Filed in Community

Letters to the Editor

Congratulations! Tricycle surpassed my most optimistic expectations for a national Buddhist magazine. With a longterm commitment to meditation practice, an avid interest in Buddhist literature, and disillusioning experiences with Buddhist centers, Tricycle is the magazine I have been waiting for. I applaud your efforts to bring together Buddhism and contemporary culture, and I look forward to future issues. But weeks after reading the first issue from cover to cover, a disquieting question keeps reemerging. I have read many interviews with His Holiness the Dalai Lama conducted by long-time Buddhist practitioners, academic scholars of Buddhism, and sympathetic journalists. Yet Spalding Gray managed to evoke the most intimate portrait of His Holiness ever conveyed in an interview. (I am not only talking about what hour His Holiness rises, or what his retinue eats. I have one friend who was so outraged by your selection of Spalding Gray that on reading the interview, he failed to grasp the Dalai Lama's only account, to the best of my knowledge, of a transformative enlightenment experience.) So what I keep wondering is this: What are we to make of the fact that it took a brilliant egomaniacal, self-avowed narcissist like Gray to ask the Dalai Lama the most interesting questions?

CHRIS REDDY
Newton, Massachusetts

REBELS AND REFORMERS

I was particularly gratified to read Lou Nordstrom's review of Crazy Clouds: Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers. It is high time to address the tendency to equate social justice or political freedom with spiritual liberation and awakening. It is wonderful that Buddhist practitioners reach out and respond to suffering and injustice. If practice is genuine, compassionate action will find its expression. It is also true that doing good is certainly karmicly positive. It is not, however, liberating. Correcting social inequalities will not free humans from their fundamental delusions.

SUSAN JION POSTAL
Rye, New York

HOT HANDS

I have just read Larry Shainberg's "The Hot Hand Sutra" in Tricycle. After a two-week sesshin at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, a fellow monk and myself immediately went out to the flats and shot baskets. We played "horse"—each having to make the shot the previous person had made. We had sat zazen in silence for fourteen days. Now we shot baskets and couldn't miss. It was a truly amazing performance on both our parts. I don't know if "enlightenment is the spiritual version of Hot Hand," but I am sure that sitting zazen helps shooting baskets.

LEE DE BARROS
Sausalito, California

SILENT CODES

I found" Authority and Exploitation," the dialogue between Aitken Roshi and Brother David Steindl-Rast on the student-teacher relationship, both stimulating and valuable. Its gender assumptions and one-sided emphasis on the responsibility of the teacher, however, gave it an almost patronizing tone. I realize that this was unintentional and draw attention to it simply to open up another dimension of dialogue on an important and complex subject. Brother David makes a distinction between authority as expertise—perhaps empowerment is a good word here—and authority as authoritarian use of power. According to him, there is power in the latter case in the sense of one person "putting down" the other. For this, disempowerment seems a good word. What is not discussed by the speakers are the very subtle, on the surface almost benevolent, ways of putting down or disempowering. For example, Aitken Roshi almost always speaks as if teachers are men and students are women. He also speaks of students/women as "sexually appealing" and teachers/men as "sexually attracted," thereby using the language that identifies men as sexual subjects and women as sexual objects. Again, I do not take this to be intentional. It is a language so deeply buried in our culture that all of us, men and women alike, fall prey to it. Unfortunately, in the student-teacher context we can fall prey to its sister language as well, namely that of parent and child, also used in the dialogue. This leads naturally to the idea that the teacher has full responsibility for the success or failure of what is, in fact, a relationship between two adults. Brother David has elsewhere reflected on the practice of obedience, looking at authority from the point of view of the student and the student's responsibilities. One of his observations is that obedience is not the substitution of someone else's good or bad will. Surrender and obedience, by definition unconditional, thus become conditional upon the teacher's living up to the student's idealizations (positive and negative) of the teacher. This is surrender of autonomy and responsibility, not surrender of ego. The more we give responsibility to the teacher for the success or failure of the student-teacher relationship, the more we prevent the mutual opening of both. I am grateful to Aitken Roshi and Brother David for beginning a dialogue on this issue. There is much to be explored here.

Brother David has elsewhere reflected on the practice of obedience, thus looking at authority from the point of view of the student and the student's responsibilities. One of the observations is that obedience is not the subsititution of someone else's will for one's own. The same could be said for surrender of devotion to a teacher. What motivates a student to substitute someone else's will for his or her own seems to me to be the desire to be a child of a perfect or imperfect parent—in order words, a passive 'victim' of someone else's good or bad will. Surrender and obedience, by definition unconditional, thus become conditional upon the teacher's living up to the student's idealizations (positive and negative) of the teacher. This is surrender of autonomy and responsibility, not ego.

NANCY BAKER
Student
Zen Community of New York
Teacher Sarah Lawrence College

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.