: Mansfield is a professor of physics and astronomy at Colgate University. the emphasis here is on action. from financial debt to proper parenting. “The full moon/and the breeze/at the half-open window. $29. steps. The Tibetan bodhisattva Tara.). yoga postures. rusty truck. Thanks to SKILLFUL GRACE: TARA PRACTICE FOR OUR TIMES (North Atlantic Books. first buried. 2008.95 paper. 2007. Occasionally. 2008. which takes up the Dalai Lama’s call for collaboration between science and Buddhism. which come in many forms—poetry. there’s some good advice in this straightforward book. the founder of the Madhyamaka (Middle Path) school of Mahayana Buddhism. Brunnhölzl hasn’t exactly written a beach book. However. Abstractions are the order of the day in Vic Mansfield’s TIBETAN BUDDHISM AND MODERN PHYSICS (Templeton Foundation Press. and commentary by the 13th-century Tibetan master Rangjung Dorje. Still. ‘A sesame bun. motherprotector. This collection of Zen delights offers plenty of teachings to sink your teeth into. 2008.95 paper. Though Mansfield dapples his book with intimidatingly titled diagrams like “The Galaxy cluster as gravitational lens.” his ample use of anecdotes and personal commentary make even quantum physics seem simple enough—relatively speaking. $15. she would prefer a beautiful new car. revered for her compassion and wisdom. Tulku Urgyen and Trulshik Rinpoche ground the book in The Essential Instruction on the Threefold Excellence. edited by Stephen Addiss. fake it till you make it. with Stanley Lombardo and Judith Roitman (Hackett Publishing Company. emerges as one follows the path of bodhisattvas and eventually flourishes—becomes more accessible through Brunnhölzl’s clear prose. As with any muchadmired public figure.” Bhikkhu Rahula writes). and quantum nonlocality.

learning to look for it in the effects of every intention. For instance. you can gladden or steady the mind simply by the way you focus on the breath itself. realizing that death could come at any time and you need to prepare your mind if you’re going to face it with any finesse. breathing down into your hands and feet can really anchor the mind when its concentration has become shaky. At this point. you prepare for the ultimate freedom of nirvana first by releasing the mind from any awkwardness in its concentration. Your desire to explore SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 111 . You can try exploring these skills off the cushion as well: How do you gladden the mind when you’re sick? How do you steady the mind when dealing with a difficult person? As for releasing the mind from its burdens. evaluating and adjusting it to make it more agreeable. Realizing this induces a sense of disenchantment with and dispassion for all intentions. the Buddha suggests revisiting the theme of inconstancy. You watch as everything is relinquished. the intentions that you’ve been using to shape your experience of body and mind become more and more transparent. But eventually the mind grows so still that evaluating the breath is no longer necessary. including the path. As you expand your skills in this way. in the beginning stages of concentration you need to keep directing your thoughts to the breath. You see that even the best states produced by skillful intentions—the most solid and refined states of concentration—waver and change. The important point is that you’ve 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. For instance. What’s left is unconditioned: the deathless. check to see if there are any ways you can refine the stillness. Once the mind has settled down. So you figure out how to make the mind one with the breath.dharma talk : the joy of effort (continued from page 37) death. try focusing on the breath in two spots at once. and in that way you release the mind into a more intense and refreshing state of ease. You see that the only way to get beyond this changeability is to allow all intentions to cease. At other times. When one spot in the body isn’t enough to hold your interest.

