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, Shambala 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. 

Ok, 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 magazinetakes, not just sit in the front seat.  Maybe then we will see some progress. 

Cheers, 

John 

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 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.  Explore and practice.

UPDATE:

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 Buddhsim 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?

UPDATE PART DEUX:

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?

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29 thoughts on “Which Buddhist Magazine is Best?

  1. LOL, Well John Shambhala Sun is located in Halifax, Nova Scotia……Have you ever been in to Nova Scotia? That is diverse for them. LOL

    Oh, and I can pick out 5 females from those photo’s, who, if I were not already dating a Canadian, I would so ….ummm….bang. 😛

    • careful, m’by… Halifax was the end of the Underground Railroad which… damn, makes your point even more… pointy. OK, the only defense I can muster is that we sent all the diversity to Louisiana who never bothered to thank us for giving them Cajun spices.

      • Well, just from Wiki, if we were going on race alone as a detrimination of diversity, I think, though certainly the staff could go “Quota” style affirmitive action, I think the agrument against them being diverse based on a staff photo collage is a bit unfair

        Race Population Pct (%)
        White 341,620 92.51%
        Black 13,270 3.59%
        Asian 8,890 2.41%
        Arab 3,840 1.04%
        Other 1,655 0.45%

        And yes, I have a thing for Canadians….my Canadian. 🙂

        • Percentage of Asians that practice Buddhism in the west would be the matrix I use. Race alone is not a determination but lets face it – The Big Three are not representing themselves or the Buddhist community well or accurately. Throwing a Shunryu Suzuki quote does not constitute diversity. Having a wide and diverse governing board does. Or at least some staff-writers.

          That picture is of the Board of the Shambhala Sun Foundation, what I assume to be the governing body of both Shambhala Sun and BuddhaDharma. Do I think token Asians to solve the problem? No. But some engagement with the Asian practicing community would be called for and some decent representation. If not then change your mission statement.

          I am fighting this on some other levels (outside of Buddhism) too so I get a bit preachy. But I will say that when creating a Board for a publication that is committed to diversity and to not have any non-whites on it is silly.

          Shit, I’m going all “Arun” in this post. Back to something else.

          Hey! I saw your Canadian. Very nice. Where is her parka and can of Molson?

          Cheers,

          John

      • I don’t know, the guy in the third row, third in, really is more dark pink than white.

        Any Canadian will tell ya, Molson is for us Yanks. 🙂

        • Must be photoshopped. Molson is even considered by your entry-level ‘merican to be swill. Now Heiniken, thats good beer *gag*.

  2. Great review Jack. Like you, I do not read any of those magazines, as I barely have enough time for the Buddha’s Discourses . . . Maybe you should start something, Jack?

    Deep bow, and thank you for the solidity in your writing. You have become quite a resource in the online Buddhist world!

    marguerite

  3. This review is extremely well-written and highly informative, especially for someone like me who doesn’t intend to practice Buddhism (because I’m more than satisfied with Yoga) but want to know about what’s going on, since it’s so closely related to ancient Yoga.

    Thanks for all the recommendations. You have been most helpful with both this and your other writing.

    Here’s a related question for you. In Yoga there are three ancient texts that tower above all others in defining Yoga–The Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutra. They are powerful works and are quite sufficient to define original Yoga.

    Are there any equivalent set of works that do the same for Buddhism?

    Thanks again for this great blog.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

    • In Yoga there are three ancient texts that tower above all others in defining Yoga–The Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutra. They are powerful works and are quite sufficient to define original Yoga.

      Are there any equivalent set of works that do the same for Buddhism?

      Great question and very difficult. I would say the answer is “No” since dependant upon school of thought, your primary texts will differ. I refrain from saying the Pali Canon (closest thing to the actual words of the Buddha) since it is sooooo…huge in scope. Even for just Mahayana Buddhism it is a tough question but I would go with “The Heart Sutra with commentary”, “Lotus Sutra”, “Diamond Sutra” and “Dhammapada” but they hardly “tower” over the rest -they just give a good broad understanding of it.

