Western Buddhism

American Buddhism: beyond the search for inner peace

Joshua Eaton, Religion Dispatches: When I showed up the room at Harvard Divinity School was already overflowing. World-renowned professors were packing the aisles along with undergrads, standing in the doorways, and squeezing in behind furniture. At the front of the room stood Bhikkhu Bodhi—a short, soft-spoken Buddhist monk with a marked Brooklyn accent—who held the audience rapt even as he explained dry, technical details of meditation.

Born Jeffrey Block, Bikkhu Bodhi has a PhD in philosophy and years of monastic training in Sri Lanka. He is best known for his translations of the Theravada Buddhist scriptures from the Pali language into English—a massive undertaking.

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How to organize Zen? Japanese Buddhists adapt to Western views of their religion

Rocket News 24 (Japan): What do you think of when you hear the word Zen? For most people, “organized religion” probably isn’t a phrase that pops up immediately. This can be a bit of a predicament for Zen Buddhist missionaries working in places like Europe and North America.

The word, which comes from a Japanese translation of the Chinese word chán, literally means meditation, and has developed a romantic sense of being purely in the moment and devoid of all thought. This concept has been focused on by various artists in Western culture like Jack Kerouac, with a diminished emphasis on the less sexy …

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What’s an American Buddhist?

William Wilson Quinn, Washington Post: American Buddhism’s numbers are booming. Published just over three years ago, an American Religious Identification Survey survey showed that from the years 1990 to 2000, Buddhism grew 170 percent in North America. By all indications that remarkable rate of growth continues unabated.

Why is a faith founded under a Bodhi tree in India 2,500 years ago enjoying a newfound popularity in America today?

There is no such thing as a historic North American Buddhist tradition, a fact that is crucial to understanding and facilitating Buddhism’s blossoming. This growth is all the more remarkable given that Buddhism was arguably the most recent import …

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“Work, Sex, Money: Real Life on the Path of Mindfulness” by Chogyam Trungpa

work sex money chogyam trungpa

As a long-standing Western Buddhist, my curiosity was piqued by this book. Work, sex and money are crucial issues to all of us, so I was interested to hear what Trungpa said.

Chogyam Trungpa was a major figure in the establishment of Buddhism in the West – particularly in North America. He was the founder of Vajradhatu and the Naropa Institute, two major achievements in themselves. But he did more than this.

Born in Tibet in 1940, and recognised as an infant as a major Kagyu tulku, he intensively trained in monasteries with Jamgon Kongtrul and other eminent teachers, later receiving full ordination. After dramatically escaping Tibet in 1959, he eventually arrived in Oxford University in 1963. Together with the spiritual movements he founded, he also wrote many Buddhist classics: Meditation in Action (1969), Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (1973), and The Myth of Freedom (1976), among many others.

Title: Work, Sex, Money: Real Life on the Path of Mindfulness
Author: Chogyam Trungpa
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-59030-596-6
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, UK Kindle Store, US Kindle Store, and Amazon.com.

In addition to his Dharma teaching, he was a poet, artist and playwright. He was also experimental and controversial. He was outspoken at a time of cultural change in the West, and was widely criticised for his seeming alcoholism and promiscuity. He died in 1987.

This volume is published by Shambala and edited by two disciples, Carolyn Gimien and Sherab Chodzin Kohn, and brought out in 2011 by Diana J. Mukpo, Trungpa’s widow.

The book is a compilation of seminars and talks on work, sex and money given in the early 1970s, but with some additional material from as late as 1981. His audience ranged from hippies though to businesspeople.

Trungpa’s book is divided into seventeen chapters. There are seven chapters addressing work, four dealing with sex, and the remaining six chapters devoted to money.

I found this a ‘curate’s egg’ compilation – good in parts. Some of the chapters are rather hard going, while others seemed insightful and rich. With the hard-going parts, I longed for more examples of his Dharma points, and cultural context. This is not a beginner’s book. But the lectures on work make useful reading, even forty years on.

