Filed in History

Ten Years, One Page at a Time

Jeff Zaleski Interviews Tricycle's Editor, Helen TworkovJeff Zaleski

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© Bill BettencourtWhat motivated you to start Tricycle?

Until Tricycle, there was no independent voice of dharma. All the Buddhist magazines were community organs; they disseminated the teachings of a particular teacher or sect or lineage. So there was no forum for Buddhists of different traditions to speak to each other. And a few of us who had worked on community publications—in particular, Rick Fields—started talking about a nonsectarian, independent magazine.

It was conceived of as a Buddhist magazine for Buddhists?

It was always a twofold mission: to create an open forum for different kinds of Buddhists, and to create a conversation between Buddhists and non-Buddhists—and the timing seemed right for that.

What made the timing right?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama had recently received the Nobel Peace Prize. Interest in Buddhism had been growing steadily since the fifties, but the emergence of the Dalai Lama as a world spiritual leader gave Buddhism a new place on the Western map.

Where did the money come from?

I got a $5,000 loan from a friend and started working out of my home [in New York]. I was paying the rent and phone bills, and it grew slowly from there. Then Lex Hixon put up a substantial amount of money to hire Lorraine Kisly, a magazine consultant. That was about ten months before the first issue came out. And there is no way that this project could have gone forward without Lorraine, who became our first publisher. She pulled the whole thing together.

Why did you choose Spalding Gray to interview the Dalai Lama for the very first issue?

To signal that we were going to investigate classic and traditional and sacred material in a new way. And he, predictably, got an interview that no conventional choice would have produced. Same with the covers. Frank Olinsky's cover designs were a clear statement that we were going to approach Buddhism from a new angle. That's why so many of the covers use classic imagery—but shot from a quirky angle.

The magazine seems very much geared toward the Zen, Tibetan, and Vipassana traditions-not Pure Land or other forms of Buddhism practiced by Asian Americans. Why is that?

In the grossest of generalities, you have convert Buddhism, a movement that began in earnest in the sixties. Then you have communities of Buddhists of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese descent who have been in America for three, four, five generations and are now settled, largely middle-class, and well-educated.

After the new immigration law of 1965, you had a tremendous influx of immigrants from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, most of whom are Buddhist. These communities are in many areas still struggling to get settled. The magazine reflects the current divide between these populations. Attempts are being made to build bridges but at this point, there's not enough overlap to create one magazine that can be of service to all three groupings or that can be sustained by such a broad appeal . . .

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