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Your Liberation Is On the Line

Rev. angel Kyodo williams

Can Buddhism Meet the Climate Crisis?

David R. Loy

In the Moments of Non-Awakening

Larry Yang

Don’t Let Hatred Destroy Your Practice

the Dalai Lama

Lessons of the Gandharan Manuscripts

Richard Salomon

The Natural World Is a Powerful Teacher

Lopon Elizabeth Monson

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Your Liberation Is On the Line SPRING 2019
Don’t Let Hatred Destroy Your Practice

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understanding and practice known and cited works of with translations of several texts Zen literature.
of the Indian Buddhist classical Indian Buddhism. in the Bka’ gdams gsung ’bum
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Using Buddhist and Modern Psychology
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Lion's Roar Foundation | lionsroar.com | 1790 30th St., Suite 280 Boulder, Colorado 80301 USA

Can Buddhism Meet the Climate Crisis?
David R. Loy

Lessons of the Gandharan Manuscripts
Richard Salomon

Don’t Let Hatred Destroy Your Practice
the Dalai Lama

Your Liberation Is On the Line
Rev. angel Kyodo williams

In the Moments of Non-Awakening
Larry Yang

The Natural World Is a Powerful Teacher
Lopon Elizabeth Monson

on the cover | Illustration by Juan Gatti

from the series Ciencia Naturales (Natural Sciences)
Courtesy of Juan Gatti / Michele Filomeno Agency


APRIL 25 - 27, 2019 . LOUISVILLE, KY

-His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama


The Way of Repentance
Konjin Gaelyn Godwin

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, Nikki Mirghafori, Gyokei Yokoyama


REVIEWS | A Critique of Western Buddhism
by Glenn Wallis
Review by Annabella Pitkin

American Dharma:
Buddhism Beyond Modernity by Ann Gleig
Review by Justin Whitaker




Spring 2019 | Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly (ISSN: 1499-9927, USPS 020-836) is published quarterly for $34/year US, $43CDN
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GODWIN is the abiding is the director of the WILLIAMS is a Zen teacher in the Sanbo
teacher and abbot of University of Wash- teacher and the founder Zen tradition and
Houston Zen Center. ington Early Buddhist of the Center for Trans- one of the founding
In 2003, after eighteen Manuscripts Project formative Change and members of the Rocky
years of training at San and general editor of the Radical Dharma Mountain Ecodharma
Francisco Zen Center, the Gandharan Bud- Movement Project. Retreat Center near
Green Gulch Farm, dhist Texts series pub- In her teaching, she Boulder, Colorado.
and Tassajara Zen lished by University of advocates for a “pres- His books include A
Mountain Center, and Washington Press. Since ence-centered social New Buddhist Path,
six months at Hosshinji 1981 he has taught justice movement” in The World Is Made of
in Japan, she moved to Sanskrit and Buddhist which individual self- Stories, Nonduality,
Texas to help establish Studies in the Depart- awareness also wakes and Lack and Tran-
HZC. Last year, she ment of Asian Lan- up communities. She scendence. His latest,
was appointed director guages and Literature is the author of Being Ecodharma: Buddhist
of the Soto Zen Bud- at University of Wash- Black: Zen and the Art Teachings for the
dhism International ington, where he is now of Living with Fearless- Ecological Crisis was
Center, becoming the professor emeritus. ness and Grace, and published by Wisdom
first woman and the His latest book is The co-author of Radical in January.
first Westerner to hold Buddhist Literature of Dharma: Talking Race,
the position. Ancient Gandhara. Love, and Liberation.



an assistant profes- teacher at the East Bay MONSON is the spiritual the author of the blog
sor of Buddhism and Meditation Center in codirector of Natural American Buddhist
East Asian Religions Oakland and at Insight Dharma Fellowship and Perspectives, where
at Lehigh University Community of the the managing teacher at he explores Buddhism
in Bethlehem, Penn- Desert in Palm Springs, Wonderwell Mountain as it relates to ethics,
sylvania. Her current as well as a member of Refuge, both in Spring- ecology, philosophy,
research focuses on the Teachers Council of field, New Hampshire. and politics; he is also
Tibetan Buddhist Spirit Rock Meditation She has been studying, the North America
modernity, Buddhist Center. He also serves practicing, and teach- correspondent for
ideals of renunciation, as one of the core train- ing Tibetan Buddhism Buddhistdoor Global.
miracle narratives, and ers for the current Spirit for nearly thirty years, A Buddhist scholar, he
Buddhist biographies. Rock Dharma Teach- and holds a PhD in the is currently a visiting
She is completing ers Training Program, Study of Religion from instructor at the Centre
a book manuscript whose participants Harvard University. She of Buddhist Studies of
titled Beggar Modern: come from underrep- is one of the translators Hong Kong Univer-
Modernity, Renuncia- resented communities. of More Than a Mad- sity, where he teaches
tion, and Love in the He is the author of man: The Divine Words courses on Buddhism in
Life of a 20th-Century Awakening Together: of Drukpa Kunley and contemporary society
Tibetan Buddhist Saint. The Spiritual Practice is writing a biography and Buddhist ethics.
of Inclusivity and of Drukpa Kunley.


The Best Buddhist Wisdom
from Lion’s Roar Magazine

A curated collection of Buddhist

teachings, inspiring personal
stories, and in-depth journalism
from the longest-running Buddhist
publication in North America.

Presented in a deluxe format

spotlighting Lion’s Roar’s award-
winning art direction.



The cover illustration by Juan Gatti

comes from his series of collages, Cien-
cia Naturales (Natural Sciences), which
blends nineteenth-century anatomical
drawings with studies of plants and ani-
mals, creating a kind of dialogue between
humans—fully exposed—and the natural
world. Gatti is an Argentina-born illustra-
tor who has worked as an art director for
the record label CBS, collaborated with
fashion icons such as Kenzo Takada and
Karl Lagerfeld, served as creative director
of Vogue Italia, and designed the graphic
art for most of Pedro Almodóvar’s films.
He works out of Madrid, Spain.

In her series The Bound (page 72),

Elizabeth Heyert wrapped people in
bandages, rendering them, in her words,
“physically powerless and emotionally
isolated.” An internationally acclaimed
art and architecture photographer,
she has said this series was the most
emotionally difficult of her career. “The
layers go deep,” she says, “involving
trust, safety, vulnerability, dependence,

creative and emotional need, and the very

nature of intimacy.” Heyert’s studio is
located in Chelsea, New York.

As a child during the Khmer Rouge era,

Sopheap Pich, widely considered today
to be Cambodia’s most internationally
prominent contemporary artist,
frequented a temple that had become
an execution site. The bloodstains and
darkness of that place inspired “Buddha”
(page 108), which can be viewed as a
metaphor for Cambodia itself—either
as an unraveling or as something in the
process of creation. Though his work
isn’t intended to be Buddhist, Pich says,
“Focus and labor—that’s what keeps me
going, so if that falls into the Buddhist-
whatever-philosophy, then it is.”




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The Way of Repentance


SINCE THE KAVANAUGH hearings last fall and the flood of

painful stories that emerged across the country—both of harm
and of people refusing to admit wrongdoing—I find myself
thinking about the power of repentance ceremonies.
In the Soto Zen ceremony, we repent, take refuge, and recite
the sixteen bodhisattva precepts, all reminders that every behav-
ior of body, speech, and mind, can be beneficial—or not. The
ceremony originates with the earliest wandering followers of
the Buddha, who gathered at the new and full moons to take
refuge in the Buddha, dharma, and sangha, confess their lapses,
and deeply question each other on fine points of practice. They
would then disperse, renewed, to continue their efforts. We have
this same opportunity today.
The ceremonial movements of offering, chanting, bowing to
the ground, verbalizing our regret, and vowing to refrain from
repeating harmful action are transformational in both body and
mind. Our transgressions are brought to light in the context of
ceremonial power—offered up for the buddhas, bodhisattvas,
and all beings to witness and transform with compassion and
Confessing in this way for the first time can make one feel
vulnerable, even dangerously exposed. It might seem that by
doing so, the transgressions remain not only intact but also now
public, permanently part of one’s being. It might even feel like
the repentance is what is harmful rather than the behavior itself.
But the ceremonies actually work; their power is easily felt.
Healing, clarity, openness—they all just happen.
Forgiveness might happen as well, but forgiveness is compli-
cated. If I’m asked to forgive a misdeed, that’s an invitation to
let go, something I need to practice with and allow to develop in
its own time. Perhaps forgiveness leads to a deepening in friend-
ship, but perhaps not. The clarity in one’s own mind needs to be
nurtured, the situation discussed with friends and guides.
The same is true if I am the one asking for forgiveness. Repair
of relationships takes time. In making the request, I would use


the same guidelines for speech that the Buddha taught: Is my
speech true? Is it helpful? Is it the right time? It’s my responsibil-
ity to respect that, for the person I harmed, it may never again
be the right time. That’s painful, even to write.
The consequences for misbehavior are not up to me as an
individual. They are not up to any individual. Put another way,
the consequences aren’t up to the “small self,” the self who
thinks there is such a thing as an individual self. The ceremonial
power relaxes the tight sense of that small self; the appropriate
consequences naturally follow.
Clearly, it is difficult to acknowledge having knowingly or
unknowingly harmed others—the news offers proof of this
daily. In the Buddhist world as well, I have been surprised
by the inability of some teachers to acknowledge their own
gross boundary violations and the harm they’ve causes to stu-
dents and sanghas. This shows an absence of clarity of mind.
Clear-minded repentance would allow them to accept the
consequences of their actions. That might mean understanding
and forgiveness, but it might not—severe consequences might
include criminal prosecution, banishment from the sangha, or
other losses.
But the greatest loss would be to remain submerged in delu-
sion about our relationship to others, and this is what the
repentance ceremony has addressed from its earliest days. This
great loss is all around us. Are people really willing to allow
such delusion and deceit to develop? Isn’t jail better than delud-
ing oneself? I meet with many prisoners in a maximum-security
prison in Texas, and there, I’ve seen radiant clarity of mind.
Some of those men, in their own way, are freer than the “free
world” people who are unable to confess and repent their
All of us are capable of focusing only on our good intentions,
of deceiving ourselves about our actions and their consequences.
I am sure my own capacity for self-deception is huge. And as a
human being, I’m bound to make more mistakes—some that I
recognize and, even more humbling, some that I don’t even see.
Luckily, the next full moon is coming up. As it rises, I’ll request
that all the buddhas come forth and listen.


We are encouraged to dedicate

the merit of our practice to all
beings. It’s a beautiful idea, but
what effect, if any, is there?
And can you offer something
you’re not sure you even have?
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo is a distinguished nun in the Kagyu school of
Tibetan Buddhism and the founder of Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery in India

JETSUNMA TENZIN PALMO: In traditional Bud- feel pleased and satisfied by it, wishing to
dhist countries, the concept of punya has share that essential goodness with others.
always played an important role. Usually We can dedicate that merit whether or
translated as “merit” or even as “good- not we understand the mechanics of how
ness,” punya represents the positive it all works. Just do it. So much is hidden
karmic results of good intentions and from our rational mind. Let us retain a
actions. This belief in the power of meri- sense of mystery and not be narrow and
torious actions is perceived as an ethical materialistic. The dharma goes beyond
force that can be directed toward any our conceptual thinking.
chosen object. So people set about “mak- This is not just a “beautiful idea” but
ing merit” and rejoicing in it; the merit is is also practical—the world is in dire
then dedicated to others and thus shared. need of goodness and positive energy.
This serves as an encouragement to per- Thoughts have power. Prayers and aspira-
form acts of goodness such as generosity tions have force.
and kindness. We can also rejoice in and Almost everyone experiences a special
share the goodness we see others perform. atmosphere when visiting sacred places
At the start of formal practice, we take such as Bodhgaya or Assisi, despite the
refuge in the three jewels and then, in the surface chaos or commercialism. Centu-
Mahayana traditions, we recite the bodhi- ries of devotion, thoughts directed to the
sattva vow and remind ourselves that we sacred, have created a palpable spiritual
are undertaking this practice not just for energy there. Likewise, we spontaneously
our own sake but to benefit all beings. feel the profound sorrow and heavi-
In other words, we set our spiritual GPS ness of spirit when visiting Auschwitz or
to the destination of enlightenment-for- Dachau. We swim in an ocean of thought
the-sake-of-all. Then, at the completion forms but, like fish in water, we do not
of that day’s practice, we again remind recognize our own psychic environment.
ourselves of our aim by dedicating what- If only we could see it, we would know
ever goodness has been gained to the that the psychic pollution surrounding
welfare and happiness of all beings—or this planet is far denser than the physical
to the whole planet and beyond. These pollution. There is so much anger, greed,
are trainings in bodhichitta, reminders jealousy, fear, and general negativity in
that our practice has a meaning beyond society, all of which is further cultivated
benefitting just ourselves. and celebrated in the media. In this dark-
Even the effort to do the practice ness, we need some light. Dedicating our

rather than watch TV or play on the positive energy helps to bring balance
computer is a good thing, and we can and joyful appreciation into a seemingly


Nikki Mirghafori is a teacher at Spirit Rock and at Insight
Meditation Center in Redwood City, California, as well as an
Artificial Intelligence scientist

hopeless situation. Drop by drop, the settle one’s mind and heart is a moment
water jar is filled. Therefore, through the of cultivating goodness, which in turn
merit of this practice, may all beings be inclines our heart and mind toward more
happy and free from suffering! goodness, love, and wisdom. And let us
have humility and awe about how each
NIKKI MIRGHAFORI: When I came to Bud- little moment of goodness may perco-
dhist practice, the concept of “dedicating late through the world, in the ways our
merit” felt familiar from my Persian cul- thoughts and actions affect ourselves and
tural upbringing in a liberal Muslim fam- others. So, one effect of the practice of
ily. I grew up with regular kheyraat and dedicating merit is building trust that our
savaab, meritorious acts done so that the practice is synonymous with goodness in
rippling effects of their goodness would and of itself, and the other is seeing the
benefit deceased loved ones. I remember potential for its powerful rippling effect.
as a child participating in giving away It is this goodness, or merit, that we see,
food to strangers, and my grandmother’s recognize, acknowledge, and share.
special prayers, a kind of “merit” dedi- The other dimension is that this dedi-
cated to her deceased brother, my uncle. cation practice—not keeping what’s good
Of course, such practices are not unique just for ourselves and our immediate cir-
to Persian culture. Many cultures around cle of loved ones—is a radical act of gen-
the world have rituals to dedicate positive erosity. Dedicating merit then becomes
actions in the name of the ancestors. synonymous with the practice of metta,
The Buddhist practice of dedicating where we are extending our goodwill
merit is similar in spirit, but with two and generosity of heart in ever-expanding
significant expansions. The primary and concentric circles, starting with ourselves,
most important aspect is to recognize that benefactors, dear friends, and extending
our practice, however shoddy it might to neutral relationships, difficult ones,
feel, is a meritorious act of goodness, not and finally, all beings everywhere. Train-
so different from other acts of generos- ing and expanding our heart in generosity

ity in the world. It is not how calm our and goodwill is another effect of the prac-
mind gets or how many insights arise tice of dedicating merit.
during a practice period, but simply our At some point along the arc of our
intention of having tried, having sat or maturity as practitioners, our practice
walked, having aligned our actions with becomes indistinguishable from our life;
our highest intentions, even for a min- our practice becomes our life, and our life
ute. Even one moment of attempting to becomes our practice. Consider what it


Gyokei Yokoyama is a Soto Zen priest with the
Long Beach Buddhist Church, a nondenominational
community in Long Beach, California

would be like to live your life as an offer-

ing to all beings. What if, at the end of
the day, every day, you dedicate—freely while walking. The consequence of that
offering up for the benefit of all beings action is immediately visible, right in
everywhere—all the merit or goodness front of us; the effect of not littering,
generated from living your one and only even if we don’t consciously notice it in
precious life? the same way, is visible as well. Beyond
the visible, beyond what we see on the
GYOKEI YOKOYAMA: Eko, or “transfer of streets, are the effects on people’s minds,
merit” (Skt., parinamana), is a Buddhist how litter or its absence changes the
practice to benefit others through our atmosphere, which in turn changes us.
thoughts and actions. We offer merit to And beyond that, in the realm of inten-
sentient beings, deities, devas, and even tion, are effects that we will never know
ghosts (the ghosts, who might otherwise through our senses or consciousness.
haunt us, may, through merit, become In my home village, people work in
our guardians). This reflects the Buddhist the rice fields, and as they do, they hear
teaching that buddhanature is true in all the sound of the temple bell in the dis-
beings, beyond any bias, discrimination, tance. They say that when the sound of
or stereotype. the bell reaches their ears, they feel peace-
Traditionally, merit is also offered ful. The sound literally resonates in their
to the dead. While the intention is firm minds, and as it does, they feel they are
in our mind, we offer sweets, tea, and truly working together. Anyone can have
various other items. There is no belief an experience like this.
that these items can be transferred to In the meditation hall, sitting silently or
the next life, in the same way that we chanting a sutra with no one else around,
say, “You can’t take it with you.” But we it’s natural to wonder what effect there
say the merit, which arises from sincere might be, if any. We may doubt that we
intentions, can be transferred. It’s said are inspiring the world, or making any
that chanting a sutra or offering incense change, or offering anything at all. But it’s
wholeheartedly, with a genuine intention, the same as the bell. There’s no difference.
brings about merit and helps the dead Ultimately, in Buddhist practice, there
move further toward enlightenment. is no separation between giver, receiver,

But what effect, if any, does this really and gift. Whatever we do, whatever we
have? We can see how it works by look- offer, we are not practicing for sentient
ing to our own experience. beings. We are practicing with sentient
Occasionally, I see people throw trash beings as sentient beings. It’s infinitely
out of car windows or onto the sidewalk interdependent.


