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Quote of the Week: Roshi Joan Halifax

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Roshi Joan’s bio appears in a previous Quote of the Week post. This week’s quote comes from her book The Fruitful Darkness, first published in 1993. I’ve been reading it again this week and have to tell you that many sections of it still send chills up my spine, just like it did when I first read it years ago. I believe that’s a sign of wisdom captured in the written word.

In silence and solitude, in the emptiness of hunger and the worthiness of the wilds, men and women have taken refuge in the continuum of bare truth. John Muir once wrote, “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” Silence is where we learn to listen, where we learn to see. Holding silence, being held by stillness, Buddhists and tribal people go alone to the wilderness “to stop and see,” to renew their thruth, to return to the knowledge of the extensiveness of self and the truth of no self.

The ceremony of the vision fast and the eremitic and yogic traditions of Buddhism are not solipsistic endeavors. Often we must go outside society to confirm that we live inside the continuum of creation. One seeks solitude to know relatedness.


If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to visit my other website: The Liberated Life Project — a personal transformation blog with a social conscience.

Why Buddhism? Violations of Trust in the Sexual Sphere [guest post by Roshi Joan Halifax]

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This is a guest post from Roshi Joan Halifax, founding Abbot of Upaya Zen Center


We all know that rape as a weapon of war has been used against women and nations for thousands of years. Rape, forceable seduction, seduction through trickery, power and domination, seduction through loneliness or delusion have also been part of most, if not all, religions. Yes, if you want to demoralize a nation, rape its women, its daughters, its sisters, its wives…….. And if you want to deepen the shadow of any religion, turn wisdom and compassion into hypocrisy, and stand by, conflict averse, as its male clergy disrespects women, has sex with female congregants, dominates women, abuses women, degrades or rapes them.

But as a Zen Buddhist priest, as a woman, I have to ask, why my religion? Why Buddhism? This is not what the Buddha taught. I like Buddhism; I love my practice of meditation; Buddha’s teachings are practical; they make sense to me. But for too long in the West, and I am sure in the East, gross misogyny has existed in the Buddhist world, a misogyny so deep that it has allowed the disrespect and abuse of women and nuns in our own time, and not only throughout history, and not only in Asia. The misogynistic abuse is not only in terms of the usual gender issues related to who has responsibility and authority (women usually don’t have much if any), but it is as well expressed through mistreatment of women, through sexual boundary violations of women, and the psychological abuse of women.

Since 1964, according to the late Robert Aitken Roshi’s archive, a Buddhist teacher, Eido Shimano, has been engaged in sexual misconduct with a number of his female students; sometimes the sex was forceable; sometimes crude, tricky, and coercive. And it has been ongoing, for more than forty-five years. Many Buddhist practitioners have known about this for a long time, although the late Aitken’s archive was closed until just before his death in the fall of this year. What was this silence about, I have asked? Why did we not act? Why are we, as Buddhists, so conflict averse?

On August 21, 2010, the NYTimes published an article, Sex Scandal has U.S. Buddhists Looking Within. This article publicly surfaced Eido Shimano’s long pattern of sexual violation. Sadly, On December 1, the principle figure in this article wrote a rebuttal, basically denying his culpability and blaming the NYTimes for dysinformation.  The Times reporter, Mark Oppenheimer, responded to this self-serving letter from Eido Shimano.

I think that this rebuttal by Eido Shimano was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many of us Buddhists. We were incredulous on reading Eido Shimano’s communique to the Times‘ reporter. Naively, we had thought that this problem was taken care of; the teacher was full of remorse and had resigned as abbot and board member of the institution that he founded; and the institution was committed to addressing this issue and redressing the ills suffered by the women involved and the wider community.

But we were wrong……. and I assure you, this is not the first time we have been wrong about similar violations…….

Fortunately, the response to Eido Shimano’s unempathic, self-centered and self-serving communique has been building, nationally and internationally, over December and into January. Buddhists are finally getting it. You have to take a stand, a strong and vocal stand, against the predatory behavior of its religious figures. You have to speak truth to power, and speak it loudly. And you have to act……….

I have been waiting for this moment not just for the many months since the discussions have been happening among Zen teachers. I have been waiting for years for a concerted response to such violations against women in our Buddhist world. Many of us women who have brought these issues to the attention of the wider community and have been shamed and shunned over the years. But finally, just before New Years, the flood of letters addressing Eido Shimano’s behavior has found its way onto the shores of his Buddhist monastery and the internet. Herein, one of first of those letters, my own.

It will take a while for us to fully understand why we as Buddhists took so long to act. If Eido Shimano had been a doctor, lawyer, or psychotherapist, there would have been rapid social and legal consequences. But there is something about our religions, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Islam, or Buddhist, that disallows us facing the shame associated with sexual violations and the gross gender issues that plague most, if not all, religions.

