Down By Law

Regarding the ten-million-dollar lawsuit against Sogyal Rinpoche for sexual abuse [Spring 1995 In the News]: While Sogyal Rinpoche remains innocent until or unless proven guilty, whether or not he is within the ignoble category of teachers who misuse their spiritual authority is a question that has now been overwhelmed by the lawsuit itself.

I am sympathetic to the lawsuit for the simple reason that no one seems able to come up with another solution to this regrettable situation and because I share with so many other women the frustration and anger which surfaces in the face of teachers who continue to indulge sexual appetites at the expense of their students. But bringing a lawsuit raises other issues as well. And I wonder if, in the long run, the price might be too high to pay.

There is no doubt that women have suffered their teachers’ sexual and spiritual immaturity, but I question whether bringing lawsuit is a skillful response to this, whether it may not actually become part of the problem, not the solution.

Buddhism is all about the alleviation of suffering. Defenders of the lawsuit say that it will alleviate the suffering of others—that it will establish a precedent, thus cautioning other teachers and making young women aware of the perils of the path. All well and good, but . . .

The Buddha taught that relief from suffering comes by cultivating “right view.” By its very nature, the lawsuit supports a Western view of social responsibility. But it also supports the idea that we can judge what is best for others, that there is a winner and a loser, and that suffering can be “rectified” or “eliminated” by litigation and not by personal investigation—not by emptying the mind and heart of those views and biases that the Buddha taught us are the very source of our suffering. In short, while I applaud what I believe to be the intention of the lawsuit, I am wary of the method, which replaces the dharma with secular law. If we forgo the Buddha’s path, what do we have to offer? A lawyer? Two lawyers?

Sheila Kerr
San Antonio, Texas

I deeply share the concerns raised by Chris Meltzer in his letter [“Baker’s Dozen,” Spring 1995] about the “self-appointed karma squad” which is tyrannizing the Buddhist world.

As someone who is familiar with Sogyal Rinpoche’s work, I have been appalled by the tactics that are being used to discredit Sogyal Rinpoche and his sangha.

It seems that the publicity-hashing lawsuit was followed by an anonymous fax and mail campaign to spiritual groups and individuals all around the world (gossip, rumors, and misinformation on the Internet). Are these people stopping at nothing in their attempts to discredit Buddhist teachers and their communities?

A few days ago I was touched to tears by a moving story about how a person who was dying of cancer was able to transform her suffering and her death with the help of the teachings in Sogyal Rinpoche’s The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. I couldn’t help wondering whether any of the people involved in this gossip campaign could even dream of benefiting someone in the way that just reading this book transformed a woman’s life and death.

Of course, conflicts need to be resolved and complaints need to be dealt with, but have we completely lost touch with reality? I am very concerned about the future of Buddhism in the West. What is the Buddhist community going to do to stop this tyranny of a few extreme voices?

Peggy Robinson
Chicago, Illinois

Tricycle Kiss, 1993. Photograph by Robert W. Young.
Tricycle Kiss, 1993. Photograph by Robert W. Young.

Mirror Mirror

Every time I read Tricycle I come away with one thing that really matters. So I cut that one thing out to put on my bathroom mirror for reflection (no pun intended). Sometimes it’s a paragraph and sometimes a single word or phrase. Last issue it was the words of Gendun Chopel [“Madhyamika Meets Modernity,” Spring ’95]:

The witness of a lion is a tiger,

the witness of a tiger is a yak,

the witness of a yak is a dog,

the witness of a dog is a mouse,

the witness of a mouse is an

insect. Therefore, the final wit-

ness of them all is an insect.

That, it seems to me, is a lesson that we ought to keep close to our hearts. I am often irritated when I hear how quick my dharma brothers and sisters are to quote this or that lama or roshi. Who decided that they are right? I often get into arguments over questions like this, because no one wants to admit that they are the ones who decided it. Gendun Chopel put it very clearly when he said that ultimately the infallibility of the lama is a matter of your own opinion. It’s quite sobering to realize that, finally, you are the one who decides.

