Monthly Archives: October 2008

Web Exclusive: David Guy on the Zen of Writing

In this exclusive web interview, author David Guy talks with me about his practice, the state of Buddhist publishing, and his novel Jake Fades, now out in paperback. —Andrea Miller

How does your Buddhist practice affect or inspire your writing?

I feel that sitting meditation and writing are very much akin. When I try to explain to writer friends what meditation is like, I say, “It’s just like writing, except that you don’t do the writing.” And years ago, before I’d ever heard of Buddhism, I used to sit quietly in my chair for fifteen minutes or so before I began writing every day, letting my mind settle. I actually called it “sitting practice,” though I’d never heard that term. Continued »

Religious Landscaping

As I was preparing to conduct a panel discussion on who the Buddhists of the future will be for the upcoming issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly (Winter 2008), I enjoyed looking at the nifty online charts and tables in the survey of the American religious landscape by the highly respected Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Based on interviews with more than 35,000 adults, this extensive survey details the religious makeup, beliefs and practices as well as social and political attitudes of the American public. It’s broken down by religious affiliation, so it’s possible to see at a glance, of the people surveyed, what percentage said they were Buddhist. You can also find out where they live, how old they are, ethnicity, education, etc., etc. etc.. To see their ”Beliefs and Practices,” navigate one tab to the right, and one more to view their “Social & Political Views.” Check out how many Buddhists said they believed in God or a “universal spirit.”

Sexuality and Buddhism

In the current Fall issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, a reader asks what Buddhism has to say about sexuality, and in particular how to deal with the potentially harmful effect of this “powerful, biological drive” within a Buddhist community, or sangha (including the relationship between a teacher and a student). Buddhadharma‘s panel of teachers—Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal, and Narayan Liebenson Grady—offer insightful answers that go beyond a simple moralistic view of sexual urges. Hartman recalls Suzuki Roshi’s thoughts on the subject: “[He] once said that sexual energy and artistic energy are very close to zazen energy, ‘but they’ve already split off and taken form.’ They have set up an object of desire.” You can read the complete answers of all three teachers in the current issue of Buddhadharma.

Something Big Is Happening on Tibet

Following the Time story on the Dalai Lama’s statement that he’s “giving up” on trying to convince the Chinese government to give the Tibetan people more freedom (see post below), Associated Press reports that His Holiness has called a big meeting in Dharamsala of representatives from Tibetan communities around the world. Hard to know where this is leading, but it seems to me it could result not only in a new approach to dealing with the Chinese, but in a significant move toward a more democratic Tibetan government-in-exile, which the Dalai Lama has long advocated. Here’s the AP story.

And for another point of view, here’s Robert Thurman’s essay from the July Shambhala Sun arguing that giving more freedom to the Tibetan people is in everyone’s interests, even the Chinese government’s.

“I Have Given Up,” says the Dalai Lama posts a story today with the headline, “Is the Dalai Lama About to Give up on China?” The 73-year-old Tibetan leader is quoted as saying (in a recent speech in Dharamsala): “I have been sincerely pursuing the middle way approach in dealing with China for a long time now, but there hasn’t been any positive response from the Chinese side …. As far as I’m concerned, I have given up.”   Continued »

Web-Exclusive Interview with Author Roland Merullo

Just out in paperback, Roland Merullo’s novel Breakfast with Buddha recounts the journey of discovery that two very different characters share while on a road trip. Merullo wrote the book without an outline, completing most of the first draft while on a road trip himself. After a few decades of writing, he says, he now has the confidence to let the words just flow at first and then rework the material later. In addition to Breakfast with Buddha, Merullo has seven other books under his belt, including his newest novel American Savior : A Novel of Divine Politics. What follows is the conversation I had with Merullo.

I understand that you have a Buddhist/Christian meditation practice with a little bit if Hindu and Sufi mixed in. Can you tell me a little about why you combine all of these traditions?

Well, it’s more Buddhist than anything else. But I do read widely across the religious spectrum and I do believe that the more mystical and contemplative types in many religions are really all talking about the same thing, although in different words. I wouldn’t want to completely blur the distinctions, but, for example, the idea of purgatory I grew up with as a boy in a devout Catholic family sounds an awful lot like being reborn until we learn what it is we are supposed to learn. Continued »

Zen Book of the Year?