Can Buddhism
Meet the Climate Crisis?
David R. Loy

IT IS NO EXAGGERATION to say that today humanity faces its

greatest challenge ever: in addition to burgeoning social crises, a
self-inflicted ecological catastrophe threatens civilization as we know
it and (according to some scientists) perhaps even our survival as a
species. I hesitate to describe this as an apocalypse because that term
is now associated with Christian millenarianism, but its original
meaning certainly applies: literally an apocalypse is “an uncover-
ing,” the disclosure of something hidden—in this case revealing the
ominous consequences of what we have been doing to the earth and
to ourselves.
Climate issues are receiving the most attention and arguably are
the most urgent, but they are nonetheless only part of a larger eco-
logical crisis that will not be resolved even if we successfully convert
to renewable sources of energy quickly enough to avoid lethal tem-
perature increases and the other climate disruptions that will cause.
The climate crisis is part of a much larger challenge that includes
overfishing, plastic pollution, hypertrophication, topsoil exhaustion,
species extinction, freshwater depletion, hormone-disrupting persis-
tent organic pollutants (POPs), nuclear waste, overpopulation, and


opening photo | Kota Garut, Indonesia (September 2015)
Dikaseva / Unsplash

(add your own “favorite” here…), among numerous other ecologi-

cal and social problems that could be mentioned. Most if not all of
these disorders are connected to a questionable mechanistic world-
view that freely exploits the natural world because it attributes no
inherent value to nature—or to us, for that matter, since humans too
are nothing more than complex machines, according to the predomi-
nant materialistic understanding. This larger view implies that we
have something more than a technological problem, or an economic
problem, or a political problem, or a worldview problem. Modern
civilization is self-destructing because it has lost its way. There is
another way to characterize that: humanity is experiencing a collec-
tive spiritual crisis.
The challenge that confronts us is spiritual because it goes to the
very heart of how we understand the world, including our place and
role in this world. Is the eco-crisis the earth’s way of telling us to
“wake up or suffer the consequences”?
If so, we cannot expect that what we seek can be provided by a
technological solution, or an economic solution, or a political solu-
tion, or a new scientific worldview, either by themselves or in concert
with the others. Whatever the way forward may be, it will need to
incorporate those contributions, to be sure, but something more is
called for.
This is where Buddhism has something important to offer. Yet the
ecological crisis is also a crisis for how we understand and practice
Buddhism, which today needs to clarify its essential message if it is
to fulfill its liberative potential in our modern, secular, endangered

JUST AS CLIMATE change is only part of a much larger ecological

crisis, so ecodharma is a small part of socially engaged Buddhism,
and indifference or resistance to ecodharma is part of a larger

problem with socially engaged Buddhism in the US. In the wake of
the Great Recession of 2008 the two largest engaged Buddhist orga-
nizations, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the Zen Peacemakers,
almost collapsed due to severely reduced financial support, and since
then they have struggled on—often quite effectively, I’m pleased to
add—in much reduced circumstances. Noticeably, however, some
other Buddhist institutions are thriving financially. In the last few
years, for example, Spirit Rock in Northern California successfully
fundraised for a multimillion-dollar expansion program. Noticing
this difference is by no means a criticism of that accomplishment, yet
the contrast in public support is striking. Serious money is available
for some high-profile meditation centers, where individuals can go
on retreat, but apparently not for organizations that seek to promote
the social and ecological implications of Buddhist teachings.
This doesn’t mean that socially engaged Buddhism has failed. In
some ways it may be a victim of its own success, in that some forms
of service—prison work, hospice care, homeless kitchens, and so
on—are now widely acknowledged as a part, sometimes even an
important part, of the Buddhist path. Note that this is usually indi-
viduals helping other individuals. My perception is that over the last
generation Buddhists have become much better at pulling drown-
ing people out of the river, but—and here’s the problem—we aren’t
much better at asking why there are so many more people drowning.
Prison dharma groups help individual inmates who are sometimes
very eager to learn about Buddhism, but do nothing to address the
structural problems with our criminal justice system, including racial
disparities and overcrowding. In 2014 the number of homeless chil-
dren in the US attending school set a new record: about 1.36 mil-
lion, almost double the number in 2006–2007. Why does by far the
wealthiest country in human history have so many homeless school-
children and by far the world’s largest prison population?
Buddhists are better at pulling individual people out of the river
because that is what Buddhism traditionally emphasizes. We are


taught to let go of our preconceptions in order to experience more
immediately what’s happening right here and now; when we encoun-
ter a homeless person who is suffering, for example, we should
respond compassionately. But how do we respond compassionately
to a social system that is creating more homeless people? Analyzing
institutions and evaluating policies involves conceptualizing in ways
that traditional Buddhist practices do not encourage.
A similar disparity applies to the ways that Buddhists have
responded to the climate crisis and other ecological issues. My guess
is that most people reading this have so far been little impacted
personally by global warming, except perhaps for slightly larger air-
conditioning bills. We have not personally observed disappearing
ice in the Arctic or melting permafrost in the tundra, nor have we
become climate refugees because rising sea levels are flooding our
homes. For the most part, the consequences are being felt elsewhere,
by others less fortunate. Traditional Buddhism focuses on individual
dukkha due to one’s individual karma and craving. Collective karma
and institutional causes of dukkha are more difficult to address, both
doctrinally and politically.
I’m reminded of a well-known comment by the Brazilian arch-
bishop Dom Helder Camara: “When I give food to the poor, they
call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call
me a communist.” Is there a Buddhist version? Perhaps this: “When
Buddhists help homeless people and prison inmates, they are called
bodhisattvas. But when Buddhists ask why there are so many more
homeless, so many people of color stuck in prison, other Buddhists
call them leftists or radicals, saying that such social action has noth-
ing to do with Buddhism.”
Perhaps the individual service equivalent that applies to the cli-
mate emergency is personal lifestyle changes, such as buying hybrid
or electric cars, installing solar panels, vegetarianism, eating locally
grown food, and so on. Such “green consumption” is important, of
course, yet individual transformation by itself will never be enough.

When it comes to the ecological crisis, Buddhist teachings do
not tell us what to do. But they tell us a lot about how to do it.

Imagine Buddhism as an iceberg where all types of social engage-

ment, including ecodharma, form the tip at the top. Beneath them,
but still above sea level, is something much bigger and still growing:
the mindfulness movement, which has been incredibly successful
over the last few years. Within the Buddhist world, however, it has
also become increasingly controversial. Here I will not delve into
that debate except to note that although mindfulness practices can
be very beneficial, they can also discourage critical reflection on
the institutional causes of collective suffering, what might be called
social dukkha.
Bhikkhu Bodhi has warned about the appropriation of Buddhist
teachings, and his words apply even more to the commodification of
the mindfulness movement, insofar as that movement has divested
itself of the ethical context that Buddhism traditionally provides:
“absent a sharp social critique, Buddhist practices could easily be
used to justify and stabilize the status quo, becoming a reinforce-
ment of consumer capitalism.” In other words, Buddhist mindful-
ness practices can be employed to normalize our obsession with
ever-increasing production and consumption. In both cases the focus
on personal transformation can turn our attention away from the
importance of social transformation.
The contrast between the extraordinary impact of the mindful-
ness movement and the much smaller influence of socially engaged
Buddhism is striking. Why has the one been so successful, while the
other limps along? That discrepancy may be changing somewhat: an
increasing number of mindfulness teachers are concerned to incor-
porate social justice issues, and the election of Donald Trump has
motivated many Buddhists to become more engaged. Nonetheless,


photo page 28 | Tokyo skyline
Ramon Kagie / Unsplash

the usual focus of Buddhist practice resonates well with the usual
appeal of mindfulness, and both of them accord well with the basic
individualism of US society—“What’s in it for me?” But are there
other factors that encourage this disparity between mindfulness and
social engagement? Is there something else integral to the Buddhist
traditions that can help us understand the apparent indifference of
many Buddhists to the ecological crisis?

The Challenge
A few years ago I was reading a fine book by Loyal Rue, titled
Everybody’s Story: Wising Up to the Epic of Evolution, and came
across a passage that literally stopped me in my tracks, because it
crystallized so well a discomfort with Buddhism (or some types of
Buddhism) that had been bothering me. The passage does not refer
to Buddhism in particular but to the “Axial Age” religions that orig-
inated around the time of the Buddha (the italics are mine):
The influence of Axial traditions will continue to decline as it
becomes ever more apparent that their resources are incommensurate
with the moral challenges of the global problematique. In particular,
to the extent that these traditions have stressed cosmological dualism
and individual salvation we may say they have encouraged an atti-
tude of indifference toward the integrity of natural and social systems.

Although the language is academic, the claim is clear: insofar as

Axial Age traditions (which include Buddhism, Vedanta, Daoism,
and Abrahamic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam)
emphasize “cosmological dualism and individual salvation,” they
encourage indifference to social justice issues and the ecological
What Loyal Rue calls “cosmological dualism” is the belief that, in
addition to this world, there is another one, usually understood to
be better or somehow higher. This is an important aspect of theistic

traditions, although they do not necessarily understand that higher
reality in the same way. While all of the Abrahamic traditions dis-
tinguish God from the world God has created, classical Judaism is
more ambiguous about the possibility of eternal postmortem bliss
with God in paradise. For Christianity and Islam, that possibility is
at the core of their religious messages, as commonly understood. If
we behave ourselves here, we can hope to go to heaven. The issue is
whether that approach makes this world a backdrop to the central
drama of human salvation. Does that goal devalue one’s life in this
troubled world into a means?
Does Buddhism teach cosmological dualism? That depends on
how we understand the relationship between samsara (this world
of suffering, craving, and delusion) and nirvana (or nibbana, the
original Pali term for the Buddhist summum bonum). Despite many
references to nibbana in the Pali Canon, there remains something
unclear about the nature of that goal. Most descriptions are vague
metaphors (the shelter, the refuge, and so on) or expressed negatively
(the end of suffering, craving, delusion). Is nibbana another reality or
a different way of experiencing this world? The Theravada tradition
emphasizes parinibbana, which is the nibbana attained at death by a
fully awakened person who is no longer reborn. Since parinibbana is
carefully distinguished from nihilism—the belief that physical death
is simply the terminal dissolution of body and mind—the implica-
tion seems to be that there must be some postmortem experience,
which suggests some other world or dimension of reality. This is also
supported by the traditional four stages of enlightenment mentioned
in the Pali canon: the stream-winner, the once-returner (who will be
reborn at most one more time), the nonreturner (who is not yet fully


photo | Wildfires in Estreito da Calheta, Portugal (August 2016)
Michael Held / Unsplash

enlightened but will not be reborn physically after death), and the
arhat (who has attained nibbana). If the nonreturner continues to
practice after death, where does he or she reside while doing so?
If nibbana is a place or a state that transcends this world, it is a
version of cosmological dualism. Such a worldview does not neces-
sarily reject social engagement, but it subordinates such engagement
into a support for its transcendent goal, as Bhikkhu Bodhi explains:
Despite certain differences, it seems that all forms of classical Bud-
dhism locate the final goal of compassionate action in a transcendent
dimension that lies beyond the flux and turmoil of the phenomenal
world. For the Mahayana, the transcendent is not absolutely other
than phenomenal reality but exists as its inner core. However, just
about all classical formulations of the Mahayana, like the Theravada,
begin with a devaluation of phenomenal reality in favor of a tran-
scendent state in which spiritual endeavor culminates.
It is for this reason that classical Buddhism confers an essentially
instrumental value on socially beneficent activity. Such activity can be
a contributing cause for the attainment of nibbana or the realization
of buddhahood; it can be valued because it helps create better condi-
tions for the moral and meditative life, or because it helps to lead oth-
ers to the dharma; but ultimate value, the overriding good, is located
in the sphere of transcendent realization. Since socially engaged
action pertains to a relatively elementary stage of the path, to the
practice of giving or the accumulation of merits, it plays a second-
ary role in the spiritual life. The primary place belongs to the inner
discipline of meditation through which the ultimate good is achieved.
And this discipline, to be effective, normally requires a high degree of
social disengagement.

—“Socially Engaged Buddhism and the Trajectory of Buddhist Ethical

Consciousness,” Religion East & West, issue 9


Traditional Buddhism focuses on individual dukkha due to
one’s individual karma and craving. Collective karma and
institutional causes of dukkha are more difficult to address,
both doctrinally and politically.

Bhikkhu Bodhi distinguishes between the Theravada understand-

ing of transcendence, which sharply distinguishes it from our phe-
nomenal world, and the Mahayana perspective, which understands
transcendence to be the “inner core” of phenomenal reality. Never-
theless, in his view both traditions begin by devaluing phenomenal
reality. The question is whether “transcending this world” can be
understood more metaphorically, as a different way of experienc-
ing (and understanding) this world. Nagarjuna, the most important
figure in the Mahayana tradition, famously asserted that there is not
even the slightest distinction between samsara and nirvana: the kotih
(limit or bounds) of nirvana is not different from the kotih of sam-
sara. That claim is difficult to reconcile with any goal that prioritizes
escape from the physical cycle of repeated birth and death, or tran-
scending phenomenal reality.
In place of a final escape from this world, with no physical rebirth
into it, Mahayana traditions such as Chan/Zen emphasize realizing
here and now that everything, including us, is shunya (Jpn., ku),
usually translated as “empty.” Shunyata “emptiness” is thus the
transcendent “inner core” of phenomenal reality that Bhikkhu Bodhi
refers to. That all things are “empty” means, minimally, that they
are not substantial or self-existing, being impermanent phenomena
that arise and pass away according to conditions. The implications
of this insight for how we engage with the world can be understood
in different ways. It is sometimes taken in a nihilistic sense: nothing
is real, therefore nothing is important. Seeing everything as illusory
discourages social or ecological engagement. Why bother?

Our task is to do the very best we can, not knowing what
the consequences will be—in fact, not knowing if our efforts
will make any difference whatsoever. Of course we hope our
efforts will bear fruit, but ultimately they are our openhearted
gift to the earth.

