About Margo Lamont

A West Coast Canada writer who delights in plain English.



Not wo/men. Not a kind, or a subset, of man, the wo-man. Not adjuncts, not cut-off pieces of Adam made: wo/man.

Men are within and from us (as is obviously actually the case), not the other way around.

Take that, Genesis.

Margo Lamont





What do you do when you’ve been told what you are?

WritingtoAwaken-coverWent to hear Mark Matousek, the American memoirist, journalist , teacher, and memoir-writing workshop-giver, at Banyen Books last night. 

Fresh from giving a retreat at Hollyhock Farm on Cortes Island, he was supporting his just published book on expressive memoir-writing, Writing to Awaken.

There was something about Mark Matousek, an air about him. He was articulate and charming, a very good group facilitator and speaker, and yet there was something more…..

Mark-MatousekI didn’t know any of what follows when I went to his talk. But googling him afterwards, I learned that although he’s led a very interesting life, the existential reasons for his zigzagging spiritual journey are not at all pleasant.

Mark Matousek has had an awful lot of bad life experience to write out of his spirit. You get an idea of just how much in this excerpt from Andrew Solomon’s rather unflattering review in the LA Times of his best-selling memoir, Sex Death Enlightenment: A True Story:

“His divorced mother had sex on the cold tile floor with the hunky fix-it man who was repairing her bath pipes, and so he was conceived.

“As a small child he was sexually abused by his father, who hit the road and disappeared from his life forever when he was 4.  Later, he was sexually abused by his mother, who was alcoholic, depressive and hard.  His pretty sister was mauled by a tiger; his nice one committed suicide; and his fat one lost her only child and hid herself away in a gay male subculture.  Matousek’s involvement with drugs and crime started early, but not until the age of 14 did he first try his luck as a hustler…”

Matousek did not mention all this last night. No wonder he went questing religions that introduce concepts of karma. In video referenced at the end of this, he talks about how much he came to love his mother.

Last night he talked about how, through writing about his father, he was able to piece together his story and in so doing, developed some positive feelings for his dad — but only “by challenging the Creation Myth of my family.”

“There might be people in your life you don’t feel compassionate about. But write about them with compassion—with an open heart.”

Matousek’s had such an varied and intriguing writing past:  He worked on Andy Warhol’s Interview, eventually to become the magazine’s first senior editor; he worked with Sogyal Rimpoche on the classic The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying;  he was “creative director of V-Men, the male arm of playwright Eve Ensler’s organization for ending violence against women and girls (V-Day);” he coedited Ram Dass’s Still Here — not necessarily in that order. He has travelled far and deep to earn the equanimity about life and the passion about memoir-writing he displayed last evening.

About writing down your story, Matousek says: “When we learn to tell the whole truth about experience and to discern our own soul’s journey, we come to understand the mythic dimension of personal struggles, triumphs, confusions, longings, digressions, and so-called mistakes.”

Telling the truth (as you see it):   “When you tell the truth in writing, your voice changes—you have moved into a Witness place.

About writing our personal stories:
“If you go deeply enough into your personal experience, you reach the universal level.” and “Every life is a work of fiction.”

He talked a lot about our individual Story, and the transformational power of writing  it. He’s steeped in Pennebaker whom he called “the Godfather of Expressive Writing. “We are born into a Family Story – the narratives we have had burned into us—the stories that become like mother’s milk for you.”

Matousek said many of us have a “Mistaken Identity.”  This is “what you are told about yourself – the idea you get in your head about yourself” (from what your family tells you about you) as you grow up.

You were such a good little baby….  You were always a handful! ….  You always had to cry before you went to sleep…  You always had to write everything down… You have your father’s nose. Your sister is the pretty one…. etc.

He seems to be saying we want to please so we shove elements of our self that are unwanted by others into our shadow. “We survive by becoming smaller, we shrink to fit…”

The shadow
“If you don’t examine the contents of your shadow, it drives your life.”

“Desire is one of the first things we put into the shadow (as we are taught to Behave.)”

“There’s nothing scarier or a parent to think we might be an outcast; they want us to be part of the group.”

Writing our story has a “catalytic effect,” Masoutek says. He recommends a daily practice but stressed that “it is totally different from Julia Cameron’s Morning Pagesbecause:

  • his method of regular writing practice uses targeted writing – to understand a particular situation that’s driving your life.
  • it’s important to stick to the questions and then re-read what you’ve written.

 “We suffer in an effort to be good. What the writing practice does is release us from that.”

