Hello. I’m Justin Whitaker, a new North America Correspondent for Buddhistdoor Global. I thought I’d use my first contribution here to tell you a bit about myself. Like so many of us these days, especially in North America, my background and resulting practice of Buddhism is deeply eclectic. Unlike many, my passion for Buddhism drew me in to a lengthy academic career, seeking ways to understand it both very broadly and in as much depth many thousands of hours in libraries can offer.
I am a recently “minted” Ph.D., with a degree from Goldsmiths college of the University of London. Prior to that, I earned an M.A. in Buddhist Studies from Bristol University (also in England), and a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Montana. In my period as a Ph.D. candidate – a very long nine years – I took time out to work and live in Bodhgaya, India for a semester study-abroad program in the falls of 2010 and 2014. I also traveled twice to China with the Taiwanese nun, Ven. Yifa, to experience Buddhism there and am currently a core faculty member for her Woodenfish program.
Early in my academic career I was interested foremost in Tibetan Buddhism, but that changed when the time came to write my M.A. dissertation, which ended up focusing on the same topic as my Ph.D.: early Buddhism and Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804). Both Buddhism and Kant, I found, display elements of consequentialist ethics, but both emphasize the development of virtues and an underlying moral reality (the Dharma and the Moral Law).
My scholarship, and subsequent teaching at several colleges and universities has ebbed and flowed between the worlds of philosophy, primarily ethical theory, and religious studies.
My practice of Buddhism has likewise been varied. I started out meditating in a University of Montana class led by Bodhipaksa, an ordained member of the Western Buddhist Order (now Triratna Buddhist Order). That was followed by a growing interest in Tibetan Buddhism and time spent with a few, mostly Geluk, Buddhist teachers. But, as my academic lens turned toward early Buddhism, so too did my practice life, and I found a “home” in a lay-led Vipassana sitting group. Over that time, though, I maintained ties and friendships in each of the previous communities, as well as in others including the Western Zen group, the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives.
Somewhere along the way, in 2004 to be precise, I started a blog: American Buddhist Perspective (now Perspectives). I found it to be an enjoyable outlet for writing about news and aspects of life and my studies and, over time, it picked up a decent following. In 2011 I was invited to move the blog to Patheos, a new but vibrant multi-faith community of blogs. Soon after, I got involved, academically and in practice, with the mindfulness movement and last year began teaching meditation in my community, first at a friend’s yoga studio and later through a local non-profit.
So that’s me: an eclectic, academic, meditation teaching, blogging Buddhist from Montana. Pleased to meet you; pleased to be here, and looking forward to sharing and learning with you.