Updates to the Now

Back in the cultural/spiritual revolution of the 1960s, two of his acolytes hung a shingle out on Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley: Shambhala Booksellers. It would become one of the country's most diverse and comprehensive purveyors of what was then known as "New Age." But note the name. Not "bookstore." Not "bookshop." Not "books." Booksellers: meaning, people. After all, it's people who become buddhas. (Or who already are, and just need a little encouraging.)

One day, a book appeared on their shelves they themselves published: Meditation in Action, by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. A transcript of some of his talks, it merged three modern technologies: tape recorder + transcriber + word processor. A year later, in 1970, talks by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi were published as Zen Mind Beginner's Mind. (The original publisher was Weatherhill, another independent house; this, backed by a Japanese tea ceremony lineage.

Shambhala has since acquired the title). Both remain classics, beloved by beginners and adepts. These also prepared the ground for such landmark bestsellers as Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh, which laid the cornerstone for Parallax Press, and The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche, and The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama, from mainstream publishers. Two other early, notable titles from Shambhala's launch that also proved game-changing were The Tao of Physics and The Tassajara Bread Book. Now the press is an imprint of Random House. They thus engage America's cultural arena—the marketplace—while staying on the growing edge of titles on Buddhism and contemplative practice.

By the way (to digress for a beat), books are a Buddhist origin, in and of themselves. Did you know? Movable type was invented in Asia to disseminate Buddha's teachings, before Gutenberg.

Anyway, Trungpa Rinpoche's lineage evolved into what's now a worldwide network of centers for meditation and community, known as Shambhala. He also founded Naropa, America's first accredited Buddhist university. And an early newsletter morphed into a leading English-language Buddhist magazine, Shambhala Sun again gaining a wide readership. Its subtitle is Buddhism - Culture - Meditation - Life.

While texts transmitting teachers' living words have always played a role in Buddhism, we see now a newer trend, that of applications -- "news you can use"—be it dealing with illness or aging, or in relationships or at work. In this year's anthology are two entries on food (and what spiritual tradition doesn't express thanks for food?), also surfing . . . Alice in Wonderland . . . fire . . . and diarrhea. It's all potential Dharma (all the literal stuff of truth).

One step more along this vector, we discover the West giving birth to a marvelous new genre: Buddhist memoir. Self as subject isn't a venerable tradition in the East, as it is here. In Stephen Batchelor's current title, Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, for instance, we can hear the echo of St. Augustine's confessions. Yet Buddhist memoirs are, in fact, quite apt, given how this path is experiential, first-person. As the Buddha said, "Come and see." (Ehipassiko.) It's for each of us, that is, to see for ourselves.

4/12/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • Buddhist
  • Books
  • Buddha nature
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  • Gary Gach
    About Gary Gach
    Gary Gach is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buddhism (Nautilus Award) and editor of What Book!? Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop (American Book Award). His work has appeared in such magazines and anthologies as AsianArt.com, BuddhaDharma, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Inquiring Mind, Language for a New Century, The New Yorker, Shambhala Sun, Technicians of the Sacred, Tricycle, Veterans of War Veterans of Peace, Whole Earth Review, and Yoga Journal.