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Spirit Rock at Twenty-five (January 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | January 2014

Spirit Rock at Twenty-five


In 1975, three young Americans who had recently returned from years of meditation and study in Asia embarked on an experiment. Starting with the strict Vipassana meditation in which they were trained, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, and Sharon Salzberg would teach dharma in the West as a collaboration among Buddhism’s different meditative traditions.

It was a radical approach, but it worked. Today, the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, which they founded that year, is one of America’s most renowned meditation centers, and the Insight Meditation community one of the most influential in American Buddhism.

In 1984, Jack Kornfield joined with Insight teachers James Baraz, Sylvia Boorstein, Anna Douglas, and Howard Cohn to found a new center in California. It started as a series of Monday-night talks in community centers and people’s homes. In 1998, Spirit Rock Meditation Center was opened on 411 acres of beautiful undeveloped land in the San Geronimo Valley of Marin County, about forty-five minutes from San Francisco.

Today, Spirit Rock is a nexus, serving forty thousand visitors a year. It is close to the city, yet completely in nature. It offers deep residential retreats and popular afternoon programs. It upholds the core teachings of Vipassana but complements them with diverse traditions, including Native American religion, dance, neuroscience, kirtan, and all schools of Buddhism. The center is known for its commitment to diversity, offering programs for teens, children, LGBTQ people, and people of color. The famed Monday-night talks continue, now with a parallel program for kids.

To celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary, Spirit Rock this year launched a $15.6 million capital campaign to upgrade its facilities ( This will allow Spirit Rock to generate its own solar power, accommodate twice as many guests in the meditation hall, start offering hermitages, and expand its programs for children and families. The discussion presented here between Insight teachers Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein was the centerpiece of a gala evening in support of the campaign.

    —Sam Littlefair–Wallace

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

Inside the November 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

Look inside the November 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine

FEATURING: 10 reasons why Buddhism can be helpful to the Spiritual But Not Religious; an intimate look at writer, activist, and seeker Alice Walker; Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman on enemies; Louis C.K., Tig Notaro, and other comedians who embody key Buddhist principles; the latest book reviews, and more.

Click titles below to read excerpts and select complete articles.

this issue's editorial:

Welcome to the Big Tent

"'Spiritual but not religious'? ...It sounds so non-committal," writes ROD MEADE SPERRY. But, he adds, "that's precisely the point."

special feature section: "spiritual but not religious?"

10 Reasons Why Buddhism Will Enrich Your Path

The number one reason is: “No God.” Number ten is: “It Works.” MELVIN MCLEOD on what Buddhism can offer your spiritual path.

How It Helps Me

Six non-Buddhists — including KIM STANLEY ROBINSON, DONNA M. JOHNSON, and PICO IYER — on how Buddhism has benefited their lives.

Is Buddhism Even a Religion?

There’s no easy answer. CHARLES PREBISH (yes), DZOGCHEN PONLOP RINPOCHE (no), and JOAN SUTHERLAND (kind of) join the debate.

more features

Alice Walker: The Beautiful Truth

COLLEEN MORTON BUSCH offers an intimate look at this celebrated writer, activist, and seeker.

Know Your Enemy

When we unlock the us-versus-them mindset and see the person behind the label "enemy," say leading Buddhist teachers SHARON SALZBERG and ROBERT THURMAN, everyone benefits.

Wise Fools

Great comedians may not know much about Buddhism but they practice some of its most important principles. ROD MEADE SPERRY on today’s comics of merit, including Louis C.K., Tig Notaro, Garry Shandling, Sarah Silverman, Mike DeStefano, and more.

Stillness in Action: Reflections on Dag Hammarskjöld

The late Secretary-General of the United Nations was both a deeply spiritual person and a highly effective diplomat. ROGER LIPSEY tells us why we need more leaders like him.

other voices

Kuala Lumpur to California

ELAINE PIERCE describes her mother’s moving journey of forgiveness.

“Look, Look!”

The nun Yoshihime thrusts the gatekeeper’s head between her legs. JUDITH SIMMER-BROWN comments on this ancient Zen story.

Mindfulness Is the Best Medicine

SISTER DANG NGHIEM looks back on her medical career and realizes monastic practice and medicine aren’t really that different.

Don’t Think of the Elephant!

JOHN KAAG on looking the elephant of pain squarely in the face.


Review: How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick

How To Wake Up and How To Be Sick author TONI BERNHARD reviews the new book by Letty Cottin Pogrebin.

Books in Brief

ANDREA MILLER reviews new titles by Norman Fischer, Ira Sukrungruang, Lodro Rinzler, and more.

