Tricycle - Awake in the World The Online Tricycle Magazine Blog en Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:43:43 -0500 Sun, 23 Nov 2014 17:07:37 -0500 <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>UPDATE 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><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 <a href="/blog/against-stream">Against the Stream</a> Read More > <p></p><center><iframe src="" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></center><p style="text-align: left;">In this short film, Josh Korda recounts his journey from young substance abuser to meditation teacher at Dharma Punx NYC. If we can learn, Korda says, to appreciate the ephemeral nature of everything we have, we'll never feel like there's anything missing from life.</p><p><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Rikki Gunton</strong></a> is a photographer, nonfiction filmmaker, and yoga teacher living in New York City.</p><p><br><br><br></p><p style="text-align: center;"><strong>More from Josh Korda</strong></p><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="" target="_blank">Now What?</a><br>Life as a Recovering Addict</p><p style="text-align: center;"><a href="" target="_blank">Tricycle Retreat: Making Friends with Your Demons and Hungry Ghosts</a><br>Buddhist Tools for Recovery</p> Friday, October 24, 2014 - 12:15 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/pilgrimage-among-friends">A Pilgrimage Among Friends</a> Read More > <div><img src="" width="550" height="367" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></div><div>Chances are you have never heard of the Kumbh Mela. Any coverage of the event on Western television is usually given short shrift, the name translated with a shrug as “The Festival of the Pot.” A crowd shot, and some mention of how many people attended, given in millions. Indians themselves record the numbers in <em>lakh</em> or <em>chror</em>—for in a country of over a billion people isn't it more useful to count in multiples of a hundred thousand or ten million? On the television screen you might see ten seconds of local color: hoards of Naga Babas, warrior ascetics with streaming dreadlocks, storming into the waters clad only in marigolds and ashes. And you think, "How exotic!" but you can have no notion of the event itself.<p></p><p>The Kumbh Mela is a vast pilgrimage, a Hindu revival meeting, a gathering by the confluence of three holy rivers, a celebration of faith. Yet it is also a chance for living human beings to participate in recreating an ancient cosmic event, nothing less than the renewal of cosmic rectitude through the joined efforts of the ancient demons and gods of India, good and evil, when they came together to churn the Ocean of Milk.</p><p style="text-align: left;">I had traveled twice before to India, first as a tourist, later as a seeker, but I wanted to go deeper. So when my friends and I were invited to the Maha Kumbh Mela, the largest gathering of humanity in history, invited to stay in the ashram of a local guru with a talent for needling the authorities, in a building that had been partially demolished when these same officials, it was rumored, caused a wrecking ball to be swung against it "accidentally'' three times, we agreed to travel together to Allahabad, a city in north-central India. Our contributions would help shore up the ashram's crumbling facade, and we would bed down on straw pallets, on a rise overlooking the floodplain where three rivers come together to form the auspicious bathing place called the Sangam. In winter the rivers retreat to their broad dry-season shallows, and the sprawling rainy-season floodplain turns into a landscape of fine silt, where every twelve years a city is built, complete with roads and privies, electricity and housing, markets and banks, to accommodate the millions who come, when the stars are right, to take the holy "dip."</p><p style="text-align: center;">* &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;* &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;*</p><p>I wasn’t thinking particularly profound thoughts about a pilgrimage when I decided to come on this journey. I loved India, its smells and hues and complexity, and had not been back for many years. And it would be fun to travel with my friends, one of whom had never been out of the United States. But once you make a commitment to take a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage has a way of taking you. And so it happened that on a December night, about a week before we were scheduled to fly to India, I found myself in the emergency room of Mount Desert Island Hospital, my heart beating out a peculiar syncopation that took several electric shocks to set it pumping smoothly again.</p><p>My doctor is explaining the procedure to me, and I am telling him with a casualness that surprises us both, "Just get on with it," because I'm leaving for India in a week to bathe in the Ganges with millions of pilgrims. My physician, a sober Canadian who looks like a very young John Denver, shoots me a look that tells me he is not entirely sure whether to cardiovert me or have me fitted for a straitjacket. I finally agree to postpone my trip, but only by a week, and only until he can get me on some meds that will, I hope, prevent this arrhythmia from recurring when I am far away from familiar Western medical care. But what is really happening inside me is the realization that, unlike the millions of Indians who are traveling to the Kumbh Mela by train and bus and on foot across the subcontinent, as a Westerner I am insulated from that kind of pilgrimage. If I were walking across India and got a blister, there would always be a credit card and a night in a comfortable hotel. So the question arises: Of what does my own pilgrimage consist? Is it not this moment of sitting on gurney in an emergency room, wired to an electrocardiogram, with the eavesdropping universe asking, "Okay, kid, how badly do you want this? Do you long to go with your whole heart?" And in this same moment comes a resounding YES! and I understand on what feels like the deepest possible level that whatever happens in India, whether I live or die, I will be, I am, perfectly all right.&nbsp;</p><p><span style="font-size: 13px;">As an Indian friend later tells me, all pilgrimages are internal.</span></p><p style="text-align: left;"><img src="" width="550" height="367" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><div>The legend of "Churning the Ocean of Milk” is told in many of the Hindu scriptures. Stone carvings adorning temples from India to Angkor Wat show how the gods and demons wrapped the giant snake Vasuki around a holy mountain, and how, pulling back and forth, with the gods arrayed on one side and the demons on the other, they spun the mountain like a butter churn until the primordial ocean offered up its treasures. The greatest of these was the Kumbh—not a pot, really, but a vessel, brimming with Amrit, the Nectar of Immortality.<br><br>The story begins in a time of spiritual malaise, when the gods and demons had been locked in war for eons, a time when neither were yet immortal. The war took an awful toll, and finally the gods went to Lord Vishnu for advice. He told them to churn the Ocean of Milk for the Amrit, which not only would make them immortal but also would reestablish righteousness and set all creation on a better path.<p></p><p>But there was a hitch. The gods, weakened by war, could not do it alone; they needed to enlist the help of the demons. But under no circumstances could the demons be allowed to partake of the Amrit, lest they too become immortal.</p><p>The gods strained and the demons cursed. After much effort the vessel emerged from the deep. In the ensuing scuffle the demons grabbed the pot. The gods were frantic, but Lord Vishnu tricked the greedy demons and escaped with the Kumbh, flying all over the universe and hiding the Amrit at various holy places. In his haste Lord Vishnu spilled a few drops here and there, including at Allahabad, at the place where the three rivers meet: the muddy Ganges, the blue Yamuna, and the mystical underground Saraswati, river of faith and deep knowing. And every twelve years, when the stars are right, millions of people make a pilgrimage to this very spot to bathe in the meeting rivers, which, they believe, briefly flow with the Amrit of Immortality.</p><p style="text-align: center;">* &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;* &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;*</p><p>In my journey to the Maha Kumbh Mela I traveled with Matthew and Laurence, two old friends from Bar Harbor. Matthew and I traveled light, but this was Laurence's first trip overseas and he had packed for all contingencies. Bunion pads and bungee cords, duct tape, combination locks, journals, tarps, cameras, Luna Bars, dried fruit, four hundred rubber bands, and an elaborate water purification system. I tried to explain that there was bottled water in all but the remotest villages in India, but he wouldn't hear it. He had alfalfa seeds, and jars for sprouting them—Laurence had spent years as a raw-food vegetarian—shoes for any situation, sweaters, pants long and short and in between, pliers, push pins, a pink mosquito net, red suspenders, and a hammer and nails. A can of nuclear bug spray promised to purge every crawling, stinging thing from our bedrooms. Beardless, he'd brought a beard trimmer, and Band-Aids, granola, toothpicks, and cotton swabs for cleansing his ears and nasal passages. Toilet paper, Kleenex, grapefruit seed oil, and a huge brick of Callebaut chocolate, which he surreptitiously nibbled to console himself on bad days. He had pills for malaria and Delhi belly, and herbal tinctures and tiny vials of homeopathic remedies to take in case the other pills failed, 180 pairs of Groucho Marx eyeglasses, a sack of molded rubber finger puppets incarnating the Hindu deities Brahma, Ganesha and Kali, two dozen blow-up globe beach balls and a staple gun. Finally, in a small plain box, tied with string and hidden among his socks and underwear, was a Ziploc bag containing a portion of the ashes of his daughter, Kira, who had died at twenty-one, ashes that he hoped to scatter in the Ganges if the spirit moved him.