Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 24 Jan 02 10:54
Gary Gach (pronounced like "Bach" or "clock") was born in Los Angeles, in 1947. He's taught at the Learning Annex and University of California, acted on stage and screen, and done public speaking and voice-overs. He earned a B.A. in English (UCLA-SFSU) and held many day jobs before becoming a full-time writer, such as book designer, bookstore clerk, hospital administrator, legal secretary, longshoreman, magazine editor-in-chief, temp, and Web weaver, plus next-to-last secretary of grandmaster of science fiction and fantasy Fritz Leiber, Jr. His books include _The Pocket Guide to the Internet_ (1996); _Writers.net: Every Writer's Essential Guide to Online Resources and Opportunities_ (1997); and _What Book!? ~ Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop_ (1998), which was honored with an American Book Award in 1999. Several other writings are pending publication. In addition, he has been published in numerous newspapers, magazines, and anthologies, including Chicago Tribune, Chicken Soup for the American Soul, Christian Science Monitor, City Lights Review, Evergreen Review, Poems for the Millennium, Publishers Weekly, San Francisco Chronicle & Examiner, Shambhala Sun, Technicians of the Sacred, Whole Earth Review, Yoga Journal, and Zyzzyva. Gary's latest book, _The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism_ brings Buddhism to a new level of availability by delineating the various schools and appealing to readers who might not otherwise pick up a book on the topic. He himself practices in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Leading the discussion is Felicity O'Meara, a longtime editor and writer who has also worked at numerous other jobs including taxicab driver and shaman's assistant. Her interest in Buddhism dates to the 1960s, and since the early 1990s she has been, more or less, practicing Buddhism, mainly in the Tibetan tradition with occasional explorations into zen. Please join me in welcoming Gary and Felicity to inkwell.vue!
(fom) Fri 25 Jan 02 09:50
Thanks, Linda. And welcome, Gary! Your book is great. I am finding sections that have to be read and reread, not to understand them (of course not, because it's an Idiot's Guide) but to relish the levels of understanding that are subtly contained and hinted at. This isn't surprising, of course, considering that you are a poet. So...I guess the first thing I wonder is, who is the book for? Who is the reader (or who are the readers) you were aiming at when you wrote it?
Gary Gach (ggg) Fri 25 Jan 02 12:25
Thank you, Linda and Felicity! It is certainly an honor and a delight to be your guest. Now that's a fascinating question. Having a book published can be like heaving a boulder over a cliff and waiting to hear anything. Well, most simply, I wrote this book for the Buddha within everyone. "Buddh," meaning "awake." So for anyone wanting to awaken to their innate capacity for joy, compassion, excellence, and peace. To awaken to the nature of suffering -- and the means of liberation from suffering. So I designed it to be, ideally, informative for the curious and valuable for beginners, while still being somehow of use for those already on the path. Primary emphasis on the relative newbie.
Chris Florkowski (chrys) Fri 25 Jan 02 16:00
Since the reader is called an 'idiot', did that influence your approach to writing? (The word 'idiot' brings to mind someone with trepidation that the subject may be beyond them.)
(fom) Fri 25 Jan 02 16:01
Oh, interesting. I am not especially a newbie but I am finding it fascinating, and learning stuff I did NOT know. It is really packed with information.
(fom) Fri 25 Jan 02 16:02
slippage already! That's a good sign!
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 25 Jan 02 17:26
Oh, that's a good question! Do you write differently for the audience of this book than for any of your other books?? Does the publisher have any advice to offer on the subject?
Gary Gach (ggg) Fri 25 Jan 02 19:35
Slippage? For me, this is positively psychic: from my earliest sense of considering writing as a path I've always been fascinated with this aspect of the creative process. For whom. To whom. (That's one reason I like the Tonga domain I use for my home pages, dot-to). Chris, that's a very nice way of asking about the "idiot's" in the title. Yes, I took it as reflecting someone with perhaps trepidation, aversion for complicated words, natural fears, and so on, and to be sensitive to those issues. (This could lead into two digressions -- 1) about the derivation of the word "idiot," and its Buddhist connotations; and 2) the origin of the word "idiot" in a series title. But I'll resist the temptation. For now.) Back to how each book takes on a life of its own in the process of creation. Do writers have ideal readers in mind when they write? Musicians, painters, dancers, etc. Well, something like this, I often asked myself if this were what I'd say if I had to explain it over the phone to my aunt Irma in Jersey. Linda, the in-house guidance was the most rigorous I've experienced. (All in a positive sense.) Having published hundreds of books in their series, they've come up with a rigorous set of expectations of the writer. Number of chapters, pages, sidebars, illustrations, the whole nine yards. It's like your bags are somewhat packed before you've left the house. Not having settled in with any one publisher to date, I've seen a number in- house suggestions as to how to write instructional expository prose. Theirs was the most explicit, and helpful. And there's a certain "house tone" they're looking for. For example, they'd mentioned being breezy and light without losing the clarity of the topic at hand. So it's ok to be a comedian, from time to time, but not anybody's expense. That kind of thing. With a kind of set-up peculiar to them, they're marvelous at letting a book find its maximum number of readers. If a seemingly niche subject, like birdwatching, should prove popular, they can run with that. So as for audience size, I just thought of as many as might want it. Easy and wide. Also the question arose as to an American / Western audience. Like the Internet, I suppose; Inkwell.Vue, for example. We presume that an international audience might tune in, but we don't check our American sensibilities at the door. And even give them freer reign. But that's another digression, which I'm sure we'll get to. And I had a sense that a majority of the readers might turn out to be female. 'Tho I really don't have any sense of how to write differently in that regard.
