Four Features of Growing Older

As someone who has written several books about aging and spirituality, I am often asked to describe the most important issues about aging that people need to know.  I often answer with what I call the four features of aging—loss, time, gratitude, and new chances.  There are many other aspects of aging that are worthy and important, but I feel that these four are the universal components of growing older that everyone experiences.

Loss.  There is no getting around it.  Aging means loss—loss of youth, loss of possibility, loss of energy and stamina, loss of physical attractiveness, and even … Read More

Was Buddha a Deadbeat Dad?

Was the Buddha really a “deadbeat Dad” as we would say in modern parlance?  The real answer is that we have no idea, because all the stories of the life of Siddhartha the Buddha are heavily overlaid with mythological and idealized elements.  But the scriptural accounts of his life do say that he was born a prince, was married with an infant son, and abandoned his family and his life of royal privilege at the age of 29 for the life of a sadhu, a homeless monk.  Whether these accounts are objectively true or not, they are spiritually and psychologically … Read More

Two Families of Meditation

When most people think of meditation these days, they think of a practice to make themselves calm.  This is not wrong—meditation can do that—but it is an incomplete understanding of what meditation is or can be.  When I taught meditation I would always say, “Meditation is not just about being calm, it is about being real.”

I started meditating in college, over fifty years ago.  There were few actual teachers of meditation in those days, and none in my town. I learned using dusty old texts on Buddhism and Yoga that I found tucked away in the basement of the … Read More

All Women Have Been Harassed or Worse

As a man who has always tried to be sensitive to a woman’s needs and point of view, I have always known that women suffer from being harassed or abused by men.  But it was not until one particular conversation with two female professional colleagues, that I realized that this truth applied to nearly every woman, everywhere.  Women, reading this, might say, Well, where have you been? How could you not know? But I think a lot of men don’t really know.

I have had a long career as a Buddhist teacher and meditation instructor, though I am now retired.  … Read More

OpeningYour Heart to Grief

Grief is the natural human response to loss.  People who don’t care about other people don’t grieve.  People who don’t know love are walled off from grief.  People who love carry the burden of grief.  This is hard. It is tempting to build a wall against loss—particularly when it is not our own personal loss, but someone else’s—but that only lessens our innate humanity. To be truly and deeply human is to grieve.  The question is how to grieve in a way that does not crush or overwhelm us, and to open to loss in a manner that can lead … Read More

Tuning Into the Un-News

These days we are all flooded with news, or what passes for news.  I can’t even open a browser or a newsfeed without seeing a slideshow of all the news stories the curators of the browser or their algorithmic robots think is important.  I remember the days when there was no internet, when the news was announced by one of the three major television networks, when Walter Cronkite ended his half-hour of news by saying, “And that’s the way it is,” and we all accepted and believed it.

It is now almost a cliché to say that we live in … Read More

Monk and Goddess Exchange Bodies

In the Buddhist scripture Vimalakirti Sutra, Chapter 7,a Buddhist monk named Shariputra exchanges bodies with a celestial goddess; he takes her body and she takes his. The spiritual teaching of this story demonstrates that the mind of awakening is beyond gender or physical form, but the episode also invokes gender fluidity, as well as refuting the notion that men are superior to women. These ideas were radical two thousand years ago when this text was written, and are still in flux today.

Some ancient Buddhist sects held that in order to be fully enlightened, a woman must first be reborn … Read More

Three Weeks in a Coma

In the summer of 1999, I fell ill with a high fever and terrible headache.  Soon I was too dizzy to walk.  My wife drove me in the middle of the night to the ER, where, as they began tests, I quickly faded from consciousness.  A brain scan showed I had encephalitis, a dire illness that often leads to death, blindness, or paralysis.  For three weeks I lay in a coma, unresponsive to any outside stimulus.  My irises didn’t even respond to bright light—a condition I was later told was “not compatible with continued life.”  In other words, as far … Read More

The Great Man and the Shrieking Woman

We say “Mother Earth,” acknowledging “the feminine” energy of our planet which gives birth to all life, as a mother gives birth to her children.  This mother earth is now being rapidly degraded and destroyed by a crisis of climate caused by human-created runaway technologies. While it may be obsolete to assign certain aspects of nature or the world to either masculine or feminine energies, that is how the mythological viewpoint of the ancient world saw it. If earth is the mother, the feminine, then could the forces destroying it be, in a mythological sense, attributed to the masculine? The … Read More

Buddhist Approach to Disagreement

It was the summer of 1971.  I was living at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center—the first Zen monastery in America.  Its founder and resident teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, was a Zen master or Roshi from Japan who had come to America to teach meditation to Americans, mostly young.  One of those young Americans was Richard, well-known among us as a non-stop talker and a fervent proselytizer of brown rice as the perfect spiritual food. 

One afternoon I came across Suzuki Roshi and Richard in the courtyard, and Richard was, as usual, talking animatedly.  “Wouldn’t you agree, Suzuki Roshi, that brown … Read More