Wednesday, November 21, 2012 9:35 AM
Every day, new books arrive in the offices of Utne Reader. It would be impossible to review all of them, but a shame to leave many hidden on the shelves. In "Bookmarked," we link to excerpts from some of our favorites, hoping they'll inspire a trip to your local library or bookstore. Enjoy!
Mary Paterson was forty years old when her father died and felt suddenly
destabilized and adrift by the loss. Paterson’s response to this life
crisis was to embark on a pilgrimage to Plum Village, the retreat of
Nobel Prize-nominated Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. The Monks and Me (Hampton
Roads Publishing, 2012) chronicles her 40-day journey arriving at the
conclusion that it is important to always find a home within ourselves.
Mindful breathing and remembering The Four Noble Truths helps Paterson
find peace among distractions in this excerpt taken from the introduction.
Ana T. Forrest, creator of Forrest Yoga, says the key to self-actualization is to understand your fear and then hunt it down. It’s not about killing fear but becoming its ally—taking its power. Forrest’s book, Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit (HarperOne, 2012), chronicles her transformation from an abusive childhood to her position as a national leader in emotional healing through Yoga. In this excerpt from chapter one, “Stalking Fear,” she tells of how to get past one of the biggest blocks to happiness through self-study and training—how to go from victim of fear to its attacker.
Tammy Strobel lives with her husband in 128 square feet. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. After years of living with high stress and high debts, the pair changed their attitude toward the stuff in their lives, deciding to dramatically cut the clutter. Strobel blogged about the lifestyle changes and found a huge, receptive audience. You Can Buy Happiness (and It’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too(New World Library, 2012) is her “biographical manifesto,” a combination of her story and advice on how to join the simplicity movement.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 12:43 PM
Directed by Jennifer Fox
Premieres June 21, 2012 on PBS
While the conflict between a father’s expectations and his
son’s desires is a story as old as the hills, Jennifer Fox has managed to
capture a unique twist on that experience with her documentary film My Reincarnation, which kicks off the 25th
season of POV on PBS.
Like most ambitious children, Italian-born Yeshi Silvano Namkhai
has plans for his life. He likes playing music and taking photographs. He has a
knack for computers. He wants to be a father.
But Yeshi’s father, exiled Tibetan Buddhist Master Namkhai
Norbu Rinpoche, believes that Yeshi is the reincarnation of his great-uncle, Khyentse
Rinpoche Chökyi Wangchug— a revered Tibetan Buddhist Master who died in a
For Namkhai Norbu, the path is clear: maintain the ancient
spiritual and cultural traditions of Tibet through service to the
Tibetan Buddhist community. But Italian-born Yeshi views the responsibility as
an unwanted burden even though he acknowledges having the special dreams
associated with being reincarnated. “I’m not afraid of dying, but I’m afraid of
living,” Yeshi says as he struggles to reconcile his desire to be a “normal” Westerner with his father's hope that he will embrace his destiny.
Fox’s film is compelling because it isn’t just a snapshot.
Filmed over 20 years, we’re introduced to Yeshi as a defiant
18-year-old intent on pursuing the life he wants, and we follow him through
adulthood as he evolves into the man he’s become. In that same time frame, we
also see the seeds for Yeshi’s strained relationship with his father, and how
both men work to better know and understand each other. Despite its unique
circumstances, My Reincarnation is
remarkably accessible for anyone who has tried to balance their own desires with
the expectations of a parent.
Thursday, July 14, 2011 11:03 AM
You know those packets of silica gel found in boxes of new shoes and beef jerky that you’re not supposed to eat? One writer set out to discover what happens if you actually do eat them and ended at a surprising answer.
Choose your drugs wisely, counsels Sam Harris.
Getting his PhD in literature was a terrible mistake until Richard Russo realized it was turning him into a creative writer (and, as it turned out, a Pulitzer Prize–winner).
Character is supposed to be destiny, says Adam Kirsch, but as the 10-year mark approaches, post-9/11 fiction writers contend with a narrative arc that renders both meaningless.
Stephen Colbert jumps into the fracking fracas.
White Jewish guy stars in African movie. (laughter)
Tricycle magazine offers a list of books that brought people to Buddhism.
Boston Review weighs in on the European backlash against multiculturalism.
A little hometown pride: Women bikers thrive in Minneapolis.
This horoscope reveals just how evil you are.
Are book recommendations too personal, or not personal enough?
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is a stunning children’s book for iPad created by a former Pixar employee.
When new gadgets come out, older technologies become obsolete, right? Not dial-up Internet, ham radio, or telegrams—they’re still around and thriving.
Social critic Barbara Ehrenreich imagines the robot wars of the future at TomDispatch.