the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Fri 25 Jan 02 21:22
The book has a lot of information in it. You must have done a lot of research. In the foreword, you list a number of people who helped you as you wrote the book. How long did it take to do the research and how much was new information to you as you wrote the book?
Gary Gach (ggg) Fri 25 Jan 02 23:09
Research, sir, is another interesting question! By the clock, I'd say I put in two years' research prior to composition. And I was cranking chapters out relatively fast, for the publisher's "accelerated production cycle" as I think they call it. So it became kind of like what Ortega y Gasset says about civilization being what you remember after you leave all the books behind. My research too was often using myself as a test case, as for depth, meaning, value. Do you know what the Buddha said about research? It's part of the first quote (a bit scrunched for reasons of space) given to the Buddha in the book: See paragraphs 4 and 10 of the Kalama Sutra: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/canon/anguttara/an3-65b.html I'm personally always moved by his wonderfully noncoercive way of saying, "See for yourself," but there's quite a bit more in those simple paragraphs. And your other question. How much did/didn't I know beforehand? Another exquisite question to ask a writer! Thank you, <bbraasch>. To paraphrase (Gary Snyder's line, I think) on the process of writing, I don't write to say what I think but to see what I know. (And how much I don't know -- still!) That is, I think anyone who's written encounters how processing something through language -- the material becomes transformed under pencil or pen. By being put in words, sentences, paragraphs, and so on. So, as with any book I'd write, I started out with a topic that's both already close to me, and that I'd like to become even more intimate with. Along the way, my jaw dropped several times while learning what I didn't know. (And still don't.) I also built in some pre-planned learning assignments for myself, such as in my treating different traditions within Buddhism -- other than the ones with which I was personally most familiar, as a practitioner. Yes?
the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Sat 26 Jan 02 10:14
I've enjoyed reading the historical perspective on the spread of Buddhism. I've read Karen Armstrong's book, _The Life of Buddha_ which gives more details on his life and the way his ideas were twisted when he was growing old, then used against him. What's interesting about your telling of the story is the way you describe the interleaving of Buddhist ideas with those of the local cultures. My wife is Chinese. I was raised in an Irish Catholic house. I learned many things from her that were knowledge passed down in her family, a lot of good luck and bad luck omens. I wondered about the origins of these superstitions. Some were based in common sense (do not take the baby out of the house for its first month of life, for example), others dealt with respect for elders, but she didn't see this as religion and she'd not been raised in a religion, but in many ways she had been given a better sense of values from these cultural traditions than I had been given from the catholic dogma. I didn't know a lot about buddhism at the time, but I suggested to her that perhaps she was buddhist. Around that time, my uncle who is a catholic missionary in Japan arrived at our house for a visit. She asked him to read her the Chinese aphorisms from a calendar the bank had given her. This led to a long discussion of confucianism, buddhism and other influences in China, then the flow of these ideas into Japan along with the written language. It was all fascinating to me and I was impressed with my uncle's range of knowledge and experiences in Japan. At the end of the conversation though, he still asked when she would convert to catholicism. I asked what new values it would give her. He couldn't answer that one. I think maybe unlearning is harder than learning.