In the seven chapters on work, Trungpa covers many themes, such as the sacredness of society, and our need as practitioners to be open to it – a radical idea at the time. The first three chapters don’t really address work per se, but really give a critique of modern society, and how self-centred and ego-based its individuals are. This is ground that is covered more fully in Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Real spirituality, he asserts, is an acceptance of the world as already spiritual. He emphasises the centrality of meditation practice for Buddhists in modern life, if we are to grow. Buddhists get it wrong in two ways, he says: Firstly, leading packed lives where we have no space for creativity, and secondly, being too afraid of the creative process, so that we don’t try.

Trungpa unpacks these two flawed approaches in Chapter Four, explaining that they are both manifestations of the ego and of materialism. He warns against materialism, pointing to the underlying psychological materialism that underpins them. Heaviness, fascination, meanness and possessiveness are hallmarks of this kind of mind, he observes. He outlines ways forward, such as guarding against laziness, ‘earthing’ yourself at work, simplifying your life, and being in the present moment. Our primary tool for working with the materialistic mindset is Meditation in Action.

In the chapters on work, Trungpa stands back and observes the modern world from the eyes of a traditionally trained tulku, yet he himself knows the modern world intimately. It is a broad Dharmic overview he’s giving us, applied to our working lives, and some of it isn’t nice at all. Writing this review in 2012 – the Digital Age, it seems that Trungpa’s outlook is as relevant as ever.

Yet Trungpa sees this materialistic world as fruitful for Dharma practice, particularly through the developments of areas like discipline, work relationships, ethical practice, awareness and creativity. In Chapter Five, ‘Overcoming Obstacles to Work’, he explores ways of working with frivolity, daydreaming and interpersonal conflicts. Despite his good perspectives, there are no worked-out practices here, After all, this is the 1970s, and Buddhism is still new in the West.

The chapters covering sex, I found the least interesting, and at times, hard to stay with. After overviewing sex from a traditional Buddhist take on the dhyanas (blissful meditative states), Trungpa asserts that our Western approach to sex is too frivolous and guilt-ridden. We fail to see that sex is really about a deeper, sacred communication between people, which is imbued with respect. It should be more like an offering than an act. Our approach imprisons us, he claims.

Love, he sees as ego-based, delusional and even animalistic. He peppers the chapter with stories, which I found were of mixed value. He goes on to explore sexuality from the viewpoint of the traditional monastic practice of celibacy, as a way to skilfully deal with desire — examining the source of our desire in the mind, rather than suppressing it.

These explorations are interesting, but I think don’t offer much concrete guidance for disciples. There is no teaching of sexual ethics, or of skilful ways forward. He seems to be suggesting that we acknowledge our primal desires, and then transform it into vajra passion, an ego-less bliss of the transcendental. But it isn’t clear how we might do this, should we want to.

Trungpa also explores family relationships and karma. Amongst what can appear as gross generalisations regarding family life, there are a few little pearls of wisdom, e.g. the need for parents to not see their children as property – an extension of their egos.

He also touches on marriage, but says nothing especially original or instructive for the modern practitioner.

Trungpa makes more useful points around the subject of money. The six chapters cover many themes; e.g. money karma, business ethics, and panoramic awareness. Despite some unproductive sidetracks he is stimulating, and gives his observations and experience of the subject. For instance, he explores the relationship between spiritual institutions and money and how this so easily leads to power games. Trungpa isn’t approving or disapproving of money in itself, he simply says that if you have some, then it is nice to spend it on something creative.

He also looks at business ethics and warns against secrecy, double-dealing and poor integrity. Buddhist businesspeople need to be exemplars of business ethics. Moneymaking can lead to good or bad karma. The choice is ours.

