Tricycle - Awake in the World The Online Tricycle Magazine Blog en Thu, 18 Dec 2014 14:48:29 -0500 Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:26:27 -0500 <a href="/blog/six-questions-b-alan-wallace">Six Questions for B. Alan Wallace</a> Read More > <p><img src="" width="550" height="738" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p>The past four centuries have brought an explosion of scientific knowledge and technological know-how. The march of material progress has, however, left many Buddhist practitioners wondering whether Western society’s external transformation has been matched by an internal one, and if so, what role Buddhism can play in promoting a deeper understanding of both the external and internal worlds. Below, B. Alan Wallace, a uniquely interdisciplinary thinker, responds to six questions on this subject.</p><p>Wallace has been a scholar and practitioner of Buddhism since 1970. After spending 14 years training as a Tibetan Buddhist monk and receiving ordination from the Dalai Lama, he went on to earn an undergraduate degree in physics and the philosophy of science and later a doctorate in religious studies. He has written numerous books, including <i>Choosing Reality: A Buddhist View of Physics and the Mind</i> (1989), <i>The Taboo of Subjectivity: Toward a New Science of Consciousness </i>(2000), and, most recently, <i>Meditations of a Buddhist Skeptic: A Manifesto for the Mind Sciences and Contemplative Practice</i> (2011). Wallace is, then, well-versed in both Eastern and Western traditions.</p><p>Like many people in the Western world, I’ve been raised on a materialist philosophy but have also long been intrigued by questions traditionally belonging to spirituality. And also like many people in my generation, who came of age in the '70s and '80s, I’ve long wondered how we can mesh the insights of modern science with a more compassionate and integrated view of the world. Indeed, it seems to me that meshing the spiritual insights of East and West with the more recent tradition of Western scientific inquiry is perhaps the most promising route to a forward-thinking worldview today.</p><p>The following interview was conducted over email.</p><p align="right">—Tam Hunt</p><p><i>Tam Hunt, a visiting scholar in psychology at UC Santa Barbara, has <a href="">written</a> about the need for Western science to become less dogmatic and to expand from its overly materialist worldview. In addition, he has <a href="">written</a> about the need for Buddhism to grow from its traditional roots by, in particular, embracing the insights of an evolutionary worldview that takes seriously the passage of time. His recent <a href="">book</a>, </i>Eco, Ego, Eros: Essays in Philosophy, Spirituality and Science<i> explores many of these themes. </i></p><p align="right" style="text-align: right;"><i>—Ed.</i></p><p align="right" style="text-align: left;"><strong style="text-align: left;">Why is Buddhism important in today’s high-tech world?&nbsp;</strong><span style="text-align: left;">The growth of scientific knowledge and technology since I entered my adult years in 1970 has been phenomenal. Never before has humanity so expanded its knowledge and exerted its power over the external world. But in that same period, the human population has doubled; and due to human exploitation of the natural environment, the wildlife population of the planet has been reduced by half, while global warming has imperiled human civilization at large and the ecosphere.</span></p><p>During these last 40 years, when human knowledge of the physical environment, biology, sociology, and economics has increased at an unprecedented rate, modern civilization has seemed hell-bent on destroying itself. For example, before 1970, most of the income gains experienced during economic expansions accrued to most of the people, so that the bottom 90 percent of earners captured at least a majority of the rise in income. But during the 1990s and early 2000s, the huge majority of income gains went to the top 10 percent, and from 2001 to 2007, 98 percent of income gains accrued to the top 10 percent of earners. This wild inequality in the distribution of wealth has gotten so out of hand that the 85 richest people in the world own as much as the 3.5 billion poorest, while almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population.</p><p>This contradiction between the simultaneous explosion of technology and deprivation of the world’s most vulnerable indicates that our knowledge of and power over the outer environment has not even remotely been matched by our knowledge of the human mind and its vices, the inner causes of suffering, and the resources of the human spirit. Buddhism highlights three fundamental toxins of the mind—greed, hostility, and delusion. For all the information at our disposal, made so readily available through the internet, human civilization evidently has not made any progress in diagnosing or treating these afflictions, let alone exploring the resources of the human spirit—compassion, wisdom, generosity, patience, and inner contentment.</p><p>If our high-tech world doesn’t balance knowledge of the external, physical resources of our environment with knowledge of the internal, psychological, and spiritual resources of the human mind, then I fear human society will continue on its present course of self-destruction.<br><br><strong>What are some key ways that Buddhism is consonant with modern science?<i>&nbsp;</i></strong>Fundamentally, I find Buddhist and scientific methods of investigating reality to be complementary, as are many of their discoveries. Both traditions focus on the empirical and rational exploration of reality, not on accepting beliefs out of blind faith. The Dalai Lama comments: “A general basic stance of Buddhism is that it is inappropriate to hold a view that is logically inconsistent. This is taboo. But even more taboo than holding a view that is logically inconsistent, is holding a view that goes against direct experience.”</p><p>This is consonant with an assertion attributed to the Buddha and widely quoted in Tibetan Buddhism: “Monks, just as the wise accept gold after testing it by heating, cutting, and rubbing it, so are my words to be accepted after examining them, but not out of respect for me.” A 3rd-century Indian Buddhist contemplative named Aryadeva claimed in a classic treatise that there are just three qualities one must have to venture onto the Buddhist path of inquiry: one must be perceptive and unbiased, and simultaneously enthusiastic about putting the teachings to the test of experience.<br><img src="" width="550" height="361" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"><strong>What are some key ways that Buddhism is <em>not</em> consonant with modern science?&nbsp;</strong>Despite their commonalities, the methods of Buddhist and scientific inquiry are very different. Buddhist inquiry fundamentally focuses on gaining first-person experiential insight into the reality of suffering, the way that suffering causes imbalances and toxins of the mind, the possibility of freedom from suffering, and the path to such freedom. Buddhism is not concerned with the nature of reality as it exists <i>independently</i> of human experience, but rather with the reality <i>of</i> human experience.</p><p>Buddhists have never sought a God’s-eye perspective on reality. The religion is essentially oriented toward the realization of genuine happiness, akin to what the ancient Greeks, starting with Socrates, called eudaimonia. This is a quality of well-being not dependent upon sensory or intellectual stimulation; it stems from leading an ethical, which is to say nonviolent, way of life. Such a path to freedom yields a sense of well-being that emerges from what we bring to the world, not from what we get out of it. The realization of freedom from suffering and its inner causes depends upon the close examination of one’s own experience from a first-person perspective, refined through rigorous meditative training in mindfulness and introspection.</p><p>Modern science, on the other hand, tracing back to Galileo, is primarily focused on fathoming the nature of the objective, physical, quantifiable universe from a third-person perspective. The original motivation of science—as expressed by Galileo and other pioneers of the Scientific Revolution—was to understand the mind of the creator by way of his creation. This pursuit of a God’s-eye perspective sought to understand reality as it exists independently of human experience. Rather than refining the mental faculties of mindfulness and introspection, scientists have refined technology to try to fathom the nature of objective, physical reality in the language of mathematics.</p><p>The symbiotic development of science and technology over the past four centuries has greatly contributed to humanity’s “hedonic happiness,” which is a kind of well-being that arises from sensory and intellectual stimulation—one that is not contingent on ethics, mental balance, or wisdom. Hedonic pleasures are those we get from the world around us, and unsurprisingly, science has focused on the causes of suffering that stem from the physical world.</p><p>Both eudaimonia and hedonic well-being are important, as are the first-person and third-person approaches to understanding reality. For Buddhism, the mind is central to both human existence and the world of experience, while material concerns are secondary. For science, the nature of matter and its emergent properties are central, while the mind and subjective experience are secondary. So there is a fundamental complementarity, and at the same time a certain tension, between these two approaches to understanding the world and the good life.</p><p>To my mind, the principal obstacle to a deep integration of Buddhist insight and scientific discovery is the uncritical acceptance among many scientists—and increasingly the general public—of the metaphysical principles of scientific materialism. The fundamental belief of this scientific materialism is that the whole of reality consists only of space-time and matter-energy, and their emergent properties. This implies that the only true causation is physical causation, that there are no nonphysical influences in the universe. When applied to human existence, this worldview implies that subjective experience is either physical—despite all evidence to the contrary—or doesn’t exist at all, which is simply insulting to our intelligence. As the philosopher John R. Searle states in his book <i>The Rediscovery of the Mind</i>, “Earlier materialists argued that there aren’t any such things as separate mental phenomena, because mental phenomena <i>are identical</i> with brain states.&nbsp;More recent materialists argue that there aren’t any such things as separate mental phenomena because they <i>are not identical</i> with brain states.&nbsp;I find this pattern very revealing, and what it reveals is an urge to get rid of mental phenomena at any cost.”</p><p>It is commonplace nowadays to equate the mind with the brain, or to insist that the mind is nothing more than a function of the brain. But this is merely a metaphysical belief that has never been validated through scientific research. While the mind and brain are clearly correlated in precise ways that have been revealed through advances in cognitive neuroscience, the exact nature of those correlations remains a mystery. This mystery, however, is veiled by the illusion of knowledge that the mind-body problem has already been solved. But, while all other branches of modern science have focused on the direct observation of the natural phenomena they seek to understand, the cognitive sciences have insisted on avoiding such direct observation of mental phenomena. The simple reason for this choice is that subjectively experienced mental processes and states of consciousness do not fit within the materialist paradigm that has dominated science since the beginning of the 20th century.</p><p>As both contemplatives and scientists wake up to the limitations of their respective pursuits of knowledge, we may see a renaissance in open-minded, rigorous contemplative inquiry. This flourishing would call for an integration of first-person and third-person methods of research, which may enhance the hedonic and eudaimonic well-being of humanity. The world is facing unprecedented challenges—environmental, economic, social, and moral—and to successfully rise to meet these challenges we must draw on the wisdom of the East and the West, of the ancient and the modern. The same challenges that imperil our very existence may help us unite in ways never before witnessed in human history.</p><p><img src="" width="550" height="439" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><div><strong>How can we best accelerate the spread of mindfulness and compassion, which are the hallmarks of modern Buddhist practice?&nbsp;</strong>We can agree that mindfulness and compassion are virtues that everyone should cultivate and which may help resolve some of modern society’s existential and environmental crises. But to extract these qualities from the rich, integrated fabric of Buddhist theory and practice and then insert them within a materialistic worldview, hedonistic value system, and consumer-driven way of life is unlikely to bring about any deep and lasting change.<p></p><p>Modern society’s existential and environmental crises were not created by traditional, longstanding religious beliefs. Rather, these crises arose primarily in the 20th century, the first era in human history that was strongly dominated by scientific materialism. For all the advances in science and technology during that century, it also witnessed the most savage inhumanity of man against man, the greatest decimation of other species, and the most catastrophic degradation of the ecosphere.</p><p>A materialistic worldview naturally results in valuing only material things and their emergent properties, such as wealth, power, and status. The hedonistic pursuit of these ideals naturally results in a way of life focused on ever-increasing production and consumption. This fully integrated triad—a materialistic worldview, values, and way of life—is exhausting the natural resources of our planet and helping bring about the demise of human civilization. So we need to look beyond some quick fixes of increased mindfulness and compassion and fundamentally reevaluate our beliefs about the nature of human existence, our values, and the way we lead our lives. Buddhism can contribute greatly to such a renaissance, but not if it is subjected to the same reductionism that materialism has thrust upon human nature.<br><br><strong>There is a view fairly described as "Buddhist dualism," a type of dualism that posits an independent mind in addition to a world of matter and energy. I don't see Buddhist dualism as a clear advance over hard materialism because it gives rise to its own set of problems, including questions about how mind and body interact if they're independent of each other. Isn't there room for a better inegration of mind and body in our philosophical edifice?&nbsp;</strong>Modern civilization suffers from a severe imagination deficit disorder in its inability to imagine any alternatives other than materialistic monism or Cartesian dualism. We’ve known since the 19th century that the Cartesian notion of two substantially real kinds of stuff—material and mental—is a dead end, for there’s no coherent way in which they can causally interact. But materialism fares no better in giving a coherent understanding of the nature of subjective experience or how it causally interacts with the brain. So we have two dead ends.</p><p>It’s a complete mistake to put the Buddhist view of the mind and body in the Cartesian box, for the rich and diverse schools of Buddhism emerged outside the context of European civilization. Buddhism is not dualistic; it’s pluralistic. It’s much more aligned with the views of William James than Descartes. Or, to bring this into the 21st century, it’s more akin to the views of the eminent physicist George Ellis, coauthor of <i>The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time</i> with Stephen Hawking, considered to be one of the world’s leading theorists in cosmology. He has proposed a fourfold model of reality, consisting of (1) matter and forces, (2) consciousness, (3) physical and biological possibilities, and (4) mathematical reality. All of these levels of existence, he proposes, are equally real and distinct, and they relate to each other through causal links. This model transcends the ideological boxes in which the Western mind has been stuck for centuries, and it accords much more closely to Buddhist views of reality</p><p>As for the hypothesis that there is a dimension of consciousness that is not contingent upon a functioning brain, it should be assessed not by logical but empirical facts. In the West, we have ignored our own rich Judeo-Christian heritage of contemplative inquiry, instead equating religious belief with mere reliance upon divine authority. Then we project this same prejudice on Buddhism and other Asian contemplative traditions, never considering that their centuries of first-person experiential investigation might have yielded discoveries that are not accessible through studying the mind objectively.