For this week’s quote, I’m very happy to feature my friend and root teacher Roshi Joan Halifax. Roshi has led a remarkable life, one filled with adventure, great humor, intelligence, creativity, compassion, and, most of all, friends.
Trained as a cultural anthropologist, Roshi has spent time with indigenous people in Africa, Tibet, and Mexico. During the Sixties, she was deeply involved in Civil Rights and anti-war movements.
Roshi began practicing Buddhism with Korean Zen master Seung Sahn, and through the years has also studied with Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh and Roshi Bernie Glassman. When Glassman Roshi gave her inka in 1998, she became the first female dharma successor in the White Plum lineage.
Roshi Joan has created many engaged Buddhist institutes and programs including the Ojai Foundation, Upaya Zen Center and Institute, the Being With Dying program that has pioneered work in contemplative end-of-life care, and the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program. And that’s just to name a few. I’ve often thought that a day in Roshi’s life is the equivalent to about a year in mine, in terms of her creative output and the number of people she reaches through her work.
She is very passionate about the intersection of neuroscience and meditation and serves on the board of the Mind & Life Institute. Roshi is also one of the most digitally accessible dharma teachers around – she’d be happy to have you follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
This quote is an excerpt from Roshi’s book The Fruitful Darkness, published in 1993. It’s a beautiful book, blending Buddhism, tribal wisdom, and deep ecology – one well worth putting on your reading list.
Many Buddhists have believed that the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (enlightened hero of compassion) is beyond gender. According to the Lotus Sutra, this deity transforms the body and becomes a female, male, soldier, monk, god, or animal to save various beings from suffering. When he/she looked out into the world and saw the immense suffering of all beings, he/she shed tears of compassion….
…The eyes of Kanzeon see into every corner of Calcutta. The ears of Kanzeon hear all the voices if suffering, whether understandable to the human ear, or the voices of felled cedar and mahogany or struggling sturgeon who no longer make their way up Mother Volga to spawn. The hands of Kanzeon reach out in their many shapes, sizes, and colors to help all forms of beings. They reach out from the ground of understanding and love….It is understood that the craft of loving-kindness is the everyday face of wisdom and the ordinary hand of compassion. This wisdom face, this hand of mercy, is never realized alone, but always with and through others. The Buddhist perspective shows us that there is no personal enlightenment, that awakening occurs in the activity of loving relationship.