Joan Iten Sutherland
Los Angeles, United States
|Based in||Santa Fe, NM|
Joan Sutherland (born 1954) is a senior teacher (Roshi) of Zen Buddhism and the founder of The Open Source, a network of Zen Buddhist practice communities in New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she teaches through Awakened Life, the center of The Open Source. Awakened Life emphasizes non-hierarchical co-creation, the development of authentic American expressions of Zen, and the confluence of koans and creativity. Joan Sutherland is engaged in an intensive re-imagining of the koan tradition. She teaches frequent meditation and koan retreats as well as other innovative programs, such as artists’ retreats and retreats devoted to the practices of sleeping and dreaming; she holds a weekly koan salon, the first program of its kind anywhere. She is regularly invited to teach in other venues around the country. She is a writer whose work appears regularly in Shambhala Sun and Buddhadharma, and has often been included in Shambhala’s annual Best Buddhist Writing anthologies. A translator from Chinese and Japanese, she is currently under contract with Wisdom Books to produce, with John Tarrant, a new translation of the major Chinese koan collections.
Joan Sutherland was born in Los Angeles, California in 1954. She received a Master of Arts degree in Asian Languages and Cultures from UCLA, where she studied classical Chinese and Japanese, with a focus on Chinese Buddhism and poetry. She began meditating then, and over the years she practiced in the Soto and Tibetan traditions before finding a home in Koan Zen. Before becoming a Zen teacher, she was a book editor and teacher, apprenticing in archaeomythology with UCLA’s Marija Gimbutas. She also worked for nonprofit organizations in the feminist antiviolence and environmental movements. She did her koan study with John Tarrant, Roshi, who made her a teacher in 1996 and gave her transmission in 1998; she was the first woman teacher in the Americas in her lineage. In the late 1990s she was the co-founder, with John Tarrant, of the Pacific Zen School, an innovative Western koan school, of which The Open Source is a part. The house style honors the original Chinese koan way while emphasizing the integration of koan inquiry with contemporary lives, explores communal as well as individual koan practice, highlights the contributions of women to the koan tradition, seeks to develop a body of Western koans, and in general is interested in what happens when you trust the koans themselves and the experiences of the people working with them to reveal the way the tradition should evolve.
“Our practice has the power to reveal a Zen that is not bound to another time and a different place, a Zen that is native to us; we begin to recognize the ineffable in the images and metaphors of this time and place, arising out of our landscapes, our ancestral spirits, our poetries, our psyches, and our songs.”
And on the inextricability of communal life to the process of spiritual awakening: "Enlightenment as a conspiracy of friends."
- Melvin McLeod, Ed.The Best Buddhist Writing 2010 (Shambhala Publications, 2010), 21