<br><br><strong>You’ve acknowledged that Buddhist notions of karma are very difficult to evaluate empirically. If this is the case, isn’t this indicative of a need for reform? Shouldn’t Buddhism be entirely empirical?&nbsp;</strong>Why be so casual in dismissing what may be one of the greatest discoveries of the Buddhist tradition, allegedly made by the Buddha himself and replicated many times over the past 2,500 years by numerous, highly accomplished Buddhist contemplatives? There’s an element of ethnocentricity here that is indefensible in the 21st century, namely the notion that scientists have a monopoly on rigorous methods of rational and empirical study of the natural world.</p><p>For all the advances in the mind sciences over the past 135 years, scientists have left modern society in the dark about the nature, origins, and causal efficacy of consciousness. And some, like Princeton University neuroscientist Michael Graziano, veil this ignorance by suggesting there is no mind-body problem because there is no such thing as subjective experience.</p><p>There is no discipline of knowledge that is entirely empirical, so there is no reason why Buddhism should sacrifice its rich theoretical heritage to satisfy the prejudices of those who can’t imagine that Buddhists have made discoveries of their own about the nature of the mind and its role in nature.</p></div> Thursday, December 18, 2014 - 14:48 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/tricycle-talks-jeff-wilson-mindful-america">Tricycle Talks: Jeff Wilson, Mindful America</a> Read More > <p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="" width="570" height="570" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></a></p><p>In this episode of Tricycle Talks, <em>Tricycle</em> managing editor Emma Varvaloucas speaks with author and <em>Tricycle</em> contributing editor&nbsp;Jeff Wilson&nbsp;about how Buddhism influences and is appropriated by minority-Buddhist cultures in the West. Wilson, who wrote a <a href="">blog post on the subject</a>, explains how an evangelical impulse has overtaken some mindfulness advocates. His latest book is <i>Mindful America:&nbsp;</i><i>The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture</i>.</p><p></p><p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src=""></iframe></p><p>Tricycle Talks is a podcast series featuring leading voices in the contemporary Buddhist world.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Subscribe</strong></p><p>Subscribe to Tricycle Talks via&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">iTunes</a> or copy <a href="" target="_blank">this link</a> to use with a podcatcher of your choice.</p><p>You can also find Tricycle Talks on <a href="" target="_blank">Soundcloud</a>.</p> Wednesday, December 17, 2014 - 13:15 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/grit-becomes-pearl">The Grit That Becomes a Pearl</a> Read More > <p class="p1"><i><img src="" width="550" height="367" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></i></p><p class="p1"><i>Having loved enough and lost enough, I am no longer searching, just opening, no longer trying to make sense of pain, but being a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land. These are the irritations that rub to a pearl.</i></p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p3" style="text-align: right;">—Mark Nepo</p><p class="p1" style="text-align: left;">One of the essential messages of the Buddha is that it's really important to get to know the experience of <i>dukkha</i>, or dissatisfaction. Not to know it intellectually, not to write a thesis about it, but to get to know it by meeting this experience directly. Until we know dukkha, we don't really have a way to end it. The discourse of the four truths that the Buddha gave after his awakening begins not with enlightenment, but with the encouragement to know dukkha, to know it in order to overcome it.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">To know the experience of suffering can sound fairly straightforward. But the mind is pretty slippery around the experience of dukkha. We tend to say, "The problem is it's too hot or too cold, or it's the situation I'm in, or because I got so screwed up when I was a kid, or it's my partner, or my job." Of course external factors contribute to our happiness or suffering, we don't need to dismiss the factors that shape our lives—but in Vipassana we're not trying to figure out where the dukkha came from. Instead we work with pain and suffering as we experience it, without blaming others, repressing it, or projecting it inward onto our self. Meeting dukkha in this direct way doesn't preclude challenging or changing our individual or collective circumstance, but it does empower us to stop unnecessary stuffering right at the place we experience it, which is the mind.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">When we experience dukkha, our first instinct is to move our attention away and distract ourselves. We have billion-dollar industries based on entertainment and consumption keeping us distracted from this core truth of life. But are we more content? Conversely, we can become addicted to pain, finding ourselves repeatedly gravitating toward worry, old wounds, and resentments. We can even wallow in suffering, our own and others'. Some people become sufferers, great martyrs thinking "no one suffers as much as me—let me just tell you about it." We all have complex reactions to this everyday experience of unsatisfactoriness. Often those reactions are personalized as "my problem." It is very common for the mind to project suffering onto the "self," interpreting dukkha as a personal failure: we are failing because we suffer. Or the mind will project our suffering onto those around us; it's somehow "their fault." In this activity of projection and blame we miss how the mind itself generates an endless stream of dukkha through its inability to accept self, others, and life as it is. In short, it's our reactivity that generates dukkha, keeping us agitated and therefore unable to contemplate the actual, direct, here and now experience of it.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The Buddha's way of explaining dukkha is a great relief. He didn't say, "Well, it's your suffering, it's your fault." Nor was his teaching, as it is sometimes articulated, "This world's just a pile of suffering." That's pretty negative. Actually he put it in a very dispassionate way. He just said, "There is dukkha." Just as one might comment on a fact of nature, saying "It's raining hard today" or "The trees are shedding their leaves." Dukkha is inherent within the conditioned realm. Conditions mean anything that emerges from formlessness and comes into form, whether it's the body, feelings, perception, thought, or sensations. Whatever form emerges, dukkha is inherent. Things are dukkha because they are impermanent and therefore unreliable. Actually, dukkha is natural and not suffering. It becomes suffering when the mind identifies with phenomena and grasps. The meaning of <em>dukkha</em> that conveys this process is derived from the breakdown of the word into <i>du</i>, which means "apart from" and <i>kha</i>—or <i>akash</i>—which means "space." This gives the sense of being apart from the spacious, the perfect, and the complete. In this way <em>dukkha</em> conveys the deepest anguish and dilemma of the self, which is its state of separation from the whole.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In meditation, when we bring attention to "now," it allows whatever is present to be real to us. For example, we notice the breath, the body, our feelings, and whatever impinges upon our senses. Attention illuminates whatever is here, which is often the experience of dukkha. Usually, even at a very subtle level, there will be some sense of discontent, anxiety, or restlessness. It's important to know dukkha, not to obsess about it, but just to meet it. It's important because if we don't know it, we continue to generate dukkha from false assumptions. We actually make dukkha; the mind habitually and unconsciously generates <i>it</i>.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Dukkha is different from pain. Buddhist thought makes a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is part of our human experience. For example, getting sick is painful, as is grief at the loss of a loved one; this is natural and appropriate. However, we then tend to generate a whole extra layer of suffering, through our difficulty in accepting how things are. When we resist the natural flow of life we create suffering, stress, and struggle. When we assume ownership and permanence in a world that is constantly changing, we become burdened. In essence, it is the ignorance of the mind, when it doesn't see the true nature of reality, that produces suffering. And so, our relationship to "how it is" becomes the conditioning factor for either generating or reducing suffering.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">We are doing the suffering; no one is doing it to us. It is because of this that we can free ourselves from unnecessary dukkha. This is not always easy to do. "How it is" can really challenge us. Yet even though it is difficult, this is a doable practice, otherwise the Buddha would not have taught it for regular people like us.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">For example, I suffered when the unethical behavior of someone I trusted came to light. It had a devastating impact. I felt betrayed. The theme of betrayal became a powerful contemplation, particularly as there was no resolution. In the end this situation taught me a lot. I kept reflecting on where the suffering really was. Was it in the behavior of the other, in the divisiveness that followed, in the blame that was projected? I wanted more truth to come out, but it didn't, it stayed hidden in a web of lies. When lies are covered up, it leaves those abused without recourse to justice. This is a powerful theme that runs through human history: people manipulating others for their own ends, while at the same time distracting from their behavior by shifting blame elsewhere. We'd be naive not to understand that the conversion of lies to "truths" is pervasive in contemporary political and corporate culture. When apprehended correctly, such experiences become the sharpening for our wise realism.</p><p class="p1"><img src="" width="550" height="413" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">To have a conscious relationship to suffering is different than having an unconscious one. We will all experience pain, simply due to our incarnation into form. It is part of being human. We experience bodily pains, ill health, fatigue, hunger, thirst, and as we get older we will feel the pains of aging. That's just the way it is. Freedom from dukkha doesn't mean eternal youth, or that we are never going to have a headache, never going to feel irritation, or loss, or get betrayed and hurt by others. Freedom from dukkha is not abdication from the human race, but a deeper acceptance of how we are, an acceptance that brings both equanimity, and also a clearer response.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1"><em>Dukkha</em> is also categorized as the pain of things ending. Even within pleasant experiences there is dukkha, because the nature of conditioned things is to pass. All things already have their endings within them. If we become attuned to this, then we can appreciate the moment. We can appreciate the extraordinary fact of our unique and precious lives. We can even appreciate dukkha, rather than resisting it. We understand that the experience of suffering is a portal to our awakening. We don't wish for suffering, but once we understand how to be in relationship with it, it becomes the means through which we mature as loving and wise people.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The Buddha placed the contemplation of dukkha at the heart of his teaching. The foundation of Buddhist teaching is formulated around his four noble truths: "There is dukkha," "Dukkha has a cause," "Dukkha has an end," and "The eightfold path which brings about the ending of dukkha." Each of these truths has a corresponding practice. In response to the first truth, the practice is to "meet, understand, and contemplate" dukkha. The practice for the second truth is to "let go or abandon" the causes of dukkha. The third is to "realize or recognize" the end of dukkha, and the fourth is to "develop or cultivate" the path leading out of dukkha. Sometimes this teaching is misrepresented as a negative view on life, such as "Buddhists are just into suffering." Actually, it's a very positive message, as it says we can do something about the dukkha we unconsciously generate and then experience. This simple teaching is actually extremely profound and direct. It offers a clear diagnosis of the fact of suffering, an insight into the causes of suffering, and a remedy and cure for suffering.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">The four noble truths may not be a very fashionable teaching, but it's an extremely profound one. Wherever we are, when dukkha arises, we have a pathway to peace. In calming meditation, we develop strength of mind through the practice of steadying attention on the breath, body, or our chosen object of contemplation. In insight meditation, we take that same strength of attentiveness and bring it directly to the experience of dukkha, as it is felt within the body and heart. We do this in a very particular way, by neither justifying nor trying to fix the pain, neither being overwhelmed nor shaped by it, nor repressing or distancing ourselves. The art of meditation is to meet dukkha directly, to breath with it, and inquire into it. This is ultimately less painful than avoiding it.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">I remember as a young nun I suffered a lot. I trained in a male monastic hierarchy deeply ambivalent to the presence of nuns. Initially, I didn't see the impact, but as time went on, I noticed it generated a painful and divisive power dynamic. I was grateful to live as a monastic, but the fine line between "training" and the blunt use of power was unhealthy—particularly when as nuns, we had no agency in the decisions that shaped our lives.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">However, there wasn't much I could do about the situation. Basically, it was just a lot of suffering. One day, I was contemplating the pain in my heart due to some new rules that had been handed down without consultation, which I found churlish. I was just right there, holding attention to the sensation. It felt like a knife in my chest and a hand around my throat. It was very visceral, and although the trigger was a controlling hierarchy, the feeling felt ancient. It was the familiar pain of powerlessness. In the middle of my walking meditation, I stopped and stretched out my arms like Christ on the cross, and screamed out, "I accept this suffering!" It sounds dramatic (and somewhat inflated), and fortunately I was well hidden in the monastery forest! But something profound happened. I realized I could be with a painful dynamic and not suffer. My suffering was there because I didn't want things the way they were. In my acceptance, the suffering turned to compassion. I felt compassion for the monks and nuns, for myself, for everything and everyone. Meeting experience <i>as it is </i>empowers. We may not always be able to change a challenging situation, but we can be better resourced to engage with it.