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Zen Blog

Philip Found the Cure

A Soto Zen teacher told me that by sitting zazen, one is taking refuge in the true self. Compassion, including self-compassion, and kindness, including to one’s self, is where the true self exists. Sitting on my cushion at the same time every day, year after year, has helped me to experience moments of this true self. This is what happened to me recently when I experienced the resolution of some unhappiness that I’d been carrying with me for many years.  I remember, vividly, an earlier time when I was embarrassed, and angry, toward a friend I’d...

New Retrospective of Mayumi Oda’s Work Stuns at Tibet House


Recalling the vast bodhisattva assemblies that manifest when the Buddha teaches the dharma, Sarasvati’s Gift: The Art and Life of a Modern Buddhist Revolutionary, a new show at New York City’s Tibet House, draws forth the sacred feminine forces of heaven and Earth to bear testament to artist and activist Mayumi Oda’s transcendent vision. Devas, bodhisattvas, saints, mountain spirits, immortal sages, wrathful deities engulfed in flames, meditating skeletons, cherubim, nursing chubby babies, and a menagerie of animals and mythical creatures domin...

Inside ‘Precious Guru,’ A Film About the Spiritual Life and Legacy of Eighth Century Tantric Master Padmasambhava

Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche (“Precious Guru”), has been revered for centuries in the Himalayan regions as the second Buddha. Based on research into ancient Buddhist manuscripts, the documentary film Precious Guru: Journey into the Wild Heart of the Second Buddha traces the spiritual life and legacy of this eighth-century tantric master—and relates some of the wild adventures he is said to have gone on. The film features the voices of contemporary teachers and practitioners, including Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, Lama Tsultrim Allione...

The Depth of Generosity: A Reflection for Giving Tuesday

During fraught and uncertain times such as these, it’s natural to feel like we should all be giving a little bit more of ourselves and our resources to help others. While we typically think of generosity as a quality that’s carried out through tangible actions, the act of giving doesn’t have to be limited to material things.  According to the Mahayana path of Buddhism, generosity is the mental state of giving up something to which we are attached. One of the six perfections, or six paramitas, that ancient Tibetan Buddhism teaches, the perfectio...

Thinking About Thinking

Beginning meditators are often shocked to realize that they can actually observe and investigate their own mental life. Equally astounding to many is the fact that cognition can go on without them, taking care of this or that business, interpreting and reacting in habitual ways to whatever experience registers in awareness. Seeing more clearly into how the mind functions tends to shatter some of the meditator’s most cherished beliefs about cognition, consciousness, and the nature of self.  As Tibetan teacher Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche states:  The s...

Training the Next Generation of Buddhist Religious Professionals 

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Last month, Harvard Divinity School celebrated the tenth anniversary of the Buddhist Ministry Initiative (BMI), a program that aims to train future Buddhist religious professionals for the modern era and the first of its kind within a divinity school at a research university. The school marked the occasion with a hybrid in-person and online public event hosting former fellows including the Venerable Priya Rakkhit Sraman and Maria Azhunova.  The BMI was formally founded in 2011 after Harvard received a grant from the Robert H. N. Ho Family Found...

Self in Translation

I can’t remember when or where I first encountered the idea that Buddhists aren’t supposed to indulge in too many words. But I’ve since been exposed to all the rituals of silence and the refraining from talking, reading, or writing that happen at retreats or in Buddhist spaces. From what I understand, this caution about language stems, at least in part, from a conviction that language is a finger-pointing-at-the-moon, that it mediates reality and should be sidestepped, overcome, or disregarded to attain a higher awakening. Lately, though, I’ve ...

Calling on the Buddhas

Excerpted from a recent episode of Life As It Is, Tricycle’s monthly podcast hosted by James Shaheen and Sharon Salzberg. Listen to the full conversation here. Every Buddhist tradition that I’ve studied talks about lineage. Every teacher will talk about their teacher and their teacher’s teacher and their teacher’s teacher’s teacher, going all the way back to the Buddha. We talk about lineage to honor the people that came before us and to have gratitude for them. But lineage also connects us to all these other beings and reminds us that we’re no...

Of the Beginning of the Beginning of the Beginning


After the Sistine Chapel frescoes were restored in the 1990s, cleansed of five centuries’ worth of soot and candle wax, visitors could at last see Michelangelo’s vivid colors as he had painted them. Since 2006, record producer Giles Martin has been doing something similar for the Beatles tracks originally produced by his father, George. He has now remixed Revolver. Its latest incarnation, Revolver: Special Edition, can be streamed, downloaded, or purchased as a deluxe box set that includes a hardbound book by Paul McCartney and either CDs or vi...

Don’t Be Afraid to Indulge in Happy Thoughts

What do we do when we do find ourselves experiencing unwholesome states? For example, what happens when we see something that triggers an unpleasant feeling, and an unwholesome state arises in the mind? [We can consider] pahana, which means removal or elimination. You might think about it as selective thinking. Instead of thinking or entertaining whatever thought arises in the mind, we can actively generate and choose to think the thoughts we want to think. [To this end,] the Buddha speaks of samma sankappa, which is sometimes called right thin...

