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Inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

Look inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine

FEATURING: Judy Lief, Norman Fischer, Emily Horn and Melvin McLeod on working with anger; Jack Kornfield on how to join the call for peace in Burma; Insight meditation teacher Gina Sharpe gets real about racism; Noah Levine's prescription for "Refuge Recovery," Thich Nhat Hanh's answers to children's questions; plus, book reviews, "About a Poem," and more.

Click titles below to read excerpts and select complete articles.

this issue's editorial:

All the Rage

Andrea Miller on how anger manifests in our lives. What good is it doing?

special feature section: discovering the wisdom of anger

How to transform anger from a cause of suffering into the powerful energy of compassion.

• The Angry Buddha

The buddhas are angry about the suffering of samsara. Melvin McLeod on the enlightened power of no.


• The Poison Tree: How to Transform Anger in 4 Steps

Anger is like a poisonous tree—you can prune it back, chop it down, or find ways to use it. Judy Lief offers four Buddhist techniques to work with our anger. 


• How RAIN Cools the Flames of Anger

Emily Horn teaches us how to recognize, accept, investigate, and not identify with our anger.  


• Abandon Hope & Other Surprising Slogans to Help You Handle Anger

Zen teacher Norman Fischer applies five surprising mind-training slogans to anger and other strong emotions


• There Is a Path that Frees Us from Suffering

Insight Meditation teacher Gina Sharpe is working to create a truly inclusive sangha. The place to start, she says, is facing the truth that even Buddhist communities aren’t free from the suffering caused by racism. Andrea Miller reports.  


• Is Nothing Something?

Children’s questions reveal that they, like adults, are grappling with the human condition. We’ll all benefit from Thich Nhat Hanh’s answers to their questions.  


• A Refuge from Addiction

Taking refuge in the Buddha means taking refuge from our suffering. Noah Levine offers Buddhist principles and practices to help people free themselves from the suffering of substance abuse.  


• On Track with Paul Newman

Paul Newman was one of the world’s biggest stars. But according to former employee Michael Stone, he was also someone who could sit still and watch the rain fall. 

other voices

• Obstacles on the Path

In meditation, you can’t just pretend obstacles aren’t there, says Sakyong Mipham. You have to relate to them.  


• Buddhists Betray the Teachings

A religion known for nonviolence is being used to fuel a genocidal campaign against the Muslims of Burma. Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield urges us to join the call for peace.  


• Nothing Special 

No one wants to be just another person in a world of seven billion people. Geri Larkin on what happened when she embraced being ordinary.

reviews & more

• Books in Brief

This issue’s roundup features books by Tom Robbins, Peter Matthiessen, Nyanaponika Thera, and more.

• About a Poem

Willis Barnstone on “Our White House,” by Charles Baudelaire

Shambhala Sun, March 2014, Volume Twenty Three, Number 1.

On the Cover: Yanluo, King of Hell, China, 1523 CE. Royal Ontario Museum Gallery of Chinese Architecture. Photo by Rajeshwar Chahal

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All the Rage (Editorial; September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014

All the Rage

If a kid is cute enough, their anger is also cute. I used to know a little girl like that. About eighteen months old, she had curly hair and dimpled arms. She never seemed to cry or scream, and she liked to be picked up and cooed over by adults, even strangers. Yet I remember being at a dinner party once when she saw her mother hold someone else’s baby, and in a flash her brow furrowed into unadulterated rage. I laughed as this tiny girl in a velvet dress charged her mother like a bull.

This was an it’s-funny-because-it’s-true situation. The little girl’s anger held up a true mirror to our adult anger. From my grown-up vantage point, I could see that what she was mad about didn’t really matter. Likewise, most of what gets us adults riled up is equally unimportant.

The little girl’s anger was a disguise for other, more vulnerable emotions. She was jealous, and underneath that jealousy she was hurt and afraid. She loved her mother more than anyone else and, moreover, she depended on her for everything. The thought that she could be replaced by another child was terrifying to her.

Adults also get angry when experiencing softer, more vulnerable emotions. Hurt, sadness, despair—they’re so painful that we try to protect ourselves from them with anger’s fiery energy. But adult anger isn’t funny. At its best, anger is a formidable tool that shows us when something is unjust and needs to be rectified. Much more commonly, however, anger is simply an ugly and destructive force.

Recently, I edited the anthology All the Rage: Buddhist Wisdom on Anger and Acceptance, which will be released by Shambhala Publications in October. While I was putting together that book, as well as this issue of the Shambhala Sun, I gave a lot of thought to anger and how it manifests in my life. I became curious about what it would be like if I stopped getting angry in the face of my soft, uncomfortable feelings, and so I experimented. The first time was when I went to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan.