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Ajahn Chah came from a farming community in Northeast Thailand and left school at thirteen. He tended to put things in unacademic, immediate, and straightforward ways. He often pointed to the fact that dukkha arises because the mind is caught up in "wanting and not wanting." We want what is not here and don't want what is here. This is very simply put and yet challenging to really see. However, framing it like this, Ajahn Chah points to a direct practice. With some steadiness of mind, we can reflect on desire, and its internal narrative of always wanting things to be different from what they are. We frame our experience: "I don't want it to be like this; I want it to be different." Each moment we want, long, wait, and look for something that is not there, we generate dukkha. Conversely, when there is resistance or aversion to how it is, we generate dukkha. We resist what is "now." The push and pull of the mind undermines our capacity for contentment. When we look into the second truth of desire and aversion, we get perspective. What we struggle with can be okay. It is workable. We can work with all of it, people blaming us, pains in the body, emotional turmoil—instead of continually adding dukkha through our judgment, "It shouldn't be like this."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">A lot of the time we feel, "It shouldn't be like this!" It should be somehow different. We should be in a heaven-like world. But we weren't born into heaven; we were born in this world, with its wars, environmental degradation, suffering, exploitation, difficulty, and pain. Accepting the reality of dukkha isn't an abdication from response, it is a way to understand that the most effective way we can change the world is through the quality of our own awareness. As we work to resolve our personal dukkha, we lessen the possibility that our actions will increase the suffering that already exists.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">When Kittisaro was a novice monk, just before his full ordination, his parents took a trip to Thailand, all the way from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to find out what he was doing. In the process they met Ajahn Chah. Kittisaro's father is a very astute political observer and at that time he was concerned, as were most Americans, with the war in Vietnam and the threat of communism. He was concerned that the monastery, which was on the border of Laos, would be invaded by communist guerillas. Ajahn Chah said that the thing he should really worry about was the "communist guerrillas in the mind." I guess nowadays he would have pointed us back to the "terrorists of the mind."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">This is where we begin and end. We take everything back to the mind. As we experience life, all sorts of feelings, thoughts, and reactions arise. Our problem isn't so much "what is" but our relationship to what is. When I consider my own suffering, so much of it comes from the fact that I simply cannot accept life, and people as they are. I get upset by what people do. Ajahn Chah said it's like hollering at a person who upsets you. Then someone comes up and says, "You know, that person is crazy." You relax, because suddenly there's perspective. Until we are mature human beings, we're all a little crazy; we all produce suffering. So it means we are going to learn patience! The ongoing inquiry into the nature of suffering is a patient process. These four truths are a deepening hologram: wherever we touch them we enter the process of contemplation. When we locate clinging, desire, and aversion, then, as encouraged by the Buddha, we let go.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"><img src="" width="550" height="406" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">Letting go is the third noble truth. Vipassana insight meditation reveals where we hold on. Where we hold on, right there is dukkha. Right where there's dukkha is the place of letting go. In insight meditation we contemplate the nature of suffering and its release. Actually, the mind in its natural state is open, aware, and present. It is reflective. But the mind, when tinged by ignorance, has a tendency to constrict around thought-forms and desire, generating a sense of self that feels "It's not enough" or "I'm not enough." Our lack of inner freedom is often born from this feeling of "not enough." The constriction around "I need to be something more" or "I don't want what is here" is a constant irritation. Ajahn Chah likened it to a dog with mange. He goes into the shade, to the heat, from place to place, running around everywhere trying to find relief, scratching here, scratching there. The dog keeps feeling each place is the problem, not realizing his discomfort is due to his own skin.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In a moment of just stopping and relinquishing our addiction to "wanting and not wanting," a whole other dimension opens up. When the cause of dukkha is released, we recognize a timeless abiding, always here now, which is the heart/mind's natural state. Recognizing the mind in its natural state is not something to attain; it's a realization. When grasping and resistance cease, the endless chasing of one thing after another, then the mind recognizes the taste of its own nature, which is the taste of peace. This peace is nibbana.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Just as the grit in an oyster becomes a pearl, so dukkha has its function. Awakening quickens through wise contemplation of suffering. Instead of blindly reacting to the experience of dukkha, shifting around it or blaming someone else for it, we apprehend it directly, and more quickly. A conditioning factor for this process is what the Buddha called <i>nibbida</i>, which means "disenchantment." We finally come to a place in ourselves when we know another experience isn't going to alleviate our basic sense of discontent—the next holiday, the next acquisition, or the next exciting distraction. In our contemporary society, when we feel <i>disenchanted </i>it is seen as a problem. We are encouraged to go shopping, take medication, or find some other escape. We think, "If I sit on the beach today I'll be much happier than staying here." So we go to the beach. We're happy for a few minutes and then think, "If I just had a nice coffee, I'd feel better." Or we think, "It's too hot here. If I go up into the mountains where it's cooler, I'd be happy." This seeking drives us on and on. It's a good sign when we begin to be suspicious of endless pursuit; it means we're not buying into it so much. Periods of retreat bring us into direct confrontation with what we've been trying desperately to avoid—this basic feeling of dissatisfaction. This isn't to say that things like anti-depressants and holidays don't have their place. But even when we get life as perfect as we can, the underlying message of dukkha still crashes in. It prods us until we respond to the invitation to contemplate our experience more carefully. Sometimes when we acknowledge the presence of suffering, we immediately want a solution. Fix it quick! Get a Band-Aid! Take it away!</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">This is kind and careful work. When circumstances generate pain or anguish, we can lessen dukkha by patiently containing our reactivity. Then, at the place of suffering, the journey of transformation opens up. As beauitfully articulated in Mark Nepo's poem, we become "a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land." This describes perfectly the quality of awareness and receptivity needed to undertake the journey through suffering. We "no longer try to make sense of the pain." We create a space and allow awareness to provide a gentle holding for the "irritations that rub to a pearl." This is the work of Vipassana. As we inquire into the moment, dukkha becomes dharma, or nature, rather than "me" that is wrong or bad. As we listen more deeply to suffering, we begin to notice non-suffering. The heart realizes its innate courage, strength, and invincibility. This journey through pain and suffering burns away the impurities, and what is revealed is something pristine, clear, and beautiful, like a moonlit pearl: the tender, merciful heart, and its infinite ability to receive the cries of the world.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">When we're with suffering, it's as if we are with a child that's very unhappy. If the child is wailing and wriggling, wanting to get away, wanting something but it doesn't know what, we kindly hold the child. Sometimes we can experience our minds as the child and the awareness as the mother. The child of the mind can be really hurting and screaming, "I can't bear this. I'm hopeless!" Or, "No one is there for me," or just an unnameable pain that seems so familiar, so ancient, and so intractable. But the mother, our aware, present heart, just sits it out and waits patiently for the deeper truth to emerge. She is breathing with the pain while gently holding the mind and body with kind awareness. Then something happens; something beyond the re-activity of the mind. Instead the heart softens. It sees its own nature: spacious, non-suffering, peaceful, and timeless. Here is freedom. Here we find the courage to bear suffering in order to overcome it.<br><br><em>All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.</em></p><p class="p3" style="text-align: right;">—Helen Keller</p><p class="p3" style="text-align: left;"><strong>In January, Kittisaro and Thanissara will be leading a <a href="" target="_blank">Tricycle Retreat</a>&nbsp;on the topic of <em>papanca</em>—"conceptual proliferation," or the well-known tendency of the mind to overcomplicate every matter at hand. <a href="" target="_blank">Subscribe now</a> as a Supporting or Sustaining Member to gain access to this retreat along with the over 50 others that make up our <a href="" target="_blank">retreat archive</a>.</strong></p><p class="p1"><strong>Thanissara</strong> began her Theravada Buddhist practice in 1975. Shortly thereafter she spent 12 years as a nun, during which she co-founded the Chithurst Monastery and Amaravati Buddhist Monastery. In 2002, she authored a book of poems entitled <i>Garden of the Midnight Rosary</i>.</p><p class="p3" style="text-align: left;">From&nbsp;<em>Listening to the Heart: A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism&nbsp;</em>by Kittisaro and Thanissara. Copyright&nbsp;© 2014 by Kittisaro and Thanissara. Reprinted with permission by North Atlantic Books.&nbsp;</p><p class="p3" style="text-align: left;"><em>Image 1: Gallerystock<br></em><em>Image 2: Pushkar V/<a href="">Flickr</a><br></em><em>Image 3: Domenico/<a href="">Flickr</a></em></p> Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 17:26 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/taitetsu-unno-shin-buddhist-scholar-and-minister-dies-85">Taitetsu Unno, Shin Buddhist scholar and minister, dies at 85</a> Read More > <div>Rev. Dr. Taitetsu Unno—one of the world's preeminent scholars of Jodo Shinshu (Shin) Buddhism and a longtime minister in that tradition—passed away on Saturday, December 13. He was 85 years old.&nbsp;<p></p><p>Unno's final moments were spent surrounded by friends and family, including his son Mark, who describes&nbsp;his father's enduring equanimity and gratitude:</p><blockquote><div>To the very end, he was fully aware and at peace, saying, 'Thank you for everything, Namu Amida Butsu [Buddha],' and when he could no longer speak, simply putting his palms together in gassho. His family and close friends who came to visit in his last days and hours experienced the deep joy of being with him and chanting together, immersed in the rhythms of boundless compassion.<img src="" width="291" height="437" style="margin: 7px; float: right;"></div></blockquote><div>As stated in Mark's <a href="" target="_blank">recently released obituary</a>, a summary of which follows, Taitetsu Unno was the eldest son of a Shin Buddhist minister. Born in the city of Kita-Kyushu, in Western Japan, he immigrated to the United States in 1935, at the age of six. During World War II, he and his family were forced to live in internment camps in both Rohwer, Arkansas and Tule Lake, California. Once the war was over, his family moved to California, where Unno would later study English literature at UC Berkeley. He went on to receive his MA and PhD in Buddhist Studies at Tokyo University in 1968.</div><p></p><p>Unno then taught Buddhist studies for 40 years, initially at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, then for 37 years at Smith College. He made remarkable contributions to Buddhist scholarship over that period, including two landmark works on Shin Buddhism: <em>River of Fire, River of Water: An Introduction to the Pure Land Tradition of Shin Buddhism</em> (1998) and <em>Shin Buddhism: Bits of Rubble Turned into Gold</em> (2002).</p><p>Alongside these academic pursuits, Unno ordained as a minister in the Shin tradition of Pure Land Buddhism and later served at Senshin Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles, CA. Once he retired from teaching, Taitetsu and his wife, Alice, opened the Northampton Shin Buddhist Sangha in Northampton, Massachusetts, which they directed until 2007.</p><p>In <a href="" target="_blank">an interview with <em>Tricycle</em> five years ago</a>, Unno drew upon a popular Shin poem to make a statement about the illusory separation that arises during the act of remembrance. In the wake of Unno's death, we can read the statement, perhaps, as an instruction from this eminent teacher on how best to grieve his own passing:</p></div><blockquote><div>A very famous teacher passed away and left this poem: 'If you miss me, say "Namu Amida Butsu," for I too live in the nembutsu [nondual light of the Buddha].' In other words, if you have any questions about death or dying or where I am, say 'Namu Amida Butsu,' and that’s where I am. And you will also realize that’s where you are too.</div></blockquote><div style="text-align: right;">—<em>Ed.</em></div><div><em>Image: Taitetsu Unno, 1995. The image appeared in the Summer 1995 edition of&nbsp;</em>Tricycle.</div> Monday, December 15, 2014 - 14:30 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/drama-or-dharma">Drama or Dharma</a> Read More > <p>Decked out in a Santa Claus hat and beard, Shozan Jack Haubner (the pen name of a real Zen monk) speaks about how to&nbsp;bring our practice into our approaching holiday gatherings, how to remain mindful as we are saturated in our (let's admit it: somewhat tense) family relationships, and—most importantly—how to accept what we can’t control. As he points out: “Life as we know it is not how any of us would have designed it.”</p><p>Happy Holidays from the Tricycle team!</p><p></p><center><iframe src="" width="570" height="321" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></center><p></p> Monday, December 15, 2014 - 00:00 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/unusual-choices">Unusual Choices</a> Read More > <center><iframe src="" width="570" height="321" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></center><p><br><br></p><p><strong><a href="" target="_blank">Planetary Collective</a></strong>, founded in 2011, responds to the most pressing issues our civilization is currently facing as we push the planet to its brink. Its members, pulling from their Buddhist backgrounds, attribute the roots of the environmental and social crises facing humanity to the misperception that we are separate—from each other, the planet, and the cosmos as a whole. Their forthcoming feature film is titled <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Planetary</em></a>. Learn more about the Collective <a href="" target="_blank">here.</a></p> Friday, December 12, 2014 - 11:15 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/fear-silence">Fear of Silence</a> Read More > <div><img src="" width="550" height="550" style="vertical-align: middle; margin: 7px auto; display: block;"></div><div>I have the impression that many of us are afraid of silence. We’re always taking in something—text, music, radio, television, or thoughts—to occupy the space. If quiet and space are so important for our happiness, why don’t we make more room for them in our lives?<p></p><p>One of my longtime students has a partner who is very kind, a good listener, and not overly talkative; but at home her partner always needs to have the radio or TV on, and he likes a newspaper in front of him while he sits and eats his breakfast.</p><p>I know a woman whose daughter loved to go to sitting meditation at the local Zen temple and encouraged her to give it a try. The daughter told her, “It’s really easy, Mom. You don’t have to sit on the floor; there are chairs available. You don’t have to do anything at all. We just sit quietly.” Very truthfully the woman replied, “I think I’m afraid to do that.”</p><p>We can feel lonely even when we’re surrounded by many people. We are lonely together. There is a vacuum inside us. We don’t feel comfortable with that vacuum, so we try to fill it up or make it go away. Technology supplies us with many devices that allow us to “stay connected.” These days, we are always “connected,” but we continue to feel lonely. We check incoming e-mail and social media sites multiple times a day. We e-mail or post one message after another. We want to share; we want to receive. We busy ourselves all day long in an effort to connect.