About a Poem

CHRISTOPHER MARTIN on Byron Herbert Reece’s “Mountain Fiddler”

Shambhala Sun
, November 2013, Volume Twenty Two, Number 2. Cover photo: Head of a Buddha. Mid-6th century China. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY

To order a trial subscription to the Shambhala Sun, click here.

Inside the January 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

Look inside the January 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine

FEATURING: Andrea Miller's transformational retreat and interview with THICH NHAT HANH; Six Buddhist teachers on Joyful Giving; JACK KORNFIELD and JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN on what makes us free; LARRY ROSENBERG on the Buddha's famous exhortation, "Be a Lamp Unto Yourself"; RAM DASS, JUDY LIEF, GINA SHARPE, ANYEN RINPOCHE, book reviews, and more.

Click titles below to read excerpts and select complete articles.

this issue's editorial:

This Laughing, Hurting, Busy World

The Shambhala Sun's ANDREA MILLER reflects on the nourishment of sangha.


Be a Lamp Unto Yourself

The freedom that Buddhism offers can't be found if you don't ask questions—about the teachings, the teachers, and yourself. LARRY ROSENBERG on how to cultivate a spirit of inquiry, even skepticism, to illuminate your path.

What Makes Us Free?

Insight. Loving-kindness. Cultivating what's wholesome. And making them real in our lives every day. These are what make us free, say Insight meditation teachers JACK KORNFIELD and JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN.

Plus: Jack Kornfield on How to do Metta | Spirit Rock at Twenty-five

Joyful Giving

Six Buddhist teachers — KAREN MAEZEN MILLER, JUDY LIEF, JAN CHOZEN BAYS, GINA SHARPE, NORMAN FISCHER, and TSULTRIM ALLIONE — on why generosity is the starting place of all the virtues.

The Tears I Shed Yesterday Have Become Rain

Each of us, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, has the capacity to transform our suffering. ANDREA MILLER joins him and his students at Blue Cliff Monastery in the Catskills to practice for peace and happiness—for themselves and the world.

You Have the Buddha in You

In this exclusive interview, THICH NHAT HANH reveals details about his family, sheds light on a little-known Buddhist master, and explains how—if you have mindful ears and mindful eyes—the Buddha is always teaching.

Before He Melts Away

His son has been cancer free for six years now, but for JAMES HANMER, the meaning of Frosty the Snowman has changed forever.

other voices

True Listening

SAKYONG MIPHAM on listening as a kind of auditory meditation—and an important way to gain wisdom and insight.

Dad's Happiness 

Why, ANN NICHOLS wondered, should her widowed father face the rest of his life without even the possibility of romance?

In Search of the Genuine

ANYEN RINPOCHE and ALLISON CHOYING ZANGMO on cutting through our hidden agendas and bringing a positive and unselfish motivation to all we do.

Poem of Silence

With just seventeen syllables, the essence of haiku is what isn't said. MARY ROSE O'REILLEY on reciting Basho to the Northwestern forest.


Being Here

As Grist for the Mill, the classic book by Ram Dass (with Stephen Levine) is re-released, MIRABAI BUSH offers a first-hand appreciation of its author.

Books in Brief

This issue's roundup features books on Buddhism, yoga, psychology, and haiku.

About a Poem

GENINE LENTINE on Gabrielle Calvocoressi's "The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart"

Shambhala Sun
, January 2014, Volume Twenty Two, Number 3. Cover photo: Thich Nhat Hanh, photographed by Paul Davis.

To order a trial subscription to the Shambhala Sun, click here.

Editorial: Welcome to the Big Tent (November 2013) Print

Shambhala Sun | November 2013


Welcome to the Big Tent

“Spiritual but not religious”? What does that mean exactly? It sounds so light... so non-committal.

Light? Maybe, depending on the person. Noncommittal? Well, yes. And that’s precisely the point.

People today want spiritual nourishment. But many aren’t wild about how it’s been served to them. They’re not going to commit to a church, a leader, a fixed set of beliefs. Mind you: It’s not that they’re not ready or able to commit. It’s that they’re not moved to. There’s discernment at play: they want to be free to explore, inquire within, and see what works for them.

That openness and spirit of inquiry has real confluence with Buddhist thought. We Buddhists have been told by teachers like the Dalai Lama — and by the Buddha himself — that if we sincerely test and apply teachings but find them to be untrue, we should discard them.

Likewise, we should take any great spiritual lesson to heart, no matter its source. Buddhists strive to see wisdom wherever it manifests — among scientists, atheists, and artists; among practitioners and teachers of the great world religions; among activists, seekers, and ordinary people. As Joan Sutherland puts it in her piece on page 57, “The religious, the agnostic, and the completely irreligious, as well as those inclined psychologically, mystically, shamanically, or socio-politically, can all find a home in the very big tent of Buddhism.”

