No Right, No Wrong (Con’t.)

I object to Pema Chodron’s (Vol. III, No.1) calling the suggestion to publicize the truth about misbehaving teachers “McCarthyism.” Joseph McCarthy slandered people, lied about them, unjustly destroyed their reputations, all in the service of his own political ambition and ideology. The spirit behind the recommendation of the conference of Western dharma teachers is the opposite of this. It is simply to tell the truth. Tell the truth, and let the hearers of that truth decide for themselves what to make of it and what to do about it. Telling the truth is what eventually put McCarthy out of business.

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” Pema Chodron quotes, but the reference is imprecise. Jesus chastised the multitude not for saying what was so, but for being vengeful. There is a big difference between telling and stoning. Besides, if we look more closely at the situation, we see Jesus coming to the rescue of a woman (an “adulteress”) being scapegoated by men for a man’s sexual transgression. With whom would that same Jesus stand in today’s Buddhist scene?

When American (or Asian) Buddhists threaten would-be truth-tellers with ostracism, expulsion, or some form of Buddhist hell—that is McCarthyism, that is stoning.  

Lewis Richmond
Mill Valley, California

I would like to express my appreciation to Tricycle for having the courage to publish Pema Chodron’s interview. It is the first time in years that any publication has allowed for a view that does not demonize Trungpa Rinpoche. I commendTricycle for going against the grain and encouraging some real debate instead of perpetuating old negativities. As for the letter from Dharamsala, what may be more appropriate than associating it with McCarthyism is a comparison to the Council of Nicaea. For many of us who have abandoned our Christian roots in favor of the less dogmatic spirituality that Buddhism offers, this council marks the tyranny of religious bureaucracy over matters of the spirit. It honored standards, canons, and creeds—all of which must have looked very necessary to safeguarding the true spirit of Christ. Yet in retrospect, it was the beginning of the end. Buddhism in the West is still so young, so fresh, so full of possibility. Let’s give it a chance.  

Toby Price
Ellsworth, Maine

Congratulations on the great interview with Ani Pema Chodron. There are two old Indian maxims to remember: when the chela (disciple) is ready the guru appears, and the chela always gets the guru he/she deserves. The circumstances of our lives are what we have created in past lives and, yes, the progression of lives is totally fair. This has been prophesied as an age of many false teachers, and though it is not fashionable, we have to take responsibility for our own actions. It is incumbent on us to investigate the teacher, and if we are lucky enough to make a relationship with a true one we would do well to have the kind of devotion that Pema displays.

What would the ethics police think of Guru Padmasambhava’s consort raising a small boy so that when he was sixteen she could use him in tantric practice or how she taught four bandits and converted them to the dharma by letting them rape her! Oh, to have studied with the Lady Yeshe Tsogyal, mother of the Termas. The great teacher can speed things along: as Trungpa Rinpoche said to me way back when in Scotland, “I can only be a mirror and create situations.” Did he create some wild situations. Many of them I did not understand, but just as Pema said, for everything he did in relation to me I am eternally grateful.  

Tendzin Parsons
Northfield, Massachusetts

Tricycle‘s campaign to demonize sexually active male Buddhist teachers reached a blue-nosed pinnacle in the Fall Issue when Helen Tworkov interviewed Pema Chodron. I was happy to see her fail in her attempt to get her to join forces with the PCSH (Politically Correct Sexual Hysterics), perhaps because the nun is wise enough to know that prurient priests and gods have been with us since Yahweh set up Adam. So have self-proclaimed vulnerable women who duck responsibility for silly romantic judgment and mushy self-control.  

Murray Yaco
Fowlerville, Michigan

I was quite appalled at Helen Tworkov’s interview with Pema Chodron in the recent Tricycle. I have been a student of Vidyadhara, the Venerable Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s for many years, and the rudeness and disregard for his renown and mastery of the teachings of the Buddha was inexcusable. To say that he was as well known for “drinking and having sex with his students” as for his teachings is a great insult to a great teacher. Although you repeat over and over this view that you have of Trungpa Rinpoche, you never mention his accomplishments: the establishment of meditation centers throughout the Western world where people practice the highest teachings of tantra in their native languages. His “unconventional ethics” were a combination of working diligently and compassionately with students and being, above else, extraordinarily human. He had great passions, great intelligence, and great humor. You cannot excise ego and attain liberation by adhering to the nonn. The nonn was established to protect our egos.

I would like to commend Pema Chodron for handling such aggressive and abusive questions deftly and with aplomb.

