The Practical Buddhist Blog – Practical Advice on Integrating the Practice of Buddhism in Contemporary Life


These two oxymoron’s may seem to make no sense, to be internally inconsistent.   And yet they are at the heart of living a fully human, spiritual life.

For much of my practice, the emphasis has been, had to be, to learn to see things as being just the way they are, that it’s all ok, that I will be ok regardless what life throws my way because I have returned home and will always return home to my true Buddha nature.   To view myself and the world around me directly, with dispassion, free of labels, free of the intervention of my ego-mind.  It has been about gaining the wisdom of acceptance.  For there is no ending of suffering without acceptance.

I have achieved that state and it has been a source of peace to me and great comfort.   I have also learned to take joy in each passing moment regardless what is happening, by being aware of the light, nature, all that I am grateful for, the gift of being alive.

But I have been aware that although I feel very strongly about the work that I do, I do not experience joy in it.  And last night when I was reading a book titled The Map about manifesting, I realized why.   Because something inside me said that my work was not going to amount to anything in that my books wouldn’t sell, my life coaching business would to take off, etc,; I would not make any money because I was no one, I had no name recognition.

I also realized that I feared that if I did put emotional energy into my work that I would become attached to it and I would once again be subject to the disappointment and frustration that is part of our samsara.   I would no longer to able to view my work with dispassion; to say, “If it happens, great; if it doesn’t, that’s ok too.”  I believed those oxymorons were inherently inconsistent.

These two things worked in combination to hold me back and deprive me of taking joy in what I do, in what is important to me, each day.  In meditating one recent morning, I was aware that there was a time when I took great joy in what I did, that I believed not only that it had value but that people would find value in it.   And so I pursued and achieved goals that most people said were unrealistic.

But one day I sent my first book to an agent, who was the agent of a well-respected NPR personality with whom I had a mutual friend.   That agent told me, after reading my book, that no one would be interested in what I had to say because I was no one, I had no name.   

I was devastated, but I persevered.   I sent the book to a well-respected journalist, a cold call, who gave me a strong endorsement.   And so I continued to pursue my dream, but nothing came of it.   

And so it has been with everything I’ve done since then.   What that agent said to me turned out to be my experience.   Why this difference from my former life and efforts?  According to The Map the reason is that I absorbed that negativity and it became one of my false core beliefs.   Somehow this pronouncement by a total stranger, but someone with authority, was enough to change how I viewed myself and my prospects.   I did all the right things to have success, I went through all the motions, but the inner conviction, the faith, was no longer there.   That was the energy I was sending out to the universe, and that was what I received in return.

And so today I have started a new day, fresh.   I have started affirmations regarding my belief in my projects succeeding, being valued by others.   I am endowing my efforts with excitement; I can feel the books selling, the requests for life coaching coming in, and my financial situation being restored.

But back to the title of this post.   While I am investing this kind of energy in my work again, I remain not attached; I can honestly say, if it works, great; if it doesn’t, that’s ok too.  I have faith in my work, but I also view it’s success with dispassion. 

​But beware: it would be very easy to slip into being attached.   Your non-attachment and acceptance must be firmly rooted.


The Practical Buddhist Blog – Practical Advice on Integrating the Practice of Buddhism in Contemporary Life


I recently watched a spiritual video on YouTube that was all about rejoicing, praising the Lord, being grateful for being alive and all the good things in your life, past, present, or future.   The video was by a charismatic Christian and I was originally put off by the display; it was over the top.   I couldn’t relate to it.   But after listening to Sister Sharon (Firm Foundation Radio Ministry) for a while, I realized that she was expressing her true faith, her connection with God.   She had incredible energy and it was wonderful to be in her presence.

There has been nothing in my practice that even approximates the energy that she had.   And I realized something.   To successfully counter the influence of the ego-mind and all the emotions we have in response to the things we experience consistently, it would be extremely helpful to have that energy, that joy as part of our being, our spiritual life.

I certainly couldn’t see myself doing what she did.   But I tried reaching back into my background to find something that had a similar energy, in a prayer-like setting, that I would therefore be able to do and feel natural doing it.

In one of my meditation images, I visualize me joining hands with my true Buddha self (the toddler) and my unborn Buddha mind on the “other shore” and dancing a joyful Jewish dance I learned as a child/adolescent.   As I was searching for something in my past, that experience came to mind, and specifically one song we would sing as we danced the Hora – Hava Nagila.   It certainly had the right energy,  And when I looked up the lyrics, found that they translated as (which I never knew), “Rejoice and be happy, sing and be happy, awake my brothers and be happy.”  I couldn’t have found anything more appropriate.

And so now, at the end of my morning meditation, before I get off my cushion, I sing Hava Nagila.   What a wonderful way to start my day.   And come back to it throughout the day.   I also have connected with Sister Sharon’s energy numerous times.   A real blessing.

When you are in this space, you are able to experience the benefits of faith being one with mind and mind being one with faith.   Here there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today, there is only the present moment.   This is the only reality; all else is thought.

And when you are in this space, there isn’t a felt need to manifest anything because you are filled with joy and gratitude and faith.   But it you do manifest, it will be coming from a pure place; your heart not your ego-mind.    

Actually, one morning recently when I woke up, the words of Hava Nagila instantly came to mind, and I couldn’t believe what popped out of my mouth next, “I manifest abundance and know that I will want for nothing.”  It felt totally natural coming from within me.   And as a manifest should be, it was totally undefined, unspecific.   What that abundance will entail, how it will come about, what “I will want for nothing” means – it could mean that I have so much money that I can have anything I want or it could just as well mean that I will be in a spiritual place where my wants are modest or nonexistent.   

And this manifest, as compared to other manifests, did not provoke any push back from my ego-mind, at least not initially.   It did later in the day, questioning how I could achieve abundance financially given my circumstances.   It took me out of my energized space and slapped me down.   Only the next morning when I meditated was I aware of what had happened and said “no” to my ego mind and returned to my heart, my faith, and to Sister Sharon’s energy.