That’s no accident. The Buddha geared his teachings to his audience, knowing that what works for some people might not work for others, but that all of us can be turned toward awakening with the right skillful means. Likewise, the late Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who founded the Shambhala Sun, put a premium on inclusivity. As he wrote in the opening of his classic book Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior, “There is basic human wisdom that can solve the world’s problems. This wisdom does not belong to any one culture or religion, nor does it come only from the West or the East.”

Yet, even among those who call themselves Buddhists, there are some who don’t or won’t recognize this. Think, for example, of those in Burma, Sri Lanka, and Thailand who would like to do away with their Muslim countrymen and who fan the fires of Islamophobia. They may even be ordained and wearing robes, but let’s face it: they’re fanatics who’ve lost the point of the spiritual path. People like that are surely one reason why so many of us these days say Yes to spirituality but No to religion.

It’s not that they don’t deserve our compassion. Indeed, compassion could be the key to turning them back toward civility and inclusivity. But we should let the world know that what they’re doing isn’t representative of what Buddhists value — robes or no.

I have to wonder: If I were coming up today, seeing the charlatans and religious chauvinists in the news, where would I be? When I was young, I had spiritual leanings, but I wasn’t merely “not religious”; I was anti-religion, and anti-social. It was my exposure to Buddhist thought, and the practical and profound practice of meditation, that changed that. I became more tolerant, less at odds with the world, and when my teacher spoke of the wisdom in the world’s religions, I was open and intrigued. I’ve found some real peace there.

I’d hate for anyone to miss out on that.

So is Buddhism a religion? We’ve gathered three panelists to explore this question and they have their own unique answers. That gets right to the heart of the Buddha’s idea of skillful means: the answer that matters, in the end, is the answer that works for you — and you’ll need to figure it out for yourself. If anyone tries to tell you otherwise, be skeptical.

So welcome to the Big Tent. Make yourself at home, and come and go as you please.

—ROD MEADE SPERRY, Associate Editor

Photo by Megumi Yoshida

From the November 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

About a Poem (November 2013) Print

Shambhala Sun | November 2013

About a Poem: Christopher Martin on
Byron Herbert Reece's "Mountain Fiddler"


I took my fiddle

That sings and cries

To a hill in the middle

Of Paradise.

I sat at the base

Of a golden stone

In that holy place

To play alone.

I tuned the strings

And began to play,

And a crowd of wings

Were bent my way.

A voice said

Amid the stir:

“We that were dead,

O Fiddler,

“With purest gold

Are robed and shod,

And we behold

The face of God.

“Our halls can show

No thing so rude

As your horsehair bow,

Or your fiddlewood;

“And yet can they

So well entrance

If you but play

Then we must dance!”

Byron Herbert Reece (1917–1958) was a poet of moderate success in his lifetime, though today he is nearly forgotten, especially outside his homeland of the north Georgia mountains. His work emerged as an expression of the natural world around him — what he called a “speechless kingdom” to which he “pledged his tongue.” Once, after his publisher urged him to leave north Georgia for New York in order to be at the center of the literary world, Reece replied that the slopes and valleys around Blood Mountain were just as good a place for wrestling angels as any other. Though at times he left home for writing residencies and teaching positions across the country, he never stayed away for long. His family’s farm on Wolf Creek and the mountains around it always held the poet close.

Reece was bound to his home by necessity as much as anything else. Both his parents contracted tuberculosis in the 1930s, so he assumed full responsibility for the farm at the height of his literary career. Because he never found financial success through his writing, he always depended on farming for income as well as sustenance.

But Reece’s connection to his homeland ran much deeper than necessity. He belonged to the north Georgia countryside physically and also spiritually, as “Mountain Fiddler” and many of his other poems suggest. Yet in Reece’s work, the spiritual and the physical are not as dualistic as Western traditions often render them.

In “Mountain Fiddler,” Reece takes us to a clichéd vision of heaven, a place where everything is made of gold. He carries a homemade fiddle with him, though, and the homemade — that which arises from its locality — can never be cliché. It is commonplace to paint heaven in terms of mythological extravagance and duality, but good poets remind us that heaven abides in that which surrounds us. And so it is the angels, though they initially greet the fiddler by scoffing at his lowly “horsehair bow” and “fiddlewood,”who end up dancing to the earthly music. The heavenly harp holds no sway.

Christopher Martin is the author of the poetry chapbook A Conference of Birds and founding editor of the online literary magazine Flycatcher.


From the November 2013 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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