Monday, March 7, 2016

Curiosity and Doubt: The Spiritual Career of Judith Simmer-Brown

By Caitlin Dwyer
Teaching on the Dakini in Tibetan Buddhism at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat.
Watch teaching on YouTube.

Small-town Nebraska is about as far from India as a person can get, but for Buddhist scholar and acharya Judith Simmer-Brown, who grew up there, that faraway place always had a particular draw. Located in the Midwest of the United States, Nebraska has wide swaths of flat farmland sliced by paths for pickup trucks, wind plucking through the fields of corn.

“As a child, I had tremendous religious and spiritual curiosity,” recalls Simmer-Brown, the daughter of a Methodist minister. “I asked a lot of people, I read biographies . . . I started a methodical prayer practice. I feel like I had some kind of past-life affinity for meditation.”

That curiosity has carried Simmer-Brown through a lifetime of religious study—leading her to India, where she was first exposed to meditation, to an early devotion to Zen, to a doctorate in Buddhism, and eventually, to a position as an acharya, or senior Dharma teacher, in the Shambhala lineage of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and to a teaching role at Naropa University in Colorado. Curious and questioning, her spiritual intellect has driven her to embody a unique position bridging the divide between the practice of Dharma and the analytical study of religion.