First Steps

Helen Tworkov

When speaking of world religions it’s become standard to turn up the volume on those aspects that are shared and, conversely, to turn it down on the differences. Ecumenical dialogues often sound stripped of authenticity by a tacit consent not to disagree. In the fractured delicacies of postmodern pluralism, there seems little interest in distinguishing between healthy debates and declarations of holy war.

New Buddhists have repeatedly embraced their found religion with the cocksure arrogance of the convert. Yet, when it comes to ecumenical forums, they seem to shrink from representing the new religion on the block—they can be like guests currying favor with the authorities or, chameleon-like, camouflaging themselves into a seamless blend with their (Judeo-Christian) hosts.

Of course, many aspects of Buddhism have obvious parallels in Western religions. In my personal pursuits, some parallels interest me a lot, others less so. Yet in my role as magazine editor, I am keen to present those aspects of Buddhism that introduce new views and possibilities that expand the parameters of our understanding. For this reason I find this issue of Tricycle particularly felicitous.

In a striking departure from the demeanor of ingratiating guest, Buddhist scholar William R. LaFleur challenges the Vatican's position on contraception in light of Buddhist ethics and ecology. In a world already threatened by overpopulation, LaFleur takes Pope John Paul II to task for promulgating "fecundism," the doctrine that converts organic reproductive biology into religious activity, moral duty, and fealty to God. In articulating the difference between this and the Buddhist approach to the sanctity of all living forms, Lafleur pulls no punches.

In the mid-1970s in Kathmandu, Lama Yeshe attracted young Westerners high on drugs and low on spiritual aspiration, and his teachings on the nature of mind described "religion" as they had never known it. Here, the Tibetan master again presents the quintessential alternative to Western versions of a hallowed reality, telling us, "Your Mind is Your Religion." Reading this in conjunction with LaFleur (and with Larry Rosenberg's meditations on dying) intensifies those aspects of dharma that offer creative alternatives to Western religious conventions.

Understanding mind as the untamed vortex that manufactures and maintains suffering as well as the portal through which it is released finds more resonance in Western psychology than in Western religions. For an increasing number of dharma teachers, becoming professional therapists has been the most logical way to support themselves financially and maintain their commitment to helping people. Yet in this issue, Anne Simpkinson investigates the new—and problematic—phenomenon of dharma teachers doubling as therapists to their students.

Sometimes we put out issues in which the choice an sequence of content are deliberately constructed to link apparent disparities. However, themes often emerge from material that is not chosen for its contextual value. And yet, the connections are hardly haphazard, for underlying all of our selections lie core questions about Buddhism today: What good is this? Who is this for? In another stroke of synchronicity, Jack Kornfield addresses these same questions in terms of his life as a former forest monk turned householder, psychologist, and dharma teacher.

For many years, dharma in the West was characterized solely by its reference to dharma in Asia. Even the process of westernization was understood in terms of its Asian roots. Yet more and more, the reference points for Buddhism have resonance within Western disciplines. The integration of Buddhist principles and Western disciplines has a long, but theoretical, history. What's new here is the assimilation of principles into the daily lives of Wester practitioners and teachers—and the growing maturity of their voices. Buddhism in the West is still in its infancy, but with increasing confidence, teachers and scholars are taking first steps on their own paths.

 

Share with a Friend

Email to a Friend

Already a member? Log in to share this content.

You must be a Tricycle Community member to use this feature.

1. Join as a Basic Member

Signing up to Tricycle newsletters will enroll you as a free Tricycle Basic Member.You can opt out of our emails at any time from your account screen.

2. Enter Your Message Details

Enter multiple email addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.