Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

Joan Sutherland

Joan Sutherland, Roshi is a koan teacher, part of the generation who underwent classical koan study and then midwifed the Pacific Zen School koan way. She has re-imagined the tradition with allegiance to the root spirit of the koans and to their profound potential for vivifying, subverting, and sanctifying our lives. In her vision, awakening is made of endarkenment as well as enlightenment.

Her books include Acequias & Gates: Miscellaneous Koans and Miscellaneous Writings on Koans and Vimalakirti & the Awakened Heart: A Commentary on the Vimalakirti Sutra. Her writing has appeared regularly in Lion’s Roar, Shambhala Sun, and Buddhadharma magazines. She is a translator from classical Chinese, collaborating with the person foolish enough to make her a teacher, John Tarrant, on new translations of the Blue Cliff Record and the Book of Serenity. Her work is the subject of a short film, The Radiance of the Dark.

Earlier in life she received an MA in East Asian languages from UCLA, then worked in the feminist anti-violence movement; for Marija Gimbutas, PhD, an archaeologist whose pioneering work on pre-Indo-European civilizations is legendary; and as a book editor. She studied Soto Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, Daoism, Jungian psychology, women’s spirituality, and classical Western magic before coming home to the koan tradition.

Joan Sutherland is one of the founders of the Pacific Zen School and a teacher emerita at PZI. For many years she taught in Santa Fe, New Mexico through Awakened Life, the community that gathered around her teachings there, and whose innovations include the Koan Salon. She is also the founding teacher of The Open Source, a network of communities throughout the western US led by her dharma heirs.

In 2014 she retired from working directly with students because of her health and now focuses on Cloud Dragon: The Joan Sutherland Dharma Works, an online resource established to organize and disseminate her teachings. She lives on the coast of northern California, in the constant roar of the sea.

You can contact Joan at:  JIS@joansutherlanddharmaworks.org

Pieces by Joan Sutherland