The Best of Inquiring Mind - Introduction
In the 2,500-year-old history of the teachings of the Buddha, the past several decades have been fertile as this ancient tradition has found a new home in the West. In just the past quarter century we have watched Buddhism take root in our soil, and in our minds and hearts, causing both a new ﬂowering of the Buddha’s teachings and, in turn, the addition of a new culture’s wisdom and personality to the ongoing bloom of Dharma. As editors of Inquiring Mind we feel privileged to have participated in and chronicled the transmission.
Our journal serves what is commonly called the vipassana, or insight meditation, community, but the more accurate name for our root tradition is Theravada, which translates as the “path of the elders.” The Theravada is a school of Buddhism that has ﬂourished over the centuries in south Asia, primarily Burma, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Cambodia. It encompasses hundreds of diﬀerent meditation practices and rituals, as well as a way of life. In Inquiring Mind, we have primarily focused on the arrival of that tradition in the West through those trained in the teaching styles of Mahasi Sayadaw from Burma and the forest tradition of Thailand.
We have also welcomed voices from other streams of the Dharma ﬂowing through our lives. In particular, we have followed various trends that have arisen in our own Buddhist spiritual circles over the years: the exploration of dzogchen with Tsoknyi Rinpoche and other Tibetan masters; the visits of Western Theravada teachers and students to the Hindu Advaita teacher Hari Lal Poonja; the appreciation of poetry, art, and teachings from the Zen communities of Suzuki Roshi, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Robet Aitken; the “engaged Buddhist” activities of groups such as the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and the Zen Hospice program; and the new-paradigm thinking of eco-Buddhist philosophers and activists. Inquiring Mind has tracked all these turnings of the Dharma wheel as it has rolled through.
We have been the fortunate contemporaries to extraordinary teachers of Dharma and honored to have conversed with them about our common human dilemmas. Among those who have been featured in Inquiring Mind are Asian masters with thousands of students worldwide as well as prominent Western teachers who are just now skillfully molding the Dharma into its new body here in the West. We have also called on the wisdom and creativity of Dharma-inspired artists and philosophers—Gary Snyder, Joanna Macy, Allen Ginsberg, Mayumi Oda, John Cage, and many others.
Twice a year we present a journal organized around one (or occasionally two) themes, sometimes to discuss the issues and personalities currently making “news” in our Buddhist world but more often to raise subjects that more generally delight, inspire, or challenge us in our practice and in our lives. We have included symposia on such topics as psychology and Buddhism, the meaning of mindfulness, and the Dharma and the environment. We’ve delved into tough issues such as our society’s culture of “speed and greed” or our struggles over “money, power, and sex.”
In this book you’ll ﬁnd a collection of some of the “best” of what we’ve published over the past twenty-ﬁve years. (Of course, we had to leave out many engaging pieces.) We open each of the eight sections of the book with art from one of the many artists whose drawings, paintings, sculptures, or photographs have been featured in the journal, not simply as illustrations but as independent pieces juxtaposed with the written work. In making our selections of articles, we have included a mix of genres—interviews, personal stories, philosophical essays, and poetry—and a mix of voices—women and men from various schools of Buddhism and from diverse racial backgrounds. Achieving this mix has been an ongoing challenge throughout the history of the journal. While diversity in gender and race has slowly continued to increase among Western Buddhists, there are still many more male than female meditation teachers and, with the exception of those in the Asian immigrant communities, there are few non-white Western Buddhist teachers and students. To some degree, this anthology reﬂects these imbalances.
We had a lot of fun rereading all our back issues, selecting favorite pieces, and playing with the conceptual framework for this book. We begin with a section called “Path of the Elders,” featuring teachers who have played a key role in bringing the teachings of the East (primarily those of the Theravada) to the West. “Living and Dying in a Body” follows the cycle of the body through its vitality, aging, sickness, and death, and “Science of Mind” explores the interface of the sciences of the East and West as they come together to heal and develop the mind. “The Dharma and the Drama” presents personal stories, poignant and/or funny, about people grappling with the diﬃcult predicament commonly known as life. “Complementary Paths” oﬀers conversations contrasting diﬀerent schools of Dharma and exploring how they can complement each other, while “Practices” oﬀers a range of skillful means, from jhana to tantra. We end with “Artists and Jesters of the Dharma” expressing the Dharma in ﬁction, poetry, and humor, and “Tending to the World,” discussions of compassionate action—from the endangered forests to the prison yard.
We hope you’ll ﬁnd The Best of Inquiring Mind to be rich in wisdom as well as a fascinating historical record of a new tradition of Buddhism, just now learning how to walk and talk in the West.
—Barbara Gates & Wes Nisker,
Coeditors & Cofounders,
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© Inquiring Mind, The Best of Enquiring Mind (Wisdom Publications, 2008)
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