      You bring up, I think, the most difficult task in beginning a Buddhist practice.

      I actually picked up a copy of the Yoga Sutra and plan on starting it once my time clears up a bit. Also check out my Yogacara link on my Zen Resources page.

      Cheers,

      John

  4. John, all good points – and I wonder why we’d be surprised that the Holy Trinity of Buddhist glossies would be anything but. They are, afterall, about selling Western and primarily American (talk about ethno-centric!) Buddhism.

    It may be related to my own development over the years but I find the premise of articles the the Holy3 cowardly and lacking in conviction. They don’t take risks – theoretical or otherwise. They are based on a statistical mean of “being Buddhist” – which to me seems more about drinking the Kool-Aid than about challenging the self.

    That being said, I do like BuddhaDharma and find SS just an old boys/girls club. Never sure about Trike… it still has a way of piquing my interest.

    Genju

    • They are based on a statistical mean of “being Buddhist” – which to me seems more about drinking the Kool-Aid than about challenging the self.

      Very well said. Statistical is the approach. What will provide the largest readership is the bottom line. More challenging and deep articles would be a plus!

      I’m not surprised but somewhat dismayed when conversations on Buddhism start with “I just read in Tricycle…”. It is just as annoying as hearing “I just read in so-and-so’s Buddhist blog…” 😀

      Cheers,

      John

  5. Man, have you got guts. Most folks “in the Buddhist community” are more concerned with stirring a tempest in their tea cup (the refrain in my Shambhala Buddhist community when I was growing up—despite that community’s motto being ‘The Proclamation of Truth is Fearless’ and said community being founded by Trungpa Rinpoche, from the crazy wisdom lineage of bold, brash, humorous and gentle truthsayers…was “Have a complaint? Perhaps you should practice [meditation] more).

    My main problem with the three above mags is not the ads, at all. I think that’s an unfair criticism. The mag business is tough: unless subscribers want to pay a fair price, say $5 each instead of $1 each or whatever, and magazine distributors being paying for the mags they take, not just sell…well the more ads, the merrier. Think fashion magazines: no one complains about 100 pages of ads and 50 pages of editorial there, partially bc the readers want to see the fashion ads. So, my challenge would be to the advertisers: practice more! Make your products and ads revolve around actual practice, not be bullshit add-ons that on one needs. Mandate the reading of Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by all Buddhist ad designers! (Seriously).

    My main problem with the above magazines is that I wish they’d do more, more, more. Print more copies. When the new owner of Yoga Journal, in 1998 I think, something like that, bough YJ, it was printing 30,000 copies. Puny. My mag, elephant, was that big. He bought it and printed 300,000, distributed ’em and waited to see what happened. They sold—and the yoga fad was on.

    Fads are good starts. Fads are signals that our “for the benefit of all sentient beings” work is reaching beyond our core, or choir, and to the masses who may not have known that yoga or in this case meditation practice was applicable, relevant, helpful to them and their daily lives.

    That’s why elephant went online—to reach the masses. After a year online, we’re at 85,000 unique readers monthly. Next year, we’ll be at 800,000. Why not? Treehugger.com, a great green publication, is at 1,000,000, and still hardly anyone in my hometown, Boulder, knows what “Treehugger” is. We need to grow our mindful media outlets if we want to engage with those who aren’t middle class white honkies (like yours truly).

