Seek a deeper understanding of the fundamental and enduring questions that have been raised by thoughtful human beings in the rich traditions of the East.
Change Your Mind Day
In 1994 a few hundred people gathered in Central Park to attend Tricycle's first Change Your Mind Day. The magazine's board had agreed on a day of free Buddhist meditation instruction as a way of reaching out to the community, making dharma more accessible, and bringing together members of different sanghas. It seemed like a simple idea: Put down some meditation cushions in a park, invite teachers to come, get a microphone, and put up flyers announcing the event to the public. Doing it, however, was more complicated: We had to sign a contract with the park, buy insurance, and the microphone turned into a sound system. Our "free" day of meditation was getting expensive. The board met again. How could we afford to pay for this? Corporate sponsorship? But we didn't want lamas sitting under logos. Maybe we could license vendors. But we didn't want a dharma fair. One board member said: "We have to keep Change Your Mind Day commercial- free and find a way to pay for it ourselves. If even one person gets started on the path to enlightenment, it will be worth the expense." We've held CYM Day in Central Park for seven years now. Last year groups from three different cities asked if they could hold CYM events. This made us sit down and think about the essential ingredients of Change Your Mind Day. Here's what we came up with: CYM is about Buddhist meditation practice, introduces practices from a variety of Buddhist traditions, is commercial-free, and all CYM events should be on the same day. That's it. Everything else is basically up to the creativity of the host community. Last year the three new communities hosted wonderful events that reflected their own circumstances. A consortium of dharma centers (Zen Center, Spirit Rock, and Shambhala) organized a big event in San Francisco, and angels stepped forward to fund it. A single dharma center in Anchorage, Alaska, spearheaded its event and held a yard sale to pay for it. The Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Buddhist Association found people to donate all the services they needed. This year nine communities held Change Your Mind Days. Next year there will be even more. If you are interested in hosting an event, please contact our CYM coordinator Rande Brown at Tricycle and she'll help you get started. email@example.com
On June 3, CYM events unfolded in the middle of America (Texas and Kansas) and on both coasts: San Francisco, Seattle, Pasadena, Vancouver, nd Anchorage in the west; New York and Montoursville, Pennsylvania, in the east. Already other places in the United States—and Europe—have said they want to host their own CYM Days next year.
In New York, the weather was clear—the perfect complement to a roster of notable teachers including Bernie Glassman, John Daido Loori, Robert A.F. Thurman, Judith Lief, and Nicholas Vreeland. Approximately 2,000 people came to the Great Hill in Central Park—and many who came for the opening chimes of the meditation bell stayed until dusk. Pat Enkyo O’Hara, Zen teacher and leader of the Village Zendo in New York, hosted the afternoon’s events with Michele Laporte of the New York Shambhala Center.
Performers included Philip Glass, clarinetist Jon Gibson, and Tibetan long horn players Chime Dorjee and Dhondup Namgyal Khorko.
Kansas City, Austin, and Montoursville, Pennsylvania
For the second year, Lama Chuck Stanford coordinated CYM in Kansas City at Mill Creek Park. Some 50 people gathered to hear dharma talks from five local Buddhist groups. An interfaith alliance was also represented by Dr. Vern Barnet of the Center for Religious Study and Experience. Meditation instruction was offered and everyone joined in chants and the recitation of the Heart Sutra. Ron Brenner said it was “a wonderful opportunity to learn more about each other’s sanghas, and to share dharma teachings with practitioners and the general public alike.”
In Austin, Stephen Bosbach, a local teacher of special education, organized their first-ever CYM Day: Dharma talks were given by representatives from Austin’s Chittimani Center, Shambhala Center, and Zen Center. Along with meditation, there were demonstrations of Zen archery. Bosbach reported: “Our first gathering was very informal, but a wonderful beginning to a greater networking among the members of the Buddhist sanghas in the Austin area.”
And in Montoursville, CYM Day came to pennsylvania for the second time. Mt. Equity Zendo, led by Dai-En Bennage, hosted. Jesse Daikan McKinney moved the crowd as he tapped out his message through his Liberator talking machine, which helps those with cerebral palsy to communicate. Jonathan Edwards played selections on tenor sax from his CD “Now and Zen.” There was Tae Kwon Do demonstration, and poetry readings, and Dai-En Bennage closed the day with a guided meditation on this country’s 2 million incarcerated people.
