Remembering Jim Woolsey, rock fan/producer and preserver of Tibetan literature

-1“He was one my dearest friends and father-figures and I don’t know what I’m gonna do w/o him now.” That’s how Mickey Melchiondo — aka Dean Ween, half of the team behind the beloved but no-longer-active band known as Ween — characterized his feelings about the passing of Jim Woolsey. But who was Jim Woolsey? How that question’s answered will, of course, depend on who’s being asked. Melchiondo describes Woolsey’s role as “assistant to the band,” noting that he “helped us establish our newsletter and mailing lists in the era before email.” Woolsey’s obituary, which ran on August 31, gives more of the story, referring to Woolsey’s work as the operator of a recording studio and then mentioning that, “In the 1980′s, he began traveling to Dharamsala, India to work with the Tibetan Library.”

This McCall’s story from 1993 tells us more about Woolsey and his role in what turns out to be a quiet but very sweet episode of dharma-and-pop-culture collision: Continued »

A vivacious new “Seeing Fresh” contemplative photo of the moment….


From author and contemplative photographer Andy Karr comes the latest “Seeing Fresh” contemplative photo of the week, submitted by [username] Christiane. Andy’s comment: “There is nothing quite like the vivacity of patterns of light. I love the play of light and texture in this image. It’s a great example of fresh seeing.” Continued »

Slow down and enjoy the fruits of Labor Day — or Any Day

It’s Labor Day — a day when, hopefully, you’ll get a chance to slow down and enjoy the fruits of your labor. For many of us, though, not even a day off is really a day off. As Sakyong Mipham wrote in the Shambhala Sun:

“The speedy mind is like an internal combustion engine. So much effort goes into the energy it produces, creating the harmful, wasteful byproducts of exhaustion and pollution. Even when we’re reading a book or watching a movie, the idling mind of speed does not shut off. [...] If we’re always flapping our wings, endlessly trying to get what we need with aggression, we will always be exhausted. We’ll never find what we’re really looking for, which is our own contentment.”

Well, we hope you’ll find at least some of your own contentment today. So: enjoy, whether you’re working today or not. And in case you could use a little more encouragement, see Sakyong Mipham’s article, “Slow Down, You Move Too Fast,” here.

Transform anger in 4 steps with “The Poison Tree” — a teaching from our new issue

Illustration (detail) by Heidi Kalyani

Illustration (detail) by Heidi Kalyani

Anger is like a poisonous tree — you can prune it back, you can chop it down… or you can find ways to use it. In “The Poison Tree,” from our current, September magazine, Judy Lief explains how mindfulness undermines aggression, and then offers a four-step practice for working with anger.

“The Poison Tree” is now online for you to read in its entirety — just click here.

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 »

Noah Levine: “Practice Is Politics”

Noah Levine — Buddhist teacher and frequent Shambhala Sun contributor (his latest, “A Refuge from Addiction,” can be found in our current issue) — on why our Buddhist practice can be seen as a form of engaged rebellion.

Buddhist practice is a political action. Training one’s mind, heart and actions in wisdom and compassion is the ultimate form of political rebellion. The spiritual path is an engaged act of going against ignorance and oppression. Perhaps this is why the Buddha referred to his path to awakening as having been “against the stream.” Continued »

Is there such a thing as “Good Failure”? Yes!

You may fail to change the system, but what if you’ve made life a little kinder or more beautiful? In her Shambhala Sun article, “Good Failure,” activist Courtney E. Martin writes, refreshingly, about reclaiming failure as the mark of a dream worth having.

“There are many disappointments in the life of a dedicated activist—so many lost children, killed ideas, thwarted plans. But the energy is not wasted if it is channeled in pursuit of good failures.” Like what? Read on. Just click here.

Victor Chan, friend of the Dalai Lama, and featured TedX speaker, takes you to the Dalai Lama’s home

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Victor Chan with the Dalai Lama. Photo by Susanne Martin

It’s just been announced that Victor Chan — founder of the Dalai Lama Center for Peace and Education, and a co-author and good friend to His Holiness himself — will be one of TedX Vancouver’s first three speakers this year. (See TedX’s announcement, here.) Our congrats to him, and to TedX, too, for such a fine choice.

Victor recently wrote about his friendship with the Dalai Lama for the Shambhala Sun in an article called “At Home with the Dalai Lama.” And it’s just that, a snapshot of a morning at the Dalai Lama’s residence in Dharamshala. An excerpt:

With his prostrations done, he walked to a treadmill tucked away by the window. He hung his prayer beads on the handlebar next to a draped towel and began to pace rapidly on the moving belt. Almost immediately, he closed his eyes as he surrendered to the machine’s rhythm and meditated as he exercised. It was a much faster version of walking meditation.

After showering, the Dalai Lama took me up to the roof of the residence. The surrounding mountains were still dark, their barely discernable outlines untouched by the sun. Tiny tendrils of smoke curled from unseen chimneys and then dissipated in the chilly air. Further down the Kangra Valley, a sprinkling of lights from the Indian towns could be seen in the distance. It was so early the birds had not yet begun their songs.