Image by Bradmcmahon, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 10, 2011 11:32 AM
Those who have taken care of a seriously ill partner, a child with special needs, or an incapacitated parent on a long-term basis know the relentless, sapping strain of it. Kristin Neff—a professor of human development and mother of an autistic son, writing for Psychology Today—opines that every caregiver should practice self-compassion to “recharge our batteries and have the emotional energy needed to serve others.”
What, exactly, is self-compassion? Neff turns to the writings of various Buddhist scholars to draw out three main components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. She explains:
Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. Mindfulness involves being aware of one’s painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor obsesses about disliked aspects of oneself or one’s life.
Though we can all benefit from practicing self-compassion, Neff sees it as crucial for overburdened, and sometimes underappreciated, caregivers. “Not only will it help to get through difficult situations,” she says, “it will lead to greater happiness and peace of mind.” She continues:
As a mother of a child with autism, I can tell you what a lifesaver self-compassion was for me…. When my son screamed and screamed because his nervous system was being overloaded and I couldn’t figure out the cause, I would soothe myself with kindness. When my son lost it in the grocery store and strangers gave me nasty looks because they thought I wasn’t disciplining my child properly, I’d give myself the compassion I wasn’t receiving from others. In short, self-compassion helped me cope, and that put me in the balanced emotional mind state needed to deal skillfully with whatever new challenges confronted me.
Want to find out how much self-compassion you have? Take Neff’s online test.
Source: Psychology Today
Image by kevinpoh, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011 11:46 AM
With an impressive entourage of Tibetan monks, a Nobel Peace Prize, and the respect of millions around the world, it’s strange to remember that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was once just a kid at his mother’s side. But in his May 8 address “Peace through Inner Peace” at the University of Minnesota—which happened to coincide with Mother’s Day—he fondly invoked her memory. His Holiness shared stories of riding on his mother’s shoulders and mischievously “steering” by tugging her hair to the right or left, pouting if she didn’t obey.
He also gave her credit for shaping his compassionate nature. “My warm-heartedness originally came from my mother,” he said, an easy grin bringing the thousands of attendees in close. His Holiness went on to speculate that those who receive maximum affection from their mothers as children have much greater inner peace in their adult lives. (If it was Father’s Day, I like to think he would have included you, too, dads.)
According the Dalai Lama’s website, he was just two years old when he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, partly because he was able to indentify the personal belongings of the previous Dalai Lama, exclaiming “It’s mine! It’s mine!” when presented with each. He began his monastic education and study of revelatory inner peace at the age of six.
Over the past week, I’ve been talking about peace with my own young children. Since the death of Osama bin Laden, we’ve driven past flocks of protestors holding up signs promoting nonviolence. Through my elementary explanations, four-year-old Abe has learned that peace means being gentle friends, and little brother Asher has learned that holding up two fingers in a “V” gets cheers from protest sign–holders. It’s a start.
In his Mother’s Day speech, the Dalai Lama taught listeners that respect, compassion, and nonviolence are key starting points for achieving peace. “Mentally, physically, emotionally, we are the same,” he said, no matter your religious background. He also advised that we should focus on secularism when discussing moral issues. “Secular doesn’t mean disrespect for religion,” he explained, “but respect for all religions—including non-believers.”
His Holiness took a few questions after his talk, and one came from a nine-year-old who asked, “If you could completely solve one problem, what would it be?” The Dalai Lama, with his amused, trademark chuckle, had a simple answer: “I don’t know.” What he knew without a doubt was that solving the world’s problems and achieving peace requires the cooperation of us all.
As for the mothers the Dalai Lama acknowledged, we can strive to embrace compassion and teach the warm-heartedness that might make our own kids pick up the quest for peace and say, “It’s mine.”
Image by IMs BILDARKIV, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 18, 2011 5:00 PM
I miss the days before iPhones. With pocket-sized, portable, 24-hour access to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s entirely possible to fill every free second with other people’s family photos, favorite song lyrics, video links, and ideas without connecting to them—or to ourselves—in a significant way.
In Tricycle magazine, Lori Deschene, founder of the website Tiny Buddha, asks us to take a deep breath and rethink our online lives with ten ways to use social media mindfully.
Deschene advises that we examine our intentions before posting, experience life now and share it later, give ourselves permission to ignore yesterday’s stream, and always represent our authentic selves. She writes:
In the age of personal branding, most of us have a persona we’d like to develop or maintain. Ego-driven tweets focus on an agenda; authenticity communicates from the heart. Talk about the things that really matter to you.
And before you flood the Internet with every minor rumination, question if your contribution to the online ether is worthwhile. Deschene reminds us:
The greatest lesson we can all learn is that less is enough. In a time when connections can seem like commodities and online interactions can become casually inauthentic, mindfulness is not just a matter of fostering increased awareness. It’s about relating meaningfully to other people and ourselves.