Seattle, Anchorage, and Vancouver
Eight Buddhist groups participated in the second annual CYM Day in Anchorage, Alaska. Lama Gyatso of the Tromge Ling Sangha presented healing prayers. Rev. Tozen Akiyama, Soto Zen priest, and Rev. Yuho Van Parijs of Anchorage’s White Lotus Center for Shin Buddhism gave dharma talks. Diane Johnson-Van Praijs, who helped coordinate CYM both years, reported that one of this year’s highlights was the announcement of the First Alaskan Buddhist Conference set for November. “CYM Day has served as a catalyst for the Buddhist community at large, as it has prompted sanghas to communicate more openly with one another.”
Farther down the Pacific Coast in Seattle, “participants came from many different sanghas,” Steve Wilhelm reported, “many of whom never contact one another. But people grew closer during the day.” Some 50 people gathered in Discovery Park with views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.
Dharma teachers included Gen-La Kelsang Jangsem; Eileen Kiera; Rodney Smith, founder of the Seattle Insight Meditation Society; and members of Seattle’s Betsuin Temple, a Pure Land church. The group Samsara played pieces using chimes, gongs, bells, the Tibetan long horn, and an Australian digeridoo. Late in the day, Qi Gong exercises were led by David Branscomb, and Ryuzen Robbie Pullet led everyone in the recitation of the Prajnaparamita Sutra to close the day. In Vancouver, British Columbia, a satelite CYM event focused on music and was held in Oppenheiner Park.
San Francisco and Pasadena
This year the second San Francisco CYM day found refuge from the fog in sunny Dolores Park. “The event was put together to appeal to the variety of people inherent to San Francisco,” said coordinator Susan O’Connell, a priest at San Francisco Zen Center. People came for five hours of dharma talks, music, meditation, and movement. Cynthia Keen, a student of Trungpa Rinpoche’s, and O’Connell were hosts. Rosa Zubizaretta offered meditation instruction in Spanish, and Noah Levine led a children’s circle. Various traditions were represented by a strong contingent of Bay Area teachers: Norman Fischer, Blanche Hartman, Paul Haller and Wendy Johnson from the San Francisco Zen Center; Alan Senauke of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Lama Palden of the Sukhasiddhi Foundation, Levine and John Travis from Spirit Rock, and Zubizaretta and Lyn Fine fron the Community for Mindful Living.
The musical lineup included recording artist and local deejay, Cheb i Sabbah, who offered meditative music and accompanied Beat poet Michael McClure in a reading. Karma Moffett played the Tibetan long horn, and Wes Nisker had everyone singing as he strummed “Buddha Blues” on his guitar. “Sutra Music,” original versions of Zen chants, Zydeco syle, was performed by Richard Domingue and his sangha from the Pacific Zen Institute. Choreographer Pearl Ubungen led the crowd in engaged movements. Seth Bregman said that the closing ceremonies reflected frequent comments by the teachers that “the next Buddha will be the sangha.” Further south, a satelite sitting was held in Pasadena, California.
Masatoshi Nagatomi, born in 1926, a much-respected scholar in the field of Buddhist studies, passed away in his Cambridge, Massachusetts home on June 3. Nagatomi joined the faculty at Harvard University in 1958 as an instructor in Sanskrit and by 1969 had been designated as Harvard’s first professor of Buddhist studies. During the course of his almost 40-year tenure at Harvard, Nagatomi witnessed the flourishing of interest in Buddhism in the West and was a visible and vocal figure in its development. He retired in 1996 after training some of the most important scholars in the United States today, including Robert A. F. Thurman, Jan Nattier, Thomas and Christopher Cleary, Peter Gregory and David Eckel. Nagatomi was greatly respected for his wide knowledge of the canonical traditions - he knew Sanskrit, Tibetan, Pali, Japanese, and Chinese - and beloved by his students for his dedication to teaching. One of his most significant contributions was his role in establishing the Buddhist Studies Forum at Harvard, an organization that explores Buddhist philosophies through the works of scholars from the United States, Europe, Thailand, and Japan. Professor Nagatomi, a priest in the Pure Land tradition, was remarkably supportive of new developments in Buddhism; he encouraged the formation of this magazine and was among our original advisors. A memorial service at Harvard is planned for the fall.
