The anticipation and subsequent nonevent of Y2K reminds me of a favorite childhood book, The Camel Who Took a Walk, a story about what happens when nothing happens: A beautiful camel goes for a dawn stroll; seeing this, a tiger positions himself down the road, ready to pounce when the camel passes by. Seeing the tiger lying in wait, a monkey climbs into the tree above the tiger and decides that just when the tiger is about to pounce, he’ll drop a coconut on the tiger’s head. A bird, seeing the monkey, sits on a higher branch and decides that when the camel passes by and the tiger pounces and the monkey drops the coconut—well, you get the picture. But just when all hell is about to break loose in the forest, the camel makes the world’s widest, slowest yawn, turns, and walks back down the path.
Y2K. Yawn. Nothing happens. Millennium? As artist and graphic designer Frank Olinsky presciently put it at the top of Tricycle’s last cover: “What Millennium?”
Now that the moment to take stock (as well as stockpile) has passed, what do we have? In this issue, as always, the one constant is change. The diversity of dharma and the endlessly ephemeral forms it takes has marked the history of Buddhism for the last couple of thousand years. For example, Chinese Ch’an as well as Tibetan Vajrayana have a common wellspring in the teachings of Nagarjuna, India’s third-century adept. Now once again Nagarjuna’s poetry on the nature of emptiness is being translated, this time into a contemporary English vernacular by Stephen Batchelor, and who knows what Western schools Nagarjuna may inspire?
Following the classic tradition of adding new commentaries to old texts, Martine Batchelor, a Frenchwoman who lived as a Buddhist nun in Korea for many ·years, uses topical references to comment on the iconic Oxherding images so extensively used in Asian Zen. Alexander Berzin, longtime scholar and translator of Tibetan dharma, examines traditional aspects of the teacher-student relationship. But while Stephen and Martine Batchelor dip into the treasure troves of Asian dharma and provide the conduits through which these ancient teachings reclaim potent inspirational value in the present, Berzin’s work has a more specific task: to explicate the tradition in order to help make sense of the present.
In a topic more rooted in our Western heritage, John Welwood, in “The Psychology of Awakening,” explores how psychological work can the sacred. Welwood, a psychologist and longtime student of Buddhism, introduces what he calls “spiritual bypassing,” a syndrome occurring when one’s commitment to thespiritual path is, in part, dedicated to the denial of emotional matter. Because Welwood is looking at aspects of human development that he sees as specific to the Western psyche, his work is among the most significant attempts to envision a new vehicle for dharma practice. Meanwhile, the inimitable Robert Thurman, extending his farreaching vision beyond all conventional parameters, argues for the benefits of a kind of anonymous Buddhism, irrepressibly declaring to interviewer Jeff Zaleski, “There is no point in being Buddhist! One does it for the sheer joy of swimming in the infinite!”
Leave it to Professor Thurman to shatter our cherished preconceptions with an extravagant and gorgeous image. Yet in another manifestation of diversity there’s a Zen story that captures the same idea, albeit through the prosaic presentation of reality that characterizes much of Zen. In this story the enlightened way of swimming in the infinite is described as being as natural and as simple as a person sleeping who, in the middle night—yawn—gropes for a pillow.
For now, Happy Year of the Dragon.