A Radical Evolution
I don’t have an answer to the question that Clark Strand asks in “The Path of Recovery” (Winter 2010). I live with these issues as a constant background noise in my mind, an ominous droning that invades every space and experience. The dismal prospects for our species and the lovely green world we live on leave me with a feeling of deep impermanence—on physical, ecological, and spiritual levels. It inspires small good works—attempts to connect people to each other, to the green earth, to the future they and their children will experience. It brings desire to disconnect from popular culture and society, despite the need for “all hands on deck” to deal with myriad issues and crises. There is a push and pull between retreat and re-engagement in politics and discourse.
We want to live lives of purity, where everything we do contributes only to the betterment of all beings. But we are constantly pulled back into the impurity of living in this world, through all the ways we participate in speeding our collective course off the cliff. Eating, driving, building, procreating, computing, turning on the heat, working, not working. I feel irrevocably caught and conflicted by all the choices and avenues of action offered in this society. We are essentially living like amoebas in a dish, reproducing and consuming along the population curve as fast as possible, while our resources are progressively drowned in our wastes.
This is why I am a Buddhist. We need a radical evolution of consciousness, and I know of nothing as radical as Buddhism. Our mindless technical cleverness has done nothing but speed our course toward oblivion. We cannot solve our problems with the level of consciousness that created them. I feel that we must take the radical path against the grain of all we know, and trust that we will find insight and be of genuine aid to a world in distress.
Thanks for your clear exposition of this crisis. May it inspire mindful action and compassion.
I was surprised to find inside the Winter 2010 issue an article on cooking with meat (“Singapore Chow Mei Fun” by Wil Crutchley), since Buddhists are vegetarian. Perhaps your author is unaware that chickens, cows, and pigs, even “freerange,” are sentient beings? In any case, I feel this not-so-fun “Chow Fun” is as disturbing in your magazine as it would be if it had been published in Vegetarian Times. Please no more chicken recipes.
Tricycle responds: While we respect those who choose vegetarianism, not all Buddhists are vegetarians—some follow a vegetarian diet, while others choose to eat meat (perhaps most notably the Dalai Lama).
The Value of Life
My family was touched by the interview with Eric Ripert (“This Buddhist Life,” Winter 2010). He asked a question to the audience of Tricycle about his career which requires him to purchase and cook large quantities of meat.
In the 1970s, when Kalu Rinpoche first visited the United States, he was at a restaurant with a group of newly inspired Buddhists. They all ordered vegetarian meals except for the Rinpoche who ordered a steak. You can imagine how many jaws dropped.
While everyone enjoyed herbal tea after dinner, one of the students asked how could Rinpoche eat meat: Wasn’t that a direct link to the death of the cow?
Rinpoche’s reply was something like this, “In order to grow this tea we’re drinking now, the earth had to be tilled. Animals that live under the ground are put above the ground, and animals that live above the ground are buried. Countless numbers of beings died as a result of tilling the earth, so you might as well be drinking a cup of blood.”
The value of a being’s life is not measured by its weight or size, or even whether or not it has vertebrae—as defined by the Buddha. We live in a realm where we knowingly or unknowingly continuously inflict harm and even death.
The point of this is not to conjure a nihilistic or depressing view of the world, but to put things into perspective. This should only inspire us to seek out the teachings and methods of the Buddha with more diligence.
Santa Fe, NM
I’d like to add one anecdote to your appreciation of Sojun Mel Weitsman (“Umbrella Man,” Winter 2010). I met Mel in December 2006 to interview him for a book I was writing on Terry Riley’s In C, the seminal piece in the history of American musical minimalism. Mel actually performed in the premiere of the work, on November 4, 1964, playing sopranino recorder! He was part of the whole experimental Bay Area arts scene at the time, and he regaled me with wonderful stories as we sat together in the Berkeley Zen Center. And he gave me one particularly wonderful gift. He informed me that he thought he had a score of a later Riley piece, Autumn Leaves, which he had also premiered but which was thought lost. A few weeks later, the original manuscript/part arrived in my mail, and since then it has been restored and performed multiple times. The musical community owes Mel a great debt of thanks as well.
Understanding, Not Ecstasy
Allan Badiner’s review of two recent books in Tricycle’s Winter 2010 issue (“Remembering the Great American Turn-on”) cites a large cast of “colorful characters.” Their self-indulgences diverted many persons away from the conservative roots of the authentic Buddhist path. The results were the kinds of cultural aberrations that some might call “beat Zen” or “zig zag Zen.” However, ancient Buddhism had five major precepts of moral discipline, and they were designed to include laity. The meaning in one Pali sutra was clear: avoid intoxicants (Anguttara Nikaya 8.39).
So then, on the last page of your Winter issue, it was fitting that Andrew Cooper’s words would honor the living memory of Robert Aitken Roshi (1917– 2010). Because it was Aitken Roshi who pointed out—when you reviewed psychedelics back in the fall of 1996—that a fundamental “qualitative difference” distinguishes the realizations during Zen practice from drug experience. What we seek, he said, is “understanding, not ecstasy.” Prajna conveys extraordinary comprehension. Its insight-wisdom awakens only when self-centered indulgence leaves the scene.
—James H. Austin, M.D.
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Image: ©Neal Crosbie
A Radical Evolution