As a 2,500-year old religion, Buddhism has a rich and diverse past
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    Homelessness Into Home Paid Member

    India in the sixth century B.C.E. was especially alive with religious adepts going about their business alone or in the company of others. But monastic institutions as we know them, did not exist then, nor did monasteries exist in Buddhism during the Buddha’s lifetime. The pre-Buddhist ideal of the world-renouncing mendicant is already acknowledged in the legend of the “four-signs” which leads to Prince Siddhartha’s renunciation: after seeing examples of old age, sickness, and death, the Buddha-to-be sees a self-composed, serene, and alert “bhikku.” The ideal of this nomadic, world-renouncing lifestyle was well established in Vedic period prior to Buddhism. More »
  • City of Screams Paid Member

    In February 2001, Mullah Omer, leader of the Taliban, issued his infamous decree: all pre-Islamic art in Afghanistan was to be destroyed, including the two great Buddhas carved into the sandstone cliffs of Bamiyan. When Rob Schultheis began this article—a history of the ancient monument and the people who built it—the Buddhas were still standing.The first historical account of the Buddhas of Bamiyan—the larger of which is said to have been the tallest Buddha in the world—comes to us from 632 C.E., in the words of the great Chinese pilgrim Hsuan Tsang. Hsuan was in the midst of an epic ten-thousand-mile trek along the Silk Road, to the westernmost outposts of the Buddhist world. Much of what is now Afghanistan consisted of small Buddhist kingdoms then, but the countryside was wild and lawless. Hsuan writes of narrow, precipitous trails, of snowdrifts twenty to thirty feet deep, of demon-haunted passes and murderous bands of robbers. More »
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    Digesting The Dharma Paid Member

    In my last column, I provided a brief history of the attempt to anthologize Buddhist texts, to reduce the teachings of Buddhism to a single volume. The organization of these anthologies was often telling, revealing the presuppositions and prejudices of the editors. Some were chronological, beginning with Pali texts (believed to be the earliest sources) and moved on to Indian Mahayana, then to China, and sometimes Tibet, and ended with some works of Japanese Zen. Tibet was almost neglected in this schema: because of the paucity of Tibetan translations, anthologizers drew inevitably from The Tibetan Book of the Dead or The Life of Milarepa. The president of the Buddhist Society of London, Christmas Humphreys augmented the Tibetan materials in The Wisdom of Buddhism (1960) with a selection from Madame Blavatsky's The Voice of the Silence, a work scholars regard as her own fabrication. More »
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    Losing Our Religion Paid Member

    Robert Sharf's interest in Buddhism began in the early 1970s, when, as a seeker in sandals barely out of his teens, he hopped from one meditation retreat to the next, first in India and Burma, then back in North America. It was shortly after a three-month Vipassana meditation retreat in Bucksport, Maine, in 1975 that Sharf began to wonder whether the single-minded emphasis on meditation characteristic of much of Western Buddhism was in some way misguided. Over time, doubt and confusion gave way to a desire to better understand Buddhism's historical background, which in turn led him to pursue a career in Buddhist scholarship. Today Sharf is the D. H. Chen Distinguished Professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. More »
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    A Democracy of the Imagination Paid Member

                         Ernest Hemingway spoke once of sitting at his desk each morning to face "the horror of a blank sheet of paper." He found himself (as any writer can confirm) having to produce by the end of the day a series of words arranged in a way that has never before been imagined. You sit there, alone, hovering on the cusp between nothing and something. This is not a blank, stale nothing; it is an awesome nothing charged with unrealized potential. And the hovering is the kind that can fill you with dread. Rearrangement of the items on your desk assumes an irresistible attraction. More »
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    The Final Word: An Interview with Jacqueline Stone Paid Member

    What is the Lotus Sutra about? In it we read how to hear the sutra, how to preach the sutra, who was gathered to hear it preached, what happened before it was preached, why it is so important, how it was preached in the past, what will happen in the future to those who hear it, and so on. It is like an extravagant preamble to an event that never seems to arrive. Some scholars of the Lotus Sutra have noted just that point, and I think it is a fair reading. If we just read the sutra, and set aside later interpretations, one thing we see going on is that the sutra is establishing its own authority. For example, at the beginning the Buddha emerges from meditation and begins to preach spontaneously, and not, as is usually the case, in response to a question. He says that he will soon enter final nirvana, and so he is now going to preach the true and unsurpassed dharma. More »