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Lions Roar : May 2008
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2008 105 BUDDHISM, ARE YOU READY FOR YOUR CLOSEUP? PART TWO Speaking of Buddhism’s image, this popped up as an “Actual Item” on NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien: It’s a shot of a print ad for a psycho- therapist whose work is informed by his many years of Zen practice. It’s real, except they’ve slipped in one out-of-whack element. Whether it’s funny is up to you. What’s behind the joke here is the public’s idea of Zen as New Agey. The question: is it pos- sible that those who are wary of all things “touchy feely” aren’t really to blame when they lump Zen—Buddhism, really—in with other “movements” that rely on lotus flowers and other imagery from the whole shared New-Age/Modern Buddhist graphic canon? Here’s how this joke is definitely not funny: the person pictured is, from all I know, a totally legitimate and dedicated—and actual—Zen practitioner. The Late Night staff in fact included his real name and photo. (The edits you see here are mine.) It isn’t just that this image was seen for one fleeting broadcast moment; this stuff lingers online. Why should someone be singled out to make a point that doesn’t need a victim for it to come across? Still: I have to admit, I did chuckle. So let me just say this to Dr. Zen Actual Item Guy, in case he ever reads this: I’m not laughing at you. And I’d like to think that you might be laughing, too. SUPER D H ARMA FRIENDS! If you read The New Yorker—or like me, breeze through the cartoons and then throw the mag onto a fridge- high pile of back issues to be read “later”—you know that a sur- prising number of meditators, monks, and gurus appear in its famous one-panel comics. In fact, some of the venerated weekly’s illustrators (David Sipress, Barry Blitt, Mark Alan Stamaty) have been recent contributors to the Shambhala Sun. But just as the dharma can take endless forms, so too can dharmic comix (“Dharmix?”). They’ve come a long way from Marvel Comics’ ugly 1944 depiction of the Buddha as villain’s-lair décor in Cap- tain America, or the sultry evil of Lady Lotus, who used meditation to further her anti-American aims. Did you know that the second Green Lantern was raised in a Zen mon- astery and identifies as a practitioner, and that the X-Men’s Wolverine has participated in Buddhist ceremonies? And, to be fair, the lesser-known Green Lama was practicing Tibetan Buddhism before Matt Groening, creator of our most famous cartoon dharma-friend (Lisa Simpson), was a twinkle in Homer’s eye. Even Marvel’s most famous creation has been reborn as a Buddhist (sort of ): the recent third issue of Spider-Man Fairy Tales is a bizarro what-if retell- ing of the webslinger’s origins that replaces Spidey’s true identity of Peter Parker with that of a young Zen monk. Google ’em and you’ll see—there’s a veritable legion of “Buddhist superheroes” out there. RIGHT...GAMBLING? Well, that depends on your feelings about the stock mar- ket. On January 15, it was announced that “Global index developer Dow Jones Indexes, in partnership with Dhar- ma Investments, today launched Dharma Indexes, which measure the performance of [environmental and socially engaged] companies selected according to the value sys- tems of religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism.” ♦ OTHER D H ARMA BURG ER SIGHTING S A toy/statuette of Buffy the Vampire Slayer cohort “Willow” levitating in meditation • “ The character “Jay” (Jason Mewes) wearing a T-shirt of what seems to be Lama Tsongkhapa, in Kevin Smith’s ’91 film, Mallrats • “ True Religion” brand jeans, whose logo is Hotei (the “fat Buddha”) brandishing a guitar • A billboard for New York real estate company Corcoran, depicting a bare-legged woman slipping into a tub and the tagline “impeccably zen” • A bolt of cloth featuring the Pink Panther wear- ing a kesa and sitting in meditation posture • “Life Changes,” the final track on the new album by rap legends the Wu-Tang Clan, which concludes with a recitation of the Heart Sutra in Mandarin • “Enlightenmints”—breath fresheners that, according to their package, “engender epiphanies and other related phenomena!” • The “gold-plated Buddhist cell- phone for monks” • “Sleeping Buddha” bedding • and, “Zen Burger”—a new restaurant found in midtown Manhattan. ... Nice name. Do I get a royalty? press, Barry aty) ve m 1944 dha as Cap- ultry evil MAY 80-105.indd 105 MAY 80-105.indd 105 3/6/08 11:37:01 AM 3/6/08 11:37:01 AM