Letters to the Editor

Chay: Pro & Con

In some respects I agree with the letter written by Aki Sann Chay in the Summer '93 Issue (Vol II, No.4). Personally, I would like in-depth biographies and teachings from realized teachers of all traditions, not dilettantes who have had a passing experience with Zen on an intensive weekend or the like.

The reason I find John Cage offensive in conjunction with the dharma is that he took the universal of listening to the sound of "silence," e.g. mindfulness, made it into a performance form, and took credit for it to aggrandize his own ego as a composer. I would hope that a moment of mindfulness might bring someone toward the Path, but feel that wisdom and compassion still must be taught by a proper teacher.

Christine Zachary,
Portland, Oregon

In response to Aki Sann Chay's letter: I hope you read Kerouac's Wake Up in the last issue (Vol. II, No.4) to see that the light of the Buddha's dharma obviously touched Kerouac as truthfully as it touched you or me or Ginsberg or Trungpa. That impulse towards wakefulness should not be discouraged or rejected from anyone, be they saint, sinner, male, female, orthodox, nonaligned, dead, or alive. If I may borrow from Kalu Rinpoche, this is "the Dharma that illuminates all beings impartially like the light of the sun and the moon." It is undeniable that the Buddha is in all of us.

Alan K. Anderson
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


Transplanting Karma

The article by Karma Lekshe Tsomo on organ transplants made me stop and re-evaluate long-held attitudes.

I started working in hospitals shortly after I became Buddhist, over half my middle-aged life ago. Although it is not my specialty, I have dealt with transplant recipients and donors over the years. Like most of the Buddhists the author interviewed, I too have felt that offering my body parts for other's benefit after my death would be a truly compassionate and meritorious act. My driver's license lists me as both an organ and tissue donor.

First, a word about tissue donation: major transplants certainly get all the press, but much of the body is reusable. The cornea of the eye, skin, bone, blood vessels, heart valves, the coverings of the brain (dura mater), and muscles (fascia) are all transplantable. This tissue is treated, frozen, and kept in storage for later use as grafts. For that matter, blood transfusions can be considered a kind of graft or transplant, as blood is technically a tissue (and you don't have to die to give!). If one donates one's body for organ and tissue harvest, numerous people could benefit from these gifts. Also, if tissue alone is harvested, there is not quite the rush to collect it as with organs. However, the three days of repose the author mentions would probably leave little tissue still usable for grafting.

The other issue I'd like to address is more speculative. Organ transplant recipients fairly routinely experience "hallucinations" during the early phases of their recovery. This is attributed to the initially high doses of corticosteroid drugs given as part of the immunosupression regimen to prevent organ rejection. I took care of one heart-lung recipient, however, who reported a particularly realistic vision. He was able to identify the donor, a young woman who had been murdered, and he claimed to have actually seen the shooting as it happened to her! Since donor anonymity is one of the basic ethics of organ transplantation, and since this patient had been whisked to the hospital prior to the murder's news release, one wonders if the "cellular memory" theories of the sixties psychedelic researchers might have some validity. If memories are transplanted with major organs, is some karma also? What kind of karma would pass from a murder victim? Conversely, if one led a meritorious life and donated one's organs, would some of this merit transfer to the organ recipient as an additional gift?

Obviously the issue of organ donation is not as straightforward as it may have once seemed and deserves closer thought and study. For myself, however, my driver's license will remain the same for the foreseeable future.

John Brinduse, R.N.
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Historical Nonduality

Just recently I was reading The Buddhist Handbook (Inner Traditions International), a history of Buddhism by John Snelling, which seems to contradict something in Keith Dowman's article "Himalayan Intrigue" (Vol. II, No. 2) which states that the new Gyalwa Karmapa inherits from predecessors who were spiritual guides to Kublai Khan and successive Chinese emperors, and that they had been "the virtual rulers of Tibet before the Dalai Lamas,"

According to Mr. Snelling, however, it was actually the head of the Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism (whose title is Sakya Trizin) who advised Kublai Khan and the Mongol emperors. As a result, says Mr. Snelling, that school "was the first to rise to political power in Tibet," According to the book, the Kannapa leads the Kagyu School, whose members believe he can choose his reincarnation. The Sakya leadership, on the other hand, is passed on hereditarily from uncle to nephew. I would be interested to know which account is correct.

Anne Schwimmer,
New York, New York

(Tricycle asked Tibetologist John Dunne to respond.) Both accounts are correct! The Sakyas were the first sect to develop a relationship with the Mongols, and in Kublai Khan's court, no lama could match the influences of Pagpa (1235-1280), the head lama of Sakya. All the same, Kublai Khan also looked to Karma Pagshii, the Second Karmapa, for spiritual guidance. Gradually, Sakya influence declined, and by the time of the third Karmapa, Rang jung Dorje (1284-1338), the Karmapa lamas held even greater sway than the Sakyas. After the fall of the Mongols dynasty, the Karmapas found themselves embroiled in numerous struggles for power in central Tibet. Eventually, the Rinpungas, lay disciples of the Kannapas, gained the upper hand (circa 1500). They and the later Tsang "kings" controlled most of central Tibet under the guidance of the Karmapas until the Gelukpas, led by the fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682), finally wrested power from their hands.

In other words, the Sakyas advised the Mongol emperors, but the Karmapas did too. The Karmapas ruled Tibet before the Dalai Lamas, and the Sakyas ruled before both the Dalai Lamas and the Kannapas.

The Karmapa is said to reincarnate, and this sometimes leads to the differences of opinion that Keith Dowman reported. The Sakya Trizin ("Throne Holder") comes from one of the two surviving houses of the Sakya aristocracy; he is often, but not necessarily, the nephew of the previous Trizin. He is not a reincarnated lama, but most Tibetans consider him to be just as holy.

John Dunne
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Taking the High Seat

The letter from Judith Crane and Jim Stone (Vol. II, No.3) prompted this response.

"Buddhism is pro-life" is a simplistic statement for complex and difficult times. The truth is that we experience suffering.

Who suffers more, an unborn fetus, a woman who makes a difficult decision to have an abortion, or those of us who impose our views on others? The question is obviously irrelevant. The truth is suffering. You can call it posturing or whatever you like—but sitting, even on a high horse, must be done with a good seat and an open heart. Which means respecting the horse, respecting yourself, and respecting others to make their own decisions for their own lives.

Ann Bodnar
Kansas City, Missouri

On the Trail

The haunting photo on the cover of your Summer 1992 Issue (Vol. I, No.4) inspired us to visit that site, Kyaik-tyo Pagoda, in Burma last November. Now the Buddha footprint on the Winter 1992 Issue (Vol. II, No.2) continues to intrigue us. Where do we find it?

Wendy Mickle
Lopez, Washington

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