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Books in Brief (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014

Books in Brief


Foraging for Life, Love, and the Perfect Meal

By Ava Chin
Simon & Schuster 2014; 256 pp., $25 (cloth)

Don’t read Eating Wildly when you’re hungry. Ava Chin has such a luscious knack for describing anything steamed, sautéed, or deep-fried that you’ll be left with your mouth watering and your stomach grumbling. She recreates the dishes of her Chinese-American childhood, such as lobster Cantonese with lacy egg whites and soy sauce chicken wings dripping in brown-sugar glaze, but foraging in New York and other urban jungles is her specialty. She takes us on her hunts for savory lambsquarters, mellow-sweet mulberries, and morels infused with the taste of earth and springtime. For Chin, foraging is a moving meditation that has a healing quality. Bit by bit, bite by bite, she comes to terms with her romantic failures, her grandmother’s death, and the long-lingering pain of her father’s abandonment. This story of self-discovery is complete with recipes.


How Buddhism’s Seven Points of Mind Training Can Lead You to a Life of Enlightenment and Happiness

By Shamar Rinpoche, edited and translated by Lara Braitstein
Delphinium Books 2014; 178 pp., $14.95 (paper)

While the Tibetan term lojong translates into English as “mind training,” the practice transforms the heart as well. It was established in Tibet by the celebrated yogi-scholar Atisha (c. 982–1054) and for years was only taught orally. Then Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1101–1175) wrote The Root Text of the Seven Points of Mind Training, in which he summarized lojong into fifty-nine pithy aphorisms or slogans and divided them into seven sections. One way that lojong can be practiced is to memorize these slogans so they will pop into your mind when you need them. “Train uninterruptedly” and “Do not hold on to anger” are two that seem fairly straightforward. Others are quite obscure, such as “Guard the two even at the cost of your life” and “Make the three inseparable.” Generation after generation of teachers have commented on The Root Text of the Seven Points of Mind Training, and The Path to Awakening is the Kagyu figure Shamar Rinpoche’s contribution.


Five Essential Practices

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press 2014; 208 pp., $12.95 (paper)

Do not kill, steal, commit sexual misconduct, lie, or take intoxicants. Thich Nhat Hanh recognized the timeless wisdom of these traditional Buddhist precepts but wanted to make them more accessible for people today. So he rewrote them using fresh, contemporary language, taking into account the realities of this modern world, including the Internet, video games, television, and climate change. In his version, Thich Nhat Hanh calls the five precepts “the five mindfulness trainings,” and he lists them as: reverence for life, true happiness, true love, deep listening and loving speech, and nourishment and healing. In The Mindfulness Survival Kit, he delves deeply into the trainings and offers concrete practices for each. He emphasizes that the trainings are free of dogma, religion, and sectarianism, and they can be adopted by anyone, not just Buddhists.


Beyond the Boundaries of Self and Other

By Ellen Birx
Wisdom Publications 2014; 248 pp., $15.95 (paper)

“Our lives are constrained,” says Zen teacher Ellen Birx, “because we have a limited view of who we are and who God is.” For Birx, the word “God” refers to the unknowable, the ineffable. In short, God is a synonym for ultimate reality. Selfless Love begins with two chapters on why and how to meditate, and Birx, who has a Ph.D. in psychiatric nursing, informs this material with her solid knowledge of cognitive science. But she is clear about her personal motivation, which is spiritual. Meditation, as she sees it, is a kind of prayer, and its purpose is to let go of all concepts and experience unbounded awareness. When we have this direct experience of no-self, we can express our own unique gifts without being self-centered. As Birx puts it, “You and God are not two separate realities. God loves. You love. God’s love and your love are one reality.”


A Year of Buddhist Inspiration

Edited by Josh Bartok
Wisdom Publications 2013; 438 pp., $16.95 (paper)

From the editor of Daily Wisdom comes Daily Doses of Wisdom, a new collection of 365 contemplative quotes, plus nine longer selections. Contributors include the poet Jane Hirshfield, the psychoanalyst and Zen teacher Barry Magid, and the Buddhist ecologist Stephanie Kaza, as well as the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Gandhi, Dogen, and the Buddha. From kindness to koans, fairness to freedom, a broad range of topics are explored. “Use your own problems to remember that others have problems too,” said by Kathleen McDonald, is one of the pithier quotes that I enjoyed. Another is Issa’s classic haiku: “The world of dew/Is the world of dew./And yet, and yet…” Bartok, who is head teacher at the Greater Boston Zen Center, suggests reading one quote each day upon waking up or before going to sleep or meditating. But he also points out that there is no wrong time for the dharma, which is, as the Buddha put it, “good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end.”


