I Heart Tomatoes
Tomatoes and avocados are my favorite fruit (after mangos, that is). Growing up, it was impossible for me to imagine life without them. In fact, in the diary my mother kept about me for the first two years of my life, tomatoes appear prominently as my favorite food.
As an adult I developed late-onset allergies that extended to many of my favorite foods, including the tomato. For a year or so, I was forced to restrict my diet to mostly juke (Chinese soupy rice) and to add meat to my meals after many years of being a vegetarian. What an opportunity for practice! Opening my heart and my mind (and my stomach) to these new meals, I felt a sense of renewed gratitude toward those beings that gave their lives and the fruits of their labor so I could nourish myself. One day, after a course of treatment that included an appendectomy and treatment for allergies, I gradually started adding some of my staple foods to my diet again. What a joy to be able to eat tomatoes once more!
Perhaps one day I can learn to like Tibetan tea (the yak milk concoction) as much as Anam Thubten (“How a Tomato Opened My Mind,” Fall 2009) has learned to like tomatoes and avocados.
What a powerful teaching, what a wonderful life!
Martha Martinez, Pembroke Pines, FL
In Tibetan Buddhism it is often said that intellectual understanding of the teachings is “like a patch that soon falls off,” and that meditation experiences are “like smoke” that disperses—only true realization is lasting. Alan Wallace’s article “Within You Without You” (Winter 2009) makes it clear why such realization may be rare among Westerners. Western students of the dharma are naturally anxious to attempt the highest, most advance practices as soon as possible—sometimes from the very start. It is a cultural imperative that we “go for the gold.” In that regard, I have often heard Asian teachers of Buddhism comment that many of their Western students gloss over the preliminaries.
But despite the existence of an abundance of scriptural evidence—from which Wallace supports his assertion—we are rarely warned that without achieving shamatha we may be condemned to practice that is either patchy or as fleeting as smoke. This is a critically important issue that has not been addressed adequately in contemporary Buddhism in the West. I hope that teachers of dharma will comment on Wallace’s hypothesis.
Brian Hodel, Rio de Janeiro
Our Inner Bicycle
I found Nicole Daedone’s article “Love Becomes Her” (Winter 2009) emotionally enlightening in an innocent, childlike way. It reminded me that as “hungry” adults we become disconnected from this childhood innocence when we choose to pursue the practical—the achievements and goals that are discussed throughout the issue. Her use of the words “thirst” and “intimacy” to describe what it means to live in need and to long for freedom paints a vivid picture of the cycle of illusion in which we forget that everything is already present within each of us. It is the seeking and dissatisfaction with self that leads us to suffering.
When we are not mindful of where we are in the very moment of the present, we find ourselves back in childhood coveting our neighbor’s bicycle, not realizing that it has nothing at all to do with the bike. We want what another has, yet not completely, because when we desire that which is outside of us we are not in touch with the truth. Many of our life experiences are like Zen koans—paradoxical, complex, contradictory, and far more expansive than the limitations of our imagination. Just as Daedone came to realize that her true desires had nothing at all to do with the world outside of her but rather had to do with the intimacy to be discovered with herself, we as seekers can come to our own realization that all is already before us. We need only to stop and become present with the moment.
Kissiah Young, Oakland, CA
Teach Your Children
I found the information describing ego-based, public Internet bickering between supposedly “self-realized” Buddhist teachers in “Dharma Wars” (Winter 2009) very sad and very disturbing. I read this article before going to bed, and I tossed and turned and dreamed dark dreams all night. I finally arose early, feeling I needed to say something to someone about the negativity represented by this kind of demoralizing behavior.
Worthy masters and worthy students: Please be advised you are being watched. You all serve as role models for countless souls seeking guidance for the all-important journey of spiritual evolution, regardless of the method you use to embrace, engage, and instruct sentient beings. While we seekers of truth do not expect you to be perfect, we do expect you to understand, possess, express, and employ the fundamental qualities and awareness of nondual, egoless compassion. Students of the path have every right to expect nothing less from their teachers.
Michael James Jaquish, Gig Harbor, WA
I’m writing to express my disappointment in the commentary “Dharma Wars,” by Zenshin Michael Haederle. It is riddled with generalizations about the very broad, diverse online Buddhist community. For example, there’s this line: “In cyberspace, we can craft whatever persona we choose and call our blog whatever we want, and Buddhist bloggers often inflate their experience and understanding.” Even though there is some truth to this, there is also a corresponding level of genuine sincerity and honest practice displayed online. As a longtime member of a “real life” sangha here in St. Paul, Minnesota, I think it’s problematic to say that bloggers often inflate their experience and understanding, but not also comment on how people do the same thing in “real life” in different ways.
Your mission statement points to a desire to explore Buddhism’s many forms. You write: “The mission of The Tricycle Foundation is to create forums for exploring contemporary and historic Buddhist activity, examine the impact of its new context in the democratic traditions of the West, and introduce fresh views and attainable methods for enlightened living to the culture at large.”
Do you intend to publish commentaries by some of us in the blogosphere as a counterbalance to this current commentary, which, no matter how you read it, is giving a very dim view of the online community?
I do think that “Dharma Wars” makes some valid points about the level of nastiness that does occur at times online and how it can be a struggle to wade through misinformation and bloated commentary to discover true insights and valuable writing. However, the overall dismissive tone of the article toward those of us blogging and using online resources for part of our practice is antithetical to your mission, in my opinion.
As a fellow Buddhist practitioner, I sincerely hope that this opportunity to open up a broader dialogue about the ways in which Buddhist practice is changing and adapting to modern life will be taken up byTricycle, and not simply be dismissed as a passing disturbance.
Nathan Thompson, St. Paul, MN
Never Too Late
I meditated for years, starting in 1969. Then, a few years ago, I fell off the cushion. Not literally, but for some reason I stopped believing it was important. I forgot why I was doing it.
After I stopped meditating, I felt vaguely guilty reading Tricycle. I joked that I would rather read about the pain in someone else’s knees than sit on the cushion myself. I’d gotten old–was no longer physically capable of sitting on my cushion. Great excuse! I knew I’d probably be “better off ” if I meditated again, but somehow that wasn’t enough.
Then I read Andrew Olendzki’s article “Busy Signal” (Winter 2009), and the scales fell from my eyes:
Mental energy is finite, and our mind is diminished in direct proportion to how much its attention is fractured. . . . I know of no single thing healthier than doing one thing at a time.
That’s all it took. Suddenly I remembered why meditation is “an enterprise of deep intrinsic value.” The next morning, without any sort of plan, I simply set the timer and sat (not on a cushion, but so what?). That was that. Once again, meditation is an integral part of my life.
Thank you, Andrew Olendzki and Tricycle. As Allen Ginsberg used to say, “It’s never too late to do nothing at all!”
Helen Weaver, Woodstock, New York