Zen Blog

This blog collects various internet feeds aimed towards information, experience and technique exchange in support of our shared spiritual journey..... ”Namaste - may the light in me, honor the light in you…”

How Can Sanghas Respond to the Overturning of Roe v Wade? 

A number of years ago, I was the manager of a thriving Buddhist meditation center in a large urban center. The community was full of sincere, deeply committed practitioners, many of whom had turned to the dharma after experiencing trauma or addiction. I loved the sangha deeply and was committed to serving what had become a refuge for so many. However, it was also an extremely male-dominated sangha where many of us felt the weight of a subtle sexism that slowly eroded the fabric of a community we loved. 

When the meditation center first opened and we began to develop its programming, I remember advocating for a sitting group for practitioners who identify as women. It felt important to me given the dynamics of the sangha, but was dismissed—until Donald Trump was elected president. 

By that time, I had resigned as manager, but I joined a cohort of incredible people to co-create and lead this fledgling women’s sangha. Things changed quickly, and a year or two after the women’s sangha began, the meditation center it was born from collapsed following the sexual misconduct of its founding teacher. It was a heartbreaking time for countless people.

As the community dissolved, the women began to talk with each other in ways they hadn’t before. Deeper truths came out. I heard experience after experience of women feeling less valued, less seen, and less respected than their male counterparts in our sangha. The stories I heard weren’t about sex or harassment. They were the kind of small, subtle incidents that you feel afraid to name because people will tell you you’re overreacting, or you might get labeled as being “difficult” or “crazy.” The stories I heard reflected my own experiences—not one horrific event, but a slow accumulation of moments that illuminate the knowledge that you’re not as valued or respected as other people.

Years later, as a Depth Hypnosis practitioner and counselor, I still occasionally work with members of that sangha as they grapple with that experience of shattered trust, as well as many others who have experienced harm in spiritual or religious communities. I’ve witnessed and known deeply the kind of spiritual harm that corrodes an entire community when women and other groups are not treated fully as peers. That is some of what’s on my mind now as Roe v. Wade is overturned. 

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A Buddhist-Themed Commencement Address

Dean David Schaberg, UCLA colleagues, parents, loved ones, but most especially, all of you graduates in UCLA’s Humanities class of 2022: 

It is an honor for me to have this opportunity to formally congratulate all of you on your hard work in completing your degrees in Humanities. What a tough few years you have endured. As we in the academy flailed to find the best way to help you keep learning amid the worst health crisis of the last hundred years, you not only survived, but even managed to flourish. You pivoted to remote instruction on literally a moment’s notice and made the best of what we know was a profoundly challenging time. All of us in this auditorium are immensely proud of you. We are also so glad to finally be able to fête you in person, in this iconic building of the UCLA campus and the home of my own Humanities department of Asian Languages and Cultures. 

Actually, you and I have more affinities than you might imagine. Like you, I also am graduating from UCLA this year, but with my retirement pension rather than my degree. But unlike most of you, who’ve finished in four or five years, it’s taken me a bit longer, 36 years, in fact.

This is the second commencement address I’ve delivered. My first was as one of you, when I was the valedictorian speaker at my departmental commencement at UC Berkeley many decades ago. I’ve been in the UC system as long as most of your parents have been alive. I grew up in Palos Verdes, where I was first exposed to Buddhism through the novel Siddhartha, Herman Hesse’s creative retelling of the Buddha’s life, and through a couple of lessons on the religion in a history course. After high school, I was determined to study Buddhism more intensively and applied to the only UC campus that had a Department of Religious Studies back then: UC Santa Barbara. I started studying both Chinese and Sanskrit in my freshman year, and took every course on Buddhism that they offered (which weren’t that many back in those days). My practical-minded father pleaded, “Can’t you at least take a couple of courses on business so you’ll be able to find a job?” After a year, to their dismay, I decided to leave school and travel to Asia to enter a monastery. My relatives in Ohio were appalled, sure I was joining a cult. I ended up spending seven years in Asia as a Buddhist monk: one year in Thailand, one year with Chinese monks in Hong Kong, and five years in Korean Zen monasteries. After I returned to the US for a visit, still as a monk, I was staying at a Zen Center in Berkeley, when a professor there invited me to sit in on some of his seminars on Buddhism. I finally acknowledged to myself that I was a much better scholar than meditator, and decided to re-enroll at UC Berkeley, first as an undergraduate, then as a graduate student.  (One of my professors never used my name: at first he always called me “monk,” and later “ex-monk.”) After finishing my PhD, I taught for one year as an apostate at Stanford, and then returned to the UC system to start as an assistant professor here at UCLA. And here we are, nearly four decades later. 