</p><p>Everything he carried was shoehorned into an immense duffel bag, which often forced us to hire a second taxi. On those occasions we were not kind to Laurence. As experienced travelers, Matthew and I prided ourselves on living off the land. Yet more than once we found ourselves sheepishly begging some strategic item from Laurence, to his immense satisfaction. Not once did he offer us any chocolate.<br><img src="" width="550" height="367" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></p><div>The place of the meeting rivers in Allahabad spread out before us, glittering in the morning sunlight. Looking closely we could see the actual spot where the muddy yellow shallows of the Ganges meet the blue depths of the Yamuna. The waters of the Saraswati we could not see, but we felt her, coursing beneath everything. At any hour, the Sangam was marked by a line of little rowboats, hired to carry pilgrims to bathe in the exact spot where the rivers meet.<p></p><p>At different times of day we would wander down among the crowds of pilgrims, a vast living nation that had come together for this occasion. Because this was the first Maha Kumbh Mela of the new millennium, it drew an unusually large and varied crowd. Over the course of a month seventy million people passed through Allahabad. Farmers in dhotis, village wives in faded cotton saris, and urban high-tech workers sporting trendy Western fashions were joined by spiritual seekers from East and West. Movie stars from Bollywood and Hollywood arrived with their retinues. The foreign press published photographs of bathing women in wet saris and were severely chastised. Celebrity gurus held flashy media events to demonstrate their spiritual powers. Rolex babas held court. The Dalai Lama spoke. Madonna took a dip. I declined the kind offer to marry a nattily turbaned Rajasthani gentleman with a gold brocade kaftan and silver walking stick. Colorful sadhus from all over India wandered the grounds, their foreheads anointed with endless permutations of white ash and the scarlet powder called kum-kum. One old man, carrying a trident, his matted hair falling to his waist and his pupils dilated with ganja or perhaps cosmic astonishment, stuck his face close to mine and demanded, "Are you <em>fine</em>?!" "Yes, Baba," I answered, "I <em>am</em> fine." And he blessed me and melted back into the throng.</p><p>Well-to-do pilgrims slept in tents, the poor outside on their bedrolls; the poorest, who live their whole lives on the streets of India, shivered in the dampness on frayed straw mats. Meals were cooked over small fires. Babies were born. Old people were abandoned to die. Some days we wandered through the acres of temporary temples, built of lashed bamboo and painted cloth, where famous teachers received their followers for <em>darshan</em>—the gift of beholding and being beheld by God—while loudspeakers broadcast their spiritual discourses. Devotees offered sacred food first to God for blessing, and then to crowds of hungry pilgrims. Some sects served dal with rice and vegetables, while at the sprawling Hari Krishna tent we feasted on carrot halva and milk fudge and rice pudding, delicately scented with rosewater. Naga Babas, renunciates who some believed had flown through the air from their Himalayan retreats, presided over smaller enclaves lit by crystal chandeliers, and offered us hits of Lord Shiva's intoxicating prasad from clay chillums. These yogis are naked but for the ashes they gather from the cremation grounds and rub on their bodies, making their skin the color of the sky before the monsoon. Some have spent many years performing extreme austerities, such as holding one arm raised until their muscles atrophy and their fingernails grow long and twisted as vines.</p><p>Some days we just sat by the river and watched the faithful wade into the waters and perform their ritual ablutions, then gather holy water in little vessels to carry home with them. Always people thronged to the Sangam. Even late at night groups of young men, too stimulated to sleep, congregated by the water, chatting and drinking.</p><p style="text-align: center;">* &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;* &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp; &nbsp;*</p><p>It was on such a night that Laurence woke from a deep sleep and knew it was time to carry Kira's ashes to the Ganges. He dressed quietly, and found the simple brown box in his duffle bag, all the while trying not to wake any of the travelers who shared our room. Matthew stirred under his mosquito net in the next bed and asked Laurence in a whisper whether he would like company, and together the two friends headed out into the darkness.</p><p>It must have been between 3 and 4 a.m., the meditation hour, because that was the only time the broadcasts ceased. Otherwise, all day and all night loudspeakers blared the sacred and the profane, <em>bhajans</em> and sports car promotions, mantras and ads for toothpaste, to villagers who had never before traveled more than a few miles from their homes, and who still cleaned their teeth by chewing on twigs of the neem tree. After a while you noticed only the cessation of sound. It was too quiet. A predawn fog had risen from the river, mixing with the particulate smoke of a million tiny dung fires. Laurence and Matthew drew their shawls over their mouths and noses as they picked their way among the sleeping pilgrims. Already we had all developed deep coughs from the smoke and dust and dampness and the powdered DDT that was sprayed from trucks to keep down the malarial mosquitos.</p><p>Arriving at the water at this unlikely hour, Laurence and Matthew were a novelty that drew the attention of a group of young men, who had passed thus far an uneventful night. Half challenging, half jocular, and just a little drunk, they besieged the two Westerners with the usual banalities. At first Laurence answered politely, but as each new fellow arrived, asking the same question his friends had just asked Laurence began to doubt whether he could actually accomplish his solemn errand. Finally, he turned to the oldest and pleaded in a voice clipped with emotion, "Please. I am trying to put my daughter's ashes in the Ganga."</p><p>The man started, suddenly sober, and a little ashamed, "Oh sir, I am so sorry. Please. If there is anything I can do . . .” And he spoke soft to his friends in Hindi, and the young men's boisterous demeanor changed to one of quiet reverence. They drew back and made a path and Laurence carried Kira's ashes into the meeting rivers.</p><p>Standing alone in the darkness, Laurence scooped water and let fall through his hands and prayed for Kira, who had died suddenly, hardly more than a girl, and for his infant son, Elijah, who had be born prematurely, his lungs too tiny and weak to survive, and had died without ever seeing the sun. Into the dark river, Laurence floated the little leaf cups, stitched together by thorns, that carry candles' prayers and offerings of marigolds and rose petals. They floated first as flames, then as halos, growing ever fainter in the mist, until finally their glow dissolved into nothingness. Then he sifted a portion of his daughter’s ashes into the river, keeping yet a little for himself.&nbsp;</p><p>"It is done," he told himself.</p><p>Matthew joined Laurence as he emerged from the river, and together turning toward home, they saw how the young men were standing, silent now, in a semicircle, guarding the sacred space.</p><p>Laurence and Matthew climbed the riverbank and walked back to the ashram, past wakening pilgrims huddled around their tiny dung fires, and, as Matthew told the story, they knew that Kira walked with them.<br><br><strong>Experience more of Kumbh Mela in this month's film club selection,&nbsp;<em><a href="" target="_blank">Faith Connections</a></em>, a documentary about the event's attendees, many of whom face an inescapable dilemma: to embrace the world or to renounce it.</strong><br><br>From <em>In a Rocket Made of Ice</em> by Gail Gutradt. Copyright © 2014 by Gail Gutradt. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.</p><p><em>Images: Funtastica/<a href="" target="_blank">Flickr</a></em></p></div></div></div> Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 15:42 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/chimera-human-advancement">The Chimera of Human Advancement</a> Read More > <p><em>In</em> The Zen Teachings of Homeless Kodo,&nbsp;<em>three generations of dharma teachers grapple with the social and technological changes they witnessed in Japan over the course of their respective lifetimes. Kodo Sawaki, the eponymous "Homeless Kodo," first brought Soto Zen Buddhism out of the monasteries and into the streets during the early 1900s. His dharma heir, Kosho Uchiyama, continued this tradition during the latter half of that century. Now Shohaku Okamura, the title's translator and last commentator, applies the wisdom of his forebears to our present day.—Ed.<br><br></em><strong>Kodo Sawaki:</strong></p><p></p><p>After all our efforts, racking our brains as intensely as possible, we have come to a deadlock. Human beings are idiots. We set ourselves up as wise and then do foolish things.</p><p></p><p>In spite of our scientific advancement, we haven’t yet achieved greatness of character. What’s the reason for this?</p><p><img src="" width="200" height="300" style="margin: 7px; float: right;"></p><p>Since the dawn of history, human beings have constantly fought. No matter how big a war might be, the root cause of it is our minds, which make us live a cat-and-dog life.</p><p><span style="font-size: 13px;">We should not forget that modern scientific culture has developed on the basis of our lowest consciousness.