Sonny Resnick
Indianapolis, Illinois

Doing It For The First Time

Thank you for your essays about breathing [On Practice: Spring 1995]. Coming from someone who doesn’t know much about Buddhism, this may not mean much, but I found it helpful to know what is supposed to be going on inside a person’s mind when they are meditating. I usually think about all kinds of things when I try to meditate, and it was important for me to find that I could just think about one thing—breathing. After I read your magazine I felt like I meditated for the very first time. I know that, because after it was over I felt like I had done something that helped me with my life and made me feel like I was really in it—which I almost never feel. After meditating, I wonder how much of my life I even lived.

Jim Poplar
Wynne, Arkansas

Emotional Rife

In his article “Shattering the Ridgepole” [Spring 1995], Mark Epstein uses the words emotions and feelinginterchangeably. This, I believe, is the source of his confusion and lack of clarity regarding “Buddhist and Western psychological approaches.”

From my understanding, feelings and emotions are not the same. Feelings are a state of being. Emotions are a state of mind. As such, feelings may be expressed through a wide spectrum of emotions, but not necessarily. It is possible to be with our feelings, accepting and honoring them without expressing them through emotions.

Gita Berlin said, “The fastest way to freedom is to feel your feelings.” Attempts to deny, hide, or bury our feelings will lead to disease. Attempts to destroy feelings or disassociate from them may lead to psychosis. Feelings are real. Emotions are a convoluted demonstration of behaviors based on illusion.

As a state of mind, emotions can be controlled. When feelings arise, the mind interprets them through the learned filters of life’s personal experiences. If the mind perceives our world in dysfunctional, self-defeating patterns, it perceives our feelings through the same illusion. Through a healing process of psycho-spiritual therapy, the mind can be cleared of the fog of emotions so that we can see and express our feelings in the light of our divinity.

Western thought may view certain emotional responses as healthy or normal, such as Marpa’s weeping at the death of his son. Buddhist thought may consider such a demonstration of emotion as understandably human, but distracting to one’s spiritual evolution. Sadness, the feeling behind the emotions, deserves recognition and compassion.

Understanding the difference between emotions and feelings will lead to a clearer picture when viewing Buddhism through the eyeglasses of Western psychology. Perhaps through this clarity of vision “Buddhist practitioners” will inspire others to seek the enlightened way through their emotions to their feelings.

Deborah Salem Smith
Great Barrington, Massachusetts

“What is the Emotional Life of a Buddha?” [Spring 1995] is a question that could only have been asked by a Western student of Buddhism. No Asian Buddhist would ever ask such a question. But not for the reason people might think. In Asia, unlike in America, Buddhism is nothing particularly exotic. We Asians were born Buddhist, so we are Buddhist. It’s as simple as that. And yet we practice Buddhism too, though it probably seems to some Westerners as if nothing much is going on. Just a few ceremonies now and then—something obscurely connected to “the ancestors” (translate “some skinny guy swallowed up by a voluminous silk robe sporting a mustache the length of a shoestring”). No, “What is the Emotional Life of a Buddha?” isn’t a question we would ask. But not because we lack the spirit of investigation or swallow our Buddhism like so many bowls of white rice. We aren’t so idealistic (might I say unrealistic) as to suppose Buddhists have no feelings, or ought not to have them. That idea, I suspect, has its origins in the West, where Buddhism is still in its childhood, if not its infancy.

Julie S. Kim
New York, New York

Reader Redux

In the Letters section of your last issue [Spring 1995], you published a wonderful note from Bill Krumbein, who said that he enthusiastically reads Tricycle from cover to cover but doesn’t “understand ninety percent of what I read; but the ten percent I do understand helps me . . .” This reader’s comment reflects the most compassionate attitude (both to himself and to others) that I’ve come across in many, many years.

Gary Griffith
Westwood, Kansas

I am amazed that your readers feel and display so much anger in the letters section of Tricycle. Considering that Buddhism is a religion based on non-attachment, it is remarkable.

I am not a Buddhist; I am not an anything. I was raised in a strict fundamentalist Christian tradition and have decided to accept no ideology but simply to believe in what rings true to me. I have learned much from Buddhism.

If you feel anger arising, think about your anger in terms of space and time. In 10,000 years will the object of your anger make any difference?

Remember also that people are doing what people do. Do you get angry at the sky for raining? Our anger comes from believing ourselves important and from an attachment to our beliefs.

