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July 31, 2015

Making the First Move

The Buddha said that friendship is the whole of holy life. To accomplish it, we need only overcome our fear of reaching out to one another. Kate Johnson
Saddled with backpacks, duffle bags, and pillows, the teens shuffle up to the table one by one to register for their weeklong meditation retreat. Their eyes flicker with hope and fear as they alternately scan their peers and stare at the floor, shifting their weight from side to side. It is hard to watch their discomfort, but even harder not to. There's something beautiful about the sincerity of their wish to connect with each other and something heartbreaking about their transparent efforts to conceal that wish. More »
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July 30, 2015

The Light Is Always There

A Tibetan Bon practice for finding refuge within Tenzin Wangyal
There is no better protection than the refuge of unbounded sacred space, infinite awareness, and genuine warmth. Any external source of refuge is ultimately unreliable. Looking for refuge in money or material possessions cannot protect you from the pain of loss, because everything you have will be lost to you someday. No matter how good your health insurance is or how healthy your lifestyle, sooner or later you will suffer from injury or sickness; eventually you will die. Finding your perfect soul mate cannot protect you from someday losing your beloved through separation, divorce, or death. More »
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July 28, 2015

In Pursuit of Bird Poop

When you stop seeking, you might just find what you’re looking for. Leath Tonino
I graduated from college in the spring of 2008, just as the economy shuddered, gasped, and died. Not that the fatality mattered much to me at the time. Having spent the previous four years reading philosophy—Plato, Kant, Hume, and more Derrida than is likely healthy for a developing brain—I was borderline unemployable anyway. Or so I’d been told by the jerks in the Econ. Department.  More »
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July 23, 2015

The Long, Strange Trip

A new wave of psychedelic research rehashes the age-old question of drugs in Buddhist practice. Don Lattin
Zig Zag Zen: Buddhism and Psychedelics (2nd edition) Edited by Allan Badiner Synergetic Press; May 2015 304 pp.; $38.95 (Cloth) It was something I noticed back in the early 1980s, when I was working as a newspaper reporter and interviewing longtime members of San Francisco Zen Center. I’d ask them how they got interested in Buddhism, and I’d keep hearing about “the long, strange trip.” “Well,” the answer would go, “I guess you could say it started with that first acid trip back in 1965.” More »
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July 22, 2015

Meditating at the Edge of Nowhere

A householder poem from El Paso, Texas Bobby Byrd
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July 21, 2015

The Zen of Not Knowing

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.” Zenkei Blanche Hartman
Beginner’s mind is Zen practice in action. It is the mind that is innocent of preconceptions and expectations, judgments and prejudices. Beginner’s mind is just present to explore and observe and see “things as they are.” I think of beginner’s mind as the mind that faces life like a small child, full of curiosity and wonder and amazement. “I wonder what this is? I wonder what that is? I wonder what this means?” Without approaching things with a fixed point of view or a prior judgment, just asking “What is it?” More »
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July 15, 2015

Across the Expanse

Anne C. Klein on the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism
This interview with the scholar-practitioner Anne Carolyn Klein was originally published in the July–December issue of Mandala, a magazine run by the nonprofit organization Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. We are republishing it here because of its excellent discussion of transmission, the secularization of Tibetan Buddhism as it has come West, and other ideas that speak practically and directly to the experiences of Western dharma practitioners. —Eds. More »
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July 14, 2015

The Ground under Our Feet

Living with uncertainty in earthquake country Leath Tonino
The ruins of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake When I first moved to California it seemed like no matter where I went or with whom I spoke, the same three-word phrase kept finding its way to my ears. Down on the Santa Cruz coast, beside glinting silver waves: The Big One. Up in Napa Valley, red wine on the tongue: The Big One. Even at the breakfast table in my new home, a friend’s apartment in San Francisco: The Big One. “It could happen at any moment.” “We’re long overdue.” “It’s just a matter of time.” More »
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July 13, 2015

The Whole of the Spiritual Life

Two nuns, Thubten Chodron and Ayya Tathaaloka, discuss the vital importance of friendship. 
Venerable Thubten Chodron (left) and Ayya Tathaaloka (right) speak at Sravasti Abbey in Newport, Washington. In the popular imagination the Buddhist monastic is solitary. Hours spent studying, chanting, and meditating leave scant time for that most trying yet rewarding of human pursuits: friendship. Or so the notion goes.  In our far-ranging conversation, the nuns Venerable Thubten Chodron and Ayya Tathaaloka roundly dispel this prevailing conception. Restoring spiritual friendship (in Pali, kalyanamittata) to its rightful place as a central feature of both lay and monastic practice, they encourage aspirants to seek out deep relationships as a crucial site of transformation.  More »
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July 09, 2015

On the Voices in Your Head

Where the new film Inside Out converges with and diverges from Buddhist teachings.  Dean Sluyter
The ads for Disney-Pixar’s new animated film, Inside Out, invite you to “meet the little voices inside your head.” You meet them, as it turns out, as color-coded little avatars of Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear, jostling one another to work the buttons and levers of the personality’s control panel in—ahem—Headquarters. The film is visually stunning, consistently hilarious, and often moving. But does it jibe with the experience of those of us who sit down on cushions and meet the little voices in our heads every day? How consistent is the film with the insights of Buddhadharma? More »
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July 06, 2015