</p><p>What are we so afraid of? We may feel an inner void, a sense of isolation, of sorrow, of restlessness. We may feel desolate and unloved. We may feel that we lack something important. Some of these feelings are very old and have been with us always, underneath all our doing and our thinking. Having plenty of stimuli makes it easy for us to distract ourselves from what we’re feeling. But when there is silence, all these things present themselves clearly.<br><img src="" width="550" height="445" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"><strong>Practice: Nourishing</strong></p><p>When feeling lonely or anxious, most of us have the habit of looking for distractions, which often leads to some form of unwholesome consumption—whether eating a snack in the absence of hunger, mindlessly surfing the Internet, going on a drive, or reading. Conscious breathing is a good way to nourish body and mind with mindfulness. After a mindful breath or two, you may have less desire to fill yourself up or distract yourself. Your body and mind come back together and both are nourished by your mindfulness of breathing. Your breath will naturally grow more relaxed and help the tension in your body to be released.</p><p>Coming back to conscious breathing will give you a nourishing break. It will also make your mindfulness stronger, so when you want to look into your anxiety or other emotions you’ll have the calm and concentration to be able to do so.</p><p>Guided meditation has been practiced since the time of the Buddha. You can practice the following exercise when you sit or walk. In sitting meditation, it’s important for you to be comfortable and for your spine to be straight and relaxed. You can sit on a cushion with your legs crossed or on a chair with your feet flat on the floor. With the first in-breath, say the first line of the meditation below silently to yourself, and with the out-breath say the second line. With the following in-and out-breaths, you can use just the key words.</p></div><div></div><div style="padding-left: 30px;"><em>Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.</em></div><div style="padding-left: 30px;"><em>Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.</em></div><div style="padding-left: 30px;"><em><em>(In. Out.)</em></em><p></p><p><em>Breathing in, my breath grows deep.<br></em><em>Breathing out, my breath grows slow.<br></em><em><em>(Deep. Slow.)</em></em></p></div><div style="padding-left: 30px;"><p></p><p><em>Breathing in, I’m aware of my body.<br></em><em>Breathing out, I calm my body.<br></em><em><em>(Aware of body. Calming.)</em></em></p></div><div style="padding-left: 30px;"><p></p><p><em>Breathing in, I smile.<br></em><em>Breathing out, I release.<br></em><em><em>(Smile. Release.)</em></em></p></div><div style="padding-left: 30px;"><p></p><p style="text-align: left;"><em>Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.<br></em><em>Breathing out, I enjoy the present moment.<br></em><em>(Present moment. Enjoy.)</em></p></div><div style="padding-left: 0px;" br=""><em><em><em><br></em></em></em><strong>Thich Nhat Hanh&nbsp;</strong>is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, and peace activist. He lives at Plum Village, a meditation center in the Dordogne region of southern France.<p></p><p>From <em>Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise</em>&nbsp;by Thich Nhat Hanh. Copyright © 2015 by Unified Buddhist Church, Inc. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers. The book will be released in January, 2015.</p></div><div style="padding-left: 0px;" br=""><p></p><p><em>Images: Paul Davis/<a href="" target="_blank">Flickr</a></em></p></div> Friday, December 5, 2014 - 16:23 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/why-i-support-fast-food-workers">Why I Support Fast Food Workers</a> Read More > <div><img src="" width="550" height="400" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></div><div>By the end of the day on Thursday, December 4th, fast food workers will have <a href="">walked off the job in 190 cities across the United States</a>, the latest in a series of single-day strikes that have taken place over the past two years. The workers are demanding a base wage of $15 per hour and the right to unionize.<p></p><p>I recently got involved with the fast food workers' movement through Michael Kink, the executive director of Strong Economy For All, an advocacy group fighting for economic justice in New York State. Michael has put a lot of effort into bringing together yogis, meditators, union representatives, and fast food workers. In the couple of times that we’ve all met, we’ve had valuable discussions about what we can learn from the spiritual roots of the civil rights movement and how to best grapple with the anger that arises from social injustice. Even more important, we've heard directly from fast food employees working full-time and still living in homeless shelters or having their hours reduced unexpectedly and not being able to eat. It’s always powerful to meet people as people, not as abstractions. Hearing directly from people and seeing their courage—seeing them stand up even though they could lose what little they have—I realized that I wanted to support them however I could.</p><p>That's why I'm speaking out today in support of striking fast food workers. Standing up for your right to fair treatment, which is the choice that underlies this movement, epitomizes the notion of lovingkindness for oneself.</p><p>My own practice of lovingkindness has opened me to the power of compassion and to the fact that all beings want to be happy. Everybody wants to have their innate dignity recognized and to recognize the innate dignity of others. Over the years of my meditation practice, I've also opened to a greater understanding of emptiness. That greater understanding has become interwoven with a deep sense of connection—a vision of inclusivity rather than a narrow dichotomy of “self and other," “us and them," “I count and you don’t.”</p><p>I’ve met some incredible people who work in fast food, home care, retail, and other low wage sectors. They work very, very hard and receive little compensation for it. On one level, I find it heartbreaking. On another level, I find it inspiring as they fight for a living wage and the right to unionize. They are fighting, above all, for the dignity of their being. It is only a matter of time before they prevail, and we will all be better for it when they do.<br><br><b>Sharon Salzberg</b> is a founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and of the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies. She is the author of <i>Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness</i> and <i>Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement, and Peace</i>.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: Max Zahn&nbsp;</em></p></div> Thursday, December 4, 2014 - 14:15 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/meditating-public">Meditating in Public</a> Read More > <div><img src="" width="550" height="365" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></div><div>As members of the Northeastern University Buddhist Group settled into their meditation cushions on Saturday, November 22, and found their breath, a biting wind blew through the green in Boston’s Copley Square. A golden, Thai-style Buddha sat in front of them, its jewelled robe catching the light off of John Hancock Tower. But this wasn’t just a street retreat or a public meditation—it was a protest against climate change.<p></p><p>“Every faith group at Northeastern does a service project . . . and we wanted to somehow bring mindfulness meditation—some aspect of the dharma, the teachings of the Buddha—into society, and obviously for a good cause,” explained Emily Burke, a junior at Northeastern University and a member of its Buddhist Group that helped organize the event.</p><p>Some 20 to 30 other students, activists, and passersby joined the meditation vigil, termed SIT350, which ran from 1 to 3 p.m. At a table to one side, students gave pedestrians hot coffee and hot chocolate, along with fliers about climate change. On a banner in front of the Buddha statue, people wrote their hopes and fears about climate change. Many also stopped to meditate for a while.</p><p>“They're just here, so peaceful, and they're sitting and they're spreading their message in a way that isn't confrontational, but just allows you to make your own choice, which I think is absolutely great,” said Patricia Licea, a student at Yale University who was visiting Boston with her friend Dana Chaykovsky. “I've never tried meditation, but I'm considering trying it.”</p><p>That combination of non-confrontational protest and public meditation is what Harrison Blum, Northeastern’s Buddhist spiritual advisor, says inspired him to suggest a public meditation to raise awareness about climate change. SIT350 joins other recent Buddhist-led climate change actions, including the Compassionate Earth Walk, which traced part of the proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline, and the <a href="" target="_blank">large Buddhist contingent at this fall’s People’s Climate March</a> in New York City.</p><p>A professional photographer took time-lapse photographs of the vigil that Blum plans to use as part of a social media campaign. He hopes that SIT350 can spread to other cities across the US, or even around the world.&nbsp;</p><p><img src="" width="550" height="365" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p>“If we can have 100 pictures each of events that each have hundreds of people in them, and then maybe a complement or a partner to marches and rallies and protests outside of climate change summits, if we can have ten by ten city blocks filled with people silently sitting in the middle of the street breathing together, those are the grander visions I have,” Blum said.</p><p>Blum drew inspiration from his time as a protest chaplain at Occupy Boston’s sacred space tent, as well as from Northeastern’s encouragement of religious and spiritual student groups to be involved in public service.</p><p>The idea that people of faith need to be directly involved in addressing society’s most pressing social problems has been central to engaged Buddhism. It is also enjoying increased popularity among some Buddhists in the US. In recent years, groups like One Earth Sangha and Buddhist Global Relief have emerged with a focus on environmental justice and inequality. The Buddhist Peace Fellowship has also rebuilt its strong national presence after a period of decline, <a href="" target="_blank">holding its first national gathering in years</a> this past August.</p><p>Emily Burke said that she hadn’t been very involved with climate activism in the past, but she was quick to draw a direct connection between her meditation practice and large social issues like climate change.</p><p>“As a Buddhist, some of the most fundamental teachings of the Buddha that really hit me hard are the teachings of lovingkindness, compassion for all beings and for all life, and empathy,” Burke said. “To me, the idea of creating compassion for our environment, for something that we take for granted daily—something that, as a human race, we are just absolutely destroying, for the most part without a care—I think that connecting compassion to that is really, really powerful.”</p><p>Some groups have been moving away from public meditation vigils toward more confrontational tactics like joining with large marches or participating in nonviolent civil disobedience. But many of the people at Saturday’s vigil said that actions like SIT350 could be a better entry point for newcomers—especially those who might not feel comfortable at a more confrontational protest.</p><p>“This is really nice,” said Yale student Dana Chaykovsky, “to see that there are other alternative ways of making a statement that are maybe more peaceful, more meditative, much easier to get involved in.”<br><br><strong>Joshua Eaton</strong> is an independent journalist who covers religion and society, human rights, and national security.</p><p><em>Images: Courtesy Joshua Eaton</em></p></div> Wednesday, December 3, 2014 - 14:04 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/turning-madness-flowers">Turning Madness into Flowers</a> Read More > <p><img src="" width="570" height="468" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>If my sorrow were deeper<br>I'd be, along with you, under<br>the ocean's floor;<br>but today I learn that the oil<br>that pools beneath the ocean floor<br>is essence<br>residue<br>remains<br>of all our<br>relations<br>all<br>our ancestors who have died and turned to oil<br>without our witness<br>eons ago.<br>We've always belonged to them.<br>Speaking for you, hanging, weeping, over the water's edge<br>as well as for myself.<br>It is our grief<br>heavy, relentless,<br>trudging<br>us, however resistant,<br>to the decaying and rotten<br>bottom of things:<br>our grief bringing<br>us home.</p><p><br><strong>Alice Walker</strong> is a poet, activist, essayist, and Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist.</p><p></p><p><br>Copyright ©2013 by Alice Walker. This poem originally appeared in <em>The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers (New Poems)</em> published by The New Press. Reprinted here with permission.</p><p><em>Image: Van Gogh, Vincent. "Oleanders," oil on canvas, 1888.&nbsp;</em><em>Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.</em></p> Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 11:46 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/dharma-and-artists-eye">The Dharma and the Artist's Eye</a> Read More > <p class="p1"><img src="" width="550" height="366" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">To consider oneself a Buddhist, says His Holiness the Dalai Lama, one must embrace the four noble truths expounded two and a half millennia ago by Shakyamuni Buddha during his 45 years as a teacher of the dharma. Regardless of one's lineage or tradition, these truths state that (1) there is suffering; (2) the cause of suffering is thirst (<i>trishna</i>), which most commentators interpret as being selfish desire; (3) there is a way to end suffering; and (4) that way is the eightfold path (<i>arya astanga marga</i>). Of the eight steps on this path, the one to which the others build and in which they triumphantly culminate is right mindfulness (<i>samyak smrti</i>). It is the root and fruit of all Buddhist practice.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">As a Buddhist and phenomenologist, I understand at age 58, and after 26 years of practicing meditation, something of the depths of clarity and insight delivered by right mindfulness. But it was as a young artist in my teens—someone for whom drawing and encountering art from all cultures, historical periods, and countries had been a passion since childhood—that Eastern philosophies and religions first seduced me. The seeds for my journey to the East were sown when I was 14 in Evanston, Illinois. I pulled down a volume on yoga from my mother's shelf of books in our living room and, after reading the chapter devoted to "Meditation," I spent the next half an hour in my bedroom following its instructions for Vipassana, the method Shakyamuni Buddha recommended for his followers in the magnificent <i>Mahasatipatthana Sutra </i>("The Great Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness"). It was the most peaceful and renewing thirty minutes I'd ever known, an experience that radically slowed down my sense of time and cleared away the background noise always on the edge of my consciousness. The risible "monkey mind" described by Vivekananda in <i>Raja Yoga</i> was suddenly quieted. I was seeing without judgment. Without judgment, there were no distinctions. Without distinctions, there was no desire. Without desire, there was only clarity and compassion. After meditation, I was suddenly no longer squandering my energies and consciousness by worrying about things in the past that could not be recovered or changed, nor was I preliving a future that would never come. Rather, all my attention rested peacefully in the present moment, a total immersion in the <i>here </i>and <i>now</i> very similar to the state of self-forgetting artists know well from focused moments of creation. To my astonishment, I felt capable of infinite patience with and empathy for my parents, teachers, and friends. Within me, I detected not the slightest trace of fear or anger or anxiety about anything. Nor was I conscious of myself, only of what was in my field of consciousness, and <i>that</i>, of course, was indeed an unusual event in the life of a 14-year-old American boy in 1962.