The important point here is that “clinging to emptiness” can

function in the same way as cosmological dualism, both of them
devaluing this world and its problems. According to Joanna Macy,
this misunderstanding is one of several “spiritual traps that cut the
nerve of compassionate action.” According to Macy, to see this
world as illusion is to dwell in an emptiness that is disengaged from
its forms, in which the end of suffering involves nonattachment to
the fate of beings rather than nonattachment to one’s own ego. But
the Buddha did not teach—nor does his life demonstrate—that non-
attachment means unconcern about what is happening in the world,
to the world. When the Heart Sutra famously asserts that “form is
not different from emptiness,” it immediately adds that “emptiness
is not other than form.” And forms—including the living beings and
ecosystems of this world—suffer.
Many educated Buddhists today aren’t sure what to believe about
a transcendent “otherworldly” reality, or karma as a law of ethi-
cal cause and effect, or physical rebirth after we die. Some wonder
whether awakening too is an outdated myth, similar perhaps to
the physical resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion. So it is not
surprising that a more secular, this-worldly alternative has become
popular, especially in the West: understanding the Buddhist path
more psychologically, as a new type of therapy that provides differ-
ent perspectives on the nature of mental distress and new practices


photo page 36 | Sludge River
Ivan Bandura / Unsplash

to promote psychological well-being. These include not only reduc-

ing greed, ill will, and delusion here and now, but also sorting out
our emotional lives and working through personal traumas.
As in psychotherapy, the emphasis of this psychologized Bud-
dhism is on helping us adapt better to the circumstances of our lives.
The basic approach is that my main problem is the way my mind
works and the solution is to change the way my mind works, so that
I can play my various roles (at work, with family, with friends, and
so on) better—in short, so that I fit into this world better. A common
corollary is that the problems we see in the world are projections of
our own dissatisfaction with ourselves. According to this spiritual
trap, “the world is already perfect when we view it spiritually,” as
Joanna Macy puts it.
Notice the pattern. Much of traditional Asian Buddhism, espe-
cially Theravada Buddhism and the Pali canon, emphasizes ending
physical rebirth into this unsatisfactory world. The goal is to escape
samsara, this realm of suffering, craving, and delusion that cannot
be reformed. In contrast, much of modern Buddhism, especially
Buddhist psychotherapy (and most of the mindfulness movement),
emphasizes harmonizing with this world by transforming one’s mind,
because one’s mind is the problem, not the world. Otherworldly
Buddhism and this-worldly Buddhism seem like polar opposites, yet
in one important way they agree: neither is concerned about address-
ing the problems of this world, to help transform it into a better
place. Whether they reject it or embrace it, both take its shortcom-
ings for granted and in that sense accept it for what it is.
Neither approach encourages ecodharma or other types of social
engagement. Instead, both encourage a different way of responding
to them, which I sometimes facetiously call the Buddhist “solution”
to the eco-crisis. By now we’re all familiar with the pattern: we read

yet another newspaper or online blog reporting on the latest scien-
tific studies, with disheartening ecological implications. Not only
are things getting worse, it’s happening more quickly than anyone
expected. How do we react? The news tends to make us depressed or
anxious—but hey, we’re Buddhist practitioners, so we know how to
deal with that. We meditate for a while, and our unease about what
is happening to the earth goes way… for a while, anyway.
This is not to dismiss the value of meditation, or the relevance of
equanimity, or the importance of realizing shunyata. Nevertheless,
those by themselves are insufficient as responses to our situation.
When it comes to the ecological crisis, Buddhist teachings do not
tell us what to do, but they tell us a lot about how to do it. Of course,
we would like more specific advice, but that’s unrealistic, given the
very different historical and cultural conditions within which Bud-
dhism developed. The collective dukkha caused by an eco-crisis was
never addressed because that particular issue never came up.
That does not mean “anything goes” from a Buddhist perspective.
Our ends, no matter how noble, do not justify any means, because
Buddhism challenges the distinction between them. Its main contri-
butions to our social and ecological engagement are the guidelines
for skillful action that the Theravada and Mahayana traditions
offer. Although those guidelines have usually been understood in
individual terms, the wisdom they embody is readily applicable to
the more collective types of engaged practice and social transforma-
tion needed today. The five precepts of Theravada Buddhism (and
Thich Nhat Hanh’s engaged version of them) and the four “spiritual
abodes” (brahmaviharas) are most relevant. The Mahayana tradi-
tion highlights the bodhisattva path, including the six “perfections”
(generosity, discipline, patience, diligence, meditation, and wisdom).
Taken together, these guidelines orient us as we undertake the eco-
sattva path.


Social engagement remains a challenge for many Buddhists, for
the traditional teachings have focused on one’s own peace of mind.
On the other side, those committed to social action often experience
fatigue, anger, depression, and burnout. The engaged bodhisattva/
ecosattva path provides what each side needs, because it involves a
double practice, inner (meditation, for example) and outer (activism).
Combining the two enables intense engagement with less frustration.
Such activism also helps meditators avoid the trap of becoming cap-
tivated by their own mental condition and progress toward enlight-
enment. Insofar as a sense of separate self is the basic problem,
compassionate commitment to the well-being of others, including
other species, is an important part of the solution. Engagement with
the world’s problems is therefore not a distraction from our personal
spiritual practice but can become an essential part of it.
The insight and equanimity cultivated by eco-bodhisattvas sup-
port what is most distinctive about Buddhist activism: acting without
attachment to the results of action, something that is easily misun-
derstood to imply a casual attitude. Instead, our task is to do the
very best we can, not knowing what the consequences will be—in
fact, not knowing if our efforts will make any difference whatsoever.
We don’t know if what we do is important, but we do know that it’s
important for us to do it. Have we already passed ecological tipping
points and civilization as we know it is doomed? We don’t know,
and that’s okay. Of course we hope our efforts will bear fruit, but
ultimately they are our openhearted gift to the earth.
It seems to me that, if contemporary Buddhists cannot or do not
want to do this, then Buddhism is not what the world needs right

Adapted from Ecodharma: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis,

published by Wisdom (January 2019)

Seated Buddha, first to mid-second century CE
Gandhara (modern-day Pakistan)

Lessons of the
Gandharan Manuscripts
Richard Salomon

MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS have passed since twenty-eight

fragile birch bark scrolls, now known to be the oldest surviving
Buddhist manuscripts in the world, came to light. Dating back to as
T H E ME T ROP O LI TA N MU SE U M OF A RT, N E W YOR K, G IF T O F M UN E I C H I N I T TA , 2 003 , ACC N O : 2003.593.1

early as the first century BCE, the scrolls—originating in the ancient

kingdom of Gandhara, which once straddled the border between
present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan—predate the earliest Pali
manuscripts by several centuries. Since that initial discovery, hun-
dreds of similar manuscripts and fragments have been recovered,
all from the same region.
Buddhist academics in several countries in North America,
Europe, and Asia have engaged in arduous study of the Gandharan
manuscripts, the contents of which have been the subject of eight
books and innumerable articles. But what does the discovery of these
relics mean for Buddhist practitioners? Are they merely a matter of
academic interest, or do they have the potential to shift our under-
standing of the original message of the Buddha in some fundamental
way? Will they compel us to abandon or modify long-cherished Bud-
dhist ideas and practices or present us with previously unimagined
revelations about the Buddha’s message? The short answer to such
questions is no—but also yes.


Once, during a question-and-answer session following a lecture I
had given on the scrolls at the British Library in London, a member
of the audience asked whether I had found in them “a fifth noble
truth.” That is, was there anything that radically contradicted or
fundamentally changed Buddhism as we know it? I answered in the
negative; the doctrines presented in the manuscripts I had studied
to that point were more or less in line with those of traditional Bud-
dhism, specifically as understood within the Theravada sect.
Imagine my surprise, then, when some years later I found in
one of the British Library manuscripts the following mind-blowing
statement: “A fifth noble truth exists.” Even more shocking were
the assertions in the surrounding passage: “The self exists; a sixth
aggregate (skandha) exists; a thirteenth sense-sphere (ayatana) exists;
a nineteenth element (dhatu) exists; a fifth noble truth exists.” Was
this some sort of bizarro version of Buddhism that denied the fun-
damental precepts of the dharma as we know it? When taken in
the context of the surrounding text, though, it becomes clear this
is not the case. The scroll containing these shocking claims was a
polemic Abhidhamma treatise framed as a formal debate between
the unnamed writer and an opponent representing the Sarvastiva-
din school. The long-defunct sect held that, with reference to the
workings of karma, “everything exists at all times,” a premise the
writer attempted to discredit, showing how this fundamental prin-
ciple implied the existence of things any Buddhist should agree do
not really exist. The “fifth noble truth,” then, was nothing but a
rhetorical trick, not the message of some hitherto unknown radical


These texts are leading scholars to rethink the long-debated
origins of Mahayana Buddhism, revealing Gandhara to have
been a—though not necessarily the—center of early Mahayana.


The doctrines espoused by the Gandharan manuscripts are, on the
whole, consistent with non-Mahayana Buddhism, which survives
today in the Theravada school of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia,
but which in ancient times was represented by eighteen separate
schools. We find among the Gandharan translations versions of
material familiar from the fundamental sutra compilations—known
in Sanskrit as the agama sutras and in Pali as the nikaya collec-
tions—common to all Buddhist schools. Notable examples include
the “Sutra on The Fruits of Striving” (Pali Samannaphala Sutta) and
the “Sutra of Chanting Together” (Sangiti Sutta, found in the Pali
Digha Nikaya), and the “Sutra of the Floating Log” (Darukkhandha
Sutta, from the Samyutta Nikaya). Other well-known texts include
the “Rhinoceros Horn Sutra” and the “Songs of Lake Anavatapta,”
extant in several Sanskrit, Chinese, and Tibetan versions. The fol-
lowing is a translation from the Gandhari version of the “Not Yours
Sutra,” which is also paralleled in the Samyutta Nikaya:
The Buddha said: “Monks, abandon what is not yours. Abandon-
ing it will lead to benefit and happiness. Now, what is it that is not
yours? Form is not yours; abandon it. Abandoning it will lead to
benefit and happiness. Sensation, perception, volitional formations,
and consciousness are not yours; abandon them. Abandoning them
will lead to benefit and happiness. ³

IN 1994, the British Library acquired
twenty-eight brittle fragments of
birch bark scrolls from an anony-
mous donor. The mystery scrolls
were soon identified as the oldest
known Buddhist manuscripts in the
world, dating from the golden age

The Discovery of of Gandharan Buddhism in the first

century of the Common Era.

the Oldest Buddhist


(Above) The clay pot that contained the Most of the manuscripts were
Karoshti scrolls and fragments acquired by written in black ink on birch bark
the British Library
scrolls, which was the favored writ-
(Right) Gandharan manuscripts before
unrolling and conservation ing material in the northwest of the
Indian subcontinent. Birch bark,
when fresh, makes an ideal writing
surface: brilliantly white, smooth,
durable, and highly flexible. When it
© B RI TI S H L I B RA RY B OA RD : OR. 149 1 5

is two thousand years old, though,

it becomes extremely fragile. As a
result, nearly all of the manuscripts
are fragmentary, and in some cases,
they have decomposed almost en-
tirely into hundreds of tiny pieces.


A Gandharan birchbark
manuscript unrolled

Nearly all of the texts con- that the modern area correspond-
cerned are written in the Gandhari ing to ancient Gandhara is to this
language, which was originally day torn by warfare, violence, and
the local vernacular dialect of sectarian hatred. Yet Gandhara
the region, but which—as has is remembered in the Buddhist
now become clear—came to be traditions of East Asia as a sort of
a canonical language of Bud- paradise on earth. This memory
dhism in the early centuries of the harkens back to a time when the
Common Era. Gandhari is closely region was the center of a series
related to Sanskrit and Pali, and of powerful cosmopolitan empires
these relationships to better-known that united India, eastern Iran, and
languages have been of great help Central Asia.
in working out the many peculiari- Most significant among these
ties and problems of Gandhari. The was the Kushana Empire, reigning
Kharosthi script that is invariably from the first to fourth centuries
associated with the Gandhari lan- CE. The Central Asian nomads who
guage is derived from the Aramaic founded these empires enthusiasti-
script and, like Aramaic, is written cally adopted Buddhism, and the
from right to left. trade and cultural contacts their
Ancient Gandhara held a distinct vast empire facilitated promoted
cultural identity within the Indian the spread of Buddhism from its
© B RI TI S H L I B RA RY B OA RD : OR. 149 1 5

world. It had long been a melting Indian homeland into Central and
pot where invaders and immigrants East Asia. Thus, even though Gand-
from the west and north entered haran Buddhism went into gradual
India. But like any area rich in cul- decline, eventually dying out en-
tural diversity, it was also home to tirely, it played a critical role in the
chronic conflict. It’s no coincidence history and spread of Buddhism.

³ “Here is an example: suppose someone were to
cut down the grass, wood, branches, leaves, and
foliage here in the Jeta forest, or were to take it
away or burn it, or do whatever he wished with
it. What do you think? Would you think, ‘That
person is cutting us, or taking us away, or burning
us, or doing whatever he wished with us’?”
The monks answered, “Of course not, Vener-
able Sir.”
“And why is that?”
“Because this forest, Venerable Sir, is not our-
selves; nor does it belong to us.”
“In just the same way, abandon what is not
yours. Abandoning it will lead to benefit and
happiness. In just the same way, form is not yours;
abandon it. Abandoning it will lead to benefit and
happiness. Sensation, perception, volitional forma-
tions, and consciousness are not yours; abandon
them. Abandoning them will lead to benefit and
Thus spoke the Lord.

Besides these new versions of texts familiar

from Buddhist canons in other languages, though,
there are others—a great many of them—either
never seen before, as in the case of the Abhid-
hamma debate mentioned above, or that appear
in surprisingly different forms. Among the most
interesting of these is a series of edifying legends (Above) The most important
archaeological sites in Gandhara
presented in the form of laconic summaries casu-
ally jotted into the empty spaces of previously used
scrolls. One of the most noteworthy is a brief and
divergent version of the universally familiar story
of Prince Vessantara (here called by his nickname,
Sudashna), the paragon of generosity:
The story of the Bodhisattva’s previous life as
Sudashna, to be told as an example: Since he was
an all-giving king, he gave his mighty elephant to
a brahman. The king also surrendered his chariot
and gave away his children. Then Sakra, king of
the gods, came from the sky and spoke this verse
to him: “Truly this man is black, and black is the
food that he eats.” The whole story is to be told
at length.



This story is emblematic of the way the Gandharan texts are

simultaneously like and unlike their parallel versions in the more
familiar Buddhist canon. Strikingly, the full telling of the Vessan-
tara story in the Pali jataka runs 115 pages, whereas the Gandhari
version is boiled down to a four-line summary. This is an extreme
example of the principle of expansion-and-contraction (samkshepa/
vistara) within Buddhist literature, according to which a narrator
may, depending on the audience or other circumstances, string out
his message to great length, abridge it, or even, as here, present it in
the barest outline form. Here we see from the concluding notation,
“The whole story is to be told at length,” that the scribe was jotting
down the bare skeleton of his repertoire of tales by way of a memory
prompt, presumably as preparation for a lesson or sermon.
But there is another surprising twist in this story. The verse
Sakra speaks to Sudashna/Vessantara seems to be the wrong
one—this verse appears in the Pali jataka stories not in the Jataka

Head of Buddha, third to fifth century
Gandhara (modern-day Afghanistan or Pakistan)

of Vessantara, but in that of Kanha. This is startling, and even

somewhat unsettling, given how well known the Vessantara story is
throughout the Buddhist world, all the more so because the verses
are considered the essential core of the jataka stories, with the
prose narrative deemed to be mere commentary. It would be tempt-
ing—but probably incorrect—to dismiss this anomaly as a memory
error on the part of the scribe; it is unlikely the scribe would have
misremembered an important passage from such a fundamental
text. Rather, it seems we are dealing with an unexpected variant of
the Vessantara story that circulated in Gandhara but did not survive
into the canonical Buddhist literatures of later times. This situation
is emblematic of the overall character of the rediscovered Buddhist
literature of Gandhara: the broad textual framework and the main
doctrinal principles are familiar, but the details are often different,
sometimes subtly and sometimes, as here, dramatically so.
Other casual sketches scrawled into the spaces of earlier manu-
scripts involve not legends from the time of Buddha or from his
previous lives but stories about notable figures who lived at the time
of the scrolls’ creation. Among these are rulers of the kingdoms of

the early centuries of the Common Era, previously known to us

from their coins and inscriptions. These legends illuminate the his-
torical context of the manuscripts themselves as well as the adoption
of Buddhism by these foreign conquerors. A collection of fragments
very recently discovered turned out to be a ledger of gifts to a mon-
astery—a record of donations by the Kushana king Vima Kadphises,
who ruled in the early second century CE. This is a spectacular
discovery, revealing rare details of the relationship between secular
powers and Buddhist institutions.
There have been many other surprises, as well. Sprinkled among
the many dozens of texts are ten examples of Mahayana sutras—
including ones well known in Sanskrit, Tibetan, or Chinese, such
as the “Perfection of Wisdom Sutra” and the “Bodhisattva Basket

Sutra”—as well as others previously unknown in any language.
These texts are leading scholars to rethink the long-debated origins
of Mahayana Buddhism, revealing Gandhara to have been a—
though not necessarily the—center of early Mahayana. The texts
have also called into question the widespread assumption that the
Mahayana sutras were originally composed or set down in Sanskrit,
rather than a regional dialect such as Gandhari. Even more signifi-
cant are the circumstances of the discovery of these ten Mahayana
sutras; in every case, they constituted part of larger groups of
manuscripts, the majority of which were non-Mahayana texts. Thus,
we’re left with the impression that Mahayana Buddhism in the early
centuries of the Common Era was not institutionally, and perhaps
not even doctrinally, distinct from what later came to be called the
“Hinayana” or “Lesser Vehicle.” All indications are that the more
traditional or conservative practices coexisted with Mahayana ideas,
even within the same monastic communities.