The Dalai Lama stared into the distance, absorbing the quiet, allowing all of his senses to experience the tranquil majesty of the surroundings. He was very present, undistracted by my being next to him. As I watched him, standing perfectly still, one hand lightly resting on the green metal railing, I was touched by the ineffable grace of the moment.

“At Home with the Dalai Lama” is a lovely read, and it’s online for you to read in its entirety. Just click here.

Buddhist singing bowls: lighting the way for better solar panels?

niralajVia Business Insider Australia: “Niraj Lal, of the Australian National University, found during his PhD at the University of Cambridge, that small nano-sized versions of Buddhist singing bowls resonate with light in the same way as they do with sound. He’s applied this shape to solar cells to increase their ability to capture more light and convert it into electricity.

“Current standard solar panels lose a large amount of light-energy as it hits the surface, making the panels’ generation of electricity inefficient,” says Niraj. “But if the cells are singing bowl-shaped, then the light bounces around inside the cell for longer.”

Check out the full story here. …And, of course, dharma and earth-friendly living have always gone together. Check out these many examples from our archives:

The World We Have: Only when we combine our concern for the planet with spiritual practice will we have to tools to make the profound personal transformations necessary to address the coming environmental crisis. In this excerpt from his important book, The World We Have, Thich Nhat Hanh offers us the guiding principles for a new ecospirituality of mindful living. Continued »

Eyes wide open! It’s time for our latest “Seeing Fresh” contemplative photo

From author and contemplative photographer Andy Karr comes the latest “Seeing Fresh” contemplative photo of the week, submitted by Marc Flament. Andy’s comment: “It’s amazing what you can find reflected in the water if you open your eyes wide enough. It’s a nice example of fresh seeing.” (Click the photo to see a larger version.) 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.

“Abandon Hope and Other Surprising Slogans to Help You Handle Anger”

2014-09-fischer-billboardIn the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine, Zen teacher Norman Fischer applies five lojong, or mind-training, slogans to anger and other strong emotions. “These slogans,” Norman explains, “are memorable, often humorous aphorisms that point us in an advantageous spiritual direction.”

Read his introduction and his teaching for the slogan, “Work with your biggest problems first,” here. For more, don’t miss our September magazine, now available everywhere.

Are you trying to “settle the score”? Try Pema Chödrön’s advice for “Choosing Peace” instead.

There is a key moment, says Pema Chödrön, when we make the choice between peace and conflict. In this teaching from her program Practicing Peace, she describes the practice we can do at that very moment to bring peace for ourselves, for others, and for the world.

If we want to make peace, with ourselves and with the world at large, we have to look closely at the source of all of our wars. So often, it seems, we want to “settle the score,” which means getting our revenge, our payback. We want others to feel what we have felt. It means getting even, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with evenness at all. It is, in fact, a highly charged emotional reaction.

Underlying all of these thoughts and emotions is our basic intelligence, our basic wisdom. We all have it and we can all uncover it. It can grow and expand and become more accessible to us as a tool of peacemaking and a tool of happiness for ourselves and for others. But this intelligence is obscured by emotional reactivity when our experience becomes more about us than about them, more about self than about other. That is war. Continued »

“Beyond Thought”: Ram Dass on how we arrive at spiritual understanding

x107.jpg.pagespeed.ic.w9GNsgfDbGIn his book Polishing the Mirror, bestselling author, spiritual teacher, cultural icon, and consciously aging elder Ram Dass shares his essential teachings for living in the here and now. In this excerpt from the book, which comes out in paperback this September, he recalls a lesson he learned at one of his own teachings.

I remember lecturing in a hall once, back in the early ’70s. Most of my audience at that time was young, and they tended to wear white and smile a lot and wear flowers. I wore my māla and had a long beard. In the front row there was a woman of about seventy, who had on a hat with little fake cherries and strawberries and things like that on it. She was wearing black oxfords and a print dress, and she had a black patent leather bag. I looked at her, and I couldn’t figure out what she was doing in the audience. She looked so dissimilar to all the rest.

These talks were like a gathering of an explorers club, where we would come together and just share our experiences. I started to describe some of my experiences, some of which were pretty far out. I looked at her, and she was nodding with understanding. Continued »

Exiled Tibetan monks travel from India to support Ferguson protestors


A group of exiled Tibetan monks made the journey from India to stand alongside protestors in Ferguson, Missouri, and did so late this weekend. The monks stood on the street with their hands up in surrender, a gesture that, along with signs and t-shirts reading, “Don’t shoot,” has come to represent the protests and the frustration felt after the shooting of Michael Brown, and the clashes between civilians and police that have been recurring on the streets of Ferguson.

Response to the monks’ presence seems to have been overwhelmingly positive, with people lining up to hug them and take their pictures. Huffington Post has photos and footage of the scene; click here.