Although American interest in Buddhism goes back to the New England Transcendentalists, it is probably accurate to assume that at no time in U.S. history have so many Americans claimed to be attracted to the religion. Tricycle Magazine undoubtedly has played a role in this trend. This aesthetically well-done and often lively Buddhist quarterly began in 1991 and has attracted a wide variety of readers. Each issue contains material by practitioners, celebrities, scholars, and leading Buddhist theologians here and abroad. In the interview that follows, Editor–in–Chief James Shaheen was kind enough to share his thoughts with us on Tricyle and Buddhism in American popular culture. Readers who would like more information on Tricycle are encouraged to visit their Web site at www.tricycle.com.
Lucien: James, could you please provide our readers with some information on your background. How did you become interested in Buddhism? What kinds of activities have you pursued before assuming your present position?
James Shaheen: I’m forty-four years old and was raised Catholic in Los Angeles. Although I certainly have plenty of respect for the religion of my birth, Buddhism made very practical sense to me, and I eventually began to practice both Vipassana and Zen meditation. Initially, I suppose what appealed to me most about Buddhism is that one is asked to verify the truth of the Buddha’s teachings for oneself. The Buddha, in fact, asked us not to accept something as true just because he said it, but to test what he taught against our own experience.
I earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and left graduate school at Columbia to begin work in book publishing. I later took an interest in magazine publishing. Before coming to work at Tricycle, I worked for five years on the editorial staff at Forbes. I suppose you could call taking a job at Tricycle a bit of a U –turn. Before I took founder Helen Tworkov’s place as editor in August of 2001, I was Tricycle’s publisher.
When I came to Tricycle in 1995, my knowledge of Buddhism was limited to the few books I’d read, and to what I’d picked up from a few college survey courses. I was hired to work on the publishing side of the office—advertising, circulation, direct mail, that sort of thing—but because I had an editorial background, I sometimes found myself with a pile of editing to do. We’re a small staff, and we pitch in wherever we can. I was quickly drawn to the teachings, and soon found myself going on retreats and spending a lot of my free time learning about what the Buddha taught.