Letters to the Editor Fall 2011

Just Listening
I quite enjoyed Tina Fossella’s interview with John Welwood (“Human Nature, Buddha Nature,” Spring 2011). I needed the “small mind work” in order to do some fundamental clearing of the decks, and the meditation practice I started subsequently has been amazing. Ideas and emotions arise while I’m sitting, and I can honor both aspects of them: the small mind aspect and the no-thing aspect.

I still get entangled in the thoughts and emotions from time to time, because the mind is a tricky place and I’m a woman of many stories. But sitting has taught me I can embrace these thoughts and emotions freely and with curiosity while also recognizing that I’m not them and that they don’t have substance or meaning other than what I choose to give them.

This continual awareness of my stories helps my interactions with people around me. In my own experience, the small mind work helped me identify many of the stories that trigger deep needs or emotions, and the meditation practice enables me to recognize when I’m starting to buy into them and behave as if they’re true.

When I become aware—and then let go—of the stories, “just listening” becomes possible. Sitting leaves me open to recognizing deeper and deeper stories as well. Not to play around with them or obsess on them or puzzle out their origins, but just to know “This, too, is part of my self. This, too, can be released.”
Sandra K. Moore
Clear Lake, TX

The Legacy of the Buddha
Zoketsu Norman Fischer’s commentary “Beyond Language” (Summer 2011) was a nifty way to move my mind beyond language. I found myself rereading the article to duplicate the experience again and again, as in a meditation that we use to familiarize ourselves with special states of mind.

It is true, isn’t it, that the real legacy of Buddha was language? All language is a production of body and mind; the body produces the sound, the mind gives that sound meaning. So we can say that when we listen to dharma, we are in the presence of Buddha’s body and mind as well as his speech.

If Buddha hadn’t spoken, what would we know today of his purpose? But as Fischer points out, grasping at those views means we forget they are merely language. He says, “The Buddhist view is a non-view.” Beyond language we can experience all that Buddha wished for us.
William Remas
Larkspur, CA

Buddhism Without Borders
In “Whose Buddhism is Truest?” (Summer 2011), Linda Heuman made it clear that claims of owning the “real” Buddhism are insupportable. But I think she was a bit harsh in stressing “sectarian posturing.” As a longtime practitioner who doesn’t identify with any school or lineage, I have occasionally met sectarian devotees who claim absolute authenticity, but most don’t criticize other sects or dismiss my practice as a Buddhist at large.

I do, though, see a gap in institutional Buddhism. There is no process that I know of for ordination of aspiring laypersons outside of transmission within particular lineages. Yes, one can enter Buddhist studies programs for academic certification, but there is a need for an acknowledged spiritual standing for unaffiliated Buddhists, perhaps with criteria that combine knowledge, retreat experience, and personal probity. This would provide a locus, a forum, and visible leadership for those who respect but find no niche in the various traditions precisely because each seems, in some sense, to be overspecified.

Arguably, a formally constituted group of eclectic Buddhists could be seen as just another sect, but its centerpiece would be the justly famous text that begins “Don’t go by reports, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture...” This seems an appropriate direction for American Buddhism, a Buddhism without borders, with earnest study and devotion to lightly held beliefs.
Charles Suhor
Montgomery, AL

Buddhist Veterans
My first exposure to Buddha’s teachings was at a 2007 retreat at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, entitled “The Costs of War, Violence, and Denial.” Claude AnShin Thomas, a Zen Buddhist monk and wounded Vietnam combat veteran, taught seven of us how to sit and breathe through violence-related pain and suffering and to tame the anger and destructive behavior that usually followed. This year, attendance grew to more than 60 men, women, and children, and friends of those affected by violence.

