Letters to the Editor

Superhighway

At first glance I was disappointed that Tricycle should attempt to add to the glut of information about the information superhighway (Vol. III, No. 4). Between the likes of Wired and Time, it seemed that, at the very least, Tricycle could only be reductive and repetitive. Wrong. Once again, your approach to a contemporary issue shed its own unique light on a complicated phenomena. But what has really snared my attention (in particular, with regard to Mitchell Kapor, Michael Roach, and Jaron Lanier) was to learn, for the first time, the extent to which the cutting edge of this new technology is informed by people whose interest or involvement with Buddhism per se reflects a concern with how to render the technology beneficial to human and spiritual values. I was not swept away by Mitchell Kapor’s optimism. But I was thrilled to discover that a man with his success and his values was willing to lobby for Superhighway policies in Washington. And while I do not have much faith in the capacity of these idealists to stave off the monster media conglomerates, I found myself cheering them on and feeling a little less cynical about the way big things affect small people.
Colby Adams
Kirkland, Washington

 

The Summer editorial, "Net Worth," (Vol. III, No. 4), uses Shakyamuni's teaching to a mother who loses her child to illuminate the limitations of the Internet. The implication is that old age, illness, death, and the suffering they cause remain immutable even in the face of ultra techno-media progress. But wait a sec: Shakyamuni's response to the woman who comes clutching her dead child is to send her around the village to collect a mustard seed from every household that has never known death. As you say, "Only when the woman returns empty-handed, does she begin to find solace."

How many households did the woman visit? Thirty? Maybe three hundred? Say this takes place in the United States, where it might not be "appropriate" for a woman clutching a dead child to go door to door through the Badlands or the Adirondacks asking if the family had ever experienced death. Rather, she goes on the Net and receives three thousand replies. The point about "the mustard seed" story is not the inevitability of death nor the suffering it causes, but the way in which self-centered preoccupation creates suffering—and how this can be alleviated by knowing that one's predicament is not personal but universal. Lamenting the lack of "real" community in modern times doesn't help much. With all its limitations, the Internet can provide a sense of community, and if there is a woman whose grieving is, in part, stemming from a sense of isolation or unjust punishment, she could do a lot worse than go on the Internet to seek solace. If we don't use technology to address our needs at their most intimate and profound level, we will never know whether it can help us or not. But it sure seems worth a try.
Jackson Little
Gary, Indiana

 

Team Players

Congratulations to Tricycle for the interview with Phil Jackson (Vol. III, No. 4). It is really great to see the editorial content move beyond a rarefied presentation of Buddhism and include in its vision people who are at the center of their game—so to speak—and not hugging the (elitist-artistic) sidelines.
Duncan Barrell
Portland, Oregon

 

I was thrilled by the marvelous article about Phil Jackson and samadhi on the basketball court!

It does seem on all spiritual paths the concept of enlightenment as preached is a distant goal which none of us humans can ever attain. We merely try, following rules laid down by those greater than ourselves and so it remains—a concept only. But here is a basketball coach who is doing it! And not only that, integrating it with his Christian upbringing.

Surely the goal in all spiritual paths is simply to BE oneself in the widest sense, connected to everyone and everything in whatever our own particular life, or karma, may have in store for us and we look to the religions for help in this adventure.

Repetition of old concepts doesn't help much after a certain time. It is action which counts.
Torre P. Taggart
Ojai, California

 

Real Stuff

I had had high hopes for Tricycle—but have progressively found less and less to interest me. Have found very little to read in the past few issues. It needs more real stuff: more dharma teachings from long-time teachers and less neo-enlightened American free-thinking blather. I can get that lots of other places, thanks.

A balance that includes more Vajrayana teaching would help, too. One becomes tired of undiluted American-Calvinist-Zen, and life-is-suffering-Theravadin, peppered with pompous scientism.
Diane di Prima
San Francisco, California

 

Misbehavior

I enjoyed Kate Wheeler’s article on the Vinaya (Vol. III, No. 4). How fortunate our lives would be if the misbehaving nuns and monks who people the Vinaya were unreal, like cartoon characters. They seemed so to me before I began to work with the particular kinds of suffering caused by child abuse, domestic violence, and criminality. I now see the “cardboard villains” in the flesh. And as in the Vinaya, they can give spiritual justification for their misbehavior. For example, recently I saw a father who made his wife divorce him so she and his two preteen daughters could become his concubines. The offender earnestly pointed out Biblical support for their molestation. A perversion peculiar to Christian fundamentalism?

