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About a Poem: Ruth Ozeki on Ono no Komachi (March 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | March 2014

About a Poem: Ruth Ozeki on Ono no Komachi

How do we remember a woman’s life? Can we piece her together from a few lines of poetry?


This body

grown fragile, floating,

a reed cut from its roots. . .

If a stream would ask me

to follow, I’d go, I think. 

This is a poem by Ono no Komachi, one of Japan’s best-loved poets. Little is known of her life. She lived from about 825 to 900 CE, although these dates are uncertain, as are her parentage and birthplace. It seems she served in the Heian court, possibly as a minor consort or lady-in-waiting. Named as one of the Six Poetic Geniuses of the Heian period, as well as one of the Thirty-six Poetry Immortals, she was renowned for both her poetry and her astonishing beauty. Although she died over a thousand years ago, her name, Komachi, is still a synonym for female beauty in Japan.

When my desire

grows too fierce

I wear my bed clothes

inside out,

dark as the night’s rough husk.

Her poems are erotic and her love affairs are legendary, as is her alleged heartlessness. In one famous story, she bids her suitor to visit her for one hundred consecutive nights, and only then will she consent to meet with him. The young man faithfully appears for ninety-nine nights, only to fail on the hundredth, the night when his love was to be consummated. In despair, he falls ill and dies.

The seaweed gatherer’s weary feet

keep coming back to my shore.

Doesn’t he know

there’s no harvest for him

in this uncaring bay?

Apart from this single poem, there is no evidence of heartlessness at all. Rather, most of her poems portray her as the one who is left pining.

Awake tonight

with loneliness,

I cannot keep myself

from longing

for the handsome moon.

Ono no Komachi is also famous for her old age, spent in obscurity as a destitute and somewhat lunatic crone, living outside the capital. Karmic retribution for her youthful heartlessness? Perhaps, but her poems suggest a profound understanding of impermanence and samsara.

Yes, a mountain village

can be lonely...

yet living here is easier

than dwelling amid

the worries of the world.

How do we remember a woman’s life?


Ruth Ozeki is a Soto Zen priest and novelist. Her most recent book is the Booker Prize finalist A Tale for the Time Being.


Poetry translations by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani from The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu.

Ono no Komachi as an old woman, woodcut by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

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

Does the Buddha Always Tell the Truth? (Review; March 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | March 2014


Does Buddha Always Tell the Truth?

Sam Harris thinks honesty is the best policy. KAREN MAEZEN MILLER argues for a more nuanced understanding of right speech.

By Sam Harris

Four Elephants Press, 2013; 108 pp., $16.99 (hardcover)

I was thirty-six years old when I encountered truth for the first time.

Depressed and sleepless, up too late wandering around the house where I lived alone, keeping company with too much wine and sorrow, I spied a slender red spine on my bookshelf. I must have walked past it a hundred times but had never noticed it before. The book was Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching, left behind by someone who had since disappeared. Although I had no interest in philosophy or religion and couldn’t even pronounce the title on the dust jacket, I sat down in the hush of that long, unforgettable night and read every word.

Afterward I would recall the event as a spiritual awakening. With hindsight it’s easy to see your irreversible turning points—how the casual flick of your finger topples a domino that reveals a perfect pattern to the chaos—but that night I didn’t think I’d found any particular answers. I didn’t yet see a path beyond my pain. I was still sad, confused, and afraid. But I’d heard something.

As I read those pages, I heard what sounded like the truth, so true I would have given it a capital T. It was the truest thing I’d ever read, and if someone could put this much truth into words, I thought, then maybe I could find it in my life. Maybe I could find relief from my mind’s torment.