Writing prompt:  Describe yourself in 25 words or less to someone who’s never met you.

He said we should strive to do this regular “awakening” writing practice at least 5 days a week and if possible at the same time, and in the same place.

Writing prompt:  Describe one aspect of the story that you inherited that’s not only not true, but has been a major obstacle or limitation in your life.

Great prompts for a good start. Of course his latest book Writing to Awaken, has further discussion of the process and writing questions. I think his book would probably be a good start or anyone wanting to work through situations in their life via expressive writing, and anyone who wants to do memoir to discover how to dig and write deeper and deeper.


Further exploration resources:


Mark Matousek’s books:

1994 Dialogues With a Modern Mystic (with Andrew Harvey)
1996 Sex Death Enlightenment: A True Story
2000 The Boy He Left Behind: A Man’s Search for His Lost Father
2008 When You’re Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living
2011 Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good”

Online memoir writing courses
His online memoir writing courses are here.

Writing to Awaken  (2017)
A Journey of Truth, Transformation, and Self-Discovery
paperback $23.95 at Banyen.


(c)2017 Margo Lamont


Death-control. The best-before date is up.

What if there actually is nothing after Death? Capital-D Death. What if there’s actually nothing to prepare for?

Death might become lowercase-d death. Not anything, not something to develop life precepts around. If there’s nothing—nada—zip—we don’t have to consider hell or heaven, though I’m guessing we’d all like to give up hell but retain belief in heaven. Just in case.


HeavenI sure did—do, really. I like to retain the notion of an Afterlife. Just in case. You know, a bolthole. Then  I could work with things like karma. And reincarnation.  But if there’s no afterlife of any kind, all that’s down the toilet. You’d just have to be decent in this life then, because….

Because what?

hell flamesBecause it seems demonstrably true that those who have killed, cheated, lied, and stolen throughout history (e.g., royalty, pharaohs, tyrants, politicians, presidents & prime ministers, and the high clergy of most all religions) have prospered while they sold what was perhaps a bill of goods to “the people” about good behaviour (i.e., not rising up and getting rid of royalty or corrupt clergy or CEOs). And how not grabbing one’s share of the pie would get you into a “better place” in the “hereafter.”

Ah, the Hereafter.


The Hereafter was a very effective mechanism for large groups of people to be held in check by a mere handful of folks. Controlled. 

Today we call them The 1%. There’s a 1% at the top of every society and every culture that has ever risen, been, then passed away.

And then there’s the Eastern notion of karma. That could actually be seen as a very ancient Machiavellian twist. You’re a downtrodden and miserable, poor and landless peasant today because of something you did in a previous life. No, no—not because the deck was stacked against you when you were born into a peasant family, not because we created concepts like “Untouchables,” not because of systems of royalty and feudalism and religious control or the way land is held in your country and has been for centuries.

Nope: you ####ed up in a previous lifetime.

In some of this one has trouble disagreeing with Mao Zedong. I detest the way he went about making changes – especially in Tibet, especially the Cultural Revolution. But the question remains: how do  you wrest control out of the hands of the mighty?

How do you actually set right the millennia-long imbalance and massive and worldwide injustice of the ruling classes vs. the peasantry or the proles? How do you do it?

Is there a nonviolent, peaceful way in which The 1% will relinquish their ownership and control of the world’s resources to the 99%?


His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, has said: “Nonviolence takes a long time.”

That’s for sure.

And I see that because, in this case, it might require several future generations of education to effect a nonviolent total reversal of how things are now, of how things work and (as important) what we believe about economic and human rights on the planet in every country.

One can see that taking a very very long time. You just have to look at Cuba or Venezuela to see that. The ruling classes do not let go non-violently.

And then you just have to look at the “unholy” synergy of capitalism and whatever China is, in the factories where people die in fires because they are locked in doing 16-hour shifts for five dollars a day, to see that it will be a very long process of four steps forward and three steps back.


So what of the meantime as the activities of The  1% are actually bringing the planet down, marching it towards its end. Do we have the time for nonviolence?

That seems to be the dilemma as I write: Fires rage in Portugal; people are burned to death in their cars, trying to escape. London is expecting a smog storm while the U.K. simultaneously withers under a heat-wave. Planes can’t take off in Arizona because the temperatures have gone to 48°C (120°F); people changing a flat in L.A. find their jacks melting into the tires.  In 2013, Boston had a snowstorm that delivered 71cm of snow in one day. 