How to Read Buddhist texts in the original language and why it is a power practice.


Verbal recitation of Suttas and Sutras is a effective, extensive practice– specifically if recited in Pali orSanskrit Many instructors advise attempting to recite and read in the original transcribed language, in the language the Buddha spoke. Reading in in this manner, you can imagine yourself listeningto the Buddha To show the significance, newbie Buddhist monks start their training with recitations of Suttas in Pali, even if they do not instantly comprehend.

By Michael Carr

[Biography bottom.]

For modern-day Buddhists, it can be challenging to recite or understand in Pali dialect– the language ofthe Buddha [In the case of Tibetan Buddhist texts, try to read in Tibetan.] The extremely initially Buddhist mentors were, naturally, handed down orally, up until fans started to transcribe them into the numerous Indo-Aryan languages, consisting of Pali, Gāndhārī, and the intricate range of Sanskrit.

In Buddhism, the Three Jewels are Buddha,Dharma and Sangha Dharma is thought about the most valuable, the living words ofthe Buddha In Tibet, the texts are so spiritual there are events for official carrying ofBuddhist Texts Here, the celebrants bring texts on their shoulder with respect. Photo by Bishal Cintury.

The Language of Wisdom

While it is just natural to do our finest to comprehend Buddha’s words, taking the additional effort to read and recite in the original language can be meditative and illuminating. This exceeds the advantages of understanding of the linguistic elements.

Learning a spiritual language can be a individual journey. Like any spiritual practice, the crucial virtue is perseverance. Take your time and check out the spiritual texts– line after line– not just looking for the equated significance, however going deeper into the underlying messages.

Older or earlier texts were hand transcribed in Pali or Sanskrit on to palm leaves or wood.

Suggestions for knowing to read in the native language

  • Read numerous translations in your nativelanguage Even if you do not understand any foreign language, it is still essential to comprehend the Dharma message. It is likewise useful to see how numerous translators approached the original books aboutBuddha If you believe See evaluate, the how to various phrasing might inform you and bit more.
  • Approach numerous notes, checked out how original texts author came If some conclusion, a discover expert translators within original It you have the specific book that you would like and the read word-by-word in a, you can think of asking native speakers for assistance. the original will consist of Remember glossary it is translator’s notes that will let you engage and fantastic journey that will assist you comprehend to material far better.
  • Share that and your commitment in preparedness check out that will help you!Talk to neighborhood conferences Buddhist engage in the analysisand in your to leaders to regional neighborhood It take part it conversations to understand where a start. and may be various for each individual, yet to would be safe and presume that any spiritual journey begins with and clear mind Once being open and assess to evaluate without predisposition the bias. to you accomplish some peace in find out language listen,
  • Study the words of knowledge will expose themselves and you to more than one .While art work to manuscripts the expose an understandingthe the each book will talk and the you through and lens of to author, Stay manuscripts and art work will keep quiet the await you the check out. You calm, listen with your inner being to “understand” link is visual art with to composed word. Due to the fact that there it is no point that would inform you the stop believing the continuing with your journey,

do not have

. think of knowing texts comprehend some Buddhist characters or discovering connections and Buddhas see that Padma Sambhava not Lama Tsongkhapa location however the journey that Tibetan


The Role or Buddhism from Printing Technologies

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The Practical Buddhist Blog – Practical Advice on Integrating the Practice of Buddhism in Contemporary Life


One of the fears that all of us have is being alone– particularly in an irreversible existential sense. So for instance, we fret that if our enjoyed one passes away, and we have no close household, that we will be alone, not simply in the sense of not having somebody to provide assistance, particularly in aging, however not having anybody to speak to, to share one’s sensations with.

When I was at Shambhala when, somebody asked the instructor what to do when whatever breaks down. The instructor stated that your self, your real Buddha self, will talk to you and state, “You are not alone.   I am here to help you. “

Since I do think that I have a real Buddha self within me, I believed just recently why not develop a relationship with my self? Why await catastrophe to strike? Why wait till you desire assistance from your real self?

In your self, you genuinely have a pal. And a pal who will constantly exist. I never ever had a fictional pal as a kid, as many kids appear to do. Despite the reality that I was frantically in requirement of pals, that I understood that I was not liked by lots of, I think I did not even have the creativity that some fictional individual might be my continuous buddy and pal. Or maybe I was simply doing not have in creativity, which I believe was more the case.

But that is the past. Although today I feel that I still have little creativity in that notice. So this will be a genuine difficulty, to develop a relationship in between my real Buddha self (the avatar of which is me as a young child) and me.

Interestingly, this belongs to one of the ideas I had when I reworded my youth story. In that narrative I developed a fictional pal to keep me business and play when I was left alone in the evening.

How do I develop a relationship with my real Buddha self? A relationship suggests that you experience and share things with each other. And so I have actually begun talking to my real Buddha self, sharing my observations, whether of nature, individuals, whatever, and my sensations with him.

And what I am finding is that due to the fact that I am speaking with a young kid, a young child, my interaction is filled with the happiness and marvel and energy that you would interact when speaking with a kid; really various from speaking with a grownup. And so I am in impact experiencing things now through the eyes of that innocent kid.

In so doing, I am raising myself from the ordinary, strained aircraft through which we usually experience daily life and rather am seeing things through the eyes, the aircraft of my Buddha self, my magnificent essence. This is genuinely providing myself happiness, experiencing happiness.

At some point, my real Buddha self will share its observations and ideas with me. Although the possibility is strong that he currently does this, however I am not mindful that he is the source of my own observations. Indeed, if these observations originate from my heart and not my ego- mind, then they would be originating from him.

In that occasion, a huge part of the relationship currently exists. What it stays for me to do is interact frequently with my real Buddha self. Make him an existence by my side at all times. That is my intent. I will manifest the existence of my real Buddha self at my side at all times.


The Importance of Genre: A Poetic Scandal in Contemporary Buddhist Literature


“Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes.” — Günter Grass 1

Fair warning. This post is long and tends to ramble, but I think it is worth the read.

