It is said that the Buddha taught 84,000 Dharma doors to resonate with the temperaments of his multifarious listeners. Those teachings have been echoing through Indra’s Net ever since. Recently, two such teachings from vastly separated nodes crossed my desk, leading me to ponder whether there is a Middle Way at all, or whether it is even possible to find the center of a multi-dimensional matrix of Buddhist retellings.

One book, Heart Essence: Enhancing Qualities of the Awakening Mind, is by Rob Preece (Mudra Publications 2022). Rob is a student of the late Lama Thubten Yeshe, a psychotherapist in the UK, and the author of seven previous books published by Snow Lion and Shambhala Publications on Vajrayana practice.

The other, Buddhist Ecological Protection of Space: A Guide for Sustainable Off-Earth Travel, is by Daniel Capper (Rowman & Littlefield 2022). Daniel is a professor in the School of Humanities at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Preece’s book focuses on the four brahmaviharas and other emotional components of the Bodhisattva Path. Capper’s book focuses on Buddhist ethics as they pertain to such issues as dealing with space junk, mining the moon, colonizing Mars, and exo-microbe scientific research.

Preece’s book emerges out of his own practice and therapeutic work. Capper’s book emerges out of longitudinal ethnographic work with more than a hundred North American Buddhist community leaders and his extensive involvement with NASA scientists.

Which brings us to the title of this article . . .

Tensegrity is an architecture term defined as the characteristic property of a stable three-dimensional structure consisting of members under tension that are contiguous and members under compression that are not. It was first coined by Buckminster Fuller, inventor of the geodesic dome.

Perhaps we could draw an analogy with the Buddhadharma in which all components rely on their relationships with other components to maintain stability—a sort of cognitive and emotional interbeing.

I self-identify as Buddhist and after 50+ years since my first brush with Zen, I find that I do not “practice” any more in ways I would have expected back in the day. I don’t meditate regularly. I am not a member of any particular sangha. My sadhana memory skills are a shambles. As a Buddhist publisher, I read a lot of Buddhist books, of course, and I devote many of my waking hours to promoting Buddhism here in Canada. But I’m a bombu again. So, I would say that my involvement is very experiential—I certainly see what happens to me and the world around me every day through a Buddhist lens. My intention is congruent with the Bodhisattva Path. But that doesn’t mean I have to embrace someone else’s view of what I should be doing.

There are many aspects of Buddhist teaching and practice that don’t appeal to me at this stage of my life (although they may be entirely pivotal for others), and there are other aspects—notably the lack of focus on green Buddhist practice in most Buddhist institutions and communities—that really bother me. This latter frustration is so strong that I have joked with some of my environmental activist colleagues that I have become “post-Buddhist.” That punchline always brings a chuckle after my rhetorical straight-line set-up: “The world is changing. If Buddhism isn’t directly engaging with and addressing our real Anthropocene Apocalypse duhkha, what is its value?”

In the past few years, mostly because of the pandemic but also because of my own aging, I am beginning to pivot away from my career as a high school technological education teacher. I retired a few years ago and have been supply teaching for four of the past five years. I didn’t make a conscious decision or announcement of my intentions. So I’m in flux. But as my wife frequently says: “The big decisions take care of themselves.” The province where I live is now experiencing serious system failures in the healthcare and education sectors, the cumulative effect of years of neglect and empty or antagonistic policy decisions.

On another skein of Indra’s Net, I’ve been approached several times of late to apply my editorial and project management skills to Buddhist books for other publishers. Some involve substantive (developmental) editing of dissertations to make them worthy of publication by academic presses.

It seems many aspiring professors are blithely unaware that their very respectable and worthy research might not automatically be embraced by publishers. They aren’t familiar with the rough-and-tumble world of commercial publishing and have already been traumatized by the precarious gig economy approach of cost-conscious post-secondary educational institutions which offer unrealistic career paths in which the chances of success parallel those of an aspiring high-school punk band hoping to become rock stars.

As I am experiencing in my own life and hearing from those around me, life transitions are difficult, based in time, and unavoidable. Embracing tomorrow frequently involves letting go of yesterday and making a discontinuous segue into a new paradigm. And as John Bradshaw famously pointed out in his ground-breaking work on dysfunctional family systems: our civil institutions derive their operating manuals from society, which is based on those dysfunctional family systems—samsara, in other words, writ large.

In a talk I gave recently for the 2022 (Third) Buddhist Literary Festival of Canada, I asked how we evaluate Buddhist books. There is quite an array of assessment criteria:

• Doctrinal purity
• Motivational force
• Transferrable lessons
• Green Buddhism
• Socially Engaged Buddhism
• Scholarly rigor
• Celebrity culture (“A-list” teachers)
• Linguistic ghettos, spiritual pride, parochialism, etc.
• Sales
• Awards

And you could probably add a few more from your own experience. Furthermore, all of these criteria arise dependently upon our own perspectives—socio-economic, ideological, race, gender, sexual orientation, and so on—i.e., how we self-identify and how others identify us.

Which all leads me to this moment at the keyboard, trying to articulate the thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head this month and make metacognitive sense of them. “Noting” as Plum Village practitioners might call it. Or I am reminded of Bernie Glassman Roshi’s dictum, “Not knowing; bearing witness; taking action.”

I’m on record as saying the heart of Buddhism is about practice, not self-identification. You don’t have to be this or that to benefit from or apply the Dharma. Now I’d say that “practice” is too rigid a label and fraught with subtext, so the term “experiential” might be a broader category within which it could reside. Experience is not performative—there are no inclusion constraints. Natural awakening takes time, yet this moment is key. Gotta be some tensegrity here!

To put it another way: I didn’t write this column, you did. Tell me more.

Related features from BDG

Beginner’s Mind: Where Did Buddhism Take You?
Young Voices: Finding Comfort in Not-Knowing
Buddhist Voices in the Climate Crisis: Earth Words and Watershed Activism
Little Did They Know . . .
What Keeps Buddhist Activists Sane?

More from Bodhisattva 4.0 by John Harvey Negru

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