Those of us who have killed for our country, AnShin taught us, are no different from those who sent us or those who sat idly by and didn’t object or protest. We combat veterans are a diverse group, far removed from the stereotypical North American “convert Buddhists” mentioned in your Letter from the Editor (“Only Connect,” Summer 2011). Thomas’s noble efforts to help us understand and deal with our suffering are stories I would like to see included in your beautiful magazine. As suicide rates and homelessness continue to break records, recognizing that military veterans are also part of the “wider Buddhist community” may help us feel welcome enough to join a sangha for the good of all creation.
Fred Tomasello, Jr.
Cheektowaga, NY

Tired of Hiding
I read the Letter from the Editor (“Only Connect”) about nonstereotypical members of your online community. I am not a member. But I have considered it numerous times. Fear has kept me from joining. The vast majority of my life has been spent as an outsider. I grew up, and still live, in a very small town in northeastern Iowa. Everyone here is Lutheran, and they regularly attend church.

The effects of peer pressure led me to go to church, but I never felt comfortable there. I have, however, felt comfortable anytime I’ve read a Buddhist book. I’ve wanted to be able to declare, “I’m a Buddhist!” But I’ve never felt that I could actually do that. Where I live, there are no Buddhists that I know of. And even if I found a group, I probably would feel too nervous to go there. I am so afraid that I will feel unwelcome because I am not the usual kind of person that they see. I also worry that I will come across as ignorant in Buddhism (as well as in level of education).

Last year, the Dalai Lama gave a talk at the University of Northern Iowa. I was lucky enough to be able to attend. During the week leading up to his visit, there were several Tibetan monks who created a mandala. I went several times to watch. During those visits, I overheard many people there who seem to be the kind of people that I would expect to be a part of your online community. They were extremely well educated, obviously wealthy, and very well-traveled. I am none of those things. My life experience has made it clear that it’s very hard for someone like me to fit in with people like that. I want to join a community. I want to find a teacher. I am so tired of having to hide that I’m not a Christian.

Fear is a powerful thing. It has kept me on the outside for a long time. I have decided to make this a year of change. I’ll be 43 this week, and I will be starting college in August. I’m scared to death. But I’m not going to run away. I feel that having an actual teacher to guide me would help me deal with all the craziness of my life. I would have a place of balance and calm. I am so glad that you are asking the question about those of us that are “different.”
Tereasa Lenius
Tripoli, IA

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Image: © Neal Crosbie

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ramikovsky's picture

Dear Tereasa,

Your letter moved me and inspired me beyond description. You have taken courageous steps that your "self" would rather you not have taken. Perhaps you are a teacher yourself, for you have shown the rest of us of how it is done. I see now that Courage and Fear are indeed the opposite ends of the same stick. I cannot thank you enough for writing.

Richard A. Mikovsky
Princeton, NJ

lisamaureen's picture

Dear Tereasa,
I too live in Iowa and am 43 yrs old... and I consider myself a Buddhist. I understand the "fear" you speak of, raised in the mid-west is raised with good christian values...Christianity that is so deeply ingrained in the human psyche that the first time you say out loud that you are not a christian you feel sure a lightening bolt will strike you down. I too feel and have felt the longing for a proper teacher, and the isolation in a "fly over" state. You are not alone. I read the other day, " That what we seek, we are. All we need can be found within..." Lama Surya Das, The Mind is Mightier Than The Sword. I hold this truth close and know a teacher will come when I am ready.
Congratulation on college!! Turning 40 does something...we become fearless, tall and daring!!
Your Buddhist Friend,
Lisa

zendo's picture

Dear Ms. Lenius: In response to your heartfelt letter, I felt compelled to offer some advice (I am both a Buddhist and a clinical psychologist). Your letter was remarkable for its honesty and humility, traits that will stand you in good stead in whatever life path you choose. I also want to write that the difficulties you describe - your reluctance to openly engage in behaviors that might disappoint or anger others and your wish not to experience criticism and disapproval - are common to us all. As you gather the courage to begin your Buddhist practice (a practice that will help with these issues), I would suggest that you also begin psychotherapy. I make this rather impertinent and unasked for suggestion because the problems that you write about are problems that psychotherapy is meant to address. My experience as a Buddhist, clinical psychologist, and someone who is very familiar with the psychotherapy outcome research literature, allows me to write with great confidence that adding psychotherapy to your Buddhist practice will very likely result in your working through these issue successfully. Lastly, on a practical note, you may not know that college provides easy and inexpensive access to therapy. Most, if not all, colleges and universities provide free psychological services to their students.

Best wishes,

David T. Andersen, Ph.D.