Author: Jessica A. Stern

Leveraging the Science of Relationships to Build a Compassionate Society

—An Introduction to the Special Section— Beginning with the relationship between mother and child, the dynamic between two individuals is the source of secret and invisible power. Even though relationships between parents and children, or between romantic partners, can become confused, nonetheless the lineage of humanity stems from this caring feeling, the radiant hum of life… Good human society comes about through strength in our interchanges with others. Sakyong Mipham1 When my cousin was born, my grandmother sewed for her a yellow blanket. It was beautiful not because of its individual threads, but because of the connections between them; moreover, it was beautiful because my grandmother—who spent much of her early life in an orphanage with no such blanket—had made it, in spite of the threads of her history. Though my grandmother was not often a source of warmth or comfort for her own children, she was able to stitch together a blanket that could be just that for her grandchild. The strength and goodness of society, likewise, comes not solely from its individual members …

Praxis, Pragmatics, Right Action and The Shambhala Principle

—Toward a Socially Responsible Philosophy— In this article, I will first discuss the socially responsible European philosophies of praxis, pragmatics, and right action, and show how they have given new meaning to human activity. Then I will show that although they are helpful in giving us insights, they are inadequate in providing us with a practical plan of action to fuel societal transformation. Finally, I will argue that what is presented in The Shambhala Principle is not only consistent with ideas presented in these European socially responsible philosophies, but actually takes these ideas to a new level by stating that personal and social transformation are inseparable. By studying both European philosophy and The Shambhala Principle, we will see that they mutually inform and enrich each other, turning theory into practices that uplift the human condition and make us better human beings. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Praxis, Pragmatics, Right Action and The Shambhala Principle Illustration by Alicia Brown

Moving Beyond the Language of Economic Utility

On a spring evening in Southern California, with too much school work and an uncooperative clock ticking away the day’s warmth, I glanced outside my window to find the sky imbued with the color of a sunset. Captured by its beauty and magic, I wondered whether I should take a break from writing my undergraduate thesis to watch. As the sky shifted from yellow-orange to reddish-pink, my thoughts turned to a cost-benefit analysis: “Is it worth it to go outside and watch? A break would interrupt my progress right now. On the other hand, refreshing myself might increase my productivity for the next half hour before dinner.” By then, of course, the sky had faded into deep purple, the sun slipping over the horizon. As an overworked college student, evaluating actions in terms of productivity was common. Even now, several years after Microeconomics initially offered a powerful language for describing human decision-making, marginal utility remains a convenient—if not a little contrived—way of understanding my everyday choices. Indeed, since its inception, the field of economics has …

Illustration of landscape with thunderclouds and rain storm

A Din amid Quiet Ruins

A year ago on a bright summer morning in the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico, I took a break from a study on community water I was conducting to explore the countryside. All around me were the fields and orchards of Hispano ranchers whose Pueblo and Spanish ancestors had watered these lands for countless generations. A friend of mine among them, a builder and farmer and sometime engineer with the strength of a linebacker, said he’d take me to a trailhead of a place unlike anything I had ever seen, so long as I promised not to tell anyone exactly where it was. “We don’t want all kinds of people driving up and down the road, parking their cars, snapping pictures,” he said. I agreed, eagerly accepting his invitation. On the way to the canyon, he told me the trail would lead me upward to the ruins of a village of the ancient ones, the ancestral Puebloans, who lived in this place for generations and left mysteriously about seven hundred years ago. Most speculate …

Shimokitazawa, Tokyo
Photograph by Sam Holden

Rituals of Urban Life in Post-Growth Tokyo

Recently, as I pondered how the rituals of life in modern Tokyo emerged and evolved alongside the growth of the city, and what the rituals of post-growth Tokyo could become, I spent an afternoon wandering through Shimokitazawa, a neighborhood in western Tokyo that is popular for its sense of local charm. Since the end of the war the neighborhood has organically evolved into a mosaic of jazz bars and quiet cafes, shops filled with exotic fabrics and quirky trinkets, and artisans and residents who make their homes in a disorderly web of alleyways that emanate from the crossroads of two train lines. In a little second floor used book shop, I plucked a book off a shelf filled with titles on memory and ruins. My Map of Tokyo, written by Ineko Sata in 1949, is an elegy of the author’s lived experience of the city, recounting walks through the neighborhoods of her past, wooden planks over dirt alleyways lined by row houses, the oily smell of grilled meat wafting across the grounds of a quiet …