Up until then, I’d been as susceptible as anyone to lies: I’d bought and sold my share of them. I’d had a short career as a journalist, where my professional weakness was believing well-told lies, an unfortunate few of which I rendered as fact under my byline on the front page of the morning paper. I followed that embarrassment with a long career in public relations, where my professional strength was telling lies. To be sure, mine were hardly criminal lies, or at least they were never prosecuted as such. They were simply the distortions fashioned by commercial and corporate self-interest—white-collar lies. But even ordinary, everyday lies can accumulate into unbearable discomfort and shame, at least until you’ve scraped the bullshit from the bottom of your shoes.


The tao that can be told

Is not the eternal Tao.

The name that can be named

Is not the eternal Name.

—Tao Te Ching


The Tao had given me a hint of a larger truth, one that couldn’t be manipulated with words, knowledge, or artifice. It sounded like a benevolent rock bottom you hit when all your make-believe has shattered, when your heart breaks and your head spins, when hope dies and strategies fail, as they will, because trading in lies leads to no good. It ends in long nights at wit’s end wandering an empty house, an eye cocked open to find the way out.

Why do we lie?

We lie to serve ourselves. That much is obvious. Neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and The Moral Landscape, has written another provocative book—an essay, to be honest—examining the art and ethics of the dodge. His timing is propitious. Living in samsara, the egocentric world of suffering, we are continuously misled, deceived, and exploited. But it sure seems to have gotten worse lately. As a result, we are living in what could be called the age of disbelief. Even if you don’t trust the numbers (and I admit to caution), the numbers don’t lie. A survey by Pew Research Center in October 2013 found that Americans distrust the federal government 80 percent of the time.

If you’re looking for an honest face, you’d better hire Tom Hanks. In an annual poll of the most trusted people in America, six of the top 10 were movie stars and the eighth was the host of Jeopardy. In a 2012 Gallup survey of honesty and ethics in professions, clergy were only half-trusted. A majority of the public has little or no trust in the media. Stockbrokers, ad execs, members of Congress, and car salespeople are crawling at the bottom of the credibility sinkhole. Only nurses, doctors, and pharmacists are as yet untarnished by our cynicism, a sign, perhaps, of our steadfast reliance on medical attention and prescriptions.

Lying is disagreeable. If we don’t agree on that, there’s no sense in having a conversation about honesty. But Harris wants to prod us beyond easy ethics and into inconvenient territory. He argues that the most egregious lies are the liver-bellied ones we tell to save ourselves from momentary distress. “Lying, even about the smallest matters, needlessly damages personal relationships and public trust,” he writes.

“My daughter will be absent due to illness,” I say to the attendance secretary at the school office.

“As it turns out, we have other plans that night,” I reply to the unwanted invitation.

“Not really,” I answer my husband, who has pricked my icy silence by asking, “Are you mad at me or something?”

None of those statements was completely true, but were they wrong?

“To lie is to recoil from relationship,” Harris writes. “A willingness to be honest—especially about things that one might be expected to conceal—often leads to much more gratifying exchanges with other human beings.”

As evidence, he cites the time an unsuspecting friend asked whether Harris thought he was overweight:

In fact, he was probably just asking for reassurance: It was the beginning of summer, and we were sitting with our wives by the side of his pool. However, I’m more comfortable relying on the words that actually come out of a person’s mouth rather than on my powers of telepathy. So I answered my friend’s question very directly: “No one would ever call you fat, but if I were you, I’d want to lose twenty-five pounds.” That was two months ago, and he is now fifteen pounds lighter. Neither of us knew that he was ready to go on a diet until I declined the opportunity to lie about how he looked in a bathing suit.

Harris deals dispassionately with issues that are troubling for most of us. To his thinking, if you tell a woman That dress makes you look fat, it allows her to choose a more flattering fit. When you admit to your friend, the struggling actor, that he’s really a bad actor, it liberates him to find a more productive life purpose. And when you break the news to a friend that her husband is having an affair, it rescues the victim, saves a friendship, and relieves you from the burden of keeping a secret.

Reading this blend of simple logic, good intentions, and best-case scenarios, I arrived at a different view of the matter. Just because you’re no longer deceiving someone else doesn’t mean you’re not deceiving yourself. Whenever I think I know what someone needs or wants, what is good or best for them—wagering how things are going to turn out—it’s a good time to shut up.


