From Spalding Gray's interview with the Dalai Lama to Philip Glass and Khyentse Rinpoche, I have come to eagerly anticipate Tricycle's excellent interviews. But Harold Talbott on Thomas Merton is the very best yet! As something of a Merton nut, I am familiar enough with the growing body of material on Merton to know that much of it is repetitious and pious. How refreshing then to have Talbott's fearless descriptions of Merton the man and Merton the monk. And to read them with the rare luxury of knowing that for a change, a beloved hero has met up with a trustworthy raconteur. Thank you Harold Talbott!
Providence, Rhode Island
Thank you for publishing Stephen Batchelor's excellent article on Russian Buddhism and the life of Bidiya Dandaron. Batchelor may have erred, though, in presenting only the "official" story of Dandaron's death as a result of a brain tumor and pneumonia. According to an earlier account, Dandaron was trampled during a food riot in the labor camp where he was being held and then was thrown—with several broken bones—into a punishment cell where he was held in isolation without medical treatment, and where he finally died. Whatever the circumstances of his death, he deserves to be remembered.
OF MICE AND MEN
I found "What Does Being Buddhist Mean to You? Re: rats, mice, and cockroaches" in the Summer Issue very depressing. The healthcare worker in Atlanta would trade poisons for creatures in hospitals, hospices, and clinics. If I were a patient there, I would prefer not to be poisoned in her efforts to eradicate "pests." The Taiwanese nun calls using chemicals "rational," saying we must think of our neighbors. If she were my neighbor, I would prefer that she think this through more rationally, and not poison my ecosystem with deadly chemicals. Live-trapping and removal, organic chemical solutions (that break down in the ecosystem before they create wholesale broad-spectrum killing), and many old household remedies prove to be more effective and compassionate methods for dealing with rats, mice, and cockroaches.
GRACE G. BURFORD
While I was happy to see Rachel V.'s article, I was hoping to find a more in-depth comparison of Buddhist and Twelve-step philosophies and the parallels that can be drawn between them. I would have enjoyed seeing the Twelve Steps reworded in Buddhist terms—the understanding of impermanence, no-self, karma, and the absence of a supreme deity. Just how does a Buddhist come to believe that a power greater than himself could restore him to sanity, or humbly ask God to remove his shortcomings?
Rachel V. found a compatibility between Buddhism and Step Eleven of the Twelve Steps: "But perhaps there is also a fundamental compatibility in the First and Second Steps, where we admit we are powerless over our addictions and come to believe a Higher Power can restore us to sanity."
The First and Second Steps are a source of current controversy and confusion. Some think that to admit powerlessness undermines the very self-esteem that we need to enhance. They say that what we need is not a Higher Power to save us, but the empowerment to save ourselves.
The AA "Big Book" makes clear that recovery from addiction is not likely if our efforts draw their energy from ego-based feelings such as pride, fear, and resentment. This is the real meaning of the First Step. But is the Higher Power of the Second Step something other than self?
Ippen, the thirteenth-century Shin teacher, said: "The distinction of self-power and Other Power is but the first stage. True Other Power means discarding utterly the standpoints of self and other and simply attaining Buddhahood in one thought-moment" He continues: "The Buddha's teaching speaks of nothing other than the single thought-moment here and now." What Higher Power can there be than the peace and compassion inherent in the Pure Land of this present moment?
But I sometimes say Deeper Power instead of Higher Power. Veterans of Twelve-step programs often enjoy this change of metaphor.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Rachel V. Responds:
I agree that much more needs to be written on the subject of Buddhism and the Twelve Steps. An in-depth comparison of the subject begs for book-length work, not a magazine story. And I'm working on it now.
Some of Sogyal Rinpoche's students in Seattle have informally adapted the Twelve Steps for Vajrayana practitioners. Of the various versions I've seen, this is one of the best. For a copy of their adaption write:
Attention: Ruth Yeomans
P.O. Box 7866
Berkeley, CA 94707
Rachel V, is also the author of A Woman Like You, Life Stories of Women Recovering from Alcoholism and Addiction, and Family Secrets: Stories of Adult Children of Alcoholics.