On the first floor I saw personal artifacts from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—photos of newlyweds, worn shoes, menorahs. I had that bittersweet feeling I always have when seeing the photos and belongings of people long dead. But I also felt a thread of dread. I wondered who died before the war that was to come and who had to suffer it.

On the second floor, dedicated to the Holocaust, anger immediately bubbled up in me. How could one group of human beings do this to another? Then I came to the section on children and I felt like my chest was going to burst with rage. Instead of protecting children, the Nazis had targeted them—starved, tortured, and killed them. The anger just kept pounding through me.

But what good was it doing? Suddenly I realized that there was a hard nugget of violence in my anger, which if given the circumstances could explode. Taking a seat, I stripped my anger to the sadness behind it. I inhaled and exhaled and discovered that my soft, vulnerable feelings were bearable after all—maybe more bearable than the fire I’d been trying to cover them with.

Whether angry or grief-stricken, I do not have the power to travel back in time to rescue those children. I do not even have the power to rescue all of today’s children from painful circumstances. But I could—when I left the museum—be a little less angry and a little more full of compassion for the human condition. That, I think, is the place to begin in doing good.

—Andrea Miller, Deputy Editor

From the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Books in Brief (September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014

Books in Brief

A True Account of an Imaginative Life

By Tom Robbins
Ecco 2014; 384 pp., $27.99 (cloth)

As the celebrated author of the novels Skinny Legs and All and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Tom Robbins is known for his extravagant, humorous metaphors and for juxtaposing the absurd and the lyrical, the sacred and the profane. But these are not just tricks he saves for his fiction. Tibetan Peach Pie, Robbins’s meandering life story, delivers the same punchy style. I particularly enjoyed the chapter “Now Showing: Satori,” in which Robbins recounts a fleeting but powerful experience of sudden enlightenment. It was in 1966 when he was driving through a blizzard. He could see virtually nothing except swirling snowflakes and then suddenly he caught sight of a huge painted golf ball outlined in white neon, announcing the presence of a driving range. For some reason that glowing white circle made him, for the next twelve seconds or so, “a free spirit in the oneness of the whole enchilada, seeing the world—material and immaterial—for the all-inclusive miracle it is.” Of course, he continues, “I’m all too aware of how woo-woo this sounds, but it was as real as a stubbed toe and as lucid as a page in Hemingway.”


By Peter Matthiessen
Riverhead Books 2014; 246 pp., $27.95 (cloth)

Peter Matthiessen was the acclaimed author of The Snow Leopard and Shadow Country, as well as a Zen priest in the White Plum Asanga. In April, he passed away while awaiting the publication of In Paradise, his final novel. The inspiration for In Paradise was Matthiessen’s own experience at Roshi Bernie Glassman’s “bearing witness” meditation retreats in Auschwitz. The main character of the novel is Olin, a Polish-American historian who ambivalently joins a bearing witness retreat because he’s researching the suicide of a Holocaust survivor. Over time, however, he comes to realize that his motives for attending are both layered and deeply personal. In Paradise does not flinch in tackling painful questions: What is at the root of our seemingly endless fascination with the Holocaust? If we bear witness, what exactly are we bearing witness to? And what can a non-Jew with no personal connection to the Holocaust contribute to the understanding of such a horrific legacy?


By Alan Spence
Canongate 2014; 454 pp., $15.95 (paper)

This is one of the most enduring stories about Hakuin Ekaku: There was a beautiful young woman who got pregnant and when her parents insisted she reveal the father, she named Hakuin. Irate, the parents showed up at his door with their accusations, yet all he said was, “Is that so?” After the birth, Hakuin accepted the baby and took good care of him, despite the fact that this cost him his reputation. A year passed and finally the young mother confessed to her parents that Hakuin wasn’t really the father but rather it was a man who worked at the fish market. Now, full of apologies, her parents returned to Hakuin’s door, claiming they knew the truth. “Is that so?” Hakuin said again and freely handed the child back. Today Hakuin is celebrated as the reviver of the Rinzai Zen tradition and is recognized as one of the most influential Zen masters of all time. Night Boat is a superbly written novelization of his life. Alan Spence, an award-winning Scottish poet and playwright, is also the author of The Pure Land.


