The Best of Inquiring Mind

25 Years of Dharma, Drama, and Uncommon Insight

Edited by Barbara Gates and Wes Nisker

(Wisdom Publications, 2008)


In honor of Inquiring Mind‘s 25th anniversary, Wisdom Publications issued a long-awaited anthology of some of our favorite articles. The book contains a feast of essays, interviews and poetry chronicling the transmission of Buddhadharma to the West.


Here’s what reviewers said:

Selected quotes


And here are some short excerpts:

Conversation with a Spiritual Friend: An Interview with Joseph Goldstein

One of the most wonderful things in teaching retreats is to see people begin to open to that understanding of selflessness. It’s tremendously liberating to begin to see that there’s nothing to protect and nothing to solve and that rather than necessarily working out our problems, we can stop identifying with them.


The Happy Monk: An Interview with Ajahn Amaro

Of course, if you go on retreats for twenty years, you can create tremendous inner space. But it can become almost like a police state. You just clear the streets of all the unruly inhabitants of your mind. And while you may get them off the streets, the guerrillas will still be active underground. So when you leave the retreat, you begin to experience your ordinary life as difficult and turbulent. Then you can’t wait to get to the next retreat. I am speaking very generally here, and maybe exaggerating a bit, but I think I am describing a pattern that many of your readers will recognize.


Bringing Mindfulness into Mainstream America: An Interview with Jon Kabat-Zinn

The motive for coming to [mindfulness-based stress reduction] class in the first place is profound. Remember, people are not coming to learn meditation. They are not coming because they have concerns about “where I fit in the world” or about interconnectedness or meaning. They are coming because they have cancer or heart disease or chronic pain. They are coming to relieve their suffering or to gain control in a new way. They have experienced the limits of medicine. Here we are suggesting that maybe there is something you can do for yourself that no doctor or anybody else can do for you. What they are facing is pressing and immediate, like something’s on fire. This, of course, is wonderful motivation to come to meditation practice.


Talkin’ ’bout Our G-G-Generations: Noah Levine in Conversation with Wes Nisker

I think some of the punk ethic of my generation came out of our contempt for this oversimplified hippie LSD view that life was all about peace and love. Just put flowers in your hair and into the rifle barrels of the military and everything will be all right. My generation saw the first noble truth: that life was full of violence, oppression, suffering. And we saw that taking acid wasn’t going to solve anything. Our attitude was that you’ve got to fight against the system. . . . One of the most important messages I can relay is that spiritual practice isn’t just for hippies anymore. I want to open the gates of Buddhadharma to the next generation.


Advice from the Dalai Lama, By Jack Kornfield

The spirit of our meeting with the Dalai Lama was very empowering. At one point he said, “Drop the titles. You don’t need to call yourselves lamas or roshis. Drop the costumes. Change the teachings to fit your own culture. Even I am not sure about some of our teachings about heaven and hell realms. So maybe the Dalai Lama is a heretic too, except that I am the Dalai Lama and they will not kick me out. But you must see what is true for yourself and what is true for your culture. You must be the judge of that. We have to make these changes even if some of our Asian teachers don’t understand.”


Getting It? Or How I Learned to Let Go, By Diana Winston

The night before I left for Burma to ordain as a Buddhist nun, I held a goodbye gathering with a group of my friends in San Francisco. Moving around the room, I asked everyone in the circle to offer me blessings for my trip. The replies ran a loving but predictable gamut from wishes for health and adventure to a safe return. When I got to my friend Maura, she paused for a moment and then said, “My blessing for you is menstruation.” Huh? The room was stilled by a confused silence. “Well,” she continued, “when you are there, if you lose touch with yourself, if you become overwhelmed by an ascetic, male-dominated tradition, when you bleed you can remember your connection to the Earth and yourself as a woman.”


Meat Puppets, By Kate Lila Wheeler

Pus, boogers, peepee, poopoo. Would you believe that there is a meditation practice based on contemplating these items? It isn’t for two-year-olds; it’s for adults. And it is intended to lead to peace of mind, not agitation, amusement and disgust. It’s one of the classic meditation practices of the Theravadan tradition, an orderly contemplation of the thirty-two parts of the body, starting with hair of the head and ending with urine.


What A Relief! I Don’t Exist: Buddhism and the Brain

An Interview with Francisco Varela

My hypothesis is that evolution has shaped human beings to disregard the basic sources of our being. We were built to forget how we were put together. Being aware of that process would make us slightly hesitant toward ourselves and our behavior. It is like a centipede looking at itself walking; it might very well become all tangled up. So we are born with a bias to pay no attention to the original sources of the self and to simply operate in the world. That is why you can have an intellectual understanding of egolessness, or anattā, while the emotional root that weaves that understanding into your life remains absent. In some sense, a heightened degree of self-awareness is anti-evolutionary.