I understand that letters are easy to write. Less easy are the creation of protections so women (and religious communities) will not be harmed like this ever again. And even more difficult is changing the views, values, and behaviors that made it possible for someone like Eido Shimano and others to engage in such harmful acts for so long. Yet, it is not only a matter of the sexual violation of women and the painful violation of boundaries that are based in trust between teacher and student, it is as well a matter of the violation of the core of human goodness; for his behavior is also a violation of the entire Buddhist community, as well as the teachings of the Buddha which are uncompromising with respect to the unviability of killing, lying, sexual misconduct, wrongful speech, and consuming intoxicants of body, speech and mind. The northstar of goodness has been lost sight of in the long and recent past, and we are all suffering because we cannot see how deep the wound is to the heart of our world and to the coming generations.

Protections, dialogue, education are all necessary at this time. And a commitment to not forgetting……… as well as vowing to not repeat the mistakes of the past, and to practice a compassion that is clear and brave, liberating and just.

I am aware that these words do not address issues related to the sexual violation of children and men by clergy. I am also aware that power dynamics between women and men are inadequately referenced here, nor are issues related to the exploitation of students by female clergy. What I have written, however, is meant to address specifically the violation of boundaries and trust, whether by force or consent, by Buddhist male religious clergy of their female congregants and students, and a particular case in point that is in the foreground of the Zen Buddhist community in the United States at this time.

As author and Buddhist Natalie Goldberg wrote in her book The Great Failure: “We are often drawn to teachers who unconsciously mirror our own psychology. None of us are clean. We all make mistakes. It’s the repetition of those mistakes and the refusal to look at them that compound the suffering and assure their continuation.”

It seems as though the time has come for us to take a deep look at our individual and collective psychology……… and to strongly request that those teachers who have crossed the boundaries of trust to engage in sexual intercourse with students and congregants step aside, so the healing of individuals and sanghas can begin.

Quote of the Week: Roshi Joan Halifax

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My dear friend Roshi Joan Halifax spoke at the TEDWomen event last week in Washington, D.C. The subtitle of the two-day event was “Reshaping the Future,” and what an amazing line-up… in addition to Roshi, speakers included Madeleine Albright, Naomi Klein, Eve Ensler, and Hilary Clinton.

The video hasn’t been posted yet, but Roshi was kind enough to give me notes from her talk. Here is an excerpt:

Compassion arises out of our capacity to be intimate, to be transparent, to have a heart and mind that is so balanced that we can perceive the world clearly and realistically. Compassion also makes it possible for us to be perceived deeply by others, to have an undefended heart. It is a fundamental courageous mental and behavioral process that allows us to be more resilient, according to neuroscience research, to be more mentally integrated, the neuroscientists have discovered, and to even have a greater immune response to the noxiousness around us…

So I want to know why we don’t nourish the seeds of compassion in our children, if compassion is so good for us? Why don’t we train our health care providers in compassion, since compassion is about the commitment to alleviate suffering? Why don’t we vote for our politicians based on compassion, so we could have a more caring world?

Know that it takes a strong back and soft front, equanimity and kindness for us to realize compassion in our lives. We need the strength to uphold ourselves in the midst of any conditions, and at the same time great openness and caring toward the world.


If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to visit my other website: The Liberated Life Project — a personal transformation blog with a social conscience.

Quote of the Week: Roshi Joan Halifax

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This weekend, I attended “Compassion and Fearlessness,” a retreat led by Roshi Joan Halifax and Sharon Salzberg. Both are tremendous dharma teachers and the weekend was filled with profound moments as well as laughter and joy. In the middle of all of it, Roshi reminded us that the weekend also marked the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “I have a dream” speech.  As she shared this with us, I realized — with great appreciation — that in every retreat or dharma talk I’ve ever heard Roshi give, she always brings some aspect of the world-at-large into our practice.

Roshi’s bio appears in a previous Quote of the Week post. This week’s quote comes from her book Being With Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death; and though she offers it in the context of working with dying people, it can easily be applied to any social service or social justice work we may be engaged in.

All too often our socalled strength comes from fear, not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing choiceless compassion. The place in your body where these two meet — strong back and soft front — is the brave, tender ground in which to root our caring deeply when we begin the process of being with dying.

How can we give and accept care with strong-back, soft front compassion, moving past fear into a place of genuine tenderness? I believe it comes about when we can be truly transparent, seeing the world clearly — and letting the world see into us.

Arizona: Do I Look Illegal?

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Sorry I have been an absent blogger lately… I am on the road to the Wisdom 2.0 Conference near San Jose, CA, which starts today. It should be an interesting combination of high tech and mindfulness, with speakers like Roshi Joan Halifax, Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos), and Meng Tan (of google).

This road trip took me through Arizona, so the recent passage of  SB1070 (the anti-immigration/immigrant law) has been very much on my mind. No matter what your thoughts about the current state of immigration, my take on it is that as human beings and socially engaged Buddhists we should be outraged by and speaking out against this piece of legislation. Why?