    The other problem I have with magazines: elephant magazine, for two years, chose not to grow our distribution because we couldn’t figure out how to distribute and grow the mag in an eco-responsbile manner. Buddhism ought to be eco-responsible. Karma, anyone? Eventually, elephant gave up and went online. But Trike and Shambhala Sun don’t need to give up: they have more resources, staff and money-wise, than elephant did or does. They could direct distribute to zendos, yoga studios, meditation centers, cafes—cutting out the middleman distributors. You probably don’t realize this, but magazines are incredibly wasteful: only 3 or 4 out of 10 magazines, typically, are bought. The rest are recycled. Recycling paper with ink is energy-intensive. Shipping the magazines, after printing ’em, and milling ’em, is energy intensive. The least our Buddhist publications can do is figure out a way to distribute 8 or 9 out of 10 of those magazines—and, it’d be better business-wise.

    • Wow! Just wow. That is alot of comment. I appreciate the input into the Magazine Publishing industry. No doubt that I am “in the dark” (read: ignorant) of much of what goes on in the background of mass media production but I would like to counterpoint abit…

      My main problem with the three above mags is not the ads, at all. I think that’s an unfair criticism. The mag business is tough

      No doubt. My problem isn’t with ads. However, with the fashion mags, if Buddhist readers are picking up a Buddhist mag for the newest meditation timer ads or whats new in fancy buddha t-shirts then they lost me as a reader and definately as a subscriber. I have nothing against Buddha T-shirts. I love them and own a few but its not why I pick up a mag in the first place.

      So, my challenge would be to the advertisers: practice more! Make your products and ads revolve around actual practice, not be bullshit add-ons that on one needs. Mandate the reading of Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by all Buddhist ad designers! (Seriously).

      Great idea but isn’t that just lobbing the ball into the other court? At the same time those mags should be searching out some advertisers that follow their ideal. I do like the mandatory reading though. And what about a commitment to the ENTIRE Buddhist community in the West? Asians are obviously under-represented. It has to be pretty obvious if I am agreeing with Arun on this. That dude rubs me the wrong way but he/she (I just don’t know) is right on target with this one.

      Waylon, I wish I had time to say more but I gotta boss breathing down my neck (ah…samsara). I will say thank you for your insider viewpoint on the Magazine Biz and it helps to shine the light a bit for us not “in the know”. I will say that I was wondering why elephant didn’t print anymore and I can appreciate the reasons for it. If The Big Three just took a fraction of the drive you got, they would be much better publications. Maybe they do. Who knows?

      Cheers,

      John

  6. Thanks, Waylon. Your comment is like a very informative blog in itself. I learned a lot.

    Jack, if you’re going to read the big three ancient Yoga texts, please take a look at my highly considered recommendations at:

    http://yogademystified.com/recommended-yoga-resources/

    There is also a very new translation and commentary on the Yoga Sutra which declares it to be much, much closer to Buddhism than most previous versions have allowed, so much so that it is actually published by Shambhala Classics:

    http://www.shambhala.com/html/catalog/items/ISBN/1-59030-023-8.cfm

    In my opinion the Yoga Sutra, wonderful as it is, is the least of the three–a nut-and-bolts manual compared to the soaring poetic inspiration of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita.

    Bob Weisenberg
    http://YogaDemystified.com

    • Thanks Bob! I will check those links. The yoga sutra is still sitting in my “To-Read” pile.

      It just gets bigger and bigger. I requested a copy of the Upanishads (I think) from the Library and it is HUGE!

      Cheers,

      John

      • You want a version that says “The Principle Upanishads”, of which there are 10-11 and not very long. The accessibility of the Upanishads varies greatly with the version.

        Bob

  7. Thank you for the suggestions in the end of the post. I’m just getting into Buddhism, i’m still in the stage where i’m yearning for knowledge and dont know much about Buddhism. I’ll check out the books Definately. If there is any other suggested readings let me know.

    • I would say check out anything by John Daido Loori. I really do like his writings. His books “Bringing the Sacred to Life” and “Invoking Reality: the Ethical Teachings of Zen” were both easy to read and very approachable…

      I was never a huge Trungpa Rinpoche fan but I am getting more and more drawn to his writings so I thinkanything be him.