Image by Alan Stokes, licensed under Creative Commons
Friday, October 01, 2010 3:18 PM
Lots of Americans say they’re religious, but a new poll finds many of them don’t actually know that much about world religions—their own included. The U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey by the Pew Forum found that U.S. atheists and agnostics, along with Jews and Mormons, are actually more conversant than Christians in many faith-related facts.
While that basic takeaway is rich with irony—some of the least religious people know the most about religion—it confirms what some atheists have long suspected, and a few of them are bursting with pride about the results (which for them is not a sin, of course). Dave Silverman, the president of American Atheists, told Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times:
“I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people. Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.”
That’s not to say that believers don’t know anything about their own faiths, but rather that atheists and agnostics are well versed in a wider range of religious topics. Mormons and evangelical Protestants, for example, are very knowledgable on questions specifically relating to the Bible and Christianity, and atheists and agnostics aren’t far behind. According to the survey results:
On questions about Christianity—including a battery of questions about the Bible—Mormons (7.9 out of 12 right on average) and white evangelical Protestants (7.3 correct on average) show the highest levels of knowledge. Jews and atheists/agnostics stand out for their knowledge of other world religions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism; out of 11 such questions on the survey, Jews answer 7.9 correctly (nearly three better than the national average) and atheists/agnostics answer 7.5 correctly (2.5 better than the national average). Atheists/agnostics and Jews also do particularly well on questions about the role of religion in public life, including a question about what the U.S. Constitution says about religion.
Jeffrey Weiss at Politics Daily quibbles with the survey’s approach—“Too many [of the questions] read to me as if they were taken from a religion version of Trivial Pursuit,” he writes—but he notes that the results line up in a way with previous surveys that reveal a related phenomenon:
Academics call it the Religion Congruence Fallacy: In survey after survey, year after year, Americans who say they belong to a particular religious tradition tend not to act like it.
To take an easy set of examples: Conservative Protestants are no less likely than other Protestants to have been divorced, to have seen an X-rated movie in the last year, or to be sexually active even if they aren’t married. Even though their church teaches strongly that all three practices are wrong.
Maybe that’s because many of us don’t know all that much about the faith tradition we say we profess—or what makes it distinctive from any other.
Ignorance about our own or other religions is not necessarily an American tradition: As Ted Widmer recently reminded us in the Boston Globe, even the men who wrote the Constitution were quite familiar with the Koran:
As usual, the Founders were way ahead of us. They thought hard about how to build a country of many different faiths. And to advance that vision to the fullest, they read the Koran, and studied Islam with a calm intelligence that today’s over-hyped Americans can only begin to imagine. They knew something that we do not. To a remarkable degree, the Koran is not alien to American history — but inside it.
Meanwhile, Steve Thorngate at the Christian Century suggests that atheists, agnostics, and Jews shouldn’t get too uppity about their good marks on the religion exam:
Atheists/agnostics and Jews didn’t actually do better on the Christianity questions than Christians did, just nearly as well—and considerably better on all the others. This is perfectly intuitive: minority groups know more about the majority than vice versa, because majority culture tends to define what counts as general knowledge. So most Jews know where Jesus was born, even though few Christians know much about Buddhism. Jesus makes the cover of one general-interest magazine or another ever month or so, and it only takes a couple shopping trips between Thanksgiving and New Year’s to accidentally memorize the words to “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”
What do you know about religion? Take the Pew Forum’s 15-question religious knowledge sample quiz and find out.
Sources: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, New York Times, Politics Daily, Boston Globe, Christian Century
Utne Reader editorial intern Will Wlizlo contributed to this post.
Image by dottorpeni, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 21, 2009 1:57 PM
There comes a point in a child’s development when he or she will learn the concept of “object permanence.” This is the point when the game peek-a-boo is not as much fun, because the child understands that the world does not disappear when he or she closes her eyes. Buddhism can return people to that “perceptual simplicity” of childhood, according to Andrew Olendzki in Tricycle, by encouraging them to attend to merely what appears. He quotes the Bahiya, saying “in the seen there will be just the seen, in the heard just the heard, in the felt just the felt, and in the thought just the thought.”
Source: Tricycle (subscription required)
, licensed under
Thursday, July 02, 2009 10:16 AM
The Buddhist magazine Tricycle (a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award nominee) has unearthed something quite precious from their archives: a 1991 interview with the Dalai Lama conducted by the late writer and monologue master Spalding Gray. The conversation is colored by the kind of blunt truths Gray was famous for. It's a great exploration of the fundamental tenets of Tibeten Buddhism, and it's also hilarious:
Spalding Gray: We’ve both been traveling these last weeks and the most difficult thing that I find on the road is adjusting to each location, each different hotel. And I don’t have the centering habits you do. I have a tendency to want to drink the alcohol, which, as you said in an earlier interview, is the other way of coping with despair and confusion. I have a feeling that you have other methods for adjusting. Just what are some of your centering rituals and your habits when you come into a new hotel?