Gary Gach (ggg) Sat 26 Jan 02 11:11
Unlearning: harder than learning. You know, I encountered an interesting question when I was writing the life of the Buddha. At what point do we stop using his given name, Gotama or Siddhartha, and when do we adopt the honorific, the Buddha. And what I learned was that it begins at the point when he leaves home. Renounces. Begins unlearning, if you will. There's a famous story of the man who knocks on the door of the Buddhist temple. He says he's a scholar wants them to teach him what they know. The head monk comes and invites him to tea. He wants to get right down to it, but the head monk insists: tea first. Ok. So they're in the tea room, and the head monk pours him a cup but keeps the teakettle pointed at the scholar's cup so it keeps pouring and pouring until the scholar shouts, "Wait! stop! it's overflowing!" And the headmonk stops, smiles at him, and says, "This cup is like your mind. How can anything be poured into it when it is already full?" Or, as the MadeInUSA bumperstriper says, "Minds like parachutes must be open to function." I appreciate the candor of your story, as well as it clarity. I can see the calendar, for example, your uncle, and your wife. Chinese religion, in general, is "syncretic," meaning a mix; a mish-mosh; some of this from ColumnA, some of that from Column B. And, like Judaism and the Vedic paths (e.g., Hindu), it's a cultural phenomenon as well: you grow up inside of it and it becomes a very part of you. Like those homilies. ('Tho doesn't a newborn's bones need sunshine for the vitamin A? No matter.) There are some very interesting bridges between Catholocism and Buddhism these days, particularly in the Benedictine Order. No doubt you'll be able to tell us, one day, about your own bridges, that you've built. As Buddhism acclimates to America (and vice-versa), one of the issues developing is one with which you may be very familiar, I wonder: east vs.west. For example,assimilating with the current culture or preserving heritage. Self/other vs. recognition we're all one. Etc. Myself, I'm a Zen Judaist, by the way. Raised in the Jewish culture, identify as such, and practicing it for a large part along the path of the Buddha.
the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Sat 26 Jan 02 11:24
It seems to me that religions that proselytize would over time dominate over those that don't. I can't think of another that doesn't. The Simpsons' Christmas show was the story of Lisa adopting Buddhism but still being able to celebrate Christmas.
(fom) Sat 26 Jan 02 12:12
>I can't think of another that doesn't. You mean, besides Buddhism? (Which I guess some sects of do proselytize, but it's not built into the doctrines as it is in, say, Christianity.) Baha'i comes to mind -- I think they have rules against proselytizing, in fact. (But I may be wrong.) I'm not sure where I draw the line between religion and philosophy, but I lean toward considering Buddhism a philosophy rather than a religion. Or better yet, a path. I feel like it's compatible with various other paths, but some Buddhist teachers definitely don't agree. (Some, of course, do.) Gary, how do you handle the theism in Judaism versus the nontheistic approach of Buddhism? (I realize this is not exactly about the book, but oh well.) (Or maybe it IS about the book and I'm just forgetting which part deals with these issues.)
Gary Gach (ggg) Sat 26 Jan 02 12:23
-jitsu teaches how a seemingly dominant energy can be subverted by a seemingly softer one. I mean, while I agree with you on one level, I'd invite you to consider "dominant" and "subservient" as abstract dualities beneath which there is a unity. Commonality. Another reason I'm reluctant to speak of "mainstream." You gotta hand it to Matt Groenig; he pushes the envelope. Funny, is he proselytizing? I don't mean facile superficialities like stores with "zen" in their name will transform consciousness. But, think: "karma," is in my American Heritage Dictionary. And it's common now to hear people use the word "realms," another Buddhist word. (There are probably others; any takers?) Or Mitch Kapor's introducing "groupware," and even calling it Lotus 1-2-3. And so the Buddha's teachings have been called by some "the gentlest," ...having a way of sliding under the door, wafting in on a breeze -- rather than by sword or flag. (Altho' there are currently some Buddhist state socialisms, cause for another thread; maybe.) Zen (maybe other traditions too) compares the teachings, the path, to a morning mist ... almost invisible ... but hang out long enough and you'llfind your robes are soaked ... just a few drops, one or two, can be be enough ... ... practice one deeply enough and the rest will follow ... ?
Gary Gach (ggg) Sat 26 Jan 02 12:32
Oops! I meant to start out #14 "JIU-jitsu" but goofed. Looking back I see a new and very big question: G-d. One I'd like to mull over and reply to after lunch. But, to keep the conversation from growing cold, my short response is this: the Buddha never discussed God, or absence of God, as being a matter that did not further his teaching and its practice (the study of suffering and liberation from suffering). Technically, it's not a religion, in the theistic sense. But culturally there is a religion, for sure. Because the Buddha created a monastic order, the Sangha, the community of followers of the path of harmony and love, his teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, for example, have come down to us today. I heard Houston Smith speak on this, the night before last, comparing spirituality to religion. He said religion is what gives traction to spirituality in history. Arguing for the uniqueness, on the other hand, of the path of the Buddha, it could be said it's not only not a religion (not addressing issues of God or no God), but not a philosophy (not addressing typical philosophical issues), nor a psychology (not addressing a self), etc. -- but somethng rather with elements of each, yet being uniquely its own ... ... way of being in the world, if you will.