By Leza Lowitz and Shogo Oketani
Tuttle 2013; 320 pp., $17.99 (cloth)

Growing up in New Mexico, Jet has a secret. Unlike the other kids in her class who watch TV in the evenings, she is always training with her mother—learning things like how to fight, how to hide, how to move without being heard. But Jet doesn’t understand why she needs these skills. Then, when she’s seventeen years old, her mother dies, leaving her with the instruction to go to Japan—her mother’s native land—and find her grandfather. Suddenly Jet is thrust into a dangerous world, but slowly she unravels its mystery. Jet Black and the Ninja Wind is a young adult novel that will entertain readers with action and romance while also exposing them to Japanese culture and history, focusing particularly on the Emishi tribes and their struggle to save their land. The Buddhist thread that runs through the story makes it a natural choice for budding practitioners.


Written by Fa Ze, illustrated by Du Lu
Buddha’s Light Publishing 2013; 28 pp., $8.95 (paper)

Little Panka Sweeps the Mind is a colorful treat of a picture book for children ages three to eight. It tells the story of Culapanthaka—Little Panka—and his remarkable achievement in the face of challenges. Big Panka, his elder brother, was a quick study. But Little Panka could never remember anything, so eventually his teacher gave up on him and Big Panka drove him from the temple. All alone, Little Panka sobbed. Then suddenly the Buddha was at his side, offering to be his teacher and instructing him to sweep while repeating the verse: “I sweep the dust, I remove the waste.” Little Panka struggled to remember the words, yet he kept sweeping and repeating, and after a long time he began to ask himself what it meant to sweep. More time passed, and he realized that in his mind there was dust and waste that couldn’t be removed with a broom. Clearing his mind of dust and waste such as anger and pride, Little Panka opened his heart to kindness, gratitude, and modesty. The Buddha recognized Little Panka as an awakened one.

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

Inside the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine Print

Look inside the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine

FEATURING: Judy Lief, Thich Nhat Hanh, Sharon Salzberg, and John Tarrant on The Real Problem with Distraction; George Saunders on kindness; the way of freerunning; plus: Sakyong Mipham on why believing in basic goodness is our hope for the future; Andrea Miller on America’s Next Top Model winner (and Buddhist) Naima Mora; Twin Peak‘s Dale Cooper is recalled as a “dharma friend” as the series returns to the public consciousness; plus book reviews, About a Poem, and more.

Click titles below to read excerpts and select complete articles.

this issue's editorial:

The Practicality of the Profound

Melvin McLeod on distraction, enlightenment, and what Buddhism offers us as we try to cut through to the very root of our suffering.

special feature section: the real problem with distraction

Buddhism’s deeper take on a modern obsession

The Dharma of Distraction

What is it we’re working so hard to distract ourselves from? It’s enlightenment, says Buddhist teacher Judy Lief. She explains why letting go of all our distractions and entertainments is the path to awakening.

The World Catches Us Every Time

It can be hard to tell what’s distraction and what could have real meaning for our life. But either way, says Zen teacher John Tarrant, there’s no going back.

The Doors of Liberation

No self, no form, no goal—the worst possible news from ego’s point of view. Thich Nhat Hanh on the deep truths we’re distracting ourselves from.


The Myth of Multitasking

We have the illusion that multitasking makes us more efficient, but that’s not true. Sharon Salzberg offers tips for getting work done well without getting worked up.

more features

George Saunders on Kindness

The famed writer talks about a little girl named Ellen, a failure of kindness, and a convocation speech that went viral. An interview by the Shambhala Sun’s Melvin McLeod.

Run for Freedom

Freerunning, or parkour, isn’t merely a daredevil’s game. It’s a way of being. Vincent Thibault on how running, jumping, and climbing can beautify our cities—and our lives.With a photo essay by Andy Day.

I Did Not Lose My Mind

It took an illness of the brain to discover her inherent sanity. Meg Hutchinson tells us why her breakdown was actually a breakthrough.

other voices

Who Are We, Really?

Believing in humanity’s basic goodness, says Sakyong Mipham, is our hope for the future.


Going Full Superman

We overlook the Man of Steel’s greatest power, his selflessness. Koun Franz on why he and his son aspire to be superheroes.


Model Buddhist

For Naima Mora, being a model goes beyond striking a pose. As she tells Andrea Miller, it’s about making the world a better place.


