The Buddhist Review

James Shaheen

I’ll ask a question at the risk of not being able to answer it: how can a magazine call itself “The Buddhist Review,” as Tricycle does, when Buddhist schools are so diverse that some scholars and teachers consider them different religions?

All of us who work at the magazine and probably all who write for it disagree about many things. We may engage in traditional debates about doctrine and practice, partial to our own schools’ biases; or about matters relating to issues in the adaptation of Buddhism to the modern world. Some of us lean toward a more literal understanding of the teachings, others are more liberal in our interpretations. I often wonder how to avoid simply talking past each other. Is the tent really big enough to hold us all?

For many years, my answer has been an unequivocal yes, although the sole reason I offered was an ethic of inclusivity. I tended to ignore the elephant in the room—the apparently irreconcilable belief systems our diverse pool of editors and contributors put forth. So what do we mean, then, by inclusivity, and what are its guiding principles?

If one sees value in the process of dialogue, then inclusivity makes sense. If not, it doesn’t. If, say, you just want to concentrate on Zen or Vipassana practice and aren’t interested in an exchange with other Buddhist schools, not to mention the wider religious and intellectual culture, then a magazine like Tricycle will make little sense to you. It will be mostly a source of frustration, filled with counterfeit or inferior dharma. But Tricycle is and always has been an experiment based on the proposition that there is value, individually and collectively, in conversing across the lines that define and separate us. Disagreement is not just a random result of this conversation, it is an animating force within it.

In an article last year in the Journal of Global Buddhism (“The Coming of Secular Buddhism”), Australian scholar Winton Higgins cites the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, a Scottish philosopher who writes that “traditions, when vital, embody continuities of conflict”; a living tradition reveals “those future possibilities which the past has made available to the present.” Paraphrasing MacIntyre, Higgins writes, “A dead…tradition, by contrast, is one in which the generative questions have been lost, along with the knowledge of how the conversation has developed—a tradition whose practitioners are thereby condemned to merely defend, preserve and re-enact the certitudes and rituals into which they have been inducted.”

Engaging one another, then, and the broadening of empathetic understanding and the critical self-reflection upon one’s own views that must follow, are themselves of substantive spiritual value and are indeed a means of practice. In an interview in this magazine some years back, Karen Armstrong said something that in many ways best summed up our project:

My study is a spiritual quest. Studying texts is my form of prayer and meditation, and often, while studying, I experience moments of awe and wonder. The effort of getting beyond my own preconceptions to enter another form of faith and thought is also a means of transcendence—a transcendence of self. . . . A scholar called this discipline 'the science of compassion' because in this kind of study you have to put yourself to one side and learn to feel with others.

Everyone, and every school, interprets the teachings, though we differ in how we do that. While this can, and unfortunately sometimes does, lead to a stifling parochialism, it can also present us with an opportunity to engage each other in a way that keeps our traditions vital and relevant. The work of “The Buddhist Review,” then, is not to bring us into alignment; rather, it is to host a conversation in which we engage one another at our best and in our differences.

 

—James Shaheen, Editor and Publisher

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leveysteven's picture

Beautifully put, thank you. I am appreciative of the Karen Armstrong quote and it's focus on the use of study as a potential meditation. Having practiced the Dharma for some 40 yrs, and at times had the opportunity to speak on Buddhism, it has become important to me to see the activity of practice/study as opportunity for self study and simple meditation. But, in general, this opening statement regarding tricycle's work (dharma, if you will) is courageous and clear.

ikep36@yahoo.com's picture

Right On!