Even as the weather becomes more and more extreme, and more damaging, and we have mountains of evidence that it is the activities of capitalism, really, that are destroying our planet, our finitely-resourced planet – do we change, do we do things differently so as to preserve this precious life?

Not really.

We’re going back into coal burning now. 

Meanwhile, in the decision-making circles of The 1% the pedal is put to the metal to speed up the exploration and possible colonization of the Moon and Mars.

Much money and our supposedly shared resources are spent on this quest, while people die in fires like London’s Grenfell Tower because the powers-that-be decided the siding on their high-rise should be the cheapest, and nobody made sure the sprinklers worked, which might have prevented the tragedy.

But Mars, eh.

The 1%’s control mechanisms aren’t working so well anymore.

The hoi polloi have had a look-in at The 1%’s lifestyles of multiple mansions, jets, yachts, $80,000 dresses (as Pippa Middleton in 2017 paid that for her wedding dress alone, in a purportedly $1Million wedding staged amidst the poverty and homelessness of the UK, just a few weeks before Grenfell)—and people aren’t buying it anymore.

People no longer accept that certain people are “royal.” In the face of revelations about genetics, they’re simply not buying it anymore. It’s getting more and more difficult for those power groups to pull a Wizard of Oz and scare us with puffs of smoke and loud scary voices: we’ve seen the man behind the curtain.


Which brings us back to death and the Afterlife. If there’s no hell to worry about, no burning in the pits everlasting, what is to keep us in line in this life now?



By 7th Army Training Command from Grafenwoehr, Germany – Strong Europe Tank Challenge 2016





US air force Desert StormPredictably, those who rule have come up with what George Orwell foresaw back in 1949—permanent war.  Always a threat. From within. From without.

Always an enemy.

800px-Riot_Control_Marines James McCauley US

(photo by James McCauley)

Protecting us by revoking our human and social rights. Overruling constitutions. Stacking highest courts. Perhaps even staging false flag attacks to forward the agenda and keep the power.  We can’t freak you out with warnings about the afterlife; but we can keep you in line in this one.  

I wrestle with the question. Can we have an afterlife without a hell? I think we can. Because we can see how hell becomes created right here.  Right now.


“Into the Jaws of Death” WW2

And maybe we humans, in relating to our fellow humans and animals, will just learn to behave in certain ways. Not because some third party is railing at us about fire & brimstone in order to keep their own power centres intact – but because treating each other with respect and love is the right thing to do.


©2017Margo Lamont

What Men Want

High heel sneakersSigmund, you asked, “What do women want?” And you, a man, told us.
Well, how about men?

I’m listening to my blues playlist. Judging from their songs, here’s what men want: 

  • They want us to wear red dresses. 
  • And high heels. Sometimes high heeled sneakers.  {Think about that one for a sec}
  • They want us to have long hair, and particularly a pony tail. Chantilly Lace
  • They like it when we giggle. Ibid
  • They want to be the Boss.  Paying the Cost to Be the Boss
  • They want us to give them 20 dollars when they ask for a nickel. Sweet Little Angel
  • They want us to be sleep deprived because they want us to rock them, preferably all night long. Rolling them “like a wagon wheel” is an alternative to rocking. Rock Me Baby
  • No matter how much sleep we’ve lost doing the rocking and the rolling thing, all night long, they want us to be sweet angels and not be cranky—or nag. Sweet Little Angel;  Payin’ the Cost to Be the Boss
  • They want us to stay home and not go to town, and in particular to avoid New Orleans. Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town; Baby Please Don’t Go
  • They want us to be 100% faithful even if they “roam.” And be okay with them having “all you women.” Got My Mojo Working
  • They want us to turn lamps down low. Baby Please Don’t Go.
  • And let them be our dogs. Baby Please Don’t Go
  • They want us to jump and shout, preferably all night long (presumably on the nights we’re not doing the rocking and rolling all night long) Baby Please Don’t Go.
  • They want us to let them be our Hoochie Coochie man and mess with us, lead them by their hand so the whole world will also know that they are a HC man. Hoochie Coochie Man.
  • They want us to drive home their little red roosters, please. Little Red Rooster Howlin’ Wolf

Not entirely surprising that these fellows have troubled relationships, and are often lonely

(c)2017 Margo Lamont

Jack McClelland: they threw away the mold


There will never be another Jack.

As Margaret Atwood wrote, “he swung onto the scene like a swashbuckling pirate.  He took chances on authors, published them with fanfare, and promoted them in daring and original ways, and he remained loyal to them….”

