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Aung San Suu Kyi’s “Survival of the Fittest”

In “Who Is the Real Aung San Suu Kyi” (Spring 2018), Joe Freeman offers a comprehensive attempt to understand why Suu Kyi is the way she is now.

In reality she isn’t a democrat, much less a universal human rights defender. She has abandoned the Rohingya and other ethnic nationalities in favor of the Tatmadaw [the armed forces of Myanmar] and populist, racist tendencies. For now, she seems to be muddling through with the hope that she can outplay the Tatmadaw by biding her time.

—Sai Wansai
Uetersen, Germany

Toeing the Line between Buddhism and Therapy

I agree with C. W. Huntington, Jr. (“Are You Looking to Buddhism When You Should Be Looking to Therapy?” Spring 2018) that we ought to differentiate the goals of Buddhist-inspired psychotherapy from the goals of Buddhism. Psychotherapy aims to create well-adjusted human beings, while Buddhism aims at something far more profound and unconditional. I wonder, however, if it’s possible to make this distinction in practice.

If we take the insight maps as accurate representations of the progress of insight, some people’s psychological distress can be a result of run-of-the-mill suffering (dukkha), mental illness (nana), or both. Personally, I have found that some of my deep-rooted psychological problems were resolved by Vipassana meditation.

“Buddhist teachings remind us that we will never achieve real or lasting satisfaction by adopting a different, better way of thinking or acting,” the author writes, but I’ve often thought this nonengagement with the content of thought and behavior can lead to all sorts of needless suffering, however relative it may be. It’s also a lot easier to reach those states of jhana [meditative concentration] that are ultimately unsatisfactory (yet an essential part of the eightfold path), when you are not anxious or depressed or otherwise preoccupied with mental illness. Could it be that the psychological and the transpersonal are so intertwined that they cannot be separated?

—Duff McDuffee
Boulder, Colorado

We’re concerned that the recent article on dharma practice and psychotherapy by C. W. Huntington fails to adequately address the unconscious dynamics that so often manifest as obstructive forces in the midst of formal practice and our everyday life.

Perhaps it’s true that as long as practice remains at more superficial levels, it isn’t so difficult to draw distinctions between a psychotherapeutic approach and dharma work. Our experience, however, has been that the deeper we go, the more difficult it becomes to disentangle one from the other.

What we’ve found is that penetrating, nondual practices activate the whole of the psyche and in this process bring our unresolved issues closer to conscious awareness. As this happens, the influence of these forces becomes magnified such that we experience the consequences of this mobilization, but without dealing with the underlying causes.

We’ve also seen that deepening practice not only stirs up these forces; it’s also often used to push them back down. Misusing practice in this way comes at a real cost—both to ourselves and others—and is no doubt part of the dynamic playing itself out through the unethical behavior of so many spiritual teachers.

Since these unconscious dynamics are often linked to early disrupted attachments, they inevitably affect our practice, on the mat and in our relationships. As long as practice fails to address the whole of the psyche, it will, at best, be of only limited value.

We feel it’s imperative to continue to find ways to understand and work with the unique features of the unconscious in the midst of practice, so that this dharma will be more effective in relieving suffering and awakening the heart of the bodhisattva.

—Lawson Sachter and Sunya Kjolhede
Co-abbots, Windhorse Zen Community
Alexander, North Carolina

Disappointing Democracy

I was thrilled when I started to read James Kierstead’s “Democratic from the Start” (Spring 2018), but as I read further into it, my optimism faded. I thought, When will the author get to the crux of this “transmission” problem, namely the absolute lack of power extended to half of humankind—the female meditators?

This piece is written as if the sangha were an exclusive all-male club (which it is) and not a sincere egalitarian democratic construct (which it should be). How can a modern Western male meditator justify not mentioning the highly problematic, intrinsic, and yes, dare I say it, undemocratic culture of misogyny that Buddhist circles are so steeped in here in the West?

—Lára Martin
Reykjavík, Iceland

The Author Responds

I’m quite grateful to Lára for raising this important issue. In this piece I was focusing on evidence for democratic decision-making practices (such as majority voting) in the Buddhist tradition. Of course, another very important question is who should be part of the group of voters in the first place.

My own personal answer to this is “all comers.” I’m happy to see that more and more practice groups are taking this approach and choosing to let go of some of the more patriarchal practices that have been a feature of some Buddhist cultures of the past.

We still have some way to go, but it’s my view that adopting more democratic decision-making practices within inclusive communities can only help us move closer to an ideal where all members can have a say in how their groups are run and organized (or, perhaps, in who runs them).

—James Kierstead

Metta for Monsters

I’ve practiced metta for difficult people, and yes, it has made me a better person. My improved behavior has sometimes affected the difficult person’s behavior as well. But try as I may, I fail to see how loving Hitler or other genocidal monsters improves either the world or myself, as Andrew Oldendzki seems to suggest in “No Exceptions” (Spring 2018). Indeed, it seems to risk being “soft” on racism and other doctrines of hate. I keep hoping someone will show me how this actually works in the real world, but Olendzki’s essay fails miserably to address this issue.

—David Whiteside
Ventura, California

The Author Responds

My goal is not to show how the practice of lovingkindness works, but to clarify the teaching as found in the early Buddhist texts. Among these teachings is the clear statement that hatred is never successfully challenged by more hate. In this case, I think the demonstration of how it works is to be found in your first sentence. It’s not that “loving monsters” either reforms or empowers them, but only that it prevents you from getting dragged down by them.

—Andrew Olendzki

As I see it, referring to someone as a “jerk” or a “monster” happens because of a lack of lovingkindness. Think of it this way: jerks and monsters were subjected to various causes and conditions that led to their behavior. If we try to carefully understand the causes and conditions that led these people to commit certain crimes, then perhaps we can understand them better and extend lovingkindness to them with the wish “May they be free from anger and hatred.”

If the Buddha had classified the serial killer Angulimala as a “monster” and avoided him, Angulimala’s transformation from murderer to monk would never have happened.

—Nandini Karunamuni
Edmonton, Alberta

CORRECTIONS:

Cutting Through False Narratives” (Spring 2018) stated that Nalanda thrived for about 700 years after the Mughal invasion. It continued for about 100 years.

Who’s Got Good News?” (Spring 2018) mistitled Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature. It is not The Angels of Our Better Nature.

We regret the errors.

Temple
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