Thursday, April 14, 2011

Shambhala Sun

Shambhala Sun: Buddhism Culture Meditation Life
Bimonthly; $29.95 per year

Maybe it was the smiling cover photo of Pema Chodron, whom I have written about previously. Maybe it was my ongoing pursuit of peace and tranquility amid an increasingly cacophonous world. In any case, I grabbed the March, 2011 issue of the magazine, Shambhala Sun.

The magazine is filled with ads offering retreats, seminars, and lectures on the Buddhist lifestyle. The Dalai Lama will be visiting the University of Arkansas under their Distinguished Lecture series next month. The two sessions sound interesting, but I would not expect him to visit Arkansas. Nothing against the folks from Arkansas; I just didn’t think there would be that many Buddhists there, although Buddhism is a religion where one could follow the philosophy—non-violence, meditation-prayer, and compassion for the world and its people—without actually being a Buddhist. Jesus, in fact, would have made a good Buddhist. There are also pages of book ads. All the major Buddhist publishers are represented, and I found a number of interesting books on Eastern philosophy. The articles, however, are excellent as well.

Olivia Ames Hoblitzelle’s piece, “Touch of Grey,” examines the “sacred dimension” of growing old. “Consider the central Buddhist tenet of the three characteristics—dukkha (suffering), anatta (nonself), and anicca (impermanence),” she tells us. “All three are beating the drum of our diminishing years. Time to wake up!”

The thrust of her article is that growing older is a time for shifting focus to the spiritual. She advocates more practice of meditation and more awareness of the inner self. We must meditate on how physical diminishment and death are inevitable. “Everything changes, and we must part from loved ones,” she reminds us. This focus echoes “the ancient art of memento mori, remembering that I will die so I can live to the fullest.”

In her piece, “The Garden Path,” Cheryl Wilfong examines meditation practice through the metaphor of gardening. She discusses the growing white noise and unreasonable demands for our attention in daily living. We are stressed, distracted, and fatigued from living our days. We must take action to rejuvenate and grow our spiritual awareness, she tells us.

One of my favorite writer-philosophers is Thich Nhat Hanh. He weighs in on “Healing the Child Within.”

“We must listen to the wounded child inside us,” he says, and nurture healing every day. He compares Eastern and Western views of human psychology, the conscious and unconscious mind. In the scope of the article, the author peels back the layers with which we insulate our psyche to avoid dealing with trauma, pain, and emotional distress, much of it originating in our childhood.

“Buddhas Without Connections” is a unique piece by Tokyo crime reporter, Jake Adelstein. He investigates the mysterious deaths of a couple virtually no one can recall.”

“For many,” he writes, “the coming of spring is symbolic of birth, rebirth, vitality. For me, it’s a reminder that a lot of people are going to start dying, and that I’ll be busy.” Summer for this reporter is a season of death—bodies rotting and hot temperatures leading to short fuses.

Adelstein investigates the murder-suicide of an older couple in their apartment in Tokyo. It is a tragic, heartbreaking story he pieces together. What makes the deaths even more poignant and sad is that they lived without connections. None of their neighbors really knows them. Then there is the couple’s suicide note: “Don’t worry about us. We’ve been dead for a long time. Sorry we didn’t clean up before we left. We didn’t have the energy.”

Shambhala Sun has a lot to offer us in these troubled times. Eastern philosophy is known for its simple, brief language that generates deep, reflective soul searching. I would not subscribe, mainly because over the course of several issues, I found too many repetitive ideas. I will buy individual issues at my local news stand when a particular article calls to me. If they put Pema Chodron on the cover, I’ll plunk down my precious coin for every issue. Who can resist that reassuring, bemused, wise and wrinkled face?

Postscript:  Check out writer William Michaelian's post called Silence on his blog, Recently Banned Literature.  Very Zen.

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