When did you become a Buddhist and why? I can’t say exactly when—it was a slow, organic process. I started practicing during a five-day silent retreat in Japan in the 1990s. The “why” is harder. Buddhism made sense to me in ways that nothing else had.
Is your family Buddhist? No, they’re evangelical Methodist Christians. While we love and appreciate each other and our respective spiritual paths, there is still discomfort.
What’s your daily practice? My mornings now are pretty similar to temple life in Japan, with two periods of sitting meditation (zazen), walking meditation, full liturgical chanting, altar rounds, and prostrations to my teacher, then breakfast.
Who is your teacher? Tessai Yamamoto Roshi. He is a deeply humble, kind, and slightly goofy monk with a huge heart.
Favorite aphorism? “A thousand errors, a million mistakes.”
Favorite musician? Prince.
What’s the longest you’ve gone without meditating? I haven’t really gone without meditating since I started, though I have had periods of more and less intensity, which I see as a normal continuum. I try not to allow myself to get off track. When I do, I think of my teacher. He’s gotten up early every single morning and kept the same schedule for 50 years.
Books on your nightstand? A Fearless Heart by Thupten Jinpa, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Just Ministry by Richard M. Gula.
What do you like to do in your free time? I like hiking, camping, and being in the woods.
Coffee or tea? Dark roast coffee.
What was your first job? Filing and bookkeeping for a certified public accountant (my dad). I’ve also worked as a lifeguard and bartender, cared for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, repaired yachts in Cyprus, and picked avocados and translated poetry on an Israeli kibbutz.
Watch Tenku Ruff’s October Dharma Talk series, “Reclaiming Our Stories: Four Remarkable Zen Women,” at tricycle.org/dharmatalks.