Gary Gach (ggg) Sat 26 Jan 02 18:05
Other religion that don't proslyetize, besides Baha'i, brings us to the one you ask about, Felicity. Judaism. Which expressly doesn't proslyetize. Being jewish, being Buddhist, whatever I wrote in the chapter on interfaith merely picques my own curiosity, and so have begun reearching writing a book on the subject. As to the theism in Judaism and the a-theism of the Buddha, there are even similarities: that is, some traditions of Judaism won't make a big deal about the Nameless G-d. One of phrases for example, is 'Most High.' Not he or she -- so no problems for thos of the gender political persuasion. Just ... superlative of superlative, so called when you're at the crest of your crest. So, yea, if either "side" wanted to make fences over differences, there are candidates. But frankly I define Judaism as being responsive to the influences in our own time of Buddhism, rather than something codified and set in stone. A living faith rather than a fixed object. So before I unpack any shortcomings I've found with G-d, I'd want to praise the strong positive useful contemporary bridges between these two venerable eastern paths. Case in point: the reclamation of the concept of "tikkun ha'olam," ("repairing the world"), a notion of each individual's karmic part in making this world the best it can be, a happier place, a place of peace ... which is like the bodhisattva aspect within certain Buddhist traditions, vowing to help all beings become enlightened. Nu? For more on contemporary traditions of Judaism with strong affinities to the Buddhist path, check out Aleph, http://www.aleph.org . And as further footnote, I think it was Suzanne Vega who asked: Did you hear about the agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac? He lies awake at night wondering if there really is a Dog.
Berliner (captward) Sun 27 Jan 02 04:54
Drifting slightly, he asked... Is it true that Bah'ai doesn't proselytize? I remember a sign by the freeway in SF which said One World, One People...Please! Bah'ai. I always thought that sounded like a vision of hell, actually.
William Hale (hinging0) Sun 27 Jan 02 05:09
One World, One Love, One Line, Side by Side, We Ring Whose Water World Second verse may have been written this year search back pages. Need to install and update MS Front Page Extensions index function xref: Rainbow Song adaptation: "We are the old people... We are the new people... we are the same people - stronger than before, we climb the tall est mountain, no thing can stop us, we are the people - we come. testagain.ind 170: 002:01:27:05:45:SUNDAY ROMAN STATE CHRISTIAN HOLIDAY #1 of 1: William Hale (hinging0) Sun 27 Jan '02 (05:05 AM) Gary Gach: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism Topic #137, 17 responses, 17 new, Last post on Sat 26 Jan '02 at 06:05 PM[Keep New] inkwell.vue 137: Gary Gach: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Buddhism #0 of 16: Linda Castellani (castle) Thu 24 Jan '02 (10:54 AM) Gary Gach (pronounced like "Bach" or "clock") was born in Los Angeles, in ... And as further footnote, I think it was Suzanne Vega who asked: Did you hear about the agnostic, dyslexic, insomniac? He lies awake at night wondering if there really is a Dog.
Gary Gach (ggg) Sun 27 Jan 02 09:19
... is something wrong with my apparatus, or have we returned to the beginning? I see a snippet of post #0, does anyone else? (And does anyhone else find it somewhat buddhist to see a post numbered "zero"?) Maybe I'll use that opportunity to interject a question of my own here. Blanket. For the duration of this particular inkwell vue. What is your own experience at any of what's being discused? I'd really really like to hear. Please. Well, anyway, to get on with drifting along ... or away ... or whatever, i don't know much about baha'i ... adherents i've met have impressed on me how the faith has been persecuted, and so that has definitely generated some thing within its culture ... i don't get the sense that they think i'll suffer in eternity if i don't study the faith of Baha'u'llah ... they do have a website (of course); bahai.org ... wasn't Mark Tobey, that Pacific Northwest painter of gorgeous calligraphic lattices, a Baha'i? ... "one world" i think they mean global harmony and (hopefullY) an international salad bar, rather than a megalopolic CitiCorp ... isn't "one love" Rastafarian? ... (do Rastas prosyletize?) ... ... billboards probably proslyetize ... ads, especially tv & also radio, definitely ... "buy or die" ... don't Scientologists proseyletize ... doe does Tom Cruise proseyletize (if only for Tom Cruise)? ... ...
