TAKEN TO TASK
I had thought one of the commitments of Tricycle was to document and extend the presence of women in Buddhism. Of the ten feature articles in your third issue, only one, the editor’s piece on abortion, has anything to do with women. Granted, Buddhism is a male tradition. At this rate, I don’t see that Tricycle is doing its part to alter that fact.
While more women writers were featured in all our other issues, the representation of women’s voices in Tricycle has been a subject of concern since we started. I, for one, did not foresee the obstacles that we have encountered: the dominant male presence in historical material, in addition to the disproportionate number of articles submitted by male writers and important articles that we have developed that deal almost exclusively with men (for example, two pieces on AIDS and one on Buddhism in modern Russia).
Incidentally, it might interest you to know that of the relatively few letters we have received about the abortion article, most were from men.
While the representation of women artists (including Mayumi Oda, Marie Hyon, and Frida Kahlo in the last issue) should not go unnoted, we have started to make unequal efforts to equalize gender voices. The effects of this will take a little time, so please bear with us, and thank you for raising this important issue.—Ed.
“DON’T KNOW” MIND
In an otherwise exemplary article, Mark Epstein (“Freud and Dr. Buddha: The Search for Selflessness,” Spring 1992) shows a lack of understanding and a consequent underestimation of Wilhelm Reich’s contribution to our understanding of egolessness, even as Epstein conceives of it. Reich did not call for a process of unlearning, of casting off the shackles of civilization and a return to childlike forthrightness, nor did he romanticize regression, psychosis or any uninhibited expression of emotion. Reich showed that character (muscular) armor prevents us from being completely unified bio-energetically and psychologically, thus spiritually. Because of this lack of unity we cannot feel ourselves as one, as bare attention, as the “I” that is not the “I” falsely represented as the “I” that is a non-existence which is nevertheless existence. Armor also prevents complete release of excited bio-energy (“orgone” energy) in the genital embrace—orgastic potency, not as Epstein calls it, “orgasmic” potency. Thus the person who is orgastically potent is the person whose body and mind are free to be that unity that Epstein speaks of.
Epstein appears to recognize how difficult it is to reach the correct insight of egolessness. Perhaps one reason is the deeply rooted, immobile, unconscious armoring that binds us and imprisons us, causing us to struggle and squirm to reach an insight that, as Gurdjieff describes it, should be ours simply by the flow of time.
Roosevelt, New Jersey
Dr. Mark Epstein’s essay in Tricycle, Spring 1992, depressed me exceedingly until I came to a gem of lucidity at the very end: “Says Huangpo: ‘Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void but the realm of the real dharma.'”
Dr. Epstein’s article reminded me of an observation by Sir Arthur Avalon in The Serpent Power, a treatise about Kundalini Yoga. He says that in the poem he is describing (Shat Chakra Nirupana) the moon is chosen as the emblem of absolute consciousness. Within this totality is the trinity (the triangle) and in its center is the Great Void—”not nothingness, but nothingness known to mind and senses—since it shines. ”
Tannersville, New York
Emptiness and egolessness—the awareness that “the self” is non-existent—are two basic tenants of Buddhism. Concerning the paradox, “Form is emptiness; emptiness is form,” is it correct to say that this appertains to the warped labels we necessarily apply to things which make them what they are “not”?
In Buddhism, “the self” is an insubstantial entity, I believe. But if we are to doubt the self, see it as non-existing, then how do we know anything? Is it not “the self” that perceives? Is it not “the self” that evaluates and differentiates? How can we deny “the self” without denying that sound Aristotelian principle that the senses tell us. Or is the non-existent self a type of inauthentic self? An aberration directed by misdirected psychic energies such as neurotic behavior? Perhaps you can help me out of this quandary and guide me along the path of enlightenment, because I find this very problematic.
I hope that my query is not terribly muddled. Doubtless the confusion rests with me and my occidental prepossessions.