It's for You

Sometimes after a phone call, nothing is ever the same. But if you let it, says Douglas Penick, the bad news can come to feel a little like falling in love.

Tree of Wisdom 

Oak and maple, palm and pine—trees are our closest neighbors and most patient teachers. Henry Shukman on the common roots of people and trees.

reviews & more

Into the Light with Dale Cooper

Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery, Blu-ray set reviewed by Rod Meade Sperry

Books in Brief

This issue, Andrea Miller's roundup features books by Shamar Rinpoche, Ava Chin, Leza Lowitz, and more.


About a Poem

Pat Enkyo O’Hara on an anonymous poem by a Sung Dynasty nun

Shambhala Sun, March 2014, Volume Twenty Two, Number 4.

On the cover: Taken at the Nam June Paik Art Center, Gyeonggi-do, Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Ana Nance/Redux.

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Editorial: The Practicality of the Profound (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014


The Practicality of the Profound

Like a lot of families, we have a screen problem. Sometimes we’ll all be in the same room on our own screens, separated from each other, from our environment, and ultimately, from ourselves. We share the space, but otherwise we’re in our own worlds.

When people talk about distraction these days, this is usually what they mean. It’s a very real problem, and to help us deal with it, the meditation tradition offers us helpful techniques to create gaps and pauses in which we can unplug and reconnect with ourselves. But as simple and immediately beneficial as that is, it could also be the first step on a path that goes very far—all the way to enlightenment, in fact.

In this issue, we take a deeper look at the problem of distraction. It is not just a modern obsession. According to Buddhism, it is ego’s fundamental defense mechanism. What we are actually distracting ourselves from—what we are protecting ourselves against—is the open space and full intensity of reality.

Enlightenment is both a promise and a threat. Take a look at what are traditionally called the three doors of liberation, which Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us about in this issue. The three doors are no self, no identity, and no goal. Is there worse possible news if we’re holding onto the experience of ourselves as solid, continuous, and fixed? Liberation sounds good, until we realize that what we’re liberating ourselves from is ourselves. From ego’s point of view, enlightenment is the worst possible news.

To shield ourselves, we must always stay occupied with goals, distractions, entertainments, and experiences. In fact, you could argue that our very world is a form of distraction. We need other to confirm self, and so we create an entire universe of perceptions, emotions, and concepts to protect ourselves against the ultimate reality of no self, no identity, and no goal.

Distraction is a form of ignorance, and as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche pointed out, ignorance is extremely clever. The ways that ego creates constant distractions, entertainments, and occupations are myriad and deceptive. In her insightful teaching in this issue, Judy Lief unpacks the world of distraction layer by layer. She takes us on the journey of working with distraction, a path that starts with taking a few minutes away from our screens to breathe some fresh air, and ends when we’re face-to-face with the complete openness and intense energy of enlightened mind.

This is the union of the practical and the profound, and it is Buddhism’s great genius. If ignorance is the root of our suffering, then the antidote is deep insight into the true nature of mind and reality. So the really practical solutions are found in profound understanding. And profound understanding is found in addressing the human condition. Real practicality is profound; real profundity is practical.

Chögyam Trungpa talked about the spiritual path as a kind of surgery. Cutting through our discursive thoughts—or our screen addiction, for that matter—is like making the first incision. It is only the beginning of the operation. In the end, we must cut through to the very root of our suffering—our distractions, our struggles, our fears, our very experience of self and reality. If we don’t do that, if we stop at the first incision, we will not really be cured. This union of the profound and practical is what Buddhism offers us. 

—Melvin Mcleod, Editor-in-chief

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

About a Poem: Pat Enkyo O’Hara on an Anonymous Poem by a Sung Dynasty Nun (May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014

About a Poem: Pat Enko O'Hara on an Anonymous Poem by a Sung Dynasty Nun


Searching for spring all day, I never saw it,

straw sandals treading everywhere

among the clouds, along the bank.


Coming home, I laughed, catching

the plum blossoms’ scent:

spring at each branch tip, already perfect.


Everybody is looking for something. The writer of this poem, a Sung Dynasty nun, is seeking “spring.” How do you seek spring? How do you seek happiness? Or enlightenment?

Well, seeking requires going somewhere or doing something in order to find. And yet, it is that which seeks that is what is sought. With this nun, we traverse a mountain path, hear the creaking of straw sandals, find ourselves among clouds and at a riverbank. Trailing her, we feel the grit of our own longing, our desires for more.

