An Interview with Josh Bartok
By Gary Gach
Gutenberg's Bible was the first book in Europe printed with movable type (circa 1455). Did you know? the first book printed with movable type, ever, was a collection of Buddhist texts, printed in 1377, in Korea -- transcriptions of Dharma talks. Five centuries earlier, an edition of the Diamond Sutra became the oldest known dated printed book ever. To update our awareness and attempt a glimpse of what's over the horizon for Buddhist book publishing, Patheos recently spoke with a leading exponent in the field, Josh Bartok, a senior editor at Wisdom Publications and a Zen priest.
Wisdom Publications is a nonprofit organization founded thirty years ago by Lama Thubten Yeshe, who, with Lama Zopa Rinpoche, also established the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. Wisdom publishes books from all traditions of Buddhism.
Has it been a challenge to work with and publish from a variety of practice lineages?
Wisdom's mission is to serve the Dharma . . . and our own Bodhisattva Vows to save all beings. We don't have a sectarian or proselytizing mission. It's a matter of finding books that serve, through some path or other, some piece of the Dharma community, of appreciating how each teaching lineage and teaching sect holds its own Dharma position in the larger Dharma universe. We look for authors coming from a position deeply informed by a tradition of Buddhism.
For me, it's been an enormous gift and teaching to be able to work so deeply with manuscripts and authors from so many different traditions and to get a real bird's-eye view of the strengths and styles of different lineages -- and to get to know the forest by studying so many different trees, in so many different places.
Have you noticed any of your books doing particularly well, and perhaps reflecting any broad trend or tendency in the culture?
A great deal of the "Buddhism and . . ." books have done very well, such as The Dharma of Star Wars;Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth about Reality; andMindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind, bringing forth yoga as Dharma practice. Buddhism and the realm of psychology have succeeded well. In a way, our native religion is psychology even more than it is Christianity because of the way a great many Westerners interpret inner and outer experience through the lens of psychological experience (which is not the same as psychotherapy, by the way).
Just to interject for a moment: one of our contributors to the Future of Buddhismseries cautions against a mismatch between Buddhism and psychology.
I wouldn't want to say they're the same thing at all. There can or can not be areas of overlap and areas of non-overlap; there are the dispositions of the therapist and patient that influence that as well, and so forth. But there are certainly areas of resonance.
Another book that's doing really well is Mindfulness Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness: A Guide for Anyone Who Teaches Anything. It's what we, in-house, call "stealth Dharma." It doesn't use the word "Dharma," or "Buddha" or anything at all from religious tradition whatsoever. It's getting a really enormously popular response among all kinds of folks, and we're hearing from many deans and department heads and school board members that they're going to recommend that everyone in the department and the students read this. I think there's a way in which that represents a deep, profound, and major influence that the Dharma is having on our society and culture -- in such a way that you don't even see it as such. If you didn't know what the Dharma is in advance, and didn't know what to look for, then you wouldn't see that what is having an effect is in fact the Dharma.