Author Profile: Rod Meade Sperry

Like Thangkas You Can Hear: Buddhism & the Metal Underground

The cover of Sadhaka's "Terma" LP. Listen and check out some sample lyrics below.

The cover of Sadhaka’s “Terma” LP. Listen and check out some sample lyrics below.

“Buddhist Metal.” That’s… a thing?

Yes, it is.* And it runs the gamut. Some of it’s artier, some’s goofier, some’s pure expression, some of it is capable of conveying real dharma — if we’re willing to listen. Of course, it can be heavy, hectic, screamy music, so it’s understandable why many may not be so willing.

But there are rewards. Like a Buddhist thangka, the music can be fiery, contemplative, challenging, inspiring. If you like learning about music subcultures, this can be a fun one, whether you’re a metal maven or not.

And, while I do claim above that Buddhist Metal is “a thing,” that’s not quite true. It certainly isn’t a “movement” or an actual genre. It’s not a stitch as “established” as, say, Klezmer, much less Christian Rock. And I wouldn’t want my band to be pigeonholed as “Buddhist Metal” (it isn’t), so I’m not saying we should be slapping labels around all willy-nilly.

But there are a handful of bands that seem to be gravitating to dharma and its imagery — trading on its exotic appeal sometimes, sure (see my post, “Heavy Metal Dharma Thunder” for ten of the best and oddest uses of Buddhist imagery in metal-album art) — and they can be pretty interesting.

Okay, less talk, more rock. We’ll start with the dharmic “Cascadian Black Metal” band Sadhaka, and three others of note.

Continued »

Check out The Melanthium Band, featuring the piano stylings of Zen teacher Lewis Richmond

The work of Lewis Richmond has been featured a number of times here, but now we’re looking at a different kind of work from the author and Zen teacher. “I have recently become part of a new music group called The Melanthium Band,” he writes. “Many people who know my books and teaching may not know that I was trained as a classical pianist and composer, and now I have returned to that. Our musical style is best described as contemporary classical, with a jazz inflection. Most of the pieces are my original compositions.

You can hear the band in the video above, and learn more on their website, here. To read Lew’s many teachings from our site, click here.

Crowdfunding works: Updates on Against the Stream’s new SF Center and “The Dalai Lama Film”

Good news: Against the Stream’s online fundraising campaign for a new meditation center in San Francisco has been fully funded. But your donation is still very much welcome. Why? As ATS tells us:

The $30,000 raised [thus far] brings us what we need for the original renovation contract, but every dollar more buys us some breathing room for any overruns. It will also helps us with some important finishing touches.

  • A gift of $30 buys a chair (and we’ll need a lot of them!)
  • $70 buys us one zafu/zabuton set
  • $150 gets us an all-in one printer or a credit card machine
  • $300 gets us a wireless microphone or a digital recorder
  • $500 gets us a PA system so everyone can hear
  • $1,000 gets us a laptop
  • $2,000 helps ensure we get the other furnishings we’ll need: racks for folding chairs, tables, rugs, lamps, and more
If you want to help, make a donation here. UPDATE: If ATS raises another $10K by August 15th, those funds will be matched. So your contribution is twice as powerful now.
And in more good crowdfunding news: Mickey Lemle’s documentary in progress, The Dalai Lama Film, has exceeded its fundraising goal by more than $20,000. Donations are still welcome (and a host of great premiums are offered) — and for other updates, follow The Dalai Lama Film on Facebook.

Cast your eyes upon the sage, there on his *silver* donut throne


Two years after the appearance of the Homer-Simpson-as-Buddha statuette, the toy is now getting a new release in a silver “Silver Anniversary” edition, marking 25 years of The Simpsons on the airwaves. From the marketing copy: “Meditating with a pretzel in one hand, and a giant donut beneath him, Homer, at long last, has found his inner peace. [...] Inspired by The Simpsons episode “Goo Gai Pan”, in which Homer poses as Buddha to gain entry into an orphanage in China.”

If you want to order one, you’ll find it (for example) here, at We won’t tell.

Novelist Rajeev Balasubramanyam takes you on a real-life “American Pilgrimage”

RajPublicity-200x300“Vegas encapsulates all the reasons why I should be going to America — fame, money, sex, glamour, the American Dream,” writes novelist Rajeev Balasubramanyam (In Beautiful Disguises; The Dreamer) on his blog about his “American Pilgrimage.” “If I want spirituality I should surely go to to India, not America, reversing the journey my parents originally made in the Sixties.”

So one might think — but in fact Balasubramanyam’s travels, which come after a dozen or so ten-day Vipassana meditation retreats, will take him to Thich Nhat Hahn’s Deer Park Monastery, and to Crestone, Colorado — a hotbed of Buddhist activity despite its “stationary population of only 73″ — as well as American landmarks like the Grand Canyon. (Las Vegas, ultimately, will get a pass.)

