A Slice of Humble Pie
Thank you for Amie Barrodale’s article “La Pala” (Winter 2013). It reminded me of a passage from a book by Iris Murdoch, A Word Child: “Nothing humbles human pride more than inability to understand a language. It’s a perfect image of spiritual limitation. The cleverest man looks a fool if he can’t speak a language properly. . . . [God] wanted us to see that goodness is a foreign language.”
Rocky River, OH
Does Mindfulness Make for a Better “You”?
I’m a Buddhist meditator who teaches others, generally non-Buddhists, to meditate. The reflections and considerations in Linda Heuman’s interview with David McMahan (“Context Matters,” Winter 2013) precisely mirror the difficulties I have to work around. There is a conception that mindfulness makes for a better YOU, an approach that I have to navigate in introducing mindfulness so that eventually, insight can begin to stir.
My experience is that the unconditioned is outside cultural relativism, which, I think, is why I so often come across experiences in the sutras that seem to speak exactly to my own, and why I think of “enlightenment” as beyond language, beyond philosophy, and beyond constructed thought. Perhaps it’s useful to frame these discussions in terms of karma—our multilayered, self-proliferating habits and volitions but also our tradition, language, and culture—that we need to dispense with in order to reach liberation.
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, UK
Change the World, Not Buddhism
I was very glad to see Linda Heuman’s interview with David McMahan, who identified the differences between what the Buddha taught—samma sati, or right mindfulness (wise and discerning ethical judgments)—and the stripped-down consumer version of mindfulness that is now part of the Western Buddhist menu (nonjudgmental awareness).
The problems inherent in a mindfulness practice that exists without an ethical and value-based ethos are just a slice of the Western Buddhist pie that needs to be examined carefully. I, for one, feel that the Buddha’s teachings are timeless and that the example of the renunciant monk holds a relevant place in a modern world increasingly bent on greed, anger, consumerism, and delusion. Buddhism need not fundamentally adapt and change to the modern world; instead, the modern world should pay some real attention to what the Buddha taught 2,600 years ago. While the Buddha embraced the idea that some aspects of practice could adapt to different cultures and times, at no time did he suggest that the dhamma be reformulated to suit modern tastes.
I am glad that Professor McMahan is devoting his scholarship to some of these important issues, and I look forward to hearing much more from him.
St. Charles, IL
CORRECTION: Due to a production error, the last line of “Going Native” in the Winter 2013 issue was cut off. The full sentence should read: “Wagner’s prose burns brightly, but absent some deeper purpose it incinerates itself, the glow soon fades, and we’re left not with a sense of mystery and awe but with the feeling that something is missing.” Something missing, indeed. Tricycle regrets the error.