Throughout our two decades of sharing the Buddha-dharma, one particular challenge has continued to face the staff of Inquiring Mind: can we keep our means consistent with our message? In other words, from day to day and issue to issue, can we “walk our talk”? We are committed to making our work—how we go about managing this organization and producing the journal—as much our practice as sitting on a cushion.
As the Taoists might say, it is best to walk through life leaving only very light footprints. From early on, this philosophy has led us to try to keep a relatively low profile, and continues to influence many of the choices we make for this journal. Some of these choices have not been easy for us as we’ve faced the pressures and desires around so much of what is heralded in our culture.
Nonetheless, this commitment to walk lightly underlies our decision to operate without an office and to keep our overhead down to a minimum. It has influenced our decision to limit our offerings to just two issues a year, giving us the space and time we feel we need to make, as best we can, every word really count. It is why we have avoided the impulse to go “glossy” and continued to opt for the simplicity of newsprint for our presentation. It is why we do virtually no promotion or advertising, relying almost entirely on word of mouth, recommendations and personal requests to find new readers. Most important, it is why we continue to offer this journal freely to everyone, remaining steadfast in our belief that those who are able will help share in the cost of making this possible. For twenty years we have managed to defy many of the rules of good business sense and have kept this journal afloat in a relatively unorthodox way.
When we began in 1984, Inquiring Mind operated under the auspices of the Dharma Foundation, a sister organization to the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the sponsoring organization for much of our vipassana community’s early activities in California. The Dharma Foundation was also the progenitor for what would eventually become Spirit Rock Meditation Center. Yet even then, and throughout the twelve years of the Dharma Foundation’s stewardship, we operated independently, remaining solely responsible for our own funding, management and editorial decisions. In 1997 we established our own nonprofit organization, and it is this organization that continues to produce the journal today.
As we have remained true to our mission, we have also evolved and grown. During the early years, the primary role of Inquiring Mind was to serve and bring together the two coastal enclaves that, at the time, made up most of this vipassana community. Nearly all of our readers in those days lived in Northern California or Massachusetts. Yet slowly but surely our circulation expanded across the continent. For years we would get letters from people in the Midwest or the South or the Plains thanking us for being just about the only tether connecting them to a larger community of like-minded people. We don’t get as many of those letters anymore, and for good reason. In the ensuing twenty years our community has now migrated and planted roots across the entire map of the U.S. and Canada; in fact, in our last issue there were retreats listed in twenty-nine states, while the roster of sitting groups now covers forty-two states and six provinces. We are pleased that we have played a part in helping to build and connect this community, which now stretches across this continent and to readers in more than thirty countries.
Reaching this milestone of twenty years has inevitably led us to reflect upon how we have done so far. With respect to the success of our message, our longevity alone suggests that we’ve been at least of some benefit to the lives of thousands of Western followers of Buddhist ideas. From the beginning, Inquiring Mind has tried to keep its focus on exploring the questions and challenges we Westerners face every day as we try to live our lives with integrity and equanimity. At the same time, we have made every effort to be relevant to new and old readers alike. And the truth is that nearly every day we get little notes in the mail from readers like you telling us how much you appreciate what we are doing. Fortunately, these are often written on Post-its, and so I have them plastered all over my desk and on the dashboard of my car.
As to our means, I’d love to be able to say we have kept unwaveringly true to our message, but that just wouldn’t be so. Occasionally, we have tossed any hint of mindfulness, right thought or right speech straight out the window. For example, one heated debate a while back over cover artwork would probably have been quite funny to watch, but at the time it led to harsh words, hurt feelings, even tears. Also, in our constant effort to balance on this strange tightrope between Western commerce and Buddhist ideals, our commitment to this path has sometimes been tested. When we have seen donations fall and our coffers erode, we have felt the pull (fueled, dare we admit it, by greed) of more conventional money-making strategies. Yet we have always returned our attention to the very teachings we find on these pages to be reminded of why we are doing this, how we could be doing this, and, hopefully, have found our way back to the middle path.
Over my seventeen-year tenure at Inquiring Mind there is much I have become grateful for. The people I work with on this journal feel like family to me. We have celebrated and mourned together, and have supported each other through triumphs and tragedies. Since we have no office, our meetings take place at our kitchen tables, and thus all the goings-on and distractions of each of our personal lives help to blur the artificial distinction between our work and our “real” lives.
I am also grateful for the generosity of the hundreds of writers and artists over the years who have shared their work with us and with our readers, for the many advisers and volunteers who have offered their time and expertise, and for those staff members who have moved on to other places or projects—they remain connected to the Mind in spirit, and their ideas and input have helped to shape what this journal is today.
Finally, I am grateful for the tens of thousands of readers who give us a reason to do this. Whether you have been with us from the beginning, for just a few years, or for only a short while, you have honored us with your support, your suggestions and your words of encouragement.
No one involved in this project back in the mid-1980s imagined we would still be here after twenty years. Yet here we are, and we are excited about chronicling what lies ahead as Buddhadharma expands its presence and influence in the West. Our pledge is to continue to embrace the challenge of “walking our talk,” and to be the best representative of this community that we can be. Come along and join us for another twenty.