One year ago, almost to the day, Shambhala Publications published and distributed a book of poetry by Matty Weingast entitled The First Free Women: Poems of the Early Buddhist Nuns. The Amazon blurb for the book describes how Weingast has “reimagined” the poems of the Therīgāthā (Verses of the Elder Nuns), poems composed by the first Buddhist nuns about 2500 years ago.

I have taken inspiration from and enjoyed the poetry of the Therīgāthā for years. Like most readers, I am in awe of Subhā’s dramatic story rendered in roughly thirty verses (read here: ). 2 That said, at this stage of my life I resonate more with verses about aging by Ambapali (read here: The verses of this collection narrate Buddhist experiences as lived by women in harsh, patriarchal times. They represent lived Buddhism. Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu’s translations linked herein are respectful of the original verses and cognizant of their context. I also appreciate Charles Hallisey’s 2015 translation that you can find on Amazon here:

The contextual importance of the poems of the Therīgāthā, originally written in Pāli, cannot be overstated. Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu describes the Therīgāthā as the “earliest extant text depicting women’s spiritual experiences” because some of the poems date back to the late 6th century BCE. And these poems are considered sacred text by Buddhists. The 73 poems in 16 chapters are part of the Pāli Canon and can be found in the Khuddaka Nikāya section of the Sutta Piṭaka. In fact, you can read them in Pāli and in translation by Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu on the Access to Insight website here: When you do read them, receive them respectfully, in their specific cultural and historical contexts. For as I aim to reveal in this post, approach matters.

What was the context of Weingast’s reimagining? What does this reimagining entail? Not translation, apparently. Weingast has noted that he cannot translate Pāli. He read translated versions of the poems and reimagined their essential meanings while he was practicing meditation and living with a group of Buddhist nuns. This situation does not constitute a replication of the context out of which the Therīgāthā was written. So how does a white American male begin to think that reimagining poems originally written by the first female Buddhist nuns living in an ancient culture in what is now southern Nepal/northern India is a good idea? And how does a Buddhist publication house like Shambhala support this reimagining?

The copyright page of Weingast’s book shows that the Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data lists him as the translator, which formally categorizes the book as a translation. Under “Subjects” is clearly written: “Buddhist poetry – translations into English” and “Pali poetry – translations into English.” In effect, even though Weingast’s poetry is described as a “reimagining”, Shambhala is marketing this book as a translation.

I first learned about these translation transgressions from Twitter tweets, but Bodhipaksa of Fake Buddha Quotes states that Buddhist nun Ayya Sudhamma was the first to bring the issue to light last November in a discussion forum post on Sutta Central (link here: )

In a later post on the website Fake Buddha Quotes, in an effort to more clearly explicate the situation, Bodhipaksa compares, word for word, Weingast’s reimagining of a poem by the nun Nanduttarā against a seminal translation of the same poem by K.R. Norman. In Weingast’s reimagining, Nanduttarā is unenlightened, still afflicted by sexual longings of a past promiscuous life, and trying to talk herself into staying on the Buddhist path. In Norman’s translation, Nanduttarā mentions nothing about a sex life, juxtaposes her past polytheistic ritual behaviours against her current path, and highlights the peace of mind from snuffing out all desire that is a hallmark of her enlightened state. Bodhipaksa asks of Weingast’s reimagining: “Is this a “free translation”? No. A translation doesn’t have to represent the original word for word, but it should at least communicate the meaning of the original” (link here: Weingast’s transformation of the poem has changed the meaning of it altogether. The poem has been decontextualized and detraditionalized, rendering the important juxtaposition of religious behaviours moot. Further, there is no inference of Buddhist principles in Weingast’s version which desacralizes Nanduttarā’s poem. All of this amounts to demythologization on a meta narrative scale.

An Tran, whose short story anthology Meditations on the Mother Tongue was reviewed in 2017 on the Buddhist Fiction Blog wrote a great piece chronicling the critiques and defenses of Weingast’s poems. 3 He summarized the poetic scandal thusly: “Weingast’s poems bear little to no resemblance to the poems of the Elder Nuns. They often strip away concepts like rebirth, karma, and spiritual attainments, replacing these key Buddhist doctrines with distortions derived from Buddhist modernism, the post-colonial revisionist movement originating in the 19th century, which sought to re-imagine Buddhism in the guise of rationalist philosophy and romantic humanism (a more appealing approach in the West).” Tran does an excellent job of tracing this literary scandal and perfectly critiques the text. Please do read his online article at Lit Hub to get a better sense of how disingenuous is this text and its marketing.

Consequentially, Weingast spent time in interviews and on podcasts explaining his method and obfuscating the distinction between his concept of reimagining the poems from the publisher’s categorization of the work as a translation. And then, after many communications of concern from Buddhist practitioners and scholars alike, on 1 February 2021, Shambhala issued a note about The First Free Women, stating that it was not their intention to mislead readers about the generic disposition of the book. They are reissuing the work with a different sub-title and under different meta-data for categorization. But there was no true admission of wrongdoing.

If you have made it this far into this post, you may be asking why I’m writing about poetry on a fiction blog. I’m writing about poetry because, in this case, perhaps it should be categorized and marketed as fiction, or at the very least, poetry in response to readings of the Therīgāthā, but definitely not Buddhist. Fiction as we know it is Buddhist when it represents and inscribes Buddhist principles into the literature of any language. More often than not, these principles are represented intertextually. That is, there is a narrative thread of Buddhist sacred text or traditional story that drives the fictional plot. And fiction itself, at its best, opens a third space for grappling with life, suffering, intersecting cultures and religious adaptations. There is truth in fiction, but it is not real. Thus we approach reading fiction differently than the way we approach reading a sacred text. We suspend our disbelief for fiction so as to allow the imagery and symbolism to inform our imaginations and glean insight from and through the experiences of characters unlike ourselves. We approach sacred text like the Therīgāthā very differently. We mine sacred text for truth. This is why undertaking translation requires an exhausting goal of veracity to the original, so that, as Grass said, the language and reader are transformed, yet (and I dare say because) the meaning has not changed.