The Dalai Lama:
I always first inquire to see “what is there.” Curiosity. What I can discover that is interesting or new. Then, I take a bath. And then I usually sit on the bed, crosslegged, and meditate. And sometimes sleep, lie down. One thing I myself noticed is the time-zone change. Although you change your clock time, your biological time still has to follow a certain pattern. But now I find that once I change the clock time, I’m tuned to the new time zone. When my watch says it’s eight o’clock in the evening, I feel sort of sleepy and need to retire and when it says four in the morning I wake up.
Spalding Gray: But you have to be looking at your clock all the time.
And then there is this gem:
The Dalai Lama: As a Buddhist monk, I usually have no solid meal after lunch, no dinner. So that is also a benefit.
When I passed your room last night, I saw six empty ice-cream sundae dishes outside your door.
Translator (after much laughter): It was members of the entourage.
Thursday, May 21, 2009 1:29 PM
A cockroach scuttling across the floor sends most people in search of an exterminator (or a rolled up newspaper). Gabriel Cohen, writing for Shambhala Sun, went looking for spiritual peace: “Something primal overwhelms me and I want to kill it, this nasty invader of my space. Instead, I pause and think.”
This urge to kill stems from fear, according to Cohen. Thinking logically about the threat posed by this tiny cockroach, and seeing the world from the cockroach’s point of view, Cohen finds other ways of dealing with the infestation. Admitting that he doesn’t know if his approach is the correct one, Cohen instead opts to ward off bugs with citronella candles and scoop up any bugs he finds and toss them outside. It’s part of an approach that, Cohen writes, “challenges us to be just a little less cruel, a touch more kind, a tad less angry, a sigh more patient.”
, licensed under
(article not available online)
Wednesday, April 01, 2009 9:53 AM
Buddhist author Karen Miller lays out a roadmap for mindful parenting in Shambala Sun. Here's some of what she suggests:
Live by routine. Take the needless guesswork out of meals and bedtimes. Let everyone relax into the predictable flow of a healthy and secure life.
Turn off the engines. Discipline TV and computer usage and reduce artificial distraction, escapism, and stimulation. This begins with you.
Elevate the small. And overlook the large. Want to change the world? Forget the philosophical lessons. Instruct your child in how to brush his or her teeth, and then do it, together, twice a day.
Give more attention. And less of everything else. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give.
Be the last to know. Refrain from making judgments and foregone conclusions about your children. Watch their lives unfold, and be surprised. The show is marvelous, and yours is the best seat in the house.
Read the rest of Miller's piece, The Monastery of Mom and Dad. Want more? Read her essay, also in the March 2009 issue of Shambala Sun: Parents, Leave Your Home.
Source: Shambala Sun
Tuesday, March 31, 2009 12:17 PM
In tough economic times, financial tips can feel like spiritual guidance. The first noble truth of the Buddha—that existence is suffering—sounds like good advice for someone trying to cut back on expenses.
Whether or not she knows it, financial guru Suze Orman doles out such spiritual-financial teachings on her CNBC show, according to John Tarrant writing for Shambhala Sun. Orman helps people understand that the origin of their suffering lies in craving—the second noble truth—firmly but lovingly pushing them away from financial lust and excess. She also teaches the third noble truth, that “a change of heart is possible,” believing in her clients ability to be reborn.
The implicit message of Orman’s show is “you are not alone,” Sandra Steingraber writes for Orion. By showing the financial information of other people anonymously, Orman’s show provides a kind of catharsis and therapy to the viewers. It also gets beyond a taboo people feel when talking about expenses or salary with their friends. This is important, according to Steingraber, due to the fact, “to borrow a phrase from the adoptee rights movement, that secrecy breeds fear. And shame. “
Neither Tarrant nor Steingraber endorse Orman’s specific financial advice. In fact, Steingraber describes her retirement plan as “to be found stiff and cold at my writing desk.” The articles are aimed at illuminating a link between people’s money and their spiritual life, and the way that Orman, according to Tarrant, “is filling a necessary role in our culture as we wake out of a dream.”
Sources: Shambhala Sun (excerpt only), Orion (excerpt only)
Monday, March 16, 2009 1:50 PM
Like a 1,600 year-old Cosmo quiz, Buddhism has a tradition of separating people into distinct personality types. Knowing your personality type “can help you release your habitual reactions and bring about greater awareness and balance,” according to Tricycle magazine. There are three basic personality types, each with a positive and a negative temperament associated with them: greed/faith, aversive/discerning wisdom, and deluded/speculative. Tricycle gives a vague, 13-question quiz to help people understand, and hopefully improve upon their temperaments.
Monday, February 16, 2009 12:49 PM
As the baby boomers who embraced Buddhism in the wake of the Vietnam War age, many wonder what American Buddhism will look like in coming years.