</span></p><p>People always talk about “civilization,” but civilization and culture are nothing but the collective elaboration of illusory desires. No matter how many wrinkles of illusory desire we have in our brains, from the Buddhist point of view, they will never amount to meaningful advancement for human beings. “Advancement” is the talk of the world, but in what direction are we advancing?<br><br><strong>Kosho Uchiyama:</strong></p><p>When Sawaki Roshi’s term “group stupidity” is directed at our modern civilization, it becomes a criticism of the core of this society. People today are dazzled by advances in science and technology and take human progress to be identical with scientific discovery. This is the fundamental group stupidity of our modern times. We must clearly distinguish between scientific advancement and human progress.</p><p>The historian Arnold Toynbee said, “Our modern scientific culture has increased the speed of Adam’s original sin with explosive energy. That is all. And we have never released ourselves from original sin.” Real human advancement would liberate us from our lowest consciousness, which says, “I want to gain everything without working hard. To do that, I’m ready to fight.”<br><br><strong>Shohaku Okumura:</strong></p><p>Until I became a teenager in the 1960’s, the basic message I received from school and Japanese society in general was that all the suffering and devastation of history were caused by ignorance, and the world was improving because of developments in science and technology. When science reaches its ultimate stage, all our problems will be solved. To achieve this, we need to study hard and gain knowledge.</p><p><img src="" width="250" height="289" style="margin: 7px; float: right;"></p><p>By the time I was in high school, it became clear that the development of knowledge and technology alone doesn’t make the world a better place, particularly when such development is driven by self-centered desire and competitive mind. In Saddhatissa’s translation of the <em>Sutta Nipata</em>, one of the oldest Buddhist scriptures, someone asks Shakyamuni Buddha, “Whenever there are arguments and quarrels, there are tears and anguish, arrogance and pride, and grudges and insults to go with them. Can you explain how these things come about? Where do they come from?”</p><p>I think this question is still relevant. If Buddha returned to this world, he would be surprised at how much it has changed technologically. In his time, people believed that through diligent practice of meditation they could attain supernatural powers, such as the freedom to travel anywhere and see and hear anything, no matter how far away. Today, thanks to airplanes and the internet, even a child can do these things. But Buddha might also be surprised at how little human nature has transformed. He might think our situation in the 21st century is like the story in the <em>Lotus Sutra</em>: While a father was out, his children were playing in the burning house of samsara. When he returned, he called to them to escape the house, but they were so enjoying their toys that they didn’t want to leave. Today these children are playing with nuclear power and all the other dangerous toys in our burning house of samsara.</p><p><strong style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;"><a href="" target="_self" style="font-size: 13px;">Subscribe to receive the Winter 2014 issue</a>, out November 3rd, which includes an interview with Shohaku Okumura about his teachers and Zen practice in the modern age.</strong><br><br>From <em>The Zen Teachings of Homeless Kodo</em>&nbsp;by Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, with commentary and translation by Shohaku Okumura, edited by Jokei Molly Delight Whitehead. Published with the permission of Wisdom Publications.&nbsp;</p><p></p><p><em>Images: aussiegall/<a href="" target="_blank">Flickr</a></em></p><p></p><p><strong><br></strong></p> Wednesday, October 15, 2014 - 15:00 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/joshus-dog">Joshu's Dog</a> Read More > <p></p><div>A monk asked Joshu, "Does a dog have buddhanature or not?"<p></p><p>Joshu replied, "Mu."</p></div><p></p><p><img src="" width="320" height="395" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p></p><div style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;"><strong>Commentary:</strong> Dog in the backyard, lifetimes upon lifetimes spent shuttling between the bright sun of the deck and the smelly shade of the propane tank. But there is no door into the cool of the restful kitchen, and no one need open it. Upon realizing this, a dog passes naturally through the Gateless Gate.<br><br><strong>John House</strong> is a <em>Tricycle&nbsp;</em>contributing editor.<p></p></div><div style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;"><em><br></em></div><div></div> Tuesday, October 14, 2014 - 11:43 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/walking-sacred-ground">Walking on Sacred Ground</a> Read More > <div><img src="" width="550" height="367" style="vertical-align: middle; margin: 7px auto; display: block;"></div><div>The insert for Kesang Marstrand’s latest album, <em>Karma Khyeno</em>, could easily be mistaken for a chant book.&nbsp;Replete with full-length Tibetan prayers in both their original and translation, the booklet includes a dedication not to Marstrand’s parents or musical influences, but to the leader of the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje. An inscription wishes for His Holiness’s “health and long life, and the fulfillment of all his great aspirations and noble activities.” This is not, to say the least, your standard name drop. Careful readers will also descry a short metta prayer directly above the track listings: “May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness. May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.”<p></p><p>The daughter of ardent Tibetan Buddhist practitioners, Marstrand, 32, had yet to bring her religious beliefs into her music—her three prior albums <em>Bodega Rose</em> [2008], <em>Hello Night</em> [2009], and <em>Our Myth</em> [2011] swing from dour love song to saccharine lullaby to gripping lament. <em>Tricycle</em> spoke with Marstrand about her choice to record a Buddhist album and how she views the intermingling of artistic expression and religious practice.<br><br><strong>What inspired you to make such a characteristically Buddhist album?</strong> This was an unexpected project. It began about a year ago when a friend asked me to compose a melody to the mantra <em>Karmapa khyeno</em>. The idea intimidated me, but I wanted to try. I’ve always had a deep love of Tibetan mantra and chant melodies, and I was interested in exploring them with my own voice. It was a challenge—approaching something traditional and Buddhist brought up all kinds of fear because it felt like walking on sacred ground. Still, in any kind of creative work it’s only a matter of time before every aspect of your life finds expression in some way, so this came up and it felt natural to follow. It took me a year to create something that I felt ready to share.<br><br><strong>Tell me about your background in Tibetan Buddhism.&nbsp;</strong>Both of my parents are Tibetan Buddhists, as is most of my family on both sides. My father has been translating dharma teachings since the 1970’s. In fact, I was born at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra monastery in Woodstock, NY because, during the several years that my father spent translating for Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche [senior lama in the Karma Kagyu tradition], our family lived on the grounds of the monastery. Basically, I’ve been immersed in Buddhism my whole life.</p><p></p><p>I started to study and practice meditation when I was 16, and had the opportunity to spend time at Bokar Monastery in India, as well as the chance to visit Bodhgaya and Dharamsala. Kyabje Bokar Rinpoche [lineage master of both the Shangpa and Karma Kagyu traditions] became my teacher and had a tremendous impact on my life.<br><br><iframe width="550" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe><br><br><strong>The album is rather short—clocking in at 21 minutes. It reminds me of Edgar Allen Poe’s maxim that a short story should be read in one sitting. In listening to this album in a single sitting, it feels like a ritual in and of itself—one we can complete amid the busyness of our lives. Was this your intention?</strong> In the beginning I was only going to record one track, so it actually ended up being a lot longer than I had planned. One by one, other melodies and ideas came and then it started to become its own little world. At some point, as the recording was taking shape, I could tell it would run around 20 minutes and that felt right. It was unintended but the length definitely became a major part of the feel of the recording. I often think of music in terms of space or terrain; and, for this album, I had this sense of these wide landscapes in Tibet. Now that I’ve completed the album, I like to think of it as this vast landscape that appears only briefly<br><br><strong>Your only prior song having to do with Tibet was “Tibet Will be Free,” a track reminiscent of old protest songs like those of Joan Baez. After that, you recorded a version of Tunisia’s national anthem, “Humat al Hima,” which became very popular during the country’s uprisings in the spring of 2011. Is there any connection between these political songs and the devotional tracks found on your new album?</strong> I recorded both “Tibet Will Be Free” and “Humat al Hima” as attempts to find the stillness in a time of upheaval. I was in Dharamsala in 2008, when the entire city shut down in solidarity with the demonstrations inside of Tibet—it was very powerful. Similarly, in Tunisia during the revolution, I remember going home after protesting in the streets with thousands of people and still carrying this sense of solitude. In some way, I’m naturally drawn to the loneliest perspective. I think the most significant connection between this album and those two songs is that sense of solitude and longing.