The Rise of Political Buddhism in Myanmar

Narrow Burman-Buddhist nationalism remains the country's biggest barrier to sustainable political reform. Marte Nilsen
A Buddhist monk adjusts his robe at a monastery affiliated with the Ma Ba Tha (Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion) on the outskirts of Yangon. The Ma Ba Tha organization, mainly active in Yangon and the northern city of Mandalay, promotes hardline Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar. The Organization for the Protection of Race and Religion, known by the Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha, is gaining ground in Myanmar. It has also been receiving increased international attention—last month for its proposal to ban Muslim headscarves in public schools.  More »
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July 02, 2015

Lost in Capitulation

Recovering the tradition's two most important emotional states—samvega and pasada.  Thanissaro Bhikkhu
A life-affirming Buddhism that teaches us to find happiness by opening to the richness of our everyday lives. That's what we want—or so we're told by the people who try to sell us a mainstreamlined Buddhism. But is it what we need? And is it Buddhism? More »
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June 27, 2015

A Big Gay History of Same-sex Marriage in the Sangha

Without fanfare, American Buddhists have been performing same-sex marriages for over 40 years. Jeff Wilson
Buddhist same-sex marriage was born in the USA. That’s a little known but significant fact to reflect on now, just after the Supreme Court has declared legal marriage equality throughout the country. Appropriately enough, it all started in San Francisco, and was conceived as an act of love, not activism. The first known Buddhist same-sex marriages took place in the early 1970s, at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. Founded in 1899, it’s the oldest surviving temple in the mainland United States. It’s also part of the oldest Buddhist organization outside Hawaii: the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), part of the Shin tradition of Pure Land Buddhism. More »
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June 26, 2015

Legislating Love

Letter from California, 2008 Lin Jensen
In celebration of the historic Supreme Court decision ruling that the Constitution gaurantees a right to same-sex marriage, we present this article, originally published as a Web Exclusive in 2008, about the passing of Proposition 8 in California. We've come a long way in a few short years. —Eds. More »
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June 26, 2015

Incense Thrown on the Buddha

Poems written from the union of bliss and heartache Zen Master Ikkyu
The influence of Zen Master Ikkyu (1394–1481) permeates the full field of medieval Japanese aesthetics. Though best known as a poet, he was central to the shaping and reshaping of practices in calligraphy, Noh theater, tea ceremony, and rock gardening, all of which now define Japan's sense of its cultural tradition.  More »
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June 23, 2015

The Dalai Lama’s Big Brother

Gyalo Thondup’s memoir recounts the founding of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and the CIA’s part in the Tibetan resistance. Liesl Schwabe
 The Noodle Maker of KalimpongBy Gyalo Thondup and Anne ThurstonPublicAffairs; April 2015301 pp.; $27.99 (Cloth) In the winter of 2001, I lived in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Darjeeling District of India, while studying under the Kagyu lama Bokar Rinpoche. Every night I looked out across the valley, with my one-year-old son and his father, to the town of Kalimpong as its electricity cut out. With so little to measure or mark our days, this became a kind of event, something we anticipated. The only thing I knew then about Kalimpong was that its egg noodles were fresh, delicious, and famous. But just how famous, I had no idea. More »
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June 19, 2015

5 Things That Might Surprise You about Meditation Retreats

It’s not all calm and cosmic-flavored bubble gum. Brent R. Oliver
The glory. The soothing waves of warm peach syrup flooding the folds of your brain. The sheer bliss of sitting still and letting ultimate peace Jägerbomb your delusions and peel away the spiky freakishness of daily existence. Breathe in, relax. Breathe out, super-mega relax, but still keep control of your sphincter. Calmness like honey on your nerve endings. A sniff of liberation somewhere down a candy corridor. Stop reading now if this has been your only experience on meditation retreat. The rest of this article is not for you. Matter of fact, what are you even doing here? You should be in the backyard levitating. More »
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June 18, 2015

Climate Change Is a Moral Issue

A Buddhist response to Pope Francis’s climate change encyclical Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
On June 18, Pope Francis issued a papal encyclical pointing to climate change as the overriding moral issue of our time. The encyclical boldly proclaims that humanity’s capacity to alter the climate charges us with the gravest moral responsibility we have ever had to bear. Climate change affects everyone. The disruptions to the biosphere occurring today bind all peoples everywhere into a single human family, our fates inseparably intertwined. No one can escape the impact, no matter how remotely they may live from the bustling centers of industry and commerce. The responsibility for preserving the planet falls on everyone. More »
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June 12, 2015

Talking about Mindfulness

Amid puff pieces and "the backlash," a new dialogue around mindfulness emerges. Alex Caring-Lobel
While media coverage of the mindfulness phenomenon has been frequent, plentiful, and occasionally lively, it has also fallen along a narrow spectrum. After a prolonged glut of self-congratulatory puff pieces, we’ve finally witnessed what some have called a backlash. We might now arrive at what could be a more nuanced take, with a number of writers, scientists, and thinkers complicating the received narratives about mindfulness. More »