dharma talk : the joy of effort the breath has taken you beyond desiring. At the same time. fullness. you’re not engaged in busywork. It takes the daunting prospect of reaching full awakening and breaks it down into manageable interim goals— a series of intriguing challenges that. Instead. for that matter—frame of mind. 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 mature by exploring it. watching it passively or demanding that it entertain you. beyond the breath. So even though the path requires effort. You learn how to calm the mind. to steady it. gladden it. and ease. and release it from its burdens. In this way. This is like the disenchantment a child senses when he or she has mastered a simple game and feels ready for something more challenging. allow you to see progress in your practice. You learn skills to calm the body. But the path doesn’t save all its pleasures for the end. you’re sensitizing yourself to the area of your awareness in which the deathless—when you’re acute enough to see it—will appear. You’re developing a sensitivity to cause and effect that helps make body and mind transparent. In experiencing the full body of the breath in meditation. The Buddha never asks anyone to adopt a world-negating—or world-affirming. they don’t do so in a joyless way. And even though the steps of breath meditation eventually lead to a sense of disenchantment and dispassion. disenchantment develops not from a narrow or pessimistic attitude but from an attitude of hope that there must be something better. Only when they’re fully transparent can you let them go. by expanding your range of usable skills through play. to develop feelings of refreshment. all the way to nirvana. Only when you run up against the limits of these skills are you ready to drop them. you don’t mature by shrinking from the world. And as we all know. to explore what greater potential for happiness there may be. This in and of itself makes the practice interesting and a source of joy. It’s the attitude of a person who has matured. ▼ 112 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . he asks for a “worldexploring” attitude. it’s an effort that keeps opening up new possibilities for happiness and well-being in the present moment. as you meet them.

We need to encourage this and not fill this space with anything else. In the fifth step. Then you just rest. Then. Notice how you feel when the ally has dissolved into you. which will naturally take you to the fifth and final step. step five: Rest in Awareness When you have finished feeding the demon to complete satisfaction and the ally has been integrated. Some people describe the fifth step as peace. return to your original place. it’s the beginning of knowing your true nature. beginning with the generation of an altruistic motivation. and yet others as a great vastness. rest there. rather than filling this space. Usually when we experience the gap we have a tendency to want to fill it up immediately. Feel this supportive energy enter you and take effect. a kind of relaxed awareness replaces the usual stream of thoughts. the value of the five-step practice of feeding your demons is quite different. others as freedom. Notice how it feels to be the protective guardian. Finally. Once the ally has articulated how it will serve and protect you. we are uncomfortable with empty space. When the thinking mind takes a break for even a few seconds. Even if this open awareness only occurs for a moment. speaking as the ally. and how you can summon it. Although the method of personifying a fear or neurosis is not unfamiliar in Western psychology. and then allow yourself to dissolve into emptiness. seeing the ally in front of you. just let it be. Try to be as specific as possible in your answers. Then imagine you are receiving the help and the commitment the ally has pledged. followed by the body offering (which works SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 113 . imagine the ally itself melting into you and feel its deeply nurturing essence integrating with you. take a moment to fully inhabit this body. Take a moment to settle back into yourself.into practice : feeding your demons (continued from page 43) Having become the ally. answer the questions above.” or the space between thoughts. I like calling it “the gap. Realize that the ally is actually an inseparable part of you. you and the ally dissolve into emptiness.

“Ah.” This most immediate and simple route to liberating demons takes you straight to the fifth step.” If at that moment I turn toward the energy of jealousy and bring my full awareness to it. free from our usual fixation of “self” versus “other. going directly to the fifth step. Let’s take the example of a demon of jealousy. by the time you get to the fifth step both you and the demon have dissolved into emptiness and there is just vast awareness. my heart rate is increasing. This state of relaxed awareness. We learn to see them coming: “Ah. we begin to become aware of demons as they form. by using what is called “direct liberation. Direct Liberation of Demons Once we have practiced feeding the demons for some time. When we feed a demon using the five steps. When the light goes on we see that there never was a monster in the first place. It involves noticing the arising energy or thoughts and then turning your awareness directly toward it without giving it form as we do in the five steps. I’m getting jealous. the boat travels because of its resistance to the wind and stops when its power source has been neutralized. the jealousy will pop like a balloon. At this point. The technique of direct liberation is comparable to being afraid of a monster in the dark and then turning on the light. My body is tensing. if you are able to do it correctly. Direct liberation is deceptively simple.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 makes it possible—with some practice—to liberate demons as they arise without going through the five steps. Another example of a situation in which you might practice direct liberation would be an interaction with 114 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . Similarly. if you turn your awareness directly into an emotion it stops developing. I notice. here comes my selfhatred demon. Here we are short-circuiting the demon as it arises by meeting its energy consciously as soon as it surfaces.” takes us beyond the place where normal psychotherapeutic methods end. This doesn’t mean you are analyzing it or thinking about it but rather turning toward it with clear awareness. the demon will instantly be liberated and vanish on the spot. This is the energetic equivalent of turning a boat directly into the wind when sailing. that it was just a projection of our own mind. but it is also the most difficult to do effectively.