<br><br><strong>You once said that you felt your entire first album, <em>Bodega Rose</em>, was about different forms of reconciliation. The songs on that album go into the depths of lovesickness and the hope of newfound connection. How do you reconcile those extreme emotional states with the equanimity taught in Buddhism?</strong> This reminds me of the analogy of the mind being like the ocean and thoughts being like the waves. The practice, then, is to identify more with the ocean. I’ve always loved this image. Even big, crashing waves are nothing compared to the enormity of the ocean itself, so it renders our thoughts and emotions real yet ephemeral. Seeing my own emotions like this, even if only momentarily, is what makes it possible for me to express what I feel through music.&nbsp;</p></div><div></div><div style="text-align: right;"><em>—Max Zahn, Editorial Assistant</em></div><div style="text-align: left;"><br><br><em>Image and video courtesy Kesang Marstrand</em><br><br></div> Wednesday, October 8, 2014 - 13:59 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/taking-dog-walk">Taking The Dog For A Walk</a> Read More > <p><img src="" width="570" height="674" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>This is the best time of year for dog walking. Fall's crunchy leaves, the sunset hues, those golden hours.</p><p>My dog Sugar and I walk a circuit of the cross-country trail, past some chestnut trees, a bumper crop having a mast year, and she stops at the stand of them and sniffs the spiny shells of the fallen ones and gets more interested in a pile of fresh deer poop and I'm daydreaming about how I'm going to write a book about small moments like this one and it's going to be so beautiful and then—doggone it—she's rolling in the poop and I'm pulled out of my headspace and yanking on the leash yelling, "NO POOP!"&nbsp;</p><p>Then I'm struggling to open the poop bag. It's never clear which end opens. Both ends look the same. I should really buy a different brand. Then I'm looking around to see if anyone has seen this little drama of the poop bag and trying to appear nonchalant if they have like, Oh, hello.&nbsp;</p><p>This is what taking the dog for a walk does for me. It forces me to stay. Right here. To have no other ambition. Because invariably&nbsp;when I'm starting to go all John Keat's&nbsp;“Ode to Autumn,”<i>&nbsp;</i>all "season of mists..." the dog takes off after a groundhog and spins my shoulder around in its socket like a top.&nbsp;</p><p>Or the dog barfs all the deer poop she just ate. Or the dog wades into the mud by the stream's edge while I've been trying to compose a sonnet about hawk migration and how it is a metaphor for aging or something, some Big Thought,&nbsp;and she's eating a stinking-dead freshwater clam. She runs to me eagerly, covered in stink, and jumps into my arms.</p><p>It's good for me. It's my end of the leash that needs the most training.</p><p><br><b>Elizabeth Bastos</b> is a stay-at-home mother of two in the Baltimore suburbs. Her work has appeared at <i>The Smithsonian</i>, <i>McSweeney's</i>, and <i>The New Yorker's Page-Turner Blog</i>, and she is a contributor at <i>Book Riot</i>. She is currently working on a book of essays at the intersection of chronic illness, humor, nature, and parenting.</p><p><em>Thomas Cole,&nbsp;Kaaterskill Falls, 1826; oil on canvas, 43 x 36 inches.</em></p><p></p><p><strong style="font-family: georgia, times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: center;">More from the author:&nbsp;</strong><a href="" target="_blank" style="color: #000000; text-decoration: underline; font-family: georgia, times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: center;">The Zen Master Goes Black Friday Shopping</a><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;">&nbsp;|&nbsp;</span><a href="" target="_blank" style="color: #000000; text-decoration: underline; font-family: Georgia, Utopia, 'Palatino Linotype', Palatino, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 18px; text-align: center;">Chopping Onions</a><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;">&nbsp;|&nbsp;</span><a href="" target="_blank" style="color: #000000; text-decoration: underline; font-family: georgia, times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; text-align: center;">Walking Meditation or 'How to Get the Shpilkes Out'</a>&nbsp;| <a href="" target="_blank">Swamp Marigold</a></p> Friday, October 3, 2014 - 14:24 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/don%E2%80%99t-believe-hype">Don’t Believe the Hype</a> Read More > <p><span style="font-size: 13px;">Last May, an article about mindfulness on a popular mainstream news website finally spurred neuroscientist and meditation researcher Catherine Kerr to act. The article cited 20 benefits of meditation, from “reducing loneliness” to “increasing grey matter” to “helping sleep,” and painted a picture of meditation as a kind of golden elixir for modern life. Kerr posted the article on her Facebook page. “It is not like any of this is grossly inaccurate,” she wrote in her post. “It is just that the studies are too cherry-picked and too positive.”</span></p><p><img src="" width="250" height="375" style="float: left; margin-right: 7px;"></p><p>Assistant Professor of Medicine and Family Medicine at Brown University, Kerr directs translational neuroscience for Brown’s Contemplative Studies Initiative and leads a mindfulness research program at Providence’s Miriam Hospital. She takes no issue with the value of mindfulness practice; Kerr has personally reaped enormous benefit from Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in a two-decade-long battle with cancer, and as a researcher she has studied the beneficial effects MBSR has had on others. But as a scientist committed to facts, she was worried. “I think we are all going to need to take responsibility and do something so that the coverage looks slightly more balanced,” she wrote to her Facebook friends who are scientists, clinicians, philosophers, and contemplatives in the meditation research community. “Otherwise, when the inevitable negative studies come, this whole wave will come crashing down on us.”</p><p>Within three days, Kerr’s Facebook thread grew to over 100 comments. Kerr founded a Facebook group and moved the discussion there. Today, “Mindfulness and Skillful Action: A Research Discussion Group” is an important rallying point for over 400 prominent academic, scientific, and clinical meditation researchers as well as leaders from the Buddhist community. (The group is now closed to new members.) This Facebook community has been tracking two rapidly diverging discourses: the evolving scientific, scholarly, and clinical consensus and the popular press coverage about that consensus. As the gap between the two widens to what Kerr fears will soon reach a “crisis point,” group members are asking themselves and each other what ethical obligations they have to intervene in the popular discourse around meditation. Together they are strategizing about how to tone down the hype to accord with the facts while not, as Kerr commented in one post, throwing the baby out with the bathwater.</p><p><i>Tricycle</i> spoke with Kerr in Providence, Rhode Island to understand the significance of this emerging meta-discourse—the conversation about the conversation about meditation.</p><p style="text-align: right;"><i style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;">—Linda Heuman, Contributing Editor</i></p><p>&nbsp;</p><p><b>In a recent article in <i>U.S. News</i>, you were quoted as saying: “Mindfulness is a science that is just beginning. And there’s a lot of media hype around that.” What kind of hype? </b>The <i>Huffington Post</i> is the worst offender. The message they deliver becomes a ubiquitous, circulating meme that people put up on their Facebook pages and that becomes “true” through repetition alone. The <i>Huffington Post </i>features mindfulness a lot and tends to represent only the positive findings (and in the most positive light imaginable) rather than offering a balanced reading of the science. They use that approach to justify the idea that every person who has any mental abilities should be doing mindfulness meditation. I don’t think the science supports that. The<i> Huffington Post</i> has really done mindfulness a disservice by framing it in that way.<br><br><b>How does hyping mindfulness do it a disservice? </b>One of the negative consequences if this wave of hype continues could be that the backlash will be too strong. People will lose faith and revert to the other side: mindfulness has <i>no</i> value.<br><br><b>What are some of the popular myths or narratives about mindfulness that scientists would like to correct? </b>Scientists are, for the most part, circumspect about making claims for cures attributed to mindfulness. The science doesn’t support that. Scientists know from looking at meditation trials that not every person benefits from mindfulness therapies, but this is something non-scientists seem to have difficulty with. Individuals should not make clinically based decisions based only on neuroscientific studies because the sample sizes are too small; if you are making an evidence-based decision, it should be from a full picture of the evidence that includes clinical trial data. The clinical trial data on mindfulness for depression relapse, for example, is not a slam-dunk. The results are really not better than those for antidepressants. In general, mindfulness is not orders of magnitude stronger than other things that people are doing right now to help manage stress and mood disorders. So you have to look at mindfulness in the context of a range of options. Unlike other therapies, mindfulness can be self-led at a certain point—it becomes a practice rather than a therapeutic modality in the same way that exercise is a training or practice. <a href="" target="_blank">But mindfulness doesn’t work for everything and is not suitable for everyone.