Gary Gach (ggg) Sun 27 Jan 02 09:44
If I can multiplex a little -- you know how these Well discussions can become multivocal at times (!) - -- --- continuing the thread you raised, Felicity, I found a quote from Rick Fields of interest. (He wrote an essential history of Buddhism in America, "How the Swans Came to the Lake.") At a conference on Buddhism in America (1997): ... Gary Snyder says that Buddhism is a 2,500-year dialogue about the nature of mind, and to me that's one of the best descriptions of what Buddhadharma really is. I don't think of it as a religion, frankly. I think of it as a kind of corrective to religion that's masquerading as a religion and that might hopefully save the world from religion, allowing the other religions to do their beneficial things when they're beneficial. ("Buddhism in America," compiled by Al Rapaport. Tuttle, 1998) And note just one word: Buddhadharma, instead of Buddhism. "Dharma" is the teaching(s) of the Buddha ... (and the road to the teaching(s), (which is the entire world)). So when my publisher put "Buddhism" into the title of my book, already it was a compromise: Buddhists don't traditionally use the word "Buddhist." (Might you explain the Tibetan word?) I.E., was Jesus a Christian? What religion is God? (assuming She exists). So if followers of the path that the Buddha pointed to don't give it an official name, it has less possibility ... danger, really ... of being institutionalized into a *thing* ... ... or, as I'm hearing it in American practice, "Why be a Buddhist when you can be a Buddha?"
(fom) Sun 27 Jan 02 10:00
Dizzy Gillespie was a Baha'i. The sign by the freeway is *on* the Baha'i church, or whatever they call their place of worship, so it's not quite as if they went out and bought billboard space. But like I said, I'm not sure, I just have a vague idea that they make a point of not trying to make converts. I think there are various ways to interpret "One Planet, One People, Please!" -- it could mean a sort of fascist blob of humanity, which sounds awful. But I really really don't think they's how they mean it -- I think they mean something more like "let's all try to get along and not hate each other for our superficial differences." I do agree that it's kind of an unfortunate slogan. hinging0, this made me laff: "we climb the tall est mountain"! Gary, I am working on an answer to your question about the Tibetan definition -- could you be a little more explicit?
Gary Gach (ggg) Sun 27 Jan 02 10:38
What is the Tibetan word equivalent to the Western word "Buddhist," and what does it mean? And what has been Your experience with Deism? Were you raised, say, in an RC culture? Do you make any correlations between themes within your upbringing and your current path? What's worked, what hasn't? (In the final analysis, isn't curiosity a kind of religion ... )
(fom) Sun 27 Jan 02 10:51
What is the Tibetan word equivalent to the Western word "Buddhist," and what does it mean? And what has been Your experience with Deism? Were you raised, say, in an RC culture? Do you make any correlations between themes within your upbringing and your current path? What's worked, what hasn't? (In the final analysis, isn't curiosity a kind of religion ... ) That first part, I am working on. My own experience with deism or theism has been odd. I was raised RC but my parents were what's known as "Catholic intellectuals" and I grew up having people like Dorothy Day, Father Martin D'Arcy, Jacques Maritain around the house. Mircea Eliade was our next-door neighbor. Before college (U of Chicago) I was schooled by various orders of nuns, including Sisters of Mercy, Sinsinawa Dominicans, RSCJ's, the Ursulines in Quebec, and several others (oh, and an order whose name I forget that was made up of converted Jews!), but my parents always laughed and said "Oh don't pay attention to the nuns." My father was some kind of a world expert on Duns Scotus and contributed to a magazine called The Monist. So...it's hard to say. I guess I have always had a kind of mystical way of thinking? Something like that.
the invetned stiff is dumb (bbraasch) Sun 27 Jan 02 10:54
You'll get no mercy from the Sisters of Mercy. I still got a thing for plaid skirts though.
Scott Underwood (esau) Sun 27 Jan 02 10:56
Gary, I only got your book a couple of days ago, and so I'm not very far in. But I am immediately struck by a thought I've had before: I think I'm an "armchair Buddhist." That is, my practice consists of reading books about Buddhism. I'm a tourist, and only in my head. I've tried to put into practice much of what I've read, but my life is too noisy just now to focus on this. After rejecting Catholicism at a young age, I'm leery of all the ritual and of the different paths of Buddhism. It seems almost a schismatic as Christianity at times! I've had friends who have gone on retreats, and one who worked at Green Gulch for most of a year. In the end, she found much wisdom in the talks and the teaching and she personally felt changed by the chance to meditate so thoroughly, but she still has not *embraced* Buddhism and so feels like a tourist as well. She's left feeling as if it's hard to be a Buddhist--a *thorough* Buddhist--without completely letting go of modern life and living monastically. Do you recognize this conundrum?
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