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

Buddha: From Warrior to Peaceful Monk

When most people think of Buddhism, their first associations are probably of meditation or peacefulness.  These associations are not incorrect, but they are not the whole story.  Siddhartha Gautama, a clan prince of 5th century B.C. India, was indeed a world-renowned spiritual leader known as the Buddha, but what is less well known is that according to scriptural accounts of his life, he was born into a ruling warrior caste and as a young man lived a privileged existence “wholly given over to pleasure.”  He was also a warrior, “surpassing the prowess of the most expert archers of the … Read More

Deconstructing Language of Maleness

My focus today is on one phrase from the conventional language of maleness: “Be a man.”  I don’t remember if anyone ever explicitly said this to me.  I don’t remember my father saying it, or my teachers or P.E. coaches.  But I’ve heard it all my life; It’s in the very air I breathe–part of the landscape of male language.  And it is loaded with coded, subterranean meaning, beyond the explicit meaning of the words. It doesn’t just mean “be a person of male gender.”  That’s the least of it. The phrase reverberates with patriarchy and privilege.  From that perspective … Read More

The Final Mountain–My New Book on Aging for Men

The Final Mountain: A Guide for Men

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a blog on this website—several months, in fact.  During that time I’ve been hard at work on my new book, whose working title is now The Final Mountain: Aging with Honor and Dignity: A Guide for Men. One mission of this book is to strengthen intuition and emotion in aging men, and help them redefine what it means to be a man in the last third of life.

This new book follows on my 2012 book Aging as a Spiritual Practice. That book was … Read More

The Decades of Aging

The process of aging is not a smooth, continuous trajectory from youth to old age.  It happens in several distinct, identifiable steps or stages.  These stages are actually demarcated by significant life events—the last child leaving home, a promotion, retirement—but colloquially and emotionally we tend to think of aging’s stages as decades: our fifties, the sixties, the seventies, the eighties, and beyond.  A birthday with a zero—my God, I’m fifty!—is a major, often bittersweet, signpost.   While everyone’s path of aging is unique, each decade has characteristics common to most people in them.

In my book-in-process Men Aging Well, I have … Read More