Trungpa’s final lectures cover karma and what he terms ‘panoramic awareness’. Work, sex and money all create karma, and we should see that. Awareness is his central point, and that if we want to be happy, then there are no short cuts; we need to act skilfully. Finally, he asks who the ‘I’ is that wants to be happy? He then explores shunyata and non-duality, and concludes by emphasising that by working creatively with work, sex and money we can realise it.

Throughout this all, he constantly strives to raise our awareness and give us a deeper perspective on our financial outlooks. Personally, I wanted more practical emphasis on simplicity, and how to make your money-earning a useful means to spiritual development. I would also have liked an exploration of dana, or giving.

But then, perhaps, that’s not the point of this book. Trungpa taught in depth on these subjects in other contexts. This book, as you would expect from the title, is an exploration of work, money, and sex, and although the quality of that exploration is variable and sometimes incomplete, Trungpa is insightful and stimulating at times. Despite the book’s shortcomings, Western practitioners will find food for thought here.

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The Buddha Walks Into A Bar, by Lodro Rinzler

Cover of Lodro Rinzler's book, The Buddha Walks Into a Bar

The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation is the literary debut of 28 year-old Shambhala Buddhist teacher, Lodro Rinzler. The book is aimed at “Generation O” and makes no assumptions about any prior knowledge or experience of Buddhism. Having said that, despite being a ‘young Buddhist’ I have almost a decade of experience of Buddhism yet I still found this book enjoyable, useful, and interesting.

I must admit, I did wince slightly at some of the expressions in the book, such as “Sid said…” when referring to the Buddha, but perhaps this is due to not being so ‘down with the kids’ these days. However, the cringe-effect quickly passed and I found Rinzler’s approach to be both down to earth and inspiring at the same time. The introduction clearly sets out the book’s purpose as a guide for (young) people who have sex, drink alcohol once in a while and still get annoyed at life when it doesn’t go our way. The book also discusses how to apply the Dharma to these daily issues that pervade our lives by living life to the fullest and being more in the “now” (and not necessarily having to give up those things that you enjoy. I think this is a reassuring message for young people interested in Buddhism.

I run monthly events for young people at the Brighton Buddhist Centre. There has been some resistance and challenge from people who are too old to come along, asking why young people need their own separate events, and this is why: Early adulthood is a time when people are exploring their identity and role in society. Young adults, from teenage years even into their twenties and thirties, may be still going through the process of separating from their parents by exploring, pushing and defining their own boundaries, beliefs and ideologies. What is needed is not any perceived imposition of more rules or boundaries, or anyone telling them how they ought to behave. What this book does well is to avoid that; it acknowledges in the first chapter that we might have the intrusive thought “Brett is a real asshole” [sic] while meditating. Rather than discussing the negative implications of having such thoughts on a prolonged and regular basis, Rinzler simply gives advice on how to use meditation practice to break free of our habitual responses in a playful and realistic way.

To give you a flavour of the playful and realistic character of the chapters, here are some the chapter headings: Being Gentle with Your Incredible Hulk Syndrome; Sex, Love and Compassion; How to Apply Discipline, Even When Your Head gets Cut off; Singing a Vajra Song (in the shower). Each of these chapters appears in one of four parts of the book: The whole book is divided into four parts: 1. First, get your act together, 2. How to save the world, 3. Letting go into space and 4. Relaxing into magic. Each part explores a different ‘dignity’ of Shambhala Buddhism: the tiger, the snow lion, the garuda and the dragon. The qualities of the tiger are discernment, gentleness and precision. This part of the book guides us in discerning our intentions and motivations in life (discerning our mandala), and working with difficult emotions and includes some instruction some shamatha practice that is simple enough for a beginner, starting with just 5 minutes.

