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    A Life Outside of Time Paid Member

    Five years go, I traveled to Kyoto to learn about stillness and focus in the Zen temples whose pictures I had long admired. What I quickly learned was that Zen required much more commitment and rigor than the postcards could suggest: dilettantes need not apply. Returning to California, I stumbled, without meaning to, upon a small Benedictine hermitage high above the sea in Big Sur. There, a few hours away from my home, I found much of the spaciousness I had gone halfway around the world to find. More »
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    Himalayan Intrigue Paid Member

    On June 17, 1992, a seven-year-old nomad boy from the steppes of eastern Tibet was installed as one of Central Asia's great religious hierarchs. The child, Ugyen Thinley, was recognized as the Seventeenth Gyalwa Karmapa. His predecessors—the Guru Lamas of Kublai Khan and successive Mongol Chinese Emperors—had been virtual rulers of Tibet before the Dalai Lamas. Princes of an immensely wealthy theocratic establishment, they were buddhas in the guise of sacred magicians, high priests, and god-kings. The recognition of the last Karmapa was greeted with exultation and delight, rejoicing and relief—in Tibet, across the Himalayas, among Tibetan communities in exile, and by devotees of the Karmapa throughout the world. The ceremony itself was attended by thousands of Tibetans. More »
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    The Science of Compassion Paid Member

    I exit the subway to my quiet Brooklyn neighborhood and there he is again, wearing a ragged T-shirt, torn jeans, and dirty sneakers, sweeping the subway steps with an old broom. He looks at me pleadingly. Feeling generous, I reach into my pocket for a coin but find only crumpled bills. Too much, I think. Mumbling a quick "Sorry," I avoid his eyes and hurry on past. More »
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    Rebirth: A Case for Buddhist Agnosticism Paid Member

    In 1254 the Franciscan friar William of Rubruck, a missionary in Mongolia, became the first Westerner to describe a reincarnate Buddhist teacher. In the report of his mission to King Louis IX of France he recounted the following episode: A boy was brought from Cataia [China], who to judge by his physical size was not three years old, yet was fully capable of rational thought: he said of himself that he was in his third incarnation, and he knew how to read and write. (Peter Jackson's The Mission Friar of William of Rubruck, Hakluyt Society, 1990.) Seven hundred and thirty years later, the same phenomenon was reported in the heartland of Christian Europe: More »
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    Report from Rio: The Earth Summit Paid Member

    Monday, June 1 Flying to Rio de Janeiro from New York, we pass over Freshkill Landfill, the largest man-made object in the world. It reminds me that we Americans throwaway twice our body weight in garbage every day. In Miami Airport's red-carpet lounge a journalist calls in his "angle" on his way down to Rio: "I've got it. It's good. Are you there? Yeah, well here it is. It's chaos, it's impasse, gridlock if you will, but it's the future of diplomacy. It's how business will be done from now on—big, unwieldy gatherings. Okay? Good." More »
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    Living With The Devil Paid Member

    In popular mythology, devils are quixotic and cruel tyrants who relish tormenting their victims. Their vitality obscures how the demonic is subjectively experienced as a state of existential and psychological paralysis. When seized by a demon, one feels suffocated, oppressed, and fatigued as one struggles to be free from what entraps one. The devil is a way of talking about that which blocks one’s path in life, frustrates one’s aspirations, makes one feel stuck, hemmed in, obstructed. While the Hebrew “Satan” means “adversary,” the Greek diabolos means “one who throws something across the path.” In India, Buddha called the devil “Mara,” which in Pali and Sanskrit means “killer.” In an early discourse entitled “The Striving,” Gotama recalls: More »