Interviews and Encounters

Edited by Jeff Burger
Chicago Review Press 2014; 604 pp., $29.95 (cloth)

This hefty volume is a fascinating collection of more than fifty interviews with poet, singer, novelist, and longtime Buddhist practitioner Leonard Cohen. Conducted between 1966 and 2012, these interviews delve into everything from Cohen’s loves and lyrics to his personal financial crisis. But Buddhist readers will be particularly interested in the material that relates to his Zen practice. In one television interview from 1997, Cohen shows journalist Stina Lundberg Dabrowski a slice of his life at Mount Baldy Zen Center in California. He offers her a nip of whiskey, shows her the correct posture for meditation, and explains why he sees his monastic residence as a “kind of hospital up here in the mountains.” He’d always felt a chronic dissatisfaction, even anguish, and nothing really helped. Finally, he was driven to the cure of Zen. “You learn how to sit,” he says, “you learn how to walk, you learn how to eat, you learn how to be quiet… And you have the opportunity for self-reform.” Besides, he adds, without this discipline “I’d be lying in bed watching television, scratching myself.”


A Biography

By David Gordon White
Princeton University Press 2014; 288 pp., $24.95 (cloth)

With roughly seventeen million people regularly attending yoga classes in the United States, yoga studios are cranking out teachers. The required reading in almost all of the teacher training programs is the same ancient text: the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. This is curious, because the lion’s share of today’s yoga classes are almost exclusively focused on postures, stretching, and breathing, yet the Yoga Sutra’s 195 abstruse aphorisms say next to nothing about these practices. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: A Biography is a lively account of this sutra’s unlikely history and how it has variously been interpreted, reinterpreted, ignored, and hailed. The colorful characters on these pages include Vivekananda and Krishnamacharya, two giants in modern yoga, as well as literary figures such as T.S. Eliot. There is also Alberuni, a Muslim scientist and scholar who translated a commentary on the Yoga Sutra a thousand years ago, and the outrageous Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who fused the principles of the Yoga Sutra with Western ideas of the occult.


The Buddha’s Way of Mindfulness

By Nyanaponika Thera
Weiser Books 2014; 288 pp., $18.95 (paper)

The late Nyanaponika Thera was a German-born Theravada monk who cofounded the Buddhist Publication Society. He was the teacher of Bhikkhu Bodhi and other contemporary Western Buddhist leaders, and his book The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, first published in 1954, was instrumental in introducing Vipassana and mindfulness to the West. As Sylvia Boorstein remarks in the foreword of this reprint: “Apart from the meticulous yet accessible writing style with which the venerable Nyanaponika builds every point, I feel a warmth and friendliness in his tone that makes me feel as if he is talking to me.” The Heart of Buddhist Meditation includes the highly influential Maha-Satipatthana-Sutta and the Greater Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness, as well as an anthology of other texts on right mindfulness, which have been translated from Pali and Sanskrit with notes.


Gentle Yoga for Meditators and Everyone Else

By Jean Erlbaum
Wisdom Publications 2014; 200 pp., $19.95 (paper)

For over three decades, Jean Erlbaum has been teaching yoga at meditation retreats, and the feedback she has gotten year in and year out is that a body free of pain and tension helps the mind become quiet. To address this concern, her new book presents poses and self-massage techniques that can be practiced before or after sitting practice. At the heart of this book is the idea that yoga does not have to be separate from meditation, as it is itself meditative. “When we pay full attention during a forward bend,” says Erlbaum, “we can drop all memories of how our back has been, judgment of how it should be, worries about how it may get worse, or fantasies of how to make it better. All there is in that moment is the stretch, the breath, and any physical changes or insights as they occur.” In short, Erlbaum posits, “Yoga can bring us into the authentic embodiment of each moment.”


A Zen Cautionary Tale

By Edward Brown; illustrations by Margot Koch
Missing Links Press 2014; 112 pp., $19.95 (paper)

From Edward Espe Brown, the author of The Complete Tassajara Cookbook, comes By All Means, a quirky tale dedicated to “grown-ups of all ages.” It is about the real-life adventures of a pig puppet named Ponce as he develops a touching friendship with Edward. Edward rescues Ponce from the jaws of a cat, then gives him a place in the world when he brings him into a family of stuffed toys and collaborates with him to teach Zen to children. For anyone who has ever looked into the sad eyes of a stuffed animal and had their heartstrings pulled, Edward’s words will hit home. “Ponce’s little piggy pain was really my own gaping wound that hurt so much that sharing it with anyone was problematic. Still Ponce was willing to let me share my big pain with him, while I pretended that it was his—and as long as I was pretending I really believed that it was Ponce’s pain. Ponce was a real friend in that regard.”