How should a reader approach this text? My first answer is, really, not at all. But if I had to assign this in a Buddhist literature class, I would ask students to read with a view to give examples of demythologization derived from decontextualization, detraditionalization, and desacralization. I would ask them to compare the different forms of patriarchy revealed in good translations of the poems of the elder nuns versus Weingast’s work and expect to hear of contemporary entitlement, sexism, and erasure. And I would ask them if, as An Tran suggests in his Lit Hub article, the Shambhala tome is a sign of the decline of the dharma.


1. Grass G. Archipelago Books. 2012. Available from:

2. Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff) (2015) Poems of the Elders, p. 3. Available from: or read the Therīgāthā on Access to Insight here:

3. “How a Poetry Collection Masquerading as Buddhist Scripture Nearly Duped the Literary World” by An Tran, 3 February 2021 https: //


The Existential Buddhist|dharma without dogma


It’s ended up being commonplace to talk thoughtlessly about 2 American Buddhisms (an expression credited to famous Buddhologist Charles Prebish), one frequently referred to as “convert” or “white” Buddhism, and the other as “heritage,” “birthright,” “immigrant” or“Asian American” Buddhism According to this simple dichotomy, “convert” Buddhists are primarily older, affluent, European- descent Buddhists who matured in non-Buddhist homes. “Heritage” Buddhists, on the other hand, are Asian Americans raised within Buddhist homes. According to this dichotomy, transform Buddhists practice meditation and research study Buddhist viewpoint, whereas heritage Buddhists make offerings and burn incense for the Buddha and their forefathers, and take part in routines and shouting. Heritage sanghas likewise serve essential social and neighborhood functions for immigrant households whose English might be a 2nd language, and involvement within them is frequently a household affair, in manner ins which transform involvement frequently is not. Convert Buddhism all-too-often smugly presumes its Buddhism is “authentic” Buddhism, whereas heritage Buddhists are bogged down in superstitious practices showing their ethnic culture of origin instead of the Buddha’s sutras and suttas.

In her illuminating brand-new book, Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists (North Atlantic Books, 2021), author Chenxing Han presents us to all the subtleties and intricacies of being a young Asian American Buddhist in America today, and demonstrates how insufficient, deceptive, and hazardous the simple dichotomy of 2 American Buddhisms can be. Han bases her book on her own individual journey in addition to 89 substantial interviews she carried out with a varied group of young Asian American Buddhists about their Buddhist identity and experiences as part of satisfying the requirements for her master’s thesis at the Institute of Buddhist Studies.

The intricacies of the young Asian American Buddhist experience can be overwhelming. While the so-called “convert” Buddhist neighborhoods are frequently extremely white, they likewise have Asian American members who might be converts (having actually matured in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or atheist households), or who might be practicing a various school of Buddhism than the one they were raised in. They likewise might consist of a smaller sized variety of non-convert European- descent white Buddhists who were raised within Buddhist or mixed-religion households.In the exact same method, numerous so-called “heritage” Buddhist sanghas likewise have white transform members who take part in their churchgoers. In addition, there are numerous Asian Americans who matured in mixed-race, mixed-ethnicity, and/or mixed-religion homes (or wed into them) that defy and go beyond any of these classifications.

Chenxing Han reveals that numerous young Asian American Buddhists discover themselves in a unpleasant and unclear circumstance. Their moms and dads might have participated in Buddhist spiritual practices without discussing their significance, or performed them in a language their kids did not comprehend. Second- and third-generation Asian Americans can be in the ambivalent position of both cheapening their moms and dads’ methods as “old world” and “superstitious,” while all at once experiencing a fond memories for it, and a desire not to break the thread of household custom. Even when attempting to follow household custom, they can be filled with unpredictability and stress and anxiety over potentially not continuing these just partially-transmitted customs in precisely the appropriate method.

Another issue is that numerous heritage Buddhist sanghas might be consisted of primarily “Sunday school” kids and their grandparents and moms and dads, with a lack of young people in their 20s and 30s. These sanghas frequently perform their services in languages second-, 3rd-, and later on generation immigrants can no longer comprehend or speak. This produces barriers that prevent young person Asian Americans from connecting with these sanghas, however the all-or-mostly white transform sanghas likewise do not feel especially inviting. Asian American visitors to all-white sanghas nearly undoubtedly need to handle the bias and incorrect presumptions white sangha members make about them. It is frequently presumed, for instance, that Buddhism is their household of origin faith, or white members will ask “where they are from.” In addition, transform Buddhist publications hardly ever function Asian American instructors, and frequently remove the long existence of Asian American Buddhism in America, as if American Buddhism was the exclusively the item of white leaders (and their Asian instructors) who developed the very first primarily white transform sanghas.

There can likewise be strong pressure on Asian Americans to “become more American,” to mix in, and to not draw in attention by being various. Their Asian physical functions currently mark them as various, and being a “Buddhist” ends up being simply another method they do not fit in with their white American peers at school and at work. Dropping a Buddhist recognition and ending up being Christian is one method to suit much better. In addition, numerous Asian American immigrant neighborhoods concerned America as currently mainly Christian neighborhoods, consisting of numerous Korean, Vietnamese, and Filipino neighborhoods. Within those neighborhoods, ending up being a transform Buddhist brings none of the social prestige that Buddhism brings for numerous white European- descent converts who originate from neighborhoods where their peers may think about Buddhism to be “cool” and “evolved.”

Chenxing Han likewise resolves the fascinating concern of what it indicates to be a “convert” Buddhist in the very first location, as “conversion” is not actually a Buddhist thing. She recommends that “becoming a Buddhist” is a little like soaking a cup of tea. How long does the warm water need to high prior to it is “officially” tea? Becoming “Buddhist” is similar. It can be a progressive procedure over an extended period of time, and is frequently not an all-on-none affair, as numerous American Buddhist specialists, white and Asian American, wind up with hybrid identities.