The trip is being made possible thanks to The Hemera Foundation, which has created fellowships for artists and writers who’ve maintained long-term meditation practices to do meditation retreats, followed by writing retreats, with a view to integrating the two practices. Each fellow is given two mentors, one for meditation, and one for writing. Balasubramanyam’s writing mentor is award-winning author and Shambhala Sun contributor Charles R. Johnson.

Follow the “American Pilgrimage” on Balasubramanyam’s blog, here.

Don’t miss this: NY Times on Would-be Ambassadors of Shangri-La (Updated)

“Tom Hugo seems to be well-versed in Chinese, and he evidently cares deeply about the Tibetan people,” writes Andrew Jacobs in his excellent piece from Monday’s New York Times. “There’s only one problem with Tom Hugo’s Twitter account.” You’ve probably already guessed what it is.

As Jacobs goes on to explain, “Tom Hugo” is just one of a sea of people who are enthusing about all things Tibetan — when they shouldn’t be. Read the full story here.

Tuesday update, also from the Times:  “Just hours after The New York Times posted an article about bogus Twitter accounts dedicated to spreading pro-China propaganda — and a Tibetan advocacy group demanded that the company take action — Twitter appears to have hit the kill switch on a score of the suspect accounts.” More here.

Video: Imogen Heap goes to Bhutan; inspired musicmaking ensues

She went to Bhutan for “the amazing scenery, to meet people I didn’t know much about, and to discover a new culture,” says musician Imogen Heap — and sure enough, all of this has come into play in her new music. In this behind-the-scenes clip behind the making of two new songs and their videos, Heap explains how the sights and sounds of Bhutan — temple bells, the crackling of fires, the thwick of an archer’s bow, Buddhist monks and nuns chanting, “somebody shoeing a horse,” — inspired her and actually became part of her work.

It all makes for very enjoyable watching. And once you’ve done so, view the videos for the two songs (links open in new windows): Click here to watch Cycle Song. | Click here to watch Climb to Sakteng.

Thanks to our friend Steve Silberman for the tip.

Pitch in and help Against the Stream open their new San Francisco meditation center

Via Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society: “For over a decade, people from all over the Bay Area have been getting together every Friday to sit in silent meditation and learn from a phenomenal group of dharma teachers including Vinny Ferraro, Gene Lushtak, Matthew Brensilver, Megan Cowan and more. If you’ve meditated with us over the last couple of years, you know this well: we’re packed to capacity! To help keep up with our growing community, we’ve added two new weekly meditation groups, and launched several weekly Refuge Recovery meetings to offer our community a Buddhist approach to recovery from addiction. But the final piece of the puzzle is to bring all this and more under one roof.” …And that’s the goal of Against the Stream’s new IndieGogo campaign, which will open the doors to a brand new center in San Francisco.

Visit the IndieGogo campaign here to donate now. Against the Stream needs to raise $30,000 — so every dollar helps, and every extra dollar raised can be used for needed finishing touches, meditation cushions, and more.

And: don’t miss “A Refuge from Addiction,” a look at “Refuge Recovery” — through which Against the Stream’s Noah Levine and his colleagues use Buddhist principles and meditation practices to help people take refuge from the terrible suffering of substance abuse. It’s important, effective work, and it has something to offer us all. That’s in the September 2014 Shambhala Sun, available in the beginning of October.

Buddhist Bluegrass: Peter Rowan shares his “Dharma Blues”

Peter-Rowan-300x300This month sees the release of Dharma Blues, the newest album from Bluegrass star and Buddhist Peter Rowan. His twentieth LP credited as a solo artist, it was recorded in California and New Orleans, and contains bluegrass and country tunes with references to Poe’s “The Raven” and, of course, Buddhadharma, in the album’s Eastern-tinged title track and the droning “Vulture Peak,” which includes Rowan’s vocal rendition of the Heart Sutra.

“The doubts and resolutions of the spiritual journey are what drive Dharma Blues,” Rowan says about his new LP. “May this music bring joy to all.” For more, visit Rowan online.

See also: * Bluegrass Buddhist Peter Rowan’s Tibetan collaboration, new film

* Peter Rowan: A bluegrass song of freedom

* Against all odds, more Buddhist bluegrass!

Safe and happy travels, Konchog Norbu…!

I hope you’ll all join me in wishing Konchog Norbu, who’s done such a wonderful job informing and amusing and enlightening us here on the Shambhala Sun blog, safe and happy travels. Why?