The Venerable Havanpola Ratanasara Nayaka Thera, born in 1920, co-founder of the American Buddhist Congress and a leading advocate of interreligious dialogue, died on May 26 in Los Angeles. A native of Sri Lanka, Ven. Ratanasara was a devoted teacher well known in Buddhist circles for his efforts to create what he called a “united Buddhism in America.” He founded the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California in 1979, one of the largest regional Buddhist councils in the country, and served until his death as executive-president of the American Buddhist Congress, a national organization that seeks to bring together American Buddhists of all traditions and ethnic backgrounds. Ven. Ratanasara was also a leading figure in interfaith discussions - he served as the Buddhist representative to Pope John Paul II during the pontiff’s visit to Los Angeles in 1987 and was a co-founder of the Los Angeles Buddhist-Catholic Dialogue. A memorial service was held for Ven. Ratanasara in Los Angeles on June 3.
Buddhism at War
As the Sri Lankan army continues to suffer at the hands of rebel fighters, many of the country’s Buddhist monks are urging a more aggressive military response. Beginning in April, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Tamil separatist group of northern Sri Lanka, has produced a series of stunning military victories against government forces. The Tigers are fighting on behalf of the Tamil people, a predominantly Hindu minority in a country where Buddhist Sinhalese are the majority. The Tigers now stand on the verge of expelling the Sri Lankan army from the northern capital of Jaffna.
The government is exploring the option of a peace agreement, but some members of the Buddhist sangha, a tremendously influential group in national politics, have recently established the Sinhala Heritage, a political party determined to push for a more hard-line stance in the parliamentary elections this summer. While such hawkish efforts may seem odd coming from a Buddhist lobby, they are hardly unprecedented. According to Sinhalese legend, Sri Lanka is the holy land of the Buddha’s chosen people; thus, with Buddhism and Sinhalese nationalism intertwined, any effort to divide the country politically has been met with virulent protest.
Not every Sri Lankan Buddhist is in favor of accelerating the war effort. As the Los Angeles Times reported, until President Chandrika Kumaratunga issued the Public Security Act in early May, which prohibited political demonstrations, thousands of Sri Lankans were gathering for “public meditations for peace” to protest the war. At one such protest, organized by A. T. Ariyaratne and his Saravodaya Shramadana Movement, a Buddhist-inspired village development program, an estimated 100,000 people were in attendance. In a war that has lasted some 17 years and claimed 60,000 lives, such signs of peace are not entirely convincing - but promising, nonetheless.
Yasutani: An Apology
In the wake of disclosures about Japanese Zen Master Yasutani’s (1885ï¿½1973) anti-Semitism (see Brian Victoria’s Zen At War, Weatherhill, 1997, and Victoria’s article in Tricycle, Fall 1999) a public apology was recently offered by Jiun Kubata Roshi for what Yasutani “said and did during World War II.” Kubata Roshi is a former student and dharma successor of Yasutani and the current head of a Zen community in Kamakura, Japan. Kubata Roshi’s apology, which appeared in the Japanese magazine Kyosho, includes the following statement:
“I personally became Haku-un Roshi’s disciple at the age of 17 and kept receiving his instructions until his death. So I know very well that Yasutani Roshi did foster strongly right-winged and anti-Semitic ideology during as well as after World War II, just as Mr. [Brian] Victoria points out in his book. If Yasutani Roshi’s words and deeds, now disclosed in the book, have deeply shocked anyone who practices in the Zen line of the Sanbo-kyodan and, consequently, caused him or her to abhor or abandon the practice of Zen, it is a great pity indeed. For the offense caused by these errant words and actions of the past master, I, the present patriarch of the Sanbo-kyodan, cannot but express my heartfelt regret.
“If I may speak as an insider, however, during the 25 years of my practice under him I never saw Yasutani Roshi ever force his students to accept his political ideology. . . . On this occasion, the Sanbo-kyodan solemnly vows never to lose the origin point of Shakyamuni and to follow persistently and energetically the path of realizing the essence of our self in this world of phenomena through our zazen practice.”