Eric P. Spiegel
New York, New York










As a Consulting Editor to Tricycle, as a supporter of the Dharamsala Conference, and as a strong advocate of all open-forum conferences dealing with contemporary Buddhism, I thought long and hard before writing this letter concerning the Fall Issue of Tricycle. I must state at the outset that while I support the right of individual expression, I disagree with Perna Chodron’s views. Other teachers have very different viewpoints, many of them articulately expressed in many public forums, including the Western Buddhist teachers’ conference in Dharamsala, India (March 1993), hosted by H.H. the Dalai Lama. Therefore, I felt it was most unfortunate that an international conference of such scope and importance was not reported in any serious way in Tricycle. It was a serious gap and an opportunity missed for timely coverage of serious issues facing Buddhism today.

The Open Letter that was issued from the conference was buried in the back of the magazine and completely missed by most of the readers I talked to subsequently. The very long conversation with Pema Chodron was given prime position in the magazine; from that extremely visible vantage point, Pema discussed points in the letter from a conference that she did not attend. I found her comments to have an unfortunate bias toward trivializing and distorting some of the most fundamental issues in Buddhism today, to wit, what significance a teacher’s own personal conduct and ethics has in relation to the relationship with the student, and what responsibility a student has, in dealing with, and even confronting a teacher who (loaded term, I know) misuses, or abuses spiritual power, whether it manifests in sex or lies.

For Perna to dismiss a seminal point in the letter—”No matter what level of spiritual attainment a teacher has, or claims to have, reached, no person can stand above the norms of ethical conduct”—is disheartening to me, given the wide audience she has as a teacher, particularly from the Tricycle podium. Many caring, compassionate, and responsible teachers and practitioners are struggling with these thorny issues of teacher-student relationships; they are not acting out of hatred, as Pema’s conversation seems to imply in broad-brush terms. Nor are they petrifying into “harsh judgment” with “no genuine compassion.” Pema’s reference to “women’s complaints” about betrayal by male teachers seems a term that utterly trivializes the experience, and in effect, dismisses not only the anguish of those betrayed, but the reams of articulate, thoughtful analysis by Buddhist women (and men) on these issues, and the many conferences, dialogues, andteishos given in individual sanghas.

I have been enthusiastic about much that Tricycle has come to offer the Buddhist and non-Buddhist audience. I trust that Tricycle in the future can (1) find ways to give serious coverage to important conferences and new discussions on these subjects and (2) give equal time and forum position to those with significantly different viewpoints from Pema Chodron’s. 

Diana Rowan
New York, New York

Thank you for the interview with Pema Chodron.

Chogyam Trungpa’s unethical behavior helped me see things more clearly. I have been drawn to, and been mistrustful of, teachers “above reproach.” Students tend to create reasons for such good persons to be acting in some not-good ways. With Chogyam Trungpa, the question of “above reproach” never came up to begin with. He drank a lot, asked students to sleep with him, showed no interest in being saintly. He just passed along the teachings. He says in his writings that we can not stop at “good” and “bad” but must keep looking. Whether or not he acted unethically “on purpose” in order to teach a lesson cannot be known. Just is.

Alice Barrett
Amherst, Massachusetts

I am most grateful to Pema Chodron, who clearly and with no hesitation expressed her commitment to her teacher.

I believe some Western dharma students often expect that their relationship with their dharma teacher should be one between equals. This may be appropriate where the teacher has little more experience than the students, where there is no lineage behind the teacher, or if the student is a new practitioner. However, once a commitment has been made by the student, and surely after samaya vows have been taken, the relationship is simply not equal. It is the teacher’s job to “pull the rug out” from under the student’s preconceived ideas, habitual tendencies, and solid sense of self. This is not a politically correct relationship! While this idea may offend our sense of democracy and equality, it allows us to see the “Big Mind,” so eloquently described by Pema Chadron.

I am disturbed that the Western dharma teachers are equating a teacher’s trustworthiness and legitimacy with the taking of certain “monastic” precepts. In the name of protecting students (really, women) from “bad” teachers (a patronizing message at best), they have denied the reality of the Crazy Wisdom traditions, practiced for centuries by the Kagyu, Nyingma, and Sakya traditions as well as a variety of Zen traditions. I was dismayed to read (see the Fall 1993 Snow Lion Newsletter and Catalog, and Turning Wheel‘s Summer 1993 issue) that His Holiness the Dalai Lama told the Western Dharma Teachers that he knew no Crazy Wisdom Masters. Historically, the Dalai Lamas have received teachings in secret from these Masters. Let us not rewrite history in order to make Buddhism, and Buddhist teachers more palatable. There have always been outrageous, non-monastic enlightened lineage holders. By solidifying what is “good” or “bad” in our teachers, there may be a tendency to become self-righteous and condescending toward our sisters and brothers in the dharma because we see ourselves in the “good” group.