Book cover


This book of Jack’s letters (IMAGINING CANADIAN LITERATURE: The Selected Letters of Jack McClelland) is an oldie (1998) but a goodie: a thoroughly entertaining and diverting read.  

Imagining covers correspondence between Jack and his stable of now-legendary Canadian authors from the ’40s, through the ’80s.


Jack McClelland was probably the most famous book publisher Canada has ever produced. Much of the substance of this book of letters takes place during the lead-up to and height of what was probably largely his own creation – the “CanLit” scene of the ’70s/’80s.

McClelland and Fraser in togas

Jack with Sylvia Fraser, rode up Toronto’s Yonge St. in the ’70s dressed in togas, in a chariot, to promote her book The Emperor’s Virgin. 

He was a very entertaining letter-writer, as are most of the authors he writes to and often fights with — over such things as their proposed book titles; their complaints about how their book was promoted or sold; and sometimes about their private lives.


I have my own letter from Jack, which I treasure, though that wasn’t necessarily my first reaction to it.  I was curious in this book to see if he was as clear, forthright, concise, and curiously amusing with everyone he wrote to. Apparently yes.

Jack McClelland’s letters make it evident what a wily coyote he was, always putting Canadian literature, his family’s publishing company McClelland & Stewart, and Canadian authors first – not always, and not consistently in that order.

Claire Mowat

Claire Mowat

In 1974 with the 20th century feminism movemet well underway,  we see Jack writing to Claire Mowat, Farley’s wife, opining that he feels she might want to take up art, not writing. In responding to what he calls a possible “stoppage of the progress on your manuscript,” after what sounds as if there may have been a bit of a brouhaha, Jack on the one hand encourages her to finish it, yet later in the same letter says, “My concern is related to the long-term prospect of a wife develping a career that parallels her husband’s,” then again urges her to continue with her manuscript.  She did and later published half a dozen wonderful books with Key Porter or M&S). Elsewhere in the book he encourages Margaret Laurence to choose career over marriage.


Farley Mowat

Farley Mowat and one of his ever-present dogs, usually Newfoundland water dogs.

Jack’s letters  to Farley (and Farley’s back) are raucous and racy.

“Dear Farley – This letter is in reply to your medical report. One thing should be understood at the start, and that is that it is all clearly psychosomatic bullshit. You know very well that I’m the sick one, even allowing for the hypochondria. Christ.”





Jack always signed his letters off with “Cheers!” even when he was reaming someone out.

And even when he was reaming someone out, he would reassure them of his love and continued devotion generally in a last paragraph. The bonds between publisher and writers were strong and often very personal.

Jack dictated his letters to his secretary on a Dictaphone® and as I read, I imagined her pounding these missives out, first on a manual typewriter in the ‘50s and ‘60s, maybe eventually graduating to an IBM Selectric® in the ’70s and onwards. Jack was sometimes able to blame her or the equipment when he was delayed in replying.

Margaret L young

Margaret Laurence

It’s interesting to come upon a letter from a time (in this case, Jan. 1963) when Margaret Laurence was not yet one of Canada’s most famous writers and find Jack writing to Mordecai Richler in London, asking Mordecai to take this young writer, Margaret Laurence, under his wing.

“One of my favourite writers, a gal by the name of Margaret Laurence, is now living in London. Her husband is off in deepest Africa or some such, and she’s there with her children. I don’t know whether you know her writing. She’s won several….. I’d be grateful if you and Florence would have her over some evening and introducer he to a few people. She’s extremely intelligent and a lot of fun, I think you’d like her.” (January 22, 1963)

Later in her career, Margaret Laurence and Jack would go at it dagger and tongs over a literary conference they’d both attended in Calgary. Each gave the other no quarter, but they both professed their love or each other anyway at the end of every letter.

After haggling with her about the title—Hagar—she has proposed for one of her books, Laurence writes to Jack in 1963: “As I was brooding about this question, another title occurred to me, and now it seems to me that it was so clearly meant to be the title of this novel that I am astonished I did not think of it before. It is The Stone Angel. I wonder what you think of it?”


He felt much the same way about titles as he did about column inches and negative book reviews. Here he responds to her about a title that would eventually be The Fire-Dwellers.

Letter to ML re title


Margaret LaurenceLater, when Laurence is going through a divorce, Jack writes prophetically and a bit ironically considering what he had written to Claire Mowat about her writing career (but Margaret Laurance was not married to one of his writers).

Jack tells Margaret he has “something more important than any marriage I’ve ever heard about. By which I mean your career, which I say in all humility should make you one of the great international writers in the next decade or so.”