Rinzler also emphasises the importance of inhabiting the present moment, and making the most of it by taking care of the details of our home, our finances and even our clothes, in a way that is relevant to young people. In the next part, the snow lion represents open heartedness and positive emotion; her qualities are applied particularly to sex and relationships, and we are introduced to the six paramitas (perfections) and the practice of loving kindness meditation. Following on from this, the garuda makes its entry. The garuda is an outrageous mythical being (half man, half bird) who flies above the earth and embodies the quality of fearlessness. Here we come to recognise the nature of fear, impermanence, groundlessness and to ultimately develop equanimity. This part of the book guides us leaning into the less comfortable aspects of life, letting go of attachment and creating a greater sense of spaciousness with our jobs, family, money, gadgets, social life, et cetera.

Finally, we are introduced to the magical dragon, and her qualities of authenticity, humour and delight. I loved this part of the book; I’m currently writing my PhD thesis and can get a bit cranky at times! The dragon has at some dark times inspired me to let go and be a bit lighter, and to be more accepting when I’m not feeling at my best. This part also contains the story of Milarepa, who caused much harm in his lifetime but still managed to attain enlightenment. Reading the story reminded me that we can all transform ourselves and shine light into the darkness. There is a lovely simple exercise here for opening the heart and mind, which can be really helpful when feeling as though one is in the middle of a maelstrom!

Overall, I found this book enjoyable, engaging and inspiring. I think I would have liked to see a bit more of a health warning along the lines that although the practices in the book are great and can be really effective, they aren’t always easy to do, and that deeper effects tend to be cumulative. Having said that, I loved the book and think it’s a great introductory read for a younger person who would like to know more about Buddhism, or just life in general. There is no pressure from the book to become a Buddhist; in fact this is even stated in the introduction. We’re actually planning to use some of the ideas from the book, combined with Sangharakshita’s System of Meditation’ as a theme for our Young Sangha activities at Brighton Buddhist Centre, so there’s a recommendation!

Title: The Buddha Walks Into A Bar: A Guide to Life for a New Generation
Author: Lodro Rinzler
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-1-590-30937-7
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

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Film review: Crazy Wisdom: The Life and Times of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Unique perspective on controversial Tibetan lama’s life and teachings skews toward the reverential.

Well before American Buddhists and New Age acolytes began flocking to the feet of Tibet’s Dalai Lama, hippies and spiritual seekers were following in the footsteps of Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan lama who took up residence in the U.S. during the 1970s.

A provocative account of Trungpa’s global odyssey, Crazy Wisdom offers a perceptive, if one-sided, perspective on Trungpa’s impact on American spirituality and the arts, but is probably too rarified for the uninitiated — film fests, DVD and VOD will provide the best refuge.

Born in Tibet in 1939, Trungpa was identified as a reincarnate lama (“rinpoche”) before he was two years old and completed ecclesiastical studies within the Kagyu branch of Tibetan Buddhism before escaping his homeland in 1959 and resettling in India following China’s invasion of Tibet. A move to London to study at Oxford University eventually led him to Scotland to cofound the first Tibetan Buddhist center in the West and the decision to give up his monastic robes to become a lay teacher and marry Diana Pybus, a 16-year-old follower.

In 1970, Trungpa and Pybus moved to the U.S., where they settled…

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rather incongruously in Vermont, establishing a rural meditation center. Trungpa began teaching a growing following of lay meditation practitioners, many of them counter-culture refugees seeking spiritual inspiration, and expanding his interest in the arts. Wherever he traveled around North America, however — eventually settling for a time in Boulder, Colo., where he founded the renowned Naropa University — Trungpa provoked controversy and intense curiosity, as well as devotion.

He freely slept with other women besides Pybus — many of them his students — and smoked and drank openly. Trungpa’s spiritual methods were often as divisive as his lifestyle, prompting followers to identify him as an embodiment of “crazy wisdom,” a traditional teaching style involving unconventional ideas and practices that shock students into new realizations of Buddhist principles.

Whether a lifestyle or a religious choice, Trungpa’s excesses led to his death in 1987 from cirrhosis of the liver at age 48, after he had established a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, a network of Shambala meditation centers and published dozens of English-language books on Buddhism.