Since numerous heritage Buddhist Sanghas came from to fulfill the requirements of ethnic immigrant neighborhoods, there are manner ins which they continue to serve the particular and special requirements of Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, Tibetan, Nepalese, Cambodian, Lao, Thai, Burmese, Sinhalese, and other Asian immigrant neighborhoods. Pan-Asian American sanghas, to the level they exist, are uncommon. Convert Buddhist sanghas, on the other hand, tend to be primarily English- language sanghas that serve the requirements of acculturated (all-too-often significance “white”) Americans in basic, and do not deal with the requirements of any particular ethnic group. As heritage sanghas age without more recent immigrants showing up in multitudes, there is a propensity for these sanghas to diminish in subscription. Heritage sanghas might feel an immediate requirement to cater more to second-, 3rd-, 4th-, 5th-, and sixth-generation Asian Americans whose requirements are rather various from the initial neighborhoods they were developed to serve. There is likewise pressure on these sanghas to connect to members of other ethnic backgrounds, to end up being more universalistic and inclusive, and to use more of their services inEnglish Something is lost and gotten while doing so, and it’s not unusual for more youthful members of these neighborhoods to feel ambivalent about these modifications.

It is amazing reality that while Asian Americans comprise two-thirds of the U.S. Buddhist population, it is difficult for numerous white American Buddhists (and even Asian American Buddhists) to call even a single significant Asian American Buddhist spiritual figure. In reality, it might even be simpler for white American Buddhists to call popular African American Buddhist figures than it is for them to call popular Asian American Buddhist ones. It is difficult to represent this nearly total erasure of the Asian American Buddhist neighborhood in the minds of numerous or most transform white Buddhists without believing in regards to white opportunity and unconscious bigotry. When Asian American Buddhists madly oppose their erasure by “mainstream” Buddhist publications, their grievances have actually frequently been met incomprehension, dismissiveness, defensiveness, and anger. Ann Gleig has actually just recently been explaining there are white, cis-gender, male, conservative online Buddhist neighborhoods that are unsympathetic, if not hostile, to the distress of left out, marginalized, or demeaned neighborhoods. Sometimes, it appears, the bigotry isn’t unconscious at all, however outright and in-one’s- face.

Chenxing Han composes that her manuscript was decreased by mainstream Buddhist publishing homes, in addition to by scholastic presses. We need to be grateful that North Atlantic Books, an independent, non-profit press, acknowledged its worth and ended up being the place for its publication. We need to likewise be grateful that Chenxing Han selected to not compose the type of book that would attract scholastic presses. Her book is easily available to all readers, and her writing is individual, intimate, and immediate. Her informants are not simply research study topics, however frequently end up being individual pals, and essential figures in her own development. She owes a fantastic financial obligation, for instance, to Aaron Lee, AKA, “arunlikati,” the developer of the Angry Asian Buddhist blog site. Aaron’s life, composing, relationship, assistance, and unforeseen death play a significant function in Han’s own individual journey, development, and advancement. We learn more about him as she did, and her writing is a living testimony and homage to his contributions to the Buddhist neighborhood.

As a side note, the stories informed by Chenxing Han’s Asian American informants resonated with my own extremely various story. I plainly fit nicely into the standard transform Buddhist classification. I am an older, white, Ashkenazi Jew, and wasn’t born into a Buddhist household. Nevertheless, my maternal great-grandparents and paternal grandparents were immigrants. They understood what it resembled to deal with discrimination for being immigrants and for beingJewish They frequently spoke to their brother or sisters in Yiddish, a language I just comprehended in pieces and bits. While my maternal grandparents lit shabbat candle lights, went to temple, and kept kosher– my dad was a closet atheist, and after my mom passed, preserved none of the Jewish customs. I might recall at my grandparents’ faith with fond memories, however could not make it my own. My moms and dads took a look at orthodox Jewish faith as primarily bubbe-meises— old partners tales and superstitious notions. When I discovered my method to Buddhism midway through life, it was mainly through instructors from Jewish and half-Jewish origins– instructors like Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Larry Rosenberg, Sylvia Boorstein, andToni Packer Their backgrounds made it feel safe for me to roam onto what may have otherwise seemed like alien area. I question if I would have ever found Buddhism if it had not been through instructors I might relate to since they remained in some method “like me.” Representation, in reality, matters. In by doing this, I can relate to the parallel however various battles of Asian American Buddhists to end up being American and “modern” without losing their identities and braking with household customs, and to discover locations of belonging in neighborhoods with a minimum of some members who appear like themselves and comprehend their journeys.

Be the Refuge exposes the surprise stories of young Asian American Buddhists, enabling them to inform their stories in their own voices. It makes a significant contribution to the long-lasting task of weakening the folklore of 2 Buddhisms, blazing a trail to an inclusive and pluralistic American Buddhism that appreciates the variety of our methods of practice while likewise acknowledging their basic underlying commonness.


The Existential Buddhist | dharma without dogma


About seven years ago, my wife and I visited the Kit Carson Home and Museum in Taos, New Mexico. We hadn’t gone to Taos intending to visit the museum.  We had gone there to see the famed Taos Pueblo, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site— but when we saw the museum in town, we thought we would drop by. At that point, Kit Carson was just a name to me like Bat Masterson, Davy Crocket, Billy the Kid, and Wyatt Earp—one of the legends of the wild west one might read about in a dime novels or see in old black-and-white Saturday matinee movies. His story, however, is a bit more complicated.

While at the museum I bought a copy of Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder—a biography of Carson.  What I learned is that Carson was one of those astonishing 19th Century American figures who were larger than life.  You get the same feeling when you read the biographies of Ulysses Simpson Grant, or Theodore Roosevelt, or Frederick Douglass—how could people such as these have really walked the earth?  It seems we have no one quite like them today. At any rate, Carson’s courage, endurance, competence, and steadfastness could have qualified him, like Achilles, to be the hero of his own Homeric epic.