Buddhism today is not as counter-cultural as it was in the 60s and 70s; words like karma and zen are part of our vernacular, and meditation and mindfulness practice are mainstream. But while younger generations may include more dabblers in Buddhist thought, there are fewer full-fledged converts and formally trained teachers, pushing American Buddhism further to the Oprah side of the religion to self-help continuum.
The Winter 2008 issue of Buddhadharma includes a forum on “the future of Buddhism in a post-baby boomer world” (excerpt only online). Four Buddhist practitioners of various ages discuss the current state of Buddhism, the future of the dharma when the baby boomers are gone, and ways of making it more relevant and inviting to young people.
A few highlights:
On the tension between popularized Buddhism and its traditional forms:
Norman Fischer: [In America today] there is mindfulness training of various kinds and lots of research on mindfulness and health…So, a perspective that you can define very broadly as Buddhist is now one of the key streams in our society. Somebody might say that…isn’t really Buddhism. I wouldn’t argue that it is, but I would say that it’s heavily Buddhist-inflected. Far from waning or atrophying, then, I’d say Buddhism is morphing and becoming more and more important all the time.
Sumi Loundon Kim: As Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and other aspects of the Buddhist tradition become diffused and permeated throughout mainstream society, at what point do we say that it is Buddhism anymore?
Sumi Loundon Kim: There is something appealing about the integrity of a tradition that has liturgy, cosmology, ethics, and practices that have been developed over the centuries so that they work together to transform a person. In the wake of globalization and the dissolution of tradition, there will be people who will seek the roots that come with a tradition.
Iris Brilliant: But I’m also excited when any group of young people wants to get together and learn just about the techniques of meditation...even if they’re doing it in a secular and detached way.
On efforts to reach out to younger generations:
Rod Meade Sperry: There are young people retreats and people of color retreats and queer retreats, and that’s certainly not a bad thing, but it sometimes misses the point. If you’re a young person and your best bet is to join a retreat like that, which means that the practice community doesn’t really include you, it’s like being relegated to the kids’ table at a family function. It’s nice, but it’s also sort of dismissive. What do you do when you’re sent off to the kids’ table? You either sneak off with the other kids and go play, or you find that one cool uncle who will chat you up. What dharma centers need are more cool uncles, more people who will automatically bring younger voices into the everyday life of their sangha.
Sumi Loundon Kim: I have a beef about the whole dharma scene being so meditation-oriented and retreat- and program-oriented. As a mother of young children, I have no time for retreats…There’s a pretty strongly antisocial or nonsocial component to dharma centers in general. I don’t understand how anybody…can really feel like they’re part of a community.
Iris Brilliant: I think socially engaged Buddhism will be a strong driving force for younger people...People are using practice, especially mindfulness, in a way that is deeply intertwined with social justice.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009 11:23 AM
Lou Rawls famously sang, “Love Is a Hurting Thing.” Little did he know that he was illuminating the Buddha’s second noble truth—that suffering comes from attachment. Mitra Bishop-sensei writes for Buddhadharma that the same is true of cheesy Spanish-language pop songs, including “Que Duele Querer,” or “How painful [it is] to love?” Bishop-sensei writes about how Buddhists should strive for “unconditional love” one that is free from attachment and can be extended to the whole world.
And here's Lou Rawls:
Monday, January 05, 2009 1:04 PM
In its January 2009 issue, Shambhala Sun is “Celebrating 30 Years of Buddhism in America” along with its anniversary (1978-2008). Among the thoughtful offerings: Senior editor Barry Boyce chronicles the dramatic changes Western Buddhism has undergone since it was introduced to the United States.
Marcia Z. Nelson reviews some of the most significant Buddhist books from the past 30 years, such as The Art of Happiness (1998), a Eastern-philosophy-meets-Western-psychology bestseller coauthored by the Dalai Lama and psychiatrist Howard Cutler. Nelson also singles out Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994) and Full Catastrophe Living (1991) as two books that brought mind-body meditation into the mainstream.
Another article—"What's Next?"—assembles thoughtful predictions from an array of Buddhist thinkers (excerpt only). “Just like pouring water from one container into another, this formless wisdom may be transmitted from one country, culture, and language to another by way of the cultural forms and conventions that contain it,” writes scholar and meditation master Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.
Image by alicepopkorn, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 12, 2008 11:36 AM
The Adbusters-promoted National Buy Nothing Day (a.k.a. Black Friday) has gained steam over the past few years, but what about an entire buy-nothing Christmas? The anti-consumerism magazine wants to help. In the latest issue, writer Gary Gach ruminates on "What Would the Buddha Buy?"—the first in a series of articles to help identify and avoid the “moment during which real pleasure becomes abstract desire—the want to want.”