West Chester, Pennsylvania
Dr. Mark Epstein replies:
It is tempting to respond only to the feeling of your letter, to the obviously heartfelt questioning and doubt that have prompted your inquiry. It is just this struggle with the notion of self that the Buddhists are after; as the Zen master Seung Sahn is fond of repeating, “Keep that ‘Don’t know’ mind!” If you could keep this kind of doubting while meditating I am sure many of these questions would resolve themselves, or perhaps mature into new questions. As it is, your questions are fine: Is it the ‘self’ that perceives?
As to the actual questions you pose, I think emptiness does pertain to the “warped labels we apply to things” but not only to this. Its point is much more pervasive, it is not just about the emptiness of concepts. I disagree that Buddhism sees “the self” as “an insubstantial entity.” This strikes me as something of an oxymoron, or perhaps it refers to a ghost or spirit. The Buddha’s point, beyond denying that there is either self or non-self, seems to be that we must, in fact, trust our senses thoroughly, investigate our feelings of “I” and through this arrive at some kind of understanding of who we have always been. There is a tendency to equate the Buddhist notion of self with the Western “false” or “inauthentic” self which can then be stripped away to expose the deep, true or authentic self, the “real me” that we can all still believe in. Buddhists would not object to this stripping away of false selves to find the true feeling of authenticity, but it is precisely this authentically feeling self that is empty.
Thank you for your amazing article which captures complexity on a biological/spiritual/emotional interplane. How many times I have tried to grasp the karma of my abortions. And tried to grasp too how this has played in my life suffering. I have struggled in this nexus and no one has captured the depth of the interpenetrating aspects of abortion so well as you have. How true that “pro-life politics cannot exclude trees, oceans, etc.” Writing about the grief of women over their abortions is so important, as is the fact that in Buddhist cultures abortion is not culturally addressed.
Thank you for bringing women again to their confrontation with themselves. As Pema Chodron says in The Wisdom of No Escape, “Nobody but yourself can tell you what to accept and what to reject.”
New York, New York
It seems to me that a “Buddhist Review” should aim towards a new and unconventional voice, one that blends intellect and compassion, theory and experience, commitment and detachment. The piece on abortion is a fine example of this. (Though I thought it got a bit cryptic toward the end.) Also, though I understand you weren’t trying to solve the conundrum, it would have been helpful to mention adoption networks, such as we have in Vajradhatu*, as a positive communal approach. To me this is one of the main points—a problem like abortion can’t be solved at the individual level, it must engage the community. This tension between individualism and community is a key to dharma in the West; I hope that Tricycle, which seems to call on a lot of “expatriate” energy—inevitable perhaps—will not discount the importance of dharma community.
Please continue this important work.
(*Vajradhatu is an association of Buddhist communities founded by the late Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.)
DAVID I. ROME
Halifax, Nova Scotia
The anti-abortion/pro-choice stance is one that I’ve evolved into. Regarding your article in the Spring 1992 issue of Tricycle, I would like to comment on several points, without contradicting your view.
Ultimate truth cannot be used to contradict relative truth without being dualistic. Ultimate truth and conventional truth are not separable. There is no emptiness of a baby without a conventionally existent baby. If killing can be “buried” in the teachings on emptiness, then the Buddha would not have taught the ten precepts (and the more precepts, vows, and pledges one keeps, the freer one becomes). As a person in middle age, I may need a safe womb within twenty years. There is now the danger of choosing a womb of someone who may change her mind later.
Most troubling is the statement that “the abortion debate reflects only Western obsession with control.” This position is extremist and impugns the motives of others. Maligning the good intention of others is slander, even if some fraction of pro-lifers is concerned only with control. Every argument about “control” is contradicted by abortionists who control the life of the unborn baby or fetus; fetus is a term for someone about to be born, “whether human or going to be human,” says the Dalai Lama.