Illustration of Gesar

Creating Enlightened Society

—Compassion in the Shambhala Tradition— Abstract With the broader propagation of the Shambhala teachings that highlight the importance of creating enlightened society, it is natural to wonder what compassion means in a Shambhala context. In conjunction with Naropa University’s 40th Anniversary and the theme of “radical compassion,” this article explores the unique contributions of the Shambhala teachings to cultivating and manifesting compassion in a complex, ever-changing world full of overt and subtle modes of suffering. The approach of the article is to provide a historical and cultural context for the Shambhala teachings and for their relevance to contemporary global crises, and to provide scriptural and commentarial support for the view of compassion as a motivation for creating enlightened society. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Creating Enlightened Society Illustration by Alicia Brown

Illustration depicting various abstract protest scenes from Occupy Wallstreet

Through Rites, All Things Flourish

—The Power of the Ceremonial in Classical Confucianism and in Contemporary Rituals of Dissent— Abstract “The fate of our times is characterized, above all, by the disenchantment of the world.” This, Max Weber’s 1919 characterization of modernity, presaged what many have come to see as a crisis of meaning in our contemporary world. Some have argued that our “secular age,” with its pluralistic, relativized, and dominantly scientific episteme, fails to supply the sense of meaning that was once ensured through the myths and rituals that bound communities together under the promise of harmonization with sacred, cosmic order. And whether one agrees or not with the characterization of modernity as a disenchanted space threatening moral disorientation and existential doubt, it is clear that formal religious rituals no longer play a definitive role in organizing society at large. Ceremony may seem like a relic of an enchanted past, or the plaything of those who keep up ancient traditions in modern contexts. But perhaps we are not all that divorced from the power of ceremony and the enchantment of myth, …

Image of a lhasang ceremony. Photograph by Peter Alan Roberts

Ideas of Order

—Science and Ceremony in Ordinary Life— Abstract This article is a contemplation on how ceremony and ritual re-value the magic and depth of subjective experience, not as a form of consolation or as a validation of wishful thinking, but as a necessary and sacred foundation on which objective and rational ways of knowing our world must rest. Resting on ritual ways of knowing, rationality takes its proper place in the pantheon of experience and supports good human society and a healthy world; left to its own devices, rationality becomes a rapacious mechanism that consumes our world, destroys its ecological integrity, and justifies cruelty and selfishness that beggars the imagination. —Download full article below— Download Article PDF: Ideas of Order

All That Is Solid Melts into the Air, All That Is Holy Is… Marxist?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a self-proclaimed Marxist, or at least half of one. This ideological preference is little-known but longstanding; in a 1993 interview he noted that “of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability.” But a key problem the Dalai Lama has identified within Marxism is a lack of compassion for the totality of humanity, including economic elites…






Visions of Enlightened Societies

“There is no hiding place. There is nowhere you can go and only be with people who are like you. It’s over. Give it up.” -Bernice Johnson Reagon1 The three articles in the first issue of The Arrow illustrate the challenge of articulating a single vision of “wakeful society, culture, and politics.” That is to say, their three authors—all experienced scholars and practitioners from the same contemplative tradition: Shambhala—do not exactly agree on what such a vision should look like. Consider how Richard Reoch offers a comparatively optimistic assessment of the present, finding in contemporary environmentalism “a fresh breath of the human spirit, and awakening from the dreadful history we have lived through,” whereas Adam Lobel seems more pessimistic, finding in the present an acceleration and compression of time that produces increased stress and deteriorating well-being. Or consider how Holly Gayley focuses in particular on the Shambhala view of how individual practice relates to social change, in contrast with Lobel’s broader view of a range of contemplative practices that can all function as sources of individual and social transformation. By …