</a></p><p>Another popular narrative about MBSR is that it’s derived from a two-and-a-half-millennia-old practice. It is very hard to evaluate or falsify that statement or even to figure out what it means. I think it gets assigned way too much weight.<br><br><b>Could you give an example of a scientific result that was oversold by the media? </b>I was the second author in Sara Lazar’s 2005 paper “<a href="" target="_blank">Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness</a>.” It is a lovely paper, but its findings were preliminary.<br><br><b>Was this the study that had everyone saying that meditation changes your brain? </b>Yes. It is cited over 800 times in scientific literature. Sara is still interviewed <i>constantly</i> about this study. And scientists know that it’s a nonrandomized cross-sectional study, which means that the measures are only taken at one time point. So if there is a difference in brain thickness, we don’t know if the cause is practice or lifestyle, or if people with thicker brains are simply attracted to mindfulness. To see that something is causing something else, we need to see change over time that’s <i>controlled</i>. And we don’t see that in the paper. But the typical headline in the popular press was “Mindfulness Makes Your Brain Grow.”</p><p>We also didn’t claim that there was a directly measured behavioral benefit in having a thicker brain. (There are actually some conditions where it’s not good to have a thicker brain!) We were really clear about the significance of our findings in our paper, but because the brain is such a fetish and because the idea of growing your brain was so attractive, many media portrayals missed the subtlety entirely. <b></b></p><p>Sara Lazar’s finding has since been replicated. I wasn’t totally sure about the results until they were replicated.<br><br><strong>So even though the measures were only taken at one point, because it has been replicated the results are still significant?</strong> Yes, it has been replicated many times in different ways. It’s very exciting for a scientist to have your findings replicated. There’s a really significant replication crisis right now in psychological science—especially in social psychology. Many findings that were thought to be canonical—which were in the psychology textbooks and which everyone just thought were true—are not replicable. We can’t generate those effects. It’s not necessarily the case that the first study was bad, but the gold standard of science is replication.</p><p>There’s a broader replication crisis in medicine. There is a very famous article about this by John P. A. Ionnidis called “<a href="" target="_blank">Why Most Published Research Studies Findings are False</a>.” In the same vein, a <a href="" target="_blank">report</a> published in <i>Nature</i> reviewed preclinical cancer studies and found that over 80 percent of the findings reported in top journals were nonreplicable. That means we can’t trust them. They’re likely not true! <b></b></p><p>Both scientists and scientific laypeople have a lot of trouble with these reports.<br><br><b>Why do you think that is so? </b>We want certainty; we do not like the indeterminacy of not really understanding what is going on. Yet somebody who has a clear scientific understanding knows that the evidence base is always mixed—it is not a 100-percent, only-positive thing. Mixed into the weave of the science are negative findings and poorly designed studies. The problem is not isolated to mindfulness.<br><br><b>So how should scientific laypeople interpret the research on meditation? </b>It’s fair to say that there are some clues from brain science that meditation might help enhance brain function. That is an evidence-based statement. The mistake is investing 100-percent certainty in a result and not holding a probabilistic view of scientific truth or risk and benefit. When people are making decisions for their own well-being, they need to be able to hold that uncertainty in mind. And they need to understand that the scientific context in which they are making their decisions could be different five years from now. Personally, I don’t really make decisions about what to practice based on these small-sample-size studies reported in the media. Many mindfulness scientists are very puzzled by people making decisions based on these small neuroscientific studies.<br><br><b>What kind of evidence <i>would</i> it be appropriate to consider in evaluating mindfulness as a therapeutic remedy?</b> Consideration of the concrete experience of doing these practices should be much more central in the discussion. “This is what it feels like to follow your breath for twenty minutes. How do you like it? What did it make you feel like later in the day?” Those seem like the <i>real</i> questions, not “What would happen if I threw you in a scanner?”</p><p>There are many claimants for attention and funding from the National Insitutes of Health (NIH) and insurance companies. I think it’s fair to ask for some objective evidence before you decide to reimburse on something, to have preliminary scientific data before the NIH bestows a million-dollar grant. That type of demand has its place. The problem is when the volume is turned up too high, when there is an overestimation of what the evidence might really mean. This problem of overestimation is ubiquitous. It is true in statin literature; it true in hormone replacement therapy literature. We thought there were really strong benefits, and they turned out to not be there—sometimes these therapies were even harmful.<br><br><b>Do you think that the researchers themselves are in part responsible for the media hype? </b>The approach in mindfulness science is pretty much aligned with how scientists generally communicate, where, especially in early-stage work, one of your responsibilities is to generate enthusiasm. To get things going, get collaborators, and garner NIH interest, you need to be a little entrepreneurial. There is a real art to expressing something as a theory you want to test and getting people excited about it while making sure that they understand this theory hasn’t been proven yet. Researchers have to strike a tricky balance between expressing genuine enthusiasm and cautioning about limitations.</p><p>But a lot of times I will clearly say, “I am stating a very exciting hypothesis.” When I lay out how the hypothesis might work, listeners grab onto that hypothesis story as though it is true—even though I’ve said, “It hasn’t been proven yet.” People don’t really know how to hear a story that a scientist is telling <i>as</i> a hypothesis. They don’t know how to gauge that. The hypothesis somehow registers as “already proven.”<br><br><b>Do researchers benefit from the hype? Do they leverage it—intentionally or unintentionally? </b>You can read media coverage of scientists’ encounters at public forums and probably find examples where they are making a story a little stronger than the evidence suggests. Mindfulness didn’t invent the problem. It is a big problem in science communication across the board. That is how things work in these TED-style forum talks—it is not about skepticism or careful thinking; it is about who can tell the most dramatic story.</p><p>It is very hard for the public to remember a complex story. Part of our job as communicators is to strip the story down. The tricky thing is to determine when we cross a line to become manipulative and not true to the underlying science.</p><p>The NIH takes an interest in therapies that are popular and available, so publicity can translate into more NIH funding. Other scientists start to get interested, and that recruits more scientists into the field. It makes our studies seem more interesting and significant because they relate to a phenomenon that people are interested in. So we do benefit. But I don’t think that is the main thing that has been driving the hype.<br><br><b>You have called on scholars of contemplative studies to take the lead in starting a critical dialogue about mindfulness. What would that look like? </b>Some important questions to ask are why people want to believe that mindfulness is good in every circumstance, that there are no negative side effects, and that it’s derived in a pure way from a 2500-year-old practice. Why do contemplative practices, especially Asian contemplative practices, seem to elicit this type of positive response? Those are the really interesting cultural questions about the present moment.<br><br><b>What would be your contribution be? </b>I’m very interested in patient narratives—clinical narratives. When I read critiques of mindfulness closely, I see they often don’t address the experiences of people who do the practice. Left out of consideration in current critiques of mindfulness is people’s sincere desire to be happy and to suffer less.</p><p>In my brain science course, I bring in examples of what a scientific abstract says and also a news article that reports on it. They are very disconnected from one another. People want ways to reduce suffering and stress and they have grabbed onto mindfulness like a life jacket. I find that very moving, and I want to take it seriously.</p><p>There is a flavor of desperation around some of this hope. I’m sensitized to this from over ten years of research I did on the placebo effect at Harvard Medical School with Ted Kaptchuk, a leader in the field. When people seek help in a medical-therapeutic context, they are often quite desperate for relief.