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The Tree of Life
Though I thought that Linda Heuman’s recent piece, “Whose Buddhism Is Truest?” (Summer 2011), was fascinating and liberating, I would like to make a few remarks (as a nonspecialist) regarding the genealogical tree model that she says must be “cut down.” First, regarding the tree of life, which Heuman says biologists are putting “under the axe,” I believe its eradication might be overly harsh. Granted, the tree of life model is currently undergoing modifications because of discoveries about horizontal and lateral gene transfer (the transmission of genetic material between species), but vertical gene transfer (receiving genetic material from ancestors) is still the main component in genetic transmission for most species one can see with the eye. Though I would contend that the tree model of evolution still stands, it is true that the new vines growing between some of the model’s branches approach the braided-river model.
Second, regarding the genealogy of Buddhism, it seems to me that abandoning the tree model might also be ill-advised, at least regarding its oral transmission. On the assumption that Buddha was indeed an existing individual, a “convergence-to-a-single-root” tree model would be unavoidable at least for early oral transmission, however well the braided-river model might apply to later textual transmission of Buddhism. With that in mind, I have combined your tree and braided-river diagrams in a single—admittedly speculative—diagram (see image below). Luckily for the “intermingled” approach to Buddhism, which Heuman prefers, by definition the tree supporting the braided-river presents no written record.
—C. E. Emmer
“The Need of the Hour” by Bhikkhu Bodhi (Fall 2011) is a well-written article, and I am glad for its timeliness. As he says, “In a world torn by violence, oppressed too long by projects aimed at domination…a conscientious compassion guided by wisdom is the most urgent need of the hour.” The task of restoring the planet and ourselves is easier than we think. Of the billions who inhabit Earth, only a few million ruling elite are causing the most misery. It is wise for us to be compassionate toward the oil companies, for example, and to hope that their destructive greed can be transformed through our love. If we can follow a practice of compassionate lovingkindness, maybe it will overflow into the homes of the rich and powerful and communicate the message that other humans are not the enemy. We are all in this together on a finite planet. When the water rises, it rises for all of us.
State of Mind
When Rita M. Gross writes about the “truly peaceful mind,” (“Buddhism & Religious Diversity,” Fall 2011) she says that anger and aggression are no longer available to the peaceful mind because these responses have “been thoroughly tamed.” She goes on to speak of “this state of mind, in which one simply can’t fathom how people could hold such strange, counterproductive, unworkable opinions or beliefs.” She also speaks of a “restrained mind.”
All of this is contrary to what I have been taught in Buddhist practice. I was taught that the emotions are not tamed (suppressed) but instead recognized for what they are, acknowledged, and let go, with no attachment or clinging. Ms. Gross’s use of the terms “state of mind in which one cannot fathom,” “strange,” “counterproductive,” and “unworkable” is quite judgmental and not very accepting of diversity. The mind cannot be restrained. It is its very nature to be like a pot on the boil. Thoughts will always bubble to the surface. The truly peaceful, tranquil mind rests in total awareness, with no concepts or reference points, no judgments, and with complete letting go, with no attachment or clinging to whatever thoughts or emotions bubble up.
Finally, I was taught that resting in equanimity and practicing love for all beings was most important of all. Sometimes I wonder if this is still taught.
An Open Door
I thank you, Rita Gross, for your piece on Buddhism and religious diversity. I’ve discovered for myself that the unskilled mind I have is capable of confusing, distorting, judging, and complicating the simplest and most pleasant ideas. It seems that as a group or as individuals we want our own stamp engraved and others to follow along in order to validate our own position. Buddhism is a feeling for me, not a thought. It has opened the door to love and compassion without judgment. It’s up to me to keep the door open and walk through.
Jensen Beach, FL
Act that Way
Thank you for introducing Myokei to us in “A Right to the Dharma” (Fall 2011). When she said, “As a person of color, I’ve always faced people telling me that race is not an issue or that I’m overreacting,” I could replace her words, person of color, with “As a woman...” I often feel as if I am not the primary audience for many of the articles in Tricycle. I do not mean this as an attack on the magazine; it is just part of the female experience in this country, no matter how much we like to give lip-service to equality whether it applies to race, gender, sexual orientation, or social level. Myokei says, “If I truly believe that Buddhism is for everyone, then I have to act that way. It requires introspection and a commitment to weeding out everything within that prevents that compassion and acceptance from happening.” What beautiful words coming from a beautiful person.
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Image2: © Neal Crosbie