Rod Meade Sperry is the Shambhala Sun’s editor of web publications, and the brain behind, a site that has lovingly (and somewhat irreverently) documented the intersection of Buddhism, pop-culture, and subculture since 2005.

Scrabble goes Zen?

According to the Washington Post: “After a month of crowdsourced searching, the new addition to the official Scrabble dictionary will be either “zen” or … “geocache.” The working definition of “Zen” here is: “Zen, noun: a Japanese form of Buddhism that emphasizes meditation.”

Though the Post notes that this is mostly a publicity bid, it’s kind of hard to believe it’s taken this long for Zen to appear in the dictionary! Though, we’d like to add one note: While Scrabble is, of course, played in all caps, Zen should be capitalized in any case. (As opposed to how it’s rendered in the above quotation.)

One very loud “Ocean of Wisdom”

A genre known as “tech-death” might not be an obvious choice for presenting Buddhist-influenced ideas by way of music, but today, via, comes an item about, and a sample track from, yet another Buddhism-and-metal hybrid. The album, from stalwart band Gorguts, is called Colored Sands (referring to the main ingredient of a sand mandala) and features a track called “Ocean of Wisdom” — a translation of the Dalai Lama’s title. And, as MetalSucks tells us: “the first half of the album is about something both beautiful and spiritual: the selection of the new Dali Lama. It’s actually the album’s second half that deals with more typical death metal fare (specifically, the Chinese oppression of Tibet). That’s why the album cover features hands that are both praying and bound.”

Want to hear “Ocean of Wisdom” for yourself? Turn your speakers up — or down, perhaps, if you’re at work — and head over to MetalSucks.

Amanda Palmer talks meditation, Zen… and “mindful stripping”?

Amanda Palmer performing in 2008. Photo by Mykal Burns!

In a new piece for The Quietus, Amanda Palmer — she of the “Cabaret Punk” act Dresden Dolls, and more recently a solo artist — talks about mindfulness meditation and also one of her favorite books, Only Don’t Know, the first collection of letters between Korean Zen master Sung Sahn and some of his students: “I’ve probably bought that book a dozen times and gifted it to people who were in need. I don’t give them [a copy of] How To Understand The Music Business; I give them the Seung Sahn letters. [...] These are kids in the sixties and seventies. The problems are all the same.  It takes no intellectual stretch to read these letters that these kids wrote to their Zen teacher, or a teacher they saw at a talk. And he writes back these beautiful, considered, really great, no-bullshit answers about what’s important.” Continued »

Goodbye, The Goodwin Games…. We hardly knew ye

T.J. Miller. Photo via flickr user TheeErin.

Have you heard of this show, The Goodwin Games? It’s currently on the air, having come on as a mid-season replacement on FOX. But, apparently, its finale will air next month.

Too bad. Okay, I’ve only watched one episode (“Hamletta”), having just stumbled upon the show the other day. I’m not saying The Goodwin Games is brilliant — how could I, especially after just one episode? But it does seem to be, at least, *good.* Sometimes, that’s refreshing in itself. Also refreshing: the main characters — one sister and two brothers, previously estranged but reunited after their father’s death — all seem to share positive values. They’re multidimensional. They love each other and say so. And: one of the Goodwin brothers, Jimmy, is a Buddhist.

Yes, this character is fond of quoting the Buddha, make no mistake about it. Continued »

Trailer: Jesus and Buddha join up in “Saint Young Men”

The Phuket News tells us today about Saint Young Men, a Japanese manga tale which has now evolved into an animated film.

As we’re told, the artist behind it “portrays Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha, the founders of Christianity and Buddhism, as two cool guys who share an apartment on their trip to Earth. The plot evolves as both characters encounter new challenges in modern society.” And some are up in arms about it all — in Thailand at least — saying the film’s portrayal of Buddha and Jesus as caught up in worldly life is disrespectful.

It’s not in English, but you can watch the trailer above. The film is to be released in early May.

X-Men’s Wolverine: A Zen Buddhist?