<br><br><b>What is the placebo effect, and does it relate to the healing power of mindfulness? </b>The placebo effect is usually defined, somewhat tortuously, as the sum of the nonspecific effects that are not hypothesized to be the direct mechanism of treatment. For example, having a face-to-face conversation is not hypothesized as what makes psychotherapy work—you could have a face-to-face conversation with anybody. But for some reason, if you go every week to therapy, you are going to get better. But you could talk about the weather! When we perform these rituals with a desire to get better, we often do. We now know that a lot of the positive therapeutic benefit from psychotherapy and from various pain drugs may come from that initial context; it often has nothing to do with the specific treatment that is being offered. It is really just about the person approaching a situation with a sense of hope and being met by something that seems to hold out that hope. <b></b></p><p>MBSR has tapped into that in a really deep way. What happens to an individual in the course of the eight-week MBSR course is based on this initial motivation to get better. Much of the benefit he or she receives from MBSR likely comes from that. Participants have complex relationships around their hopes of getting better. There is something very profound about that—something very human. <b></b></p><p>My sense of this isn’t only grounded in my knowledge of mindfulness science and my earlier work on the science of the placebo; I live this. I have had an underlying cancer for 18 years. Qigong and mindfulness have been very helpful to me in managing the side effects of my illness and psychological fluctuations. They may have even helped me manage my immune system. But what is in the foreground for me is that every morning I get up and have a sincere desire to be better.<br><br><b>If someone is aware that the placebo effect may be an important part of why a particular treatment works, will the treatment still work for that person? As someone who is an expert on the placebo effect, can it still affect you? </b>Why wouldn’t it? You can’t imagine you are healing. If you are healing, you are healing!<b></b></p><p>Ted Kaptchuk did <a href="" target="_blank">a great study</a> on “placebos without deception.” He recruited people with irritable bowel syndrome and told them: “We have a treatment here that we’ve already studied. It appears to really help people. It is called ‘the placebo.’ So I’m going to hand you some pills that have no physiological benefit. But based on our data, we think this will help you.” And there was a pretty robust response.<br><b></b></p><p><b style="font-size: 12.7272720336914px;">Even though people knew it was a placebo? So you don’t need to be under the illusion that you are taking an actual drug? </b><span style="font-size: 12.7272720336914px;">You need something that you are actively doing for yourself. You need to take a pill; you need to get touched—something needs to happen. There needs to be a ritual where there is a transaction of some sort.</span></p><p></p><p>The placebo effect is a kind of category mistake. It is what gets left over when you throw out the effects of the specific treatment. But the minute that you make the placebo a veritable mechanism, it stops being “the placebo effect.” It is paradoxical in that way. It has been studied, and it is tractable. It seems like the dynamics of ritual are very important.<br><br><b>Are you saying that if there are two people who are both ill and really want to get better, the one who takes any kind of action has a better chance of recovery? </b>Yes. What is interesting about mindfulness is the way it works with that desire and the simple fact of taking action by doing your homework every day. It enrolls you in a process of which you are very self-aware.<br><br><b>Do you think there is a risk that mindfulness hype preys on that hope people have by giving them a false promise of cure? </b>I’ve heard reports of people who have abandoned chemotherapy to do mindfulness. I don’t know if that has really happened. Certainly there are people who go off their antidepressants or lithium and think that mindfulness is going to manage their serious depression or bipolar disorder. That’s a concern we have with the current hype around mindfulness. People might see it as being more active than it really is. It doesn’t resolve those situations.<br><br><b>If mindfulness doesn’t actually resolve conditions like depression, how does it help? </b>I did <a href="" target="_blank">a qualitative study of participants in an MBSR course</a> and I found that they appear follow a trajectory. People show up and they really want relief. They have a lot of different conditions. They are seeking help. They think that maybe this course is going to take away their problems. And the teacher on the first day says that’s not what this class is about. This class is about learning how to be present to your own inner life, including distress and suffering that you may have been avoiding. By weeks four and five, people really get it. They’ve been sitting and their suffering has not gone away, and there’s this profound experience people have in which they realize that maybe just wiping away the suffering is not what this is about. Then people have a lot of generalized distress, and they go through it and end up on the other side. They realize, “I can face that!”<b></b></p><p>When promoters of mindfulness only focus on its effects on brain mechanisms—and I say this as a brain scientist—they are missing a big part of the story. Similarly, when Buddhist critics of mindfulness attack secularized mindfulness because they are worried it is corrupting the dharma, they too are missing something important. Both are blind to this experiential dimension of what it is like for people in pain to take an MBSR course: you have this very complex process of wanting relief, discovering that this isn’t going to take your problems away, and then facing into your problems in a new way. That process is about learning how to tolerate the uncertainty that is our existential problem. We’re not sure if we are right; we don’t know how things are going to turn out. Living with that uncertainty is really deep! And MBSR and its variants help people with that. I worry that our tendency to parse the world into competing abstractions—scientific reductionism on the one hand or dharma purism on the other—may cause us to miss this hard-to-see qualitative shift that may be the true source of the power of mindfulness.<br><br><b>Do you consider yourself part of the “mindfulness backlash?” </b>I am a cautious member of the backlash, but I am also aware that the backlash can crystalize into ideological rhetoric. People who think of mindfulness as “training their brains” are taking refuge in an idea that has not been proven; they are either unaware of or unable to process the problem of scientific uncertainty. Similarly, people who are concerned that “McMindfulness” could be watering down the dharma could also be viewed as ideological and intolerant of the uncertainty that comes with something new. Insistence on surefire answers, whether in science or about a received notion of the dharma, can be an avoidance of the existential problem of uncertainty.<br><br><b>Do you think that there is no place for critics who are saying we should exercise caution about whether we consider this a new form of Buddhism? </b>These are important questions for dharma teachers, but I’m not sure of their social significance beyond committed dharma teachers and students. Viewed in terms of the amount of suffering that is being met by MBSR, the question of whether or not MBSR is Buddhism doesn’t really matter.<br><br><b>There are, however, significant questions about how the increasing popularity of secular meditation programs might affect Western Buddhism. How would you recommend Buddhists meaningfully discuss these issues? </b>It is important for mindfulness critics to be curious about the experiences of people who take these secular mindfulness programs. The questions people need to be asking are not these abstract ones: “Is it scientific?” “Is it true dharma?” The question to ask is: “What does it feel like?” If you go straight to brain circuits or straight to ideology, you are missing that fundamental question—and that curiosity.<br><br><strong>Linda Heuman</strong>, a <em>Tricycle</em> contributing editor, is a freelance journalist based in Providence, Rhode Island.</p><p></p><p><i style="font-family: georgia, times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;">With support from the John Templeton Foundation, Tricycle’s&nbsp;</i><span style="font-family: georgia, times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;">Buddhism and Modernity</span><i style="font-family: georgia, times, serif; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;">&nbsp;project is initiating a conversation between Buddhists and leading thinkers across the humanities and social sciences. Tricycle is exploring how perspectives drawn from research on the nature of religion, culture, science, and secularism can shed light on unexamined assumptions shaping the transmission of Buddhism to modernity. This project offers Western Buddhists new ways of thinking about their spiritual experiences by demonstrating how reason can be used as a tool to open up—rather than shut down—access to traditional faith.</i></p><p></p><p><i>Image: Christiana Care/Flickr<b></b></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: WHAT WAS MINDFULNESS? </b></span><p>Mindfulness seemed "like the answer to our prayers," recalls contributing editor <strong>Clark Strand</strong>. Instead, it came to justify some of our worst cultural excesses.</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="_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></tr></tbody></table> Wednesday, October 1, 2014 - 12:57 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/peoples-climate-march-buddhists">People's Climate March</a> Read More > <p><img src="" width="570" height="428" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>“I know that my path to enlightenment will only come from being connected to the world around me,” Njeri Matheu, a member of Brooklyn Zen Center, explained as she marched through the streets of midtown<b> </b>Manhattan. “It's not just about being centered inside; it's about being connected to your world.” Around her, an estimated 700 other Buddhists belonging to over 35 Buddhist organizations held signs and banners with environmental slogans as they walked, keeping rhythm with meditation bells. This Buddhist contingent contributed to the estimated 400,000 protesters who participated People’s Climate March, the largest march of its kind in history, on September 21.