July 11, 2012

Interview with Buddhist Blogger Extraordinaire Reverend Danny Fisher

Rev. Danny FisherIf you've ever puttered around the Buddhist blogosphere, you know the Reverend Danny Fisher. He's the author of the Patheos blog Off the Cushion, maintains an official website, and writes for Shambhala Sun, Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly, and elephantjournal.com. No wonder he's known around the Trike offices as "The Ultimate Buddhist Blogger." Perhaps the first—and only—American Buddhist pundit, Rev. Fisher's commentary on Buddhism in the United States has been featured on CNN, the Religion News Service, E! Entertainment Television, and others.

Aside from these many media credentials, Rev. Fisher earned his Master of Divinity from Naropa University and his Doctorate in Buddhist Studies from University of the West. He is also a professor and Coordinator of the Buddhist Chaplaincy Program at University of the West. He was ordained as a lay Buddhist minister by the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California in 2008 and is certified as a mindfulness meditation instructor by Naropa University in association with Shambhala International. He also serves on the advisory council for the Upaya Buddhist Chaplaincy Program, and in 2009 became the first-ever Buddhist member of the National Association of College and University Chaplains.

You are very active on the Internet. From your website, your published writing, and your interviews, we can learn a lot about you. But what’s something about you that we can’t glean from all of your online activity? Actually, I suppose one thing would be that I have such a love-hate relationship with the Internet and being wired and connected. For a very long time—it seems like ages ago now—I lived without a computer and resisted a cell phone. Even when I first started blogging, I didn't own a computer simply because I chose not to. At the time, it all felt detrimental to being a practitioner; I couldn't reconcile a spiritual, contemplative life with being so plugged in. Then one day, while I was a student at Naropa, I came home to several answering machine messages from my professor and friend Roger Dorris. He had been trying to reach me about a chaplaincy situation we were working on together, but since I had neither a laptop or a cell phone, I'd been impossible to get in touch with. In his last message, he was clearly frustrated with me, and he said, "Darn it, Danny, how are you going to benefit beings if they can't find you?!"

That phone message had a really profound effect on me. Before then, I think I had only really seen the problems of phones and computers and so on and none of the possibilities. Roger reminded me that as someone who was supposedly dedicated to working for the benefit of other sentient beings, I was failing to use some rather helpful tools. I went out the next morning and bought my first cell phone. The rest, in terms of my "connectivity," is history!

To be honest, though, I'm still trying to find the middle path here. When I finally finish my dissertation this month, my poor computer (which is on its last legs) is probably going to fall apart like the Blues Brothers' car. I'm very seriously considering seeing how long I can get away with not replacing it. I've got a computer at work, and pretty much all of my activity on the Internet is part of my work...so why do I need one at home?

What was the Reverend Danny Fisher like at age 16? Well, he'd be very surprised to see what I'm doing with myself these days, I can tell you that.

He was an arty kid. Not an especially strong student, but great at the things he liked. He lived for making movies and drawing and writing stories. He was one of the "freaks and geeks," and, fortunately, he saw what a wonderful crowd that really was: his friends had good hearts, and were really passionate about their work, their art.

I think he was definitely more carefree—probably more fun—but only because he didn't realize how lucky he was. He was born to kind parents, but didn't really know that that wasn't true for everyone. He took for granted that there would always be a roof over his head and enough to eat. He didn't have much awareness of the world around him; he wasn't particularly informed. He had only a developing sense of his white/male/heterosexual/middle-class privilege. He didn't really think about others in a very meaningful way. He hadn't seen poverty yet. He hadn't had his heart broken yet. He hadn't lost anyone close to him yet.

You’re about to defend your dissertation, Benefit Beings!: The Buddhist Guide to Professional Chaplaincy. Can you tell us a bit about it? Yes, I defend July 20th. (I'm feeling lucky, though, since the university allowed me to walk at this past May's commencement.) My degree is like a Doctorate of Ministry, so it's more a doctoral project than a dissertation. It's a sourcebook for Buddhists who want to work as professional chaplains. It has chapters about the various realms of professional chaplaincy—healthcare, the military, corrections, university, police, and so on—and goes through the history of each, then outlines what Buddhists have historically done in these respective areas, and helps aspiring Buddhist chaplains understand what things they need to do to be trained and certified to work professionally in these particular settings. I also have a section of interviews with all kinds Buddhist chaplains and an extensive "recommending reading" portion. So if you want an attempt at a comprehensive list of resources about, say, "Buddhism, healthcare ethics, and end-of-life care," I've got you covered with a litany of works from scholars and Buddhist practitioners. I've described it as kind of a mix between Naomi K. Paget and Janet R. McCormack's The Work of the Chaplain and Rick Fields' How the Swans Came to the Lake. I've tried to create something that would be helpful to aspiring Buddhist chaplains—something I would have liked to had ten years ago. Readers will have to tell me if it's helpful or not, though.

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wanwaimeng's picture

Choyam Trungpa is a fantastic teacher someone so confident about going wherever he needs to be to benefit.

This is very good to have lay ministers who can share the dharma with other lay people. lay people generally relate better to other lay people as opposed to monks that is an advantage there, as more people are educated compared to 100 year ago, education was not as prevalent. Good on you Reverend Danny Fisher.

Sukha's picture

I love the last bit about helping others to be their best selves in their own way. I've only recently been introduced to Buddhism myself, but after its profound effect on me I'm already finding how hard it can be not to try and unload all of my newfound beliefs and practices on others in an attempt to share with them what has helped me. What a good reminder to be sure my focus is on communication and not conversion. A good lesson in all of life, really, and not just unique to chaplaincy.