Nyogen Senzaki is one of twentieth-century Buddhism’s most important figures, the first great Buddhist teacher to immerse himself without reservation in American culture, a poet and wanderer, a modern, progressive man and yet at heart a Zen traditionalist. His teachings are as fresh today as when they were given to his small band of pioneering American Zen students. Two books of his teachings have been published and now there is a third, Eloquent Silence, brought to us by Eido Shimano Roshi, who continues the Senzaki lineage, editor Roko Sherry Chayat, and Wisdom Publications. This may be the last trove of unpublished Nyogen Senzaki material, and it includes his commentary on The Gateless Gate.    Continued »

Chocolate With Attitude

I admit it, I ate some. Intentional Chocolate is the supposedly double-blind-tested, mind and mood altering elixir. It did lift my spirits (what chocolate doesn’t?), but the real boost came from knowing that I.C. plans to donate 10% of all proceeds to create a center at the Deer Park Buddhist Monastery in Wisconsin.

Decide for yourself whether you buy the I.C.’s claims about health benefits:  Continued »

Honk If You Love Obama

Rod Meade Sperry at The Worst Horse notes that while there are plenty of Buddhists for Obama groups out there, no one’s come up with the official-looking bumpersticker. So of course Rod created a design and offers it up here.

The Temple of Beer Glass

The Shambhala Sun‘s believe-it-or-not: Monks from Thailand used over one million recycled glass beer bottles to construct their Wat Pa Maha Chedi Kaew temple, some 400 miles northeast of Bangkok. Says, “Using Heineken bottles (green) and Chang Beer bottles (brown) the monks were able to clean up the local pollution and create a useful structure that will be a visual reminder to the scope of pollution and the potential we can make with limber minds…the dedication and thoughtfulness required to build everything from the toilets to their crematorium from recycled bottles shows what creativity and elbow grease can accomplish.” View all photos on

Focussing Won’t Cut It, says the Dalai Lama

In this talk posted today on the Buddhist Channel, the Dalai Lama explains why ‘single-pointed meditation’ alone won’t penetrate to the heart of wisdom.

Browse the Shambhala Sun‘s extensive archive of teachings, talks and interviews with the Dalai Lama here.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Mindful Movements

As an admirer of both Thich Nhat Hanh’s sense of joy and his deep commitment to engaged Buddhism, I am intrigued by his new book Mindful Movements, published by Parallax Press.

Mindfulness of the body being the first foundation of mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh developed exercises to connect the mind and the body. These quiet movements of his—based on yoga and tai-chi—have been taught and practiced in Plum Village for over two decades. But now, using Thich Nhat Hanh’s sweetly illustrated Mindful Movements, we can practice these exercises at home.

To learn seven of the movements, visit beliefnet.

To delve deeper into the mind-body connection, check out Cyndi Lee and David Nichtern’s essay Yoga Body, Buddha Mind.

The 3 R’s & an M

The public schools of America are not the place to teach Buddhism, but they are definitely a place where mindfulness practice has been found to be very helpful. The Mindfulness in Education Network, founded in 2001 by some students of Thich Nhat Hanh who are also teachers. The purpose of the network is “to facilitate communication among all educators, parents, students and any others interested in promoting contemplative practice (mindfulness) in educational settings.”

Their 2009 Mindfulness in Education Conference (February 6-8 in Philadelphia) promises to be a landmark event, since Jon Kabat-Zinn, who developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is the featured speaker. The list of other presenters and co-sponsors indicates that this will be a very special event for the movement to bring mindfulness into the daily life of the classroom.

Stress Reduction Free and Online

A reader sent us this, so I’ll pass the buck:

“eMindful is offering people affected by the recent events in the financial markets free, online classes in stress reduction and stress management, using tools developed and taught by teachers and researchers at Duke Integrative Medicine. Entering the virtual classroom is simple – and no software is required.  Click here to learn more…”

There’s got to be something after death…

In Scientic American, researcher Jesse Bering suggests that we believe in existence after death because humans can’t imagine anything to the contrary.

Bering, the director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University in Belfast, says that “…people in every culture believe in an afterlife of some kind or, at the very least, are unsure about what happens to the mind at death. My psychological research has led me to believe that these irrational beliefs, rather than resulting from religion or serving to protect us from the terror of inexistence, are an inevitable by-product of self-consciousness.   Continued »