Emily Danies Wolitzky
Tucson, Arizona

Editor’s Note: At this time, Pema Chodron is on retreat. Should she choose to respond to any of these letters, her response will appear in the Summer ’94 issue.

Letters vs. Letters

I have been reading your publication for several consecutive issues and find it to be generally informative and at times inspirational. A thorough reading of the letters-to-the-editor section, however, has led me to conclude that there are some very opinioned people out there. In fact, the stridency and vehemence with which some of these opinions are voiced is disturbing. In response to this overly adversarial tone I offer the following:

Ladies and Gentleman—Lighten Up!

I ask you all to consider that the ideas, notions, or views expressed by the contributors are conditioned by their karma and reflect a particular moment in their unique process of exploring and coming to terms with the dharma. Just as no two individuals are alike, so no two processes or practices will be identical. We are all, every one of us, in transit.

Meanwhile, here are some tips for keeping your blood pressure and convictions under control. If a particular piece of writing really gets your goat, try looking at the spaces between and around the print. After all, what is the alphabet but a completely arbitrary set of symbols? And type is nothing more than a localized disturbance in an otherwise uniform and indiscriminate field (i.e., paper).

Finally, remember the immortal words of Byrdman to his pal Ernie: “You gotta put down the duckie if you want to play the saxophone.” I respectfully request that we thoroughly examine our own dear duckies before we begin to honk them so vigorously at one another.

Martin Manjak
Albany, New York

I am a beginner. I was delighted to discover your magazine. It’s sad, however, that so many of the letters I read in the Fall Issue seem to be about judging, rather than sharing. I can’t know (and don’t care) if anyone else’s practice is “real”—whatever that means.

Eric Bergkvist
San Francisco, California

Prozac Pro and Con

After reading Dr. Epstein’s “Awakening with Prozac” (Vol. III, No.1), I was left with the depressing feeling that he continues to equate psychoanalysis with an anti-pharmaceutical “Freudian ideology.” As a psychoanalyst, I am the last to deny that psychopharmacological treatment has its place, but I am hardly the first to note a close parallel between Buddhist meditative practice and the process of undergoing psychoanalysis. Each entails an awakening to something of the permeability of reality, to the realization that “I” may not be who I think I am. Perhaps psychoanalysis approaches this from the inside out—from self to not-self—while meditation comes the other way, letting go of self at the outset. But the two are complementary, and quite possibly useful adjuncts. Psychoanalysis and meditation can each lead toward a direct experience of how emptiness gives rise to form and form dissolves to emptiness.

Robert Langan, Ph.D.
New York, New York

I would like to thank Dr. Epstein for his courageous, and insightful article, “Awakening With Prozac.”

Ken Wilber, in his book No Boundary, offers a lucid model of personality/spiritual development, that could be used to further amplify the point Epstein makes. According to Wilber, development occurs in stages of increasing evolution, and further, each stage has its corresponding therapies.

In order to progress from one stage to another the work at the lower level must, by and large, be completed, by some form or combination of therapies. And though Wilber does not expressly list medication as a modality, the spirit of his model does.

I am not suggesting a simplistic interpretation of Wilber’s thesis, in that work at all levels is continuously and simultaneously being done by everyone, and the distinctions between the various levels are somewhat nebulous. However, failure to recognize the distinct nature of each stage leads to the kind of confusion that often labels some psychotics as spiritually enlightened individuals.

Further, I would like to suggest that when meditation (as opposed to medication) works as a modality, it is that component of meditation correspond-ing to the meditator’s level that works. This is not to deny that someone on, say, the “persona” level can practice and benefit from mindfulness, but to recognize that one of the other components of meditation is probably doing that individual the greatest good.

As Epstein’s article implies, let’s walk before running to sit underneath the Bodhi tree.

Joey Dweck
New York, New York

As a psychotherapist of twenty-five years’ experience and a Buddhist practitioner of almost as many, I feel compelled to respond to Dr. Epstein’s article, “Awakening with Prozac.”

The medical model applied to mind offers a conceptualization that defies human experiences of crisis in terms of “mental illness” and suggests that therefore the introduction of medicines is necessary. Chemicals such as Prozac change the mind, but with many important side effects, not the least of which is the definition of the user as sick (often incurably) when mind-altering substances are prescribed on a permanent basis.

It is important to understand that although the “illness” model is often presented with authority, it is only one of many possible metaphors for the description of human distress, each with its own approach for resolution of problematic states.