As a former acquaintance of Trungpa, veteran documentary director and editor Johanna Demetrakas presents a fairly straightforward, chronological account of Trungpa’s life and teachings, employing historical photos, archival footage and contemporary interviews with relatives, friends and followers. Aside from some mild criticism of Trungpa’s practices from American Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, the doc is overwhelmingly hagiographic, extolling the lama’s legacy as teacher and spiritual guide, despite the debate that surrounds his methods even today.

Insightful and often entertaining, Crazy Wisdom is content to leave critical analysis to more objective, if perhaps less inspired, filmmakers.

Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Production company: Crazy Wisdom Productions
Director: Johanna Demetrakas
Producers: Lisa Leeman, Johanna Demetrakas
Director of photography: Pablo Bryant
Music: Sean Callery
Editors: Kate Amend, Johanna Demetrakas
No rating, 86 minutes

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“Rebel Buddha” giveaway

We have a copy of Ponlop Rinpoche’s Rebel Buddha to give away! All you have to do is to comment below, telling us which article in Wildmind you most appreciate, and why. (Please do supply a link to, or at least the title of, the article you’re nominating).

The competition is open to anyone, world-wide, and the winner will be chosen at random on December 12.

Rebel Buddha is an exploration of what it means to be free and how it is that we can become free.

Although we may vote for the head of our government, marry for love, and worship the divine or mundane powers of our choice, most of us don’t really feel free in our day-to-day lives. When we talk about freedom, we’re also talking about its opposite — bondage, lack of independence, being subject to the control of something or someone outside ourselves. No one likes it, and when we find ourselves in that situation, we quickly start trying to figure out a way around it.

Any restriction on our “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” arouses fierce resistance. When our happiness and freedom are at stake, we become capable of transforming ourselves into rebels.

To get an idea of what the book’s like, check out these extracts, published here on Wildmind:

Meditation: Catch and release
Born to be free
Relationships: your emotional signature

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Farewell, Robert Aitken Roshi

Robert Aitken

Photo credit: Robin Scanlon

Robert Aitken Roshi, one of the most influential and respected western teachers in the Zen tradition, has passed away. I have to confess that I’m not that familiar with his writings (so many books, so little time) but I’m glad that although the man is no longer with us, he leaves an extensive body of work. Here’s one example of his teaching that I came across.

Recently, an old-timer came to me and complained that he no longer felt enthusiasm for his practice. I questioned him and learned that he was limiting his zazen to his visits to the Zendo. I can understand how his enthusiasm might erode over a period of time when his zazen is limited to two sessions a week.

It is not merely enthusiasm that erodes when practice declines. Your body and mind go out of tune.You are no longer a vessel of insight. The cardinal can sing; the wind can move the ironwood trees delicately; a child can ask a wise question –and where is your center? How can you respond?

It is time to put yourself back in tune, to be ready for experiences that make life fulfilling. Take up the advice for beginners. Put your zazen pad somewhere between your bathroom and your kitchen. Sit down there in the morning after you use the bathroom and before you cook breakfast. You are sitting with everyone in the world. If you can sit only briefly, you will at least have settled your day.

No advice is easier to give than this, or harder to follow — for me too. The day stretches forth before me invitingly. Surely I can cut my zazen without harm, and get at the important stuff. One tiny decision leads to more tiny decisions, and the path is neglected.

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“The Heart of the Buddha,” by Chogyam Trungpa

heart of the buddha trungpa

Trungpa Rinpoche was a deeply flawed man, but an inspiring teacher. A new book gives Suriyavamsa a chance to reflect on Trungpa’s genius, and on the visceral and striking teaching it gave rise to.