  • It’s mean-spirited… the opposite of lovingkindness.
  • It’s a massive display of white privilege. The bill mandates law enforcement officers to determine people’s immigration status based on “reasonable suspicion.” What exactly does that mean? If you have brown skin, you’re a suspect. Hey, how about me? I might be an illegal German/Slovenian immigrant. But would anyone ever think of that? Bingo. Racial profiling.
  • It will create a climate of  distrust, and will almost certainly prevent people from reporting crimes to the police out of fear of being deported.
  • It’s redundant… the federal government is already responsible for enforcing immigration laws (for better or worse).

Here’s one way to respond, cooked up by some Facebook members:

In defiance of the new bill in Arizona and in support of the Arizona citizens who will face harassment every time they step out their doors, the call is out for everyone to ask the question: “Do I look “illegal?” during the week of May 1st to May 8th. The focus is on raising awareness on the day of May 1st but by the overwhelming response, putting out this message is extending for the rest of the week.

Post the question as your status on Facebook. Throughout the day, send the question out on Twitter. Ask one another the question, “Do I look illegal?” Hopefully, this will get all of us thinking and discussing what exactly does “illegal” look like..

Finally, wear shirts, buttons or hold signs saying, “Do I look ‘illegal’?” and take pictures to either send to Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona and/or post them [on Facebook]..

Her mailing address is:
Jan Brewer
Governor of Arizona
1700 West Washington
Phoenix, Arizona 85007

So I’m looking for a t-shirt to wear tomorrow. There’s also a good online letter to Sen. Brewer that you can sign and send, from the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Let us know what you plan to do, and your thoughts on this issue.

Correction: In the original post, I wrote that “The bill mandates law enforcement officers to determine people’s immigration status based solely on “reasonable suspicion.” Actually, there is a provision in the bill that race cannot be the sole grounds for reasonable suspicion. However, as attorney Patrick Rung writes: “even if that’s the case, what non-racial basis can be used to justify a check of a person’s immigration status? So far, that’s a question that no one – including the proponents and authors of the bill – can adequately answer. And that makes it subject to a vagueness attack.”

Odds and Ends

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Graduation Day at Upaya Zen Center

Lots to catch you up on… I’ve been away for a while because I was occupied with Upaya Zen Center’s Buddhist Chaplaincy Program for an intense 10-day period. During this time, we graduated and ordained our very first group of chaplains: thirteen brave souls who started in the program in 2008 and successfully completed all requirements, including a thesis-equivalent final project. And we welcomed 24 new students into the program.

It’s really quite an amazing program – part seminary training in Buddhist teachings and practice, part professional training in chaplaincy and servant leadership, and part mystery school. As one person put it, the program becomes a kind of karmic accelerator for one’s life. I’m honored to work with Roshi Joan Halifax in leading and shaping the program… and this year, I am putting myself in the training as well.

I continue to be in the middle of a busy stretch of life work. But a number of great socially engaged Buddhist items have crossed my desk and I want to pass them along to you. Here’s the shorthand version:

• Hozan Alan Senauke, founder of the Clear View Project, recently returned from a trip to India where he spent time with the “untouchable” communities of Maharastra. You can read his account of it here: “Buddhism Among India’s Most Oppressed: Notes & Impressions.”

• Ouyporn Khuankaew, an amazing, dynamic activist from Thailand, has been right here in Santa Fe for the past few weeks and I’ve loved getting to know her better. Her center, The International Women’s Partnership for Peace and Justice, is offering an event called “Women Allies for Social Change: Exploring Buddhism and feminism for personal and social transformation” in Chiang Mai, Thailand, this July. I’ve added it to the SEB Calendar on this blog.

Also, Ouyporn, Roshi Joan Halifax, and I are cooking up an idea to create a version of the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program for Thailand. Stay tuned for more developments on this initiative.

• Another project I’ve been involved with is helping to collect material for the companion website to the upcoming PBS documentary “The Buddha.” The show will be aired on April 7. There are a number of good articles there on socially engaged Buddhism, as well as many other topics.

• Finally, there’s been a lot in the news lately about Burma and Thailand. If you’re trying to sort it all out and have a better understanding of what’s going on in that part of the world, Danny Fisher’s Buddhist Beat column on the Shambhala Sun website is a good place to start.

And in case you’re wondering, I really don’t care about all this Tiger Woods/Buddhist news… my only wish for him as well as for everyone else: May all beings be free from suffering.

Quote of the Week: Roshi Joan Halifax

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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.

Bodhisattva Alert: Medical Supplies Needed

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Did you know that one in ten children die at birth in Tibet, and that children in that country suffer one of the highest rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis?

When Roshi Joan Halifax traveled to Tibet in 2006, she and medical professionals on the trek set up a Nomads Clinic to offer basic health care to the men, women, and children along their route. You can see the video here:

Next year, the Nomads Clinic will be in operation again. You can help by donating much needed medical supplies to the clinic. There’s a letter here with complete details.

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