I find myself very fortunate to have discovered Tricycle: The Buddhist Review magazine a few years ago. This is one of the highest-quality magazines I’ve ever read, on par with Harvard Business Review, but obviously in a very different register. Every issue I find myself in awe of the writers and editors who produce such consistently fascinating material. I often read the magazine once from cover to cover, and then read it again when I’m done, but for the Fall issue I actually did that three times before I could stand putting it down.
I knew I was in for a treat when I discovered an excerpt of Pema Chödrön’s new book, due in bookstores in a few months, on living with uncertainty. I’ve long struggled with that, given that I’d like to move away from the area I currently live in and am not getting any younger, and at the same time don’t know how to make the change to create a real improvement, and still have a job (a nice plus, we all agree), especially a job I can be good at. I’ve joked a few times with friends in the same situation that it’d be so much easier if we could just have some sort of dream where the name of the town we’re supposed to move to and the date of the move would flash in front of our eyes and we’d know exactly what to do and when to do it. We all realized, though, that our issue was with handling the not-knowing, trying to escape the discomfort of uncertainty. And Chödrön nails the issue on the head, as if she’d been writing for us, or at least me.
The excerpt starts with: “As human beings we share a tendency to scramble for certainty whenever we realize that everything around us in flux.” And later: “Is it possible to increase our tolerance for instability and change? How can we make friends with unpredictability and uncertainty – and embrace them as vehicles to transform our lives?... How can we relax and have a genuine, passionate relationship with the fundamental uncertainty, the groundlessness of being human?” Without going into the details of the article, Chödrön explains that our discomfort arises from “our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation” (so true!) and that “we can counter this response [of running away from the feeling] by training in being present.” The key is not to fuel the story line.
I really enjoy her writing, which I find more straightforward than that of many other writers on Buddhism without dumbing the knowledge down. Needless to say, I’ll be picking up a copy of Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change when it comes out in October.
Stephen Batchelor provides fascinating insights into secular Buddhism, which is about “the moment-to-moment flourishing of human life within the ethical framework of the Eightfold Path here on earth”, as opposed to concepts such as reincarnation and karma due to previous lives. Secular Buddhism is probably as close as I’ll ever come to identifying with a religion, so I found his wisdom truly inspiring. He also gives an interview about his “atheist pilgrimages”.
The article “Buying wisdom” doesn’t pull back any punches in criticizing the shallowness of a “conference on mindfulness for the Silicon Valley crowd”. An excerpt: “There is a world in which the works of Dogen and Esai [about Zen Buddhism] as human achievements are indistinguishable from a game that encourages users to buy and trade pastel-colored animals on social media sites. To attend conferences like Wisdom 2.0 is to enter that world.”
I thought “What’s at stake as the dharma goes modern?”, about immanent vs permanent goals in Buddhism, was a touch self-righteous at the beginning – it starts with recounting how the author, at a retreat, asked the following a professor who’d been lecturing on laboratory studies of meditators: “Given the depth of suffering in samsara and the possibility of a solution to it; given that the very texts we study outline a path to that solution… why would be devote our precious human lives to exploring whether meditation can lower blood pressure?” For me the people you want to initiate to meditate by telling them it can help their blood pressure aren’t the same who are interested in studying the texts in depth, so bringing a medicine aspect to it is a valuable and important way to broaden the reach and appeal of meditation.
But the article is really about the new secular environment that surrounds Western Buddhism, which the author objects to, and as such it does raise valuable questions regarding what Buddhism is becoming. I feel close to secular Buddhism, but at the same time I identify myself as “spiritual but not religious”, and while I try to practice Buddhist concepts such as the eight-fold path and meditate, I don’t pretend to be Buddhist. People who do view themselves as Western Buddhists do have the right to wonder whether their religion is being diluted or dumbed-down. Unsurprisingly, the article is the longest feature in the issue, and I’m sure it’ll touch a chord with the Buddhist community.
I’ll end this post with a quote of his: “The other day I was forced by a journalist to try to formulate my views on the main requirements of somebody who wishes to contribute to the development of peace and reason. I found no better formulation than this: “He must push his awareness to the utmost limit without losing his inner quiet, he must be able to see with the eyes of the others from within their personality without losing his own.””