Letters to the Editor Winter 2003

A Second Opinion
I greatly enjoyed the clarity and honesty of “Under The Lens: An American Zen Community in Crisis” [Fall 2003], until the very last sentence, when I absolutely cringed. In the interest of awareness of alcoholism in the Buddhist community and elsewhere, I would like to point out that Anne Cushman’s conclusion that Maezumi Roshi’s death by drowning drunk in his bathtub does not prove “he was human to the end.” It proves that his recovery process, initiated twenty years before, when his students sent him to the Betty Ford Clinic, was tragically unsuccessful.

One cannot meditate one’s way to recovery, but rather one must in a very focused way disrupt the mental and emotional patterns of addictive logic that perpetuate the addiction even when damage to self and others is evident. Meditation becomes important later, when the spiritual aspects of recovery have a chance of taking hold in a sober mind.

—Dr. Richard Schaub, New York City

What Does It All Mean?
A few months ago I submitted the following question to “On The Cushion”: “Is it possible to have a meaningful meditation practice in the absence of a living teacher?”

In the Fall 2003 issue, Steve Hagen addresses my question, but he does not answer it. Instead, he expounds at some length on the absurdity of seeing meditation as a search for meaning. I agree that meditation is an end in itself. Fair enough, but does it therefore follow that meditating is a meaningless activity? I don’t think so.

If meditation has no meaning or purpose, why publish Tricycle, whose goal seems to be to get us all on that cushion? Why bother to sponsor Change Your Mind Day [a day of free meditation instruction offered to the general public in parks across the country and abroad]?

As a beginner, I was not looking for meaning but for guidance. What I got was a clever Zen slap in the face, which I found less than helpful.

—Helen Weaver, Woodstock, New York

I have some questions about Steve Hagen’s answer to the meditation question in your Fall 2003 issue. What’s wrong with having a purpose for meditating? If meditation is defined as being in the present moment without purpose, I can think of a lot of things I’ve done in my life that had me totally involved in the present moment without thought of the consequences, and for the most part they would have been better left undone. Is that sort of activity really better than the type of meditation where people are trying to cut down on their greed, anger, and delusion? And when Hagen says that his tradition denies that there’s any enlightenment to attain, how am I supposed to interpret that in light of other meditation traditions that give specific instructions on how to get to enlightenment? Do he and his teachers know something those other traditions don’t know, or have they simply not gotten there?

I realize that the desire for enlightenment can be an obstacle to practice, but is making a big deal of denying it the only way to handle it? I also realize that it’s pretty cool to say that you’ve devoted your life to something totally meaningless and that you wash dishes in a way that’s too profound for words, but if the cool pose comes at the price of an enlightenment where there are no dishes to wash, what’s so cool about it?

—Giles Penny, Williamsburg, Virginia

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