I remember studying with my teacher Sangharakshita in a group of Triratna Buddhist centre teachers a couple of years ago. He expressed his admiration for Chogyam Trungpa and, using Gurdjieff’s distinction between the narrow saint and the broad genius, considered Trungpa to be a flawed genius of intelligence, flair and imagination. Sangharakshita went on to encourage us all to become ‘geniuses’ – to be broad and other regarding, and to develop the many diverse talents necessary to spread the Buddha’s teachings.

Title: The Heart of the Buddha
Author: Chogyam Trungpa
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 978-0-87773-592-2
Available from: Shambhala and Amazon.com.

This memory returns to me on reading The Heart of the Buddha, a recently re-released collection of Chogyam Trungpa’s articles. Trungpa was certainly broad. He had the genius, the flair and talent necessary to inspire many people to take up the Buddha’s teachings and he has had an enormous impact on Buddhism in the modern world. Many of the famous Buddhists teaching today such as Pema Chodron, Sherab Chodzin Kohn, Judith Zimmer Brown and Reginald Ray owe their foundation in the Dharma to Trungpa Rinpoche.

Trungpa has had an enormous impact on Buddhism in the modern world.

It pays to watch some of the YouTube videos of his lectures and get a sense of the author before reading this book. On these we see him sitting calmly, holding court before hundreds of people. He is immaculately dressed in a suit and tie and is carefully emphasizing each sentence with an impeccable elocution acquired during his stay at Oxford University in England. This is not a traditional Tibetan teacher fresh out of the Himalayas with trumpets and robes but someone deeply immersing himself in Western expressions. Someone out alone in a foreign culture determined to communicate the heart of the Buddhas teachings in a language accessible to the people before him. Trungpa’s presentations combined a thorough training in traditional Tibetan Buddhism with a radical re-visioning of what it means to practice the Dharma today. He tapped into a broad range of sources from Erich Fromm and psychology to Zen flower arranging and military discipline, and was keen to avoid the distracting allure of exotic Tibetan cultural trappings.

The articles in The Heart of the Buddha were chosen to represent “as complete a range of Rinpoche’s teachings as possible,” according to the introduction. There are edited introductory talks with questions and answers as well as more scholarly essays. In the first section we have a more experiential evocation of what is involved in meditation practice, in devotion and in the integration of intellect and intuition. Here is a taster from the article on mindfulness:

‘It (mindfulness) is a worldwide approach that relates to all experience, it is tuning into life. We do not tune in as part of trying to live further […] Rather we just see the sense of survival as it is taking place in us already. You are here, you are living: let it be that way – that is mindfulness. Your heart pulsates and you breathe. Let mindfulness work with that, let that be mindfulness, let every beat of your heart, every breath, be mindfulness itself. You do not have to breathe specially; your breath is an expression of mindfulness. If you approach meditation in this way, it becomes very personal and very direct.’

I’ve never found a clear overview in a Chogyam Trungpa book. He never wrote a 101 of Buddhism. I have thoroughly enjoyed my wanderings through these articles, but have been glad of my studies in my own tradition for an underlying framework to help hang it all together. For this reason I wouldn’t recommend even this broad compendium as an introduction to Buddhism. What you do get with Trungpa Rinpoche is something at least as important – vivid evocations of spiritual experience and a living sense of the scale and detail of the Buddhist perspective. He uses unexpected and surprising imagery which is often visceral and always striking. Reading his books is like making out the Buddha’s Dharma by flashes of lightning – you are left with memorable impressions and a stack of vivid quotes. Here are a few:

‘People have difficulty beginning a spiritual practice because they put a lot of energy into finding the best and easiest way to get into it. We might have to change our attitude and give up looking for the best and easiest way. Actually, there is no choice. Whatever approach we take, we will have to deal with what we are already.’

‘True admiration has clarity and bite. It is like breathing mountain air in winter which is so cold and clear that we are afraid that it may freeze our lungs. Between breaths we may want to run into the cabin and throw a blanket over our heads lest we catch cold – but in true admiration we do not do that.’