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">But in addition to being transformative and rewarding that first meditation was frightening, too. I wondered what the hell I'd just done to myself. I felt as if I'd been playing with a loaded pistol, a powerful tool I could not control because at that time I did not have a teacher. So for a long time I backed away from meditation. I feared it might make me too detached and dispassionate and lacking the fire—the desire and internal agitation—for venturing out into the world and exploring all the things, high and low, that I, as a teenager, was burning to see, know, and taste.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Ironically, that very hunger for worldly experience brought me face to face again with the haunting practices I'd been briefly exposed to in the dharma, for even the briefest glimpse is enough to change one's life and orientation forever. Whenever I encountered anything related to Buddhism or Taoism—a Zen painting like Liu Ts'ai's 14th-century <i>Fishes </i>memorable for its harmony, restraint, and understatement, or a haiku by Basho so pure in its simplicity that it seemed a thing discovered in Nature—I found myself stopped cold, thrown instantly into an attitude of egoless listening and inner peace as if I'd suddenly heard a call of remembrance to look within myself, my own mind, for the origin of all I experienced, a call that also beckoned me home. This was especially true when, still in my teens, I experienced either desire or anger, for no sooner than those emotions made possible by dualism arose, a partitioning of the world into self and other, I became aware of the contribution of my own conditioned thoughts to the way the thing desired appeared. "Now why," I would wonder, "do I want to believe <i>that?</i> Why do I think such a thing will bring me happiness? Am I truly seeing this person or thing or feeling clearly? Through my own eyes or those of my parents, friends, teachers or Madison Avenue? Are these thoughts and judgments my own or have I <i>received </i>them from others?" Once I asked those questions, and turned inward to examine the rising and falling of my own thoughts and feelings (which is the essence of Vipassana), attachment to and thirst for the thing desired inevitably diminished, and finally disappeared, leaving only aesthetic appreciation for it, and a feeling of thanksgiving.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">So wherever I turned in my teens, the dharma seemed to beckon me. In college, I was a philosophy and journalism major, and a professional cartoonist. I had studied with the cartoonist and writer Lawrence Lariar, starting when I was fifteen, then began publishing catalog illustrations for a Chicago magic company, award-winning cartoons, and comic strips (and also three short stories in my school newspaper) when I was seventeen in 1965. Between that year and 1972, I published over one thousand drawings and illustrations as a political cartoonist, two collections of drawings (<i>Black Humor</i> in 1970 and <i>Half-Past Nation-TIme </i>in 1972), and created, produced, and hosted an early PBS how-to-draw series, <i>Charlie's Pad </i>(1970). When not studying for my classes in Western philosophy or working on assignments for publications like the <i>Chicago Tribune</i>, the <i>Southern Illinoisan</i>, <i>Black World</i> (formerly <i>Negro Digest</i>) and <i>Jet</i>, I consumed in translation the major texts of first Buddhism, then Hinduism and Taoism (and I now deeply enjoy translating Sanskrit works in the first religion from the original Devanagari texts).&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">During the racially turbulent late 1960s, when anger and violence, the polarization of blacks and whites, the young and old, was everywhere around me, these works became my spiritual refuge. I remained devoted to researching and writing about African American and African history and culture, of course, and discovered that the study of Eastern philosophies enriched and enabled that lifelong project. I devoured everything in print by D.T. Suzuki, Eugen Herrigel, Christmas Humphreys, Alan Watts, and a library of esoteric books by authors from India, China, and Japan. I took courses on Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, and the Vedas. I studied over and over the "Ten Oxherding Pictures" of 12th-century Zen artist Kakuan Shien (and now use Tomikichiro Tokuriki's woodcut version as the screensaver on my PC) and other Asian artworks as if they were the visual equivalent of a mantra. In Liang K'ai's 13th-century sketch <i>The Sixth Patriarch Tears up a Sutra</i>, I saw a spontaneity in his brushstrokes that seemed analogous to the sudden, instantaneous experience of satori favored by Ch'an (Zen) Buddhists. In Ma Yüan's <i>Landscape in Moonlight </i>(1200 C.E.) and Kao K'o-kung's <i>Landscape after Rain </i>(1250-1300 C.E.), my eyes moved over paintings that gently nudged me into seeing how all things from the very first have eternally been in a perfect state of tranquility. Ephemeral cliffs and mountain peaks were forms briefly manifest from a fecund emptiness (<i>sunyata</i>) that, mysteriously, was also a plenitude of being. Such forms arose (tress, clouds, people), were captured on silk, but were ever on the verge of vanishing back into the Undifferentiated, the Non-Dual, leaving no trace of themselves like waves on water. Both works were fine examples of how the "beautiful" was attained in Buddhist art: namely by dissolving the false distinction or duality between the beautiful and the ugly—it was the realm <i>before </i>their ontological and epistemological separation (by mind, by language) and obscuring by relativity that I was seeing in Eastern art.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"><img src="" width="550" height="366" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><p class="p1">We might also say these images sprang from a transcendent vision identical to the one that infuses Tibetan sand mandalas, the making of which requires years of practice and is a form of meditation through art dating back to the 6th and 7th centuries. Tapping out colored grains of sand from a funnel called a <i>chakpu</i>, monks create elaborate, minutely detailed palaces and grounds for Buddhist deities. One tiny lotus may take hours to make. And then, after several days, after the mandala is done, its creators toss the sand into local waters to illustrate the impermanence of all things—even breathtakingly beautiful ones.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">However, study alone became inadequate for satisfying my increasing absorption with the practices of Eastern philosophy. I could never shake the nagging sense that the Buddhadharma was something I had to work with more creatively. Specifically, I felt in the late 1960s and early 1970s compelled to come to terms with Shakyamuni Buddha's phenomenological insight into <i>ahumkara</i>, the "I-maker" he unveiled when meditating beneath the bodhi tree; his beautiful description of the impermanence and codependence (<i>pratitya samutpada</i>) of all things; the rightness of a life devoted to <i>ahimsa </i>("harmlessness to all sentient beings"); and the very Eastern truth that ontological dualism was one of the profoundest tricks of the mind. I wondered: Was race an illusion, a product of <i>avidya</i>, or ignorance? And when Buddhists recited the terse and trenchant Pali formulation <i>anicca dukkha anatta </i>("Everything is transitory and impermanent, <i>anicca</i>; there is universal suffering, <i>dukkha</i>; and there is no self, <i>anatta</i>"), what did this ancient wisdom, especially the denial of an enduring, essential self, imply for Westerners in general and black Americans in particular.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Inevitably, then, I turned from my early career as a cartoonist to writing the Buddhist- and Taoist- and Vedanta-themed novels <i>Oxherding Tale </i>and <i>Middle Passage</i>, short stories like "China" and "Kwoon," and essays such as "The Elusive Art of Mindfulness" to more fully explore and dramatize these provocative questions. And, yes, I finally found the meditation teachers I needed and began daily practice in earnest in 1981, no longer fearing where a publicly declared devotion to Buddhism would take me—indeed, knowing at that juncture in my life that however small and insignificant might be my "turning the wheel of dharma," this was crucial for my very survival as a "black" artist, college professor, writer, father, son, husband, colleague, and friend in a society that was growing more and more spiritually bankrupt, culturally provincial, ideologically balkanized, yet very Eurocentric as it entered deeper into a demonstrable period of late decadence. For to practice this way of life is to live without a safety net; to be open to all views and experiences; to be a verb and not a noun; to no longer "stick" to anything; and, as the bodhisattva ideal and <em>metta bhavana</em> <i>gatha </i>("loving-kindness prayer") of Mahayana Buddhism urge us, to spend one's days energetically as an <i>upasaka </i>(lay Buddhist follower) working from our various stations in life to reduce the suffering of all sentient beings and assist them in their journey to awakening.&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">All forms of art play a role in that spiritual project. But whatever means are employed—sketch, painting, or sculpture—creativity influenced by Buddhism or Taoism captures what the Japanese call <i>myo</i>, the spiritual, inner radiance of the beautiful. "Human eyes," Wang Wei wrote in the 5th century, "are limited in their scope. Hence they are not able to perceive all that is to be seen; yet with one small brush I can draw the vast universe." Reflecting on this approach, art historian E.H. Gombrich wrote in <i>The Story of Art </i>that Chinese artists "paint water and mountains in a spirit of reverence, not in order to teach any particular lesson, nor merely as decorations, but to provide material for deep thought. Their pictures on silk scrolls were kept in precious containers and only unrolled in quiet moments, to be looked at and pondered over as one might open a book of poetry and re-read a beautiful verse."</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">In other words, for both artist and audience, the artwork and its process of creation presented the occasion for meditation leading to awakening. That, in part, is my understanding of the simultaneously mystical and practical Japanese Zen Buddhist term <i>wabi sabi</i>—that is, art provides a direct, intuitive insight into truth. Far different from Western theories of the beautiful derived from Greeks' notions, in <i>wabi </i>(things fresh, simple, and quiet) <i>sabi </i>(things radiating beauty with age), which covers arts as diverse as Zen gardens, flower arrangement, the tea ceremony, poetry, and the music played by wandering monks (<i>honkyoku</i>), we find a preference for such features as imperfection, impermanence, immediacy, the idiosyncratic, incompleteness, modesty, and humility.</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">Originally <i>wabi </i>literally meant "poverty"—for example, that of hermits. From an initial negative denotation it came to imply freedom and nondependence on possessions and all the trappings of a materialistic society. Aesthetically, it is the perfect realization of right mindfulness, as described by Bhikkhu Bodhi—not a process of heaping up or accumulating things and ideas, but rather one of "letting go," being "a matter not so much of doing but undoing, not thinking, not judging, not associating, not planning, not imagining, not wishing."&nbsp;</p><p class="p2"></p><p class="p1">And it is through the everydayness of such an (un)remarkable art that we are blessed to experience the ordinary mind as a portal to transcendence and liberation.<br><br><strong>Charles Johnson</strong> is a professor of English at the University of Washington in Seattle and is the author of many books, including <em>Turning the Wheel: Essays on Buddhism and Writing</em>. He is a <em>Tricycle</em> contributing editor.</p><p>From <em>Taming the Ox</em>, by Charles R. Johnson, © 2014 by Charles Johnson. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA. <a href="" target="_blank"></a></p><p>This article was first published in the&nbsp;<em>International Review of African American Art</em>, Vol. 21, No. 3, fall 2007.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image 1: Wade M/<a href="">Flickr</a></em><br><em>Image 2: Jacqueline Poggi/<a href="">Flickr</a></em></p> Friday, November 21, 2014 - 17:43 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/kensho-down-texas-avenue-el-paso-texas">Kensho Down on Texas Avenue, El Paso, Texas</a> Read More > <p><img src="" width="570" height="340" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>When I was a 17-year-old kid in Memphis<br>I was a Kerouac, Ginsberg and Gary Snyder junkie<br>So it was natural I got hooked on Zen too.<br>But I was in Memphis where nothing seemed to happen<br>So I was sure Zen and <em>kensho</em> grew best in San Francisco<br>Or maybe the Colorado mountains, maybe even New York City,<br>Places like that where the enlightened Zen roshis<br>Liked to go hang out with all the cool people.<br>That was fifty years ago and today<br>I ate at the Mexican Cottage on Texas Avenue,<br>El Paso, Texas of all places<br>Where they ran a Thursday lunch special on <em>kensho</em>.<br>I had walked the several blocks from work.<br>Monsoon clouds in the east.<br>Even in the downtown the desert smelled like rain,<br>I gave an old man a couple of dollars to buy himself a burrito.<br>A cop sat at the counter drinking a beer.<br>He had served his city.<br>He was done for the day.<br>The ornery waitress Norma<br>Put the <em>kensho</em> in front of me with a smile.<br>Buen provecho, she said,<br>Completely out of touch with who she usually is.<br>She served it up with hot corn tortillas,<br>Refried beans and a glass of water.<br>I stared at the food.<br>May I be worthy of this meal, I whispered.<br>The afternoon light was coming through the window.<br>The universe did a little waltz.<br>ONE two three. ONE two three.<br>I let go.<br>Yes, it was me who sat there and breathed and ate.<br>Don't get me wrong.<br>The food was good but nothing special.<br>I had to get back to work.<br>Our business, like always, is in danger of going belly up.<br><br><strong>Bobby Byrd</strong> is a poet who practices at the Both Sides/No Sides Zen Community in El Paso, Texas. This poem is from his book <i>Otherwise My Life is Ordinary</i>. He is copublisher, with his wife Lee, of Cinco Puntos Press.</p><p><i>Photograph courtesy the author</i></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="" target="_self"><img src="" width="261" height="137"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT BUDDHISM </b></span><p>While meditation is often identified as the central practice of Buddhism, the majority of Buddhists throughout history have not meditated. Only in the 20th century did meditation become considered an appropriate practice for laypeople.</p><p align="left"><a href="" target="_self"> <img src="" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="" target="_self"><img src="" width="261" height="137"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE </b></span><p>From what began as a simple comment she posted to Facebook, neuroscientist Catherine Kerr established a vibrant conversation among her peers over the scientific consensus around Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR).</p><p align="left"><a href="" target="_self"> <img src="" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - 10:49 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/early-days-thich-nhat-hanh">Early Days with Thich Nhat Hanh</a> Read More > <p><img src="" width="240" height="211" style="float: left; margin-right: 7px;">Like many thousands of others around the world, I have had Thich Nhat Hanh close in my thoughts this past week. Along with so many, I breathed with some relief when I read <a href="" target="_blank">Sunday’s report from his community in Plum Village</a> that his condition, following his brain hemorrhage, seems to have stabilized, and while his condition remains critical, there is reason for cautious optimism about the possibility of a full recovery.