But then if you turn your awareness to this sensation of irritation. clarity. An emotion arises but finds no foothold and dissolves.” visit tricycle. In this way we begin a quiet revolution. rather than by our emotions. awareness simply meets emotions as they arise so that they are naturally liberated. Emptiness.org/firelotus zcnyc@mro.org Mountains and Rivers Order of Zen Buddhism SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE | 115 . disappointment. You feel irritation welling up. Consciously generate a strong emotion—anger. This is called instant liberation. The process of acknowledging our collective demons begins with our personal demons—universal fears. Families. because we are governed by awareness. You might try it. Drawing on the inspiration of the teachings of an eleventh-century yogini. paranoia. is already stable. if you have done it correctly. when you discover that something he committed to doing has not even been started. our weaknesses and fears can join those of others to become something monstrous. Resident Teacher • Zen Teacher and Monastic Staff in Residence • Lay-Training Center in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn • Residential Program • Saturday retreats • Daily Meditation Schedule To find out more about ZCNYC call (718) 875-8229 or visit our Award winning website www. but check back on it. it disappears. they arise and are liberated simultane- ously. and. not something you just glimpse periodically. arrogance. prejudices. If we do not acknowledge these personal demons. When you get this feeling. You might be sitting with your lover. At this stage.com. and other weaknesses. Abbot Geoffrey Shugen Arnold.into practice : feeding your demons other people. With considerable practice the next stage becomes possible: Here immediate awareness. looking right at it. and then turn your awareness directly to that emotion and rest in the experience that follows. the Tibetan practice that inspired “Feeding Your Demons. clear and unmodified. Through shifting our perspective away from attacking our enemies and defending our territory to feeding our demons. Liberation of the demon can be so simple and instantaneous that you will distrust the result.mro. At this point we have no need for feeding demons. we can learn to stay in dialogue with the enemy and find peaceful solutions. One way I explain direct liberation at my retreats is through an experiment. we can change our world. sadness. ▼ For more on Chöd. for instance. and awareness are spontaneously present. groups. you don’t have to “do” anything. or desire. Emotions don’t get hold of you. intensify it. the emotion will have dissolved. nations. ZEN CENTER OF NEW YORK CITY John Daido Loori. and even society as a whole can create demons that are the sum of unresolved individual demons.

are the sick. I’ve been going downtown like this most every day for nearly three years now. the soon-to-be corpses. an aging one. I do this as a witness for peace in a nation that’s increasingly given over to the exercise of social. What’s changed? I’ve taken to the streets. but apparently it takes one’s mind changing in time to finally get it. Literally. A collective Buddhist voice for peace and justice with wisdom and compassion Membership includes subscription to Turning Wheel PO Box 3470. But now. I strap my meditation mat and cushion on the back of my bike and pedal into downtown Chico and sit an hour’s peace vigil on the sidewalk in front of Peet’s coffee shop or Chico Natural Foods or the post office. and military violence. and a corpse. and prose. I supposed in my youthful practice. That all things pass quickly away can be grasped in an instant. had to do with the “no sickness. his most recent book is Pavement. Berkeley. the aging.THE QUESTION (continued from page 57) Those were thoughts that wouldn’t have occurred to me forty years ago. even though the Buddha’s teaching never ceased exhorting us that “time passes quickly away. my dharma brothers and sisters. watching the incense drift through the hall.org 116 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 © MICHAEL WERTZ . Buddhist Peace Fellowship eart to the H n Arrow A Step into the jaws of experience — from Ken McLeod’s new commentary An Arrow to the Heart This non-traditional commentary on the A LEOD Heart Sutra takes KEN MC you right into the emptiness of experience through a delightfully irreverent combination of wit. CA 94703 www. poetry.” even though the legend of young Prince Siddhartha’s quest begins in his encounter with a sick man. getting it on with a pretty nun. this pithy and unorthodox commentary to the Heart Sutra leaves you with nowhere to stand but right here. lin jensen is senior Buddhist chaplain at High Desert State ? the question Prison in Susanville. EN COMM E ON TH TARY BY HEART SUTRA In its quietly relentless way. author of Buddhism Without Beliefs Available online unfetteredmind. no old age and death” of the Heart Sutra we recited daily in this dharma hall.org — Stephen Batchelor. I’d been more concerned with getting through the next meditation period.bpf. getting on to the next retreat. As a young monk. California. I suddenly saw what has so gradually come true: that we ourselves. economic. Enlightenment. irony.

