As the psychedelic ’60s morphed into the sour reality of the ’70s, many a dazed survivor was struck with the revelation that there was more to life than sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. For some, a search for enlightenment led to Buddhism, which had a particular appeal for Jewish hippie intellectual lefties—such as a fair percentage of my pals. Picking up on this trend, a local stand-up comic, Darryl Henriques, did a shtick where he inhabited the persona of the Swami from Miami, chief guru of the Bu-ish religion.
Although quite a few friends were drawn to Buddhism in the early 1970s, my personal experience with meditation never got much past chanting the Bu-ish mantra, “Ommm Shalommm.” And despite occasional exposure to Buddhist writings and lectures, all that lingers in my brain’s recesses today is the Swami’s favorite maxim: “Yes, we are all one—but not the same one”!
Nonetheless, I remain intrigued by the very different ways Buddhism and the Abrahamic religions handle “life’s persistent questions,” namely, those pondered by Guy Noir. And I admire my budding Buddhist buddies from the 1970s who are still trekking the Dharmic path and resisting the lure of cynical materialism.
Two who fit this description are Barbara Gates and Wes “Scoop” Nisker. In 1983, Barbara and Scoop’s commitment to Buddhism motivated them to found Inquiring Mind, a journal “dedicated to the creative transmission of Buddhist teachings to the West.”
Based in Berkeley, the semiannual Inquiring Mind now boasts a worldwide circulation of more than 30,000 and for 25 years has treated readers to a wide variety of Buddhist-inspired art, poetry, philosophy, psychology, politics and humor. Regular contributors include such Buddhist notables as Gary Snyder, Joanna Macy, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield and Ram Dass.
The journal’s most recent, Spring 2007, issue is devoted to “The Tough Stuff: Money, Sex, Power.” Browsing its graphically pleasing pages, a number of pieces caught my attention.
One titled “The Lingerie Zen Sect” was written by Michael Attie, the Buddhist proprietor of “Playmates of Hollywood,” which bills itself as “the world’s largest lingerie store.” Attie suggests meditating in a sexually charged environment, for example the meditation hall he built above his store, releases “sexual energy” enhancing “enlightenment.” It’s a pity I never discovered this secret while growing up in a flat above my parent’s lingerie shoppe in Brooklyn.
Another article focuses on how a need for recognition by philanthropists limits the satisfaction they obtain from their charitable acts. Learning “to love anonymity” with no expectation of being thanked, says author Bokara Legendre, made giving money away far more rewarding for her. This insight hearkens back to Maimonides, who considered anonymous donors especially worthy in his “Eight Levels of Charity” discourse.
Both Gates and Nisker also contributed to the issue. Gates relates how she has applied a Buddhist perspective in her struggle to overcome a fear of freeway driving—a fear I happen to share. The inquiring mind that inquires too much is Nisker’s subject. He reflects on the difficulty of subduing the “thinking mind” to prevent its domination of the “other aspects of our being.”
Inquiring Mind is distributed free of charge with the bulk of its costs funded by reader donations.
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, a daylong party benefiting the journal will be held Saturday, July 21, at Marin County’s Spirit Rock Meditation Center.
The festive event will feature the “Rockin’ Mantra Band,” performance artists and a host of Buddhist luminaries including Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield and Jane Hirshfield. In addition, the journal is sponsoring an online auction, running through July 29. You can bid on a signed illustrated letterpress print of Gary Snyder’s “Smokey the Bear Sutra,” an intimate brunch with Jon Kabat Zinn or cooking and dining with Tassahara Cookbook author Edward Espe Brown. For details, please see: www.inquiringmind.com. An archive of back issues is also available at the website.