The Buddhist Practice of Spiritual Autobiography
A Year-Long Program
Lama Liz Monson
Join Lama Liz Monson in exploring the writing of a Buddhist spiritual autobiography as a self-reflexive act through which the writer finds meaning in and metabolizes life events as transformative experiences along the Buddhist path to fulfilling one’s deepest human potential.
This course explores writing spiritual autobiography as a liberative practice. For centuries, Buddhist practitioners, like others on diverse spiritual paths, have used the practice of writing spiritual autobiography as a powerful tool for increasing self-knowledge and awareness; for overcoming self-deception; and for bringing into view the journey of the spiritual self from suffering and ignorance to clarity, peace, and liberation. Particularly in Buddhism, writing a spiritual autobiography can be understood as a self-reflexive act through which the writer strives to find meaning in and metabolize the events of her life as transformative experiences along the path to fulfilling her deepest human potential. Together, we will explore how the creation of a narrative spiritual self can provide us with an imaginative arena within which to grapple with the struggles, sufferings, joys, and fruitions of the soteriological journey.
Writing Liberation Path Program
Weeklong retreats will practice Noble Silence from wake-up until noon. From noon until bed, mindful speech will be practiced. Days will include lectures, writing sessions, practice sessions, and group discussion and exploration. This Path course has no prerequisites other than the sincere desire to engage in learning about and writing a spiritual autobiography. Some meditation experience is helpful, but not required.
Between the weeklong retreats, participants will meet online twice a month to discuss assigned readings and writing exercises. One meeting will focus on discussion of assigned readings and writing exercises. For the second meeting, participants will meet with their “home group”—a group of three or four people to share their writing and reflections about the writing process.
Participants commit to all three residential courses and the online components in between.
Financial assistance may be requested on the registration page.
- Writing Liberation I: What is Buddhist Spiritual Autobiography?
(Residential – November 5–10, 2021)
- Online Meetings: Every third Tuesday of each month at 5:00–6:30 PM EST (Dec 21, Jan 18, Feb 15, Mar 15)
- Writing Liberation II: Revisionist History/Retrospective Writing: Configuring Life as a Buddhist/Spiritual Life
(Residential – April 22–27, 2022)
- Online Meetings: Every third Tuesday of each month at 5:00–6:30 PM EST (May 17, June 21, July 19, Aug 16, Sept 20)
- Writing Liberation III: Awake Now: Writing Liberation in Each Moment (Residential – October 14–19, 2022)
Paid in three equal installments before each residential module:
Cost of each retreat:
Mid Level: $765
Sliding Scale Pricing for the Full Program:
Mid Level: $2295
Course fees do not include payments to teachers.
Students are invited to support the teachers with dana (generosity) at the end of each residential module.
Applications Open: June 10, 2021
Applications Close: August 29, 2021
Notification about registration status: September 10
Payment due: Two weeks from date of acceptance letter
Open spaces offered on rolling basis
Course Starts: November 5, 2021
Registrations now closed
Writing Liberation I (Residential – November 5–10, 2021):
What is Buddhist Spiritual Autobiography?
In this module, we will examine the genre of spiritual autobiography by reading selections from classic spiritual memoirs from different spiritual traditions by figures such as Saint Augustine through more recent writers such as Saint Teresa. We will explore the differences between biography, autobiography, memoir, hagiography, and spiritual autobiography to clarify what kind of a writing process spiritual autobiography encourages. Finally, we will examine the distinctiveness of the Buddhist “self-liberation life story” (Tib. rang rnam) as a practice of liberation. We will consider how the act of writing the spiritual self into existence can be a powerful tool on the path to enlightenment.
Participants will begin by identifying and writing about significant moments, times, experiences, and situations from their lives that they feel are more obviously “spiritual” in nature. These could include childhood experiences, experiences in nature, overtly spiritual experiences, and so on, but the point is to create a catalogue of “moments of opening” (whether these were pleasurable or deeply painful) from which they can draw as we move further into writing the full spiritual autobiography. This module of the course will also include identifying and writing about significant symbols, archetypes, and metaphors that have appeared in one’s life.
Writing Liberation II (Residential – April 22–27, 2022):
Revisionist History/Retrospective Writing: Configuring Life as a Buddhist/Spiritual Life
In this module, we will read selections from the life story of the Buddha and other Buddhist teachers, as well as those of other significant spiritual figures such as Jesus and Saint Teresa, to see how these spiritual stories are shaped and configured and to examine how each author formulated the narrative self as an act of liberation. We will explore the power of the narrative self as a vehicle for imagining ourselves into genuine liberation and awakening. We will examine different formats for a spiritual autobiography—how choosing the structure of the memoir/spiritual autobiography can help to mirror your unique spiritual path.
Participants will explore different structures for their stories—linear time, narrative arc, kaleidoscopic frames, forward and backward writing, etc.—in order to identify a format that fits with their overall sense of their spiritual journey. This will include the practice of finding your authorial voice—your own unique way of expressing, experiencing, and communicating your spiritual journey.
Writing Liberation III (Residential – October 14–19, 2022):
Awake Now: Writing Liberation in Each Moment
In this module, on a more personal level, we will explore how the act of writing as a Buddhist practice enhances self-awareness, clarity, purpose, and direction along the spiritual journey, thereby enabling us to more effectively re-present our stories and spiritual histories in compelling, evocative, and transformational ways.
This module will focus on strengthening and formulating the authorial voice, revealing the self’s deeper being in the present moment—the moment of writing.
Each participant will be asked to read three spiritual autobiographies over the course of the Path.
The Dalai Lama,My Spiritual Journey
Immaculee Ilibagiza,Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
Thomas Merton,The Seven Story Mountain
Betty J. Eadie,Embraced by the Light
Teresa of Avila,The Life of Saint Teresa of Avila by Herself
Mohandas K. Gandhi,Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of my Experiments with Truth
Malcolm X,The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Black Elk,Black Elk Speaks
Terry Tempest Williams,Refuge
Alexandra David-Neel,My Journey to Lhasa
Sera Beak,Red Hot and Holy: A Heretic’s Love Story
Phyllis Curott,Book of Shadows
Donna Jensen,Healing My Life from Incest to Joy
More possibilities atBibliography of Spiritual Memoir and Autobiography
Elizabeth Monson, PhD, is the Spiritual Co-Director of Natural Dharma Fellowship and has taught at Harvard Divinity School. She currently serves as the managing teacher of Wonderwell Mountain Refuge, a Buddhist meditation retreat center in Springfield, NH. She holds a PhD in Religious Studies with a focus in Tibetan Buddhism and Ethics from Harvard University. She has been studying, practicing, and teaching Buddhism for over thirty years and has been ordained as Lama in the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Elizabeth just completed a biography, Tales of a Mad Yogi: The Life and Wild Wisdom of Drukpa Kunley (Shambhala Publications, 2021). She also regularly leads pilgrimages to Bhutan.