Thank you, thank you. I’ve noticed (and have heard several remarks from friends about) your increasing inclusion of African American faces in Tricycle. We, too, are searching, and we tend to feel isolated along the path when images—and teachings—of only “white” practitioners stare up from every page of Buddhist publications. All of us need to feel united, not separated. Your publication can do its part to create this sense of unity by showing us a mixed America.
San Juan, PR
In his article “The Buddha’s Footprint,” Johan Elverskog portrays early Buddhist texts as “openly hostile toward the environment” and talks of the dharma’s “disregard for nature.”
I have to disagree. Although at the time of the Buddha the great forests that covered northern India were a source of fear, in the Bhayabherava Sutta the Buddha describes how he overcame that fear and forged a new relationship with nature, giving us the clear message that to heal our relationship with nature we must heal ourselves. And in theAgganna Sutta, the Buddha tells the story of how beings destroy their relationship with nature through greed, exhausting one foodstuff after another.
Overall, the Buddha advocated a gentle, nonaggressive attitude toward all nature. In theSigalovada Sutta, he says a householder should accumulate wealth as a bee collects honey from a flower: When a bee collects pollen from a flower, it doesn’t pollute its beauty, nor does it deplete its fragrance. And the Buddha advised followers seeking a quiet place to meditate to go to the wilderness, “to the shade of a tree” (Anapanasati Sutta).
Although Elverskog has some great points, he overstates the case that there is never an appreciation of nature for its own sake in the early canon or in early Buddhism; or that nature is invariably evoked with images of decay. How about this from the Theragatha: “The color of blue-dark clouds, glistening, cooled with the waters of clear-flowing streams covered with ladybugs: those rocky crags refresh me” (1.113). And wasn’t the Buddha awakened under a tree after requesting witness and support from Prithivi, the Earth, as recalled by the earth-touching mudra? He invited his monks to live outdoors and to meditate under trees, and he, too, returned to the forest for personal retreats.
The author responds:
Although the citation of scripture is a Protestant predilection, it is very often the case that such normative claims tell us very little about any religion’s particular history. For example, while Jesus famously said “turn the other cheek,” the history of Christianity is a bloody mess. Thus while I concede that hints of nature appreciation can be found in the dharma, such statements need to be historicized. And in doing so, I think the historical record is very clear: following the Buddha’s advice on wealth accumulation as found in the Sigalaka Sutta, Buddhists were at the forefront of an expanding “capitalist” economy that devoured natural resources and transformed them into commodities. Indeed, it is precisely such commodity frontiers and commodity chains that made the dharma such a remarkable success across the length and breadth of Asia.
The Danger of Practice
In response to Andrew Olendzki’s article “The Mindfulness Solution,” it’s worth noting that while distraction and stress are an integral part of progression in meditative practice, there are some people who simply lack the capacity to do certain forms of meditation diligently without its resulting in harm to themselves. This includes people with serious mental illness, a group I belong to. Pursuing practices in the particular traditions I have tried, ones that I imagined were best suited to my goals and needs, has still resulted in dangerous, and on some occasions nearly fatal, mental harm. The more I’ve persisted in the practice, the worse it has gotten. I have had more than one excellent teacher, but frankly, they have found my mental disintegration during meditation baffling and have been at a loss to provide guidance.
What I find most perplexing is why I persisted for so long with practices that were harmful to me—I think it was my faith in the meditative aspects of the traditions that kept me doing them for so long. Over time I learned to moderate my practice—taking retreats in tiny doses with lots of breaks, for example—and have developed practices that I find useful and safe but that are atypical of any tradition I know of. This is where I “live” today, and I have known others with these issues.
—Name and Location Withheld
Illustrations by Roberto La Forgia
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