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Beacons of Hope: Our Interreligious S/Heroes Beacons of Hope: Our Interreligious S/Heroes – Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown

By Adam Zemel
Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown, Beacon of Hope

Each month, we honor an individual whose commitment aligns with the bridge-building vision of the Miller Center, embodying values of inclusivity, justice, and compassion. For February, we shine a light on Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown, Distinguished Professor of Contemplative and Religious Studies Emeritx at Naropa University, as our Beacon of Hope.

Dr. Simmer-Brown’s dedication to interreligious work from a Buddhist perspective spans decades, and is rooted in values we hold dear at the Miller Center. In addition to her two decades facilitating a graduate seminar focused on dialogue at Naropa’s Masters of Divinity program, she has crafted contemplative practices that encourage deep listening, openness, and intimate sharing among individuals of varied religious backgrounds. “Dr. Simmer-Brown is a model of scholarly acumen and spiritual depth,” says Rabbi Or Rose, Miller Center Director. “She is an outstanding teacher and mentor, who generously shares her wisdom with colleagues and students.”

“For me, interreligious dialogue has been a tremendous support for being an authentic Buddhist,” says Dr. Simmer-Brown. “It has made me more curious about the blind spots of my tradition, and more connected to others with diverse perspectives and practices. It has kept me from defaulting into dogmatism.” Dr. Simmer-Brown’s approach to interfaith encounters transforms dialogue into a contemplative practice itself. This perspective has allowed her to cultivate rich connections between practitioners of different spiritual traditions, creating a space where diverse beliefs converge, fostering mutual respect and understanding. Her work exemplifies the power of dialogue in bridging religious divides.

In keeping with her deep commitment to fostering interreligious understanding, last month, along with Naropa colleague Dr. Amelia Hall, Dr. Simmer-Brown taught an illuminating three-and-a-half-day seminar to Hebrew College rabbinical students, “Introduction to Buddhism for Jewish Leaders.” The seminar was part of a week of interreligious learning intensives co-hosted by Hebrew College’s Graduate Leadership Program and the Miller Center. Exploring the rich tradition of Buddhist history, thought, and practice, the seminar delved into the “three yanas” or vehicles of Buddhism, emphasizing the role of inquiry in fostering the wisdom of realization. Dr. Simmer-Brown also shared meditation and contemplative practices integral to Buddhist traditions, sparking insightful discussions around the intriguing intersection of Buddhism and Judaism. The seminar culminated in a visit to a local Buddhist meditation center, Shambhala, in Brookline, where students practiced an hour-long sadhana recitation liturgy about, in Dr. Simmer-Brown’s words, “finding hope in the midst of warfare, famine, divisiveness and bias, sickness, and alienation that we are facing in the world.”

An esteemed scholar and Acharya, Dr. Simmer-Brown’s collaborative projects, lectures, and writings reflect her dedication to inner awakening and the societal path of building enlightened communities. Her leadership in contemplative education, compassion training, and interreligious dialogue showcases a commitment to fostering transformative practices both within and beyond the academic sphere. With almost 50 years of practicing Tibetan Buddhism, she serves as an Acharya in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage. Her influence has reached diverse circles, from her foundational role at Naropa University to her participation in the Shambhala community and her involvement in interreligious dialogues. Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown, our Beacon of Hope, inspires us to bridge diverse perspectives and cultivate a world enriched by compassion and understanding.

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