Complaint department

Jack could be rapier funny, rude, smart, apologetic, arrogant, affable, loving, outraged—the whole gamut. Given that he dictated all his letters, they are a tribute to his ability to masterfully pirouette his way through any difficulty, debate, or argument — to often win and generally keep the author.|

Authors are notorious for complaining they weren’t given enough publicity, advertising, signings, promotion, etc. for their book.  It was, of course, all the publisher’s fault their book didn’t sell.

Cohen sml

Writing to a young Leonard Cohen in Greece in June 1963 about whether Jack will publish Cohen’s new manuscript (Beautiful Losers), Jack worries:

“I’m a little apprehensive about the reaction of the Catholic Church. It’s either pretty damn sacrilegious or it isn’t….. You are a nice chap, Leonard, and it’s lovely knowing you. All I have to decide now is whether I love you enough to want to spend the rest of my days in jail because of you, and even though I can’t pretend to understand the goddamn book, I do congratulate you. It’s a wild and incredible effort.”

Three years later in May of 1966, Jack would be responding in a very long letter (5 pages in the book), to Cohen’s complaints about how his book promotion was handled and, as always, Jack pulls no punches in how the publishing industry works after publication:

“I recognize at once that since you have suddenly become an authority on all subjects, you will point out that although we have spent a lot of money, it’s been badly spent. Well, I can’t do very much about your opinion in these things. In my personal view, it has been a superb promotion and publicity campaign. The only part of it that misfired, in my opinion, was the failure to con more people into liking the book in advance at the party.”

Jack goes on for pages more dressing Cohen down but also explaining how things work, concluding with:

“My sincerest recommendation to you as a friend is that you relax. Let the achievement of this book speak for itself. Don’t expect any goddamn miracles and forget your new self-appointed and somewhat unbecoming role as an authority on typography, design, art, promotion and publicity, advertising and market analysis. I have long felt that one of your greatest personal attributes is the fact that you are sincerely modest about your accomplishments and that you don’t take yourself seriously.” Boom!

They had a long and fruitful association.

Horse’s arses and self-appointed experts

Hugh GarnerTo complaining novelist Hugh Garner Jack writes:

“Dear Hugh: Your reason for sending your Canadian authors to us is marvelous and I agree with it completely.

As a matter of fact I have drafted a form letter that will go out with all our contracts in the future. It explains very clearly that in all probability we will do a lousy job—that the book in all probability will be late, that we probably won’t sell it very well and that we certainly are unlikely to promote or advertise it as well.”

Peter Newman

Peter Newman

We find best-selling political author Peter Newman complaining about how author tours go in the salad days when publishers still laid them on:  “For my next book, I’ll gladly set fire to myself in front of Hollinger House if you think that’ll help sales, but the one thing I will not do is speak to the Canadian Authors Association. After my impassioned oration on democracy and literature, one little old lady in Winnipeg got up and said, ‘Mr. Newman, do you write in long hand or by typewriter?’ Never again.”


Brian Moore


Jack could be amazingly supportive and flattering when he felt it was justified. To author Brian Moore he wrote:

“Dear Brian: What you so casually refer to as a long short story also just happens to be one of the finest pieces of writing that I have seen in a long, long time. Hasn’t anybody told you that almost no one in the world writes this well anymore?”


Earle Birney


When poet Dr. Earle Birney had complained to a mutual friend about his book’s treatment at M&S and Jack heard about it, never one to mince words, Jack wrote to Birney: “My guess is that his only conclusion will be that you are a real horse’s ass.”


Just the column inches, please

McClelland was not a huge fan of the literary critique industry.

Once, poet Al Purdy wrote to Jack trying to justify why he’d written a bit of a scather about Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Lady’s Man, revealing that Al might have harboured a little artistic jealousy at the end: “What? Do I hear you say you don’t want me to say what I feel and think?… Surely you don’t want me to be a yes-man who always agrees with you? I know you have a special feeling for Cohen, and believe he is a special human being.”



Jack wrote back:

“In my trade, reviews are of little significance except for any effect they may have on the psyche of the author. Bu that’s the author’s problem, not the publisher’s. I don’t think reviews, pro or con, have any profound effect on the immediate or future sales of any book.

In fact, I would prefer a negative review with a  lot of space to a short positive review. I measure the value in column inches.”

