Letters to the Editor Winter 2005

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The Dispute Of Happiness
The Tricycle Fall 2005 issue was one of the best yet! So many articles on happiness, so much to think about—and like all really good discussions, it left me asking so many questions! Here are two:

As a college professor, I sometimes ask my students what they think is the most important thing in life; increasingly, the answer is “happiness.” But I remember asking that question when I was a college student and getting answers like “I want to be rich,” “I want power,” or (since it was the '60s) “I want love.” It seems as if fewer people are making the assumption that happiness comes automatically as part of some external factor. Could this mean that we are beginning to learn something?

Second question: if Americans are changing their views about happiness, could this be in part a result of the growth of Buddhism among us? According to the National Survey of Religious Identification, the number of Buddhists in this country grew from 401,000 in 1990 to 1,082,000 in 2000. That's a growth of over 170 percent! Surely this means that more and more Americans are having some contact with Buddhists, and thus with the dharma and the concept of escape from suffering. Could the “happiness craze” turn out to be one of Tricycle's own chickens coming home to roost?

—Ralph Doty, Norman, Oklahoma

I have just finished reading the Fall 2005 issue of Tricycle. The issue has “The Pursuit of Happiness” as its organizing theme. This type of marketing may sell copy, but something substantive has been lost.

A dog chasing his tail
Looking for happiness,
Does not find enlightenment.

—Brad Keller, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Coney Island Enlightenment
I have framed your joyful cover photo of robed monks on a roller coaster.

Fifteen years ago, when I was interviewing Sidney Baker, M.D., he described a hobby of his. Dr. Baker, who was director of the Gessell Institute for Human Development, would go to amusement parks and photograph people as they rode the roller coasters. After taking hundreds of pictures, he felt that he had discovered the secret of the ecstatic roller-coaster ride. More than anything, the rider simply needs to let go, to open up to the experience rather than contract. He said to fully appreciate the ride, throw your arms up with abandon and let the feelings of both exhilaration and terror flow in and out as you take the wild journey.

We both laughed, acknowledging that whether on a two-minute roller-coaster ride or on the journey of life, it was far easier said than done.

—Paul Roud, Ph.D., Leverett, Massachusetts

Ongoing Awakening
Thank you for the article on “Sudden Awakening” by Nina Wise (Fall 2005). As a female dharma teacher who teaches the “Way of Sudden Awakening,” I appreciated her insights regarding the possibility of ordinary women in leadership and teaching roles in the Buddhist community. I thought your readers might like to know that the Buddhist path of sudden awakening (Southern School of Ch'an), flourished in other centers as well as the Bao Tang, the eighth-century sect that Wise discusses. Readers may wish to look into the teachings of Huang-po, Hui-neng, and Huai-hai from the same period. The teaching never died out and can be found reappearing in seventeenth-century Japan with Bankei [1622-93]. Fortunately, there are English translations of all these teachers available. Nippo Syaku, under whom my teacher studied, brought the sudden awakening school to the United States from Japan in the late 1960s and '70s. It has always been passed along quietly, without marketing hype or catering to fads. I have taught and continued this profound tradition since 1998.

It is important to note that while there may be some superficial similarities to Advaita Vedanta, Sudden Awakening Buddhism is a distinct Buddhist path. This type of teaching has been called “the way of no-way” or “the method of no-method.” This approach is not to be equated with an iconoclastic rejection of all “way” or “method.” Rather, it should be understood as a systematic teaching pointing to the sudden uncovering of wisdom within—without recourse to fixed, rigid, objective methodologies. As a result the teaching is fluid and flexible according to the student's needs while preserving its direct, straightforward pointing to the true nature of mind as the Buddha-nature.

Thanks again for making your readers aware of this little-known but precious way.

—Helga Schleiter Smith, Soquel, California

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