For the complete text of Kubata Roshi’s apology see “Yasutani: The Hardest Koan” on www.tricycle.com. This site also includes the Brian Victoria article published in Tricycle, responses to that article by Bernie Glassman, Lawrence Shainberg, Robert Aitken, and Bodhin Kjolhede, letters to the editor concerning the Yasutani material that were published in the two subsequent issues of Tricycle, and Josh Baran’s complete review of Zen At War, an edited version of which originally appeared in Tricycle.
Since its founding in the early 1930s, Chi Lin Nunnery in Hong Kong has somehow managed to distance itself from the burgeoning metropolis that surrounds it. Constructed on a tract of woodland at the base of Diamond Hill, the nunnery was built to provide religious and social services for the surrounding community and to offer a quiet retreat space for spiritual seekers. That quiet space is now being threatened.
As reported by the Associated Press, after a 10-year redevelopment project costing nearly $90 million and its recent designation as a heritage site by the Hong Kong Tourist Association, the nunnery has been overwhelmed by a deluge of visitors - reportedly, a phenomenal 36,000 in the first two days! For the 60 Buddhist nuns who live at Chi Lin, the sheer number of visitors is proving to be an unmanageable distraction. Evidence of vandalism - broken handcrafted bronze lights and a series of defaced columns - has the nuns concerned that the nunnery won’t be able to withstand the attention. “The nunnery has been always open to the public,” a Chi Lin spokeswoman told the AP, “but only for worship. We don’t have the experience dealing with a large amount of them.” The Hong Kong government has no plans to limit public access to the site, so the Chi Lin nuns are trying to make the best of a difficult situation. Videos “introducing the nunnery’s architecture to the public” recently went on sale at the nunnery - proceeds are earmarked for vandalism repairs.
Tibet: Here and There
California was the site of two marches to support Tibetan independence earlier this summer. Sponsored by the International Tibet Independence Movement based in Fishers, Indiana, one march left from San Francisco and the other from San Diego to converge on Los Angeles for a rally on June 20. Combined, the marches took two months and covered nearly 700 miles. The San Francisco march was led by Ani Pachen Dolma (see Tricycle, Summer 2000), and the San Diego march by Ven. Palden Gyatso.
Pema Lhundup, general secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress, met the group in San Francisco, and Chinese dissident Harry Wu, who spent 19 years in Chinese prisons, joined the march in San Diego. Participants ranging in age from 12 to 70 walked an average of 10 miles a day. Julie Crow, an organizer from Indianapolis who has participated in similar marches for the last five years, told the Los Angeles Times: “For people who don’t know anything about Tibet, the march builds awareness in an immediate way.” The meeting of the two groups at the end of their walk was timed to coincide with a visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Los Angeles.
In Asia, the Chinese government appears to have redoubled its efforts to secure the Tibet-Nepal border and to crack down on dissension in the wake of the 17th Karmapa’s dramatic escape from Tibet last December. Reports of mass arrests along the border have increased in recent months. According to the Tibet Information Network (TIN), some 60 Tibetans were detained while trying to cross the border in February, and the news agency for the government of Tibet reported that more than 50 Tibetan teenagers were arrested at the border in April. There are also reports that many monks from Reting Monastery have been arrested and that the prison terms of nine Tibetans who were arrested during a mass demonstration last October have been lengthened.
Meanwhile, in a recent public statement, the Dalai Lama said the plight of the Tibetan people in Chinese-occupied Tibet is “desperate.” “If we look at the situation locally in Tibet, there is hopelessness and a feeling that things are getting worse,” he said during a week-long visit to Japan in late April. For its part, China continued its now commonplace verbal assaults on the Dalai Lama, accusing the exiled spiritual leader of “rape, cannibalism, and murder” in a June report by the state-sponsored Xinhua news agency.
A Holy Return
New York was the first stop on a summer-long teaching tour of the United States and Canada by His Holiness the Sakya Trizin. Head of the second-oldest school of Tibetan Buddhism, the Sakyas, His Holiness gave a weeklong series of teachings in New York called “The Dynamics of Spirituality: Key to an Enlightened Way of Living.” Traveling with his wife and two sons, he was visiting America for the first time in nine years.
