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Joan Halifax

Joan Halifax

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Joan Jiko Halifax is a Zen Buddhist roshi
Roshi
is a Japanese honorific title used in Zen Buddhism that literally means "old teacher" or "elder master" and sometimes denotes a person who gives spiritual guidance to a Zen sangha or congregation...

, anthropologist, ecologist, civil rights activist, hospice
Hospice
Hospice is a type of care and a philosophy of care which focuses on the palliation of a terminally ill patient's symptoms.In the United States and Canada:*Gentiva Health Services, national provider of hospice and home health services...

 caregiver, and the author of several books on Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 and spirituality
Spirituality
Spirituality can refer to an ultimate or an alleged immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the “deepest values and meanings by which people live.” Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop...

. She currently serves as abbot and guiding teacher of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is the fourth-largest city in the state and is the seat of . Santa Fe had a population of 67,947 in the 2010 census...

, a Zen Peacemaker community which she founded in 1990. Halifax-roshi has received Dharma transmission
Dharma transmission
Dharma transmission refers to "the manner in which the teaching, or Dharma, is passed from a Zen master to their disciple and heir...

 from both Bernard Glassman and Thich Nhat Hanh, and previously studied under the Korean
Korean people
The Korean people are an ethnic group originating in the Korean peninsula and Manchuria. Koreans are one of the most ethnically and linguistically homogeneous groups in the world.-Names:...

 master Seung Sahn
Seung Sahn
Seung Sahn Haeng Won Dae Soen-sa , born Dok-In Lee, was a Korean Jogye Seon master and founder of the international Kwan Um School of Zen—the largest Zen institution present in the Western world. He was the seventy-eighth teacher in his lineage...

. In the 1970s she collaborated on LSD
LSD
Lysergic acid diethylamide, abbreviated LSD or LSD-25, also known as lysergide and colloquially as acid, is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug of the ergoline family, well known for its psychological effects which can include altered thinking processes, closed and open eye visuals, synaesthesia, an...

 research projects with her ex-husband Stanislav Grof
Stanislav Grof
Stanislav Grof is a psychiatrist, one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology and a pioneering researcher into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of analyzing, healing, and obtaining growth and insight into the human psyche...

, in addition to other collaborative efforts with Joseph Campbell
Joseph Campbell
Joseph John Campbell was an American mythologist, writer and lecturer, best known for his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. His work is vast, covering many aspects of the human experience...

 and Alan Lomax
Alan Lomax
Alan Lomax was an American folklorist and ethnomusicologist. He was one of the great field collectors of folk music of the 20th century, recording thousands of songs in the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, the Caribbean, Italy, and Spain.In his later career, Lomax advanced his theories of...

. She is founder of the Ojai Foundation in California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, which she led from 1979 to 1989. As a socially engaged Buddhist
Engaged Buddhism
Engaged Buddhism refers to Buddhists who are seeking ways to apply the insights from meditation practice and dharma teachings to situations of social, political, environmental, and economic suffering and injustice...

, Halifax has done extensive work with the dying through her Project on Being with Dying (which she founded). She is on the board of directors of the Mind and Life Institute
Mind and Life Institute
The Mind and Life Institute is a non-profit organization dedicated to exploring the relationship of science and Buddhism as methodologies in understanding the nature of reality...

, a non-profit organization dedicated in exploring the relationship of science and Buddhism.

Biography



Joan Halifax was born in Hanover, New Hampshire
Hanover, New Hampshire
Hanover is a town along the Connecticut River in Grafton County, New Hampshire, United States. The population was 11,260 at the 2010 census. CNN and Money magazine rated Hanover the sixth best place to live in America in 2011, and the second best in 2007....

 in 1942. At age four a serious virus
Virus
A virus is a small infectious agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of organisms. Viruses infect all types of organisms, from animals and plants to bacteria and archaea...

 caused her to go legally blind, from which she recovered two years later. In 1964 she graduated from Harriet Sophie Newcomb College
H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College
H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, or Newcomb College, was the coordinate women's college of Tulane University located in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was founded by Josephine Louise Newcomb in 1886 in memory of her daughter....

 at Tulane University
Tulane University
Tulane University is a private, nonsectarian research university located in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States...

 in New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a major United States port and the largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana. The New Orleans metropolitan area has a population of 1,235,650 as of 2009, the 46th largest in the USA. The New Orleans – Metairie – Bogalusa combined statistical area has a population...

, where she had become drawn in to the American civil rights movement and participated in anti-war
Anti-war
An anti-war movement is a social movement, usually in opposition to a particular nation's decision to start or carry on an armed conflict, unconditional of a maybe-existing just cause. The term can also refer to pacifism, which is the opposition to all use of military force during conflicts. Many...

 protests. Halifax moved to New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 and began working with Alan Lomax
Alan Lomax
Alan Lomax was an American folklorist and ethnomusicologist. He was one of the great field collectors of folk music of the 20th century, recording thousands of songs in the United States, Great Britain, Ireland, the Caribbean, Italy, and Spain.In his later career, Lomax advanced his theories of...

