A few years back—not long before revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib—U.S. Army Specialist Benjamin Thompson wrote us from the soon-to-become notorious prison site with a simple request: Could we send him a few issues of Tricycle for support in his meditation practice?
Thompson’s unit had arrived at Abu Ghraib to replace those who were later implicated in the routine abuse that Iraqi prisoners had suffered at the hands of their American captors. In an old bathroom, Thompson set up a makeshift meditation room, improvising a cushion with a sack and bits of clothing. We did send him a few issues, along with meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg’s email address. Salzberg had generously offered to make herself available to Thompson by email through the rest of his tour, and the two have since become good friends.
Now back in the United States, Thompson has been traveling with filmmaker Michael Tucker, whose recent documentary, The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair, has been screening in theaters nationally. The remarkable coincidence that brought these two together pivots on one man: Iraqi journalist Yunis Abbas, whom Tucker had filmed being arrested during a late-night raid on his Baghdad home. Abbas landed in Abu Ghraib, where Thompson befriended him. Since his return home, Thompson had been keeping an eye out on the internet for any news of Abbas until one day, Abbas’s name turned up in a web search in association with The Prisoner. In the film, Abbas describes Thompson as someone whose friendship and compassion he’d cherished during his captivity. Thompson contacted Tucker, who reshot the documentary to include Thompson’s account of the appalling conditions at the prison.
Bearing witness to one of the more sordid episodes in the U.S.-led war, Thompson explains that the infamous Abu Ghraib photos are only the tip of the iceberg. For a fuller account of Thompson’s story, see his interview with Managing Editor Ian Collins.
Our readers’ enthusiasm for last issue’s “Commit to Sit” meditation challenge—presented by Senior Editor Alexandra Kaloyanides—found its full expression online, on the tricycle.comdiscussion forums. The lively cyber-sangha that emerged on the “Commit to Sit” forum inspired us to excerpt a few postings in our Letters section. Building on this success, we’re opening the “Commit to Sit” forum to discussion of each issue’s On Practice feature, this time Bodhipaksa’s “What You’re Made Of.” So find out what you’re made of—literally—and join us in learning the classical Six Elements meditation practice taught by the Buddha himself.
Who says ego’s all bad? This issue wouldn’t be complete without Thai forest monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s “Hang On To Your Ego.” Than Geoff, as we call him, explains why we do indeed need ego for a healthy practice. It’s not ego we’re exhorted to let go of, rather, it’s our mistaken belief in a fixed and permanent self. Than Geoff teaches us that ego is a key tool in learning how to do just that. What we have to learn is how to cultivate ego and how to use it skillfully.
Last but not least, Editor-at-Large Andrew Cooper has left California’s City by the Bay for the wilds of Olympia, Washington. Since his arrival Cooper has weathered torrential rains, high winds, and a flooded basement. Hell and high water haven’t quieted Cooper down, though, and in his interview with UC Berkeley Professor Robert Sharf, Cooper brings us a provocative conversation in which Sharf challenges many of the fundamental assumptions of westernized Buddhism, with its near-exclusive emphasis on individual experience and alleged compatibility with science. Take a read—you may see the path in a whole new light.
All in all, the summer issue will give you plenty to think about and plenty to practice. And if you read through it quickly, not to worry—you can always get more from our growing cyber-sangha at tricycle.com
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