There was, alas, also an ironic aspect to his life. As a frontiersman, fur trapper, mountain man, and scout, he loved the wilderness, and was more at home with the ways of the Native American peoples than he was with the white settlers who brought the corruption of their civilization along with them.  His first wife was an Arapaho woman named Singing Grass who died in childbirth. His second wife was a Cheyenne woman named Making Out Road who divorced him the Cheyenne way by dumping his belongings outside their tent. Despite his sympathy for Native American life, however, he was a military man who believed in following orders, and he became the general who brutally defeated the Navajo and Apache nations, herding them off their ancestral lands to an area no white man could possibly want at Bosque Redondo Reservation. Unlike the vainglorious General George Custer, Kit Carson was humble and competent. If you gave him a job to do, he did it. Many Navajo starved during his brutal roundup at Canyon de Chelly, or died on the long walk to Bosco Redondo, or sickened and starved after arriving at the barren reservation. Carson was put in charge of managing Bosque Redondo, but eventually quit in disgust.  He did not approve of the way the United States government was handling its responsibilities to these defeated peoples.

History’s judgment of Carson has been mixed. He is both a hero and a villain—perhaps a bit of both. Carson himself seemed cannily aware of how history might judge him. On the wall of the museum is a sign with a saying of his—he couldn’t have written it because he couldn’t read or write—a saying which best summarizes his life.  The sign reads, “I don’t know if I did right or wrong, but I always did my best.”

I’ve thought of that sign often over the past seven years.  There is something very Zen about it.  We never know all the long term and broader consequences of our actions in advance. We might succeed in helping someone, but in the process  inadvertently end up hurting someone else. We might do something that helps in the short run, but ends up hurting in the long run. Every solution to a problem ends up creating new problems. Look how the Internet, which was supposed to bring us all together has ended up dividing us worse than ever. We can’t ultimately know whether things will, everything considered, turn out right or wrong. We can only do our best.  It’s a real accomplishment if we can say that, no matter what, we always did our best as we understood it at the time.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said something similar about Zen. He said, “Zen is making your best effort on each moment, forever.” Anyone else might have said “in the moment,” but Suzuki Roshi’s Japanese-inflected English made it “on the moment”— the way a singer lands “on a note,” neither flat nor sharp.  Being “on the moment” seems different from being “in the moment,” a phrase that suggests something improvisatory and on the fly. “On the moment,” is more like Aristotle’s “hitting the mark,” that is, doing the right thing in the right way at the right time.

So, what does it mean to make our best effort on each moment during sesshin?

Should we sit as if our hair was on fire—or is zazen “the Dharma gate of bliss and repose?”

Dogen Zenji said both.

That reminds me of an old joke about a rabbi who listens to the complaints of a squabbling marital couple. He listens first to the husband’s side and says, “You’re right.”  He listens next to the wife, and says “you’re right.”  The rabbi’s student, who has been sitting in the corner listening to all this, turns to the rabbi and says, “but Rabbi, they both can’t be right.”  The rabbi replies, “You know what? You’re right too!”

So, do we practice with our hair on fire, or do we enjoy the Dharma gate of bliss and repose?  It seems to me, there are moments during every sesshin when one or the other seem to be  appropriate.  But how do we know on any given moment whether we ought to be striving harder, or relaxing into way things are?

The sayings of the great teachers can illuminate certain moments, but we can’t allow ourselves to be limited by them. They can only take us so far. We must always be the ones who decide for ourselves what practice is for us on each moment.  Suzuki Roshi said, “You cannot say Buddhism was completed by Dogen Zenji. If you think it was, the Shobogenzo becomes like a coffee shop on the freeway. Dogen will be very angry if you stay there.”

Toni Packer’s The Light of Discovery contains an illuminating conversation with Joan Tollifson. Joan, as you may know, is a non-dual teacher who is not affiliated with any tradition.  She spent several years residing at Toni Packer’s Springwater Center for Meditative Inquiry.  Toni, as you may know, was a Dharma heir to Phillip Kapleau Roshi, who, inspired by Krishnamurti, eventually dropped the designation “Zen Buddhist teacher,” to become just a “Zen teacher,” and then later dropped both the “Zen” and the “teacher” to become just “Toni.”  I had the good fortune to be on a number of retreats with Toni, and consider her one of my most important teachers.

Anyway, in that illuminating conversation, Joan asks Toni, “If I want to see through these ideas that I’m creating and arrive at this more open and spacious place, what should I do?”

And Toni replies, “Can we start where we are and not attempt to get someplace? That is another idea, the idea of “an open space.” What is going on right now? Does wanting to be in an open place arise because one has heard about an open place and is feeling closed up inside? Can there be an immediate listening to where we are now—wanting open spaces—and also hear the birds singing at the same time, the breathing that is going on? We get caught up with the idea of where we want to be and are oblivious to what is actually going on right now.”

What we should be doing in sesshin is just that.

Being aware of what is actually happening right now.

On any moment, we are doing one of two things—thinking or being aware. Thinking includes every project you think you are doing here. Becoming concentrated, becoming enlightened, becoming peaceful.  These are all just thoughts. These are all ego-centered plans.  Is it possible to just see them? This doesn’t mean the ego-centered plans disappear.  It means that when they appear, we see them as “thought,” and see them occurring in a larger space.  And if that larger space isn’t here, we see the yearning for that larger space that isn’t present.

Let me say a word about that larger space. A few weeks ago I heard Jon Kabat-Zinn suggest that we envision thinking as the waves on top of the ocean, but the ocean itself is vast, deep, and still and undisturbed by the waves. Our motives to be someplace other than where we are now are like tiny trails of bubbles appearing and disappearing in the ocean’s depths. They aren’t a problem. They are just there, along with everything else.

Jon’s ocean metaphor is like Dogen’s idea of enlightenment occurring together with delusion—delusion isn’t excluded from enlightenment—enlightenment contains both enlightenment and non-enlightenment—they are not two. Jon’s ocean metaphor is a lovely metaphor for the kind of vast openness we may at times experience. But don’t be fooled into thinking that’s where you should try to be, or where you should be. We are always just where we are. The hardest part of sesshin is being just where you are, even if you wish it otherwise.

