Joseph Goldstein Interview Snippet
(SR= Spirit Rock, click to rest of interview)

SR: In all the talks you’ve given and all the question and answer periods you’ve done, what is the story that you’ve ended up telling the most, and why is that?

JG: It’s probably the Big Dipper story. It’s the suggestion that people look up in the night sky, recognize the Big Dipper, and then inquire whether there’s actually a Big Dipper up there or not, as some concrete thing. Then of course people recognize that the Big Dipper is just a concept which we’ve constructed. And this concept separates those stars from all the other stars in the sky. But even being aware of this, we see how difficult it is not to see the Big Dipper because we’ve been so conditioned by that concept. I like that story and that image because it seems to me to help us understand the notion of selflessness. This is such a difficult understanding to convey because the construct of self is so deeply held. It is the reference point for our entire lives. The understanding of selflessness is really the heart of awakening. So I like to find ways to try to communicate the understanding that the notion of self is really just a belief in a concept, arising from a constellation of changing experience. The Big Dipper represents that. I've probably told this more than any other story. People undoubtedly groan every time it comes up. [Laughs]

SR: I know you’re about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of IMS. Do you have any advice for Spirit Rock as we move into a residential retreat phase where we’ll have a community of retreatants and staff on the land?

JG: I’d like to offer this as a consideration. In several verses in the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu talks about the power of limitation, the power of limits. Over the years at IMS at different times we talked about the question of what should go on there and who should teach there, because we studied with different teachers. I remember back in the early years there was a phase where many of us did sesshins with Sasaki Roshi and felt that they were very powerful and that he was a really great Zen master. There was a strong feeling to invite him to IMS. But when we discussed it with the Board and the community, we felt that there was a power in having just one thing go on at IMS, even though there are many great beings. I think for a dharma center there’s a great strength in having a very clear sense of its vision and its mission and doing that impeccably. I think something could be lost in trying to bring in too much, too many disparate things. Just in terms of the energy of a center, there’s a real power in doing one thing well.

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