That the Buddha had to forbid sex with monkeys or heifers may seem far-fetched, but I have evaluated many children who have seen or been taught bestiality. It is a mistake to think our sanghas do not contain persons acquainted with this practice. The discussion in the Vinaya of monks with heaps of robes, embroidery, and fur trim has echoes in fleets of Rolls Royces, Rolex watches, and brocade robes sported by modern spiritual teachers. Buddhist practice does not free us from sexual or any other desire. It helps us see it for what it really is, desire, and then helps us be appropriate about how and when and with whom to act or not act on that desire. A Theravadan monk told me that his teacher warned novices that after years of celibacy “even an old moose would start to look good.“

We live in a country with thousands of laws in force to (try to) preserve harmony and prevent cruel victimization. Imagine being the Buddha, leader of a new spiritual order, responsible for several thousand monks and nuns who wander over hundreds of square miles of several countries, falling prey to greed, anger, and ignorance. Your followers are from castes previously forbidden to associate with each other. Their occupations before joining the order included dung collector, murderer, prostitute, soldier, and royalty. They are now allowed to own only a few pieces of clothing, a begging bowl, and a sewing kit. Further imagine that they are roaming countries with few or no laws against child molestation, rape, many other kinds of violence, or misappropriation of wealth. Every time a dispute arises among these thousands of wanderers, or between your followers and the larger community, for over forty years, you are asked to mediate. That only a few hundred rules resulted is remarkable.
Jan Chozen Bays
Portland, Oregon

Jan Chozen Bays is the Abbot of the Zen Community of Oregon and the medical director of a child abuse program in Portland, Oregon.

 

Lopez Responds

New Age Orientalism: The Case of Tibet,” by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. in Vol. III, No. 3, drew numerous responses from our readers that were published in Vol. III, No. 4. Professor Lopez responds in the following letter.

Dan Martin, one of our country’s leading scholars of Tibet, makes a number of important points in his letter. First, he notes correctly that having strange notions about foreign lands is not a quality unique to Westerners. When the British Resident at the Court of Nepal, Brian Hodgson, interviewed a Nepalese Buddhist master about Buddhism in 1828, the master duly praised the lamas of Tibet as orthodox Buddhists, but was (perhaps like the inhabitant of any land describing a neighbor) unable to resist commenting on Tibetan hygiene, noting that the grand Lama never bathes and “after natural evacuations does not use topical ablutions.” But Edward Said’s critique is not about correcting strange ideas; he is concerned with identifying the ways in which European knowledge about Asia (specifically the Middle East) was implicated in the West’s colonial enterprise.

Second, Professor Martin rightly questions the identification of the subjects in some of the photographs accompanying the essay as “Bonpo.” As noted in the last issue, I did not choose the illustrations nor did I provide the captions. In the editors’ defense, however, it should be pointed out that they were simply copying the captions found in the books where the photographs appear. Both of the photographs identified as “Bon” are drawn from Tibet: The Sacred Realm (Aperture, 1983). The photographer of the “Bon” priest was Alexandra David-Neel, who simply called him “a lama magician (ngagspa) [sic]." It is unclear why those who wished to portray Tibet as “a sacred realm” changed the caption to make him a Bonpo.

Tom Cole makes the historically inaccurate statement that after Tibet’s conversion to Buddhism, the Tibetan army was defeated by all the invading forces it encountered. His point seems to be that although Tibet may have had an army, it was at least a poor one, and therefore was somehow more Buddhist than others. Both he and Professor Martin imply in their concluding comments that even if one concedes that Tibet has a history, it remains the case that Tibet was a unique culture which, when its historical elements are filtered out, still has something important that the West needs. But to seek to separate out such an essence is to succumb to the logic of oppositions about which I wrote in the essay. The question is not one of how knowledge is tainted and how it must then be purified (the mind of clear light notwithstanding) but rather of how knowledge takes form.

Beyond arguing that the perpetuation of fantasies about Tibet is detrimental to the cause of liberating Tibetans from Chinese oppression, my essay meant to suggest that it is important that we always attempt to historicize our practice, whether it be the scholarly practice of the professional Tibetologist or the religious practice of the lay Tibetophile (or for that matter, the scholar or practitioner of Zen or vipassana). To historicize requires not only that we study the history of our chosen text or practice, attempting to determine the circumstances of its production and the history of its circulation (both in Asia and the West), asking for whom it was written and how and by whom it was used. It is also crucial that we make a critical estimation of our own situation in the entire process; an examination of the positions from which we speak, the historical conditions from which we emerge as agents.
Donald S. Lopez, Jr.
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Donald S. Lopez, Jr. is Professor of Tibetan and Buddhist Studies in the Department of Asian Languages at the University of Michigan.

 

Correction

In a letter which appeared in Vol. III, No. 4, by Bodhin Kjolhede, the Abbot of the Rochester Zen Center, Tricycle printed: “The precepts are not simply a description of our innately enlightened nature....” It should have read: “The precepts are simply a description of our innately enlightened nature....” Tricycle apologizes for the error.

E. Subitzky

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