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An Interview with Toni Packer

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Toni Packer heads the Springwater Center for Meditative Inquiry and Retreats (located outside Rochester, New York), which she founded in 1981. During the previous thirteen years, she was a student of Roshi Philip Kapleau and served as a resident teacher and director of the Rochester Zen Center. Her rejection of the ritualized formalities of Zen, coupled with her studies of Krishnamurti’s teachings makes Springwater a singular experiment in bare-boned awakening, with few of the rituals, accouterments, symbols, or formal practices that traditionally attend this quest.

Born in 1927, Ms. Packer grew up in Nazi Germany as the daughter of two scientists. Her mother was Jewish, but the family was protected by her father’s prestigious career. After the war, the family emigrated to Switzerland, where Toni met her American husband, Kyle Packer. The couple came to the United States in 1951 and settled near Buffalo.

Today, Ms. Packer spends half the year in residence at Springwater and several months a year leading retreats in California and in Western and Eastern Europe. She is the author of The Work of This Moment and The Light of Discovery (both published by Tuttle). This interview was conducted by Helen Tworkov on the first day of spring, 1996, at the Springwater Center.


Tricycle: So often you speak of clear seeing and just listening. What makes this distinct from "regular” seeing and listening?

Packer: Have you ever listened to breathing without knowing what it is? Without thinking about where it comes from or where it goes? This is an innocent listening—unburdened, unhindered by knowledge or by judgment, such as “My breathing is too shallow”; innocent listening is no right breathing, no wrong breathing. What is there when I don’t come to listening with preconceptions, but rather start freshly?

Tricycle: It sounds so easy. Why is it met with so much resistance?

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