Then she catches the scent of plum blossoms and laughs. It’s as if, suddenly coming to her senses, she realizes what’s been there all along. How could she have missed it? There is “spring at each branch tip, already perfect.”

We can experience the scents, sights, and sounds of spring only in this moment. Spring or awakening can only be experienced when we drop our idea of it. When we come home to its reality in our daily life, then the gnawing of “I want” becomes the joy of “I am.”


Pat Enkyo O’Hara is the abbot of the Village Zendo and the author of  Most Intimate: A Zen Approach to Life’s Challenges.

Poetry translation by Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton from The Poetry of Zen.

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

Into the Light with Dale Cooper (Review; May 2014) Print

Shambhala Sun | May 2014


Into the Light with Dale Cooper 

Twin Peaks’s quirky-cool special agent famously upended the idea of the TV G-man. Now he’s back in a deluxe new Blu-ray set. ROD MEADE SPERRY looks at one of pop culture’s most endearing, enduring dharma friends.


Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery
9 Blu-ray discs; Paramount

A man is dying on the floor of a jail cell between two mountains of the Pacific Northwest. Not even two weeks ago, despite his middle age, he’d had a head of youthfully dark hair. Now it is completely, shockingly white.

The sprinkler system of the sheriff’s department that holds him has been set off, creating the effect of a tumultuous indoor storm that rains upon the white-haired man and his captors.

One of his captors—the very one who has most doggedly pursued him—is kneeling. The white-haired man has committed the kind of unthinkable crimes that would disgust and shake most of us to the core, but FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper remains fully with the moment. He holds the white-haired man, stroking his hair, comforting him even as the horrors of his crimes are finally admitted between last gasps. Then, Cooper speaks. The words come out of him naturally.

“Leland,” he says, “the time has come for you to seek the path. Your soul has set you face-to-face with the clear light, and you are now about to experience it in all its reality, wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky, and the naked, spotless intellect is like a transparent vacuum, without circumference or center. Leland, in this moment, know yourself, and abide in that state… Look to the light, Leland. Find the light.”

Though spoken as much from the heart as from the head, Coop’s words are not truly his own. Compare them with this passage from The Tibetan Book of the Dead, meant to be recited to the dying as they pass on:

O, nobly-born [so-and-so by name], the time hath now come for thee to seek the Path [in reality]. Thy breathing is about to cease. Thy guru hath set thee face to face before with the Clear Light; and now thou art about to experience in its Reality in the Bardo state, wherein all things are like the void and cloudless sky, and the naked, spotless intellect is like unto a transparent vacuum without circumference or centre. At this moment, know thou thyself, and abide in that state.

Leland, though in his final moment, is surprised, almost smiling, in response to Coop’s urging that he “find the light.” “I see it!” he says.

“Into the light, Leland… Don’t be afraid.”

And with that, Leland Palmer is dead.

It’s unusually moving; hardly your typical SVU jailhouse scene. But this is no ordinary TV jailhouse, and it’s certainly not ordinary TV.

This is Twin Peaks, where nothing—not family, not FBI men, not even an owl in a tree—is as it seems.


Fast-forward about twenty-four years, and you’ll find that Leland Palmer has, in fact, been reborn.

It’s not necessarily the kind of karmic (or “dharmic”) rebirth that Special Agent Cooper was shooting for, but Leland and the entire Twin Peaks cast are again finding new life—and new fans—by way of a just-released Blu-ray set.

The show was, of course, a true pop-culture phenomenon in the early nineties (despite a short run of clunker second-season episodes). The brainchild of writer-directors Mark Frost and David Lynch, it posed a now-famous question that seemed meant to remain unanswered—Who killed Laura Palmer?—and then, bafflingly, went ahead and filled in the blank. A full viewing of the series makes clear a sad truth with which even its creators agree: without that question, the show, despite guidance from directors like Diane Keaton, Uli Edel, and Lynch himself, became more or less direction-less. (Luckily, when Coop’s nemesis, Windom Earle, finally appeared in the last few episodes, he brought with him a renewed sense of the old Twin Peaks spirit. By then, though, most viewers had lost the thread and weren’t interested in looking for it anymore.)

But throughout Twin Peaks’ run, there’s one constant: Dale Cooper. Played with quirky confidence by previous Lynch co-conspirator Kyle MacLachlan (Dune, Blue Velvet), Coop was young, handsome, and—by all network-TV standards of the time—seriously weird. Though a bit of a goody-two-shoes, Cooper was somehow, enviably, cool—a thumbs-up, yet decidedly non-Fonzarelli, kind of cool. His contagious can-do-it demeanor was only enhanced by his stated work style, made from a mix of “Bureau guidelines, deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck.”

