How did you learn about Thich Nhat Hanh?
My wife learned about Thay’s Green Lake Retreat in 2003, and told me about the retreat and Thich Nhat Hanh. She went to the retreat with my daughter, who was then 15, and a friend of hers. She came back very excited about him, and his practice, and told me all about it.
What was the first TNH book you read?
The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, I think. This book, as suggested by the title, addresses the key points of the Buddha’s teaching, the central essence of Buddhism.
What is your favorite TNH quote or teaching?
I appreciate Thay’s approach to Buddhist practice by which he makes it very clear that everyone can begin and benefit by studying and following simple practices. It is not only for esoteric monks and people living in monasteries. This is sort of unique. Now that I know so much more about Buddhism, I also see that even in his common person / easy to understand approaches, his message is very true to the teachings introduced 2500 years ago. That is what I like so much about Thay’s teachings.
I also very much appreciate how he stands up to oppression and injustice, but does so with a calm and beautiful demeanor. That is such an inspiration to me.
How did you hear about SnowFlower?
My wife was at the Green Lake Retreat and learned about it there. She then wanted to check it out, and I was equally interested. We both began attending regularly at that time.
Remembering your first time at SnowFlower, what did you like best? Put another way, why did you decide to come back?|
I had been deeply involved in Taoist practices, specifically T’ai Chi and Chi Gong, starting in 1975. I had studied and practiced with several teachers for nearly 15 or so years, and had become a teacher myself for many years too. However, when my children were born and were young, it became hard to devote this much time to non-kid activities.
By the time the Green Lake Retreat happened my kids were getting older and I was very ready to again become part of a practice community. I had developed greatly in Taoist practices, but felt the desire for a greater focus upon a spiritual side to practice than I was finding with T’ai Chi and Chi Gong teaching in Madison. I found SnowFlower to be clearly focused upon a spiritual practice, yet not so rigid that I felt unable to combine my new Buddhist practice with my previous Taoist approaches. People were friendly and inviting. I liked being with them and practicing together.
If you could change one thing about SnowFlower, what would it be?
I like sitting on a cushion, and wish we had a greater invitation to practitioners to try to do their mediation in this way, instead of usually sitting on a chair. Also, I like chanting, and would enjoy doing that more often. Otherwise I am very happy with how things are done.
What other Buddhist teachers do you like?
I have studied under Roshi Joan Halifax at numerous retreats, and have a wonderful practice relationship with her co-abbot Joshin Brian Byrnes.
Dogen and Shunryu Suzuki (Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind) have been wonderful to read, and Stephen Batchelor (Confession of a Buddhist Atheist) have been very enlightening lately. I have really enjoyed many of the writings and lectures by the wonderful Pema Chodron. Finally, one of my other very favorite teachers lately is Norman Fisher.
How does Buddhism as taught by TNH fit into your daily life? Why is it important to you?
TNH emphasizes making your practice part of your daily life. Most Zen teachers do the same, but he puts a very strong focus upon that point. I have now for several years really emphasized integrating my practice into my work, my family, and how I interact with all the people I meet each day. Bit by bit, this has had a noticeable effect upon how I feel about my life and how people interact with me. This has brought deep and profound joy to me, day after day, more and more all the time. It has allowed me to work with difficult situations with much more calmness and compassion. If that is not important I don’t know what would be. I look forward to all the interactions I will have the rest of my years. How wonderful.
If you are working, what do you do?
I am an attorney. I focus my work into two areas. One area is tenants’ rights litigation. The other is working for coops. I handle lots of cases for tenants in courts in Dane County, and negotiating with local landlords and their attorneys. This litigation work is very challenging in general, and I find it especially challenging in terms of applying my Buddhist approach to life and work. That is for sure. I work for many of the cooperatives in town, all around the state, and even around the country. This is continuously very satisfying work – creating an economic culture based upon working together and valuing everyone involved. It is the economic system we all wish could be the dominant one, instead of capitalism, and here it is right here in Madison. I am very proud to be able to assist the many cooperators in being more and more successful, and spreading the reach of cooperation.
Do you do any volunteer work?
I serve on several boards of non-profits and on some City Committees. I do presentations at conferences, and volunteer time at local legal clinics. And of course, SnowFlower’s Steering Council and Scheduler’s Committee.
I am married and have two children. My wife Doreen is a regular at SnowFlower, and we get to practice together ever day and talk about the Dharma together, and listen to teachings when we go on trips. That is wonderful. My daughter is 30 and my son 27. My son Willie is about to move back to Madison, with his wife and baby, and serve as a Chaplain at Meriter Hospital. He is one of new breed of Buddhist Chaplains graduating from the University of Chicago Master of Divinity Program. He and his wife are both very serious practitioners. My daughter Iris also is involved in Buddhism, she lived at Thay’s Deer Park center in California for a few months. She has been a first-grade teacher in a French immersion school for several years, but right now is in the middle of spending a year living in Germany. This coming fall she’s moving back to the US with her husband who will be starting as a professor at Purdue.
Favorite hobbies or pastimes?
I am an avid cyclist and ride weekly with a cycling club during the warm weather, and commute by bicycle to work all year round, even when it is below zero. I have also been a very serious volleyball player since college, and in the past, have played in state wide and regional tournaments. As mentioned before, I am a very dedicated Chi Gong and Tai Chi practitioner and still do practice regularly. I love to cook, and do most of the cooking for my family. I love coming home after a very stressful overwhelming day and cooking an intricate meal for everyone. Finally, I love to read – fiction, non-fiction science books, dharma books of all kinds, poetry, etc. I usually have two or three books going simultaneously.