The author and Roshi Joan at Mt. Kailash, Tibet, 1999
This is the third in our series of interviews with inspiring and interesting socially engaged Buddhists of our time. The first one back in September was with Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, and last month we interviewed Arun, author of the blog Angry Asian Buddhist.
This month you’re in for a real treat — the guest this time is author, anthropologist, and Zen teacher Roshi Joan Halifax. I love her out-of-the-box responses in this interview. Roshi is a dear friend and colleague of mine; I’ve known her since 1993 when I first took a course from her at California Institute of Integral Studies. She’s the founder of Upaya Zen Center, and does more good in the world than I can even begin to name here.
Roshi did this interview a couple of months ago before setting off on a service pilgrimage to Western Nepal to provide medical care to nomads there. She leads a remarkable life, indeed. I hope you enjoy getting to know her a bit through this interview.
JC: Where do you call home?
Roshi Joan: Wherever I am. And on the local level, New Mexico, and getting more to the particular mountain range, the valley: the Sangre de Cristos, Upaya and Prajna Mountain Forest Refuge.
JC: What are you reading right now?
Roshi: This question… and in a wider sense, I am working on a technical paper on compassion. So I am reading everything I can on the subject, including my own mind and heart.
JC: Who inspires you – Buddhist teachers, activists, writers, artists, others…
Roshi: Courageous young people who take a stand and go into the field to serve; really old people who see that every minute of life is to be lived fully and compassionately; and so many between this world and that world. I am always cautious about naming the known, as we often forget to hold in regard those whose names will never be known to anyone outside of their close circle.
JC: What social issue is close to your heart right now?
Roshi: All are interconnected…the environment; rights of the dying; care of caregivers; education and medical care for peoples of the Himalayas; prison work; those living on the margins of society, particularly kids. How about Burma, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya, our streets, our neighborhoods, our own minds. We don’t have to look far — and we should look far as well.
JC: How does your dharma practice inform your involvement on that issue?
Roshi: Buddhist practice is the grounding for this work, this life, this way.
JC: If you could invite people to join you in taking one action on that issue, what would it be?
Roshi: Cease consuming, practice generosity.