Is Buddhism Surviving America

Is Buddhism Surviving America - Is Buddhism Surviving...

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Is Buddhism Surviving America? An interview with Helen Tworkov , editor of Tricycle magazine by Amy Edelstein introduction It was one of the first warm days of spring, and the crab apple trees were in bloom all along Riverside Drive. As I entered Manhattan and crossed the crowded and alive streets of the West Village, I found myself wondering: Who is Helen Tworkov? We met in the stairwell on the second floor outside of the Tricycle offices, the "smoking annex," where she was perched on a step, finishing a business meeting with her publisher. She shook my hand warmly, looking me straight in the eye. Twenty years my senior, having begun her spiritual quest when I was just learning to walk, Helen Tworkov has lived through many of the critical chapters of American Buddhist history. She was part of the movement that cut the first trails to the East, the movement that made "karma," "nirvana" and "enlightenment" household words. We first thought of interviewing Helen Tworkov for this issue of WIE because she, like almost no one else, has had a bird's eye view of the evolution of the American Buddhist world. The founder and editor of America's most widely circulated Buddhist review, she has met, written about or practiced with many of the most influential Buddhist teachers of our time, both Eastern and Western. But it was not only Tworkov's unique experience that had piqued our interest. Four years ago Tricycle had published the bold Afterword to the second edition of her book Zen in America , in which she had voiced vociferous criticisms of the watering down of the goal of the Buddha's teachings in America. Her astute insights regarding the assimilation of Buddhism in the West were provocative and illuminating, and she obviously cared passionately about the enlightenment tradition and its future. When asked how she got involved with Buddhism, Helen Tworkov's eyes brightened; she was still moved by the recollection of what it was that had compelled her to take such unusual risks at such a young age. Agonized by the war in Vietnam and the failure of American culture to provide meaningful answers, she, like others of her generation, had turned toward Asia and Buddhism. In her view, this was a collective movement, a movement for change, a movement to transform what was unacceptable in the society and in the government and, as a logical corollary, a movement to eradicate the roots of that which was unacceptable in themselves. During this period, Tworkov came across D.T. Suzuki's writings on impermanence and death. "It was so radically different from what my own culture provided," she explains. "It didn't seem mystical or alien; it just seemed real . And you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to get it!" So when she was twenty-two, just after John F. Kennedy was assassinated, she headed for Japan, one of the first Westerners, and one of the first 1
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Western women, on the Eastern spiritual circuit.
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