National Geo Article on Buddhism
Now even National Geographic is onto this new "trend" of Buddhism rising in the West (which has been going on since roughly 1971). There's an article all about it in the current December issue. Noah Levine, the guy who wrote "Dharma Punx," even had a photo taken of the tattoos on his hands for the article (they say "Wisdom" and "Compassion"). Noah was one of my teachers at a recent retreat I attended at Spirit Rock (and he rocks, that's for sure). The National Geographic photographer who covered this story, Steve McCurry, came to Spirit Rock and took photos, but none of them made it into the article. He also went to Abhayagiri Monastery where I visited last weekend. I asked them about it, and the monks said McCurry photographed them doing walking meditation in the woods, but none of those shots made the print article. However, one image of that is displayed on the website slide show here:
In National Geographic, the writer lists three authors he recommends who have written about Buddhism and "attracted a wide readership." The three he mentions are The Dalai Lama (no big surprise but great choice), Thich Nhat Hanh (awesome choice), and Robert Thurman (well-respected). To that list, I would emphatically add some of my favorites: Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Pema Chodron, Chogyam Trungpa, Sogyal Rinpoche, Alan Watts, Shunryu Suzuki, and any direct teachings of the Buddha translated from the Pali texts (especially Gil Fronsdal's recent translation of "The Dhammapada").
Or skip all of the reading and just try the direct experience of meditating on your own. Sit in a chair with both feet on the ground or cross-legged on the floor (preferably on a cushion) in a relatively quiet place. Turn your cell phone to silent. Close your eyes. Breathe in and breathe out while focusing only on your breath. Clear your mind of wandering thoughts. Let go of everything. Try to keep your back straight, at roughly a 45 degree angle with your body. Soften your belly. Relax your shoulders. As you breathe in, just think "in" and as you breathe out, just think "out." In, out. In, out. Do this for 10-20 minutes. Or more. Or less. In, out... Keep bringing your mind back to the breathing every time you lose your focus. They say it is like training a puppy on newspaper. Every time he strays off the paper, gently bring him back onto it. Be gentle with yourself and practice stillness. Don't fidget. Resist scratching that itch. Breathe in, breathe out...*
Send me an email when you reach nibbana (nirvana). Trust me, you'll know when that happens. And it won't be the first few times you sit, unless you practiced a lot in a previous lifetime (as one of my teachers joked to me on a retreat).
*This meditation technique is also listed in the back of Noah Levine's book "Dharma Punx" and it really helped me. Link