Jack readingArdent literary nationalist

Jack was beyond ardent as a Canadian literary nationalist. As editor Solecki notes in the introduction to Jack’s letters of the Seventies:

“If the 1945-60 period had hinted at the possibility of a strong Canadian [-owned] publishing industry, the sixties brought everyone back to earth with the arrival of American [publishing] branch plants in Canada.

By 1969, not only were 80 per cent of all imports American in origin, but 59 per cent of all books published in Canada originated from American branch plants. Only 20 per cent were Canadian. [my emph.]

Canadians were warned and warned from then onwards that we could lose what little Canadian publishing industry we owned and Jack worked relentlessly along with this authors to stave this off.

But it happened.

Do Canadian writers still have to make those wrenching decisions?

Farley reading

Decisions like whether to go with a Canadian publisher and perhaps not even make it into the US market.

Or go with a US publisher and be asked to re-set your book from Toronto to New York or LA.

So much has changed in Canadian and global publishing since the days of Jack McClelland: he might not even recognize the markets now. e-publishing, self-publishing, huge booksellers starting their own publishing arms, and small indie houses, have changed the face of publishing everywhere.

Was the “CanLit” movement something we needed then but the moment of necessity passed? Maybe piece in Publisher’s Weekly: “Canadian Publishing 2016: The World Needs More Canada” can help you decide.

McClelland & StewartFounded a hundred and eleven years ago in 1906 by Jack’s father, and initially more of a Canadian distributor of UK and US published books, who owns McClelland & Stewart now? I plugged that question into Google and here’s what came up:

McClelland & Stewart Limited is a Canadian publishing company. It is owned by Random House of Canada, a branch of Random House, the international book publishing division of German media giant Bertelsmann.

Do we need another Jack?  You be the judge.

A sample of Jack’s relaxed but direct letter-writing style. Written during a time when Margaret Laurence was facing censorship, today still an ongoing problem in Canada.

(This letter is not from the book and he was wrong about Cape Breton’s beloved writer Alistair Maclean.)

Jack letter to ML



IMAGINING CANADIAN LITERATURE: The Selected Letters of Jack McClelland

edited by Sam Solecki
Key Porter Books Ltd., Toronto
published 1998
ISBN 1-55013-953-3

Born “John Gordon McClelland,” to John A. and Ethel McClelland, Jack was 81 when he died on June 4th, 2004.  Globe and Mail obituary.   CBC obituary


© 2017 Margo Lamont

Caring Economics. Not a second bottom line. A whole new bottom line.


I went to hear Tibetan scholar Dr. Thupten Jinpa speak at the University of British Columbia this week, around his recent book — The Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives.  

Dalai Lama Visits Seattle To Start US Tour

Thupten Jinpa, in a translation huddle with the Dalai Lama

Fearless was published back in 2015, right when he was about to embark on an important project for His Holiness. Jinpa did a couple of signings back then, one in New York, another in Toronto, but he hasn’t had a chance to do much promotion of this book. This talk was one of those relatively rare occasions.  He is probably best known as the translator who has most frequently accompanied His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his global speaking tours.

I was very excited by what he had to say about compassion and how — over time — compassion and altruism could evolve into a new bottom line for the way we do things in the world. For instance, what different outcomes we might have if the considerations around the Site C Dam in British Columbia were based around a bottom line of compassion instead of corporate profit. Compassion we might show to and share with indigenous people, to animals, or to…. a river. New Zealand’s Whanganui River has been declared a “person” and granted the same legal rights. Same in India for the Ganges and its main tributory, the Yamuna.

 About Thupten Jinpa

Thupten Jinpa Lngri was born in Tibet in 1958. When he was about a year old, his family fled to India, where he grew up as a refugee, their survival based on the kindness of strangers. Jinpa cites his childhood circumstances as the genesis of his lifelong interest in compassion and altruism. 

Since 1985, he’s been the principal English translator to the Dalai Lama. In addition to acting as translator when needed in His Holiness’s talks, Jinpa has translated and edited more than 10  books by the Dalai Lama. 

He received his early education and training as a monk at Zongkar Choede Monastery, South India and later joined the Shartse College of Ganden monastic university where he received the Geshe Lharam degree.

He taught Buddhist epistemology, metaphysics, Middle Way philosophy and Buddhist psychology at Ganden for 5 years. Jinpa also holds a B.A. Honors degree in Western Philosophy and a Ph.D  degree in Religious Studies, both from Cambridge University. 

From 1996 to 1999, he was the Margaret Smith Research Fellow in Eastern Religion at Girton College, Cambridge and he has now established the Institute of Tibetan Classics where he is both president and editor-in-chief of the Institute’s translation series Classics in Tibet.

