Remembering Joanne Friday

Joanne Friday and Thich Nhat Hanh at the 21-Day Retreat, Plum Village, 2006, photo by Richard Friday

On January 20, 2021, Joanne Friday, our beloved Dharma teacher and friend, transitioned from the historic dimension into the ultimate dimension. 

Joanne has left a solid and indelible legacy through her love and her tireless efforts to relieve suffering and bring love into the lives of countless beings. On January 4,

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Joanne Friday and Thich Nhat Hanh at the 21-Day Retreat, Plum Village, 2006, photo by Richard Friday

On January 20, 2021, Joanne Friday, our beloved Dharma teacher and friend, transitioned from the historic dimension into the ultimate dimension. 

Joanne has left a solid and indelible legacy through her love and her tireless efforts to relieve suffering and bring love into the lives of countless beings. On January 4, once it became clear to her that she may soon be moving on, Joanne sent the following love letter: 

Dear Friends, 

It seems that causes and conditions are no longer sufficient for me to continue this manifestation. I am getting weaker each day. It has been a very deep practice of acceptance and letting go. I am left with a heart filled with gratitude for having been given the gift of this wonderful lifetime. For having met Thay in this lifetime and for having been able to share what he shared with me and to be a part of this beautiful family. To have been loved unconditionally and to be able to love in that way is the most precious gift. And, of course, to have been blessed with a partner who has been a wonderful teacher of true love. 

So left with no words but thank you and I love you all, 


In deep gratitude, deep love, and deep sadness, 

Cindy West 

Thursday, January 21, 2021 

Dear Joanne, 

You are no longer with us in your usual form. That is something I am just now sitting with. Next to me there is a candle, and a lit Buddha surrounded by ice plants outside the sliding glass door of my room at Deer Park Monastery. 

I remember a young man with a beard, enthusiastic to become a monk, who attended an Order of Interbeing gathering at Green Mountain Dharma Center [in Vermont]. It was spring of 2003, and we were collectively still recovering from the trauma of 9/11. You were there, and your beatific, peaceful face, your graceful movements, your deep respect and admiration for Sr. Chan Duc taught me that deep Dharma practice was not reserved only for monks and nuns. 

There was something in you that that young man could trust. Fast forward five years, when Deer Park Monastery was looking for old 1980s Mercedes; we were converting them to be powered by our used vegetable oil. One of these station wagons was near your and Richard’s place in Rhode Island. You didn’t bat an eye before helping us to check out the state of the car for Deer Park. The humor of scoping out cars for the monks and nuns was not lost on you, and you made it even more joyful. 

After Thay started the Wake Up movement for young people, the young monks and nuns toured New England to give university students a taste of the practice. Again you were there to support without hesitation—and also ready to let the young people guide themselves. Your own young students became seed practitioners of the Wake Up movement in the US. Thanks to your moral support—always present, never imposing—Wake Up thrived in its seedling stage to become the thick tree trunk it is now. 

When a shooter killed twenty elementary school children and six teachers in my hometown [in Connecticut], you were at the retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery without hesitation. There, you supported a Dharma sharing group that included a father of one of the children. Your experience of surviving cancer made your approach to the practice free from delusion—the Dharma saved your life. It is not something just to make us feel better. Your steady hand guiding the group made that father and the other people from Newtown near Sandy Hook Elementary School feel at ease and touch deep joy in the practice when they desperately needed it.

Joanne, you were a Dharma teacher to Dharma teachers. When even the monks and nuns weren’t quite sure what to do about a situation in the lay Sangha they sought out your advice. Your wisdom was realistic yet full of compassion. This wisdom lives on in us, as your continuation. Thank you for this transmission.

- Brother Phap Luu (Brother Stream)

"Our life is our message.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

We know that a cloud is not born and does not die. This life is a tender and temporal gift, and we are its stewards. The manifestation of human life does not end with the body, but instead continues in another form, a different manifestation. All is transformation; all is continuation. Life cannot be destroyed; it cannot be created. Our lives continue on through the lives of those we have touched and who have touched us, through the legacy of our words, our actions, our gestures of love and kindness. The comforting wisdom and insight of signlessness lights the way. 

We know too that happiness and suffering inter-are. We live with both; they are interdependent. The wisdom of grief and loss is the awareness that something important, something meaningful, something we love, was lost. Our vulnerability makes us profoundly, beautifully human, and unrepeatable. 

Our hearts are enriched by the life and legacy of Joanne Friday, her words, her fierce and unwavering support and commitment to the Plum Village communities and especially Black, Indigenous, and people of color and other marginalized people, and her unshakeable gratitude for our beloved teacher, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. Joanne’s life is a lamp on the path, shining brightly the way of deep clarity, justice, gentleness, love, and understanding. She embodied the paramitas and thus lived this by example for us all. Our understanding and practice of the Dharma is deepened because of her life, her teaching, a living manifestation of love in action. 

Joanne’s life in this bodily form is like casting a small pebble in a big pond and watching the ripple effect. She is the waves of the ripple, emanating within and around us, within the Sangha. She is the light shining through the darkness. Joanne’s life and legacy are a great teaching, a declaration of generosity, love, grace, clarity, and compassion. She became a bell of mindfulness, calling us back to inner truth and goodness. She embodied the path of compassionate action that seeks justice and equity for all people and all beings.

I’ve called Joanne an angel, a mentor, a friend, a being whose spirit penetrated me and countless others, and who served as a role model of fierce and tender clarity, kindness, generosity, and grace. Living fully each moment, whether in sickness or in health, Joanne embodied a true surrender to the Buddha’s voice.

