What Works

James Shaheen

“Until there is peace in the Middle East, there will be no peace for Americans at home.”

In spite of himself, Osama bin Laden spoke the truth. What he intended as a menacing threat turned out to make more Buddhist sense than we might have expected from a fanatic hell-bent on holy war: If bombs fall “over there,” eventually, they’ll fall here.

In spite of himself, Osama bin Laden spoke the truth. What he intended as a menacing threat turned out to make more Buddhist sense than we might have expected from a fanatic hell-bent on holy war: If bombs fall “over there,” eventually, they’ll fall here.

The events of September 11 opened the nation’s eyes to a vast but little understood world beyond its borders. In the chaotic aftermath of the stunning attacks on the Pentagon and New York City, Buddhists, along with everyone else, had difficulty finding an ethical antidote commensurate with the enormity of what they had witnessed. What did Buddhism have to offer? In this issue, we've asked dharma teachers and practitioners precisely that question. In “Welcome to the Real World,” Acharya Judy Lief speaks of our awakening from an American dreamworld of affluence and privilege to join millions of others in life’s harshest realities; in “Waking Up the Nation,” Vietnamese peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, too, compares our lives to a dream in which only “deep listening” to the other’s point of view can awaken us to the reality of another’s—and indeed our own—suffering; and plumbing the murky depths of the Buddhist precept of non-killing, Stephen Batchelor tests our Buddhist mettle: are we up to the Buddhist ideal of nonviolence, and if so, what would living up to it entail?

For all of us here at Tricycle—as for so many others—the horrific events of September 11 were not something we watched from a safe distance; they were not far-off images of suffering transmitted to us through the distortions of the mass media. With countless fellow New Yorkers, we stood outside our offices in the streets of downtown Manhattan and witnessed the unthinkable, watching until the towers came down before we joined the exodus uptown in stunned disbelief. How could this happen? But in the days and weeks that followed, a clearer, more rhetorical question posed itself: “How could it not?”

Perhaps now more than ever Bernie Glassman’s teachings on the oneness of life make much-needed sense in a world ever more split by sectarianism. If you suffer, I suffer; and conversely, as the trickster and Zen master has it, “If you feed the cattle in China, the cows in Maine get filled.” To the extent we imagine that what happens “over there” has nothing to do with us “over here,” to that extent are we deluded. Likewise, to the extent we understand that there is no separation between us, to that extent are we enlightened.

Helen Tworkov, Tricycle’s founding editor, has passed on the editorial baton after guiding this magazine through its first ten years. She will now take up broader responsibilities as Executive Director of The Buddhist Ray, Inc., the umbrella organization that publishes Tricycle. It was Helen’s bold vision that shaped this unique endeavor, and it will be our job to maintain the high standards that she has set. At the same time, a lot has changed since Tricycle first went to press a decade ago, and there are new challenges. It was not uncommon back then to hear people ask, “What is Buddhism?” Later, with a little more knowledge, people began to wonder, “What’s the Buddhist take?” on a particular issue. And now it seems we’re ready to move on once again: In “One Dharma,” American Buddhist teacher Joseph Goldstein points to a question that perhaps best characterizes the adaptation of the teachings in the West: “What works? What works to free the mind from suffering?”

As our country wages war, Buddhism may not teach us how to fight terrorism, but its teachings on the nature of mind can free us from terror itself. Perhaps now it is time for us, too, to ask, “What works?” and “What is relevant to our lives as we live them now?” With these questions in mind, we will continue our efforts in coming issues to discover what does work and make best use of it. ▼

 

 

 

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