RUTH DENISON, 9/22/1922 - 2/26/2015
Gone, gone, gone beyond...Thank you, dear Dharma-Mother for having graced our lives...inspiring us, too, to Grace-ness. And thanks for a beautiful death that allowed all of us who cherished you to prepare ourselves for your tender departure. Only your physical body—that source of such dukkha—has departed. You live ever more vital in our hearts, as we carry on in your stead. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu!
Ruth passed away quietly at 3am PST, February 26, 2015 at her Joshua Tree home, surrounded by loved ones.
To honor Ruth's memory, and to join the work of keeping her legacy alive, please CONTRIBUTE To Ruth's Enduring Legacy Fund.
In the great movement of Buddhism to the West, Ruth Denison has been a pioneer. Jack Kornfield, head of Spirit Rock Meditation Center, calls her “one of our most amazing Buddhist elders, whose vision has helped plant the Dhamma in the West.”Ruth was authorized to teach by the great Burmese Theravada lay master, U Ba Khin, who chose her as one of his Western Dharma-heirs (another one was the very well known N. A. Goenka). U Ba Khin became a teacher of the Dharma through the Burmese lineages of Saya Thetgyi and Webu Sayadaw, a monk who had achieved high attainments in meditation; the lineage can be traced back to 1846 and the famous Burmese monk Lede Sayadow. This lineage of Buddhism teaches Vipassana, or “insight meditation,” a method created by the Buddha to cut through our programmed thoughts and behavior and allow our true nature to manifest.
Ruth also studied with the leading Zen masters of the twentieth century, both in Japan and the United States, helping to establish the Southern California Zen centers led by Sasaki Roshi and Maezumi Roshi.
As the first Buddhist teacher to lead an all-women’s retreat and the first teacher to use movement and dance to train her students in mindfulness, Ruth has created a quintessentially female, masterfully accessible, body-centered way of teaching the Dharma. She was one of the first meditation instructors at the Insight Meditation Society, as well as at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California. For nearly forty years she has spread the “Dharma,” or teachings, extensively in the United States and Europe, helping to establish meditation centers in Canada, Germany, California, and Oregon. She has led her Dhamma Dena Vipassana Meditation Center for most of those years.
Ruth's personal journey began in Nazi Germany where, as a young woman, she struggled to survive the near-fatal privations and abuses that befell her after the war. After immigrating to California, she met and married Henry Denison, a spiritual seeker and former Advaita Vedanta monk. Through the sixties and seventies their home hosted a wide variety of luminaries who shared their explorations in new consciousness. Alan Watts, Aldous and Laura Huxley, Fritz Perls, U.G. Krishnamurti, and Timothy Leary were all part of their circle. In addition Ruth and Henry traveled extensively throughout Asia and Europe to study with the foremost spiritual teachers of the twentieth century. This experience became the rich foundation for Ruth's flowering as an eminent Buddhist teacher from the eighties onward.
While she considered herself a traditional Buddhist teacher and tried to convey the Dharma in a straightforward form, she was willing to innovate, create, and shape the practices to reach her Western students. So in addition to offering guidance in sitting meditation, and teaching Dharma from Buddhist scriptures, she also instructed, in passionate and playful detail, developing mindfulness by, for example, paying attention to the slow stretch of an arm at the side, or watching the colors change in the desert horizon, or through the practice of mindful eating during mealtimes. Everything she did came from her passionate desire to help her students open to the truth of this present moment, where Enlightenment lies.
Ruth founded the Center for Buddhism in West Germany and sponsored the creation of Rocky Mountain Insight Foundation, in Colorado Springs, The Portland Insight Meditation Community, LBS Sangha in Berkeley, DharmaCreek Sangha on the Sonoma Coast, and was one of the first teachers at Insight Meditation Society in Barre, MA, and Spirit Rock, in Northern California. In 2006 she was honored by the United Nations as an Outstanding Woman in Buddhism for her role in bringing Vipassana Buddhism to the West.
Through her years of intense spiritual practice and teaching, Ruth ripened into a mature, wise, and delightfully unpredictable teacher lived to age 92. The teachers who now carry her lineage have benefited from her mentorship over many years, and retreats are still held in her playful yet precise style of cultivating mindfulness in each moment.
For a beautifully researched and written biography of Ruth Denison, see Dancing in the Dharma: The Life and Teachings of Ruth Denison by Sandy Boucher.
On February 17, 2015 Ruth suffered a massive stroke passed away on February 26, 2015. Students and dharma friends from all over the world celebrated her life and passing on March 21. Video of the memorial can be viewed on YouTube.
If you are moved to honor her life and legacy by supporting Dhamma Dena, please do so here. Donations are tax deductible.