Jerrene Zimmerman
East Earl, Pennsylvania

Still Time, from an ongoing series, 1993-1995. Arlene Shechet, hydrocal, acrylic paint, found stools.
Still Time, from an ongoing series, 1993-1995. Arlene Shechet, hydrocal, acrylic paint, found stools.

Not surprisingly, the letters in the last issue [“Food for Thought,” Spring 1995] were decidedly in favor of refraining from meat. The logic behind these arguments is not solely altruistic, however, but masks a more subtle dimension of the debate, which was also missing from the editorial material itself.

Because meat eating is pervasive in our society, those who refrain are automatically in contradiction with the society at large and must therefore develop thoughtful arguments in favor of their decision. By contrast, for those people who follow the usual course, there is little encouragement to debate the validity of their actions. To most Americans, eating meat, like speaking English, is too “normal” to evoke questioning. Consequently, when confronted by self-righteous vegetarians, they have no well-developed arguments or ideals. Of course, it is beneficial to consider the wider consequences of any activity, so the vegetarians have a valuable role in awakening people to being conscious of eating meat. But realistically, who’s going to go to bat for killing animals? As the food debate [Winter 1994] showed, no one. Being “for” killing animals is like being “for” killing fetuses. Yet pro-choice advocates of abortion address a larger view, and I think the same can be said for eating meat.

Eating meat does not necessarily imply a lack of compassion for animals. Instead, it may include animals in a vision of life in which eating and being eaten are all part of the dance of “interbeing.” It may express an attitude toward life which is full of reverence and respect and which takes into account the necessary sacrifice of one life to another. It may be a view that celebrates animals as food for humans, as well as humans as food for animals, including vultures and parasites and insects and worms in the ground.

Lawrence Shamblin
Gunnison, Colorado

Dear Dogma

The excerpts from Pope John Paul II’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope quoted in your In the News, Spring 1995 edition, are regrettable.

As a Christian theologian centered in the area of ethics, I believe the teachings of Buddha to resonate closely with the philosophy of harmony and love that are central to what Jesus taught. While I continue to learn more about Buddhism, I am persuaded by its emphasis on harmony and centering. Correct me if wrong, but this is the premise of Zen and Ch’i.

I, like various of my theologian colleagues, view Buddhism less as a religion in the construct of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, and more as a path which all might do well to follow.

Some Christian theological scholars, delving ever more heavily into Christian mysticism, speak to the Apostle Paul as a bodhisattva when writing his Letter to the Philippians. That connection is not disrespectful to Christianity; neither is it foolish or irrelevant. There is, after all, a unique connectedness between the mysticism of the ancient Hebrews, that of the early Christians, and that of the Buddhists. If that strikes fear in the hearts of those shackled by the dogma and autocracy so prominent in certain corners of Christianity, then they should be so struck!

The Jewish tradition teaches that God is dynamic (as opposed to being static), and that the community holds a higher place than the individual.

Early Christianity, more so than contemporary Christianity, taught community, harmony, and universal love and justice. I do not believe the teachings of the Buddha are foreign to those tenets.

The Pope does not speak for all of Christianity, or for all who belong to the Church of Rome.

M. Vince Turner
Marlboro, Massachusetts

Buddhist in the Belt

Thank you for your wonderful and enlightening magazine. I have found it to be quite useful in my practice. I particularly enjoy the Dharma Center Directory section. I live in a rural area in central Missouri, and I find being a Buddhist in the Bible Belt to be difficult. Just knowing that I am not alone as an American Buddhist is immensely helpful.

Greg Becker
Boone County, Missouri

Martial Heart

Thanks so much for the ninja article! I wonder if the spiritual/moral aspect of martial arts explains why there are more dojos than boxing gyms and wrestling arenas in the U.S. Although many Americans prefer to watch prizefighting and professional wrestling as an indulgence of their simple fantasies of mindless violence, they prefer to do martial arts, which include spiritual – or at least moral – values in their training. If only the watchers and the doers were the same people. . .

I was also intrigued to read that self-defense training can help people find the courage to be more open to life’s experiences. Isn’t putting up barriers and filters against the harsh and creepy facts of life the precise opposite of enlightenment? Alas, we non-ninjas have only compassion and humility to wield against the bitter side of life. And although a bodyguard who listed compassion and humility as his prize assets wouldn’t get much work, they sure help me get through the day.

John W. Wall
San Francisco, California