Filed in Community, Sickness

Lotus in the Fire

An Interview with Gavin HarrisonHelen Tworkov and Trudy Goodman

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Gavin Harrison was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1950 into an affluent English-speaking family of British and Dutch descent. At university, he qualified as a certified public accountant. In 1974, having become involved with anti-apartheid politics, he faced a choice of going to jail or leaving his country. After living in Iran for four years, he came to New York, where he supported himself as an accountant but became increasingly dissatisfied with his luxurious lifestyle and the “wild, gay scene.” On a visit back to South Africa, he did his first meditation retreat with the American teacher Joseph Goldstein at the Ixopo Retreat Center in Zululand. He left his job and stayed at the retreat center for a year. Eventually, he returned to the United States, where he has continued to study, primarily with Joseph Goldstein and Michelle McDonald, both of Insight Meditation Center in Barre, Massachusetts. He was ordained as a monk, and over the past few years he has been teaching in the Vipassana tradition.

In In the Lap of the Buddha (Shambhala Publications, 1994), Harrison interweaves the life story of the historical Buddha with his own journey, which includes speaking candidly about sexual abuse and being sick with the AIDS virus.

Today, Harrison does minimal public teaching. He works closely with a few individuals and is writing a second book. This interview took place at his home in Northampton, Massachusetts, in December 1995, and was conducted for Tricycle by Helen Tworkov and Trudy Goodman, a psychotherapist and teacher with the Cambridge Buddhist Association, and a longtime friend of Mr. Harrison’s.


Tricycle: How do you understand karma in terms of your sickness?

Harrison: If I seek an answer as to why I am HIV-positive and why somebody else isn’t, I’m going to drive myself crazy because I’m never going to get an answer to that.

Tricycle:
I didn’t mean it in quite that way. Rather, that AIDS has pushed you deeper into practice than you may have gone without it, and you often refer to your life now as a blessing.

Harrison: I would never call the virus a blessing, but I have no doubt that if I had lived to ninety years without this sickness, I probably would never know the depth of peace and contentment that I’m experiencing in my life now. I truly am happier than I’ve ever been.

Tricycle:
Does practice make it easier to die?

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