Typically in these addresses, your speaker would be citing the paragons of Western civilization—Aeschylus, Socrates, Shakespeare. I’ll be going in a different direction. Because of my background as someone who has spent his entire life studying the East—and especially given the fact that UCLA is the premier university in the city that is the gateway to the Pacific Rim—I will be looking not back to Europe, but ahead to Asia. 

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Tricycle’s Highlights From the Week: A New Podcast Episode with Sumi Loundon Kim, a Summer Reading List, and an Interview with Dean Sluyter

Plus, more news from the Buddhist world you may have missed

By TricycleJun 25, 2022

Nothing is permanent, everything is precious. Here’s a selection of some happenings—fleeting or otherwise—at Tricycle and in the Buddhist world this week

A Podcast with Buddhist Chaplain Sumi Loundon Kim

Sumi Loundon Kim

In the latest episode of Life As It Is, our podcast with meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzberg and Tricycle editor-in-chief James Shaheen, Sumi Loundon Kim discusses how spiritual friendship and alternative models of community can support us in facing the crises of our world today. Listen here.

Tricycle’s Summer Reading List 

To help kick off your summer reading, Tricycle offers a list of seven books to read this season. They range from ancient Buddhist stories to new novels. Read the list here

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Tricycle’s Summer Reading List: 7 Books to Read This Season

In the West, summer months evoke images of straw hats and beaches, hammocks under shady oak trees, and neighborhood cookouts. We hope you have the good fortune and ability to experience the R&R this summer that all of us deserve. 

The Buddha didn’t spend the summer months in a hammock (at least, we haven’t seen any iconographic evidence of this). Summer in south Asia means monsoons, and the Buddha and his sangha spent the rainy months in retreat. This period, which usually falls from July to October on the lunar calendar, is called Vassa, or “Rains Retreat.” It was during this time that the Buddha gave many of his sermons, and the monks lived in one place in an effort to not damage farmers’ crops during their wandering.

So whether you’re spending your summer traveling the world or upping your practice at home—or if it’s not even summer where you live right now—here are some books to enjoy this season. — Wendy Biddlecombe Agsar

Let’s stay in the rainy summers of the Buddha’s lifetime. The Jataka Tales, ancient stories about the Buddha’s past lives that illustrate moral lessons, are available in numerous translations and formats. Wat San Fran, a Thai Buddhist temple in San Francisco, has a very cool and extensive video series of more than 100 animated Jataka Tales and stories from the Dhammapada, the collected sayings of the Buddha. — Wendy Biddlecombe Agsar

If you prefer text-based reading, here are a few stories to get you started:

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Dharma Lessons from The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield

Coffee was unknown in Europe until about the year 1600, when the first beans were imported from North Africa to Venice. Before that, throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance, we can imagine nobles and peasants alike, stumbling about listlessly, peering around corners and behind bushes, muttering, “There must be something else…but I don’t know what it is.” 

That’s Holden Caulfield’s situation. The anxious, depressed sixteen-year-old narrator-hero of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is the embodiment of what one of my teachers used to call “the restlessness of the seeker”: the roiling unease of one who finds life profoundly unsatisfactory but doesn’t know what’s missing. He can only vaguely sense that what’s presented as the Good Life, despite its comforts and rewards, is somehow shallow and inauthentic—“phony,” to use Holden’s word—relative to some as-yet-undefined higher truth, some deeper delight. 

The book’s premise is simple. Bright, underachieving Holden flunks out of his Pennsylvania boarding school—not the first school he has flunked out of. He takes the train north to New York and hangs around the city for three days before going home to face his parents. Salinger casts a lonely pall over the journey by having Holden set forth in the dead of a December night. 

When I was all set to go, when I had my bags and all, I stood for a while next to the stairs and took a last look down the goddam corridor. I was sort of crying. I don’t know why. I put my red hunting hat on, and turned the peak around to the back, the way I liked it, and then I yelled at the top of my goddam voice, “Sleep tight, ya morons!” 

In its backhanded way, this gesture makes Holden’s mission clear. As Saint Paul writes in Thessalonians, “Let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.” Holden wouldn’t know to put it this way, but he’s on the trail of awakening. His hunting hat signifies his commitment to the search, and wearing it backward signifies his willingness to go against the grain, to separate himself from the others, the sleepers. 

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