An untroubled mind,

No longer seeking to consider 

What is right and what is wrong,

A mind beyond judgments,

Watches and understands.

—The Dhammapada


Why would a Buddhist have to think twice about lying? “Right speech” is codified into the eightfold path, the Buddha’s teaching on the way out of suffering. Isn’t it right there in black and white: “Don’t lie”?

Only it’s not black and white and it doesn’t say that. The “right” in right speech (and each element of the path) does not mean the opposite of “wrong.” It is not a dualistic comparison.

Right speech is whole, perfected, wise, skillful, appropriate, necessary, and non-divisive. Those are a lot of words to describe the language that arises out of the undistracted awareness of your awakened mind, free of judgments about this or that, right and wrong, if and when, you and me. That’s why right speech is so often expressed by silence.

The Abhaya Sutra categorizes what a buddha does not say:


Words known to be unfactual, un-true, unbeneficial, unendearing, and disagreeable to others.

Words known to be factual and true, yet unbeneficial, unendearing, and disagreeable to others.

Words known to be factual, true, and beneficial, yet unendearing and disagreeable to others, because it is not yet the proper time to say them.

Words known to be unfactual, untrue, and unbeneficial, yet en-dearing and agreeable to others.

Words known to be factual and true but unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others.


Right speech is not only a lesson in how to speak. It is also an admonition to practice: to watch and wait until the mind opens and intuitive wisdom finds its own compassionate expression. In the real world, abstract discussion about honesty doesn’t go far enough, because living beings are not abstractions. That’s the most inconvenient truth of all.


See the world as your self.

Have faith in the way things are.

Love the world as your self;

Then you can care for all things.

—Tao Te Ching


Buddhist teachers stress that the steps of the eightfold path are not singular or serial; they are eight actualizations of one fundamental truth: no separate self. When that one domino tips, your view is irretrievably altered and the world changes from the inside out.

Harris credits a college philosophy seminar with triggering his epiphany about lying. Called “The Ethical Analyst,” it examined the practical ethics of a single question, “Is it wrong to lie?” The course opened his eyes to the suffering and embarrassment that could be avoided by simply telling the truth.

“And, as though for the first time, I saw all around me the consequences of others’ failure to live by this principle,” he writes. That’s close, but not quite close enough to the right view.

In other instances, his insights sound eerily akin to the Buddha’s own. “Honesty is a gift we can give to others. It is also a source of power and an engine of simplicity. Knowing that we will attempt to tell the truth, whatever the circumstances, leaves us with little to prepare for. Knowing that we told the truth in the past leaves us with nothing to keep track of. We can simply be ourselves in every moment.”

Harris has spoken favorably about the ethical benefits of contemplative practices. Lying makes me wish he would go a little bit further to broaden his view of truth, widen his view of the self, and deepen his connection with the world around him. But it’s not my place to say so. Perhaps one day he’ll ask even more difficult questions of himself, questions he can’t answer with simple rules or reason alone. That’s how the dharma works.

Does this make me look fat?

If I were you, I wouldn’t answer that. And if you were me, you wouldn’t ask in the first place. Practicing utmost honesty with ourselves, neither of us would cause the other a moment’s pain. No vanity or self-righteousness; no lies, regrets, blame, or excuses. Can you imagine living like that? Me neither. That’s okay. There’s no use imagining a different world, but we can each keep trying to live differently.


Karen Maezen Miller is a Zen priest and teacher at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. Her new book, Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden, will be released in May.

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

Show Up Exactly As You Are: Taz Tagore of Reciprocity Foundation (Q&A; March 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | March 2014


Show Up Exactly As You Are

"We're ready to embrace them exactly as they are," says Tagore (right).
"That's scary for a teenager."