</p><p>After a three-hour interfaith service Sunday morning, Pure Land priest Rev. Dr. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki and a group of Therevada monastics carrying a large international Buddhist flag led Buddhist groups into the main body of the march, which went down 6th Avenue, headed west on 42nd Street past Times Square, and finished near the Hudson River. Organizations belonging to all major Buddhist traditions followed behind. Soon they were marching side-by-side with groups that included Catholic nuns, Unitarian-Universalist students, and Muslim families.</p><p><img src="" width="570" height="379" style="margin-right: auto; margin-left: auto; font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px; display: block;"></p><p>“We've never had this kind of experience where every being on this planet is being threatened,” Ayya Santussika of Karuna Buddhist Vihara told <i>Tricycle</i> the day before the march. “It gives us an opportunity to all come together in a way we never have before.”</p><p>Many Buddhists marchers, like Matheu, spoke about how joining the protest was part of their path toward awakening. “That's got to happen in relationship with ourselves and with each other and with the world around us,” said Sebene Selassie, executive director of the New York Insight Meditation Center.</p><p><img src="" width="570" height="379" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;"></p><p>According to renowned Indian environmentalist Vandana Shiva, faith groups will play a crucial role in the effort to stave off climate disaster. “The new economic model is a model that thinks values don't count,” Shiva told <i>Tricycle</i>. “Religion can bring values back to human thinking, lives, minds, hearts.”<br><br><b>Joshua Eaton</b> is an independent journalist who covers religion and society, human rights, and national security.</p><p><em>Image 1:&nbsp;</em><em>Photograph by Emma Varvaloucas<br>Image 2: Photograph by Joshua Eaton<br>Image 3:&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;">Alex Caring-Lobel, </span></em><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;">Tricycle’s</span><em><span style="font-size: 13px; line-height: 20px;"> associate editor, and Max Zahn, editorial assistant (front, left), surrounded by police before their arrest for civil disobedience. One hundred others were arrested, including one polar bear, during the Flood Wall Street sit-in the day after the People’s Climate March.</span>&nbsp;Bryan Thomas/Getty Images.</em></p> Friday, September 26, 2014 - 15:35 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/suffering-addiction">The Suffering of Addiction</a> Read More > <p><span style="font-size: 13px;">Buddhist teacher Noah Levine’s punk rocker past, social advocacy, and straight-talking, subversive books like </span><i style="font-size: 13px;">Dharma Punx</i><span style="font-size: 13px;"> and </span><i style="font-size: 13px;">Against the Stream </i><span style="font-size: 13px;">have earned him an avid following among the young and disaffected</span><span style="font-size: 13px;">. Now he can add a subset of Buddhists who, like Noah, are in recovery from alcohol and drug abuse. A fan of the Twelve Step program but not of its God-centered rhetoric, Noah put together an alternative, Refuge Recovery. Firmly grounded in the four noble truths and the eightfold path, Refuge draws on the best of Buddhism and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). In his newest book, </span><i style="font-size: 13px;"><a href="" target="_blank">Refuge Recovery: A Buddhist Path to Recovering from Addiction</a></i><span style="font-size: 13px;">, Noah sets out the program’s principles and practices, which emphasize meditation and self-awareness.</span></p><p>Noah Levine recently spoke with <i>Tricycle</i> contributing editor Joan Duncan Oliver:<br><br><b><img src="" width="300" height="450" style="float: right; margin: 7px;">The Twelve Step recovery program has been pretty successful since 1935. Why did you think there was a need for a new approach, for Refuge Recovery? </b>For the last 26 years, I’ve participated in Twelve Step programs, and I’ve benefitted so much. There are some really solid principles around honesty, humility, and making amends. And the best part is the community, the peer-support of others in recovery. But the Twelve Steps were never a very good fit for me because of the Judeo-Christian language. They ask you to believe in a higher power—in “God as you understand Him,” a male creator deity. That never resonated with me. Buddhism spoke to my heart, and the nontheistic underpinning of awakening through our own deliberate efforts made much more sense to me. For a long time I did both: the Twelve Steps for my recovery support and Buddhism for my spiritual practice. But at some point, I thought, why do we continue to translate this theistic view through this nontheistic Buddhist lens? Buddhism has everything we need to treat addiction. In some ways the core teaching of the Buddha is about ending our addiction to pleasure, which creates suffering. I’ve been using Buddhism for my recovery all these years, and I’ve been teaching Buddhism, so about six years ago, I started creating Refuge Recovery.</p><p><b>Your own story of addiction, recovery, and Buddhism is pretty inspirational. </b>I started drinking and smoking pot when I was about 7 years old. By the time I was 11 I was taking hallucinogens. At 12 and 13, I was doing cocaine and smoking on a daily basis. I started getting arrested in junior high school and was sent to Twelve Step meetings and drug counseling. That was my introduction to recovery. But it wasn’t until a few years later, after being strung out on crack and heroin and drinking alcoholically, that I was incarcerated and began to seek treatment. That’s also when I started meditating.</p><p><b>How did you get started on meditation? </b>I was 17, in Juvenile Hall and looking at seven years in prison. On the phone with my father [Buddhist teacher Stephen Levine] I said, “I’m in deep trouble here, and I need some help.” He said, “Well, how about I teach you how to meditate?” My attitude was, I could use some <i>real</i> help—like how about a lawyer? But he shared with me that his meditation practice had come from his own troubled past: he had been a heroine addict and had seen awakening as the solution to addiction, or at least to the suffering in his life. So he gave me simple meditation instructions, and I went back to my cell and started meditating. <b></b></p><p>I had a powerful experience with meditation right from the beginning. Up to that point I had never realized that I didn’t have to pay attention to and believe my mind, that I could ignore it and just focus on the breath. I realized that meditation was a powerful tool that in the long run would teach me how to train my mind and transform my relationship to it.</p><p><b>Was that when you started practicing seriously? </b>After about two-and-a-half months in Juvenile Hall I was put into a group home. I continued meditating, but I was a tough guy, a punk rocker, and meditating was the antithesis of my image. So I meditated in secret. When I got out of the group home, I got into a motorcycle gang. Though I was drug-free I continued my life of crime for a few years. Then, after getting in trouble for vandalism, in 1990 I attended my first meditation retreat with Jack Kornfield. That was when I realized that the dharma was my only hope, my only refuge. Nothing else had worked—the drugs, the attention, the money, the gang. So at that retreat I decided, “Okay, I am a meditator. And I’m going to actually try to get enlightened. I’m going to go for it.”</p><p><b>The Twelve Step program promises that if you stop drinking and drugging and follow the steps, you’ll get sobriety and a happier life. In <a href="" target="_blank"><i>Refuge Recovery</i></a> you state:&nbsp; “The practice of these principles, which begins with accepting the reality of our addiction, will bring us to an enlightened state, an experience of wisdom and compassion and forgiveness and love for ourselves and everyone else.” Are you saying that the Refuge Recovery program promises complete realization if you commit to it fully? </b>Absolutely. This is Buddhism, and Buddhism teaches the potential for awakening. And in order to awaken, there has to be some suffering that inspires us to practice. The suffering of addiction is a great inspiration to lead us to the practice of awakening. The Twelve Step program is saying we can help you become normal—a worker among workers, a man among men, that sort of thing. That’s a bit like early psychology, when Freud said that the best psychology can do is transform neurotic suffering into ordinary suffering. So while some recovery perspectives say we can transform the suffering of addiction into ordinary suffering, what Buddhism is saying—and Refuge Recovery is teaching—is that we can take the suffering of addiction and turn it into a path that ends not just the suffering of addiction but all human suffering, through Buddhist awakening practices.</p><p><b>In Twelve Step circles, complete abstinence is essential for recovery. But there are alternative methods that claim you don’t need to maintain abstinence—what’s important is developing self-control. Where does Refuge Recovery stand? </b>Abstinence is absolutely a view I hold. I believe that real addicts and alcoholics cannot gain balance, which is treated only by abstinence. And beyond that, like the Buddha I believe that in order to come to a spiritual awakening, abstinence is necessary. When the media and the Western medical community talk about finding balance with recreational intoxication, they are not taking into consideration what Buddhism was taking into consideration, which is the necessity of maintaining mindfulness and the fact that you cannot be intoxicated and mindful at the same time. Whether you are an addict or not, if you care about awakening, if you want to develop wisdom and compassion, then a drug- and alcohol-free lifestyle is what the Buddha taught.