I’m no longer much interested in anyone’s state of enlightenment. I’ve thrown the whole of my life into the marketplace these days. I write books on the defense of the earth and in promotion of fairness and social justice. wes nisker is a dharma teacher. That was before I started to grow older and wiser. 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. and I often take refuge in the natural great perfection and the eternal “now” and Buddhist Studies Distance Learning Postgraduate Programmes from the UK Certificate. I don’t go to retreats anymore. and my bowels are struggling to do their work. I don’t see as well as I used to. web-based No residency requirements Course leader: Peter Harvey Modules: Buddhist Traditions. and the founder and co-editor of the Buddhist journal Inquiring Mind. most recently to protest a shopping mall that threatens to bury a historic burrowing owl colony under a parking lot. I’ve pretty much dropped out of the entire contemplative aspect of Zen. just empty phenomena rolling on and all that. no separate self. Though my days are anchored in my morning sitting meditation. Buddhist Ethics. or hear as well. Diploma and MA Part-time.ac. He is the author of the newly published book Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again! I once thought Buddhism would save me from suffering. Buddhist Meditation and Psychology. Zen has simply become what I do. including my own. Yes. But damn it.” Don’t get me wrong: I feel supremely fortunate to have the dharma close at hand as I go through this process. kindness. I’m interested in how you and I might bring a little sanity. and my joints are getting stiffer. Student evaluations: "extensive and comprehensive coverage" "very stimulating discussions" "an incredibly valuable learning experience" http://www. preferring to save the retreat fee to buy zafus for the prison inmates I work with. and the doing of it is all that matters now. and compassion into the world. I go to the prison instead. I know that there is no one here who is growing old.sunderland.uk/buddhist/ | 117 SUMMER 2008 TRICYCLE . and my memory keeps repeating two words to me like a mantra—“Forget it. I go to city council meetings as well. author.THE QUESTION I’m a Zen Buddhist. And it isn’t so much the wisdom that changed my mind about the end of suffering as it is the aging. Buddhist Philosophy. performer.

so. more comfortable mind. Her most recent book is Happiness Is an Inside Job. I came away feeling excited and hopeful that I could develop a new capacity for meeting challenges in my life. I wanted to replace my frightened mind with a wiser. but I still live in this decaying flesh pit. I wanted the practice to work. “I don’t really believe that. I believed the dharma I heard. That alone made me a happier person.THE QUESTION the warmth of lovingkindness. and still seems. But I promise to try harder next time. Long before I had any real understanding of meditation instructions and. I wouldn’t emphasize what in Buddhism I have changed my mind about as much as the fact that Buddhism has changed my mind. sylvia boorstein is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County. and I believed that would happen. and there are times. long before I had any insight into the workings of my mind or any ability to abide peacefully. at least once a day. That’s what seemed. It didn’t seem relevant. I know my mind is more shock-absorbent.” but that never bothered me. ▼ ? the question 118 | TRICYCLE SUMMER 2008 . To begin with. dharma didn’t bring me to the end of suffering. I had faith. from the first dharma talks that I heard more than thirty years ago. California. It manages upsets better than it used to. along with its inevitable destiny. I still get frightened or mad or envious or whatever else might be the startle response to the moment. I sensed in my teachers that they were less frightened about life than I was. And now. after all these years of practice. when I curse this incarnation and its aches and pains. but I know what’s happening and I recover (usually) easily. I know that there were teachings associated with Buddhism that I learned along the way about which I thought. No. My capacity to respond to hard times (in me or around me) with compassion is more readily available. important to me.