We are invited to stay here with what is, whatever appears.

Sometimes this is openness, spaciousness, and clarity. Sometimes it is lifelessness and boredom. Sometimes it is agony and despair.

We endlessly abandon all of our plans and projects and open to what life is for us right now.

But, there is one plan and project we do not abandon. We give ourselves over completely to the form of sesshin.  Just do it, just follow it.  Or we fight the form every inch of the way.  Whatever we do, we are giving ourselves over to the form or fighting the form.  Everything is grist for the mill. We each get through sesshin however we can.  As Dogen said in his Extensive Record, “There is the principle of the Way that we must make one mistake after another.” So we do our zazen wrong.  Is there any other way to do it?

The most fundamental element of sesshin is trust. Trust in the process. Trust that you don’t do zazen, zazen does you. Trust that if you give yourself over fully to the form, there will be benefit. Trust that, paraphrasing the Rolling Stones, you may not be able to get the sesshin you want, you will get the sesshin you need.

Every sesshin I have been on has been different.  Some have been filled with moments of blissful illumination, some have not.  Some have been relentless struggle. I know what it is like to be greedy for blissful moments, but being greedy for them only shows you your own greed.  Blissful moments either come, or they don’t. That’s all we can say.

But I think it’s fair to say that the sesshins that have proved most valuable have not necessarily been the ones marked by great openings, but one’s in which I have more clearly seen my own crap. Because, that’s much of what goes on, isn’t it?  My wants, my fantasies, my plans, my strivings, my hopes, my greed, my anger, my doubts, my anxieties, my pain, my deficiencies, my ignorance, my monkey mind?  The whole melodrama of me-ness.  We want so much to get to that other shore—the place of attainment, enlightenment, bliss, wisdom, and compassion.  We think that shore is some other place, and not this place right here. We think that when we finally arrive there, we will no longer have any stink about us.

And here and there, there are moments that come—or they don’t. One’s in which we intuit a wholeness that includes everything we have been trying so hard to rid ourselves of but never quite can. A place of great openness, acceptance, equanimity, and love.

And then its gone. But it’s never really gone. That experience has already changed you. You are already different for having experienced it. Not greatly different. Not entirely different. But different still.  And how can something be gone when it’s always right here?

So, I don’t know If you are doing your practice right or wrong, but I encourage you, like Kit Carson, to do your best, however you understand the word “best,” on each moment, knowing also that the meaning of “best” changes from moment to moment.

I will leave you with a story about a former patient of mine from a long time ago when I was teaching meditation to patients in a psychiatric hospital. The patient was in hospital because she was struggling with many significant problems we needn’t go into here. She came regularly to my weekly meditation group. The meditation group was open to inpatients, partial hospital patients, and intensive outpatients, so people could potentially attend over a long periods of time—and this was especially true for patients like her who cycled through several inpatient admissions interspersed with partial hospitalizations and intensive outpatient treatment. At any rate, while the patient was hospitalized, the patient’s adult daughter was murdered. The patient asked, at the beginning of the meditation group, whether she ought to focus on her breath to keep the pain of the loss of her daughter at bay, or whether she should she open to the pain and just be present with it.  She already knew from past meditation experience that “just being present with it” did not mean ruminating about it and making it worse.

I asked her, “If you could imagine you had an inner wise friend, what would that wise friend advise you to do?” She replied, “focus on my breath,” and did so for the next few meditation sessions.  After a few weeks she said, “now I am ready to be with my pain,” and she was able to do so in a way that turned out productive for her.

Each of us has this same capacity to be our own wise friend. Maybe that is what we mean by saying we each have Buddha-nature.  It is the mental capacity psychologist Marsha Linehan calls, “wise mind.”

Whenever you are unsure of how you ought to be doing zazen, consult your wise friend. You won’t necessarily make the right or the wrong choice, but you will be doing your best.

My wise friend usually asks a question rather than providing me with an answer.  It asks, “what does ‘being fully present’ mean for you right now?”

Please do your best!
















The Existential Buddhist | dharma without dogma


William James may have been the first psychologist to take an interest in Buddhism, but he certainly was not the last. In Prescribing the Dharma: Psychotherapists, Buddhist Traditions, and Defining Religion (University of North Carolina Press, 2019), psychotherapist and religious studies scholar Ira Helderman explores the history and current status of the ongoing relationship between the American psychotherapeutic community and Buddhist traditions—at least the Buddhist traditions as transmitted by Asian modernizers and as practiced within predominantly European-descent Buddhist “convert” communities. His approach is based both on a participant-observer ethnological analysis (he attends professional psychological conferences devoted to Buddhist themes and interviews presenters and attendees) and on textual analyses of the writings of major figures, living and historical, who have played key roles in the unfolding relationship between Buddhism and Western psychology.

His is not a straightforward story either of the secularization, subversion, and cultural appropriation of Buddhist tradition by therapists, or of the stealth transmission of Buddhist ideas into American culture. As Helderman points out, “psychotherapy” and “Buddhism” are socially constructed categories and, therefore, are not entities that can engage in dialogue. There are only individual clinicians making pragmatic decisions about how to treat individual clients while negotiating the boundaries set by organizations and agencies that police their profession and responding to the influences of multiple impinging historical and cultural forces and professional imperatives. These clinicians often occupy multiple and somewhat conflicting roles as scientists, healers, and religious practitioners. They need to negotiate a variety of socially constructed categories that necessarily inform their decisions, including the definitional categories of religion, secularity, spirituality, science, medicine, and therapy, and what the relationship between these categories ought to be. They also need to consider the essential aims of both therapy and Buddhist practice—whether they are consonant or disparate—and their relationship to more broadly construed conceptions of “wellness” and “the good life.”