Easier said than done, of course, which is why Gach also advocates mindful purchases and donations in place of buying for buying’s sake. Instead of obsessing over finding perfect gifts for your loved ones, make spending time with them a priority. Instead of purchasing a new gadget or sweater, donate what you already have but don’t use; the strategy has the double benefit of helping those in need and clearing up space. “It’s harder to be grasping greedily when your arms are extended in giving,” Gach writes.
Image by mermay19, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 12:11 AM
With a notoriously “faith-based” presidential administration in its last throes and a race for the White House boasting a varied slate of Christians—a man who’s been called a “semi-Baptist,” a Pentecostal conservative, a Catholic Democrat, and a member of the United Church of Christ whom some insist is a “secret Muslim”—it’s surprising that faith and religion aren’t playing a more central role in the presidential and vice-presidential debates.
There’s been a relative lack of religious talk during the presidential face-offs, and various spirituality blogs are wondering if tonight’s will be any different. Both Christianity Today and the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life noted a dearth of religious talk in their liveblogs of last week’s debate, with the notable exception of Tom Brokaw’s zen question. GetReligion also called attention to the fact that the latest presidential debate’s only spiritual reference was to Buddhism, after the website live-blogged the Palin-Biden debate and its own lack of religious language.
One explanation is that Iraq and the tanking economy have largely pushed aside religious and social issues that dominated previous debate cycles. Nathan Empsall at the Wayward Episcopalian is glad the candidates are addressing the economy, but still frustrated by both candidates’ remarks in that regard. With McCain foundering in the polls and in need of a game changer, it’s questionable whether Christianity will make an appearance in tonight’s debate.
Image by Ricardo Carreon, licensed by Creative Commons.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008 2:52 PM
Considering the community they provide and the devotion they inspire, sports serve religious functions, Andrew Cooper writes for Tricycle. “Sports satisfy our deep hunger to connect with a realm of mythic meaning, to see the transpersonal forces that work within and upon human nature enacted in dramatic form, and to experience the social cohesion that these forms make possible,” Cooper writes.
For players, a form of spirituality is often experienced in the idea of the “zone,” according to Cooper. Players and announcers speak of a game-time “zone” mindset, where a player is able to forget himself and his surroundings and play almost unconsciously. Cooper writes that this experience is similar, though not the same, as the Buddhist idea of enlightenment. He writes, “a Zen perspective on the relationship between practice and enlightenment may help clarify structural issues in the relationship between self-effort and self-transcendence in sport.”
Ten examples of the transcendence in sports can be found on BeliefNet, where the editors have compiled the top 10 “sports miracles.” The website compiled 10 feats of athleticism that they call miracles because of their improbability.
Taken to the extreme, the parallels between sports and religion quickly become absurd. The Onion ran an article with the headline, “God Wastes Miracle On Running Catch In Outfield.” Rather than bringing peace to the Middle East or helping victims of natural disasters, the God of the Onion opts instead to meddle in a baseball games. No word yet on who God supports in the current Major League Baseball playoffs, unfortunately.
Image by Moazzam Brohi, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008 10:10 AM
The Buddhist practice of mindfulness—the engaged awareness of the present moment, of one’s self and surroundings—has many practical applications in the modern, busy world. But many of us live in a loud, violent, crowded culture, and sometimes it’s hard to find room for mindfulness. “That’s all well and good for someone at a meditation retreat in the mountains,” an overwhelmed city dweller might sniff, “but it won’t work here.”
Andrea Miller, writing for Shambhala Sun (excerpt only online), anticipates that reaction and outlines five practical contexts where mindfulness can be practiced despite the odds against it. Miller describes mindfulness initiatives in health and healing, caregiving, education, prisons, and organizational leadership. “Not long ago seen as fringey and foreign, mindfulness practice is going mainstream.”
Image by mrhayata, licensed by Creative Commons.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008 9:05 AM
It’s often easy to agree with spiritual ideals in theory but struggle to achieve them in practice, especially when it comes to sex and drugs. In an essay for the Buddhist magazine Tricycle, Hannah Tennant-Moore writes about her difficulties following the five precepts of the Dhammika Sutta: “do not injure others, lie, steal, consume intoxicants, or ‘go with another man’s wife’ (nowadays understood to mean ‘engage in sexual misconduct’).” When confined to a Buddhist monastery, Tennant-Moore writes that she was able to achieve all five ideals. Once faced with the temptations of the outside world, however, she found herself unable to avoid “sexual misconduct.”
The Buddhist faith actually has a complex relationship with sex. Tennant-Moore writes that it can sometimes help and sometimes distract from achieving awareness. The Dalai Lama once said that sex between a guru and a student is sometimes (though rarely) acceptable, according to Tennant-Moore. She quotes Zen teacher Ezra Bayda who wrote: “The difference between experiencing our sexuality as heaven or hell is rooted in one thing only, and this is the clarity of our awareness.”
Wednesday, August 13, 2008 10:20 AM
Are miracles real? Are they archaic notions of events that could be explained by science? Or are they allegories for wider concepts? In Buddhism, miracles are all of the above, according to a panel discussion in Buddhadharma (full article not available online).