Dr. Epstein’s article contends that Buddhist practice sometimes requires chemical supplementation. This constitutes a mixing of descriptive metaphors. There is no need to add to the simple and elegant science of mind and the practice that are Buddhism. The practice requires guidance, patience, and effort. In its full expression as a way of life, Buddhism is a response to all problems of mind unparalleled in its breadth, depth, and evolutionary potential.

Phoebe Snover Prosky
Freeport, Maine

The author responds:

My article did not mean to slight the ability of psychoanalysts to go beyond the limits of their ideology, only to point out that they, like Buddhists, have often been unable to. Nor did I mean to imply that Buddhist practice sometimes requires chemical supplementation; only that Buddhist practitioners sometimes do. The need for such supplementation, in my experience, is not limited to those at “lower” levels of psychospiritual development, but can occur at any point on the spiritual path. This does not have to be a tragedy. As for the mixing of descriptive metaphors, my point is that precisely such a mixing is required for certain kinds of distress to be resolved. Neither Buddhism nor psychoanalysis nor transpersonal psychology nor Prozac can be expected to hold the key to recovery for all mental illness.

—Mark Epstein

Art Matters

I was unpleasantly surprised to see that Tricycle chose to feature Nam June Paik’s Reclining Buddha to introduce the dharma art section (Vol. III, No.1). Featuring Reclining Buddha as the first piece in the section is not unlike the many “reclining buddhas” used by our hyper-sexualized advertising industry to sell everything from cars to cream cheese. And while I fully support Paik’s artistic endeavors, I do not support Tricycle‘s use of Paik’s sculpture to “sell” the accompanying article. The commercialized use of women’s bodies is so prevalent in our culture that it is easy to become numb to it. My hope is that Tricycle will choose other, less objectifying and sensational methods of getting readers’ attention in the future.

Vicki Tidwell Palmer
Houston, Texas

I am increasingly disturbed by your use of Buddhist art, particularly Zen paintings and calligraphy, merely to break up the text. Why don’t you spend more time explaining the images and who created them? Zen art is not merely a form of decoration, and I believe you are eXploiting it to enhance the appearance of your magazine.

Sara Brown
Chicago, Illinois

Zen Elders

The Roshi Philip Kapleau remarks in your Summer Issue (Vol. II, No.4) that sanctioning Catholic priests and nuns as teachers of Zen Buddhism is a bizarre corruption that threatens the integrity of the Dharma. Let me comment:

My teacher, Yamada Koun Roshi, who was also Kapleau Roshi’s colleague in preparing translations for The Three Pillars of Zen, often said that he visualized Zen Buddhism becoming an important stream in the Roman Catholic Church. We find this vision actualized. Teachers authorized by Yamada Roshi are leading disciples in Christian contexts, predominantly Catholic, in Germany, Spain, Switzerland, and other European countries. Indeed it can be said that almost all Zen Buddhist centers on the European continent, with the exception of those in France, are at the same time Christian.

Some of these teachers transmute elements of Zen Buddhism to enhance their Christian contemplation. Others lead Zen meetings and retreats with no admixture of Christianity whatever. Still others lead traditional Zen retreats but with optional Mass each day during an otherwise free time. AI] of these teachers also lead Christian retreats. They continue to honor Christianity as Christianity, as they have come to honor Buddhism as Buddhism.

Father Patrick Hawk is independent as a teacher and Sister Pia Gyger and the Reverend Rolf Drosten are apprentice teachers in the Diamond Sangha tradition. They are “bigger containers,” to use Joko Beck’s felicitous metaphor. Just as Harada Dai’un Roshi and Dogen Kigen Zenji before him traced their lineage in the very different traditions of Rinzai and the Soto, so in our modern global village, with its instantaneous communication and its dangerous religious divisions, the three Diamond Sangha teachers are maturing as children of two parents who are much further apart than Rinzai and Soto, while venerating them both.

Of course this is not a metaphysical process. The Three Treasures of Buddhism or the Three Bodies of the Buddha are most certainly not the Holy Trinity of Christianity. God as a person doesn’t fit anywhere in Hua-yen cosmology. The integration of Buddhism and Christianity is happening in deep experience, not as a kind of intellectua] resolution.

Just as men and women fight like cats and dogs unless each can find the seed of the other within, so Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, and followers of the other great religious traditions will be mutually confrontive unless they can cultivate the possibility of other religions as their own. The total failure of communication between mullahs and patriarchs in the former Yugoslavia was a major factor leading to the present civil war. There are similar abject failures involving Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Burma. Here at home, Native Americans struggle to defend their sacred places in the face of rigid misapprehension.

Christian teachers of Zen Buddhism are pioneers in a new phase of world religion. It’s happening and it’s a genuine movement. I urge that we explore its possibilities with sympathetic understanding.

Robert Aitken Roshi
Honolulu, Hawai’i