Is Wolverine a Buddhist? Well, that may be pushing things, but as Jeffrey Kripal’s book Mutants and Mystics: Science Fiction, Superhero Comics, and the Paranormal says, “Wolverine spent some time in Japan as a boy, speaks fluent Japanese, and practices Zazen.” (He also, as Kripal adds, has practiced tai chi.) And now that he’s got a new film, The Wolverine, coming out this summer, we see in both the advertising and the film itself that a little of his background is coming into play. See one of the film’s posters to the left, which makes sly use of a pseudo-sumi-e style, and the film’s trailer — which includes some temple-based brawling, as well as, as The AV Club puts it, “lots of sulking and ninjas.” Enjoy, fellow comix fans, after the jump: Continued »

Buddhist tattoos: Not always a hit, especially below the belt

Just one of the tattoos from, this one submitted by Gary Steinberg of the Metta Foundation.

Over at, I’ve done lots of coverage of Buddhist tattoos. (For example, here, here, and here.) I’ve found them to be a fascinating subject, and for a few reasons. First, because they can be, and often are, beautiful. Second, because people’s reasons for getting them run the gamut from the absolutely inane to the sincere and aspirational. Third, because there’s a sort of built-in controversy-and-discussion factor: getting a Buddhism-inspired tattoo can be just another gesture of spiritual materialism, or at least seen that way. As someone who has a clutch of tattoos, some dharmically inspired, I think it’s valuable to look at the motives behind getting them, especially long, long after the scabbing has dropped away: Do our dharma-tattoos still have the meaning we saw in them? Did they ever to begin with?

There’s another controversial aspect, too, one that’s often quite culturally driven: some think that getting them is just downright disrespectful in any case (most specifically, in cases below the waistline). British tourist Antony Ratcliffe learned this the hard way, getting deported by Sri Lankan authorities last week for sporting a Buddha face on his arm. Continued »

The “cellphone for Buddhist monks”?

I guess sometimes “an app for that” isn’t enough. You need a whole phone. Even if you’re a Buddhist monk! According to the copy published with an article about it on tech-site, “This rotatable Nokia phone is made specially for Buddhist Monks… this Tibet Nokia phone is perfectly in harmony with the universal law of life and death. The red saffron color is traditional for Buddhist monks and makes this phone even more religious.” (I’m glad they avoided hyperbole.) Though actually a couple of years old, the phone does seem to be real and have various Tibet- and Buddhism-related features. You can read more about those here.

Meet Ruin, “the first Buddhist punk band”

Ruin, the “first Buddhist punk band,” figures in our May magazine’s Buddhism-and-music feature (as well as its title, “Ruin, Beasties, and Constant Craving”), but the band’s story is fascinating, and sprawling, all on its own. Here it is, told in the band members’ own words after they agreed to be interviewed on my site, The Worst Horse, shortly after its launch in 2005.

By Rod Meade Sperry

Ruin are legend in certain circles: fans of classic Philadelphia punk rock keep the name alive with fansites and made a 90′s “ReUnIoN” a cause for celebration. Even the reclusive Leonard Cohen was apparently a fan. But (unless you’re from Philly) chances are, you haven’t heard Ruin, or even of them. Back when they were first together, punk was fully underground, bands playing dime-a-dozen club shows advertised solely on flyers stapled-gunned to telephone poles.

But Ruin truly stood apart. Founded by one Glenn Wallis, the band was meant to be an antidote to sitting around and getting wasted. It worked — and then some. Ruin’s music still sounds great today, even a bit timeless for that of a band born in the early days of punk. Their influences (Stooges, MC5, Motorhead, and yes, Leonard Cohen) come out in the songs, but there are extra hits of urgency, theatricality, and musicianship, too. And, something else: Buddhism. Continued »

Ted Nugent: “Hunting is Zen meditation”

New-millenium hit machine and revered, never-irrelevant political theorist Ted Nugent has told CNN that hunting is: “Zen meditation in its definitive form, plus you get meat out of it.” Really. Here’s the story.

