Inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine
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:
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 buddhas are angry about the suffering of samsara. Melvin
McLeod on the enlightened power of no.
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.
Emily Horn teaches us how to recognize, accept,
investigate, and not identify with our anger.
Zen teacher Norman Fischer applies five surprising
mind-training slogans to anger and other strong emotions
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.
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.
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.
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.
In meditation, you can’t just pretend obstacles aren’t
there, says Sakyong Mipham. You have to relate to them.
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.
No one wants to be just another person in a world of seven
billion people. Geri Larkin on what happened when she embraced being
reviews & more
This issue’s roundup features books by Tom Robbins, Peter
Matthiessen, Nyanaponika Thera, and more.
Willis Barnstone on “Our White House,” by Charles
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
All the Rage (Editorial; September 2014)
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
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
Books in Brief (September 2014)
Shambhala Sun | September 2014
Books in Brief
TIBETAN PEACH PIE
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.
LEONARD COHEN ON LEONARD COHEN
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.”
THE YOGA SUTRA OF PATANJALI
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 HEART OF BUDDHIST MEDITATION
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.
SIT WITH LESS PAIN
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.”
BY ALL MEANS
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.”
LIVING IN BALANCE
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.”
JAPANESE IKEBANA FOR EVERY SEASON
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
Abandon Hope & Other Surprising Slogans to Help You Handle Anger (September 2014)
Shambhala Sun | September 2014
& 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
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
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.
Nothing Special (September 2014)
Shambhala Sun | September 2014
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
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.
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
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.
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