The discovery of previously unknown texts also offers a hint of
how much of the Buddhist literature that once existed has not come
down to us. The fact that extensive remnants have come to light in
Gandhara is no coincidence but rather a result of particular climatic
and cultural factors. Gandhara lies beyond the central monsoon
zone, whose extremes of heat and humidity prevent the longterm
survival of organic materials such as birch bark or palm leaf. Addi-
tionally, the Buddhists of ancient Gandhara had a practice of ritually
interring their manuscripts in clay pots or other containers in the
precincts of their monasteries, further promoting their preservation.
It was likely due to these incidental factors that the oldest known
Buddhist manuscripts were found in Gandhara, and not because
such manuscripts were unique to the region. Similar texts must have
existed elsewhere—perhaps everywhere—in the Buddhist cultures
of the Indian heartland, but there is virtually no chance such manu-
scripts would have survived the deleterious effects of the monsoon


The remains of Takht Bhai, a Gandharan monastery dating back to the
first century CE, now a UNESCO World Heritage site in Pakistan

photo | Daud Khattak RICHARD SALOMON 53

The Gift of Anathapindada, second to third century
Gandhara (modern-day Pakistan)

The discovery of some random fragments of the literature of

Gandharan Buddhism from the beginning of the Common Era is
significant in part because it enables us to triangulate with the Pali
and (partial) Sanskrit canons and begin to see all three as merely
the surviving fragments of a vast tapestry of local Buddhisms and
Buddhist literatures. Even from the tattered remnants of this grand
tapestry, we can discern common threads in the form of shared basic
texts, particularly among the sutras recognized, at least in theory,

as authoritative by all schools, which still form a common core of

beliefs and principles.
But we also find differences—sometimes minor and technical,
sometimes significant and surprising—among the texts of other
genres, many of which seem to be locally composed materials: com-
mentaries, scholastic treatises and debates, local stories, hymns of
praise to the Buddha, and more, which together comprise as much
as half of the Gandharan manuscript material. In short, we find a
shared conceptual foundation on which the various regional and
sectarian traditions have built their own superstructures. Some of
the differences are merely formal, for example in their differing for-
mulation and arrangement of the materials, while others are more
substantial, as in the Gandharan reconception of the Vessantara


One of the clear messages these texts seem to have for contemporary
practitioners is that it’s not helpful to think of Buddhism in terms of
a contrast between a single original source and the implicitly inferior
derivatives of that primal source. Rather, the complexity and vari-
ability of Buddhist teachings appear to have been built in from the

One of the clear messages for contemporary practitioners is
that it’s not helpful to think of Buddhism in terms of a contrast
between a single original source and the implicitly inferior
derivatives of that primal source.

very beginning; after all, one of the Buddha’s special qualities was
said to be his intuitive ability to adapt his teachings to the capabili-
ties and needs of the person or persons to whom he was speaking.
On a linguistic level, the Buddha in the vinaya urged his followers
to spread his message “in one’s own dialect.” India, from antiquity
to this day, has always been a land of vast linguistic diversity. We
should not assume, then, that the Buddha himself, or his contempo-
rary followers, restricted themselves to a single language or dialect.
The linguistic and textual diversity that characterizes Buddhism
existed from the very beginning. Thus, any search for the exact, true,
original words of the Buddha is not only doomed to disappoint but
misconceived from the start. It would make more sense to think in
terms of multiple Buddhisms existing virtually from the very begin-
ning, perhaps even during the lifetime of the Buddha.
This is not, of course, how the various sectarian, regional, and
linguistic traditions present themselves. Inevitably, they portray
themselves as the sole (or at least the most authentic) keepers of the
dharma. After all, in Buddhism, as in other realms, history is written
by the victors, or at least by the survivors. The Buddhisms that have
existed over the centuries loom large simply because they survived
and flourished. They seem to embody the history of Buddhism, but
from a wider perspective, they are each only one part out of many.
The Pali canon of the Theravada school looms especially large.
In the popular conception, it is considered the true and original
Buddhist canon, due to a confluence of favorable circumstances.
The Theravada Pali canon is the only complete surviving Buddhist
canon in an Indian language; it is the canon of one of the most vital
surviving schools of Buddhism over a wide geographical area; and
it was the canon and form of Buddhism that first became known
to European scholars. But in the time since awareness of Buddhism


spread around the world in the nineteenth century, the discovery of
other schools and canons has drastically shifted this point of view.
For example, it has been clear since the early twentieth century that
there existed in northern India and Central Asia complete Buddhist
canons in Sanskrit, representing the texts of the Sarvastivada and
of the eighteen traditional schools. The discovery in the last two
decades of extensive remnants of one or more canons in the Gand-
hari language has broadened the picture even further, requiring us
to speak of multiple Buddhisms and multiple canons throughout the
Indian Buddhist world.
Extrapolating from what we now have—a slightly larger fraction
of the whole—we can begin to conceive of the vast variety and rich-
ness of the many Buddhisms, the immense intellectual and spiritual
production that must have coexisted in early India. This—along with
the vast treasures of technical and historical data they provide—is
the greatest gift the Gandharan manuscripts grant us.


Returning to the question of what, if anything, these discoveries

mean for modern Buddhist practitioners, there are no answers that
will appease everyone. Each individual practitioner must determine
how to proceed for him or herself. On one hand, one can safely
ignore the new material without missing anything essential to the
theory or practice of Buddhism. On the other hand, Buddhists
may wish to dip a toe—or even plunge headfirst—into these previ-
ously uncharted waters. Modern Buddhists may be inclined to see
the diversity that characterized Buddhism throughout its history as
an emblem of strength rather than cause for doubt or confusion, a
source of richness rather than conflict. The insights that the Gand-
haran manuscripts provide into the wealth and variety of thought
and belief during a formative stage of Buddhist history, and the per-
spective they provide on the overall question of what Buddhism is,
offer personal enrichment for those who seek it out.

opposite | HeatUp, 2013


Don’t Let Hatred

Destroy Your Practice
the Dalai Lama

The first verse of Shantideva’s “Patience” chapter, in his Guide to the

Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, reads:

Whatever wholesome deeds,

Such as venerating the buddhas and [practicing] generosity,
That have been amassed over a thousand aeons,
Will all be destroyed in one moment of anger.

The implication of this first verse is that in order for the individual
practitioner to be able to successfully cultivate patience and toler-
ance, what is required is a very strong enthusiasm, a strong desire,
because the stronger one’s enthusiasm the greater the ability to with-
stand the hardships encountered in the process. Not only that, but
one also will be prepared to voluntarily accept hardships that are a
necessary part of the path.
The first stage, then, is to generate this strong enthusiasm, and
for that what is required is to reflect upon the destructive nature
of anger and hatred, as well as the positive effects of patience and
In this text, one reads that the generation of anger or hatred, even
for a single instant, has the capacity to destroy virtues collected
over a thousand aeons. Another text, Entry into the Middle Way


If we examine how anger or hateful thoughts arise in us, we
will find that, generally speaking, they arise when we feel hurt.

by Chandrakirti, states that a single instant of anger or hatred will

destroy virtues accumulated over a hundred aeons. The difference
between these two texts is explained from the point of view of the
object of one’s anger or hatred. If the object of one’s anger or hatred
is a bodhisattva on a high level of the path, and the person who is
being hateful or angry is not a bodhisattva, then the amount of vir-
tue that will be destroyed is greater. On the other hand, if a bodhi-
sattva generates anger toward another bodhisattva, maybe the virtue
destroyed would be less.
However, when we say that virtues accumulated over aeons are
destroyed by a single instant of anger, we have to identify what sort
of virtues are destroyed. Both this text and Entry into the Middle
Way agree that it is only the meritorious virtues—not so much the
wisdom aspect but rather the method aspect of the path—that are
destroyed. In particular, these include virtues accumulated through
practicing giving or generosity as well as virtues accumulated on the
basis of observing an ethically disciplined way of life. On the other
hand, virtues accumulated through the practice of wisdom, such
as generating insight into the ultimate nature of reality, and virtues
accumulated through meditative practices, wisdom acquired through
meditation, remain beyond the scope of destruction by anger and
The second verse reads:

There is no evil like hatred,

And no fortitude like patience.
Thus I should strive in various ways
To meditate on patience.


Generally speaking, there are many afflictive emotions such as con-
ceit, arrogance, jealousy, desire, lust, closed-mindedness, and so on,
but of all these, hatred or anger is singled out as the greatest evil.
This is done for two reasons.
One is that hatred or anger is the greatest stumbling block for a
practitioner who is aspiring to enhance his or her bodhicitta—altru-
istic aspiration and a good heart. Anger or hatred is the greatest
obstacle to that.
Second, when hatred and anger are generated they have the
capacity to destroy one’s virtue and calmness of mind. It is due to
these reasons that hatred is considered to be the greatest evil.
According to Buddhist psychology, hatred is one of the six root
afflictive emotions. The Tibetan word for it is zhe dang, which can
be translated as either “anger” or “hatred” in English. However, I
feel that it should be translated as “hatred,” because “anger,” as it is
understood in English, can be positive in very special circumstances.
These occur when anger is motivated by compassion or when it acts
as an impetus or a catalyst for a positive action. In such rare circum-
stances, anger can be positive, whereas hatred can never be positive.
It is totally negative.
Since hatred is totally negative, it should never be used to trans-
late the Tibetan word zhe dang when it appears in the context of
tantra. Sometimes we hear the expression “taking hatred into the
path.” This is a mistranslation. In this context, hatred is not the
right word; one should use “anger”: “taking anger into the path.”
So the Tibetan word can be translated as either “anger” or “hatred,”
but “anger” can be positive; therefore, when zhe dang refers to the
afflictive emotion it must be translated as “hatred.”
The last two lines of the second verse read:

Thus I should strive in various ways

To meditate on patience.


opposite | Rorschach’s Upheaval, 2014

Since the goal is the enhancement of one’s capacity for tolerance and
the practice of patience, what is required is to be able to counteract
the forces of anger and hatred, particularly hatred. One should use
all sorts of techniques to increase one’s familiarity with patience.
These include not only real-life situations, but also using one’s imagi-
nation to visualize a situation and then see how one will react and
respond to it. Again and again one should try to combat hatred and
develop one’s capacity for tolerance and patience.

My mind will not experience peace

If it fosters painful thoughts of hatred.
I shall find no joy or happiness;
Unable to sleep, I shall feel unsettled.

This verse outlines the destructive effects of hatred, which are very
visible, very obvious and immediate. For example, when a strong or
forceful thought of hatred arises, at that very instant it overwhelms
one totally and destroys one’s peace and presence of mind. When
that hateful thought is harbored inside, it makes one feel tense and
uptight, and can cause loss of appetite, leading to loss of sleep, and
so forth.
Generally speaking, I believe that the purpose of our existence is
to seek happiness and fulfillment. Even from the Buddhist point of
view, when we speak of the four factors of happiness, or four fac-
tors of fulfillment, the first two are related to the attainment of joy
and happiness in worldly terms, leaving aside ultimate religious or
spiritual aspirations such as liberation and enlightenment. The first
two factors deal with joy and happiness as we understand them con-
ventionally, in worldly terms. In order to more fully experience that
level of joy and happiness, the key is one’s state of mind. However,
there are various factors that contribute to attaining that level of joy
and happiness, ones we conventionally also recognize as sources of
happiness, such as good physical health, which is considered one of
the factors necessary for a happy life. Another factor is the wealth
that we accumulate. Conventionally, we regard this as a source of
joy and happiness. The third factor is to have friends or companions.
We conventionally recognize that in order to enjoy a happy and ful-
filled life, we also need a circle of friends we trust and with whom
we can relate emotionally.


Now all of these are, in reality, sources of happiness, but in order
for one to be able to fully utilize them with the goal of enjoying a
happy and fulfilled life, one’s state of mind is crucial. If one harbors
hateful thoughts within, or strong or intense anger somewhere deep
down, then it ruins one’s health, so it destroys one of the factors.
Even if one has wonderful possessions, when one is in an intense
moment of anger or hatred, one feels like throwing them—breaking
them or throwing them away. So there is no guarantee that wealth
alone can give one the joy or fulfillment that one seeks. Similarly,
when one is in an intense state of anger or hatred, even a very
close friend appears somehow “frosty,” cold and distant, or quite
What this indicates is that our state of mind is crucial in deter-
mining whether or not we gain joy and happiness. So leaving aside
the perspective of dharma practice, even in worldly terms of our
enjoying a happy day-to-day existence, the greater the level of calm-
ness of our mind, the greater our peace of mind, and the greater our
ability to enjoy a happy and joyful life.
However, when we speak of a calm state of mind or peace of
mind, we should not confuse that with a completely insensitive, apa-
thetic state in which there is no feeling, like being “spaced out” or
completely empty. That is not what we mean by having a calm state
of mind or peace of mind.
Genuine peace of mind is rooted in affection and compassion.
There is a very high level of sensitivity and feeling involved. So
long as we lack inner discipline, an inner calmness of mind, then
no matter what external facilities or conditions we may have, they
will never give us the feeling of joy and happiness that we seek. On
the other hand, if we possess this inner quality—that is, calmness


of mind, a degree of stability within—then even if we lack various
external facilities that are normally considered necessary for a happy
and joyful life, it is still possible to live a happy and joyful life.
If we examine how anger or hateful thoughts arise in us, we will
find that, generally speaking, they arise when we feel hurt, when
we feel that we have been unfairly treated by someone against our
expectations. If in that instant we examine carefully the way anger
arises, there is a sense that it comes as a protector, comes as a friend
that would help our battle or in taking revenge against the person
who has inflicted harm on us. So the anger or hateful thought that
arises appears to come as a shield or a protector. But in reality that is
an illusion. It is a very delusory state of mind.
Chandrakirti states in Entry into the Middle Way that there might
be some justification for responding to force with force if revenge
would help one in any way, or prevent or reduce the harm that has
already been inflicted. But that is not the case, because if the harm,
the physical injury or whatever, has been inflicted, it has already
taken place. So taking revenge will not in any way reduce or prevent
that harm or injury. It has already happened.
On the contrary, if one reacts to a situation in a negative way
instead of in a tolerant way, not only is there no immediate benefit,
but also a negative attitude and feeling is created that is the seed
of one’s future downfall. From the Buddhist point of view, the con-
sequence of taking revenge has to be faced by the individual alone in
his or her future life. So not only is there no immediate benefit, it is
harmful in the long run for the individual.
However, if one has been treated very unfairly and if the situation
is left unaddressed, it may have extremely negative consequences
for the perpetrator of the crime. Such a situation calls for a strong


opposite | I Cried The Whole Night Long, 2014

counteraction. Under such circumstances, it is possible that one can,

out of compassion for the perpetrator of the crime—and without
generating anger or hatred—actually take a strong stand and take
strong countermeasures. In fact, one of the precepts of the bodhi-
sattva vows is to take strong countermeasures when the situation
calls for it. If a bodhisattva doesn’t take strong countermeasures
when the situation requires, then that constitutes an infraction of
one of the vows.
In addition, as Entry into the Middle Way points out, not only
does the generation of hateful thoughts lead to undesirable forms of
existence in future lives, but also, at the moment that strong feelings
of anger arise, no matter how hard one tries to adopt a dignified
pose, one’s face looks rather ugly. There is an unpleasant expression,
and the vibration that the person sends is very hostile. People can
sense it, and it is almost as if one can feel steam coming out of that
person’s body. Indeed, not only are human beings capable of sensing
it, but pets and other animals also try to avoid that person at that
These are the immediate consequences of hatred. It brings about
a very ugly, unpleasant physical transformation of the individual. In
addition, when such intense anger and hatred arise, it makes the best
part of our brain, which is the ability to judge between right and
wrong and assess longterm and short-term consequences, become
totally inoperable. It can no longer function. It is almost as if the
person has become crazy. These are the negative effects of generating
anger and hatred. When we think about these negative and destruc-
tive effects of anger and hatred, we realize that it is necessary to dis-
tance ourselves from such emotional explosions.
Insofar as the destructive effects of anger and hateful thoughts
are concerned, one cannot be protected by wealth; even if one is a
millionaire, one is subject to these destructive effects of anger and
hatred. Nor can education guarantee that one will be protected from
these effects. Similarly, the law cannot guarantee protection. Even
nuclear weapons, no matter how sophisticated the defense system
may be, cannot give one protection or defend one from these effects.
The only factor that can give refuge or protection from the
destructive effects of anger and hatred is the practice of tolerance
and patience.


