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Faculty News

In Memoriam: Steven Goodman

The CIIS community responds to the passing of the beloved teacher, friend, wisecracker, and wisdom keeper Dr. Steven Goodman

September 22, 2020

It is with deep sorrow we share the news that our beloved teacher, friend, wisecracker, and wisdom keeper Dr. Steven Goodman passed away on Monday, August 3, 2020.

Graduating with his doctorate in Far Eastern Studies from the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, Steven was both a philosopher and scholar of Tibetan Buddhism. During his nearly 30 years at CIIS, he taught and served as program chair in multiple fields, including the Asian and Comparative Studies and Asian Philosophies and Cultures programs.

He touched the lives of many students and colleagues. His most recent book, The Buddhist Psychology of Awakening:An In-Depth Guide to Abhidharma, was published by Shambhala Publications/PenguinRandomHouse on July 21, 2020—in time for him to see it before his passing.

Steven was a founding member of the Working Committee for The 84000 Project: Translating The Words of The Buddha (84000.co), which is an international nonprofit group coordinating the translation of the Buddhist Canonical Corpus (Tripitaka) from Tibetan into English, and making the work available for free download.

The CIIS community held a virtual event to honor and reflect upon Dr. Steven Goodman’s legacy and memory.

Dr. Jim Ryan, Chair and Professor Emeritus of Asian Philosophies and Cultures hired Steven in 1993. He had this to say about his colleague and friend: “Besides being a superb scholar of Buddhism, having been mentored by the world-renowned scholar, Herbert Guenther, Steve was the most amiable person, cheerful, full of humor and a world-class schmoozer. He was well-read and deeply knowledgeable in so many directions. Good-humored banter and verbal jousting, sometimes very highly intellectual and often delightfully frivolous was constant with him.

“What made him beloved, I think, was he didn't take himself too seriously. I like to say he had an ‘incredible lightness of being.’ ” He added, “I observed over the nearly 30 years I knew him, Steve took teaching from every Dorje, Rinpoche and Lama that visited the Bay Area (perhaps there are other Tibetan teacher classifications that might be included). He often took his students along. He was a very deep practitioner who, like the best of them, didn't bother to advertise it or question anyone else's practice or path.”

Close friend Dr. Robert McDermott, CIIS President Emeritus and Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness professor imagined Steven’s own Zen-esque response to the outpouring and expressions of affection directed toward him: “To know Steven was to know that he was mysterious and private. Though skilled, even brilliant, in exposition and speculation on topics of depth and great moment.. .[he would likely say], ‘My dear student, while I applaud your seeking and questioning on behalf of discernment in the hope of Enlightenment, as we are here on Earth to do ever more conscientiously, the Buddha’s doctrine of no-Self means no grasping for compliments, but Buddha, and His Holiness alike, did not object to selfless enjoyment. Picture the infectious laugh of his Holiness. I am enjoying these compliments because they speak well of my colleague-friends; may their journeys, and yours as well, continue in the light of Buddha. When my colleagues say that I have earned my name, I have learned to receive that compliment, unsought of course, by my no-self.’"

The CIIS community held a virtual event to honor and reflect upon Dr. Steven Goodman’s legacy and memory.

In no particular order, here are more thoughts that friends, students, and colleagues shared about Steven:

“I was moved to find time with all of you to join in a ZOOM room and share a meditative moment and some memories of our friend and colleague Steven  Goodman, who transitioned five days ago. Since we are all isolated at home with our thoughts and feelings, let's instead come together and celebrate his Buddha nature and be a comfort to each other. Steven would be the first to urge us to ‘transform the causes of suffering.’” 
Meg  Jordan,  Chair/ Professor, Integrative Health Studies 

There was always something of the miraculous present whenever I was with Steven. He was a doorway to the infinite for me.  
Stephen Julich, Program Manager/PhD, East-West Psychology

I too will miss this wise, luminous, and irreverent colleague.  This outpouring of love is a vivid reminder of what it feels like when we are  all together, heads and hearts. 
Carolyn Cooke, Professor, Department of Interdisciplinary Arts (MFA)

I remember his friendly, funny welcoming presence when I was new to CIIS. We only did a little committee work together, but he helped me feel like I could be myself here.  
Philip Brooks, Associate Professor, Integral Counseling Psychology 

Such a tremendous loss. He was the sharpest and most compassionate trickster I have ever met.  
Matthew T. Segall, Assistant Professor, Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness 

Steven’s laughter and the twinkle of mischief in his eyes is one of my earliest CIIS memories.  His body has left us and his spirit remains. 
Annette Williams, Professor/Chair , Women’s Spirituality PhD Program 

Steven was one of my first friends and closest colleagues at CIIS. I am at a loss for words. He will be deeply, deeply missed. 
Elizabeth Allison, Program Chair, Ecology, Spirituality and Religion

“Steven Goodman’s passing is also a major loss for Buddhism in America, and especially for the study of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.” 
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche 


*If you’d like to add something about Steven, please email social@ciis.edu.

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