A welcoming reception at New York’s Harvard Club was filled with students and well-wishers. His Holiness reflected on the growth of Buddhism in the West, saying that at the time of his earlier visits the seeds of Buddhism had been planted. Now, he says, it is time for dharma to be put into practice: “In the 21st century people are looking for better times. In the last century there was so much tragedy, so we learned a great lesson [about] the misery of mankind. Now we must learn how not to repeat mistakes and how to find real harmony and peace, and the way to this is the dharma.”
In 1959, the Sakya Trizin, the then-14-year-old head of the Sakya lineage, fled Chinese-occupied Tibet shortly after His Holiness the Dalai Lama. A member of the royal Khon family, one of the “holy” families of Tibetan Buddhism, the Sakya Trizin is the forty-first descendant in a line of spiritual masters dating to the eighth century. He is patron to the Vikramasila Foundation in New York, whose director is Lama Pema Wangdak. The foundation was created in 1989, and in the last five years it has established two institutions - one in Nepal and one in southern India - which combine traditional teachings and modern education. Architectural models of both institutions were shown at the reception for His Holiness. He concludes his American tour in Los Angeles in late August.
The Western Network
At Woodacre, California, the summer equinox heralded a five-day conference for dharma teachers working in the West that drew more than 200 participants, many of whom are based in Europe and Asia. The Network of Buddhist Teachers, a group that emerged from the first such gathering held in 1993 in Dharamsala, India, at the invitation of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, co-sponsored this conference along with the San Francisco Zen Center, and Spirit Rock Meditation Center, which hosted the event with impeccable skill and good cheer.
Teachers from Theravadin lineages, Tibetan Vajrayana, and the Pure land priesthood, as well as from Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese schools of Zen, represented the dharma's enormous diversity in the West, a co-existence that was never known in Asia. One of the challenges to the new Buddhism now evolving here is to overcome the Asian sectarianism that has been maintained, with varying degrees of tenacity, by Western practitioners. Acknowledging this in his opening remarks, Jack Kornfield caricatured prejudices to poke fun at each of the major schools, a strategy that helped to create a relaxed and respectful atmosphere, and to focus on what these teachers share: the challenge of conveying the dharma to a radically new context. Many (especially those running their own centers) agreed that, with all its tribulations, this process can be daunting, difficult, and, at times, very isolating.
In between the formal sessions, the chance to stroll together on the bare hills above the spanking new buildings of Spirit Rock, or dine under groves of live oak, provided moments of intimacy that helped cultivate new friendships and alliances. But small group discussions also evoked personal—as well as professional—explorations and included such topics as Relationships, Dharma and Psychotherapy, and Developing Community. The large assemblies, including two days of meetings with the Dalai Lama, addressed issues of general concern, such as how best to sustain and nurture dharma out of Asia, or the practice of faith and devotion in "the unbelieving West." A panel on the graying of dharma leaders was made particularly poignant by the participation of Ram Dass, confined to a wheelchair following a stroke but still, after forty years, urging us toward a more authentic way of being alive while remaining present in the face of illness, old age and death. And while the Dalai Lama himself has been on the bestseller lists for more than a year, presentations made to him on popularizing Buddhism and the dangers of watering down the dharma came from Lama Surya Das, Sylvia Boorstein and Jon Kabat-Zinn, authors whose books have also had a huge appeal to the general public.