I’ll grant that hunting may make use of “meditative muscle” but ol’ Ted is missing one serious distinction here. The first Zen precept is No killing. If you’re going out your way to do the opposite, that’s probably not “Zen meditation.”

“Welcome to meditation, Liz Lemon!”

Liz Lemon, putting her special new "meditation candle" and "meditation stool" to the test.

Comedy fans are mourning the loss of NBC’s 30 Rock, a show that shot jokes so quickly that having the remote in hand was often necessary to rewind and catch them all. But the show, whose last episode aired last night, was way more than rapid-fire one-liners: Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon was the relatable cynic, loaded up with snark and self-defense reflexes — but with a good and striving heart underneath it all. She was the show’s moral compass.

Last season, Lemon even took up meditation. It was a quirky, one-off, pop-culture moment: Liz’s meditation practice never came up again. But the episode arguably set the tone for this year’s season, which found Liz not only continuing to seek real meaning to her life outside the TGS writers room, but even driving her executive “work husband” Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin, in the role of a lifetime) to question his sharkish ways and try to uncover his own, lasting happiness. Here, for 30 Rock fans new and old alike, is Shambhala Sun digital editor Rod Meade Sperry’s look at that episode, as originally posted here after it aired last March. 

Tonight, on NBC’s 30 Rock, Liz Lemon started meditating. Lemon is of course the character portrayed by Tina Fey, who plays what we sort of imagine is a version of herself, in a workplace that we sort of imagine is a version of the Saturday Night Live set. Lemon is smart, cantankerous, wordy, nerdy, cynical. Maybe even slightly nebbishy, if that’s possible. Point is: she’s on the opposite side of New Agey, and not someone we’ve been led to believe could ever be interested in meditation. (Or, as my cablebox’s TV listings described it, Liz’s “new hobby.”)

And yet… Continued »

“Zen with us”? No, thanks.

Few words are as misused as “Zen,” especially in marketing and advertising. This latest example, though, is perhaps beyond the pale.

A few different online friends sent word (and photos) of this product; this shot’s courtesy of Brad Warner — an actual teacher of Zen. But you don’t need to be a Zen teacher to see that this vitamin pak advertisement, with its scantily clad models selling us “inner peace,” is more turn-off than on. As you may know, such examples of Buddhist thought and imagery in marketing, dubious or not, have come to be sometimes known as “Dharma-Burgers” — and this one is particularly cheesy.

And what’s with that main tagline? “Zen with us”? Have they really just tried to repurpose the word “Zen” to mean “have sex with”?

The newest video game? “The Buddhist”


Engadget has an interesting little item about a video game “meant to adhere to the tenets of Buddhism by divorcing it of ‘the hero / heroine-driven linear narrative’ present in so many of the games we’ve come to know and love.” Click through here to check it out at Engadget.

Video: Portlandia’s “Meditation Crush”

You might enjoy this preview clip from the coming season of Portlandia, the much-talked-about show featuring Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein in a seemingly endless parade of lovingly-rendered semi-stereotypes. It’s called “Meditation Crush,” and it may just ring true for you; many meditators have been on at least one side of this experience.

(Talk about facing reality!) Portlandia returns in January; click here for more.

See also: This week on Parks & Rec: Ron Swanson did not meditate  and, Nothing ever changes? Then why is 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon meditating?

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan’s explosive musical fusion comes to life

Fantastic musicianship, exploration, Buddhist themes, theatrics…. Yamantaka // Sonic Titan — self-described as a “psychedelic noh-wave opera group fusing noise, metal, pop and folk music into a multidisciplinary hyper-orientalist cesspool of ‘east’ meets ‘west’ — were fantastic at their Halifax Pop Explosion performance this past Friday night. See more photos of the band on our Facebook page, and hear them for yourself at:

This pre-Explosion article about the band, from The Coast, is worth your time, too. And watch for more in our coming look at the many new and adventurous forms that Buddhism-inspired music is taking, in our March 2013 magazine.