Q & A with the Dalai Lama
Q: How do we judge when a strong countermeasure is required and
what it will be? Please describe what we can learn from your actions
in response to the Tibetan genocide.
A: One of the reasons there is a need to adopt a strong counter-
measure against someone who harms you is that if you let it pass,
there is a danger of that person becoming habituated to extremely
negative actions, which in the long run will cause that person’s own
downfall and is very destructive for the individual himself or herself.
Therefore a strong countermeasure, taken out of compassion or a
sense of concern for the other, is necessary. When you are motivated
by that realization, then there is a sense of concern as part of your
motive for taking that strong measure.
In terms of the way we have been dealing with the Chinese
government, we have always tried to avoid negative emotions. We
consciously make it a point not to let our emotions overwhelm us.
So even if there is a likelihood of some feeling of anger arising, we
deliberately check ourselves and try to reduce that, and try to delib-
erately develop a feeling of compassion toward the Chinese.
One of the reasons why there is some ground to feel compassion-
ate toward a perpetrator of crime or an aggressor is that the aggres-
sor, because he or she is perpetrating a crime, is at the causal stage,
accumulating the causes and conditions that later lead to undesirable
consequences. So from that point of view, there is enough ground to
feel compassionate toward the aggressor.
It is through this type of reflection that we try to deal with the
Chinese. This is an example of how one can deal with hatred and
aggression. At the same time, we never lose sight of the importance
of holding firmly to our own principles and adopting the strong
measures that are necessary.


The generation of anger or hatred, even for a single instant,
has the capacity to destroy virtues collected over a thousand

Q: Often when I counteract hatred, even without feeling hatred

myself, it seems to increase the other person’s hatred. How can I
deal with this?
A: I think that is a very good question. In such cases, we have to
decide on the spot, according to the situation. This requires sen-
sitivity to the actual context and situation. In some cases, you are
right, by taking a strong countermeasure, even without feeling
hatred, it might increase the intensity of the other person’s feeling of
hatred and anger. If that is the case, then perhaps it is possible to let
it pass and not take a strong countermeasure.
However, here you have to judge the consequences of your
response to a situation. If it is going to make the other person
develop a bad habit of repeating the same pattern of action in the
future, which will be destructive in the long term, then it may call
for a strong countermeasure. But if taking a strong countermeasure
will aggravate the situation and increase the other person’s anger
and hatred, then perhaps what the situation requires is a kind of let-
ting go, letting it pass, and not taking a strong countermeasure. So
you need a sensitivity to particular situations.
This is analogous to the Buddhist principle that, so far as your
own personal requirements are concerned, the ideal is to have fewer
involvements, fewer obligations, and fewer affairs, businesses, or
whatever. However, so far as the interest of the larger community is
concerned, you must have as many involvements as possible and as
many activities as possible.


Q: How do we teach patience to our children? How should we react
to anger in our children?
A: It is very difficult to explain in words to a child the value of
patience and the importance of it. What is crucial here is to set a
good example for our children. If you yourself are always short-
tempered and lose your temper even at the slightest provocation, and
then you try to teach children, saying, “Oh, you must be patient,
patience is important,” it won’t have any effect at all.
As to how you should react or respond to anger in children, it is
very difficult for me to say, but many of the general principles out-
lined in the text that teach you how to develop patience would be
applicable, even in those circumstances.

Q: If there is no extreme form of patience that is a weakness,

how can a bodhisattva take a strong counteraction?
A: There may be a slight misunderstanding of what is meant by a
bodhisattva. One should not have the impression that a bodhisattva
is a very weak person. In fact, bodhisattvas can be seen as the most
courageous beings. They are very determined and firm in their prin-
ciples. Even conventionally, if people do not tolerate having their
toes stepped on and do not tolerate being slighted, if they always
take immediate action and stand firm, we consider them courageous
and strong, to have strength of character. If that is the case, then
bodhisattvas are beings who have made a pledge or developed the
determination that they will combat the evils that exist in the minds
of all sentient beings. In a way, that is a kind of arrogance, but it is,
of course, based on sound reason. This type of courageous attitude
is in some sense arrogant, but not in a negative way.
If we read the aspirational prayers composed by the bodhisat-
tvas, such as the “Dedication” chapter of Guide to the Bodhisattva’s
Way of Life, we find that bodhisattvas have many aspirations that in
reality cannot be realized. Nonetheless, they have this kind of vision
and aspiration. So I consider them heroes. I think they are very, very


courageous sentient beings. I do not consider this a weakness at all.
Bodhisattvas have that kind of outlook, and they are definitely capa-
ble of taking strong countermeasures when necessary.

Q: When we dedicate the merit from past practices, is it destroyed

by present anger or hatred?
A: If your dedication is complemented by factors of very strong aspi-
ration to attain liberation, or complemented by the factor of bod-
hicitta, altruistic aspiration, or a realization of the empty nature of
phenomena, then, of course, the merit will remain beyond the scope
of destruction and will be protected.
Dedication is a very important element of practice in the Buddhist
path. We find that in Maitreya’s Ornament of Clear Realizations,
when he outlines the proper manner in which dedication should be
practiced, he points out that when you dedicate merit, you must
have a very strong motivation of bodhicitta, dedicating your merit
for the benefit of all sentient beings. In addition, while you do the
dedication, you should have clear realization of the empty nature of
phenomena, the illusion-like nature of phenomena. Once you have
dedicated merit, it should be “sealed” by the recognition that the
agent is inherently empty, and that both this very act and the object
of your act are also inherently empty. That is what is called “being
sealed by the three spheres.” So through these practices, you can
protect the merit.
In order for one’s dharma practice to be effective and powerful,
it is not enough to concentrate on one aspect of the practice alone.
What is required are many complementary factors, the wisdoms, the
dedications, and so on. This is particularly true in the approach of
the Mahayana path.

From Perfecting Patience: Buddhist Techniques to Overcome Anger,

by the Dalai Lama; translated by Thubten Jinpa (Shambhala 2018)



Your Liberation
Is On the Line
Rev. angel Kyodo williams

I THINK WE ARE FINALLY at a place where we can accept the

truth that no one escapes from oppression, not one of us. Everyone
is deeply wounded.
It’s true, some people seem to be in a position of what we call
privilege, but we have to rethink that word. We get stuck on this
notion of white privilege, or dominant privilege, as if the marginal-
ized people want what the people with privilege have. But I want no
part of it. I want no part of any illness that renders people unable to
see the beauty of all of our differences, the beauty of my own mixed
raced-ness, blackness, queerness, all of the things I am. I want no
part of an illness that renders me unable to connect to love. That is
not a privilege. So we have to begin by recognizing that the construct
of white supremacy is an illness. I don’t wish it on anyone—not
on myself, and not on you. We have all been told a lie, and our
work—particularly for those of us who say we identify with this
path of liberation—is to free ourselves of that lie, to get in there and
observe that construct and the ways in which it limits us from our
full potential.
This disease keeps us from fully knowing each other, from see-
ing each other. Every single one of us must be, by way of our com-
mitment to liberation, committed to being the cure. The so-called


marginalized people are going to figure it out for themselves. The
fact that they have joy in their hearts at all is phenomenal, given the
weight that they bear in their trans bodies, their queer bodies, their
disabled bodies, their neurodiverse bodies, their female bodies, their
Black bodies. We should celebrate them all, because anyone who has
insisted on liberation so that they may know joy and love represents
for the rest of us the possibility, the promise that the dharma puts
before us and says, yes, liberation is possible even for you. Libera-
tion is possible even for you.
A problem of the dharma today is that it has become so limited.
It has become constricted inside of a kind of fear. We want to main-
tain control of it, so we resist it evolving as it always has. We try to
fashion the dharma within the limitations of a marketplace mind-
set—what will sound better to make this sell better? We’ve made it
as limited as we can possibly make it, and as a result we no longer
subscribe to the promise of liberation. We think, oh, we’ll just do
this nice thing where we’ll meditate and we’ll be nicer people, we’ll
be more compassionate and wiser, and as we do, we never say the
word “love.” What’s wrong with us? What’s wrong with a culture
that doesn’t have love as its central value? In this smallness, we miss
the opportunity before us to liberate ourselves from the obscurations
that keep us from knowing who we are, from knowing each other,
from knowing that our birthright is exactly love.
Obscuring the path of liberation for us all, simply put, is race.
And when I say race, I mean race and ethnicity and heritage and skin
color and all of those things that we have conflated into it for hun-
dreds of years. More than five centuries ago, Pope Nicholas V, in his
Doctrine of Discovery, told European Christians to go forth and con-
quer even those “in the remotest parts unknown to us all.” He gave
permission to “invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue”


all nonbelievers, take their possessions, and “reduce their persons to
perpetual slavery.” Hence we have this myth of someone “discover-
ing” a place that’s already there, where people already are. (A fellow
once said to me, “If you want to see how much of a myth it is, just
leave your purses and your wallets here, and let me discover them.”
See how that feels.)
The Doctrine of Discovery completely upended what our spiri-
tual path is supposed to be about and tainted it, poisoned it with
white supremacy. And then that poison was brought to this land
and we were partitioned, separated from one another and from our
birthright. It’s important to learn those stories. If you don’t seek
them out, you fall into the true meaning of the poison of ignorance:
wrong knowing. It’s not, I just didn’t know, I had no idea. The poi-
son of ignorance is willful wrong knowing. Consider the construct
of the three poisons. There’s a reason it includes anger, which has a
momentum, a direction, a willfulness to it. There’s also greed, which
has its own negative momentum and willfulness. So why would
ignorance be neutral? Too many of us escape through the doorway
of ignorance: Oh, I didn’t know any better. Too many of us have
been resting in ignorance for far too long.
This is where your liberation is on the line. Many people in posi-
tions of dominance don’t know their own story. They don’t know
their story in the way that when you’re marginalized, you are forced
to know your story, to understand that you have a story, that you’re
affected by a larger story, and that you’re working with all of it.
When you presume that this is just the way it is, or that you got
here on your own strengths, then you don’t recognize that you even
have a story. That process has to unfold—people need to hear tes-
timony that reveals how patriarchy has limited them in their white
male bodies, how it has limited their ability to feel and express love.


First and foremost, liberation is about choosing to be 100 percent
accountable for who and how you are. And if that sounds like
a really big job that you are going to be working at for the rest
of your life, it is.

Something got stolen from them. Something got stolen from all of us.
So you have to have compassion for the voice of the heart that has
been lost or obscured, whether in others or in yourself. People need
spaces of their own in which they can find those stories, reclaim
them. No one escaped—no one. So if you think you don’t have a
story because you’re privileged, that just means you’re completely in
the dark. It is only when you find your story—when you realize the
way you think and how you are has been utterly conditioned—that
you will understand that even if on the surface you get to do all
kinds of things, in truth, you have absolutely no choices at all. You
have no choice at all other than to abide in this location and uphold
it and be complicit in it for fear that to disrupt it will destroy who
you are. You have a right to reclaim yourself, but you have to do
the work of finding out how it is that who you truly are has been
Learn the stories. Learn your own. We can’t know our own per-
sonal minds without understanding the conditioning and the fabrica-
tion of that mind. Our social conditions are what make our mind.
You don’t get your own mind—you only have a collective mind. You
have only ever had a collective mind. It’s ridiculous to say, “That’s
not the path of the Buddha. Buddha never talked about social jus-
tice.” The path of the Buddha was explicitly rooted in de-casting and
de-classing—it was so much what he did that he didn’t even have to
say anything about it. It was all that he did.


The Buddha left us a 2,500-year-old institution that brings
people in regardless of color, caste, and now even gender. That was
his teaching—not solely the words someone captured hundreds of
years later. He left us an institution based on giving people back the
opportunity to be liberated no matter who they were. He stripped
away the things that were most telling of where they came from—
what class, what rank—and he said, every single person has the right
to be free. Only those who sit in a position of perceived supremacy
would imagine that they somehow understand better what this
brown man, whose teachings they have appropriated, was up to.
It is the people who are most marginalized, the people who have
most been bound by societies, who most deeply understand what
it is to be free. But we turn that upside down—we get some idea in
our heads that the people who have the most access, who build the
institutions, who create the buildings, who have the money, might
somehow know better.
So when dharma teachers try to tell me that this work is not the
dharma, I say they’re confusing the true dharma with the dharma
they’ve made small. Even the notion that the dharma is somehow
limited to the historical Buddha’s teachings says a lot about the work
they’ve been doing and their understanding of what this is. The
dharma—understanding, peering into the nature of reality—is not
specific to Buddhism. The dharma is truth. And the only choice we
really have is whether to try to be in relationship with the truth or
to live in ignorance. There are no other choices. You have to actively
engage. How did I come to be? How do I think of myself? How did
I get what I have? (I don’t mean your degrees.) Where did I come
from? What land are we on? If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. All
of us, in some way, have profited from our wrong knowing.


You don’t get to not engage. You don’t get to decide on your own
that this is just how it is, because you cannot possibly understand
the nature of your mind without understanding the nature of the col-
lective mind. And in this country, the nature of the collective mind
is oppression. It is white supremacy. It is patriarchy. That is what
we were born into. If we do not understand the nature of it, how it
unfolds, then we can’t see how it lives in us. We can’t understand
how we push the gears of it every single day.
Are you one day going to extract yourself from it completely?
I have no idea. That’s not an interesting question. Just get started.
People sometimes get the idea that maybe they’re going to solve
it. Maybe, maybe not. But you don’t get to use not solving it as an
excuse: “I’m not going to earn a single dime because I may not earn
a million dollars”; “I’m not sure I’m able to solve world hunger, so
I’m not going to do anything.” That is the most childish kind of
excuse-making. If that’s your thinking, then you’re done. You’ve
already used up all of the air you’re entitled to.
Outcomes are not our business. We don’t get to decide the out-
comes. The quest for certainty, for purity, is all bound up in white
supremacy. This quest for having the answer, knowing exactly how
it’s going to unfold, being able to control, to dominate—it’s domina-
tor culture. Free yourself. Get yourself out of that. Because if you’re
not working to get out, it’s got you. That’s the only way it works.
No one, not one single one of us escapes from perpetuating domina-
tion. We are born into it; it is the language that we all share. You
may not speak English, but if you were raised in this country, you
speak domination. You may not know your history, but you are
complicit in white supremacy if you are not actively working against
it. I don’t care what color you are. No one escapes.
Those who don’t see it, who don’t want to see it, are trying to
fabricate liberation. They’re trying to give themselves a way to own


it. But no one who has ever touched liberation could possibly want
anything other than liberation for everyone. So if you ever run into
a dharma teacher who isn’t saying, “This path is for all,” if they
would withhold liberation from anyone—then I tell you, they are a
shyster. It means they don’t know what liberation is. They have not
yet touched it. I wish it for them, but they have not yet touched it.
Our role is to hold them accountable in our fierce determination to
have that liberation for ourselves. The only way we can do that is to
insist, insist—and I don’t want to draw that back—not that teach-
ings be made available but that people not get in the way of teach-
ings, that people not obstruct them, that people not steal them.
When we insist on that as the truth for our communities, for our
government, for our institutions, what we’re asking is to be free. If
you’ve not yet felt that down to the core of your being, if you’ve
not yet touched it, you have work to do. If any part of you feels the
impulse, even a little, to hold back anything that opens the doorway,
the pathway, the possibility of liberation, from someone else, it is not
a reflection on anyone but you. If you feel that impulse, it means you
have work to do. So when you walk out into the world, or you’re in
your dharma centers and you feel that contraction—when you see a
big dark brother rolling in and you think maybe you have to worry,
or maybe you have to be extra nice to him, or you have to coddle
him or make sure he knows he’s okay—if you feel that impulse, that
sense of tension in which you locate yourself apart from him, you
know that you are living with the legacy.
Pope Nicholas V has our freedom still in the palms of his hands.
You don’t have to be Christian to fall to white supremacy—you
don’t even have to be white. In this country, white supremacy and
hindrance from liberation are one and the same thing. In this place
and in this time, if you can make your way through white supremacy,
if you can see past social conditioning to a liberation beyond who


It is the people who are most marginalized, the people
who have most been bound by societies, who most deeply
understand what it is to be free.

