A Binding up
“Pursuing an American Buddhism,” Linda Heuman’s interview with Buddhist scholar Charles Prebish (Spring 2012), struck a chord with me. Buddhism has always adapted to, as well as transformed, any culture to which it was transplanted. It is surely one of its strengths that because it makes no claims to speak for revealed truth but invites each person to verify within whatever is being promulgated, it has been able to thrive in very different contexts.
I think one thing that was missing from the article is the most interesting and potentially invigorating contextual juxtaposition of all: Buddhism in a Judeo-Christian context. If one expands the idea of sangha to include all sentient beings who by definition seek happiness, then the congregations of other faiths are ready-built sanghas. (As indeed is the entire world!) I question whether the Americanization of Buddhism is going to take 500 years—as the article points out it took in China—to become acculturated. I think with the speed of modern communication, cultural inter-penetration is happening with breathtaking speed all over the globe. Indeed, if we are to survive the 21st century, the world needs a “binding up” (an etymology often given for the word religion) of humanity in a way that transcends all sectarian differences.
Out of the shadows
I am grateful for Lewis Richmond’s article “Aging as a Spiritual Practice” (Spring 2012). I feel that we should have more of these conversations, especially here in our Western culture, where death is still perceived as a horrifying event. It is very helpful to have a spiritual community where these things can be openly addressed, discussed, and brought out of the shadows of fear and dread.
Los Gatos, CA
Connecting with the Other
I give two thumbs up for the “Lifting a Corner” special section (Winter 2011). Such perspective on the experiences of others, facilitated by social networks, contemporary technology, and features like these help us move closer to a sorely needed sense of connectedness and interdependence by recognizing our selves in what has long been “the Other.”
Wonderful article by Aura Glaser (“Into the Demon’s Mouth,” Spring 2012)! I’ve heard and read the story of Milarepa’s demons countless times, but somehow Glaser’s commentary brought it home to me in a way no other has. After more than 20 years of therapy and a lifetime of spiritual searching, culminating in the last 5 years of committed Buddhist practice, I have at last begun to look unflinchingly, with surprising compassion and tenderness, at my own demons. Glaser’s article describes how I had sidestepped the scariest of the scary for years, despite genuinely, earnestly, diligently doing the work. It also describes the profound awakening of bodhicitta that is only just beginning.
Training for Modern Life
In “Buddhist Training for Modern Life,” (Spring 2012), Segyu Rinpoche says that the Juniper school relies heavily on the bedrock principle of critical thinking, and according to the Dalai Lama, whenever science undermines a traditionally held belief, we must let that belief go. So they don’t follow a classic presentation of reincarnation, because “the immaterial cannot affect the material, and we must avoid making statements for which we have no evidence.” That’s cool. Yet Segyu Rinpoche seems to accept his status as a “reincarnate master,” and he spoke of his strong connections to a statue of Je Tsongkhapa [Rinpoche’s prior reincarnation], which he recognized from boyhood visions. What’s up with that?
Lawrence Levy, cofounder of the Juniper school, responds: Good point. These childhood dreams were an experience that Rinpoche had, but he doesn’t take it beyond that by claiming they are part of a mystical or other worldly realm. It was just an experience. At Juniper we do not focus on reincarnation but on enhancing and transforming our minds now and for the future. In the eyes of Segyu Rinpoche’s Tibetan teachers, Rinpoche is a reincarnated lama. This is a recognition they bestowed on him long ago, and is one of the reasons Rinpoche has such a closeness with his teachers. Rinpoche honors this recognition and relationship, even though it is not part of how Juniper is bringing this tradition to modern culture. On a personal note, I would describe Rinpoche as a remarkably accomplished Buddhist master who is exceedingly warm, approachable, and down-to-earth. He does not dwell on recognition or reincarnation at all.
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Image: © Neal Crosbie