      “Essential Buddhism” by MacQuire (sp?) is another one that I recommend b/c it gives a nice, basic and comprehensive survey of Buddhism. Not perfect but it will get you on your feet. “Buddha for Beginners” by Asma is the life of Buddha plus awesome pictures/illustrations. Very nice intro.

      There is always Buddhanet.net

      They have a ebook library that is very helpful. Also check out my man-crush Gil Fronsdal over at AudioDharma. He has fantastic podcasts on all the basics. Some are even organized into classes taht you can “take”.

      Cheers,

      John

  8. Just wanted to mention which is published by the Nalandabodhi group and is quite similar to Bodhidharma in it’s tone (meaning serious practitioners who love more sutras and less Cosmo-style copy will love it).

  9. Pingback: The Best (and Worst) Buddhist Magazines. | elephant journal

  10. Pingback: The Worstest Buddhist Magazine. ~ John Pappas | Kurs Finance - World News, Financial News, Breaking US & International News

  11. The westernization of Buddhism has taken root in advertising and marketing from dharma dating to mindful investment portfolios. It makes me shy away from some publications more than others. I have one subscription because they gave away 2 years for less than the price of 1.

    Even one online community group that was centered around creative poetry writing, was littered with “buy now” links to moderator’s books.

    I love magazines, but the choice of some great Buddhist blogs is growing. The question is my choice.

    I am not standing in judgement of anyone’s opinion, but it does seem a bit un-Buddhist like to criticize really what should be a choice. This is not about any social issue. There is no injustice. Just everyone’s choice to read or not read a particular magazine.

    Buddha taught “Right Speech” which was to reflect not only that which was truthful, but also what which was useful.
    This blog may be truthful, but it falls short in usefulness. All this proves is that if you don’t like a particular magazine, my advice is to not buy it.

    • Hey Mike! I replied to you in full over at elephantjournal.com.

      Thanks for reading and replying honestly. All I can reiterate is that I encourage anyone out there to read what they wish and judge it by their own set of values and experience.

      If by my blog falling short in usefullness to mean that I should bullshit everyone and not give an honest review? Then yes, I agree this post is far from useful…

      If, however, it got a few folks thinking more deeply about their Dharma and where it is coming from? Then I consider it to be very useful.

      Cheers,

      John

  12. Chiming in late, but I really thought you critiqued these magazines well. I’ve bought a few issues, but something about them never interested me, yet I couldn’t articulate it. My wife whose Japanese and Buddhist, likes them even less, due to certain lack of engagement, and other issues covered here.

    Great job. 🙂

    • Thanks Doug! I agree that lack of engagement and interest are my biggest gripes but Shambhala Sun does seem to be more interested in engaging with their readers recently, which is nice.

      BTW, I have been enjoying your blog very much over the past few months. A few of your posts got me interested in reviewing Shingon practice more.

      Cheers,

      John

  13. You know, when I think back to my first experiences of dipping a toe into the Dharma pool to test the temp, I found Tricycle and thought “This is cool!”. Got a few issues and found lots of great shopping sites to build my Buddhist command central. Once I had my butsudan all pimped out, I found that Tricycle just doesn’t have the meat to really enhance my practice. Fortunate for me, I have a local Dharma teacher that is more than able to help me on the way. As Jack mentioned, I do find an occasional article interesting. Having spent an hour on the phone with Al Bloom recently, I was able to draw some info from the recent Shin article to enhance the conversation. On a side note, what a great being Al Bloom is… Anyway, I had already decided that my Tricycle subscription would run out without a renewal this term when I read this. Sadly, I think this publication has a lot of untapped potential. I also look at Shambala Sun as a too much self-help. Having no experience with Buddhadharma I will have to explore that one. Peace.

    • Tricycle (actually all of them) have a cool, glossy feel. You may like Buddhadharma. It actually speaks to practice.

      The Shin article was one of the few times I think Tricycle really got itand provided something new. If they continued on those lines, I think it would be a much better publication.

      Cheers,

      John

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