Flexible Zen Author Tim Ward speaks to Buddhism of today

T im Ward may have spent the last 20 years engrossed in Buddhism and writing extensively on the subject, but he’ll be the first one to quote the Buddha in saying “trust only what your own experiences show you.”

By Danielle Pope

T im Ward may have spent the last 20 years engrossed in Buddhism and writing extensively on the subject, but he’ll be the first one to quote the Buddha in saying “trust only what your own experiences show you.”

Yet Ward, the Canadian journalist who penned the book What the Buddha Never Taught, will be making a special appearance in Victoria on Friday, Feb. 11, to chat about the re-release of his book, which has become one of the most popular Buddhist books with a North American spin.

“Buddhism sees that, by running after things in life, you cause your own suffering. The message, which we have to arrive at on our own, is to stop following all the distractions and just be with the present moment,” Ward says.

Dissatisfaction of the mind is something any North American consumerist is eerily intimate with. These days, it’s hard to picture a moment we aren’t preoccupied with our to-do lists and mental taxes. But does that mean we shouldn’t have goals? No. Ward emphasizes that Buddhist ideas as they are found in monasteries are not the same as those we can enact in our everyday lives.

The North American translation of Buddhism must be different in order to stay relevant to our culture, he says. And that’s what is keeping his non-fiction read so popular.

“Introducing Buddhism to North America is like finding a mosquito frozen in Jurassic amber — all the secrets have been there all along, but we’re still trying to figure out where to look,” says Ward.

The book was first published in 1990, after Ward spent time at a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. Since then, over 50,000 copies of the book have been sold, and some Buddhism courses in the U.S. even list it as recommended reading. The book was re-released in 2010, in an effort to reiterate its message to a hungry audience.

Why so popular, even today? While Buddhism is relatively new to North America, Ward believes we’re still looking for something that hasn’t yet been realized — at least on our continent.

Ward’s tale takes the reader on his adventures through Thailand where he is surprised to be faced with bureaucracy, drudgery and dogmatic laws. As a Westerner, he isn’t fully ready to embrace a life of rising at 3 a.m., chanting, meditating until his legs are asleep, walking barefoot on gravel roads and eating only once a day. But he does come away with some heavy lessons: the power of self-control, the redemptive nature of laughter, and the fact that some trials are just plain hard.

“One of the biggest things that changed for me while working on the book was my view of nature. North Americans have a very antagonistic view of the natural world, but a monastery rule is ‘do not kill any living thing’,” Ward says, commenting on the bugs, vermin and serpents that live in those parts of Thailand. “This requires a lot of focus, but you realize these creatures are not out to get you.”

Where that philosophy ties into Buddhism is that our minds create our own reality, he says.

If you see the world as hostile, that’s what it will become. If you see the world as benign, but protective of itself, one experiences a whole different world.

What the Buddha Never Taught has been criticized for needing a sharp edit to reduce redundant scenes, already-reached realizations and a few technical and spelling inaccuracies that have Eastern experts clenching their teeth. Ward himself said he would be tempted to rewrite the entire story if allowed, but with the exception of a few language tighten-ups, the book was left largely untouched.

“I do believe the message is still as important today: we need Buddhism in our consumerist culture,” he says. “Look at the world — our minds and our environment depend on us doing something different.”

So what is it, exactly, that the Buddha missed? You’ll have to read the book to find out. M

Tim Ward will be speaking for free on Feb. 11, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:20 p.m. at UVic’s David Strong Building, Room C116. Then, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Metchosin’s Pearson College Max Bell Hall.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
Vancouver Island children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Nanaimo-raised singer Allison Crowe with director Zack Snyder on the set of ‘Man of Steel’ in 2011. Crowe performs a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in the upcoming director’s cut of ‘Justice League.’ (Photo courtesy Clay Enos)
B.C. musician records song for upcoming ‘Justice League’ film

Allison Crowe’s close connection to director led to rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah

The Gordon Head Recreation Centre stands in as the Quimper Regional Hospital on Feb. 23 for filming Maid, a 10-part Netflix series. (Greg Sutton/District of Saanich)
Netflix transforms Saanich recreation centre into hospital for filming

Facility was closed to public Feb. 23 for filming of Maid

This image released by SYFY shows Meredith Garretson, left, and Alan Tudyk in the new series "Resident Alien." (James Dittinger/SYFY via AP)
B.C.-shot ‘Resident Alien’ invader gets lift-off with viewers

New Syfy series catching on, proving TV doesn’t have to come from premium cable

West Coast-themed metal art by Nanaimo artists Hayley Willoughby (pictured), her father Jack and partner Blair LeFebvre is on display in the window of Lululemon at Woodgrove Centre from now until March 13 as part of the store’s monthly local artist program. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)
Metal artists present cross-generational show at Nanaimo’s Woodgrove Centre

Work by Hayley Willoughby, her partner and father on display in Lululemon window

Vancouver Island Symphony principal violinist and concertmaster Calvin Dyck is among the musicians performing in the upcoming Salmon and Trout concert. (Photo courtesy HA Photography)
Vancouver Island Symphony will make a splash with fish-themed quintets concert

Performance was to take place in November but was rescheduled due to COVID-19

Nico Rhodes, Lucas Smart, James McRae and Kosma Busheikin (from left) recorded their set for the Nanaimo International Jazz Festival’s online video series at the Harbour City Theatre in December. (Photo courtesy François Savard)
Music starts next week at online Nanaimo International Jazz Festival

Ten free, virtual performances to occur over three weeks in March

The original artwork created by local artist Emily Thiessen, is featured as the Commercial Alley’s eighth installation. (City of Victoria)
 The original artwork created by local artist Emily Thiessen, is featured as the Commercial Alley’s eighth installation. (City of Victoria)
Victoria calls for artists to fill Commercial Alley gallery

Competition open to artists in the Capital Regional District

Cowichan Valley author Teresa Schapansky’s books for young readers have become a phenomenon on Amazon. (Submitted)
Cowichan author tops Amazon charts

Award-winning author Teresa Schapansky learned of a need for low-level readers in the classroom

Nadia Rieger restocks some of the art supplies at the Crows Nest Artist Collective. Their move to stocking more art supplies over the course of the pandemic was a response to increased demand, which she thinks shows people have been turning to creating art to cope with mental health struggles due to lockdowns and restrictions on other activities. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
Vancouver Islanders using art to conquer COVID blues

It seems people have been turning to their creative sides to stay mentally and emotionally healthy

Chris Bullock, Parksville artist, stands next to his ‘Mermother’ series, on display at the McMillan Arts Centre until Feb. 29. Bullock himself will be at the MAC from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. every Saturday until the end of the month. (Mandy Moraes photo)
Parksville artist Chris Bullock’s unique illustrations on display

‘I’m heavily influenced by old comic book styles from the 1950s’

VIU music instructors Hans Verhoeven, Ben Henriques and Ken Lister (from left) are presenting a weekly jazz performance series with pianist James Darling (not pictured). (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
VIU music instructors presenting online jazz concert series

Musicians getting ‘back in shape’ performing American Songbook standards

Most Read