Perched twelve stories above the clothiers and bustle that are native to its West 36th Street address, the Reciprocity Foundation has been quietly making a positive impact on the lives of homeless youth in New York City for ten years now. Its programs, strongly attuned to the needs of youth of color and those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, are largely the work of the RF’s cofounders, Taz Tagore and Adam Bucko. They’re two dear friends who discovered a shared passion to help those in need and to meet those needs through unconventional, even spiritual, means. Taz met me in the Reciprocity offices, which feature a meditation room, a massage chair, and a fully functioning vegetarian kitchen, all respectfully, fruitfully shared by staff and kids alike. She explained why what makes Reciprocity different is what makes it work.ROD MEADE SPERRY

How is it that you came to work with homeless youth?

I was a teenager living in Toronto with my family, which had fled East Africa and bounced around Europe, trying to find a country that would have us. When they were allowed to come to Canada, there was still that sense of psychological homelessness. Who am I and How do I fit in are questions that I grew up not having answers to.

I used to skip school and head downtown to meet artists and designers and people who were trying to answer those questions in profound ways. On one of those days, I was looking for a student art show and opened the wrong door. It was a shelter. At first I was horrified—it was really very institutional. The walls were this awful color; it was noisy, it was chaotic. You didn’t feel safe at all. My first impulse was, “I need to get out of here.” But one of the kids bummed a cigarette from me, and I just hung out all afternoon getting to know one youth and another and another. Then I went back to organize a huge school event to raise money for the shelter. Now, after years of practice and therapy and everything else, I see I’d recognized something in this group of kids that was in me.

You also spent time working on Wall Street as an investment banker.

Yes, for a couple of years. I think I needed to know that I could do anything that I chose. In the end, I chose to turn away from the money and the power and the opportunity and the status, and to serve others. I also had a job in between, working for the designer Ed Schlossberg. But Adam called me there, asking to work on design projects with some of his students at Covenant House. As soon as we started that, it was like, “Okay, okay, I get it!” I left and we started Reciprocity right away. Adam quit his job too.

It was probably one of the biggest acts of faith of my life. I’d gone to Harvard Business School and had a good, wealthy network, but Reciprocity Foundation was a few degrees away from the kind of philanthropy that the people I was connected to were doing.

Has that changed?

We’re a contemplative nonprofit working for kids, not for donors. That’s a hard path to walk, and I think it’s why we’ve never become a million-dollar agency with a big, powerful board. Adam and I are doing this as spiritual practice. It’s deeply nourishing and it’s absolutely what I want to do, but that doesn’t mean that it’s comfortable or happy or pleasant all the time.

Do the homeless youth often push back against the spiritual and contemplative aspects of what you do? I mean, this is not necessarily normal stuff to any young person, homeless or not.

Yeah! They’ve never experienced anything like this and it’s something that they deeply crave. But there’s also a part of them that wants to run away. They know that what we expect from them is authenticity; we want them to show up exactly as they are, and we’re ready to welcome them and embrace them exactly as they are. That’s scary for a teenager or for a young adult.

No one’s ever said anything like that to them.

Right. They think, What if this group of people rejects me too? What if they don’t see my goodness? What if they don’t embrace who I really am?

How is it that homeless youth come to you? And how do they come to feel at home in the group?

We’re connected to shelters and caseworkers and social workers, so they refer them in. But then we have youth who basically say to peers in shelters, I really like you, and I want to show you a group of people that you should meet. Students often first visit our Thursday-night gatherings. We have a big meal, a guest speaker, a meditation. Students begin to feel, “Okay, I can trust this. There are some cool people here and they’re feeding me and it feels good.”

Or we schedule an intake with them. But instead of “Here’s a seven-page form, give us your sexual history, your medical history, your history of homelessness, your identification,” our approach is, “Yeah, we want some information from you but first, three questions: Who do you want to be in this world? Why are you really here as a homeless youth? Where do you need to go? We don’t offer housing, so we need to know what is it that we can really do to support your journey. There’s often tears because, literally, no one has asked them these questions before. Everything falls away and they’re just crying Thank you. Thank you for recognizing that I have a role to play even if I don’t know what it is yet.

That’s beautiful. What comes next?

Usually, individual counseling sessions at least once a week, participating on our Thursday nights, finding a mentor from our community to help them work on career or college aspirations and also how to bring together all the aspects of their beings. Yes, it’s nice to work toward having a great job and a sustainable wage, but you also need to know how to take care of your body, how to be in healthy relationships, how to make good choices, how to trust yourself and your intuition.

Do those working with you—not just youth and their families but local state government agencies and potential benefactors—see the spirituality of the Reciprocity Foundation as a red flag or an obstacle?

Well, Adam and I are really open. I’m a practicing Buddhist and he’s a practicing Christian, and there are no secrets in terms of how we identify. We make clear that our students need to make their own choices. We’re not here to do anything other than remind them that contemplation, wisdom, inner guidance, and spiritual practice are all fundamental ways of transforming your life, and to not give them credence is actually quite foolish. Do we have the best college and career coaching services available? Maybe. But I think the magic is that inner transformation is at the very core of everything we do.

What are some entry points to this inner transformation?

Every student’s different, but everyone needs to be able to breathe, let go, and connect to their potential through breath. So that’s the first thing we teach them. Grounding practices are the second. The third is just being in the body. Often, the youth who’ve experienced sexual abuse, who’ve engaged in sex work as part of their journey of homelessness, or those who’ve experienced a lot of gang violence or physical violence have left their body. The body work we do with them—massage, acupuncture, energy work, yoga—helps them reengage with and heal the body. I’m not interested in yoga for the sake of yoga, but as a part of a process that’s being coached and where there’s a real end? That’s profound. That’s where yoga can play a role in poverty alleviation.

It seems that confidence—that they have a place in this world, that they have a skill set, that the way they see the world isn’t at odds with the world itself—is key to your students.

I think about it as potential. If you’re connected with your potential, it’s so different, right? You’re not homeless because you have no potential, you’re homeless because you’re in the process of discovering your potential. So, if you frame homelessness in that way, it’s an opportunity to really discover through suffering, through challenge, your deeper potential. And the kids are like, “What? Really? This isn’t just the shittiest two years of my life?” [Laughter.] That’s really profound for them.

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

About a Poem: Genine Lentine on Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s “The Last Time I Saw Amelia (January 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | January 2014

About a Poem: Genine Lentine on Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s “The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart”

Section one from: "The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart" 

Clem Sanders, bystander

It was late spring and silent,
beach-grass switched like skirts
of women walking past shop

windows on their way to church,
heads bent beside their husbands
come up from orange groves

just greening. I was distracted
by a bird, which was no more
than shoal-dust kicked up by wind.

I missed her waving good-bye,
saw only her back, her body
bowing to enter the thing.

“Clem Sanders, bystander” is the first of ten monologues that comprise the long poem “The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart” by Gabrielle Calvocoressi, a poet of prismatic empathic imagination.

Clem Sanders is the first to speak, in the first poem, of Calvocoressi’s first book. I cannot help but assign importance to such prominent placement, and to hear, in the lyric tautness of his voice, some instruction about poetry itself, about seeing, about being available to what is actually happening, rather than holding out for the idealized version.

The poem opens in silence: “It was late spring and silent.” Silence, and then, pure music: “beach grass switched like skirts.” The sibilant grass blades give way to the dull chop of propeller blades we hear in the prevalence of “B” sounds in the final stanza: goodbye, back, body, bowing. Our bystander enters the scene exactly as he is, listening acutely and possessed of a kind of panoramic, extra-temporal seeing. It is as if he sees the orange groves in time-lapse as the green buds break the spring branches.

“I was distracted by a bird,” he tells us. But wait, it’s not a bird, it’s “shoal-dust kicked up by wind”—that same wind that might have been set spinning by the propellers of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra. Just wind. The same wind that may have taken Earhart and Fred Noonan, her navigator, off course.