you think you are or where you think you belong, you’ll find nir-
vana. I say that for myself. I say that for Brown bodies. I say that for
Asian bodies, for Indigenous bodies. Look how deep it goes—our
liberation, our Buddhist path, is being held hostage by a proclama-
tion from hundreds of years ago. If you’re committed, if you are on
fire, if you want to change what’s happening in this country, then
rout out the thing that is stuck in you. If you want children to be
free women, to not be raped, to be liberated, rout out the thing that
is hindering your liberation.
If what I’m saying irritates you, you’re in a really good place. If it
doesn’t, and if the lens of your practice is not turned toward libera-
tion, then you’re asleep. We’ve internalized oppression. We’ve inter-
nalized patriarchy. We’ve internalized the idea that we should be
divided, that we should be separated, that we are different, that we
are better, that someone’s less than, that I am less than. I’ve internal-
ized it too, and every day, with every waking breath, I push against
I didn’t study race theory, by the way. I didn’t come to the
dharma and bring my little trip. Everything I see, everything I say
about liberation comes from this very dharma, the same dharma
that you hold dear, these fundamental truths that give us the path to
see ourselves. The only way I can sit here and not be absolutely furi-
ous, livid with every man, every white body, every straight body, is
because of my path. Even when I want to be mad or hating on folks
because they represent dominant paradigms, I cannot, because liber-
ation wants nothing else but liberation for all. That’s the only reason


I can speak from this place—because one day I woke up and much
to my chagrin, I loved the very same people who would rather see
my body lying in the street. I loved the very same people who would
ignore me in my dharma center. I loved the very same people who
would make me invisible. I didn’t say I liked them! But I do love
them. This is not the path of “Everything is going to be neat.” This
is not the path of “All the answers will make you feel good.” This is
a path of complexity. And that love is not an easy burden.
I’m not here to say that you should now go and study race, or
study patriarchy, or study oppression to the detriment of your prac-
tice. We need the container that our spiritual life provides. We have
to find that resonant truth in ourselves that helps us to see more
clearly what is happening outside. Those of us who are monastic
and solely want to turn inward cannot be free. Those of us who are
just activists or just wrestling with how to deal with oppression? We
can’t be free either.
It’s an inside-out job—we need both paths. We need self and we
desperately need other. We need to understand the parts of ourselves
that we don’t want to know. We need to understand the parts that
society tells us we should have shame about. We need to understand
our history and our context and then live through that, live into that
truth. We don’t have to know the answers. We just have to choose to
live into the truth. And the truth, both universal and ever-unfolding
from moment to moment, is not easy for most of us to apprehend.
We want it to be clear, to be fixed. We want to have a neat, pack-
aged answer. We want somebody to come and give us the answer, to
tell us what to do, so we can abdicate our responsibility, give up our
agency, and hope for the best. But you don’t get to walk a path of
liberation and not be accountable. First and foremost, liberation is
about choosing to be 100 percent accountable for who and how you
are. And if that sounds like a really big job that you are going to be


working at for the rest of your life, it is. There are other things you
could be doing with your time. That’s fine—you just don’t get to say
you’re walking a path of liberation.
I have no dominion over what anyone does, and maybe my
insight is really, really tiny. But I know these things to be true: first,
liberation never wants anything other than liberation for all, and
second, there is no liberation without collective liberation. There is
no other way. I wish there were, because I would like to be 100 per-
cent completely free, and I have to wait for you. We have to wait for
each other.
How do we begin? It’s a path of confusion—in order to undo the
confusion you don’t know you have, you first have to be completely
confused. Everything you think you know about how things are has
to be set aside. To do that, you must acknowledge, with absolute
certainty, that you have been completely caught up. You don’t say,
Oh, I’ll notice when I’m being an oppressor. Or I’ll notice when I’m
being a misogynist. (And this is not specific to men, by the way—you
do not have to be in a male body to be a misogynist. That is how
deep it is.) I’ll notice when I’m being racist. Of course you won’t.
You have to just assume—you have to assume that you are careening
through space, a ball of willful ignorance, of wrong knowing. That
is the beginning of the path—the moment that you are entirely clear
that you know absolutely nothing.
That is what the Buddha was about. He said, look at this delusion,
look at how it lives in you, how it drives you and motivates you.
And yes, grieve. Grieve that you didn’t know any better. You should.
It should tear you apart. If you have not laid down on the floor in
tears, you have not started your work in the dharma. You should be
completely undone. You should come completely apart at least once,
asking, Who is this person? You may be doing some really awesome


meditation. You might be reading commentaries, reaching different
jhanas—I don’t know. But you are not doing the work of liberation
if you have not come completely undone. That’s where it begins. I
have no idea where it ends.
I’m not talking only about the Buddhist path; I’m talking about
the path of liberation. You can come to that as an activist. You can
come to it as a yogi, or as an agnostic, or as a humanist. If you’re on
the path to liberation, you have to be motivated by this fierce sense
of undoing, this willingness to come completely apart, to know that
everything you think you know about yourself, you inherited from
someplace else. You need to take account. Be willing to face and
acknowledge that much of what has come to you has been unearned
and has come at great cost to others. Start balancing the books. And
then: relax. Relax. Enjoy your life. Let it unfold. This is the tension
of the path: the fierce, fierce undoing and the perfected ability to just
be with what is.
It comes down to this: if you don’t get on your path, I don’t get
to finish mine. We’re bound. So it is my deepest hope that whatever
part of you is holding some idea from wherever you sit, whatever
location, if you are caught up, fixated on being a victim, or on the
idea that you should just be guilt-ridden and there’s nothing you
could possibly do to redeem yourself, wherever you are caught up,
wherever you are stuck, wherever you are bound—this is not cause
for concern. This is not cause for you to give up. This is exactly
where your path begins. There’s no reason to go out and fix your-
self up and have it all together. You start exactly where you are, the
truth of your existence right here and now. Know that no one has
your answers. Just commit—that’s your job. If you have fierce com-
mitment to your own liberation, then you are worthy to walk on this
path toward liberation for all.


opposite | Spring Night, 2005


In the Moments
of Non-Awakening
Larry Yang

AS BUDDHISTS, WE SPEND SO MUCH of our time talking about

awakening, about developing a compassionate heart and an enlight-
ened mind, about freedom and liberation. While the centrality of
those experiences can’t be disputed, neither should they become an
excuse for denying the reality of our situation right now. We give
short shrift to the places where we get caught, where we are not
inspired or really not living up to our vision of who we aspire to be.
From my perspective, spending our time longing for some idealized
state of mind is not genuine Buddhist practice but merely spiritual

bypassing. If we focus only on awakening, we miss most of the spiri-

tual practice. I’m much more interested in how we practice with not
awakening, with not being enlightened, because, frankly, those states
of being are more present in my life than not.
Lately, as I strive to promote diversity and anti-racism both inside
and outside of dharma communities, I’m finding new depths of
disappointment and disillusionment at the limitations of my own
capacities, at the imperfections of our communities, and at the harm


occurring in our larger culture. We don’t live in an enlightened
world—have you noticed? As a dharma teacher, I was trained to
teach the insights and kindnesses that I have felt. However, these
days I feel propelled to teach from where I am—to be real and
authentic in the moment, in the midst of places where I do not have
answers, and from the limitations of my own flaws.
Beyond an occasional mention of the five hindrances, which are
numerically contained and therefore perhaps conceptually manage-
able, acknowledgement of the opposite of freedom and awakening is
largely absent in many dharma teachings. In more than thirty years
of Buddhist practice, I have rarely encountered any discussion about
what happens when enlightenment doesn’t happen—really doesn’t
happen. Or about what occurs in that potential crisis of faith, that
edge of practice, when awakening is no longer a sufficient motiva-
tion for practice.
Vedana practice (the second foundation of mindfulness) teaches
that each moment of our lives is experienced as pleasant, unpleas-
ant, or neutral; the unconscious mind tends to lean toward pleasant
experiences and push away the unpleasant ones. And this happens
even in our practice of awakening. We do not like to turn to the
unpleasant reality of not awakening, so we often push it away and
hide our imperfections behind a facade of serenity.
Dharma teachers aren’t immune to this. A close friend was the
primary caregiver for a family member who was struggling with a
debilitating illness. They were as close as two human beings could
be, and when that family member finally died, my friend’s grief
felt inconsolable and interminable. In response to the depth of that
grief, a well-meaning dharma teacher told my friend, “Arhants do
not need to grieve.” My friend was shocked at this remark, as was I.
How can we ignore, deny, or repress the reality of our lives and still
say we are living mindfully?


Is the point of practice to negate and deny our very tender, human
experiences? Even if we are encouraged to “go through” them rather
than go around them, the value is placed on the getting through,
rather than on being in and with. What happens when we’re stuck in
the quicksand of life’s circumstances with no foreseeable resolution?
What if the limitations in our lives prevent us from seeing a path out
of despair—whether existential (in the form of disillusionment), psy-
chological (in the form of loss or depression), or sociocultural (in the
form of racism, misogyny, heterosexism, transphobia, ableism, and
other outgrowths of oppressive cultural unconsciousness that are
certain to last well beyond any single human lifetime)?
When we become aware of our disillusionment or disappoint-
ment, our next impulse is often to try and fix whatever it is we think
is broken so we don’t have to deal with our feelings of despair. But
what if nothing is actually broken and yet the disappointment and
hopelessness remain? The world is imperfect and flawed with the
reality of the first noble truth. It is what it is, and often there is noth-
ing we can do. No wonder we feel despair.
If we don’t look deeply into these states of non-enlightenment, we
deny the authentic reality arising in the moment. That contradic-
tion can create a crisis of faith in the dharma itself. So how do we
turn toward that despair, even immerse ourselves in it, as part of our
spiritual practice?
We must dig deep into our practice in order to navigate the
extremes of despair and disillusionment. We must listen to what is
underneath it all, to where freedom is calling from, by asking: Can
I open to this? Can I turn toward this? Or in the inadequate lan-
guage with which we must communicate, can I love this too? Can
we incline toward the despair and imperfections of this life with the
same diligence we give other objects of mindfulness? Can we prac-
tice presence when life feels impossible?

Spiritual practice asks us to include all the contradictions and
paradoxes of awakening and not awakening and everything in

It may seem counterintuitive, but when we practice awareness

and offer kindness to the uncooked, imperfect aspects of our lives,
we actually strengthen our mindfulness. We don’t need to attach to
either awakening or non-awakening; neither is anything more than
an experience to hold with tender awareness.
Awakening and not awakening are two sides of the same coin.
They are the same experience. We can’t experience awakening with-
out experiencing not awakening. We can’t experience insight without
becoming intimately familiar with our conditioned patterns.
Thus, in exploring the full range of our life and practice, I wonder
what the space between the seven factors of awakening (mindfulness,
investigation, effort/energy, joy/rapture, tranquility, concentration,
equanimity) and the seven factors of non-awakening (unconscious-
ness, boredom, lethargy, depression, agitation, distraction, reac-
tivity) might look like. What is the range of experience between
unconsciousness and mindfulness? Life is not dual. Mindfulness and
unconsciousness are not light switches to be simply turned on or off.
What are the subtle levels of gray in between the extremes of these
factors? Where does unconsciousness bleed into consciousness? If I
can feel that relationship, then I can stay connected to mindfulness
even in my lapse of mindfulness. I can stay in alignment with awak-
ening even in my failure to be awake.
Likewise, what is the incremental set of sensations, thoughts, and
feelings between boredom and investigation? Where is the transi-
tion between lethargy and energy? How does despair connect to joy
and rapture? What are the nuances between the extremes of agita-
tion and tranquility? Where is the breadth of landscape bounded by


distraction and concentration? And what happens between the states
of reactivity and equanimity?
The nuanced spectrum of experience between despair and joy
might look something like this:

Delight—Excitement—Rapture—Collective Joy

In the Western Vipassana tradition, there is a popular acronym,

RAIN, which encourages us to Recognize the moment, in order
to have Acceptance of the moment, so that we can Investigate the
moment’s true nature, in order to realize our Non-identification
with that moment arising—the last of which is a state of insight
and awakening. All the factors of RAIN are actions of incremental
progress toward awakening. But this acronym belies the messiness of
our painful and complicated lives. In a similar parallel, Dr. Elizabeth
Kübler-Ross outlined five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining,
depression, and acceptance—that the human psyche experiences
when coming to terms with loss and trauma. That is, we must pass
through denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before acceptance
is possible. When these five stages are inserted into RAIN—after the
factor of recognition (mindfulness) but before our acceptance of the
moment arising—our practice of insight might look more like this:

Recognition—Denial—Recognition—Anger— Recognition—
Bargaining — Recognition—Depression— Recognition—Acceptance
(… maybe)—Investigation—Non-identification (… maybe)

This sequence feels so much more authentic and realistically human

to me. It’s never either/or. Life is so much more complex than that.
Our experience isn’t characterized by just the polar opposites of

opposite | Blue Flower, 2004

awakening and not awakening but rather by all of the contours

lived in the range in-between. If we can monitor and be aware of the
totality of the experience of awakening and not awakening, we can
stay connected to both without bypassing either. Reverend Dr. Mar-
tin Luther King Jr. wrote: “We must accept finite disappointment,
but we must never lose infinite hope.” We need both—the absolute
aspiration of unconditioned hope and the relative path, which is
filled with constant disappointment. If we have only the aspiration
of the enlightened ideal, how do we ever get there? If we only have
the path with no guiding North Star, where are we going and what is
the point of it all?
The inspiration for our practice often rests on one single moment:
the Buddha’s awakening beneath the bodhi tree. But that is not the
totality of his biography. Tradition tells us it took him thousands of
lifetimes to awaken. We have stories about the Buddha’s previous
lives in the Jataka tales, and in them he was not perfect, not fully
awake, even though each illustrates how the perfections (paramis) of
dharma practice ripened in those lifetimes of the bodhisattva. They
show the paramis ripening, but not yet ripe. All those moments of
non-awakening serve an indispensable purpose in the path to awak-
ening. We must fully live the moments of non-awakening in order
for freedom to arise. We can’t simply aspire to enlightened states of
mind and heart without a realistic, flawed human path.
In the Saccamkira Jataka, a prince in danger of drowning is
pulled from the water by a beggar ascetic (the future Buddha). Being
an untruthful and ungrateful person, the prince disingenuously tells

the future Buddha that he can come anytime to his kingdom for sup-
port. When the prince becomes king, the ascetic visits his kingdom.
Instead of supporting the ascetic, the king has him beaten in the
streets and orders his execution. When the ascetic is asked in the
streets what the trouble is between him and the king, he tells the
story. The populace and guards become so enraged that they kill the
king and drag his body through the streets, dumping it in the moat.
The ascetic is then anointed the new ruler.


While perhaps indicating a kind of justice, the outcome of the
Jataka is not exactly a restorative, compassionate one. As with many
of the parables, the Saccamkira concludes with a version of this
phrase: When his (the future Buddha’s) days were come to an end,
he passed away according to his deeds. And according to the imper-
fect deeds of most of his lives, the Buddha did not awaken.
That means, at least metaphorically speaking, before the precious
moment of awakening, there were thousands of other times the Bud-
dha-to-be did not awaken. If he was practicing mindfulness (and it is
said one cannot become a buddha unless there is an initial intention
to consciously do so), at some point in each of his unenlightened
lives he must have become mindful of the fact that he was not awake.
He became aware of his own limitations, his own failures, and his
own shortcomings, which, despite his very best efforts, cumulatively
were not going to lead to enlightenment in that lifetime. How disillu-
sioning after doing the best he could in service of such goodness.
Did the Buddha experience despair? Did he have self-pity or grief
over enlightenment in that particular lifetime? Did the Buddha go
through Dr. Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief? Because he was human,
I would guess the answer to these questions would be “yes.” He
went through what humans go through when there is significant loss
and despair. The future Buddha, in his humanity, would have needed
to experience denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before accep-
tance was possible.
Yet the Buddha returned to practice—whether he was enlightened
or not, despairing or not. That, to me, is significant. What would
you do? What do you do? We have all been there, when we have
done our best and yet, we may be far from perfect. We try for the
best solution we can, and there might be some collateral injury, even
serious harm, incurred along the way. We are not enlightened. How


do we reconcile the aspiration to be of benefit with the inevitable
harm we cause? How do we make all of it our spiritual practice?
When I do metta practice, cultivating love and compassion
toward all beings in all worlds and in all directions, there is an ancil-
lary blessing that I hold in my mind:

May I be loving, open, and aware in this moment;

If I cannot be loving, open, and aware in this moment,
may I be kind;
If I cannot be kind, may I be nonjudgmental;
If I cannot be nonjudgmental, may I not cause harm;
If I cannot not cause harm, may I cause the least harm possible.

