Letters to the Editor - Winter 1993

I would like to thank Dr. Epstein for his courageous, and insightful article, "Awakening With Prozac."

Ken Wilber, in his book No Boundary, offers a lucid model of personality/spiritual development, that could be used to further amplify the point Epstein makes. According to Wilber, development occurs in stages of increasing evolution, and further, each stage has its corresponding therapies.

In order to progress from one stage to another the work at the lower level must, by and large, be completed, by some form or combination of therapies. And though Wilber does not expressly list medication as a modality, the spirit of his model does.

I am not suggesting a simplistic interpretation of Wilber's thesis, in that work at all levels is continuously and simultaneously being done by everyone, and the distinctions between the various levels are somewhat nebulous. However, failure to recognize the distinct nature of each stage leads to the kind of confusion that often labels some psychotics as spiritually enlightened individuals.

Further, I would like to suggest that when meditation (as opposed to medication) works as a modality, it is that component of meditation correspond-ing to the meditator's level that works. This is not to deny that someone on, say, the "persona" level can practice and benefit from mindfulness, but to recognize that one of the other components of meditation is probably doing that individual the greatest good.

As Epstein's article implies, let's walk before running to sit underneath the Bodhi tree.

Joey Dweck
New York, New York

As a psychotherapist of twenty-five years' experience and a Buddhist practitioner of almost as many, I feel compelled to respond to Dr. Epstein's article, "Awakening with Prozac."

The medical model applied to mind offers a conceptualization that defies human experiences of crisis in terms of "mental illness" and suggests that therefore the introduction of medicines is necessary. Chemicals such as Prozac change the mind, but with many important side effects, not the least of which is the definition of the user as sick (often incurably) when mind-altering substances are prescribed on a permanent basis.

It is important to understand that although the "illness" model is often presented with authority, it is only one of many possible metaphors for the description of human distress, each with its own approach for resolution of problematic states.

Dr. Epstein's article contends that Buddhist practice sometimes requires chemical supplementation. This constitutes a mixing of descriptive metaphors. There is no need to add to the simple and elegant science of mind and the practice that are Buddhism. The practice requires guidance, patience, and effort. In its full expression as a way of life, Buddhism is a response to all problems of mind unparalleled in its breadth, depth, and evolutionary potential.

Phoebe Snover Prosky
Freeport, Maine

The author responds:

My article did not mean to slight the ability of psychoanalysts to go beyond the limits of their ideology, only to point out that they, like Buddhists, have often been unable to. Nor did I mean to imply that Buddhist practice sometimes requires chemical supplementation; only that Buddhist practitioners sometimes do. The need for such supplementation, in my experience, is not limited to those at "lower" levels of psychospiritual development, but can occur at any point on the spiritual path. This does not have to be a tragedy. As for the mixing of descriptive metaphors, my point is that precisely such a mixing is required for certain kinds of distress to be resolved. Neither Buddhism nor psychoanalysis nor transpersonal psychology nor Prozac can be expected to hold the key to recovery for all mental illness.

—Mark Epstein

Art Matters

I was unpleasantly surprised to see that Tricycle chose to feature Nam June Paik's Reclining Buddha to introduce the dharma art section (Vol. III, No.1). Featuring Reclining Buddha as the first piece in the section is not unlike the many "reclining buddhas" used by our hyper-sexualized advertising industry to sell everything from cars to cream cheese. And while I fully support Paik's artistic endeavors, I do not support Tricycle's use of Paik's sculpture to "sell" the accompanying article. The commercialized use of women's bodies is so prevalent in our culture that it is easy to become numb to it. My hope is that Tricycle will choose other, less objectifying and sensational methods of getting readers' attention in the future.

Vicki Tidwell Palmer
Houston, Texas

I am increasingly disturbed by your use of Buddhist art, particularly Zen paintings and calligraphy, merely to break up the text. Why don't you spend more time explaining the images and who created them? Zen art is not merely a form of decoration, and I believe you are eXploiting it to enhance the appearance of your magazine.

Sara Brown
Chicago, Illinois

Zen Elders

The Roshi Philip Kapleau remarks in your Summer Issue (Vol. II, No.4) that sanctioning Catholic priests and nuns as teachers of Zen Buddhism is a bizarre corruption that threatens the integrity of the Dharma. Let me comment:

My teacher, Yamada Koun Roshi, who was also Kapleau Roshi's colleague in preparing translations for The Three Pillars of Zen, often said that he visualized Zen Buddhism becoming an important stream in the Roman Catholic Church. We find this vision actualized. Teachers authorized by Yamada Roshi are leading disciples in Christian contexts, predominantly Catholic, in Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and other European countries. Indeed it can be said that almost all Zen Buddhist centers on the European continent, with the exception of those in France, are at the same time Christian.

Some of these teachers transmute elements of Zen Buddhism to enhance their Christian contemplation. Others lead Zen meetings and retreats with no admixture of Christianity whatever. Still others lead traditional Zen retreats but with optional Mass each day during an otherwise free time. AI] of these teachers also lead Christian retreats. They continue to honor Christianity as Christianity, as they have come to honor Buddhism as Buddhism.

Father Patrick Hawk is independent as a teacher and Sister Pia Gyger and the Reverend Rolf Drosten are apprentice teachers in the Diamond Sangha tradition. They are "bigger containers," to use Joko Beck's felicitous metaphor. Just as Harada Dai'un Roshi and Dogen Kigen Zenji before him traced their lineage in the very different traditions of Rinzai and the Soto, so in our modern global village, with its instantaneous communication and its dangerous religious divisions, the three Diamond Sangha teachers are maturing as children of two parents who are much further apart than Rinzai and Soto, while venerating them both.

Of course this is not a metaphysical process. The Three Treasures of Buddhism or the Three Bodies of the Buddha are most certainly not the Holy Trinity of Christianity. God as a person doesn't fit anywhere in Hua-yen cosmology. The integration of Buddhism and Christianity is happening in deep experience, not as a kind of intellectua] resolution.

Just as men and women fight like cats and dogs unless each can find the seed of the other within, so Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and followers of the other great religious traditions will be mutually confrontive unless they can cultivate the possibility of other religions as their own. The total failure of communication between mullahs and patriarchs in the former Yugoslavia was a major factor leading to the present civil war. There are similar abject failures involving Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Burma. Here at home, Native Americans struggle to defend their sacred places in the face of rigid misapprehension.

Christian teachers of Zen Buddhism are pioneers in a new phase of world religion. It's happening and it's a genuine movement. I urge that we explore its possibilities with sympathetic understanding.

Robert Aitken Roshi
Honolulu, Hawai'i

 

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