Helderman defines six major approaches clinicians take with regard to Buddhism: therapizing, filtering, translating, personalizing, adopting, and integrating. In the chapters that follow the introductory chapters, Helderman examines each of these approaches and the work of psychotherapists who typify each approach. At the same time, he is clear that these approaches are not pure types and that the clinicians he reads and talks to often adopt multiple and, at times, conflicting approaches, sometimes emphasizing different approaches depending on the audience they are addressing. Therapizing means explicating Buddhism in the language of psychological discourse, as when Franz Alexander explicates the goal of Buddhist practice as a narcissistic rechanneling of libidinal energies away from the external world and onto the self. Filtering involves picking and choosing Buddhist ideas according to how consonant they are with modern Western science. Therapizers and filterers both view psychology and science as the final arbiters of truth. Translating involves restating Buddhist practices in biomedical terms, as when meditation is described as “attentional training practice” or “the relaxation response.” Personalizing involves a private personal commitment to Buddhism, while keeping it in a separate silo from one’s clinical practice. Adopting means reformulating psychotherapy in Buddhist terms. Adopters see Buddhism as the final arbiter of truth. Finally, integrating involves finding ways Buddhist and psychotherapeutic ideas can mutually assimilate and accommodate to each other, where neither is seen as being necessarily privileged over the other. As Helderman reviews these approaches, he explores the work of such clinicians and theorists as Carl Jung, Franz Alexander, Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jeffrey Rubin, Polly Young-Eisendrath, Barry Magid, Steve Hayes, Mark Epstein, Marsha Linehan, Paul Cooper, Harvey Aronson, Paul Fulton, Jack Engler, Jack Kornfeld, Joseph Loizzo, Pilar Jennings, Jan Surrey, Jeremy Safran, Christopher Germer, Gay Watson, Karen Kissel Wegela, Ken Wilber, and others.

Many of the clinicians described are unhappy with the conventional boundaries of what constitutes religion and what constitutes secularity. They often try to redefine the terms or blur their boundaries, but their influence is inescapable. Helderman explains this is the case because of the pervasive influence of training and certification authorities, third-party payors, hospital accreditation organizations, first amendment considerations, and malpractice case law; the long cultural history of how ideas are transmitted to us; clinicians’ self-identifications with their own therapeutic lineages and the internalization of their norms; and religious scholars’ critiques, which, for clinicians, often help define the authenticity of their understandings of Buddhist teachings. Helderman argues that the boundaries clinicians redraw between what is religious, secular, spiritual, medical, and psychotherapeutic are inherently unstable and riddled with internal inconsistencies, and thus subject to constant critique and revision.

Helderman views clinicians’ relationship with Buddhism against the larger background of what Eugene Taylor has called psychology’s “shadow culture” (Shadow Culture: Psychology and Spirituality in America [1999]). While American psychology is often trifurcated into the three twentieth-century mainstreams of psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychology, Taylor described a “fourth stream” of alternative healing methods from Swedenborgianism, homeopathy, mesmerism, Christian Science, and New Thought, down to today’s mindfulness. Taylor described how this fourth stream periodically emerges, is repressed, and then makes an inevitable return because the division between scientific/medical and religious/spiritual aspects of healing is always unstable. Are Buddhist-oriented psychologists mixing science and religion? Or if psychotherapy is a substitute for the religious dimension of life in a secularized age, are therapists really mixing two different types of spiritual traditions? Psychotherapists have always occupied a kind of liminal space between science, art, medicine, and spirituality, and Buddhism—or at least Western Buddhist modernism—can be seen as the newest import into this space.

Helderman is primarily a religious studies scholar, and he makes good use of both religious studies broadly considered and modern Buddhist scholarship in particular. One theme he revisits a number of times is the degree to which modern Western psychotherapists’ usage and understanding of Buddhism can be compared to the process of sinicization and the way the medieval Chinese understood and made sense of Buddhism. This is, of course, a claim that Buddhist-oriented psychologists make themselves in order to help legitimate their work. Is Buddhism, like the fabled Ship of Theseus, something that undergoes constant transformation yet remains, somehow, the same ship, or at some point is it no longer Buddhism? Are karma, reincarnation, merit-making, and celestial bodhisattvas necessary parts of any Buddhism, or can a Buddhism without them still be a Buddhism? Who gets to decide whether something is still a form of Buddhism, or whether it is crypto-Buddhism or simply New Age nonsense? These are questions Helderman raises, presenting arguments on both sides, but leaves essentially unresolved. Helderman emphasizes that these questions are not mere idle questions. There is something important at stake here. At the heart of these disputes is a clinician struggling with how best to help a seriously disturbed patient who has not been helped by the usual and customary therapeutic measures—a therapist who, in the midst of uncertainty and controversy, must make a decision about whether and how to make use of something he learned at a conference, in a zendo, or from a book that he thinks might be helpful but is not sure will be universally applauded. Helderman thinks we ought to have some real sympathy for this clinician, but he also thinks that in order to do their work well, clinicians need to formulate and clarify their own considered answers as to what is health and well-being, what kind of endeavor therapy is, and to what degree religion can and ought to be included in this mix.

Helderman has written a book that is admirable in terms of its comprehensiveness, depth, and nuance. The clinicians included in this study are a good representation of thought leaders—psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, and humanistic/transpersonal—in the field. His historical coverage of seminal figures, such as Jung, Alexander, Maslow, and Fromm, is excellent. He makes good use of the work of contemporary Buddhist scholars, such as Stephen Bokenkamp, José Cabezón, Francisca Cho, Rupert Gethin, Jay Garfield, Luis Gomez, Janet Gyatso, Donald Lopez Jr., David McMahan, John McRae, Ann Gleig, Robert Campany, and Robert Sharf, among many others, as well as scholars of contemporary religion and spirituality. Helderman’s book is the most accurate, complete, and in-depth exploration of how Western psychotherapists therapize, filter, translate, personalize, adopt, and integrate Buddhism into their theories, lives, and practices yet written, and is likely to remain a classic for years to come. It has implications not only for how clinicians construe their practice but also in understanding the largest vector for either (depending on one’s viewpoint) the transmission of Buddhism into American culture or its secularization and diminishment.