</p><p>The report also said that one way the community is carrying on is by going ahead with the annual three-month practice period. There was a photo of the opening ceremony, with hundreds of sangha members—monastics and lay folk—gathered in the beautiful and capacious meditation hall in Plum Village’s Upper Hamlet. It was for me a stunning thing to see, because I had, 30 years ago, lived for several months in the Upper Hamlet, and it would have been hard to even imagine such a transformation. Back then, the Upper Hamlet was just a handful of ancient stone buildings—a main farmhouse and several small out buildings, all in disrepair. The meditation hall, such as it was, could seat about ten. Dharma gatherings of any size were held in the slightly less rustic and more accommodating Lower Hamlet.</p><p>Several years ago, I wrote a story for <i>Tricycle</i>, called “<a href="" target="_blank">The Debacle</a>,” about organizing and assisting Thich Nhat Hanh on his first teaching tour of US dharma centers. In telling the story, I tried to show Thich Nhat Hanh as I knew him—as a human being blessed by both extraordinary gifts and ordinary frailties. It seems to me that writings about spiritual teachers tend often to consign them to the realm of an ideal, and I think this does them a disservice. If they live up to the projected ideal, we hem them in with it; if they don’t live up to it, we resent them for it. I tried to find a way not to inflict this on Thich Nhat Hanh, to show the great teacher and frail human as a single, inseparable whole—that kind of bodhisattva. I have often wondered about how well I succeeded.</p><p>It has been many years since I was last in touch with Thich Nhat Hanh. Perhaps the simplest explanation is the best: Sometimes the living imperatives that bring people together don’t hold them together and may well lead them apart. But there was, since the very first, a deep affinity, and near or far, that has never diminished. Nor will it.<br><br><b>Andrew Cooper </b>is <i>Tricycle</i>’s features editor.</p><p><em>Image:<em>&nbsp;Andrew Cooper (left) introduces Thich Nhat Hanh (right) before a talk at San Francisco Zen Center.</em></em></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="" target="_self"><img src="" width="261" height="137"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT BUDDHISM </b></span><p>While meditation is often identified as the central practice of Buddhism, the majority of Buddhists throughout history have not meditated. Only in the 20th century did meditation become considered an appropriate practice for laypeople.</p><p align="left"><a href="" target="_self"> <img src="" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="" target="_self"><img src="" width="261" height="137"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE </b></span><p>From what began as a simple comment she posted to Facebook, neuroscientist Catherine Kerr established a vibrant conversation among her peers over the scientific consensus around Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR).</p><p align="left"><a href="" target="_self"> <img src="" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Monday, November 17, 2014 - 18:12 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/what-was-mindfulness">What Was Mindfulness?</a> Read More > <p><img src="" width="570" height="580" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;">With headlines like “<a href="" target="_blank">Gentrifying the dharma:&nbsp;How the 1% is hijacking mindfulness</a>” and “<a href="" target="_blank">Rebel posturing and ‘mindfulness training’ can’t cover up tech world’s awful labor standards</a>” on Facebook courtesy of, suddenly American Buddhists find themselves pushed to one side or the other of an age-old debate. Should the sacred life show secular benefits, or should spirituality be&nbsp;essentially an "inside job"?</p><p>Most Buddhists I knew in the ‘70s and ‘80s weren’t bothered when&nbsp;Vipassana&nbsp;meditation was repackaged as “mindfulness” by American Buddhist teachers. You met the occasional purist who said&nbsp;Vipassana shouldn’t be offered without the ethical teachings of Theravada Buddhism to anchor it. But few actively opposed it. Those of us who had by then been practicing Buddhist meditation for decades never dreamed it would become insanely popular—much less that it would be used to legitimize a culture that was becoming certifiably insane.</p><p><a href="" target="_blank">Mindfulness meditation is being used by the US military</a> to make soldiers into more effective killing machines overseas—and to treat them for PTSD and suicidal impulses after they get back. Closer to home, <a href="" target="_blank">companies like Google are using mindfulness</a> to enable employees work harder for longer hours—sometimes for&nbsp;lower pay. Is your job stressful and unrewarding? Mindfulness could be the answer. Do you sometimes feel pangs of guilt about serving the 1% of the population that manipulates our elections, controls our money, and sends meditatively enhanced young soldiers off to fight meaningless wars? Mindfulness could be the answer as well.</p><p>When the studies on mindfulness started rolling in a few years ago, it was good news for those of us who had been practicing Buddhist meditation for years. We were told that it reduced stress, enhanced performance, improved memory, healed trauma, and led to better relationships—both at home and on the job. “See, I was right!” many of us wanted to say.</p><p>We’d suffered for decades from the cultural stereotype that viewed Buddhist meditators as the ultimate spiritual slackers—an impression that wasn’t helped by Buddhist&nbsp;books with titles like “Being Nobody, Going Nowhere” and “Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There.” In the beginning at least, mindfulness meditation—and the enhancements and benefits it promised—really did seem&nbsp;like the answer to our prayers for a legitimate, culturally coherent explanation of what Buddhism was and what it had to offer.</p><p>But in the midst of all this there was a question few of us ever thought to ask: What was mindfulness&nbsp;<i>for</i>? Did it stand for anything? Did it have any ethical content? Did it produce compassionate people—or compliant people? Did it relieve stress without curing its causes? Did it treat us for the symptom without ever addressing the disease?</p><p>By enhancing our Buddha-given abilities, mindfulness might have helped us to get where we were going in life, but did it tell us where we&nbsp;<em>ought</em>&nbsp;to go? Not really. It was a technique without a teaching, a means without a moral, a compass with no needle pointing north. It was a way of sleeping soundly through the worst cultural excesses in human history while fooling ourselves into thinking we were awake.<br><br><b>Clark Strand</b> is a <i>Tricycle</i> contributing editor. His latest book is <i>Waking the Buddha</i>.</p><p><em>Artwork by James Thacher. © Tricycle 2014</em></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="" width="261" height="137"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT BUDDHISM </b></span><p>While meditation is often identified as the central practice of Buddhism, the majority of Buddhists throughout history have not meditated. Only in the 20th century did meditation become considered an appropriate practice for laypeople.</p><p align="left"><a href="" target="_blank"> <img src="" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="" target="_blank"><img src="" width="261" height="137"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE </b></span><p>From what began as a simple comment she posted to Facebook, neuroscientist Catherine Kerr established a vibrant conversation among her peers over the scientific consensus around Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR).</p><p align="left"><a href="" target="_blank"> <img src="" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Friday, November 14, 2014 - 14:17 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/thich-nhat-hanh-hospitalized-severe-brain-hemorrhage">Thich Nhat Hanh Hospitalized for Severe Brain Hemorrhage</a> Read More > <p><img src="" width="240" height="317" style="margin-left: 7px; margin-right: 7px; float: right;"><strong>[</strong><b>UPDATES BELOW]</b></p><p><a href="" target="_blank">Plum Village Mindfulness Practice Centres announced</a>&nbsp;yesterday that Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh (affectionately known by his students as "Thay"), had suffered a severe brain hemmorrhage on November 11. Thay is currently under intensive care in Bordeaux, France. He is reportedly exhibiting signs that a full recovery may be possible.</p><p>Thich Nhat Hanh is a monk, poet, scholar, and peace activist who has had an enormous influence on Buddhism in the West. Like other Asian missionaries who came to the US and Europe in the '60s and '70s, he arrived with a dharma different from the one he left behind. Under the umbrella of dependent origination—a core Buddhist doctrine that had received little attention in the West outside the academy prior to his arrival—Thay fashioned an inclusive Western dharma, accepting all Buddhist traditions—and also the teachings of Jesus Christ, which had taken hold in Vietnam in the 19th century—as authentic. "It would not be an exaggeration," <em>Tricycle&nbsp;</em>editor-in-chief James Shaheen <a href="" target="_blank">wrote in a 2010 editorial</a>, "to say that his inclusive vision laid the groundwork for the flourishing of Buddhist publications, including&nbsp;<em>Tricycle</em>, over the last twenty years."</p><p>Thich Nhat Hanh has been a principal advocate of the teaching of mindfulness—what Plum Village describes as a way "we can learn to live happily in the present moment."</p><p>In an official announcement, the Monastic Dharma Teacher Council of Plum Village requested the public to pray for Thay's healing and recovery.<br><br><strong>UPDATE&nbsp;</strong><strong>(Nov. 16, 2014):&nbsp;</strong>Plum Village has posted&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">an update on Thay’s health</a><a href="" target="_blank"></a>:&nbsp;He has shown progress, opening his eyes briefly on Saturday for the first time since the hemorrhage to look at his attendants. His condition, however, remains critical.</p><p><strong>UPDATE (Nov. 23, 2014):&nbsp;</strong>Plum Village has posted <a href="" target="_blank">another update</a>. Thay's blood pressure and pulse are stable, but he is sleeping more deeply and communicating less. His condition remains critical.</p><p><strong>UPDATE (Nov. 30, 2014):</strong> Plum Village has posted <a href="" target="_blank">another update</a>&nbsp;on Thay's condition.</p><p><strong>UPDATE&nbsp;</strong><strong>(Dec. 15, 2014):&nbsp;</strong>Plum Village has posted&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">an update on Thay’s health</a><a href="" target="_blank"></a>: he continues to display "strong vital signs and steady, peaceful breathing" and is showing "small signs of progress." However, he remains in a coma.</p><p><strong><em>We will continue to update this page as more news comes in.</em></strong></p> Thursday, November 13, 2014 - 11:22 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/dont-just-sit-there-do-something">Don't Just Sit There, Do Something</a> Read More > <p><img src="" width="570" height="240" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>Ever since Western converts began adopting Buddhist traditions, their community has sought a balance between the quest for personal peace and tranquility and the sense of social engagement that has sometimes expressed itself, most recently on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, with the well-worn activists’ phrase <i>No justice, no peace</i>.</p><p>That seemingly irreconcilable conflict made itself felt when several generations of Buddhists came together for the 2014 National Gathering of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (or “BPF”). That noteworthy group, now 36 years old, congregated during Labor Day weekend at the East Bay Meditation Center, housed in a low-slung, two-story building in Oakland, California’s economically revitalized heart. At the gathering, the fellowship’s newest, post-Occupy incarnation seemed to carry a message for its more solitary, meditation-oriented elders: Don’t just sit there, do something.</p><p>The relatively small size of the event, as well as its modest setting, stood in sharp contrast to that of well-attended, corporate-funded mindfulness conferences such as Wisdom 2.0. In a private conversation the first evening of the gathering, I told Thai Buddhist activist <a href="" target="_blank">Sulak Sivaraksa</a> (addressed “Ajahn [teacher] Sulak”) of <a href="" target="_blank">my own written criticism</a> of that conference, and of the “engaged Buddhist” teachers who privately thanked me for “saying what needed to be said” but refused to support that position publicly.</p><p>“If they can’t say publicly what they feel privately,” said Ajahn Sulak, “we call that ‘being a hypocrite.’ I’ve experienced that myself, many times. Teachers or abbots tell me ‘I agree with you, but I can’t say so publicly.’ That means they have economic interests that prevent them from speaking up. Even Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a friend and whom I consider a teacher, is reluctant to speak as freely as he did before he ran such a large institution.” A good spiritual friend (<i>kalyana mitta</i>), Ajahn Sulak continued, speaks the truth: “That’s why I admire the American Quakers. They tell the truth, no matter what the consequences.”</p><p>Western Buddhists have at times been reluctant to speak truth to power. Some Buddhist organizations and entrepreneurs have, instead, unabashedly cozied up to it, hoping some prestige would rub off on them. That practice was perhaps best exemplified by an<a href="" target="_blank"> admiring (some might say “fawning”) interview of Paul Kagame</a>, Rwanda’s “<a href="" target="_blank">Darling Tyrant</a>,” at the 2014 Wisdom 2.0 conference. Kagame's practice of mindfulness was apparently so inspiring that it allowed his audience to ignore his administration’s involvement in, according to the Spanish government, <a href="" target="_blank">“crimes of genocide, human rights abuses, and terrorism</a>,” as well as <a href="" target="_blank">his government’s suspected involvement in the murders of Rwandan dissidents and threats to the journalists who reported them.</a></p><p>Corporate-sponsored “mindfulness” seems to be a growth industry. The Quaker “Religious Society of Friends,” in contrast and as a result of its practices, has “never become large . . . or powerful,” Ajahn Sulak told me. “But they tell the truth. All Buddhists should learn from the Quakers.”</p><p>The following morning’s meditation was followed by a plenary session on the “Future of Engaged Buddhism,” with perspectives from “five veteran BPFers”: Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Susan Moon, Mushim Patricia Ikeda, Martha Boesing, and Donald Rothberg. For the morning breakout session I chose Rothberg’s workshop on “Keeping Cool in the Fire: Becoming More Skillful with Inner and Outer Conflicts.” Drawing extensively on the work of Norwegian conflict resolution expert Johan Galtung, Rothberg may have been unaware how quickly he was to be drawn into a conflict of his own.</p><p>The primary goal of Rothberg’s presentation, which included graphic representations and other practical tools, was to offer guidance on how to bring two sides of a conflict into agreement—preferably in a “win/win” scenario. The presentation was engaging and extremely useful. But it quickly drew objections from some of the young activists in the crowd, for reasons I could easily understand.</p><p>“This doesn’t apply when there’s a severe imbalance of power between two forces,” said one. My heart was with them—especially since, as Rothberg himself had said, Western dharma practitioners “tend to be conflict-avoidant.”</p><p>The conference’s keynote speakers, Ajahn Sulak and American Buddhist writer Joanna Macy, had touched on the same point during their opening addresses the night before. “Western Buddhists . . . are very suspicious of attachment,” said Macy. “They feel they need to be detached . . . so don’t get upset about racism, or injustice, or the poison in the rivers, because that . . . means you’re too attached.”</p><p><img src="" width="570" height="412" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>“This causes some difficulty for me,” she continued, “because I’m <i>attached.</i>”</p><p>She added: “I think one of the problems with Westernized Buddhists is premature equanimity. When the Buddha said ‘don’t be attached,’ he meant don’t be attached to the ego.”</p><p>During our private interview, Ajahn Sulak emphasized many of the same points. “Anger arises,” he said. “That’s okay. But you must learn to translate that anger into change.”