‘Spiritual shoppers are looking for entertainment from spiritual teachings. In such a project devotion is nonexistent. Of course if such shoppers visit a store where the salesman has a tremendous personality and his merchandise is also fantastically good, they might momentarily feel overwhelming trust of some kind. But their basic attitude is not desperate enough. Their desperation has been concealed or patched over, so they make no real connection with the teaching.’

The second section of the book contains three articles chosen to represent the three phases of the Tibetan Buddhist path –  taking refuge, the self transcendence of compassion, and the tantric path of ‘Sacred Outlook’.

The chapter on “Sacred Outlook” is the longest article at just under forty pages. Originally written for the catalog of an exhibition of ancient Buddhist Silk Route art, it is one of the best introductions to Tantric Buddhist practice I have come across, both in the thoroughness of its description and in its simplicity.

I found reading these articles induced an experience not unlike that of digging out old rock music and being struck by its fresh energy and imagination…

The final section is a bit of a mixture with articles on relationships, death, poetry, money, Buddhist/Christian dialogue and a piece on drinking alcohol. This is where Trungpa’s dangerous side comes out. He writes on the limitations of a moralistic attitude to pleasure and on the difference between alcohol being poison or medicine lying in the level of one’s awareness. A meditator undertakes ‘conscious drinking’ as a means to keep connected to others. It is difficult to read this as anything but naive in the light of his early demise at forty seven from cirrhosis of the liver and the chaos of his community after his death.

Nevertheless, I found reading these articles induced an experience not unlike that of digging out old rock music and being struck by its fresh energy and imagination in contrast to the formulaic, safe and commercial nature of so much of today’s music. These articles come from a time when Buddhism in America was more radically alive. Their vitality, originality and indeed danger, as well as their deep rootedness in the Buddhist tradition contrast strongly with so much of what passes for Dharma today. Amidst the mountain of secular Buddhism, domestic Buddhism for couples, therapeutic Buddhism for stress management and a strange fixation on our everyday, commonplace laundry, this book stands out for its ability to inspire and stir us from our complacency. Cold, clear mountain air indeed.

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“Bodhisattva, Superstar” – a film about popular culture and Buddhism

A new “allegorical documentary” about Western perceptions of, and misconceptions about, Buddhism, looks to be very interesting. The following is from the movie’s website:

Bodhisattva, Superstar, a new film by multimedia artist Michael Trigilio, confronts American popular culture’s habit of addressing the subject of religion with alternating degrees of deluded piety or flippant scorn.

Popular culture’s treatment of Buddhism often is ensnared by the language of marketing, using Buddhist language or images to sell shampoos, candy bars, or self-help recipes of one kind or another.

As one contemporary Buddhist author interviewed in the film suggests, many Americans expect Buddhism to be simply “a mash up of every Eastern philosophy they’ve ever heard of.”

Bodhisattva, Superstar sustains a documentary point-of-view by interviewing Buddhist “experts” – authors, chaplains, monks, scholars. The film also relies on an apparently scripted character (played by actress Deanna Erdmann) who navigates her own emotional landscape of wonder, wandering, and contemplation. Trigilio refers to this form as “allegorical documentary.” As pop-cultural myths about Buddhism are deconstructed in the film, so, too, is the nature of authority and authorship within the film itself. The heart of the film sits with the notion of spiritual authority which comes from within and not from above or beyond.

As the film careens towards its end – and as Trigilio, the filmmaker, become a subject of the interrogation and investigation – the audience is encouraged to see the subjective process of filmmaking itself as a practice just as complicated as the film’s subject matter.

Bodhisattva, Superstar ends with audiences being forced to come to terms with the popular idea that Buddhism is an anti-authoritarian religion. The film encourages audiences to discern for themselves what to accept and what to reject from the film in front of them.

And here’s the trailer:

And here’s a link to the movie’s website: https://www.starvelab.com/superstar/

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