, and by 1965 she was reading books on Buddhism
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 and teaching herself how to meditate. She worked at the Bureau of Applied Social Research
Bureau of Applied Social Research
The Bureau of Applied Social Research was a social research institute at Columbia University which specialised in mass communications research. It grew out of the Radio Research Project at Princeton University, beginning in 1937. The Bureau's first director was Austrian sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld...

 at Columbia University with Alan Lomax from 1964-1968. She then went to Paris and worked at the Museum of Man in the Ethnographic Film Section. She received her Ph.D.
Ph.D.
A Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy, an academic degree.Ph.D. may also refer to:* Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*Piled Higher and Deeper, a web comic strip*PhD: Phantasy Degree, a Korean comic series* PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...

 in medical anthropology
Medical anthropology
Medical anthropology is an interdisciplinary field which studies "human health and disease, health care systems, and biocultural adaptation". It views humans from multidimensional and ecological perspectives...

 and psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 and worked at the University of Miami School of Medicine
University of Miami
The University of Miami is a private, non-sectarian university founded in 1925 with its main campus in Coral Gables, Florida, a medical campus in Miami city proper at Civic Center, and an oceanographic research facility on Virginia Key., the university currently enrolls 15,629 students in 12...

. She also went to Mali
Mali
Mali , officially the Republic of Mali , is a landlocked country in Western Africa. Mali borders Algeria on the north, Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and the Côte d'Ivoire on the south, Guinea on the south-west, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west. Its size is just over 1,240,000 km² with...

, where she studied the indigenous Dogon tribe
Dogon people
The Dogon are an ethnic group living in the central plateau region of Mali, south of the Niger bend near the city of Bandiagara in the Mopti region. The population numbers between 400,000 and 800,000 The Dogon are best known for their religious traditions, their mask dances, wooden sculpture and...

. During the 1970s, Halifax went to Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 to study the Huichols.

Halifax entered a relatively short-lived marriage with Stanislav Grof
Stanislav Grof
Stanislav Grof is a psychiatrist, one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology and a pioneering researcher into the use of non-ordinary states of consciousness for purposes of analyzing, healing, and obtaining growth and insight into the human psyche...

 in 1972. While together the two examined the use of LSD
LSD
Lysergic acid diethylamide, abbreviated LSD or LSD-25, also known as lysergide and colloquially as acid, is a semisynthetic psychedelic drug of the ergoline family, well known for its psychological effects which can include altered thinking processes, closed and open eye visuals, synaesthesia, an...

 as a support mechanism for those dying, jointly publishing the book The Human Encounter With Death in 1977. The book discusses several "rebirth
Reincarnation
Reincarnation best describes the concept where the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, is believed to return to live in a new human body, or, in some traditions, either as a human being, animal or plant...

" incidents which are rather similar to regular reports of near death experiences.


In 1979, Halifax founded the Ojai Foundation, an educational and interfaith center. In 1990 Halifax founded Upaya Zen Center located in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe is the capital of the U.S. state of New Mexico. It is the fourth-largest city in the state and is the seat of . Santa Fe had a population of 67,947 in the 2010 census...

. The center offers Zen
Zen
Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism founded by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán , which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state."Zen...

 training, in addition to various courses and retreats on topics such as engaged Buddhism
Engaged Buddhism
Engaged Buddhism refers to Buddhists who are seeking ways to apply the insights from meditation practice and dharma teachings to situations of social, political, environmental, and economic suffering and injustice...

and caring for the dying. According to author Ellison Banks Findly, Upaya is, "...a residential and teaching center on the outskirts of Santa Fe on the site of earlier Buddhist communities. While proceeding in an organic and incremental way, integrating existing structures into the Upaya campus, Joan's vision for its present form has been comprehensive. It is based on her deep understanding of the consonance of mind and spatial expressions. She considers our condition of interrelatedness and interdependence (ties to ancestors and traditional uses of the land, natural cycles and resources, placing sites within the local topography of mountain and river, the interdependence of exterior and interior spaces, and relationships with the community itself) in the design choices she has made. Caring stewardship of the land and its resources has been a constant factor in the development of the site.

As has already been noted, Joan Halifax has done extensive work with the dying over her career. Professor Christopher S. Queen writes—in the book Westward Dharma (edited by Charles S. Prebish and Martin Baumann), "She teaches the techniques of 'being with death and dying' to a class of terminally ill patients, doctors, nurses, lovers, family, and friends. She speaks calmly, with authority. In a culture where death is an enemy to be ignored, denied, and hidden away, Joan physically touches the dying. She holds them, listens to them, comforts them, calms them, and eases their suffering by any means possible. She shares their thoughts and fears; she feels their last shuddering breaths, holding them in her arms. She travels easily from church to synagogue, hospice to hospital, dispensing techniques and training born of Buddhist traditions and beliefs in a culturally and spiritually flexible manner."