He is also a member of the advisory board of the Mind and Life Institute, dedicated to fostering creative dialogue between the Buddhist tradition and Western science.



With HHDL: Jinpa, his daughters Tara and Khandro, and his wife, Sophie Boyer Langri

He is a Visiting Research Scholar at the Stanford Institute for Neuro-Innovation and Translational Neurosciences in California. Jinpa lives in Montreal with his wife and daughters.

Geshe Thupten Jinpa has written many books and articles.  His latest works are Tibetan Songs of Spiritual Experience (co-edited with Jas Elsner) and Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Thought: Tsongkhapa’s Quest for the Middle View” – and most recently, Fearless Heart. 
– from Wikipedia  


Notes from the talk

Jacob Steele, Banyen events coordinator, who organized the talk, introduced Victor Chan (Director, Dalai Lama Center for Peace, Vancouver), whose known Jinpa for many years. He said:  Jinpa is “the most important person working with the Dalai Lama.

“In the last decade, Jinpa has worked on vitally important books with the Dalai Lama. I’ve worked on books with the Dalai Lama, but mine pale by comparison.  Examples – The Universe in a Single Atom … Beyond Religion is basically the Dalai Lama’s take. Jinpa probably does 95% of the work and all the Dalai Lama has to do is sit down with him.”

Victor Chan talked about what a marvelous mind Jinpa has and his remrakable  academic prowess:  “His Holiness will be giving a talk and forget Jinpa is around [and maybe talk for 15 minutes then remember Jinpa’s there and stop for him to translate] and Jinpa will repeat it verbatim. He has an amazing memory!

“One of his [HHDL’s] great gifts has been to bring spiritual and science together — what HHDL would call a ‘Buddhist Science of the Mind.’

“Their 30-year collaboration has launched new sciences – contemplative neuroscience; and a different kind of caring economics. 

“Jinpa made sure the Dalai Lama knew what the scientists were talking about (e.g., quantum neuroscience) and then also that the scientists knew what His Holiness was talking about. Jinpa was the one who helped the Dalai Lama marry these disciplines together.”

HHDL, JTThupten Jinpa’s talk:

“I have spent 36 years serving the Dalai Lama,” he began. “I started out as a young monk in India.” He gave us a little of his personal history. (You can watch numerous videos on this if you search ‘thupten jinpa on YouTube). These are brief nuggets on some of the things he discussed.

  • “Secular Ethics” – HHDL has developed. It disentangles the discourse on compassion & ethics from religion.”
    • “Humans have been thinking about compassion for a very long time. It has had other names – e.g., mercy.”
    • “Apart from the specificity of certain religions, the teachings of compassion are all the same. Do not kill… do not steal…. do not lie…. In the end, ethics is a fancy word but fundamentally ethics is How do I treat others? How do I treat the person in front of me? Do unto others… The ethics have to be grounded in something, and that something is compassion.”
  • “Now there is a new kid on the block, the block in the discussion and that new kid is science. Scientists may be measuring compassion, but they will be using terminology that’s been around a long time.”
  • “Does practicing compassion add to your load? It seems the opposite. Practicing compassion seems to open up a larger space inside you. The suffering seems to align very closely with the Mind Wandering (“thinking about me”).”
  • “We are much more emotional creatures that cognitive creatures. The basis of our society was Darwinian conclusions. [dog eat dog, nice guys finish last, etc… turns out that is probably not true – see the study cited at the end, done at UBC in Vancouver with toddlers.)
  • “Compassion informing environmentalism – e.g., why should this generation care?”
    • “We can choose to make compassion as the primary motivating force.”
    • “Compassion – as an emotion: you can’t force an emotion.”
    • Compassion – as a standpoint: that we can cultivate, consciously checking and cultivating your compassion.
  • Research
    • “When stayed in empathy > painful.
    • When allowed to generate compassion > it was like a freedom.”
  • Intention:
    • Goal-oriented.
    • Offers some conscious choice
    • Reciprocity – in Buddhism – intention factors in.
  • “In Buddhism – Not be attached to the outcome – but does not mean you do not care. Once you set the thing in motion, then you are committed to the process – but not be fixated on the goal. So you don’t know what it might look like.
    • Much of the work done at the level of ‘preparation’ (then can sink yourself into the process).
  • Being compassionate to yourself
    • Is nothing more than switching the object of your compassion.
    • If you can do this to someone, you could do this to yourself.
    • No judgment – no harshness – tremendous amount of patience
    • Self pity – feels different: it’s small and tight. If you can do this to someone, you could do this to yourself.
    • Self compassion > room for others; no alienation from yourself. Will feel different.
    • Self-compassion is the first step
    • Experientially, self-pity and self-compassion will feel differently. Both about feeling sorry but experientially will feel different.
  • Altruism <> Compassion – in terms of evolutionary biology
    TJ discusses this in a video interview with the cofounder Jim Doty of CCCT here, especially around 1:00” or earlier:  (“Jun 2, 2015 – In this dialogue CCARE’s founder and director, Dr. James Doty, asks Thupten Jinpa about his life’s work and what role compassion may have played. This event is an hour-long dialogue followed by questions from the audience.”)
  • “Buddhism pairs compassion with wisdom.
  • “To be compassionate > exercise it. We do not have to fix it: sometimes the problems are insoluble.
  • In Scandinavia – societal compassion is more developed. The U.S. by comparison is the highest in volunteerism. UN annual reports on happiness – Scandinavia always comes out higher.
  • “Bringing altruism into economic thinking – as Victor Chan mentioned – a ‘Caring Economics’ is in its infancy.” TJ sees social sciences as advancing this into mainstream economic thinking over time.
  • CCCT Certificated instructor in Vancouver: Magdalena Szpala (others listed on the website referenced at the end here).
    • 8 week training course
    • will offer support to CCCT instructors, going into high-risk places, e.g., prisons.