</p><p>“Some people want to be ‘<a href="" target="_blank">goody-goody Buddhists</a>,’” Ajahn Sulak continued, “saying nice things all the time and never challenging power. We believe in nonviolence, but that means we cannot ignore the long-term harm caused by <i>structural violence.</i>”</p><p>Or, as BPF’s literature says: “The system stinks.”</p><p>While the urge to avoid confrontation is strong in some sections of the Western Buddhist community, many of the leaders it reveres have been unafraid to speak bluntly. They’ve even been unafraid to use terms that border on the politically forbidden. <a href="" target="_blank">The Dalai Lama, for example, has said</a> he is “not only a socialist but also a bit leftist, a communist. In terms of social economy theory, I am a Marxist. I think I am farther to the left than the Chinese leaders. They are capitalists.”</p><p>Ajahn Sulak’s teacher, <a href="" target="_blank">Buddhadasa</a>, said, “If we hold fast to Buddhism we shall have a socialist disposition in our flesh and blood … [an] ideal of pure socialism which must be acted out, not just talked about for political purposes or for selfish, devious gain.” Ajahn Sulak told a group of Japanese Buddhists that “unless we stand united against consumerism and capitalism, we will not be able to create Dhammic Socialism.”</p><p>The Peace Fellowship’s Gathering ended with a refuge ceremony. Experienced dharma practitioners will understand that, by this action, everyone who participated became a Buddhist (or renewed their Buddhist vows). It could also be said that the people in attendance took refuge collectively, as a sangha, as a beloved community.</p><p>But there was more to come. A smaller group gathered that evening at a park in downtown Oakland. Their purpose was to demonstrate against the <a href="" target="_blank">Urban Shield</a> conference, which was about to take place. Urban Shield is, in effect, a trade conference for our cities’ increasingly militarized police forces—and for the vendors who profit off their purchase of heavy weaponry, drones, and other tools for the imposition of violence and the removal of personal privacy and autonomy. It was a good choice for protest, sitting as it does at the intersection of violence and capitalism.</p><p>A group of demonstrators planned to block the entrance to the Marriott Hotel, where many attendees were staying, while the rest were there to show their support. The Buddhists gathered before the watchful and slightly skeptical eyes of the park’s denizens: urban families, skateboard-wielding teens, and a homeless person or two. Protesters raised their signs: “Make Peace, Disarm Police”; “Marriott, Evict Urban Shield”; “Urban Shield = Urban Warfare.”</p><p><img src="" width="570" height="378" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>After a few minutes of planning and debate the group—a mix of laypeople and monastics<b>—</b>began its several-block-long walk to the Marriott. Accompanied by the monks’ drumming and chanting, the group passed curious pedestrians and drivers honking horns in passing automobiles, the Wells Fargo Bank glittering in the sun’s final late-evening rays. A giant flag waved atop the <i>Oakland</i> <i>Tribune</i> building, but no reporters emerged to cover the demonstration.</p><p>Once at the hotel, a dozen protesters unfurled a sign that read “Evict Urban Shield.” Then they blocked the front entrance and sat in lotus position as supporters cheered them on from the sidewalk.</p><p>I found myself moved by these young faces, some of which I now knew by name, as they sat before the hotel doors, their faces serene and their meditation posture largely impeccable. That’s Katie, in the white t-shirt. She’s one of the organizers. And that’s Dawn, her colleague. I think I saw that man, the one next to Dawn, in one of the breakout sessions…</p><p>I found myself kneeling before them, ostensibly to take their pictures.</p><p>They chose not to get arrested that evening, and the demonstration began breaking up as night fell. I walked away through the now-darkened streets of downtown Oakland. I felt a sense of parting, of separation from a community, as I walked back to my car. Outside the Oakland City Center office complex I passed a bicycle, still locked to a pole but stripped of its wheels and gears.</p><p>Driving home, I found myself lost in some back streets, passed bars filled with partiers (that’s right, it was a holiday weekend), and made my way back to a borrowed apartment. Once there I thumbed through the pictures I had taken on my phone.<i></i></p><p><i>Don’t just sit there, do something.</i> At the close of this gathering, these demonstrators had resolved that generations-old conflict. There, outside the Marriott Hotel, they had done both.<br><br><b>Richard Eskow</b>, also known as RJ Eskow, is a writer, policy advisor, and political commentator. He also hosts the weekly broadcast radio program the <a href="" target="_blank">Zero Hour</a>.</p><p><em>Image 1: Buddhist Peace Fellowship members block the main entrance to the Oakland Marriot. © Joshua Eaton<br></em><em>Image 2: Sulak Sivaraksa and Joanna Macy speak on the first night of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship National Gathering. © Kay Cuajunco<br></em><em>Image 3: Protesters demonstrate against Urban Shield in Oakland, California. © Kelly Lockwood</em></p><hr><p><strong>More at Tricycle:</strong></p><table width="550" border="0" cellspacing="10" cellpadding="8"><tbody><tr></tr><tr><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="" target="_self"><img src="" width="261" height="137"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION ABOUT BUDDHISM </b></span><p>While meditation is often identified as the central practice of Buddhism, the majority of Buddhists throughout history have not meditated. Only in the 20th century did meditation become considered an appropriate practice for laypeople.</p><p align="left"><a href="" target="_self"> <img src="" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td><td valign="top" scope="col"><p><a href="" target="_self"><img src="" width="261" height="137"></a></p><span class="headertitles"> <b> BLOG: DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE </b></span><p>From what began as a simple comment she posted to Facebook, neuroscientist Catherine Kerr established a vibrant conversation among her peers over the scientific consensus around Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR).</p><p align="left"><a href="" target="_self"> <img src="" width="142" height="19"><br> </a></p></td></tr></tbody></table> Monday, November 10, 2014 - 11:37 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/five-questions-sarah-ruhl">Five Questions for Sarah Ruhl</a> Read More > <p><img src="" width="138" height="171" style="float: right; margin-left: 7px; margin-right: 7px;">Award-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl’s latest work, <a href="" target="_blank"><i>The Oldest Boy</i></a>, tells the story of an American boy’s selection as a tulku, a reincarnated lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. When monks arrive and ask to take the child away for training in India, his American mother (Tony Award nominee Celia Keenan-Bolger) and Tibetan father (James Yaegashi) must make the most difficult decision of their lives. Directed by Rebecca Taichman, <i>The Oldest Boy</i> is running at Lincoln Center in New York City until December 28, 2014. The <em>Lincoln Center Theater Review</em>&nbsp;posed five questions to its writer, Sarah Ruhl:<br><br><b>1. How did a Catholic white girl from Illinois come to write about Tibetan Buddhism?</b></p><p>I have three children. My first daughter, Anna, was born shortly before I did <i>The Clean House</i> at Lincoln Center. For eight years, we’ve had a wonderful babysitter named Yangzom. She is from Queens, by way of India, by way of Tibet. Because I often work from home, usually writing in the dining room, Yangzom and I have gotten to know each other very well. We have shared the strange intimacy of sitting in a room together while she gave a bottle to one of my newborn twins while I breast-fed the other baby. We have administered nebulizers and Tylenol to sick children together, celebrated birthdays together, and rejoiced in first steps together.</p><p>Over the years, she has told me many stories—about life in exile in India, and what it was like to escape Tibet with the Chinese army in pursuit, her twelve-day-old daughter strapped on her back as she navigated the Himalayas. When her mother came from Nepal for her first visit to the United States, she visited our home. Yangzom knelt at her mother’s feet, as was the custom, and her mother smiled at my children, and silently prayed, for hours. I was raised in a small town in Illinois—and the world was getting both bigger and smaller. When Yangzom lived in India she sent her children to boarding school in Darjeeling, the same English boarding school, oddly, that my Thai father-in-law attended. The world continued to get smaller, and I, an ambivalent Catholic from Illinois, learned more and more about Tibetan Buddhism and the beauty and resilience of the Tibetan culture. This play is dedicated to Yangzom, because a story that she told me brought it about.</p><p>Three years ago, she told me a story about Tibetan friends of hers in Boston who had a successful restaurant. One day, monks from India arrived to tell the family that their son was a reincarnated lama, or high teacher. I said, “Well, what did they do?” Yangzom said, “They closed the restaurant and moved to India to educate the child at a monastery.” Having three kids myself, I found it incomprehensible to let go of a child with any grace, even if it was for his or her own spiritual development. I wanted to write about the subject, but I felt that if there was to be dramatic conflict there had better be a white woman, or a woman not culturally raised to be a Buddhist, in the play. I was interested in exploring the dynamic between the “attachment parenting” phenomena in certain mothering circles in the United States, and a vague interest that the same set of people might have in Buddhism, which emphasizes nonattachment.</p><p>Every day as I wave to my children when I drop them off at school, or let one of them have a new experience—like crossing the street without holding my hand—I experience the struggle between love and nonattachment. It is hard to bear—the extreme love of one’s child and the thought that, ultimately, the child belongs to the world. There is this horrible design flaw—children are supposed to grow up and away from you, and one of you will die first.</p><p>Motherhood is a predicament. How to live fully inside it with any grace? And how to write about it?<br><br><b>2. Why puppets?</b></p><p>As I considered writing a play about a child who was a reincarnated spiritual master, I wondered how I would cast that role with a three-year-old who could memorize lines, project, and evince the spiritual authority of a 70-year-old lama. This seemed an almost impossible task. Since three-year-olds aren’t very reliable, I decided to use a puppet. I’ve always wanted to work with puppets, and I felt that the puppet would be the clearest way to see both the child and the child’s previous life at the same time. I wanted there to be little or no doubt in the play that the child was in fact a reincarnation, so that the characters in the play, when presented with the news, could be more concerned with the question of&nbsp; “Now what?” rather than, to my mind, the less interesting question of “Is he or isn’t he?”</p><p>The metaphor of the puppet and the puppeteer is meant to connect the child, or the body, with the older spirit that animates the child. I was not interested in the cliché of the puppet as an object to be manipulated. Eric Bass, a puppet-maker, says it better than I can in his wonderful essay “The Myths of Puppet Theater”:&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p>There are two myths about puppet theater that need to be exploded. The first of them . . . is the myth that the puppeteer controls the puppet. This myth is, of course, supported by numerous catch phrases in our language and culture: <i>He played him like a puppet. Puppet government. </i>All suggest that the puppeteer makes the puppet do whatever he or she wants. Although some puppeteers do try to impose their will on the objects of their art, most know that this is a disservice to both the art and the object. Our job, our <i>art</i>, is to bring the puppet to life. To impose control over the object is, in both spirit and practice, the opposite of this.</p><p>As puppeteers, it is, surprisingly,<i> not</i> our job to impose our intent on the puppet. It is our job to discover what the puppet can do and what it seems to want to do. It has propensities. We want to find out what they are, and support them. We are, in this sense, less like tyrants, and more like nurses to these objects. . . . They seem to have destinies. We want to help them arrive at those destinies . . . . It requires from us a generosity. If we try to dominate them, we will take from them the life we are trying to give them.</p></blockquote><p><br><b><img src="" width="300" height="177" style="float: left; margin: 7px;">3. Have there ever been Western reincarnations of Tibetan lamas?</b></p><p></p><p>While this play is utterly a fiction, there are a handful of Tibetan lamas who have been reincarnated in the West, sometimes to white parents, or to intercultural parents. I had the good fortune to meet with one such<i> </i>tulku<i> </i>when he was all grown up. His mother was American and his father was French, and both were Tibetan Buddhists. He was recognized as a reincarnate lama at the age of three, and enthroned in a monastery in India. I asked him how his mother was able to make such a decision. He said that she was very clear in her decision, because he himself, as a three-year-old, expressed a strong desire to go to the monastery. Much of her pain came from the cultural opprobrium of other French mothers who didn’t understand her decision.</p><p>As it becomes more and more difficult to openly practice Buddhism in Tibet because of the crackdown of the Chinese occupation, it becomes increasingly common for high teachers to choose reincarnations outside Tibet. Tibetan Buddhists believe that while all of us are reborn, high spiritual masters are reincarnated, which means that they get to choose their new life, and often they choose a context that will be most fruitful to them in continuing their life’s work.&nbsp;</p><p>I was first introduced to the concept of the tulku<i> </i>system, in which the student searches for the reincarnation of his former teacher, by the beautiful documentary <i>The Unmistaken Child.</i> I was so moved by the idea that a student could find a teacher again; that the student becomes the teacher, and the teacher becomes the student, lifetime after lifetime. I have been very lucky in my own life to have had extraordinary teachers. I was comforted by the idea that I might have known them before, and might know them again.<br><br><b>4. How is your life different from that of a Tibetan living in Tibet?&nbsp;</b></p><p>I am free to learn and study in my own language. I can leave my country and return. I have a passport. I am a citizen of my country.&nbsp;I can pray without going to jail. I am not asked to denounce my God or to walk on pictures of what I consider to be sacred.&nbsp;My house and my church have not been summarily destroyed by an occupying nation.&nbsp;I can own a picture of my spiritual or secular leader without going to jail. I can write a book about my life, or tell stories of the past to my children, and not go to jail.&nbsp;</p><p>If I went to jail, I could get a lawyer. I would not be held indefinitely for decades by Chinese officials. I would not have my arms and feet shackled while being suspended from the ceiling. I would not have an electric prod inserted into my vagina, along with nuns who have taken vows of chastity. I would not be doused with boiling water. I would not be urinated on by guards. I would not have bamboo splinters placed under my fingernails. I would be visited. I would be fed.<br><br><b>5. Given that your life is so very different from life in Tibet, what right have you to write Tibetan characters?</b></p><p>I ask myself that every day that we rehearse this play. I remind myself of what I have in common with an average mother or father living in Tibet: I love my children. I want the best for them. It hurts me when they are sick, or when I’m parted from them. I wonder what it’s like to die. I love my teachers. I miss my father. I wonder how it is that we are all connected, despite our tremendous differences.