Letters to the Editor Fall 2002

Spotlight on Spot

“Putting Spot Down” has been one of the few articles in Tricycle to irritate me, and I am a longtime subscriber. First, as a veterinarian, I do not make a living putting animals down, although it is one of the more expensive single shots I give. Second, I do not enjoy putting animals down, but I have lived with the results of not doing it. I think Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche has lost his way if he is worried about whether we can accurately see the circumstances of this life or the next. This goes against the Buddha’s idea of living in the moment.

I think Baker Roshi has it wrong, too. Animals are not “blissed out”—they are truly living in the moment. If a horse is suffering, what does he gain if I insist that the owners let him die a natural death? The fact that I kill Dzigar’s fly—or a horse—does not give it bad karma. Animals are truly innocent, and to worry about their future lives is to lose our mindful way. Finally, when an animal is in pain, no relief comes from drugs. They keep right on hurting. And using alternative medicine is a classic example of an owner’s letting the animal suffer out of his own reluctance to let the animal go.

I probably sound angry, but I am really trying to be mindful and take into account what I see on a weekly basis. Buddhism is supposed to be nonviolent. To put Spot down is violent, but to allow him to suffer is also violent. We must all decide for ourselves which is more violent. But we must make this decision in the moment, without considering some ethereal future. Once it is done, it is done.

—David R. Smith, D.V.M., Ravensdale, Washington

The Twain Shall Meet

I enjoyed reading P. B. Law’s Buddhist parody of Huckleberry Finn (“Huck & Tom’s Buddhist Adventure”). Law did an excellent job of capturing the tone and spirit of Twain’s classic narrative, and by puncturing holes in some of the pomposities of American Buddhism, he has carried on Twain’s satirical mission.

However, I wonder if Law and your readers are aware of just how much Twain’s religious attitudes have in common with the Buddha’s teachings. Both were skeptics of religious orthodoxy who valued direct, personal experience over received tradition. Both also dedicated their lives to subverting the false assumptions that define what most people consider to be reality.

Consequently, both Twain and the Buddha have been accused of solipsistic nihilism by the people who cling to those false assumptions. Just as Buddha’s teaching on anatta (no-self) has been dismissed as a negation of reality, Twain’s writing (especially in his later years) is cited by critics as evidence of his despairing attempt to nihilistically “detonate the universe.”

As Sri Lankan Buddhist and author Walpola Rahula points out, though, anatta should not be considered nihilisitc, but instead it should be recognized as dispelling the false belief in a nonexisting, imaginary self. Neither should Twain’s late writings, in my opinion, be perceived as negative. In fact, in his last novel, The Mysterious Stranger, after subverting various fictions throughout the text and ultimately his own narrative, Twain’s conclusion that “life itself is only a vision, a dream” is basically the same liberating insight that Buddha taught.

Although I don’t know that Twain would have considered himself a Buddhist (he would have had too many problems with the prohibitions on drinking and swearing), I do believe he ultimately lit out for the same spiritual territory that Gautama did many centuries before.

—Dwayne Eutsey, Easton, Maryland

© Bradford Veley

Loving the Indder Enemy

I have been imprisoned for fifteen years and have practiced Zen under the Lotus Flower sangha, an affiliate of Zen Mountain Monastery in Mt. Tremper, New York, during four of those years. Our sangha has had the privilege of reading Tricycle through the grace of our Sensei, who comes into the prison regularly. I have read the Summer 2002 issue and would like to share my view on the articles appearing in “On Practice: Loving the Enemy.” The teachings offered have provided some insight and understanding with regard to living more peacefully regardless of feelings towards those we consider our enemies. This has been an extremely challenging feat for me in prison. Oppression, exploitation, and violence are commonplace, as is the unspoken strategy of segregating prisoners, preventing unity among races, classes, cultures, and religions. How can a practitioner be expected to “see the perfection” and “realize the self and other as one” in this atmosphere?

Sometimes it is much easier to simply place others in the categories of friend, neutral, or enemy. At least this way I know where I stand when around any particular category and I know how to respond appropriately in a given situation. In prison, compassion is seen as a sign of weakness and makes non-opposition difficult to practice. I believe one of the surest ways to begin on the path toward loving the enemy in this environment is best described by the Dalai Lama: the inner enemy must first be battled and trained. The ego is the worst enemy of all and is the first to arise during any form of conflict. Awareness of that “mighty fiend,” my “dark, defiled emotions,” is the first step towards liberation. Once I can discipline the inner enemy I can thereafter handle the outer enemy more positively and efficiently in accordance with my vows.

Thank you for the insight. It would be ideal if in future issues you could provide teachings suited to a prison setting. The Buddha Way has been very helpful to me in dealing with issues that arise within and without. I have become a better person since I began Zen practice, evident from how I perceive things and interact with others.

—Eddie Cuadrado, Green Haven Correctional Facility, Stormville, New York

Faith Uncovered

As an anthropologist and someone with a personal commitment to Buddhism, I was interested to read Faith Adiele’s recent article on her experiences joining a Buddhist nunnery overseas (“A Green and Gold Place”). However, I was concerned that her statement that “true anthropology require[s] undercover work” might leave readers with the impression that deception is a common part of anthropological practice.

In fact, it is standard practice in our discipline to be as honest and straightforward as possible with people about our reasons for doing research among them. This honesty is normally essential to creating the relationships with others that make real learning about other ways of life possible. Ms. Adiele was a student, and she appears to have followed her heart and her spirit in joining a religious community. However, I want Tricycle readers to know that taking vows in a religious community purely for research purposes would normally be considered neither ethically sound nor methodologically wise.

—Dr. Hildi Hendrickson, Chair, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Long Island University

Our Slip

An editor might have caught Michael Attie’s error in the introductory paragraph to “Memoirs of a Lingerie Monk.” Hindus traditionally divide life into four (not three) stages, or ashramas: (1) brahmacharya (the state of receiving religious instruction; (2) grhastha (that of householder); (3) vanaprastha (that of forest dweller); and (4) samnyasa (renunciation). I suspect Attie has understandably conflated the third and fourth stages, although of course the first stage is hardly bereft of “spiritual seek[ing].” Indeed, keeping in mind that these are “ideal-typical” categories, all four stages may be infused with the “spiritual,” although the fourth, in several respects, “transcends” typical social constraints and rules.

—Patrick S. O’Donnell, Santa Barbara, California

Tricycle welcomes letters to the editor. Letters are subject to editing. Please send correspondence to:

Tricycle: The Buddhist Review
92 Vandam Street
New York, NY 10013
Fax: (212) 645-1493
E-mail address: editorial@tricycle.com

Images © Neal Crosbie, Mike Taylor, and Bradford Veley

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