Deepening resources: 




Notes (c)2017 Margo Lamont

That mac and cheese from the ’60s school lunchroom


So I just made this macaroni & cheese I used to make years ago when I was attempting to replicate the delicious mac & cheese the volunteer mothers used to make in our elementary school lunchroom, imagine.

Mac & cheese just wasn’t a dish my English mother had in her repertoire as she was were settling into Canadian life. Welsh rarebit, yes. Roast Beef & Yorkshire Pudding, yes. M&C, uh, no. 

I stopped making it when my kids wanted Kraft Dinner® because it didn’t seem worth the time to make two kinds. I just gave it up rather than eat KD (I didn’t like that little envelope full of what looked to me like chemical cheese powder). 

This dish is so simple. You can have it on the table in about 22-27 mins. (10 mins to boil the pasta water; 5-7 mins to cook the penne; 5-10 mins in the oven) depending on how al dente you cook the pasta.  


You need one can of Campbell’s® Cheddar Cheese soup. Yes, I know: the salt content. Campbell’s® Cheddar Cheese soup is 39% “daily value” sodium!  

However in my recipe, you use one can with a whole package of penne which makes at least 4 servings, depending on serving size. So that works out to 10% or less (again depending on number of servings) fper serving for the soup part at least.  

I prefer penne to the elbow macaroni and I think it unfreezes and reheats better and doesn’t get too mooshy in the freezer. I also cook the pasta slightly al dente.

So, this is all you need: 

  • 1 pkg penne pasta  – I used a 900g package. 
  • 1 can Campbell’s(r) Cheddar Cheese soup (284 ml)
  • To your desire – grated cheddar cheese
  1. Put the water on to boil in a large saucepan. Grate the cheese while you’re waiting.
  2. Cook the pasta. Remember penne takes only about 5-7 mins. so put your timer on. (Always put pasta into boiling, salted water because, as my old Italian friend, Giovanni, insisted, “Pasta needs lots of water!”
  3. Drain the pasta when done, and put it in an oven-bake casserole.
  4. Pour on the can of soup and mix it through. 
  5. Dump in the cheddar cheese. Mix it through the pasta. Add another small layer of grated cheese on top to your comfort-food level.
  6. Bake it at 350°F. for 5 or 10 mins. until the top cheese has melted. I like it a little brown and bubbly, like the mums in the school lunchroom used to make it.

Plate (or, as I prefer, bowl) the hot servings from the casserole. When it’s cooled down,** divide the remainder up into your plastic freezer storage containers and freeze it.  

It’s not exactly the same as the mac & cheese those fantastic mother-volunteers made in our school lunchroom, but it’s close enough.


**Note:  It’s actually really important to let cooked food cool right down before you put it in the freezer.  Hot or warm food directly into the freezer can negatively alter the temperature in your freezer and affect your other stuff, so we learned in my FoodSafe® course. 

In restaurants, our teacher told us, they will often put a warm dish on a bed of ice for some time to cool it down (mindful of the “4 Hour Rule”) before they put it in the freezer.