About a Poem: Ruth Ozeki on Ono no Komachi (March 2014)
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?
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
When my desire
grows too fierce
I wear my bed clothes
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.
I cannot keep myself
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.
by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani from The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi
Ono no Komachi as an old woman, woodcut by Tsukioka
Does the Buddha Always Tell the Truth? (Review; March 2014)
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.
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Show Up Exactly As You Are: Taz Tagore of Reciprocity Foundation (Q&A; March 2014)
Shambhala Sun | March 2014
Q&A: TAZ TAGORE OF THE RECIPROCITY FOUNDATION
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."
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
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?
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
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
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.
About a Poem: Genine Lentine on Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s “The Last Time I Saw Amelia (January 2014)
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
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
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.
Books in Brief (January 2014)
Shambhala Sun | January 2014
Books in Brief
THE TRAUMA OF EVERYDAY LIFE
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
THE HEALING POWER OF MEDITATION
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.
HAIKU IN ENGLISH
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
CLOSE TO THE GROUND
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.
PICK YOUR YOGA PRACTICE
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
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?
THE EMPTY CHAIR
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?
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