Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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Thanks for the insightful interview with spiritual teacher Adyashanti [“Who Hears This Sound?” by Luc Saunders and Sy Safransky, December 2007]. I first read an interview with him in Tricycle magazine and was instantly enamored of his statement that if Buddhism were a business, it would go bankrupt, because no one is getting enlightened.
My life has improved since I read his message, even if my meditation practice has given way to lots of singing and rock climbing.
With all due respect, The Sun’s usual interviews with leftists and anticapitalists just aren’t that interesting. They all sound like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, which I have a feeling most of your readers have already read.
Reading the introduction to Luc Saunders and Sy Safransky’s interview with Adyashanti, I shared the interviewers’ concerns as to whether this spiritual teacher would say anything we hadn’t heard before. By the end of the interview I was smiling and shaking my head: Of course we’ve heard it before. That’s the point. As Adyashanti reminds us, awakening is almost never permanent. Thanks for the refresher.
I’m grateful, too, for The Sun’s refusal to succumb to advertising, and I hope the decision makers at the magazine will always follow the advice Adyashanti’s teacher gave him: “If you ever think you can’t handle those temptations, stop before you do something stupid.”
Reading the interview with Adyashanti, I was reminded of the Tao Te Ching — specifically the lines “Those who know do not talk. Those who talk do not know.”
The Sun has opened my stodgy, sixty-six-year-old mind, but it is in danger of slamming shut after your interview with California guru Adyashanti, alias Stephen Gray. He is a reminder that spirituality must be grounded in a governing story or myth; otherwise it is abstract nonsense. (“I was the toilet”? Give me a break.) When spirituality doesn’t contribute to the community and the common good, it becomes one more instance of self-serving narcissism. What ever happened to doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with your God?
As the fascinating interview with Adyashanti winds down, Luc Saunders asks a timely question about the possibility of an evolutionary leap in consciousness for humanity. In response, Adyashanti makes the offhand statement that most of those who believe in such a vision are “aggrandizing their own egos.” He goes on to say that he sees no great leap on the horizon.
His answer probably comes from a justifiable disdain for New Age quackery, but it certainly does not give the question its due. If the point is that too much emphasis on the big picture will distract us from individual awakening, I heartily agree. But as much as I appreciate Adyashanti’s no-nonsense approach to individual enlightenment, I believe we ought to be listening just as carefully to the likes of David Korten, who called for a “great turning” in your pages a few issues back [“Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” interview by Arnie Cooper, September 2007].
After “I” wake up from the dream of “me,” it follows that I will dive right back in and participate in the dream of “us.” No matter how dismal the situation appears, it is our responsibility as awakened beings to bring about a world where compassion and wisdom are practiced on a mass scale. Many reputable spiritual leaders, speaking from their hearts and not their egos, are trying to discern the best way to accomplish that. They deserve all the support — and constructive criticism — we can muster.
In your December 2007 Correspondence, Jenn Gierada complains that you publish too many stories by drug addicts, alcoholics, victims of abuse, and prison inmates. There follows an anonymous letter from a woman who was used terribly by an ex-felon after he got out of prison; she, too, laments the forum you give to prisoners.
I have been out of prison for four and a half years, having served sixteen years for sexually molesting my twelve-year-old stepdaughter. I have had a good number of my prison stories printed in The Sun and would like to note that few other magazines print work by inmates and ex-cons. Those of us who have been in prison — or have been abused, or are alcoholics or drug addicts, or have fallen in so many ways — would like to be heard. The Sun does these men and women a service. Perhaps if other magazines were open to such stories, then The Sun would publish fewer of them.
As for the woman who was betrayed by her ex-felon husband: I know many men who are like that, and I am sorry she was treated so terribly. I also met many men in prison who had committed heinous crimes but were still good people. I hope the letter writer will continue to heal. I’m not asking for her or anyone else’s forgiveness or trust, because I don’t deserve it, but I do hope she becomes stronger and wiser for her pain and suffering. I help friends who are coming out of prison because I’ve been there, but I choose them carefully, and even I can be tricked. Trust must be earned, again and again. She was not responsible for what happened to her.
I was deeply moved by Heather Sellers’s essay “The Wizard in the Closet” [December 2007], about her mentor. I, too, teach college-level writing, and I feel that I carry several of my former teachers with me into the classroom each day.
James Kullander’s essay [“My Marital Status,” December 2007] let me know that I am not the only person who has difficulty answering the marital-status question on forms.
After my husband disappeared, I had to divorce him to disassociate myself financially. He called once and promised me that one day he would come home, and we would pick up where we’d left off. I never heard from him again. I later received a letter from his sister telling me of his suicide. I was not emotionally divorced from him and had still been waiting for him to come home.
Usually my answer to the question is “widowed,” no matter what the divorce decree says.
On December 25, 2007, just three weeks after I’d read Derrick Jensen’s book excerpt “Thought to Exist in the Wild: Awakening from the Nightmare of Zoos” [November 2007], a tiger got free from its cage at the San Francisco Zoo. The animal killed a seventeen-year-old boy and wounded two others before it was shot dead by police. What happened to the human victims is tragic, yet I find myself feeling sorrier for the tiger, whose instincts to hunt, repressed until that day, made it the enemy of a society that longs to see animals tamed, caged, or dead. The tiger’s escape should be proof to anyone that nature should not and cannot be controlled.
Like Marcy Renton, whose letter appears in your October 2007 Correspondence, I want to have my views challenged by those “on the other end of the political spectrum.” But I don’t agree that it’s the job of The Sun to accommodate this desire. There are, after all, many places to find such views. That’s why I subscribe to the well-written, well-reasoned American Conservative. I think we ought to encourage what few reasonable journals there are on the Right by subscribing to them.
When I first read The Sun more than ten years ago, it was a pleasure to encounter a serious literary journal whose articles and stories were by and about real people struggling with real problems. I could never understand the readers who complained that The Sun was “depressing”; the world, after all, is a dark and disturbing place.
I’m sad to say that in the last several years The Sun has become boring, predictable, and monotonous. It seems as if every other interview is with a white American Buddhist guru or liberal Christian of one flavor or another. How about interviewing some humanists, agnostics, and atheists for a change? Or philanthropists, politicians, and inventors?
The Sun appears to have become a vehicle for a particular set of writers whose work appears over and over in your pages. Couldn’t you make more effort to recruit new ones? And the subjects of the essays, stories, and poems appear confined to spiritual, religious, or psychological crises; drug or alcohol addiction; prison experience; dysfunctional or abusive family situations and relationships; and the struggles of marginalized individuals. It is good that The Sun provides a forum for these stories, which tend to get neglected by the mainstream press. But after I’ve read the 347th account of someone’s battle with drug addiction, they all start to blend together into a monotone.
This monotone is reflected by The Sun’s stubborn, perhaps principled, decision to use only black-and-white — though admittedly beautiful — photographs. I realize that this decision is partly economic, since color printing is often prohibitively expensive. But a move to color would do wonders and perhaps lift The Sun out of its rut.
One last, minor complaint: sexual experience is not often dealt with in The Sun. There’s a subliminal prudishness in your pages, in spite of the letters of protest you get whenever you publish a photograph with some — gasp! — nudity. If sex is dealt with, it seems confined to heterosexual experience. As a gay man, I find this somewhat disturbing. I realize that it’s not, and shouldn’t be, The Sun’s duty to meet minority quotas, but the content of the magazine is pretty white, pretty straight.