A Mindful Guide for Thriving in a Complex World

By Joel & Michelle Levey
Divine Arts 2014; 330 pp., $18.95 (paper)

From family matters and health concerns to making a living, human life has always been stressful, and now we have the added stress that comes with ubiquitous technology. To help us find balance in such challenging times, Joel and Michelle Levey synthesize the wisdom of myriad spiritual traditions with cutting-edge science. A wide variety of principles and practices are presented in Living in Balance, so there is something here for everyone. And the authors encourage experimentation: if we’re mindful of what resonates with us, we can each find our own unique mix or “playlist” of insights and tools, which can most effectively help us find harmony and deeper connections. “This book will be of use to anyone interested in exploring and transforming the mind,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama writes in the book’s introduction. “As more people achieve some degree of mental calm, insight, or the ability to transform negative emotions into positive ones, there will be a natural reinforcement of basic human values and consequently a greater chance for peace and happiness for all.”


By Rie Imai and Yuji Ueno; photography by Noboru Murata
Tuttle 2014; 144 pp., $24.95 (cloth)

It is believed that ikebana, or Japanese flower arranging, first came into being in the sixth century as flower offerings to the Buddha. For a contemporary taste of this art form, check out Japanese Ikebana for Every Season. This book explains basic ikebana techniques such as how to trim, bend, and shape plant material and how to boil, pound, or burn stems in order to aid water absorption. Then the book goes on to showcase fifty-three evocative arrangements, with tips for recreating them at home. According to Rie Imai and Yuji Ueno, observing and mimicking nature is at the heart of ikebana. Yet “ikebana is not simply nature transplanted into a vase.” It is, rather, flowers and branches plucked from nature, then restructured, combined with a container, and presented in a new (indoor) environment. In effect, it is an interpretation of nature infused with the arranger’s sensibilities.

From the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Abandon Hope & Other Surprising Slogans to Help You Handle Anger (September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014


Abandon Hope
& Other Surprising Slogans to Help You Handle Anger

In our September 2014 magazine, Zen teacher NORMAN FISCHER applies five mind-training slogans to anger and other strong emotions.

Read his introduction and his teaching for the slogan, "Work with your biggest problems first" here.

To practice with anger—rather than simply being a victim of it—is to make the effort to respect and understand it. This involves being willing to look more deeply at the complex of negative emotions, which naturally arise as part of our human condition. It requires that we take responsibility for these emotions so we can begin to do something creative with them.

Buddhism is justly valued for its many effective and sensible ways of working with anger. All these ways depend on basic mindfulness, the ability to create the inner space necessary to investigate and be fully present with an emotion. Strong emotions, especially negative ones like greed, anger, jealously, and so on, spin us around. Mindfulness gives us a chance to be present with an emotion before we start spinning or even while we are spinning. Rather than being propelled and likely blinded by what we think we want, we are present and willing to see more widely and openly what is actually happening. Such seeing changes what we experience, how we behave, and, ultimately, the sorts of things that happen to us.

In addition, Buddhism offers more intentional, active practices that support and are supported by mindfulness. In recent years, I have been practicing the lojong, or “mind training,” teachings of Tibet. This is a collection of practices to transform negative emotions into sympathy, love, and compassion.

The most famous of all the lojong texts, The Root Text of the Seven Points of Training the Mind, is based on a list of fifty-nine practice slogans. These slogans are memorable, often humorous aphorisms that point us in an advantageous spiritual direction.

My Zen-inflected method of working with a slogan is to copy it again and again in a notebook and repeat it to myself silently during meditation. I stay with the slogan until all my ideas about it become boring and there is only the slogan itself, like a good wise friend, urging me on. When you practice like this, the slogan will start to pop into your mind unbidden, a substitute for the many other mindless thoughts that otherwise would be popping up. And every time it does, it reminds you of your practice and of the necessity of working with your emotions not just when you’re meditating and feeling spiritual but all the time, especially in the midst of problems.

Work With Your Biggest Problems First

Working with our biggest problems first is the opposite of what we want to do. Usually we prefer to take on something easy and work our way up to the tough things, but operating like this we never seem to get to that tough stuff.

This slogan says turn first toward what is really difficult. Screw up your courage and go there right away. This will take all the mindfulness you have been able to cultivate from your time on the meditation cushion—and more. It will also take forbearance, one of the most powerful and least appreciated of all spiritual practices. Forbearance is the capacity to patiently stay with something unpleasant or difficult and face it rather than to do what comes naturally, which is to turn away. Forbearance requires that we develop the capacity—in our body, in our breath, in our heart—to stand firm and aware without acting, at least for the moment.

When we’re angry, we typically blame and lash out. Most of us are not courageous enough to lash out at the people we are actually angry at, so instead we lash out at someone else who is safer, take potshots, gossip, or just grouse and feel indignant in the privacy of our own minds. Yet these activities probably don’t hurt the target of our anger at all. They do, though, hurt us and other people plenty.