Well, long story short: Konchog is on his way, as of this morning, into a new adventure, in which he’ll work with a Khenpo (senior monk) in India, taking part in Tibetan/English translations of Buddhist materials, teaching English, and living in a monastery there. After he arrives in Dharamsala — after layovers in Amsterdam and Delhi — he’ll have a weekend to shake off the jetlag. Then, he’ll be in a Tibetan-language immersion program of sorts, “all Tibetan, all day,” he says.

Given his devotion, hard work, and good heart, I’m a bit sad to see Konchog go, but much more so, happy for him and all the good folks he’ll get to work with: he’ll certainly make a real contribution. Will he be back here on the Shambhala Sun blog, or the Buddhadharma News blog, to which he also contributed? The door’s open, of course, but he may be just a bit too busy, what with his travels and dharma-activities. Either way, I thank him for his friendship, and all his good work, here, and for our world.

Watch CBS’ “Modern Masters of Religion,” featurning the 16th Karmapa, Thomas Merton, and Karen Armstong

This CBS News video presents the stories of three major spiritual figures of the modern era. Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, who introduced His Holiness the 16th Karmapa to the States (and who founded the Shambhala Sun), is seen, as is Lama Surya Das (and his self-described “Jew-fro”), in what amounts to not only a telling of the Karmapa’s place in modern religious history but also a look at a major episode in Tibetan Buddhism’s deepening presence in the West.

Read it now: “Loving-Kindness: It Starts With You,” from the July 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine

-2“If one practice or tool has helped me to get and stay sober,” writes meditation teacher Josh Korda in our July magazine, “it is the practice of Metta, or loving-kindness, a powerful meditation practice that heals agitated minds with the development of goodwill toward ourselves and others.”

Read Josh’s story and his easy-to-follow instructions for doing Metta; it’s all online now for you to read in its entirety; just click here. And look inside the rest of the July 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine for lots more on meditation techniques that can help you develop calm, awareness, wisdom, and love.

You’ll also find lots of free teachings from Josh on the DharmaPunxNYC website.

Read “Just Like That,” the Editorial from the July 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine

rgms2013Rod Meade Sperry, Associate Editor of the Shambhala Sun, introduces our July 2014 magazine with its special section, “Your Guide to Buddhist Meditation.”

Buddhists talk a lot about cause and effect (i.e., karma) and interconnection, but you don’t have to be a Buddhist to understand that everything you know, as you know it, could completely change. Just like that.

For Allan Lokos, the NYC-based meditation teacher I interviewed for this issue, that truth came down hard. A family vacation—intended to be just another positive episode in a fruitful and often comfortable existence—was turned upside down, just like that, when a routine flight turned into a disaster that nearly took Lokos’s life.

It’s a harrowing tale, but not really unique: loss and difficulty, just like birth and joy, are simply the stuff of life. Not that a near-fatal accident is the kind of thing anyone can be ready for. But we can, at least, be somewhat prepared.

What’s the difference? Continued »

“Martin Luther King & The Montgomery Story” — Read the comic (and see the story behind it)

Last year in the Shambhala Sun we ran a piece called “3 Heroes, 5 Powers,” which shared a sample of The Secret of the Five Powers, a comic book that shed light on the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, Alfred Hassler, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The Secret of the Five Powers, I learned, was in fact inspired by a previous comic published by Hassler and the FoR. That comic was Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, first released in 1956. Some of its story appears in this video:

You can imagine my surprise when I recently strolled into my fantastic local comix shop (thanks, Strange Adventures!) and saw the Montgomery Story on the stands there, looking and feeling as though it had been freshly extracted from a vault or time machine,  but at a perfectly reasonable $5.00 cover price. I snapped one up. Indeed, the comic had been reprinted, so it’s not particularly valuable in terms of investment. But no matter, there’s surely more than five dollars’ worth of inspiration here. So why not take a look at it yourself, online? (Especially if you don’t have a fantastic local comix shop.) Just click here, or here, to download it.

Video: A Buddhist temple, on the rocks

ripplesWe’ve all seen variations of the cliched “water droplet and ripples” image that’s been used to sell so many spiritually minded products — many of them Buddhist (or at least quasi-Buddhist). Here’s an unusual twist: in this video, which does begin with the usual droplet-and-ripples affair, Kyoto, Japan’s Kinkaju Zen Buddhist temple is carved out of ice to sell… SunTory Whisky? Strange, but true:

It’s hardly the first time that the cachet of Zen and/or Buddhism have been used to sell liquor. For example, there’s Lucky Beer (the “Enlightened Brew”), or “Zen” liqueur, or Pyrat Rum, whose mascot is Hotei — often wrongly identified as the Buddha, and described by Pyrat as the “Zen patron saint of bartenders.” Continued »