&nbsp;</p><p>There is a saying: The five world religions are like the five fingers of the hand, pointing to the same moon. And I wonder, along with my children, what is the moon? <br><br><i>Courtesy of </i><a href="" target="_blank">Lincoln Center Theater Review</a><i></i></p> Thursday, November 6, 2014 - 11:48 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/bringing-it-all-back-home">Bringing It All Back Home</a> Read More > <p><img src="" width="570" height="380" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>Sometimes people ask me if there isn’t a conflict between the Mahayana instruction to see all beings as close relatives, worthy of our affection and compassion, and Buddhist teachings on nonattachment. Perhaps they are thinking of Jetsun Milarepa’s words:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">When you look at your child&nbsp;<br>Firstly he is a soft-spoken young god.<br>Then he is a distant-hearted neighbour.<br>Finally he is an enemy and creditor.<br>So I let go of children.</p><p>We cannot separate Buddhist doctrine and practice from how Buddhists actually live in the world. How do they square nonattachment with love and compassion, and what does this say about how we should relate to our families? Most Buddhists in Asia, far from exhibiting some chilly spiritual disdain for such matters, usually demonstrate great affection for their families. I can testify that my own teachers are no exception. Indeed, my master, Sakya Trizin Rinpoche, is a wonderful example of a father and now grandfather who is, at the same time, an unflagging source of kindness and loving guidance to his students. It’s striking how often my other principal teacher, Karma Thinley Rinpoche, though an ordained abbot, emphasizes the value of family life as an environment for training in the key Mahayana virtues.</p><p>It is, however, undeniable that we must let go of some level of attachment in our personal relationships. Insofar as attachment is&nbsp;a self-centered way of relating to others, it sees others only in terms of what use they can be to <i>me</i>, and thus leads to destructive behavior toward them. Moreover, since we ourselves, in the end, will have to part from our loved ones, the greater our clinging to others, the sharper will be the disappointment, regret, and misery experienced at that time.</p><p>As Shantideva says:</p><p style="padding-left: 30px;">If I’m attached to sentient beings<br>Reality is completely obscured;<br>My disillusionment perishes<br>And in the end I am afflicted by misery.</p><p>While an attitude of nonattachment is essential, it would be sadly misguided to imagine we need to give up love and affection for our children or other family members in order to follow the Bodhisattva Way of universal compassion. Indeed, meditation upon lovingkindness usually begins with and rests upon extending to close members of our family, whether parent or child, the wish and resolution that they be endowed with happiness and the causes of happiness. We then widen the love evoked in this manner in ever-expanding circles of inclusion by perceiving others as like our mother or child, as indeed has been the case in this beginningless cycle of birth and death.</p><p>As Sakya Pandita says:</p><blockquote><p>It is easiest to cultivate lovingkindness towards all sentient beings after recognizing that they are one's relatives. Hence some sutras teach that one should cultivate it by considering them as one's mother, while some tantras, such as the Vajrasekhara, teach that one should cultivate it by considering them as one's child.</p></blockquote><p>The significant point here is that the love we already feel for our parents or children, far from blocking a wider love, is actually its precondition. In other words, although we are aiming at an all-inclusive lovingkindness unrestricted by the partiality that divides the world into “mine” and “yours,” it needs to start with simple, uncontrived loving feelings toward those closest to us. Otherwise our attitude will likely be no more than a vague abstraction, a love for everybody in general and no one in particular. All too often we see that kind of love demonstrated by the utopians, revolutionaries, and others who feel they have a duty to remake the world at large, but lack a sense of genuine, felt love.</p><p>Furthermore, without detachment, genuine love will remain forever out of reach. Even within our families and friendships, effective love requires a measure of detachment. Consider how wise parents are able to set aside their attachments to their own ambitions for the sake of their children, thinking instead of what is beneficial for them. Consider also how often self-clinging becomes entangled with a natural love for one’s family, a corrupted, narrow kind of love that sets off one family from another or even turns brother against brother.</p><p>Of course, some point to Lord Buddha’s renunciation as a sign of disregard for his family. Tradition tells us, however, that immediately after his enlightenment, the Buddha journeyed mystically to the heavenly realms in order to bestow his liberating teaching upon his deceased mother Mayadevi, an event commemorated by one of the four great festivals of the Buddhist year. Subsequently, Buddha shared the dharma with his wife, his son, his father, and his beloved aunt Prajapati. The Buddha’s early act of renunciation was thus necessary to find the wisdom, compassion, and power through which he could bring an end to the suffering experienced by his family and all sentient beings.</p><p>After all, even now, if we are immersed in our own attachments, we have no possibility to offer authentic help to those whom we claim to love most dearly.<br><br><b>Lama Jampa Thaye</b> is a scholar, author, and meditation teacher from the UK.</p><p><em>Image: GalleryStock.</em></p> Wednesday, November 5, 2014 - 14:20 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/but-for-a-moment">But for a Moment</a> Read More > <p><i>Less than a month ago the </i>Tricycle<i> editors received a note from a young man named Asher Lipson. It began:</i></p><p><i>“My name is Asher Lipson, I am 24 years old, and I have stage 4 cancer, a rare sarcoma that has spread to my lungs and brain. I was diagnosed just after graduating from college at the beginning of 2013. My oncologist has told me to carefully prioritize the things I want to do for the next year, because I may well die within that space of time.”</i></p><p><i>Asher told us of his spiritual journey, one that included Judaism, Catholicism, Unitarian Universalism, and ultimately, Buddhism. He wanted to know whether we would be interested in publishing his writing. </i></p><p><i>Before we could get back to him, Asher passed away. But we had been moved by his words.</i></p><p style="text-align: left;"><i>Below we share an excerpt from Asher’s journal, written eight months before his death and sent to us by his father two weeks ago. It is bookended with verses from Shantideva’s </i>The Way of the Bodhisattva<i>. Together they seemed a fitting tribute to a young man grappling as we all are with the question at the heart of every religious tradition: how do we live a good life? —Ed. &nbsp;</i></p><p style="text-align: center;"><i><img src="" width="550" height="367" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></i>Although on a day like today, I’m not sick,<br>Have food, and haven’t any injuries,<br>Life is but for a moment and will let me down:<br>The body is like something on loan for an instant.</p><p>It is frustrating to feel that you have mismanaged your time, or that there isn’t enough time to accomplish the things that you would like to do. Right now I feel that I haven’t used my time well, and it pains me to look back at all of the hours wasted. Our time here on Earth is so limited. I have a possibly fatal cancer; it might mean I don’t have much time left. As we were told at my college’s graduation interfaith spiritual service, “we do not have much time to love one another.”</p><p>I want to use my time for the benefit of others. I want to make my life meaningful and live by my values. And I can do it, at least imperfectly. Perhaps I should not be worried about mismanaging my time. Recalibration after failed moments must be part of learning how to give the most.</p><p>Making choices about how to direct your efforts can be confusing—daunting, even. And ultimately you end up making those choices, whether it’s a conscious choice or not. One thing I <i>can</i> do is to simply commit to paper my goals and activities. I can ask myself as I do this, what is important to me? What is <i>most</i> important? The most important thing to me right now is service. Caring for others.</p><p>I feel pain because I don’t know how much I have to give, and I fear it is not much. Maybe that pain comes from my ego wanting to be big. If there’s not much you can give, there’s not much you can give. But in doing your best, or near your best, and releasing the result, maybe you can find peace, fulfillment.</p><p style="text-align: center;">Just as a flash of lightning on a dark, cloudy night,<br>For an instant, brightly illuminates all;<br>So, in this world, through the might of the Buddhas,<br>A positive attitude rarely and briefly appears.</p><p style="text-align: left;"><em>Text excerpted from Asher Lipson’s journal, written eight months before his death and printed with the permission of his family. Verses from Alexander Berzin’s</em>&nbsp;<a href=""><em>translation of</em> The Way of the Bodhisattva</a>.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: left;"><em>Image: Juliet Culver/<a href="">Flickr</a></em></p><p>&nbsp;</p> Thursday, October 30, 2014 - 16:11 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/not-two">Not Two</a> Read More > <div><img src="" width="550" height="367" style="vertical-align: middle; margin: 7px auto; display: block;"></div><p>At 6 a.m., my teacher strikes the singing bowl. The tone spirals out, becomes hollow. At the center of a room emptied of sound, we sit cross-legged, facing a brick wall. Slowly the mind quiets, the breath deepens; the sounds from outside seep through the bricks—a jogger, two kids laughing and arguing their way to the bus stop, an ambulance, a helicopter.</p><p>Right now there is no text, no prayer, no millennia of continuity, no God inspecting my deeds. There is my teacher and there is me, sinking below the turbulence in which I had swum for four decades. When my teacher strikes the bowl again, it jars me back to the surface. As the sound once again spools out—my lungs are open, my head is clear, and my knees ache. With silence and stillness, another day begins.</p><p></p><p>That was a decade ago. My story is not unique. Raised with little knowledge of or connection to Judaism yet seeking a spiritual path, I found Buddhism. A swift but deep journey into Buddhist practice led me, eventually, back to a Jewish practice informed by study and meditation. Something like this has happened to thousands of Buddhists in the West. Some Jews return to Judaism, some fully embrace Buddhism, but most find Judaism compatible with the contemplative practices they learn in the meditation hall. As writer Ellen Frankel <a href="" target="_blank">has pointed out</a>, alienated Jews seek a religious path that is open to them but not laden with antiquated dogma—a path that does not require conversion, yet engages the spirit. It’s hard to know exactly how many Jews practice in American sanghas, but it is undeniable that they make up a significant portion of the community. Indeed, Jay Michaelson, a contributing editor to <em>The Jewish Daily Forward</em>, <a href="" target="_blank">claims that the Western practice of Buddhism is itself an invention of disaffected Jews</a>. One imaginative ayatollah <a href="" target="_blank">goes as far as to suggest that Jews, eager to escape universal loathing, created Buddhism as a cover</a>.<a href="" target="_blank"></a></p><p>Buddhism helped me through a time of intense spiritual dislocation. Seated in meditation or in study with my teacher, I began to apprehend an internal narrative depicting myself as a helpless victim of stronger wills rather than an active cocreator of my circumstances. In the zendo, I learned how to sit still with and gradually overcome that story. And doing so has transformed the connection to God that I experience in the synagogue. Now, the interplay between synagogue and zendo is helping me through an even more difficult period.</p><p>Less than a month ago, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. When the call came, we were standing outside a frozen yogurt shop with our eldest daughter and her boyfriend. Our daughter immediately dissolved into tears—the mothers of two close friends had lost battles with cancer in the past couple years. Our daughter’s tears caused my wife to immediately begin sobbing; the boyfriend and I placed our arms around our loves and cast our helpless gazes to the ground.</p><p>So much has been written about the <em>choices</em> available to Western Jews as they go about customizing a spiritual life. But what becomes of your spiritual life when it’s confined to the single, unglamorous task of caretaking? When your reservoir of compassion repeatedly runs dry, and when you suffer everyday in seeing your partner suffer—what then?</p><p>In my early days of Buddhist study, when my teacher asked me to carry a journal and to hold the thought “Not Two” in my mind for a week, I wasn’t certain what she meant, or what I should or shouldn’t be thinking. One autumn day, I visited my parents in the Chicago community in which I’d grown up. I parked my car in the shade of a maple tree. When I returned to my car, I saw that one side of the tree’s canopy of leaves had turned red and gold while the other remained green. In that moment, I had a flash of perception about the helpful illusion of dualism. It was fall and not-fall; the tree was one and not one; and I was one and not-one with the tree, and with each and all of its leaves.</p><p>This lesson reverberates each time I accompany my wife to her doctors’ appointments and chemotherapy sessions. For her, these visits are equal parts anxiety, boredom and physical pain. She receives questionnaires with seemingly endless, vague questions and she scours educational materials. I take notes. In all of this, we are alone and not alone.</p><p>Each morning, prior to meditating, I pause to reflect on the Not-Two-ness of my wife and I, the pain and the waiting, the healthy cells and the cancer.</p><p>But prayer, too, is helpful. It is said that we pray not to change God’s mind but to change our own disposition toward the world, and indeed all of creation. Jewish prayer, which in its traditional form is an intricately choreographed series of words and actions, has always sustained my wife. Praying with her in community, before the Ark that holds the Torah, it is possible to feel the Not-Two-ness of the entire community—its yearnings for peace and wholeness.</p><p>Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in <em>The Lonely Man of Faith</em>, noted that there are two stories about God’s creation of Adam in the book of Genesis. The first (Gen. 1:26–29) says only that God made Adam in His image; the second (Gen. 2:7), meanwhile, says that Adam formed from the dust of the Earth and God breathed life into his nostrils. The first Adam, says Soloveitchik, is a creator: restless and driven, eager to harness the abundant resources at his disposal. He asks not “Why?” but “How?” The second Adam, on the other hand, is seized by curiosity and wonder. He is a receptor and explorer of the abundance in which he finds himself. The first Adam builds and works through community; the second Adam reflects on his aloneness and seeks to understand.</p><p>This is the Not-Two-ness of Judaism.</p><p>Each morning during these past turbulent weeks, I have risen before my wife, quietly making my way downstairs to meditate. Even as I sink below the surface of my roiled mind, I stay alert for her footfall. As soon as I hear those first steps—even when in the midst of meditation—I bound up the stairs to check on her. I continue to pray that the forces of healing will vanquish her cancer. And I continue to sit in silence each morning, breathing, thinking and not-thinking, becoming aware of all that arises and falls away, within and without.<br><br><strong>David Gottlieb</strong> is a freelance writer and affordable housing developer living in Chicago. He is the coauthor of <em>Letters to a Buddhist Jew</em>, in which he discusses Buddhism with Rabbi Akiva Tatz. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the History of Judaism at the University of Chicago.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: GalleryStock.</em></p> Wednesday, October 29, 2014 - 13:54 Tricycle - Awake in the World