Three devout students of Buddhism, Glenn Wallis, Judy Lief, and Ari Goldfield, all believe that miracles are real, although today's miraculous events might not be as easily understood as those in religious legends. People living in ancient times may have been more comfortable with the supernatural as a part of reality, while a modern, scientific mindset may not allow for an understanding of miracles. Instead of getting caught up the scientific, the panelists encourage people to reopen their minds to the possibility of “everyday” miracles, like displays of love and compassion. "Quite simply, if you look at reality closely and directly," says Lief, "ordinary reality becomes more and more strange and miraculous."
Friday, July 25, 2008 1:43 PM
Buddhism prompts its adherents to face important but uncomfortable questions about dying. “Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?” is one of Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron’s favorite inquiries. In the September issue of Shambhala Sun (article not available online), Chodron suggests that instead of focusing on death, it's more important to create “gaps” in our lives, pauses from constant worries and plans. We can’t always physically escape to a beach at sunset or a retreat center to get away from our worries, so calming our minds is essential. Taking three conscious breaths when you find yourself distracted is the foundation of Chodron’s pause practice, while “listening intently” and “put[ting] your full attention on the immediacy of your experience,” are other ways to break away, even if it means you’re listening to the sound of the copier in the next room and feeling an office chair against your back. “Find ways to create the gap frequently, often, continuously,” writes Chodron. “In that way, you allow yourself the space to connect with the sky and the ocean and the birds and the land the blessing of the sacred world.”
Image by Hans-Peter, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008 5:16 PM
When the 73-year-old Dalai Lama dies, his successor as Buddhism’s leading voice is likely to be the Karmapa Lama, a 23-year-old with a fondness for X-Men comic books. PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly profiled the Karmapa Lama, who holds the unique position of being “the only high lama to have been officially recognized by both the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government.” At the age of 14, he escaped from the Chinese Government, over the Himalayas, to join the Dalai Lama in India, and the two have studied and meditated together since.
In the profile, the Karmapa Lama shows an understanding of the huge responsibility being placed upon him, and an awareness of the effect that technology is having on the Buddhist faith. He said:
Because of the Internet, we live in an age in which information can travel very rapidly to different places. Before, it used to be the case that just having a karmapa alive was good enough for everyone. People didn't need a lot of information about who the karmapa was or what the karmapa was doing.
Judging by the official blog from his recent U.S. visit, this Karmapa Lama is taking every opportunity to use the new technology to make his voice heard.
Image by PrinceRoy, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 23, 2008 8:56 AM
Teeming with Buddhist reflections on the modern world, the Mindfulness Bell, encourages readers to “dwell deeply in the present moment, to be aware of what is going on within and around us.”
Buddhist incantations are rife throughout the magazine: “Breathing in, I see the goodness inside of you. Breathing out, I smile at your goodness." But plenty of the articles will be relevant to anyone who thinks, or would like to think, spiritually about current events and world affairs.
The Summer issue includes a feature section on the aftermath of war, with personal narratives that address issues ranging from the responsibility for the war in Iraq to recounting the effects of post-traumatic stress and drug addiction. In an essay inspired by his first visit to Vietnam years after the war, Brian McNaught describes his difficult choice to become conscientious objector, and why young people today aren’t faced with the same involvement in the war in Iraq.
For readers already geared up for Buddhism in practice, each issue features the teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. The Summer issue also has a great section on spirituality for children, including a dharma talk directed to youth and activities to involve little ones in the pursuit of mindfulness.
Sustaining your newly achieved multi-level awareness may be difficult, however, since the Mindfulness Bell is published only three times a year. Breathing in, I see the motivation in you. Breathing out, I smile at your motivation.
Monday, April 07, 2008 3:20 PM
“There are three ways to learn,” according an article in the latest issue of Buddhism Today (article not available online). “Learning by experience: This is the hardest. Learning by reflection: This is the noblest. Learning by imitation: This is the fastest.” People can’t achieve enlightenment by learning in just one way. Different kinds of education are required for different kinds of knowledge.
Thursday, February 14, 2008 11:46 AM
Buddhists intent on reincarnation had better fill out the appropriate forms. An article from the China Post has announced that reincarnation by senior Tibetan Buddhist monks, also known as “living Buddhas” is now regulated by the government of China. It’s thought that the regulation is an effort to crack down on the Dalai Lama and his supporters. Although officially an atheistic entity, the Chinese government has decreed, “The reincarnation of living Buddhas must undergo application and approval procedures.”