The only reason that I’m pro-choice is that I do not wish to impose my beliefs on others. But there is no way that Buddhism can be used to justify taking of life—that subtle mind is there at the moment of conception. All those arguments of big mind and emptiness just simply will not justify killing. When in unusual circumstances bodhisattvas may need to kill, and they accept full karmic responsibility for their act; they do not attempt to obfuscate the issue with emptiness or big mind.
RICHARD A. COLLET
Because of my interest in Krishnamurti’s teachings, I worked in one of his schools some years ago. In my first encounter with Krishnamurti, he told what appeared to be a lie, since it was in direct opposition to what everyone around him said to be true. I saw discrepancies between Krishnamurti’s teachings and Krishnamurti the person, and I witnessed and heard of injustices in his interaction with others and in the system that supported him.
In the schools I found the same things one finds in many other workplaces: manipulation, dishonesty, denial, deception and greed. People were not different from those anywhere else. Only the ideas were different. I saw people hired who were unskilled at human relations, and who were irresponsible and uncreative in their own lives, but they were good followers. I saw Krishnamurti woo people in positions of power.
Krishnamurti had an image of himself as special, as being the same as the teachings, and some people around him adopted that same image. That image doesn’t allow one to see the facts of one’s life, to accept the shadow side of oneself, and therefore does not allow the very change of which Krishnamurti talks, to occur.
When I read your interview with Radha Sloss, what she said was like the missing piece of the puzzle. It was just as I had sensed it in my first encounter with Krishnamurti. “Something was not quite cricket.” In a sense, not even Krishnamurti was “Krishnamurti.” Still, there are great truths in the teachings, although I never met anyone around Krishnamurti who seemed dramatically affected in the way they lived their daily lives. I don’t know if that is any reflection on Krishnamurti or only indicative of the present human condition and our unwillingness to look at ourselves.
I suspect that what Radha R. Sloss writes will be freeing for many people, and that maybe with the shattering of the myth, there will be more freedom to face ourselves the way we actually are, as was Krishnamurti’s lifelong message.
My hat is off to you (if I had one!) for launching Tricycle in a perfect orbit!
Morganton, North Carolina
“What does being Buddhist mean to you?”
“Pulling up your socks.”
I put down Tricycle and took a winter walk.
Thank you, Mr. Williamson, for this good teaching.
Lake Wylie, South Carolina
Thank you for your wonderful magazine! Like many readers, my experience of Buddhism developed primarily within one particular tradition—in my case Rinzai Zen. It has been a revelation to discover the enormous variety and vitality of Buddhism in America. Tricycle allows students of one tradition to learn from and appreciate the traditions of others. This without the quibbling over dogma or denomination which seem to mar so many other religious journals. This is no small accomplishment, and you are to be congratulated.
You have struck a fine balance between journalism, history, controversial issues, and matters of faith and practice. The writing is free from both scholarly pedantry and “New Age” silliness. It is difficult to choose favorites from among your first three issues. But certainly I must single out “Anti-abortion/Pro-choice” as the most intelligent and sensitive piece on the topic I have read.
Tricycle looks great, too. The sophisticated design, even the cartoons, help make it one of the most attractive periodicals on any subject. I hope you will ignore criticisms of lively artwork such as graced the cover of the Winter issue. Let Buddhism, at least, be free of the prudery which has plagued other religious communities.
My complaint is that you don’t come out often enough. I hope to see you evolve into a monthly.
Arlington Heights, Illinois
The first two issues have knocked me to my knees. Such a powerful combination of dharma, wit, and comedy. Your publication is speaking to me, making me laugh on and off the cushion.
What I like very much about Tricycle so far is its apparent intent to blend information, inspiration, and criticism. The contretemps on Krishnamurti is a case in point. If there is ever to be established a vital American Buddhism, all three are necessary—but especially the critical spirit. We can’t grow otherwise. We certainly can’t make our differences go away. This is a great start! Don’t fail us!
Rev. Suhita sounds like an Afro-American Mother Theresa—an inspiration to us all, setting a standard. (He makes other Buddhists look like small potatoes).
