During the first week of September, Luang Por Pasanno and other members of the Abhayagiri community made a trip down to Southern California to visit Ruth Denison. Debbie Stamp, Amy Zhu, and Samanera Khantiko accompanied Luang Por Pasanno to Dhamma Dena in Joshua Tree, CA. (For more information about Ruth Denison and an upcoming documentary on her life and teachings, please visit www.dhammadena.com.)Ruth Denison has been a long-time supporter of the monastic sangha in the United States and has been involved with Abhayagiri since the monastery opened. Over the years she has continually shown her support for the community and has contributed to the building and maintenance of the monastery, especially with construction of several of the women’s dwellings.
Ruth Denison’s broader influence can be seen in many areas of Buddhism in the United States. She was a pioneer in bringing Insight Meditation (in the Burmese U Ba Khin tradition) westward. She taught and helped to establish many retreat centers, both in Europe and the United States. Ruth Denison also began teaching a women’s retreat that became an annual event, providing a great opportunity for women to practice meditation and develop community.
Over the many decades of Ruth Denison’s teaching career, and in parallel to her unique style and innovative teaching approach, she has emphasized “the Dharma” as the essence of what has been passed along from teacher to student since the time of the Buddha. For her, it does not seem to matter whether this unfolds as the continuance of the traditional monastic sangha in the west, or in creative methods and new venues for sharing the teachings. Ruth Denison’s unbiased approach to upholding the Dharma is a great treasure to those who encounter her.
When we arrived at her home in early September, we spent some time in the afternoon visiting with Ruth. Now, in her early 90’s, she is experiencing periods of poor health, but during our visit she showed great energy and enthusiasm for talking about the Dharma. She made a strong point of insisting that practitioners should not settle for any common form of happiness, but should rather persist until they find the highest happiness possible in the Buddhist teachings. Luang Por Pasanno provided encouragement and admiration for Ruth’s practice and then offered paritta (“protective”) chanting for Ruth’s continued well-being.
It was not easy to leave Dhamma Dena that afternoon as many there knew it might be the last time they were together face-to-face. We left feeling inspired by the vitality of Ruth and her strong devotion to the Dharma, and also by the strength and enduring care of those looking after her. Ruth Denison’s impact on the Abhayagiri community will always be appreciated, and it was well worth the effort to visit with her again and share in her wisdom.