Complementary Paths: An Interview with Stephen Batchelor

Imagine that you have a garden or a park full of children. With an Indian approach—Theravada or Tibetan—the teacher says to the children, “Look, there’s a red ball and a blue cross and a green puppet out there. Now go and find them.” You are told what it is you are supposed to find, and then you can go out and look for it. Whereas in Zen, it’s as though the teacher says, “There is something hidden in this place. See if you can find out what it is.”


Devotional Practices & Vipassana: An Interview with Ram Dass

Then there is U Pandita himself. You see, I am so used to conning people; I’m so used to being so charming and charismatic. People always want something from me; it can be just a smile, but they want something. U Pandita didn’t come out of this culture. I was just another fifty-year-old guy with a mustache and a mind. That’s what he saw. He didn’t see Ram Dass. So when I met him, it didn’t work. I couldn’t charm him. It was so delicious to me. You don’t know how desperately I wanted that experience of not being able to charm somebody. Because the minute I charm, that paranoia begins: they don’t really know the real me.


Dzogchen & Vipassana: An Interview with Tsoknyi Rinpoche

I think this [Dzogchen] teaching is especially good for Americans. Everything here is considered too real, too serious, and because you think everything is very real, you get crazy. You have a “real” problem. (Laughs) You want real life, real happiness, real meaning, real, real, real. You are too greedy, and even though you know that about yourselves, you don’t know how to let go of it. Dzogchen can cut that very effectively. . . . Moreover, I see that you have high-class confusion in America. (Laughs) I can see it in people’s eyes.


Who’s Asking the Questions Here? A Non-Interview with Hari Lal Poonja

Whatever you do and whatever you don’t do is all empty. Every day I am seeing people who have had many different teachers and have done all kinds of practices, and they say, “We are here seeing you because you don’t give us any teaching, and you don’t give us any practices. Now we don’t have anything to do. We just laugh.”


Passionate Dharma: Tantra Practice: An Interview with Miranda Shaw

Practice with a consort is not synonymous with physical union. I prefer to use the word intimacy rather than sexuality, because sex is not the essence of the practice. That’s our impoverished Western view of what intimacy entails. There are many other practices that tantric partners do together. One of these practices is gazing: long sessions where the partners cultivate pure vision by gaining the ability to see one another as divine, as embodied manifestations of Buddhahood, and as enlightened in essence. There are other exercises where they simply touch each other’s fingertips or touch the palms of their hands, or they eat and feast together as a practice of cultivating and channeling their bliss.


Compressing Eons of Lifetimes into One: Vajrayana Impermanence Practice, By Robert Thurman

One of the deepest practices of impermanence in the Vajrayana is to enter your own subtle body, the subtle nervous system of tantra, where each moment contains the universe and all of evolutionary causality. . . . That is why monks and yogis in the forests and retreat caves are having such a great time. They are opening up the neural, Reichian armoring and feeling the bliss of the flowing energies. In the deepest practices, we find that impermanence becomes bliss and freedom. In the end, impermanence means that we are transformable, and that is central to all of the Buddha’s teaching.


The Big Awakening, By Andrew Cooper

[In the voice of a Dashill Hammett–type private eye] Sara’s the name, Sam Sara. I’d been traveling with my boss, the Great Shamus Shakyamuni Buddha, for twenty years, and I’d seen a lot of tough towns before. I’m not one to complain: preaching the Dharma’s what I do and it’s what I like. But on days like this, in towns like this, it’s best just to make your pitch quick and pretty, grab some Z’s, and get out real quiet-like . . . .


The Third Turning of the Wheel: An Interview with Joanna Macy

We will heal by what Robinson Jeffers called “falling in love outward.” That’s our mission, to fall in love with our world. We are made for that, you see, because we are dependently co-arising. It is in the dance with each other that we discover ourselves and lose ourselves over and over.


Ch’an on Turtle Island: An Interview with Gary Snyder

What I look forward to is not “Zen in America,” which to me means the replication of robes and temple procedures, married priests with station wagons, Japanese business contributions, expensive downtown centers, and some sort of hybrid Japanese-Protestant etiquette with its own kind of dourness. I’m working toward a “Ch’an on Turtle Island,” which for me means an earlier and more open and more T’ang Chinese sort of spirit: old women trading insults and teacakes with wandering monks, really chopping literal wood and carrying actual water, a Ch’an for ordinary people and a few ghosts and spirits thrown in, on a real continent of mountains and streams on which we ask how to include in our zendos the sagebrush and the rabbits, the farmworkers and the growers of Manteca and Turlock, as well as the highly educated, slightly troubled professionals. All of that will be more fun, but it will take a while.


Indigenous Dharma: Native American & Buddhist Voices, By Eduardo Duran

I recently attended a special retreat for Native Americans, taught by vipassana teacher Joseph Goldstein. Most of the Natives were doing meditation for the first time, and afterward Joseph said he was astounded at how steady and still the people were when they sat. We have ceremonies where we are required to sit still for long periods, so we don’t seem to have a problem with sitting, at least not physically. Native ceremonies foster profound levels of concentration, and many of them are practices of generating metta for all beings, including the Earth. We would be willing to teach some of these practices to Westerners if they want to learn them.


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