Monday, January 21, 2008 12:06 PM
Members of China’s growing middle class are turning to Buddhism in droves, Dexter Roberts reports in BusinessWeek. Buddhism has deep roots in China, after arriving from India in the first century. Since the Communist party took power, they've fought to suppress the contemplative religion. Those efforts seem to have failed, considering Buddhism's comeback in recent years, fueled by a faddish yuppie following. Now that the Chinese are finding themselves suddenly wealthy, they face a paradox of money well-known to American suburban Smashing Pumpkins fans: being rich doesn’t make you happy. Many hope that studying Buddhism will.
Photo by Michael Mooney, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, January 10, 2008 11:08 AM
From Ann Landers to Dr. Phil, the media is burbling with advice, and not all of it good. For people searching for more enlightened guidance, the Cleveland Zen center Cloudwater Zendo offers Ask A Monk. Send in a question and a “qualified Buddhist teacher” will send you an answer in a couple days. The advice is better than what you’d get from most friends or newspapers. A few examples of previous questions and answers are posted on the site to get the karmic questions flowing.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007 11:21 AM
Christmas is coming, and millions of Americans are descending into an orgy of capitalistic gift-giving, gift-receiving, and gift-begging. Not everyone, though, is buying what Santa’s selling. Some people are trying to opt out of the whole “desire” thing. A couple weeks ago my grandma asked me what I wanted to Christmas. I paused: I didn’t really want anything. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in quiet rooms meditating with my eyes closed, just so that I wouldn't want things. But instead of telling her that, I just murmured something about socks.
The Yoga Journal, a nominee for the 2007 Utne Independent Press Awards, just might have a solution. Senior editor Phil Catalfo suggests a few gifts for those friends who are annoyingly casting off the chains of desire. The gifts are so good, readers might find something that’ll make them wish they had desires again.
For another holiday gift guide, be sure to read Utne.com’s From the Stacks, The Gift-Giving Edition.
Monday, December 10, 2007 8:33 AM
Political blogging isn’t known for respectful, civil debate. Most people who thrive in the blogosphere are aggressive and contentious, welcoming a tone of argument and escalation. R.J. Eskow, who blogs for the often-angry Huffington Post, doesn’t want to be one of these insult-hurling pundits. Eskow is bucking the raging-blogger tradition, seeking to hold himself to a higher standard.
Specifically, Eskow is trying to follow the ethical and spiritual teachings of Buddhist tradition. Writing in the western Buddhist magazine Tricycle, Eskow questions the tension between blogger rage and Buddhist serenity:
Can a person maintain equanimity and stay in the political debate? And what about the precept of right speech? It forbids lying, of course. But it also means no harsh words, rumor-mongering, or frivolous talk.
In today’s political dialogue, what’s left?
Eskow attempts to cultivate spiritual discipline without sacrificing his rhetorical efficacy. Eskow’s inability to maintain calm raises issues fundamental to both spiritual integrity and political change: Which is more important, faithfulness or effectiveness? More importantly, is there a third way? —Steve Thorngate
Friday, December 07, 2007 3:58 PM
Finding time to seek spiritual satisfaction can be difficult when secular obligations (friends, rent, etc.) are all so time consuming. To help readers find their paths, Buddhanet has designed a feature called The Daily Enlightenment, a daily devotional message with small hints, practices, and poems for busy Buddhists. By portioning out the long, hard work of enlightenment into easily digestible morsels, the website makes the path to spiritual satisfaction a little more manageable.
Yesterday’s message comes from the Samyutta Nikaya:
The worse of the two
is he who, when abused, retaliates.
One who does not retaliate
wins a battle hard to win.
Thursday, November 15, 2007 3:22 PM
For more than a thousand years, a statue of the Buddha watched over northwest Pakistan’s Swat valley from its 120-foot-high perch on a mountain. No longer. The statue—one of the most celebrated pieces of Buddhist art in the region—was destroyed by Muslim fundamentalist vandals in broad daylight, reports Vishakha N. Desai of the Lebanon Star [subscription only]. While the Taliban’s bombing of the giant Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan inspired international condemnation, the Pakistan Buddha’s destruction has been met by media silence. The attack also points to a mounting threat to the rich Buddhist artifacts and heritage still surviving in Pakistan. —Brendan Mackie
(Thanks, Buddhist Channel.)
Wednesday, October 17, 2007 12:00 AM
In its Autumn edition (a special double-issue), Himal Southasian a magazine published in Kathmandu, analyses fundamentalism in the region. The comprehensive package opens with an overview of Islam’s roots, and then examines those extremists who have decided to go out on a limb, like the militant Hindutvas in India or the Sinhala-Buddhists, a group of nationalists in Sri Lanka. The issue’s coda is a positive one, though. In "Archaeology and the Rejection of the Mono-Country,” an essayist argues for a renewed examination of South Asia’s varied history and archaeology, confident that a greater understanding of the past will spur future religious diversity and tolerance. —Julie Dolan
Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.
Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!
Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $6 and get 6 issues of Utne Reader for only $29.95 (USA only).
Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 6 issues of Utne Reader!