ancestors

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    Sailing to Fusang Paid Member

    The quincentenary of Christopher Columbus' voyage has inspired a welcome re-visioning of that momentous and cataclysmic event. Nowadays, none but the most myopically Eurocentric embrace the myth that Columbus "discovered" America in 1492. That feat, we now know, was accomplished tens of thousands of years ago by small bands of explorers—the ancestors of Native Americans—who crossed over the Bering Strait into the Western hemisphere. In turn, they were followed by a motley crew, some possibly real, some probably not, which included Japanese fishermen landing in Peru around 3000 B.C.E.; Jews finding refuge from Roman persecution during the first century C.E. in what is called today the Tennessee River Valley; the Irish monk Saint Brendan reaching America in a curragh, or skin boat, some time in the sixth century; Leif Eriksson visiting Newfoundland and Nova Scotia circa the year 1000, followed by the Welsh Prince Madoc in the twelfth century. More »
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    The Mushroom Monk: Nyogen Senzaki Paid Member

    “THE LAND OF THE WHITE BARBARIANS is beneath the dignity of a Zen master," argued Soyen Shaku's monks when Soyen was invited to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. But the Japanese abbot already had high expectations for the new world. Disregarding the objections of his monks, Soyen Shaku (1859-1919) became the first Zen priest to visit the United States. In Chicago, he represented Zen Buddhism with diplomatic discretion. Privately, however, Soyen felt that Zen in Japan had grown impoverished, sapped of true spiritual inquiry. On Soyen's horizon, the future of Zen rested with the barbarians in the West. For the first half of the twentieth century, Zen activity in the United States was carried out by Soyen Shaku's lineage alone, its influence continuing through his two messengers to the West: the world-famous D. T. Suzuki (1869-1966), who became the popularized voice of Zen, and the little-known Zen saint and monk Nyogen Senzaki (1876-1958). More »
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    Alan Watts Reconsidered Paid Member

    At the meditation center where I used to practice, my teacher told a story about a time when he had lived in Korea and studied with a Zen monk. One of the nuns in the community had died, and at her funeral the monk wept uncontrollably and hysterically, in a way that was almost embarrassing. My teacher, relatively new to the practice, was surprised that the man hadn't shown more equanimity, and brought the matter up at an interview. The monk burst into laughter. That nun had been a dear friend of his, he said. They had joined the community at the same time, and he was sad she was gone. He had expressed his grief when he felt it, and now could go on. Liberation wasn't a matter of acting some particular way, but feeling how you felt, whatever the situation. More »
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    Still Speaking Paid Member

    Students of Zen Buddhism come to me with a variety of "first books" in their past and among them, with some frequency, is Dwight Goddard's durable anthology of translations, A Buddhist Bible, originally published in 1932 and then republished in its present, enlarged form in 1938. More »
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    Tea on the Dead Sea Paid Member

    From the early 1960s through the early 80s, Soen Nakagawa, who had been influential in the training of such early American Zen students as Philip Kapleau and Robert Aitken, began to come regularly to the States to lead sesshins, or sitting retreats, when his responsibilities as abbot of Ryutakuji Monastery in Japan would allow it. Soen Roshi, as his American students called him, was famed for his unconventional teaching methods, which were eccentric even by Zen standards. One often-reported trick was the time he placed a pumpkin on his sitting cushion in the interview room during sesshin. He then called participants in for private interviews and hid behind a screen, watching while the baffled students did their customary prostrations before the impassive gourd. More »
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    Stirring the Victorian Imagination Paid Member

    LIKE EVERYTHING the British poet Edwin Arnold wrote, The Light of Asia was quickly written: a poem in eight books of about five hundred lines each, mostly in blank verse, composed over a period of several months when Arnold was busy with other concerns. Immediately upon its publication in the summer of 1879, the poem began to sell copies and win attention. It was a life of Siddhartha Gautama, told from the point of view of "an Indian Buddhist" (so read the title page) in high English style. The immediate sensation surrounding The Light of Asia was remarkable: for some time on both sides of the Atlantic, newspapers and dining rooms were charged with discussion about the Buddha, his teaching, and Arnold's presentation of Buddhism. The book's success was also sustained. By 1885 the authorized English version had gone through thirty editions. More »