Working with the biggest problems first means that when we’re angry, we turn toward the anger. Instead of leaping to blame, recrimination, or distraction, we feel the anger in our body, in our breathing, in our racing thoughts. When we practice like this, we will calm down, see more of what is actually going on, and, eventually, be able to act wisely.


Norman Fischer is the founder of the Everyday Zen Foundation. His most recent book is Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong.

Read the rest of this article inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Nothing Special (September 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | September 2014

Nothing Special 

No one wants to be just another person in a world of seven billion people. GERI LARKIN on what happened when she embraced being ordinary.

I shop for groceries early, typically before 8:30 in the morning. At that time of the day, it’s easy to do a week’s shopping in less than half an hour since I pretty much have the entire store to myself. At the checkout, the same cashier invariably greets me with, “How is your day going?” My response is always some variation of, “It’s early yet, but so far so good.” Sometimes we laugh a little together before I head off into the rest of the morning. The last time I went shopping, though, I remembered—mid-parking lot—that I’d forgotten Bodhi’s dog food. I went back into the store and found it. Then when I got to the cashier, she looked at me and asked how my day was going. She didn’t remember me even though I see her every week and had seen her just five minutes before.

I’ve become invisible.

It’s not that I haven’t been warned that this would happen. Doris Lessing, for one, has written about how, as we age, we lose the attributes that may have kept us visible—our thick curly hair, maybe, or a great body, smoldering eyes, or easy strength. We become smaller, and if we allow ourselves, more gray. We blend in with backgrounds. At some point, most of us also lose any straightforward occupational identity that others can use to categorize us. For example, whenever I meet a new person, one of their first questions is, “What do you do?” These days my answer can change by the minute. Sometimes I garden. Other times I watch various small children. Or clean. Or write. Or study sutras. The list is long.

In Western society, pressure to be other-than-ordinary is constant. We want to be recognized as special.

Early in the 1980s, I was in a long cross-country ski race in northern Michigan. Signing up, I didn’t bother to mention that I had no idea how to cross-country ski. I figured I’d just shuffle my way through the race pretending that my skis were simply elongated clown shoes. This method worked until the first hill, and I learned that the downside of shuffling was that I had to sidestep up each hill, and there were lots of them. To say I was slow doesn’t even begin to describe it.

When I finally made it past the finish line, I was at least an hour behind the second slowest racer. It was dark. The only person left in the lodge was the groundskeeper, who was earning some serious overtime waiting for my arrival. And the other thing waiting for me? A trophy that was over three feet tall for coming in first in my age group.

I thought it was pretty funny.

When I took the trophy to work the next day, it was like I had won the Winter Olympics. Even though I told my story honestly, the trophy was prominently displayed and I was called “the company jock” forevermore. Perks were included with this title, including free tickets to sports events. It didn’t matter that I didn’t deserve any of it. The trophy proved that I was extraordinary.

In transitioning to today’s life of ordinariness, I’ve been helped by invaluable guides. Linji (Japanese: Rinzai) is a favorite. Zen Master Linji, who lived in China in the ninth century, is best known for his skillful use of shouts and whacks and his penchant for referring to the Buddha as a dried shit stick. What is less known is his skillful insistence on the need to live as ordinary beings. As he put it, “There is no need for hard work. The principles are: not to try to be anyone special, and to have nothing to do.” He said, “Just put on your robes, eat your food, and pass the time.”

When I was first introduced to this component of Linji’s teaching some years back, it was confusing. Be ordinary? Don’t plan? Just eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m tired? It sounded boringly simple. But it wasn’t. And it isn’t. Being ordinary means giving up any hope that we might be the center of any universe. It means we don’t have any coattails for friends and family to grasp, no bragging rights to offer up, no news for Facebook.

And yet.

It turns out that, when we honestly dare to be ordinary, the wisdom of the universe opens up for us. We see our own conditioned habits and understand how they can be untangled with a minimum of harm done to those around us. We get to watch for what each day is asking of us; maybe it’s doing some volunteer work or heading off to a job or staying in bed all day to give a cold a chance to move on. We notice more—a whole world of miracles that unfolds and unfolds without end. Anxiety lessens. Gratitude expands. Our intuition may skyrocket (and often does) and our creativity grows. We become available. We learn to rely completely on our direct experience, not on our thinking and reasoning.

It gets better. Joy happens. We feel free. We are no longer shaken up—by anything—finally realizing, if we are lucky, that being ordinary is just the ticket to a wonderful life.

Excerpted from the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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