Tricycle’s Buddhist Gift Guide 2022

Ideally, the year-end holiday season is a time for reflection, gathering indoors, and spending quality time with our loved ones. But it can be hard to ignore the relentless slew of holiday marketing, assuring us that the best way to convey our affection is to buy, buy, buy. In most Buddhist traditions, the winter solstice is not a time for presents wrapped in paper with big bows on top. While there are Buddhist cultures with gift-giving conventions—such as in Japanese etiquette—the practice of donating alms or offerings is much more widespread....

‘Buddhism: The Unspeakable Truth’ Elevates Victims’ Stories in Imperfect Documentary

In September 2022, the French-German public access channel Arte aired Buddhism: The Unspeakable Truth (Bouddhisme: La Loi du Silence), a documentary by French journalists Elodie Emery and Wandrille Lanos. The 90-minute documentary, which was cut to 52 minutes for an English-speaking audience, discusses Buddhist communities that have been embroiled in scandal, including Rigpa, the international organization founded by Sogyal Lakar (Rinpoche), and Ogyen Kunzang Choling (OKC), established by Robert Spatz (Lama Kunzang Dorje), weaving in the modern...

Shikantaza and the Morning Star

Over the years, I’ve heard folks comparing shikantaza to other ways of zazen and meditation: Is it better or not? Faster or slower? For beginners or only experts? Should we add this or that to improve the practice? Are we just sitting here, letting life pass us by? Should I train to be ready to do it? Should I give it up and find something else? Is it progressing as it should? What these people don’t realize is that this very drive for comparing, timing, and categorizing—our constant need to improve, get ready, and switch—is the very cause of h...

The Border States of Compassion

In Akil Kumarasamy’s debut novel, Meet Us by the Roaring Sea, an unnamed AI programmer begins translating a Tamil manuscript in the aftermath of her mother’s death. The manuscript, written in the late 1990s, follows a cohort of young female medical students living on the edge of the Sri Lankan civil war who attempt to develop an ideology of “radical compassion.” As the programmer delves deeper into the students’ collective treatise, she slowly becomes unhinged by the question of what it means to care for another. Kumarasamy grew up in a South A...

Karmapa Case Discontinued 

According to New York State Supreme Court documents, in October 2022, former Buddhist nun Vikki Hui Xin Han voluntarily opted to discontinue what is known as a pre-action petition related to a potential civil case against Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Monastery, the North American home of the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje, and the Karma Kagyu Institute. Han had previously alleged that the Karmapa, one of two claimants to the title of the 17th Karmapa in the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, had raped and impregnated her. A civil case may ...

‘The Same Storm’: A Lockdown Look Back

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I’ve long wanted to make a movie on something like the sneeze that goes around the world, or the dollar bill that goes from hand to hand. A cinematic display of the layers of interconnection large and small that make up our lives every single day, through joys and sorrows and complacent idylls and wild shatterings of expectations like lockdowns and COVID. A movie about how even in the most turbulent times, some things remain true. Maybe that sneeze started in Battery Park in New York City, and by the time we see someone’s nose start to wiggle i...

Why Neurobiologist-Turned-Chaplain Michelle Jissan Nicolle Has “Aha” Moments Every Day

Chaplain Michelle Jissan Nicolle splits her time between Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist health care system and Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. At the hospital she cares for staff and occasionally patients, while at the medical school she works with students, faculty, and staff. She also teaches, is involved in administration, and serves as liaison if a Wake Forest University student ends up in the emergency department. Meanwhile, Jissan is a novice priest in the White Plum Zen lineage. Before becoming a chapl...

Ben Okri on How ‘Art Helps Us Unify’

Novelist Ben Okri has long been fascinated by what he calls “cusp moments,” or the periods that immediately precede catastrophe. As a child, he moved back to Nigeria with his family just before civil war broke out, and ever since, he has sought to understand how we can turn toward difficult truths that we refuse to see. In 2007, he published a novel, Starbook, that explored a mythical African society just before the Atlantic slave trade began. But following the book’s release, he felt that the book’s political dimension was lost on readers. Ove...

Best of the Haiku Challenge (October 2022)

In haiku written before 1900, the season word “long night” was used to evoke a broad range of meanings and associations, only some of which could be characterized as “dark.” The word took on a more symbolic character during the 20th century, as poets used it to express feelings of fear, isolation, sorrow, grief, or existential dread. Chosen from more than 500 haiku submitted, the winning and honorable mention poems for this month’s challenge exemplified the contemporary approach to the theme. Jill Johnson offers an image of comfort and familiar...

This “Magic Mirror” Reveals a Hidden Buddha (If You Know Where to Look)


At the Cincinnati Art Museum, a rare Buddhist “magic mirror” was found hiding in plain sight this past summer. First accessioned by the museum in 1961, and likely acquired long before that, the seemingly unremarkable bronze mirror had largely gone unnoticed for decades. But a moment of insight from East Asian Art curator Dr. Hou-mei Sung brought this rare Buddhist relic to light—literally. The finely polished mirror appears transparent when light is shined through it, and, as Dr. Sung and her team happily discovered, it projects a hidden image ...

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About TAO of Light

Yoga is a practice for everyone because it meets you exactly where you are in the present moment. From beginner students to advanced yogis and everything in between, Tao of Light Yoga welcomes everybody at all levels of their journey. There is a place for everyone inside our studio and it is our goal to make each and every student feel at home. It is your time on your mat that is important to us. We, at Tao of Light, will create a space that provides modern comfort for an ancient practice. As both a yoga studio and a sangha, we honor the tradition of the practice while respecting the diversity and individual beliefs of our students.

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