All this, of course, makes Coop eminently watchable. But he’s more than that. He’s more, even, than the “top-notch lawman” that Twin Peaks’ sheriff describes him as. Coop may even be a bodhisattva.

Now it should be said that David Lynch is not a Buddhist, and there’s no word on co-creator Mark Frost’s spiritual leanings. But no matter. Neither Lynch nor Frost needed to be Buddhist to create Dale Cooper any more than Bob Kane needed nocturnal crime-fighting experience to create Batman. Or, to put it another way, as Lynch wrote in his book Catching the Big Fish, “The filmmaker doesn’t have to be suffering to show suffering.”

But it should also be said that, while Lynch is no Buddhist, he is a meditator. For some thirty-four years, he’s been a practitioner of TM, or Transcendental Meditation, which was taught by the famous/infamous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and thrust into the public’s collective consciousness by John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney. (Ringo Starr tolerated his bandmates’ dabblings at the time but would have preferred that they’d stayed focused on music.) So it’s not a stretch to see, as one astute friend of mine has suggested, that Coop is Lynch. It’s all a matter of, as Bill Clinton put it, what your definition of “is” is.

Like Lynch, Coop delights, wholeheartedly, in the odd. Like Lynch, he believes in the power of dreams and intuition. He marvels at the mysteries of the natural world, and he’s fascinated, lovingly, with human beings and what makes them tick. As such, Twin Peaks can be argued to be a meditation on life, death, good, evil, and identity as seen through Lynch and Cooper’s shared vision.

Also like Lynch, Coop meditates, as is confirmed in episode No. 28. (He reports to his never-seen assistant, Diane, that he’s been meditating in lieu of sleep, which has not been coming easily what with all the goings-on in Twin Peaks.) So he shares with Lynch an active interest in how he can better perceive reality by first looking closely at his own mind. More important, though, Agent Cooper seems to be a fine dharma friend to his colleagues at the sheriff’s department, whether any of them know it, or care, or not.

Being unashamed of his intellectual and spiritual sides, it isn’t long before Cooper’s got the entire department not only tolerating his ways but also playing happily along. In an early episode, he gathers them in the woods for an experiment. Employing a blackboard that he dragged into the great outdoors, he gives the TPSD crew a summary of his admiration for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as a quick Tibetan history lesson. Then, he asks them to indulge his beliefs about “deductive technique, Tibetan method, instinct, and luck” with a session of unorthodox, dream-informed mind-storming meant to sort the wheat from the chaff in the mystery of Laura Palmer’s murder.

Though initially skeptical, his colleagues warm to Coop’s unusual ways; they suspend all they know—or think they know—and instead trust and affirm their new partner in crime fighting. In a following scene, we even see Lucy Moran, the supposedly ditzy department receptionist, reading a massive hardcover book titled, simply, Tibet.

Now, Dale Cooper never declares himself to be “a Buddhist,” but that too is of no matter. What matters is the way he connects with and inspires the people around him; the way he lives every moment as truly and deeply as he knows how. He lives in exactly this way even when his methods have clearly failed him.

At one point in the series (I’m doing my best to exclude spoilers here!), Coop is, at least temporarily, stripped of his FBI badge and gun in response to what the Bureau sees as a cavalier and dangerous attitude. But the former special agent is nonplussed. While he feels that his dressing-down is the result of Washington’s being shortsighted and closed-minded, he goes with the flow even as bureaucratic justice goes unserved. He’s come to love Twin Peaks—the people, the landmarks, the unanswered questions that seem to reproduce like dandelions—and so he takes his ex-agent status as an opportunity, forgoing the G-man outfit that he wears so nattily for more region-appropriate duds. Cooper, it seems, is just as comfortable in a classic flannel shirt as he is in his old standard-issue black-jacket, white-shirt, black-necktie outfit. He even starts investigating local real estate offerings, thinking that he might just have found his home. Right where he is.

And what is it that could fill the gap in his life now that his career, to which he has been so dedicated, might be going the way of Twin Peaks’s endangered pine weasel? Coop, unashamed and calmly excited as ever, states his new priority himself: “Seeing beyond fear, and looking at the world with love.”


Rod Meade Sperry is the associate editor of the Shambhala Sun and the editor of the new anthology A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers.

Painting by Caroline Font.

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

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