Interview with Author Tom Swiss

Tom Swiss: Why Buddha Touched the Earth


Why Buddha


Tom Swiss has been a practicing Pagan since 1990, and a student of Asian culture through the lens of traditional martial and healing arts since 1985. He is a karate student and instructor He holds a Master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Maryland, and has a keen interest in how technological changes affect societies.


Shadowdancer:  How challenging was the research for Why Buddha Touched the Earth?

Tom:  I hadn’t had to do this sort of research since my college days, so it was a challenge to pull out some of those old skills. But the Web made it possible to get previews of books and to search inside (via Google Books, for example) and even to find some rare texts that, decades ago, I might have had to drive across the country to read.
So finding the bricks of the story I wanted to tell about Paganism and Buddhism wasn’t too hard, in retrospect. What was hard — but also the most rewarding part — was figuring out how they fit together.

Shadowdancer:  What’s been the most rewarding aspect of writing and publishing your book?

 Tom: I called “Why Buddha Touched the Earth” an essay in the original sense of that word: a work where the writer makes an attempt, by means of the writing process, to organize their thoughts. I feel like I succeeded in that part at least, and that my relationship to the Universe is more coherent as a result.
Besides all the things that I learned along the way, it’s been a delight to have people I’ve never met give the book good reviews. It’s one thing to have someone who comes to your workshop say, “Hey good job,” that can just be a social nicety. But complete strangers are going to be honest.

Shadowdancer: Do you plan to write other books?

Tom:     I’m currently at work on a novel. It’s not really Pagan related, though it does deal with some masculine archetypes I’ve been working with the past few years.
Meanwhile I’m blogging monthly at Patheos Pagan’s Agora as under the title “The Zen Pagan”
[ http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/category/columns/the-zen-pagan/ ], and I’ve got my personal blog at infamous.net [ http://infamous.net/blog/ ], so there are some ideas coming up there that could go into a future book.

Shadowdancer:. Did your interest in karate have any influence on this book?

Tom: It was through karate that I first connected with Zen, so that’s certainly been an influence. And I think next month’s “The Zen Pagan” is going to be about martial arts as magical practice.

Shadowdancer:  Who do you hope will get the most from this book or who do you hope to

Tom:   When I was writing the book proposal — which is about selling the book, and unless you’re a well-known author often comes *after* the book is written — I thought that the person most likely to pick it up would be the sort of reader who had, say, _Drawing Down the Moon_ on their bookshelf next to something by Thich Nhat Hanh, in other words someone who already had some background and interest on both the Pagan and Buddhist side.
But after talking to someone I met at Starwood who is completely new to Paganism, I think this book serves very well as an introductory orientation, and perhaps the people who will get the most out of it are those just sort of stepping out of mainstream culture and religion.

Shadowdancer: Is there a key message you would like to get across to readers?

Tom:   We are in the midst of a time of change unmatched since the beginning of civilization. In order to build a spirituality suitable for the next phase of human existence, we’re going to need an attitude that regards nature as sacred, and we’ll need to master the tools of meditation, and ritual, and mindfulness, and critical thinking, and ethical behavior…and a robust sense of humor!

Shadowdancer: Do you see the influence of Zen and Buddhism as expanding into Western culture?

Tom:  It’s interesting that while Zen was the first form of Buddhism to make an impact on American pop culture, it seems to be being eclipsed by Tibetan Buddhism — when people think of Buddhism they think of the Dali Lama. Now, I’ve got nothing against Tibetan Buddhism or the Dali
Lama, I’d sit down to a cup of tea with him any time. But I do worry that the Tibetan diaspora has put people in teaching positions they weren’t really ready for. Chogyam Trungpa, for example, is a big name Buddhist teacher who did some pretty messed-up stuff.
There’s also a concern that a sort of ersatz Buddhism  is being promoted as “mindfulness practice” in corporate boardrooms and the like, mental training meant to make executives better at exploiting the rest of us and so on, without any of that inconvenient ethical and
spiritual stuff.
But I think that the core of the Buddha’s message is robust enough to survive this nonsense and will eventually flourish in the West.