Thus, even in my imperfections, even in my failures, I can still

incline my heart toward freedom. This is how I see the paths of
awakening and non-awakening interweaving. This is freedom in the
midst of suffering. This is resilience despite the forces of violence
and oppression. We can create beautiful lives right where the world
is not yet awake.
Each time we practice awareness and kindness, we transform not
only our personal world but the world itself. We begin to be able
to hold the unholdable, to connect the broken heart and the raging
mind. We look for the precious wisdom embedded within that bitter
rage, and as soon as we begin to look, we are no longer consumed
by the rage itself. We turn toward the direct experience of despair
and weave it into care, love, and, dare we say, freedom. This is the
magnitude of our spiritual practice. It asks us to include all the
contradictions and paradoxes of awakening and not awakening and
everything in between. It is the in-between—the range from extreme
to subtle, the spectrum connecting opposing forces—that constitutes
the totality of our lives, our practice, and our freedom.

photo | Daiwei Lu / Unsplash

The Natural World

Is a Powerful Teacher
Lopon Elizabeth Monson

There’s a saying in Tibetan Buddhism that while we might start off

with a personal teacher, at some point the entire phenomenal world
becomes our guru.
This adage expresses the idea that all internal and external phe-
nomena can be a catalyst for awakening. But it’s also true that
nature, in particular, is a great teacher. The natural world continually
arises as a vivid and ephemeral display. By tuning in to it through
our sense perceptions—by hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and feel-
ing the natural world fully—we discover a connection with a deeper
and more awake dimension of our being, one that is free from the
usual overlay of our conceptual thoughts. As guru, the natural world
reveals that being present with things as they are can be a transfor-
mative experience.


Texts from numerous Buddhist traditions describe the benefits
of the natural world as a powerful support for meditation. In the
Ariyapariyesana Sutta, the Buddha himself tells his disciples, “Seek-
ing the supreme state of sublime peace, I wandered … until … I saw
a delightful stretch of land and a lovely woodland grove, and a clear
flowing river with a delightful forest, so I sat down thinking, ‘Indeed,
this is an appropriate place to strive for the ultimate realization of …
Nirvana.’” Many other examples in Buddhist texts emphasize silence,
solitude, and removing oneself from the stimulation of daily life as
necessary conditions for allowing the mind to settle and relax.
But the natural world can do far more than provide us with a
peaceful environment for meditation. As we develop our practice
and attention, we can engage with the natural world as an interactive
medium within which we can access and abide in the nature of the
mind. Encountering the natural world through our sense perceptions
returns us again and again to open awareness—a state of being that
is fresh, alive, easeful, and awake.
Consider a flower. When we see the bright color of a flower or
observe its intricate structure, we experience its directness and sim-
plicity. We see how the flower abides in space as a vivid presence. In
the instant we first see it, the flower transmits itself fully, completely,
to our perception. Buddhist Abhidharma teachings tell us direct
perception takes place in every moment of sensory experience but is
so quickly layered over with the conceptual mind’s stories, thoughts,
and ideas that we usually miss it. Unfiltered vision is genuine, naked
vision stripped of concepts and ideas.
Experiencing the phenomenal world, the natural world, in this
way, we see that everything is continuously permeated with presence,


Birdsong is birdsong. The warmth of the sun is just what it is.
There is nothing esoteric or mystical about this. Things are just
what they are.

a fullness and richness that speaks its own language. Something as

simple as a breeze can provide a doorway into an experience of our
deepest nature. Rocks, trees, grass, mountains, oceans, and sky all
provide a powerful stimulus for us to be present now, in the moment.
No conceptual thought is necessary to know their existence. They
simply are as they are. The fundamental nature of a tree, its tree-
ness, is right there for us to experience and perceive directly, unmedi-
ated by cognition.
All our sense perceptions can function like this, serving to wake
us up. In a moment of direct perception, the sound of a bird singing
can ring like an echo throughout our whole being. In doing so, it can
tune us in to mind’s emptiness and its ever-unfurling expressiveness.
In its purity, the song of a bird can’t be categorized as “good” or
“bad,” or even “beautiful” or “grating.” Birdsong simply presents
itself in its naked, most primordial form, a form inherently empty of
essence but compelling to our auditory sense.
Meditation helps us gain some grounding in direct sensory expe-
rience unmediated by thoughts, ideas, or projections. When we
engage in practices such as shamatha and vipashyana, we stabilize
our flighty, busy minds and develop our innate mental clarity and
strength. We experience firsthand the possibility of letting go into,
and becoming one with, the greater context that surrounds and
encompasses us. This creates the conditions by which we can experi-
ence nondual awareness, the true nature of our heart–mind. Having

photo | Roberto Nickson / Unsplash

a direct experience of this ever-present

but subtle aspect of our being is the
goal of most Tibetan Buddhist medi-
tation practice, but sometimes it can
seem like a remote possibility. This
original state of our heart–mind is
actually not so unfamiliar, though. In
truth, we experience it continually
throughout our lives. We just may not
always recognize it.
We so often think we have to find
the nature of our mind inside, through
deep introspection. But by taking the
natural world as guru, we can also
tune in to our innate nature outside
of what we conventionally think of
as our selves. With time and patience,
we can come to know there is no dif-
ference between “in here” and “out
there.” Meditation helps us discover
that union between inner and outer,
providing a direct experience of their
To say the entire world becomes
the guru means that as we meditate,
relax, and dissolve some of our fixa-
tion with conceptual thinking, our
sense perceptions become clarified,
like a windowpane whose surface has
been covered with dirt for a long time.
Slowly, as the glass is wiped clean,
everything becomes clearer. Birdsong
is birdsong. The warmth of the sun is
just what it is. There is nothing eso-
teric or mystical about this. Things
just are what they are. Freed from
our usual conceptual overlay, our
experience of the phenomenal world
becomes direct, definite, and clear—


so much so that if we allow for it, it has the power to wake us up
from our habitual conceptual chattering.
Eventually, seeing things as they are shifts from being an activ-
ity or a process we engage in to a state of being, a stance of open
awareness in relation to the phenomenal world, which returns its
confirmation without words. We usually try so hard to understand,
to intellectualize our experience. But we can learn to hear, feel, smell,
and taste the world without needing to understand.
While the natural world can be particularly helpful in developing
this kind of experience, we can use the directness of any moment of
perception to wake up to the greater space of our own awareness. If
you live in downtown Manhattan, you can use your experience of
the bitter cold on a winter morning or the radiance of the sun’s rays
beaming down on the pavement as you walk to work as catalysts
for awakening. Even the roar of a large truck rumbling past on the
street provides an opportunity for direct perception. Such moments
can serve to remind us of the preciousness of this human life, its
fleeting beauty, and the need to awaken to a responsible life.
As we learn to abide in natural awareness, with our sense percep-
tions open, we come to experience the vast, ocean-like power of our
deepest nature. When we connect with this part of ourselves, when
we partake of the liberating wisdom of things as they are, everything
is saturated with this spacious, open, warm, luminous, awake qual-
ity. Taking the world as our guru, we can hear the inner language
of nature and experience ever more deeply the reality of the present
moment. This reality is nothing other than innate wakefulness, an
unimpeded, flowing field of energy, a perpetual fount of creativity—
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A Clarion Call for Buddhism



Western Buddhism: ringing sentence, Glenn Wallis throws down his challenge to
Ruins of the
readers. In his provocative new book, A Critique of Western
Buddhist Real
by Glenn Wallis Buddhism: Ruins of the Buddhist Real, Wallis takes on the
complacencies and complicities of what he identifies as West-
Bloomsbury Academic, 2018 ern Buddhism and offers a rigorous philosophical remediation:
232 pages; $114 “ruin,” in the special sense in which he uses the term. Drawing
on Continental European philosophical traditions, in particu-
lar the contemporary French thinker François Laruelle, Wallis
attempts to open new critical and philosophical possibilities
from within Buddhism.
Wallis’ distaste at what he identifies as Western Buddhism’s
neoliberal accommodations and consumerist desires clearly fuels
the urgency of his mission. He skewers a range of contemporary
Western Buddhist developments, ranging from the corporate
mindfulness movement to timely examples of hypocrisy and
violence, such as sexual predation by Buddhist teachers and
genocidal attacks by Burmese Buddhists against the Rohingya
in Myanmar. Yet this book aims to offer more than a simple cri-
tique of the manifestations of Buddhist malaise. Wallis here tack-
les what he sees as a far deeper problem, a fundamental evasion
within the heart of Buddhist thought. Wallis suggests this evasion
is not limited to recent Western iterations of Buddhism, although
opposite | Buddha, 2010
in his view the form of Buddhism he calls “Western” is home to
by Sopheap Pich some of its most egregious manifestations.


The ambitious scope of Wallis’ critique Wallis identifies some exceptions to his
is really in some sense to free Buddhism damning indictment of the “failure” of
from itself. Wallis proclaims that, “‘Bud- Buddhist thought. For instance, he sug-
dhism’ indexes an historical failure to gests that certain Chan and Zen masters
unleash the force of its very own thought.” cut to the heart of the matter he wishes to
That is to say, Wallis asserts that despite address. He gives a shout out to Dr. B. R.
the radically liberatory potential of Bud- Ambedkar as an example of someone who
dhist insights into reality, these potentials used a particular imagined vision of Bud-
are lost when Buddhism becomes just dhism (a Buddhist “World”) in an emanci-
another form of ideology, another system patory way. Nevertheless, Wallis repeatedly
of philosophy. Wallis charges that Bud- returns to his core assertion that “‘Bud-
dhist thinkers dangle the transformational dhism’… names an obstinate containment
recognition of emptiness, selflessness, and of potentially vital human goods. The end
suffering–desire as core features of reality, result is that Buddhism everywhere func-
turning those terms into what Wallis, fol- tions as a conservative protector of the
lowing Laruelle, calls “first name[s] of the social status quo, however toxic, and as
Real.” Yet despite the fact that Western an ideological fortress spawning subjects
Buddhism “possesses consequential Real whose treasured goal certainly appears to
concepts for critiquing ‘own experience,’ be to remain unscathed—in some sense or
or, in a Buddhist idiom, for seeing things another—by life’s vicissitudes.”
as they are,” Wallis says that Western Problematically and confoundingly,
Buddhist figures “exhibit a curious habit however, Wallis seems to want to apply
of evading the full consequences of these this critique not only to the spokespersons
concepts.” of Western Buddhism who are his initial
Wallis asserts that this is “not merely targets, but to something less historically
an occasional lapse. It is, rather, a defin- or socially specific that he calls “Bud-
ing feature of Western Buddhist identity.” dhism.” It is of course a familiar point that
Moreover, he says, “The outcome of this there is no single “Buddhism,” and that the
habitual evasion is effectively to nullify many Buddhisms in the world, both living
the concepts’ theoretical or critical func- and historical, host diverse philosophical,
tion, rendering Western Buddhism as little commentarial, social, and ritual possibili-
more than a one-dimensional self-help ties. Wallis himself repeatedly notes this
fix.” In Wallis’ estimation, Western Bud- fact. But he explicitly insists that he wants
dhist thinkers inevitably, even congenitally, to dig below what he sees as the particular-
turn back from direct insight into the Real. ist evasions often offered by Western Bud-
In so doing, they domesticate Buddhism’s dhists and scholars of Buddhism to get at
critical concepts, turning even “emptiness” what he sees as a core Buddhist philosophi-
(shunyata) into a tool for promoting “well- cal problem. He wants his critique to stick,
ness,” or finding one’s place within the sys- and he warns readers (if not in so many
tems of domination in which we currently words) not be tricked by Western Buddhist
live. Wallis therefore articulates his mission apologists bearing details.
in this book as helping Buddhists “recover Yet this principled position leads Wallis
that critical function.” to eschew particularity (of people, stories,


places, practices, philosophical systems) to college and university professor. This book
a remarkable extent, even as he acknowl- at its best combines the blunt humor and
edges the claims of such particularity. He combative energy of punk with a well-
generally chooses as his interlocutors a practiced, familiar ranging between Pali
specific kind of Western Buddhist general- sources, Continental European philoso-
ist (or occasionally a Pali iteration of the phy, Zen koans, and trenchant critique of
canonical Buddha) and then generalizes the neoliberal order of things. Those who
from these examples, while insisting that have found Wallis’ previous work fruitful
his criticisms extend to all “Buddhism” will find much to excite them. This new
(whatever that is). Wallis offers sophisti- volume offers a more complete, in-depth,
cated asides about the vast complexity of detailed, and fully worked out presenta-
Buddhist identities and forms, and the arti- tion of Wallis’ theory, sources, and meth-
ficiality of affixing labels such as “Zen,” odology, and also draws out in more depth
“Tibetan,” “mindfulness,” “Theravadin,” both his critique of Western Buddhism and
and so on. Yet the reader may be left feel- the implications of that critique.
ing that the tumultuous and contentious Readers who are encountering Wal-
living worlds of Buddhism in our present lis’ project for the first time, on the other
moment have gotten elided into what at hand, may be put off, not so much by his
times appears a smooth philosophical sur- critique of modernist, Western Buddhism
face, ripe for critique to be sure, but also (which echoes and builds in various ways
strangely silent. on the work of major scholars of Buddhist
To put it another way, where are the modernism including David McMahan,
people in this book? Wallis has his inter- Donald Lopez Jr., Heinz Bechert, and Jens-
locutors, and he moreover offers a promis- Uwe Hartmann, and may echo concerns
ing turn to narrative (“buddhofiction”) in that Wallis’ readers already bring to the
the book’s final sections, but the characters table) but by the need to enter into the
and people featured here often function conceptual system and vocabulary of the
more like theoretical abstractions. Ideas French philosopher Laruelle that Wallis so
and terms frequently float free of people. A wholeheartedly embraces.
historical or anthropological intervention At several points, Wallis acknowledges
might enrich this abstraction, though Wal- that he is turning to philosophical tools
lis takes pains to make clear that this is not that lie outside of Buddhism and that some
his project; perhaps it is unfair to ask this readers may find jarring. He defends his
of him. Nevertheless, this is an unpeopled extensive use of Laruelle’s work by assert-
book. And as such, despite his engagement ing that “Paradoxically…we cannot look
with his chosen interlocutors, at points the to Buddhism—to its teachers and defend-
reader comes away with the sense that the ers, to its commentaries and explications,
only voice we really hear is Wallis’ own. to its communities and organizations—to
For some readers, Wallis’ polemical assist us in removing its auto-erected bul-
clarion cry will be a thrill. Wallis’ biog- wark of resistance.” That is to say, Wallis
raphy on his websites and dustjackets argues that precisely because of the slippery
alike note his punk rock musician creden- nature of Western Buddhist avoidance of
tials, his Harvard PhD, and his years as a the true impact of terms like “emptiness,”


it is necessary to bring in outside reinforce- Truths (in Nagarjuna’s terms) that is to
ments. These must be of a type that Western blame. Although Wallis explicitly reminds
Buddhist philosophy cannot domesticate. readers about the central place of ethics and
Wallis chooses the “non-philosophy” of compassionate action, in particular at the
Laruelle for this purpose. end of the book, compassion and ethics are
Laruelle’s work is little known in the often eclipsed in the emphasis on emptiness.
US, and a review of this length cannot fully Curiously, an enthusiastic embrace of
engage its idiosyncratic vocabulary and emptiness as the most interesting thing
conceptual approach. In brief, though, we Buddhists have on offer is not unique to
might say that Laruelle attempts to undo Wallis. This move is intimately connected
what he sees as the violence, denial, and to the historically situated Western Bud-
conceptual dominations baked into the dhist (Protestant, modernist) embrace of
systematic structures of European phi- meditation as the best thing Buddhists do.
losophy. Laruelle offers the possibility of To be sure, Wallis himself addresses such
what he calls “non-philosophy,” a term modernist presentations of Buddhism and
that implies both a freedom from and an meditation directly, in a sophisticated way.
ongoing alternative to essentializing and And yet repeatedly in this work, one has
totalizing philosophical systems. Wallis a sense that other things many Buddhists
takes up Laruelle’s work in this regard as do have fallen by the wayside. Wearing
a powerful tool for rethinking Buddhism. amulets, reciting mantras, seeking out
One might wonder as well, of course, divinations, prostrating, making offer-
if Wallis has tilted too far to the extreme ings, praying—these Buddhist repertoires
of emptiness/nihilism in his presentation of and the people who participate in them
Buddhism’s core liberatory potential. Wallis disappear or appear beside the point (or
himself confronts this possibility—indeed, worse) in Wallis’ critique. These Buddhist
he addresses it head-on and attempts to repertoires are trumped by meditation,
disarm it by refusing to accept nihilism as a ideally on emptiness, as the “real” sine
term of critique. He suggests several times qua non of true Buddhism. In that sense,
that perhaps the problem for the character Wallis’ critique here, as well as this book,
of the Buddha in Buddhist sutra literature, themselves constitute a deeply Western
and for Buddhists more generally, is that Buddhist project.
they don’t have the courage of their own Taken as a whole, the book is trenchant,
insight into emptiness. Instead of the lib- confounding, and often exasperating. Wal-
erating critique that dissolves all transcen- lis presents what is clearly the result of years
dental constructions, they circle back to of sustained reflection and philosophical
reaffirmations that set up an ideological or struggle. In many ways, the book registers
theological “World of Buddhism,” to use as a labor of love—a love of words, a love
Wallis’ terms. Yet for some readers, Nagar- of the Buddhist vocabulary of emptiness
juna’s famous remarks about the dangers and selflessness, and perhaps also a love of
of misgrasping both emptiness and snakes philosophical battle. At points this book
may come to mind. To the extent that this also reads as a record of love dismayed,
book seals itself hermetically within a cer- by the failures and inadequacies of what
tain philosophical range, it may be Wallis’ Wallis terms “Western Buddhism.” Readers
insistence on the emptiness side of the Two will be challenged by it, on many levels.