</p><p><b>You’ve called the Buddha a “spiritual revolutionary.” How does that fit with Refuge Recovery? </b>There are so many levels to this anti-greed, anti-hatred, anti-delusion teaching that says, in this world that’s filled with confusion, let’s be unconfused. In a world filled with hatred and greed, let’s be generous and loving and forgiving. The teachings are revolutionary on a societal level, but there’s also an internal revolution, because craving that creates addiction comes from inside, from the human survival instinct that craves pleasure and hates pain, and that left to its own devices will turn us into addicts. What Refuge Recovery and the Buddha’s teachings offer is an internal tool to go against greed, to practice renunciation, to not satisfy the cravings that arise.</p><p><b>Are you saying that addicts are just like everyone else? </b>I think the seeds of addiction, the craving for pleasure, are in everyone. That’s one of the reasons why in the beginning of Refuge Recovery we do two very long, in-depth personal inventories that allow us to identify some of the factors in our life that led to alcoholism or addiction. Everyone craves pleasure, but not everyone drinks alcoholically or uses drugs with a total disregard for the consequences. What we think this really deep work will do is take away the denial and ensure recovery. The inventories are very difficult. But the Buddha says, “If you really want awakening, I’m going to ask a lot of you.” Refuge Recovery is not an easy process. We first ask you to get really uncomfortable, to turn <i>toward</i> the suffering in order to get through it.</p><p><b>Who’s Refuge Recovery aimed at? </b>There are people who have been sober for 20 years in Twelve Steps and found that something was missing for them, and then they found Buddhism and that was the missing piece. And there are also brand-new people who have never meditated before, who got sober and started the Refuge program, which ensured their sobriety. I think Refuge Recovery fits well for people who are already Buddhist, and it fits well for people who need recovery and are agnostic or atheist. And I think it will also fit well for people who love the Twelve Steps and maybe even believe in God but are looking to learn more about meditation. Like all Buddhism, Refuge Recovery isn’t telling you that you can’t believe what you believe. It’s just offering you some practical tools to develop wisdom and compassion.</p><p><b>If I attend a Refuge Recovery meeting, what can I expect? </b>As with the Twelve Step program, the first thing in Refuge Recovery is community. The meetings are peer led. You come in, and you’re met by a bunch of kind and generous recovering people—other addicts and alcoholics who are there to help you. And we offer meditation instruction right from the beginning.</p><p><b>Is group participation essential or could someone recover by doing the practices and meditations in the book on their own? </b>Ultimately, I think community is very important and necessary. People shouldn’t try to go into deep meditative states without any support or guidance. At the same time, it’s important to remember that the Buddha had no teacher, no community, and he woke up based on his own direct experience. There is something to be trusted in the human capacity for transformation. But community, the sangha, is ideal.</p><p><b>The Twelve Step program has a 79-year track record. How do you know Refuge Recovery is going to work? </b>When I started this, I was certain it was going to work for people who are already sober to bring them to the next level of their recovery, but I wanted to make sure it was going to work for people who were brand new, who were just detoxing. So for a year I worked in a drug and alcohol treatment center where people were coming off the street, still in active addiction and going through detox. I began teaching them meditation and the Refuge principles right from the beginning. Many of these people had been through lots of different treatment centers in the past; some were brand new. But in the outtake interview after treatment, 80 percent of them said that Refuge Recovery was the most important thing they had gotten from the treatment process. It resonated, it was practical, and they walked away from treatment after a month or so really knowing how to practice mindfulness and self-forgiveness and lovingkindness and compassion. They felt like they had a foundation.</p><p><em>If you have a question of your own for Noah, feel free to ask. He will be responding in the comments section.</em>&nbsp;<br><br><br><a href="" target="_blank"><em>Find a Refuge Recovery meeting near you.</em></a></p><p></p> Friday, September 26, 2014 - 13:54 Tricycle - Awake in the World <a href="/blog/mindfulness-moonshine-hollow">Mindfulness at Moonshine Hollow</a> Read More > <div><img src="" width="550" height="478" style="margin: 7px auto; vertical-align: middle; display: block;"></div><div>The locals call it Moonshine Hollow, or Mooner's Hollow, partly because of the haunting character of the moonlight in this small, isolated valley. It forces you to pay attention to the thousand shades of shadow and light you'd never thought to distinguish before. The phenomenon has something to do with the curvature of the ravine here, as light reflects off stone cliffs above and the lithe, white limbs of sycamore trees below. Whatever accounts for it, Moonshine Hollow is well named.<p></p><p>Up from Coonville Creek in St. Francois State Park in southeast Missouri, it lies along the eleven-mile Pike Run backpacking trail. A small trickle of water flows year-round from the base of the cliff where I usually camp. During Prohibition it's said that bootleggers operated a still in this remote hollow, making hooch, white lightning, or panther's breath (as it was variously called). Hidden deep in the Ozarks, with cornfields nearby, a steady supply of cold water, and sufficient wood to keep a fire going, it was an ideal site for producing "mountain dew." In fact, Missouri law still allows its citizens to distill up to 200 gallons of whiskey a year for personal and family use. All of this lends Moonshine Hollow its unique appeal.</p><p>What creates the ambience or "sense of place" that we associate with a singular locale? For Moonshine Hollow, it's a combination of sheltered seclusion, the distinctive play of shadows on a moonlit night, even an edge of lawlessness. It's a place where time has stopped. It invites you to linger. The moonshiner's art is a slow and demanding one. The corn has to soak in a wet burlap sack for ten days. The mash has to be fermented with water, yeast, and malt for another ten days or more. Then, in being gently heated over a low fire, the alcohol has to evaporate, passing through a copper coil inside a barrel of cold branch water, dripping leisurely into a stoneware jug. The process can't be hurried. Nothing should be rushed in Moonshine Hollow.</p><p>Several times I've hiked into this glen on a Friday afternoon halfway through the semester, needing to escape the city and the university—seeking what Gerry May calls "the power of slowing." I come to practice mindfulness, a habit that isn't easy to sustain amid the distractions of academic life. Simone Weil argued that school studies can be an aid in the exercise of prayer. If you think of praying as primarily a matter of <em>paying attention</em>, then memorizing geometric theorems and mulling over Anselm's argument for God's existence might help. She was right, up to a point.</p><p>Prayer <em>does</em> involve a discipline of practiced attentiveness, but it's more than a concentration of thought, a knitting of one's brows. Contemplative prayer is what gets you out of your head entirely. That's what I come to wilderness for—a deeper practice of mindfulness, a virtue that Buddhists and Desert Christians have both held in high esteem. The mindfulness that wild terrain evokes is actually a sort of "mind<em>less</em>ness," an end-run around rational analysis that seeks an immediacy of presence.</p><p>Moonshine Hollow questions my habit of defining reality before experiencing it. It urges me to marvel at the subtlety of moonlight without scrutiny or critique. It resists my tendency to "script" my experience there—to create a personal drama of what's happening around me, conjuring up images of moonshine stills from an exotic past, nursing disgruntlements over the job back home, projecting mystical encounters onto a landscape that sings.</p><p>The mindfulness that wilderness provokes is able to draw me out of the buzz of my incessant, internal conversation with myself. Like Vipassana meditation in Buddhist practice, it urges my seeing reality as it truly is. Doing that requires being present to the moment, apart from the expectations and interpretations I bring to it. Once I stop shaping reality into a theatrical performance with myself at its center, mindfulness allows the world to surprise me. The universe becomes delightfully open-ended. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi remarks with a wry smile that "The secret of Zen is just <em>two</em> words: not always so." That's Moonshine Hollow, too.<br><br><strong>Belden C. Lane&nbsp;</strong>is a professor of Theological Studies at St. Louis University. He received his Ph.D. from the Princeton Theological Seminary in 1976. He has since written a number of books, including&nbsp;<em>Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality&nbsp;</em>and&nbsp;<em>Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality</em>.</p><p>Reprinted from <em>Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as a Spiritual Practice</em> by Belden C. Lane with permission from Oxford University Press, Inc. Copyright © 2014 by Oxford University Press. The book will be released on December 1, 2014.&nbsp;</p><p><em>Image: Lisa Jacobs/<a href="">Flickr</a></em></p></div> Tuesday, September 16, 2014 - 15:33 Tricycle - Awake in the World