Two thousand five hundred years ago, Shakyamuni Buddha spoke of four categories of practitioners: bhikshus (male monastics), bhikshunis (female monastics), lay men, and lay women. Following the death of the historical Buddha his teachings we codified into Buddhism: with this came a departure from his original teachings and full ordination for nuns was denied. Astonishingly, none of the lineages of Thailand, Tibet, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or Sri Lanka have seen fit to restore “fully ordained” status to nuns. (The expectations are within the Mahayana schools of China, Japan and Korea.) Reversing this devolution of Shakymuni’s vision has received increasing attention, but with no changes yet on the horizon, many voices at this conference joined in denouncing the story state of affairs for so many Buddhist nuns. When the American bhikshuni, Sister Thanasanti, addressed her pleas directly to the Dalai Lama, His Holiness suggested that this subject be discussed at an international meeting of Asian Buddhist leaders. However, one noticeable feature of this conference was the number of ordained sangha present (about one fourth), many of whom were Western men and women. More important, there seemed to be a revitalized admiration among the laity for the monastic path. In modern neo-Freudian thinking, lay practice has sometimes been touted as the progressive integration of secular and spiritual values, while traditional monasticism has been derided for oppressive patriarchy, sexual neurosis, or social dependency. One appeal for reexamining the social virtues of the monastic path made its surprise appearance at the council on Engaged Buddhism: following inspired talks by Joanna Macy on the seamless pursuit of the Buddha’s path and ecological consciousness, and by Ralph Steele on the deleterious effects of all-white sanghas within a diversified society, and after the redwoods had been identified as living buddhas, and the bio-technology companies and the military-industrial complex were denounced along with pervasive materialism, Robert Thunnan pointed out that the monastics in our midst were themselves a resounding embodiment of radical opposition to the cancerous forces of greed and ignorance; that monasticism itself, in fact, is a viable and effective form of social engagement. The return of fully ordained status to Buddhist nuns will not happen overnight. And while both Spirit Rock and insight Meditation Society are planning facilities for long-term retreats, and Pema Chodron spoke of new experiments with monastic practice at Gampo Abbey, Westerners are not lining up for lifelong monastic vows. Nonetheless, one of the deepest impressions left by this conference is that Western leaders of Buddhism working together—men and women monastics and lay people—and with their Asian counterparts, are well on the way to restoring Buddha's original vision of four parallel groupings within the Eightfold Path. Toward the end of the conference, Dr. Rapgay Lobsang, assistant profe sor of psychiatry at UCLA, imparted his observations of how communication might be improved at future gatherings. In ways more expected of a California group therapist than of a Tibetan psychiatrist, Dr. Lobsang referred to those times that a particular subject had produced discomfort or anxiety within the group and was then subsequently avoided or, at the very least, dealt with inadequately. Dr. Lobsang's forthrightness received a round of applause, but there was also general agreement that a conference, no matter how brilliantly conceived and facilitated, has built-in limitations: time is too short and the numbers too big to sustain a level of discourse that does not at times feel somewhat truncated and frustrating.
Taking enough time out of one's busy schedule just in order to talk about how great everything is tends not to inspire the hard work that goes into organizing a gathering on this scale. Whatever the restrictions imposed by the circumstances, teachers discussed many of the issues that raise doubt and confusion. Yet a half a century ago, half the people there hadn't even been born. No bullhorns were needed to announce that a great deal has been accomplished in a very short time. That remarkable fact did not receive a whole lot of verbal play, but a hint of celebration was definitely in the air—and for such excellent reasons.
Vietnamese Buddhists Gather
Vietnamese monks from around the world will gather in Seattle from September 1 through 4 for the second annual meeting of the Unified Buddhist Congregation. Nearly 1,000 monks, nuns, and lay Buddhist leaders are expected at the event, hosted by the Co Lam Temple in Seattle. The recently completed temple, among the largest Vietnamese Buddhist buildings on the West Coast, will be consecrated during the proceedings.
The United Buddhist Congregation was organized in 1992 at the request of senior Buddhist monks still in Vietnam. The two elderly leaders of the movement are Thich Huyen Quang, who has been in prison or house arrest most of the time since 1975, and Thich Quang Do, who is currently under house arrest in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon. The purpose of the meeting is to preserve Buddhism in Vietnam and to protect individual Buddhist leaders who are held in prisons by the Communist government, said Minh Chanh, spokesman for the Co Lam Temple. “We will set the way for our whole organization for four or five years to come,” he said, adding that officers also will be elected.
Construction of the 12,000-square-foot temple was started in 1995 and has proceeded gradually as funds have been raised. Built on two levels, the temple includes a main Dharma hall, social hall, and quarters for monastics. It was founded by Ven. Thich Nguyen An, who took robes at 16. As Communist persecution escalated, he escaped Vietnam in a small boat in 1980 and moved to the United States that same year.
- Given the Thais’ great love of soccer, it is little wonder they have now immortalized British soccer god David Beckham right alongside the Buddha and assorted deities. A gold-leafed, one-foot-high sculpture of Beckham was recently installed at the Buddha’s feet in Bangkok’s Pariwas Temple. It is intended to memorialize Beckham for the next thousand years.