JOY LOUISE NEWCORN
Having read the “Hot Hand Sutra” by Larry Shainberg and the subsequent letters to the editors from Lee De Barros and Richard Boyle, I’d like to take a shot at it.
Has anyone considered that the canon of Buddhist scriptures, the Tripitaka, literally means “Three Baskets?” Perhaps we can update the guidance of keeping a cool head, warm feet, and hot hands?!
ROSS ESTES BLUM
I can’t keep myself from commenting on the letter in the Spring issue objecting to the Winter cover art.
Though I found the cover mystifying myself, it never occurred to me to view it as any kind of pornography or as anything but intriguing! I have it before me at this instant, and am still at a loss to discover the pornographic element in it.
JON R. RUTHERFORD
Kansas City, Missouri
GUARDING THE ORDER
First, let me commend the editors of Tricycle magazine for their efforts to put out a quality Buddhist publication. I have, however, a few comments to make about the Winter issue, most notably about the cover art and the article “The Changing of the Guard.”
One can see where some might consider the front cover to be avant-garde or artistic, but to Asians, this likens Tricycle to Penthouse. I would hope that artwork of this sort is not used in future covers.
About “The Changing of the Guard,” this article doesn’t really hit the mark for me. The impression I get is that the author wants the reader to believe that the conclusion (that American Buddhism puts an emphasis on householder instead of monk, and the community instead of monastery) is representative of all or most of what is going on in American Buddhism. This is not so, even among the Western-born.
As Executive President of the American Buddhist Congress, I travel to different parts of the U.S. every few months, visiting temples of all traditions, including a lot of centers that primarily serve Western-born Americans. For the past thirteen years, I have worked from Hawaii to Washington D.C. to promote the cause of American Buddhism. From my own experience, I cannot agree with what Mr. Fields is stating. The scandals he mentioned occurred, and have been well-publicized over the years, but they did not move Western Buddhists in this direction. Also, only some centers are householder/community-oriented. There are not enough to be really representative of American Buddhism in general. The article comes across to me as being just a rehash of old news with a misleading conclusion tacked on at the end. The criticism made about the Buddhist order of monks in general is inaccurate and impolite. It tends to include, by association, all the Sangha, while overlooking the contributions made by the Bhikkus and their monasteries.
VEN. DR. HAVANPOLA RATANASARA
Executive President, American Buddhist Congress
Los Angeles, California
KEEPING THE BALANCE
Congratulations on your fine publication. I was happy to see a “mainstream” magazine on Buddhism. On reflection of Rick Fields’ article “The Changing of the Guard,” it seems that over the past twenty years much of the introduction of Buddhism to the United States has emphasized wisdom and compassion. But the third aspect of the Buddha’s teaching—morality or ethical behavior—has not received enough attention. Perhaps in the excitement of finding the Noble Truth, the more mundane but essential practice of morality got overshadowed, especially in a culture that emphasizes values that are contrary to practices that a Buddhist strives to maintain. Without the third pillar of Buddha’s teaching, one’s practice will surely be out of balance.
In the second issue of Tricycle, I was left with an uneasy feeling that things seem to be weighted towards Tibetan Buddhism. Perhaps it’s only a bias of my own since my background is almost exclusively in Soto Zen. Do you feel that you’ve struck a balance between the various types of American Buddhism? If so, how did you come to it?
Tricycle responds: Tricycle may be off balance for any given issue, but it rides on three wheels and I think, over time, you’ll discover that each wheel carries its fair share. —Ed.
Yours is the most readable and well-written Buddhist periodical ever. Best of all, it carries no “stench of enlightenment.”
The interview with Jerry Garcia was apropos. I have long thought of the Grateful Dead as Dharma protectors. I found confirmation in Jerry Garcia’s comments about the ethical commitments of musical shamanism and his humble concern with a job well done.
Annandale, New York