December 14, 2009

The Worstest Buddhist Magazine. ~ John Pappas

Update: for 21 comments (and counting on this post, see ZenDirtZenDust’s original post on the below subject, “Which Buddhist Magazine is Best?”).

Well, I can’t say no to a “special request,” can I?

First off, I rarely read The Big Three. Occasionally I get the chance to go sit down at a bookstore and work on my thesis. On these days I will grab a copy of Tricycle, Shambhala Sun or Buddhadharma to get me through thesis-writing and then the rewriting and the further rewriting. Think of it as an academic grocery-line…

Lets look at Tricycle’s mission first:

Mission Statement of Tricycle Magazine: The mission of The Tricycle Foundation is to create forums for exploring contemporary and historic Buddhist activity, examine the impact of its new context in the democratic traditions of the West, and introduce fresh views and attainable methods for enlightened living to the culture at large. At the core of the Foundation’s mission is the alleviation of suffering that Buddhist teachings are meant bring about. Tricycle is an independent foundation unaffiliated with any one lineage or sect.

I agree with Tricycle not being overtly affiliated with a specific lineage and/or sect but they do align themselves firmly with advertisers and the “Get Enlightened Fast Dharma School of Western Buddhism (for only a one-time payment of 199.95” crowd (and what an ugly crowd it is becoming).

The first things that I notice about this particular Buddhist magazine is that it has more glossy advertisements for crap then Cosmo. “Do you need a new zafu? New malas? What does your mala say about your practice? Perhaps a brand new meditation timer is what you need? Big Wallet, then Big Mind©®™ is for you!” Advertising is the lifeblood of any periodical but readers need to understand that the Dharma and views represented are tainted by this relationship. What kills me is that this filtered and distilled version of the Dharma is marketed as the “Official Western Perspective” of Buddhism. This is limited and false.

As far as “fresh views” and “creating forums“, I think Tricycle fails miserably. They limit engagement to a lame blog that, for the most part, posts little original material. Most posts consist of snibbets of older magazine articles. I hardly find them inspiring and the views are hardly “fresh”. At best the Tricycle Magazine comes off as canned and processed. Look to this magazine for the next “Big Thing” that is sure to drain your wallet and leave you a samsara-ridden husk-of-a-person. Pandering and condescending; most editorials are disconnected from the practicing community and articles borderline on fluff (at best! At worse, I would say they are more in line with the National Inquire or People. This is not to say that they don’t have an occasional interesting article or some worthwhile content online (A recent webpage on Shin Buddhism).

I recall one time reading through a bunch of miscellaneous quotes that they had at the beginning of one edition and thinking “Wow, they gave every ethnicity a line on this page and left the rest to middle-upper class, white men.”

On to Number 2 – Shambhala Sun and BuddhaDharma (Both published by Shambhala Sun Foundation)

Our Mission: The Shambhala Sun Foundation promotes the growth and development of genuine buddhadharma as Buddhism takes root in the West. Through the publication of magazines and other media, conferences and educational forums, we will support all traditions of dharma that teach the three marks of existence and nontheism, and are based on meditation practice and cutting through spiritual materialism. In these endeavors, the Shambhala Sun Foundation will work with and support all those who share the values of wisdom, sacredness and compassion.

Shambhala Sun and BuddhaDharma do a better job of representing the Dharma w/o hideous amounts of advertisements. Although most of the comments that I made about Tricycle Magazine also apply to Shambhala Sun; they apply to a lesser degree. I find the articles broader in scope and not as Zen-centric as Tricycle but largely revolve around the Tibetan Buddhism instead. That being said, Shambhala Sun is more global in their features. Stories tend towards personal narratives and insight. This is fine but I would like to see practices, sects and viewpoints that are new and exciting; as tantalizing as my first reading of “Cutting Through the Spiritual Materialism” or “The Three Pillars of Zen”. Shambhala Sun gets you there but like most men (including myself) in bed, doesn’t seal the deal. Like a blowjob with braces ~ It works but there are snags *ouch*.

One major snag is that Shambhala Sun tends towards the “self-help” Buddhist revolution. This is not a revolution that I have any quams with but I have no interest in reading about how Buddhism will help me “Overcome Shyness” or how to get through a “Mindful Divorce”. If that is your bag, then great! Roll with it. I’m just not that interested. If I want to better myself, I like to go closer to the source.