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The Opportunities and Perils

of Postmodern Dharma

American Dharma: DAVID MCMAHAN CONCLUDED his influential 2008 book,

Buddhism Beyond The Making of Buddhist Modernism, with a question: “Is there
something like a postmodern Buddhism emerging from the
by Ann Gleig
strains of the Buddhist modernism I have been discussing?”
Yale University Press, 2019 While the categories of modernism and postmodernism remain
376 pages; $35 disputed, Ann Gleig takes up the baton in her pivotal new
work, American Dharma: Buddhism Beyond Modernity, guid-
ing readers beyond Buddhist modernism into hitherto uncharted
Drawing from her ethnographic work on sanghas across
the continent and the work of scholars including McMahan,
Donald Lopez Jr., and Joseph Cheah, Gleig shows us an
American Buddhism filled with contradictions and a growing
awareness of its own internal problems, as well as a willingness
to grapple with those complexities as traditions move into an
unknown future.
Our journey begins at a familiar landmark: the booming
modern mindfulness movement. While mindfulness has blos-
somed into what scholar Jeff Wilson calls “the single most
impactful aspect of Buddhism in America,” that growth has
brought with it a tide of concerns about the separation of mind-
fulness from other aspects of Buddhism, most notably ethics
and wisdom (following the threefold path of sila, samadhi, and
pañña). Other concerns arise as well, as Gleig notes:

Critics draw on distinctions between right and wrong mindful-

ness as decreed by the Pali canon and differentiate between
sincere individual intentions and the institutionalization of

self-disciplines as informed by Michel Foucault. These unusual

bedfellows of religious conservatives and critical theorists,
premodern and poststructuralist perspectives, are united by a
suspicion of the distinctively modern discourses that have over-
taken Buddhism.


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For the nonspecialist reader, Gleig be left out. As such, the book cannot serve
carefully explains the conditions of “post- as a general survey of North American
modernity” as a reshaping, rather than a Buddhism. However, Gleig’s research
replacement of, “modernity.” In part, the offers carefully crafted excursions into
shift from modern to postmodern signifies the lives, words, and sanghas of many
a movement arising around the 1970s, notable American Buddhists with specific
“marked by increasing globalization, the attention to Zen and Theravada “convert”
rapid development of new communica- communities.
tion and information technologies, the American Dharma is a veritable who’s
restructuring of capitalism, and the rise who of Buddhist scholars and practitio-
of consumer culture.” Likewise, in this ners, skillfully woven into conversation
period, North Americans have lost some with each other on each of the covered
faith in the grand narratives of modernity, topics. Gleig moves effortlessly from schol-
namely those of science, reason, and social arly findings to practitioners’ accounts,
progress. ensuring that the work never feels clinical
Drawing from sociologist Paul Heelas, or distant. In the section on mindfulness,
Gleig notes that postmodern religions can she relies on the authoritative scholarly
be characterized by their “intermingling works of Eric Braun and Brook Schedneck
of the religious and secular, a consumer for historical perspective, then lets the
approach in which religions are viewed voices of advocates and critics speak for
as products and engagement is seen as a themselves.
matter of personal choice, a willingness to The tone of Gleig’s work is refreshingly
combine high and low culture and draw even-handed, neither triumphalist nor
from disparate frameworks of meaning, dogmatically critical. Throughout, we are
and an orientation toward pragmatism left with very little conclusion as to where
and relativity.” Heady as that may sound, things will go from here. And this is by
readers need not worry about getting lost design, as these debates and discussions
in the weeds of theory or jargon. The heart are ongoing. In each case, however, the
of the book consists of the voices of the depth and complexity of contemporary
dozens of Buddhists Gleig interviewed American Buddhism are revealed. A recur-
across North America, all painting a pic- ring motif is that of struggle: the struggle
ture of a lived religion struggling to be of early American Buddhists with the con-
relevant to the lives of modern (or post- ditions of modernity, the struggle to craft
modern) Americans. and then contain mindfulness, the struggle
Gleig catalogs the ways Buddhism has between confronting abuse and loyalty to
flourished in the last generation or so, teachers, the struggle of white Buddhists to
including major Buddhist magazines, the wake up to the structures of racism operat-
blogosphere, podcasts, and increasing ing in their communities, and so on.
scholar–practitioner interactions. She also At the heart of this struggle are the
offers a brief history of major historical effects of the shift to postmodernism,
periods of Buddhism (canonical, tradi- which, as Gleig makes clear, presents both
tional, and modern) en route to what we opportunities and dangers. For instance,
see today. Understandably, much had to while the potential for Buddhism’s most


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potent features to be coopted by prevail- Brach.” What follows is a sweeping history
ing individualistic and capitalist values of the inclusion and diversity work that
is a clear danger, other changes are more would follow at IMCW—work that was
positive. a struggle, particularly for white sangha
One such area of opportunity is seen members who were unprepared to see the
in how postmodern and postcolonial racist reality around them as it was.
approaches challenge the patriarchy and Nonetheless, in IMCW’s work and
racism of Buddhist communities. Zen across the country in California, at Spirit
teacher Myoan Grace Schireson offers a Rock with Larry Yang and at the East Bay
multidimensional analysis of sex scan- Meditation Center with Mushim Patricia
dals in Zen communities, breaking down Ikeda, there is a clear sense of progress
personal, interpersonal, and what she through the struggles; barriers are being
calls transpersonal elements involved. confronted and are coming down. As
Careful to lay final responsibility on the Gleig puts it, advocates of this work see
teacher, she does not shy away from dis- Buddhism as “a potent remedy for collec-
cussing ways in which communities fail tive American suffering” and see the work
to protect vulnerable populations and they are doing as a remedy for limitations
how some women seek power and status in modern Buddhism.
through their relationships with teachers. Gleig further elucidates the contours of
Schireson’s background as a psychothera- the shifting Buddhist landscape as it moves
pist shows through in her ability to parse away from the hippie, free-love experimen-
out the various dimensions of the scandals tation of the Boomer generation toward a
rocking Zen Buddhism, and Gleig makes series of new challenges around diversity,
it clear that this is an important way in power, transparency, and the growing dif-
which Western thought is successfully ficulty of making a living as a Buddhist
merging with Buddhism in the develop- teacher. Postmodern American Buddhists
ment of an “American Dharma.” are cautious about allowing Buddhism to
A second area of opportunity is in deal- be separated from the world around them
ing with the dynamics of race and racism. as an individualistic practice, insulated
Gleig recounts a poignant story of Travis from the economic and ecological vicissi-
Spencer, an African American who visited tudes of the current age. They also know
the Insight Meditation Community of the progress occurring in some sanghas
Washington (IMCW) in 2010. The IMCW is not matched everywhere, that many
had flourished under the leadership of people of color continue to feel alienated
Tara Brach, but on this evening, despite and that abuses of power still find deeply
the room being crowded with white faces, entrenched support.
no one sat next to Spencer. As he put it, This is a monumental contribution to the
he was visited by “The Ghost of Racist growing literature and scholarly awareness
Past” in his thoughts during meditation. of American Buddhism. Like McMahan’s
He wrote about that night afterward and work, this book is imminently readable and
reached out to Brach, an “action that filled with details that will pique the curios-
initiated a longstanding commitment to ity of, and hopefully inform, Buddhists of
IMCW, and a personal friendship with America and beyond.


The Mountain Hermitage
JUNE 2 - JULY 7, 2019 APRIL 24 - MAY 1, 2020
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Contemplative art.
Beloved teachers.
Special editions.
Favorite books.


“Mountain Medicine Buddha” by Faith Stone


ama Zopa Rinpoche has long dreamed of creating a massive
statue of Maitreya Buddha in India, a wish that originated with
his guru Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935–1984) as a thank-you for
India’s acceptance of Tibetan refugees. This vision led to the creation
of the Maitreya Project, an international organization responsible
for the statue’s construction. Initial efforts to build it in Bodhgaya
failed, and when ambitions shifted to a rural area in Kushinagar, a
grassroots resistance movement of local Indian farmers fought to
halt the project and maintain ownership of their land. In Battling the
Buddha of Love: A Cultural Biography of the Greatest Statue Never
Built (Cornell 2018), Jessica Marie Falcone draws on fieldwork
and her own personal engagement with the resistance to describe
the struggle over the creation of what would have been the largest-
ever Buddha image. Contrasting the Buddhist goal of creating a
karmic connection to Maitreya with the needs of a rural agricultural
community, Falcone examines the clash of cultural values that
ultimately derailed the Maitreya Project’s original vision.
In her debut book The Magnanimous Heart (Wisdom 2019),
veteran meditation teacher Narayan Helen Liebenson cautions
that “only sitting in meditation is not enough. Only hearing and
studying the words of the Buddha are not enough. Only trying to
be awake and aware in one’s daily life is not enough. All of these
practices have to be undertaken together in an integrated way.” True
to this advice, Liebenson presents a rich, balanced approach to
working through loss and the “constant squeeze” of suffering in our
lives. Exploring the Upajjhatthana Sutta’s five recollections, which
address the facts of aging, illness, death, loss, and the consequences
of our actions, she takes us from exploring loss and grief to joy
and liberation, citing Ajahn Maha Boowa’s definition of nirvana as
“enough.” For Liebenson, “enoughness” marks a state that is free
from concern about insufficiency, accepting the wholeness of a given
moment without expectations for anything more.


A fundamental tension exists between modern scientific views,
which generally root consciousness in the brain and regard physical
death as the end of one’s life, and the many Buddhist traditions
that assert that consciousness can exist apart from the physical
body, continuing across lifetimes. In David E. Presti’s Mind
Beyond Brain: Buddhism, Science, and the Paranormal (Columbia
2018), we find essays, based on empirical research, that challenge
prevailing scientific ideas about personal identity and life after
death. Bruce Greyson’s essay, as one example, looks to the out-of-
body experiences of people on the verge of death; Jim B. Tucker,
meanwhile, looks to children who claim to remember previous lives
in vivid detail and the efforts of researchers to match these details
with those of the recently deceased. Presti’s concluding essay argues
that Buddhist contemplative traditions challenge what he believes
to be overly materialistic scientific worldviews, and he advocates
for an expanded conception of mind, one that acknowledges that
consciousness itself shapes everything we know.
In Early Buddhist Teachings (Wisdom 2018), Y. Karunadasa
explores foundational doctrines of early Buddhist traditions, from
nonself and dependent arising to dukkha and its end. While
these may be familiar topics to many, Karunadasa’s gifts as a
philosophical writer set his book apart. He frames early Buddhist
thought as a kind of “dynamic-process philosophy,” explaining
that as contemporaries of the Buddha “took for granted the
reality of the subject as a self-entity,” the Buddha challenged the
reality of this subject, framing perceiver and perceived as processes
rather than self-existent things. He also examines the Buddha’s
acknowledgement of the limits and power of language—while
the Buddha argued the dharma “is not actuality as such but a
description of the nature of actuality,” he recognized also that
certain articulations are better than others. We find an example of
this when Karunadasa argues that the usual translation of dukkha as
“suffering” in English does little justice to the term’s full implications:
the Buddha understood dukkha to encapsulate experiences both
unpleasant and fully pleasant, meaning that “suffering” excludes
much of what he actually meant.
When asked what instructions would be most helpful to modern
practitioners, the Sixteenth Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje
(1924–1981) recommended translating Dakpo Tashi Namgyal’s
(1513–1587) guidebook to Mahamudra practice. In Moonbeams
of Mahamudra (Snow Lion 2019), veteran translator Elizabeth


Callahan offers a complete translation of Dakpo Tashi Namgyal’s
text together with a portion of the Ninth Karmapa Wangchuk
Dorje’s (1556–1603) Mahamudra Trilogy. At over eight hundred
pages, this volume offers extensive detail on the necessary steps
for making progress in Mahamudra practice, from Dakpo Tashi
Namgyal’s discussions of the common forms of shamatha and
vipashyana, to the four yogas of Mahamudra, up to Wangchuk
Dorje’s powerful characterizations of Mahamudra that override any
final attempts at articulating it.
Jules Shuzen Harris offers a new approach to Zen practice
in Zen beyond Mindfulness (Shambhala 2018). Harris combines
Abhidharma philosophy with Stanley Block’s theory of the I-System,
which describes the psychological mechanisms that create our sense
of self. According to this theory, we imagine ourselves to be damaged
and thus generate “requirements”—statements about how we and
others ought to be. We also brood over “fixers” (for example, “If I
were more outgoing, I’d be happier”) and “depressors” (“I’ll never
make friends”), which intensify our suffering. The solution, Harris
argues, is to recognize that we are not actually damaged, a view
that corresponds with the Soto Zen position that everything has
buddhanature. Understanding this requires becoming more attentive
to our immediate experiences and less preoccupied with self-oriented
delusions that have no real bearing on the present. But Harris notes
that this is only a first step: genuine freedom arises when we enter the
full experience of zazen, in which we drop everything—including our
understandings of the nature of our problems.
Matteo Pistono’s Roar: Sulak Sivaraksa and the Path of Socially
Engaged Buddhism (North Atlantic Books 2019) narrates the
remarkable life of the Thai Buddhist author and activist Sulak
Sivaraksa. John Ralston Saul writes in his foreword that Sulak’s
“deeply ethical” approach to activism and Buddhist practice make
him “a rare breed” and a model for others: “Whenever I write about
ethics I think of Sulak Sivaraksa.” Sulak’s fierce criticism of the Thai
royalty, government, and sangha have made him a controversial
hero—beloved by many, hated by some, but influential nonetheless,
even beyond Thailand’s borders. Sulak gained greater visibility in
the West for his creation of the International Network of Engaged
Buddhists (INEB), which he established in 1989 with the Dalai
Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Maha Ghosananda. Consistently
engaging, Pistono’s book provides a template for Buddhist activism
at a time when bold voices like Sulak’s are so desperately needed.



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Buddha relics located on site.



W hen I was a kid,

I remember my mom
cleaning house furiously
and midway through,
sitting down in the living room
on the cracked
naugahyde couch
with a cup of hot coffee
and a lit cigarette,
falling silent,
staring into space.

This was my introduction

to meditation.

—Taiju Geri Wilimek, We Sit (Mill Studio Press, 2018)

Gathering the Garlands of the Gurus’ Precious Teachings

The Seventeenth Gyalwang Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje
Freedom through Meditation
Uniquely attuned to our present world,
the Karmapa gives clear and wise teachings
on key issues of our times — the
environment, social responsibility, and
working with our emotional afflictions.
He brings a fresh perspective on how to
meditate and encourages us to take the
path of compassion, engaging in actions
that benefit others.

The Karmapa brings forth a profound

message in simple and accessible
language with an authenticity that
connects him to everyone he meets as
he opens out the treasures of Buddhism
for modern times.

2017 Canada Teachings

Preface by the Seventeenth Gyalwang
Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje

Translators: Khenpo David Choephel,

Tyler Dewar, Michele Martin (and editor)
October 2018
Paper, 5.5 x 8.5 in., 160 pages

E-KARMAPA: 900 YEARS, 3rd Edition is now available as a free

e-book from ktdpublications.com
In fulfillment of His Holiness’s wish to protect the environment and minimize our eco-
footprint, KTD Publications, as a “green publisher,” is concerned with the future of the
world’s endangered forests and committed to the responsible use of natural resources.

www.NamseBangdzo. com
www.kagyu.org Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Woodstock, New York