Clem Sanders is distracted, yes, but he knows he’s distracted. He recognizes how quick he is to assign a form to what swirls before him. I take instruction from him in this. All day long I am constructing birds out of dust.

Strikingly, Amelia Earhart doesn’t even enter the poem until the last stanza, “I didn’t see her wave good-bye.”  How often do we not get to say good-bye to someone before they vanish from our lives? Even as I write this, someone dear to me has been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer and it’s unclear whether I’ll see him in person again, though last night, in a dream, I crossed a street with him, leaning in to hear the exact, impossibly kind, breadth of his voice.

When Clem Sanders announces himself to be a witness whose view is partial, he gains my absolute trust. He is not the person who snaps the photo to prove he was there, inflating his own importance by aligning himself with a spectacle. He recognizes that he is already aligned.

This poem invites us to think about what it means to be a bystander and reminds us that our view is always partial, and yet, to inhabit that incompleteness is a form of completeness in itself. I hold this poem close because I need its encouragement to speak from within my own fractured, interrupted, and fallible vision. He didn’t need to see her wave. He could see, in “her body/bowing to enter the thing,” her vow. ©

Poem from The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, Persea Books, New York, 2005.

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

Books in Brief (January 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | January 2014

Books in Brief

By Mark Epstein
Penguin Press 2013; 225 pp., $25.95 (cloth)

Illness, old age, and death—the story is that Siddhartha Gautama first confronted these realities as an adult when he ventured out from the family palace. Psychiatrist and author Mark Epstein, however, points to an earlier source of trauma for the Buddha-to-be: seven days after he was born, his mother died. Though he wouldn’t have remembered her death, it’s reasonable to assume, says Epstein, that her absence permeated his life with the vague sense that something was wrong. “The presence of this early loss in his psyche,” he continues, “creates a motif that anyone who struggles with inexplicable feelings of estrangement or alienation can relate to. The traumas of everyday life can easily make us feel like a motherless child.” Trauma—from the minor to the catastrophic—is universal. But, as Epstein makes clear, it does not have to destroy us. It can, in fact, be channeled into wisdom and compassion. On the face of it, the subject matter of The Trauma of Everyday Life is somber. Nonetheless, this is an engaging read peppered with cultural tidbits and the personal experiences of both Epstein and his psychiatric clients.


Leading Experts on Buddhism, Psychology, and Medicine  Explore the Health Benefits of Contemplative Practice

Edited by Andy Fraser
Shambhala Publications 2013; 226 pp., $16.95 (paper)

The Buddha has traditionally been known as the “Great Physician,” and the root word of meditate is etymologically connected with the word medicine. Now a plethora of scientific research is proving what meditators have known for millennia: meditation and mindfulness can be applied beneficially in health care. The Healing Power of Meditation is an anthology that details some of the groundbreaking new scientific research, maps out the history of how meditation became more mainstream, and explains how meditation is being integrated into hospice care, psychiatry, and other fields. Contributors include Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, and the Buddhist teachers Khandro Rinpoche and Sogyal Rinpoche. The foreword is by Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence.


The First Hundred Years

Edited by Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, and Allan Burns
W.W. Norton & Company 2013; 424 pp., $23.95 (cloth)

Haiku in English is rich with variety. There is the poignant, such as David Cobb’s “filling the grave/more earth/than will go back in.” There is the flippant, such Allen Ginsberg’s “Mayan head in a/Pacific driftwood bole/—Someday I’ll live in N.Y.” And then there is the experimental, such as John Barlow’s one liner “a dusting of snow light on the apple skins.” In the introduction, former poet laureate Billy Collins points out that while simile and metaphor are common literary devices in Western poetic forms, in haiku they’re not. The moon is just the moon. It’s not compared to anything because that would distract from its “moonness.” The important element in haiku is positioning—setting up a startling contrast that leads the reader to see afresh. The mundane can be just a line away from the majestic, the synthetic from the natural. Collins states, “I like to think of the haiku as a moment-smashing device out of which arise powerful moments of dazzling awareness. But I also like to think of it as something to do while walking the dog.”