- Bodhgaya, site of the Buddha's enlightenment, apparently needs a facelift. India's Ministry of Tourism is seeking "World Heritage Site" status for Bodhgaya from UNESCO. With that seal of approval, everything would get a lift—tourism, employment, and a much-needed airport of international standards.
- The Revolutionary Museum in Beijing has just unveiled what must be the largest Tibetan thangka in the world. It took 400 artists four years to create, and it stretches 2,028 feet in length. Its purpose, according to one artist, is "to let the word and the whole of China understand...art has no boundaries."
- Law gets a new voice in Korea. The Tripitaka Koreana, a 13th century collection of 84,000 articles of Buddhist law carved onto wooden tablets, is now being sung—sort of. It's the basis for Tripitaka Koreana: the Musical, which tells the story of a love triangle that plays out against the backdrop of the tablets being carved. The production leaves this fall for an overseas tour after a successful eight-month run at the National Theater of Korea.
- Lately, Tricycle has been turning up in the oddest places: the CIA operative narrator of Tom Robbin's latest book, Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, insists that the only two magazines he reads exclusively are Soldier of Fortune and...Tricycle; in Pankaj Mishra's new novel, The Romantics, a character gestures toward a bookshelf "full of books published by presses called Shambhala and Tricycle and Wisdom." And in a review of O, Oprah Winfrey's new smash-hit magazine, Salon bizarrely referred to the publication as a pastiche of Glamour and Tricycle. Go figure.
Philip Glass on Symphony No. 5: Requiem, Bardo and Nirmanakaya
Dimitri Ehrlich speaks with the composer about his millennial work, which begins its tour of the United States in October
How was the text for this symphony put together?
James Morton, who is now part of the Interfaith Center in New York, and Kusumita Pedersen at the Department of Religion at St. Francis College, along with myself, became the text committee. We met for a year and divided the sources into three groups: Western, Eastern, and what they called Aboriginal or lndigenous sources. We drew from the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Qur'an, the various Buddhist, Hindu, and Chinese texts.
And the theme?
The symphony was commissioned by the Salzburg Festival as a millennial concert. I thought of the millennium as the moment to look back and also to think of present and future. Requiem refers to dying, bardo refers to the in-between state—or, let’s say, the present, if you will. And I used nirmanakaya to mean roughly rebirth as enlightened activity. [Nirmanakaya is a Buddhist term which translates literally as “emanation body.” It is commonly used to depict the emobidoment of enlightenment, as in the physical form of the Buddha.]
What about handling the cultural baggage that comes with these traditions?
There’s always some cultural baggage, and I don’t really mind that. Each historical tradition seems especially good at certain things. The Japanese are terrific with death and the Jews are good with suffering. For compassion, the New Testament was among the best sources. The words of Jesus compare remarkably well with some Tibetan teachings. I developed an appreciation for the New Testament, which I didn’t have before. And there were parts of the Mesoamerican Indian traditions that are virtually identical to Shamanistic traditions of Siberia. I read fairly widely but when you seta text to music, it becomes revealed in a very different way. I was surprised by how consonant these texts are with each other. When I finished, the text seemed to have been written by one person.
Do you mean one voice emerges, or one perception of reality?
Both, of course. We spent a lot of time shaping and picking the texts. They weren’t just found in a package in the post office.
Picking and choosing from distinct teachings can seem a bit New Age. Of course, it’s different when used in spiritual practice as opposed to making art. Did the mix-and-match approach ever bother you?
I think you make a good point. This is not a spiritual practice. It’s not even a religious work. I used teachings as a source of inspiration, but the work itself is not meant to be a teaching. We used these texts as inspirations to make an artwork, but this is not a practice, it’s a concert experience.
Rather than use the name that you gave this composition, why did the Salzburg Festival bill this as a “Peace Symphony”?
I couldn’t stop them from calling it that. The even published essays about the Peace Symphony in the original program. But it has nothing to do with what I was doing. I believe that I’m in samsara and I don’t see any peace around, nor do I think that there is any possibility of it. So I don’t believe in world peace, and I don’t believe in the tooth fairy, either.