Recently, I walked up the hill along Old Carversville Road [in Pennsylvania], following Pidcock Creek, coming to an old barn and lumber mill, and I was drawn by the glow of light shining through dozens of tiny cracks in the rough-hewn barn walls. Each light, diamond-like, illuminating the darkness, scattering light everywhere. I paused and knew Joanne was there with me. Her light so bright, so true, had opened my heart so long shuttered in darkness. Through her unstoppable joy, she helped me to remember joy within myself and offer the bright light of joy to others, even in moments of darkness.

May I, may we live in such a way to continue Joanne’s legacy into the world. May we know the deep insight that love continues, always. I call you Beloved Joanne. Beloved.

No coming, no going.
No after, no before.
I hold you close to me,
I release you to be so free;
I am in you
And you are in me.

- Valerie Brown, True Sangha Power

Joanne Friday at the Cape Cod retreat in Craigsville, Massachusetts, September 14, 2019; photo by Richard Friday

My greatest fortune has been that Joanne and I loved and lived together for over forty years. 

She was a miracle. When we met over forty years ago, one of the first things I noticed was her luminosity—a certain candlepower that appeared to radiate softly from her. It was easy to see, and people often commented about it. This light was an accurate indication of just how alive she was, despite having had a difficult childhood and many challenging events in her life. She took great delight in living. She was positive and engaging, and she had enjoyed her diverse roles as a teacher, an artist, and a high school crisis counselor. 

All that changed after a traumatic head injury from a car accident. Joanne lost much of her memory and her ability to calm herself; she was afraid she would never get better and would never work again. Joy was gone; fear ruled, and the light faded from her eyes and face. 

She pursued multiple therapies, but it wasn’t until she received the instructions of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Buddha, on a retreat in 1993 with Thich Nhat Hanh, that the process of healing really began. Her mind was scattered, and this was the perfect place for her to be. “I just had to follow directions,” she said. Thay helped her to calm and heal herself, and realize that her thoughts didn’t just happen: she was the one who created them, and she should pay attention to them throughout the day. He taught her to become a gatekeeper, aware of what she was letting into her consciousness. 

Over time, she learned how to be with her suffering and how to relieve it; how to heal the past in the present moment; how to use “beginning anew” to forgive herself and those who had caused her harm; how to water the seeds of joy that she still had within her. She learned how to be kind towards herself, how to live more fully in the present moment, and how we inter-are with everything in the universe. Over years of practice, using what she called “gentle diligence over time,” she was healed back even through her childhood. It’s how she came to more fully love herself and others, she told me, so that she could move on. 

When she offered Dharma talks, Days of Mindfulness, and retreats, she would say, “I show up, I do the best I can, and then I let it go.” She had become much more free, as she had washed herself clean from most of the soot and dirt that had accumulated on her lamp; and her radiance increased. Her lightness, her brightness, her luminosity—what we could see on the outside is what existed on the inside. With gentle diligence over time, her actions became more fully in alignment with her words; her words became in alignment with her thoughts; and her thoughts became in alignment with her heart. What we could see is what she was, and we could see clearly to the center of her being. She fully embodied her lineage name, “Clear Beauty of the Heart.” 

Each one of us is a lamp. And I believe we recognized in her the light that dwells within each of us, behind our own layers of soot and dirt; it was this light that drew us towards her, for we knew that she could help us do what she had done; and she wanted nothing more than to share her knowledge, to help. She was living proof that it is possible to go beyond a fleeting sense of happiness; to actually bring an end to suffering, and become who we really are.

This is her poem to Thich Nhat Hanh, upon receiving the Lamp Transmission and becoming a Dharma teacher:

Riding the wave of the in-breath,
Through countless
Ancestral lives,
We arrive at a sleeping newborn—
Happy, healthy, fearless
And at peace.

Riding the wave of the out-breath,
Through a sea of compassion,
We remember who we are.
Joanne has arrived
She is home

It has been my greatest joy, my deepest honor, to accompany Joanne for these many years. She accompanies me still in everything I do, in all that I am, and I am infinitely grateful. 

- Richard Friday, Deep Interconnection of the Heart, Joanne’s husband

photo by Richard Friday

February 24, 1950 - January 20, 2021

For Joanne Friday
There is a place in my heart
where you live
filled with my love
for you and
your love for me
Or at least I would like to claim.
it was how you met the world.
I was of the world
So you loved me
like you loved the world
without question or condition.

When the diagnosis sent fear like ice
through your every vein
you knew what to do.
The wise mendicant taught us
over and again.
“Are you sure?”

You answered.
“I don’t know what this means! I have
no idea what this means!”
This moment was all you had,
all you ever had.
Not only did you vow
never to waste another
in fear and speculation,
you discovered
you deeply embodied

you realized
leaving the mind open to
what this moment brings
reveals infinite possibilities
for joy
for love
that were there all along.

The wise mendicant saw it
long before you did.
He deemed you True Joy of Giving/
True Gift of Joy.
It was not that he couldn’t decide.

Few manifest their ordination name in
their lifetime.
You embraced all
who sought refuge in you.
Like me
who wanted to embody
your freedom
your clarity
your skillfulness
how you knew just what to do
what living on the precipice of death
had taught you.

There was no secret teaching to be
The wise mendicant had shown the
It wasn’t that you didn’t suffer.
You just followed his instructions.
Why didn’t we?

And follow you did
until all that was left was gratitude
and love.

Mendelssohn’s Wedding March
played in my head
after I read your letter.
Causes and conditions
were no longer sufficient
for you to continue.

Then snippets of Beethoven
and Mozart,
so celebratory!
Were the angels welcoming you?

Or perhaps the Bodhisattvas
for one who had crossed
to the other shore?

Then I heard your voice
“I don’t know what this means! I have
no idea what this means!”

So you continue
with the same courage,
the same curiosity
you exemplified and taught us.

Bodhi Svaha!

- Bethany Klug, The Practice of True Emptiness

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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