Reflections on the Seven Factors of Enlightenment
By Geri Larkin
Rodmell Press 2013; 178 pp., $14.95 (paper)

The Pali canon lists the seven factors of enlightenment as: mindfulness, the investigation of phenomena, energetic effort, ease, joy, concentration, and equanimity. These factors are also, according to Geri Larkin, a clear and simple formula “for falling into a sweet juicy life no matter the situation we find ourselves swimming through.” To explain the ins and outs of each factor she mines a wide variety of sources, including her personal experiences, traditional stories from the Buddha’s life, tidbits from sutras, cooking instructions, and Zen koans. Larkin is the founder of Still Point Zen Buddhist Temple in Detroit and the author of Plant Seed, Pull Weed and The Chocolate Cake Sutra. With her warm and unpretentious voice, she manages to make profound Buddhist teachings something you could actually read at the beach or while soaking in the tub.


Exploring and Understanding Different Styles of Yoga

By Meagan McCrary
New World Library 2013; 240 pp., $15.95 (paper)

Maybe you’ve been practicing yoga for years or maybe your first mat is still brand-spanking new. Either way, you most likely haven’t tried every school of yoga out there and you don’t completely grok the differences between them. My suggestion? Read Pick Your Yoga Practice. In this new release, Meagan McCrary unpacks the philosophy and practice of seven leading styles, and gives us tastes of an additional ten. From Kundalini to Kripalu, Anusara to Ananda, the variety is fascinating, but, as McCrary points out in the introduction, they’re more alike than they are different. Ultimately, yoga is always about promoting mindfulness and expanding self-awareness, and, according to McCrary, every style is valid. The important thing is finding the one that works for you.


Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment

By Jay Michaelson
Evolver Editions 2013; 256 pp., $14.99 (paper)

In giving his assessment of contemporary American Buddhism, Jay Michaelson shoots from the hip. He’s grateful to his teachers; he really is. Yet sometimes he feels like he’s the only non-baby-boomer psychotherapist in the meditation hall. In short, Evolving Dharma is Michaelson’s effort to broaden our dharma discourse and strip it of some of what he sees as its hippie-dippy fear of irony. He begins by clearly stating his own point of view as a self-identified (off) white, queer, Jewish male. Then he goes on to give the executive summary of the history of Buddhism in America, primarily focusing on the last three decades and their chocablock changes. These are some of the questions that he addresses: How has feminism informed dharma practice? What’s the outcome of ancient practices meeting modern science? And what does it mean when your sangha exists only online? Moreover, what’s next? Where’s American Buddhism going from here?


By Bruce Wagner
Blue Rider Press 2013; 304 pp., $26.95 (cloth)

A framed narrative, The Empty Chair is two linked novellas. In the preface, a fictional version of author Bruce Wagner says he has spent fifteen years interviewing people about the pivotal events in their lives and that this book comprises two of these interviews in their entirety. The first interview/novella is the story of a gay sort-of Buddhist. (His ex-wife calls him a living master of couch-potato Zen, but he refers to his philosophy as “vanzen” because he lives in his van and can’t imagine life without “the ol’ Greater Vehicle.”) This character has a delightfully rambling voice, but his tale takes dark turns, culminating in his son’s suicide. The second interview/novella revolves around Queenie, who in her wild-child youth left no New Age stone unturned. Now midlife is hitting hard, and her grandfather’s penthouse with its infinity pool and view of Central Park is not enough to stave off the mother of all depressions. Then the phone rings. It’s Queenie’s ex-lover, Kura, a criminal mastermind with spiritual leanings, and he has a proposition. How about a trip to India in search of a long-lost guru?

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

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