Shambhala Sun publication’s strength lies with its blog. Shambhala SunSpace posts new and original material. Posts are engaging and the writers excited about what they are producing. Bloggers on SunSpace actually encourage a conversation and comments. Several blog posts recently even addressed us directly about our practice. Imagine that!

On to my Favorite!

Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly is the in-depth, practice-oriented journal for everyone with a serious interest in Buddhism. It’s the one place you’ll find in-depth teachings from all the Buddhist traditions, presented in a way that applies directly to your practice. No matter what Buddhist path you follow, Buddhadharma offers you relevant and helpful teachings in every issue.

Okay, I say this one is my favorite but I still usually only pick it up rarely. However, Buddhadharma directs its efforts toward the actual practice of the Dharma. This obviously appeals to me being primarily a Home-Practitioner and needing all the support I can get. It remains very Zen and Tibetan-centric and I would enjoy a bit more exploration into some other less popuar realms.

The Clincher:

There is one huge glaring problem with these publications though – the lack of inclusion of Asian Practitioners (as well as any minority) in the ranks of their staff-writers and advisors of these magazines. They all do a horrible job of this. For a detailed description of this go over to the Angry Asian Buddhist. Arun has spent plenty of time on these issues and can present it with more passion that I can. Just a brief view at any of these magazine will show you that Asians are not well presented. Arun even did a graph! It is sweet.

This says one thing to readers ~ Western Buddhism is for Whites and is White dominated.

These magazine are slated towards White, Middle Class, Middle-Aged men. That is fine. They can have whatever demographic they want to target and they can market their magazine however they want. But if they truly want to be as diverse as they claim they need to branch out and include a more varied cast of characters. Don’t include it in your mission statement if you don’t plan on following it.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words - The Shambhala Sun Foundation

This one picture says it all to me. According to the Shambhala Sun Foundation, diversity marked by which “come-hither” pose you prefer to make in your glamour shot. That is one big long line of White people presenting the Dharma to you – take it with a grain of salt.

To quote Rod Meade Sperry, Editor of Web Publications, Shambhala Sun Foundation

Once the mud’s been wiped away, one thing can be seen clearly: everything that the Shambhala Sun (or any Buddhist magazine or entity) does can only be made better by – if you’ll excuse the motivational poster-speak – embracing diversity. Without dialogue and different points of view, there is no progress.

I think you need to embrace diversity by letting that diversity drive the direction the magazine takes, not just sit in the front seat. Maybe then we will see some progress.



These are my opinions and mine alone. I encourage you to pick up each of these three magazines and determine for yourself whether you like them. Whatever you do, don’t take my word for it! In the long run, some representation on the magazine rack is much better than none.

For a real introduction to Buddhism my suggestions would be to read “What the Buddha Taught” as a general introduction, “The 3 Pillars of Zen” or “Zen Mind Beginners Mind” to get a handle on Zen practice and “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” to get a feel for Tibetan/Western Buddhist thought. You should explore and practice.  Have fun with it.


Well thanks to @supalaze I was made aware of a fourth “big” Buddhist publication ~ Buddhism Today. I am honest in saying that I have never seen this one but it makes sense. There’s USA Today so why not Buddhism Today? All I know about it is that it is produced by Diamond Way Buddhism (Karma Kagyu lineage). So….if you’ve read this one, what do you think?

Shall we call them The Big Buddhist Four?


NellaLou posted over at Enlightenment Ward about another Buddhist Publication that I missed – The Inquiring Mind.

Inquiring Mind is available, without a set subscription fee, to anyone who wishes to be placed on our mailing list. While the journal is freely distributed, almost all of the funding to produce and publish Inquiring Mind comes from donations by our readers. This is in accordance with the Buddhist tradition of dana, or generosity—the means by which the teachings of the Dharma have been offered for nearly 2,500 years.

If you are disappointed in your standard Buddhist publication how about getting this one for free and donating what you feel comfortable with?

The Great Big Buddhist Five?

John is a failing and stumbling Zen home-practitioner that drinks far too much, engages in pagan rituals, reads the Necronomicon (in the original Arabic), yells at Jehovah’s Whitnesses and spends too much time on the Dharma and his personal blog – www.zendirtzendust.wordpress.com.

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