About the Author

BarbaraBarbara O’Brien grew up in the Ozark Mountain section of the Bible Belt, also called the Land of Perpetual Holy Spirit Gospel Tabernacle Revivals. Doubts pulled her away from Christianity, however, and after much stumbling around in many traditions she became a formal student of Zen Buddhism in the late 1980s. As a journalist she has written extensively about religion in America and how it impacts politics and culture. Since 2008 she has been the resident expert on Buddhism for About.com, and she blogs about whatever is on her mind at her personal blog, The Mahablog (mahablog.com). She is currently a member of the Empty Hand Zen Center in New Rochelle, NY.

10 thoughts on “About the Author

  1. Tom Hessian

    Barbara, John Daido Loori, Roshi’s explanation of “emptiness” has put me in a place where I believe I finally “get it” Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Been thinking about this for many years and after reading “The Mystic Eye” things are starting to make sense.. Thanks for posting this essay. Tom H

  2. Dave

    Barbara, I’m a newbie to meditation and have enjoyed reading your pieces on About.com as well as your blog.

    One of the questions that I’m having a tough time sorting out is–at the level of the layman–what is the difference between Zazen and other forms of sitting meditation such as Vipassana/Insight.

    I know the two traditions have different histories, but from the perspective of basic “mindfulness” training, how do Zazen practitioners think about their practice as opposed to what Vipassana practitioners do? Is it that the goals of each are different? That the type of breathing is different? Something else?

    Any thoughts you have for a newbie are appreciated.

    1. Barbara Post author

      Hi, Dave. My understanding is that Vipassana and the Soto Zen meditation practice of Shikantaza are nearly the same thing, at least on a beginner level. There may be subtle differences, but not having done Vipassana I can’t tell you what they are. Formal koan contemplation done in Rinzai Zen is something else again, but I don’t recommend trying that unless you are working directly with a Zen teacher.

  3. Simeon Davis

    Hello Barbara,

    I found you through About.com, and the comments here are the only way I found to contact you.

    I thought you would like to know about the brief sale of “The Dhammapada for Awakening: Buddha’s Practical Wisdom” available at Amazon this week for 99 cents ( http://amzn.com/B00P1D2U18 ) Maybe your About readers would like to know about this. Thanks!

  4. Jing Pei

    Greetings, Sister Barbara,

    I am a Malaysian and a Buddhist starting back in 2014. I only learnt about this religion and took refuge under the Triple Gems when I entered the university. I have enjoyed reading your articles in About.com, and would wish to learn more on Zen Buddhism, or at the very least obtain references from you. I am curious as the schools I have learnt are mainly from Mahayana (dhamma classes and camps), Theravada (talks and readings) and Vajrayana (only some readings and a talk). We were taught by the monks and nuns as well as our more experienced brothers and sisters to learn more on all schools present, hence my interest as Zen Buddhism is not a school I found upon often. And I am sorry to say before I read your articles, I have categorised it as one of the romantised versions. I have realised my mistake for carrying this presumption and would like to learn more.

    I would also like to recommend a book by the late Venerable Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda when I stumbled upon your article “What Buddhists Believe”, if you have not read it. It is interesting to note that the book is titled the same as your article.

    Look forward to your reply.

    With Metta,
    Jing Pei

  5. Sevil Oz

    Hi Barbara,

    I saw you when I was searching for Buddhism Schools in Tibet . (Today I started to follow you:) )
    There are so many sources about them and I am so confused. I am sure you know about them. How could someone enter to these schools, where are they and how to reach to them?
    Thank you so much!

  6. Beatrix Kögler

    Dear Barbara,

    I am from Austria. I lead a Zen-group in Feldbach and had a big relationsship with the London Buddhist Society. My aunt was Ven. Myokyo-ni (Dr. Irmgard Schlögl). Thank you for very good writings and profound knowledge.

    Greetings from Austria

  7. Bruce Burrill


    I recently came across your article your “thoughtco.com” article ‘Mahayana Buddhism The “Great Vehicle”’, and I have to say it warrants a reply.

    The problem is, however, the “thoughtco.com” articles are not set up with a comment section, so I am using this section which I found after some searching for some way to reach out you.

    In your article you quote Reginald Ray in his seminal book Indestructible Truth (Shambhala, 2000)[pg 79]:

    “The essence of the Vajrayana tradition consists of making a direct connection with the buddha-nature within….this sets in contrast to the Hinayana [now generally called Theraveda] and Mahayana, which are called causal vehicles beause their practice develops the causes by which the enlightened state may eventually be contacted…

    ….One first enters the Hinayana [now generally called Theraveda] by taking refuge in the Buddha, dharma and sangha, and one then pursues an ethical life and practices meditation. Subsequently, one follows the Mahayana, by taking the bodhisattva vow and working for the welfare of others as well as oneself And then one enters the Vajrayana, fulling one’s bodhisattva vow through various forms of intensive meditation practice.”

    The bracketed comment “[now generally called Theraveda]” is, of course not Dr. Ray’s statement. It is, rather, your insertion. As Reginald Ray states in his Indestructible Truth:

    == In fact, as we shall see presently, “Hinayana” refers to a critical but strictly limited set of views, practices, and results. The pre-Mahayana historical traditions such as the Theravada are far richer, more complex, and more profound than the definition of “Hinayana” would allow.

    …The term “Hinayana” is thus a stereotype that is useful in talking about a particular stage on the Tibetan Buddhist path, but it is really not appropriate to assume that the Tibetan definition of Hinayana identifies a venerable living tradition as the Theravada or any other historical school.” == Page 240.

    To regard these two terms, hinayana and Theravada, as being descriptive of the same thing, or that term hinayana, with all that implies, is an appropriate to apply to the Theravada is seriously problematic.

    Please understand that I am not trying to make myself difficult here. It is, rather, that the word hinayana, with the contexts it carries, can do damage to an understanding of the richness and depth that can be found in the Theravada, and for that I can speak from personal experience.

    Anyway, just a couple of thoughts offered for your consideration.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this.


    1. Barbara Post author

      Sorry it took so long for me to respond, I don’t update this blog very often. The Mahayana piece was written several years ago. Thoughtco changes the date to make it seem recent, and they also sometimes rewrite things without removing the old bylines. I haven’t worked for them for about three years now, so I don’t know everything they are up to. I went back and looked at the article. I have no memory of that quote. It’s possible someone at Thoughtco added it, or I might have and forgot it. I understand that Theravada and Hinayana are not the same thing. Thanks for writing.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *