Buddhist Journal Beat

Rick Fields

Tricycle's editor-at-large, Rick Fields, introduces the Buddhist Journal Beat, a survey of what is going on in Buddhist journals in North America. With the exception of Karuna (out of Vancouver) and Turning the Wheel (published by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship), journals mentioned in this issue are published by individual dharma centers and represent the viewpoints of particular teachers, schools, or lineages.


RIVERS & MOUNTAINS

The first issue of Buddhism at the Crossroads (formerly Spring Wind Buddhist Cultural Forum), published by the Zen Lotus Society in Toronto, focuses on the environment. In her article on environmental ethics, Stephanie Kaza argues that "because Buddhism focuses on the mutually conditioned nature of mind and the interaction of mind and nature, . . . Buddhist practice and philosophy offer a broadly inclusive framework for an environmental ethic that is appropriate for the twentieth century." Meanwhile, "Turning On to the Environment without Turning Off Other People" by philosophy professor Philip T. Shepard warns against the temptation to look to Buddhism "for the moral authority to support environmental causes against their opponents." Instead, he suggests that Buddhist ecoactivists find "the middle way in environmental politics" by making the "difficult effort to understand one's opponents. It is precisely those whose actions are most repugnant to us that we most need to understand."

The Ten Directions, published biannually by the Zen Center of Los Angeles, includes a report by Peter Matthiessen on an environmental retreat led by Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. Hanh told more than two-hundred environmental activists, "When you take care of the environmentalists, you take care of the environment." "Many of the participants had never sat zazen before," writes Mathiessen; "they persevered bravely, and by the week's end, they were sitting as assiduously as all the rest."

The same issue of The Ten Directions includes an interesting exchange on hunting and meat-eating, inspired by a previous article, "Indra's Net as Food Chain," on Gary Snyder's ecological vision. Zenson Gifford Sensei of the Toronto Zen Center found it "amazing, if not appalling, to see how some Buddhists can use subtle rationalizations to justify the taking of life and the eating of meat." In a lengthy reply, Snyder writes that "the simple distinction vegetarian/non-vegetarian is too simple. . . . Guilt and self-blame are not the fruit of practice, but we hope that a larger view is. The larger view is one that can acknowledge the simultaneous pain and the beauty of this complexly interrelated real world. . . . So far it has been the earlier subsistence cultures of the world, especially the hunters and gatherers, who have—paradoxically—most beautifully expressed their gratitude to the earth and its creatures. As Buddhists we have yet something to learn on that score."

Still another point of view on ecology is presented by Primary Point, published by the Kwan Um School of Zen in Providence, Rhode Island. In an issue devoted to "Geomancy: The Ancient Ecology," Mu Soen Sunim writes that the Chinese view of the earth as "a living entity" has resulted in "an ability and willingness to live in harmony with the land." However, cautions Korean Zen master Do An Sunim, "Zen means not being dependent on anything. If we become attached to good geomancy, energy, or anything, then we have already created a hindrance. In many ways a situation that is not so good can also be helpful to our practice, since it allows us to see ourselves more clearly."

POLITICS & DHARMA

"Western Buddhists cannot be indifferent to the repression and divisions that plague the Buddhist homelands," write the editors of The Vajradhatu Sun, which is now published in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A special report on "The Politics of Buddhist Asia" offers articles on the Chinese colonization of Tibet, ethnic strife in Bhutan, civil war in Sri Lanka, repression in Vietnam, and the militarization of Burma. A ray of light on an otherwise gloomy picture comes from Thailand, where monks and lay practitioners are applying "traditional Buddhist principles to problems of contemporary society." "The most effective of these activists," writes Bill McKeever, "is Sulak Sivaraksa, who criticizes Western Buddhists for their excessive focus on 'individual' spiritual development," and calls on Western Buddhists to "contribute meaningfully and positively to their society and the world at large" so that "the West will become more humble, will treat the rest of the world, especially economically poorer nations, as equal partners or friends and will have less aggressive attitudes toward non-human beings and whole atmospheric environment."

SEX & POWER

The Buddhist Peace Fellowship Newsletter, which was recently renamed The Turning Wheel, published a special issue on "Buddhist Teachers and Sexual Misconduct." Included were statements by Zen priest Yvonne Rand, psychiatrist Peter Rutter (author of Sex in the Forbidden Zone), and author Susan Griffin, panelists at the BPF Berkeley town meeting on the subject. Yvonne Rand made the point that "virtually all the teachers we know about who have gotten into trouble have gotten into trouble because they got too isolated. . . . It is a great relief, personally, for a group of us this size to come together with some willingness to speak directly and to listen carefully to each other." The issue also included a heartfelt report on the meeting by author Sandy Boucher, who wrote that "the town meeting raised my hopes and left me encouraged about the future of Buddhism in this country," as well as calls for straightforward ethical guidelines from the San Francisco Zen Center, Bodhin Kjolhede (a dharma heir of Kapleau Roshi), and Robert Aitken Roshi (leader of the Diamond Sangha in Hawaii). David Schneider, however, cautioned that "abuse, or misconduct, is a slippery, community-specific concept," and he added, "I know a great many people who learned an enormous amount and profoundly deepened their connection to dharma, through sleeping with their teacher."

Dharma Gate, published by the One Mind Zen Center in Crestone, Colorado, followed up with its Own feature section on the American Buddhist Reform Movement, including a "Survey on Abuse of Power by Teachers," which is intended to "reveal the prevalence and gravity of abuses of power by Buddhist teachers, help stimulate efforts to formulate guidelines by Buddhist practice centers, and aid students in making informed decisions about where they might practice safely."

ELDERS

Zen Notes, published in New York City by the First Zen Institute of America, reports that the institute, which was founded by the Japanese Zen master Sokei-an, celebrated its sixtieth anniversary along with the eightieth birthday of Mary Farkas. Ms. Farkas, who began her Zen life in 1939, was honored for her leadership and for the "nondependent attitude and the distinct, nonmonastic Zen she stands for."

Writing in Zen Notes, which she has edited for many years, Farkas allowed that "Getting old has its compensations. One is seeing how the stories come out," and she remembered that when she asked Zuigen Goto Roshi in 1956 "if I could say we had made some progress," he replied, " You could say you have taken a step."

Image 1: Cover of Karuna.
Image 2: Cover of 
The Ten Directions.
Image 3: Cover of
The Vajradhatu Sun

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