Tribute to Dharma Teacher Harry Kisen Simonsen (1949-2020)

We are saddened to announce the passing of one of our beloved and dedicated Dharma Teachers, Harry Kisen Simonsen, who suddenly passed away on April 26, 2020 at the age of 71. His Buddhist funeral service was held on May 6th, in Smithfield, Rhode Island. Our Senior Dharma Teacher, Daishin Senpai Sensei performed the ceremony.

As Harry used to say, he was a long time “bookstore Buddhist” before starting to attend the Buddhist Faith Fellowship’s gatherings in Middletown, Connecticut in 2006. At his first Sunday morning gathering, the congregation recited the Five Remembrances, which captivated him with their frankness, honesty, and acknowledgment of reality-as-it-is.

Inspired by the Shin Buddhist teachings, for the next couple of years, he eagerly enrolled in all the available Fellowship courses. Also, inspired by the Fellowship’s mission, he culminated his Buddhist studies by enrolling in our Lay Ministerial Track. On February 8, 2008, he formally committed himself in becoming a Buddhist practitioner in the Affirmation Ceremony. On that day, Daishin Senpai Sensei gave him the homyo, the Buddhist name, Kisen which means Resolute Heart.  We try our best to give a homyo that best describes the person or his or her aspiration or what spiritual deficit he or she needs to work on. For Harry, it was a description of his being.

Later that year, Kisen finally graduated from the Lay Ministerial Track to became an Associate Dharma Teacher in our community. Since that time, he actively participated in the Fellowship’s ministry in various ways, helping Sensei in several projects, and became a regular speaker on Sunday mornings.

In a dharma talk, Harry once said that he sought out the Dharma, the Buddhist teachings, not just from book learning,  but in everyday life, with friends, family, at work, and while engaging in simple routine activities. He said that mental clarity and the open heart are available to us in every moment, in whatever we are doing, we just need to be present and to notice, to what Shin Buddhists describe as deeply hearing the call of Great Compassion. In addition, his quest was to help the Fellowship’s mission to develop a modern interpretation of the core Dharma, unconstrained by mythology and traditional cultural influences.

The Buddhist Faith Fellowship’s community, we will greatly miss Harry for his kind and uplifting words, his enthusiastic participation during Sunday morning gatherings, his logical and reason-based approach to Buddhism, and for his simple presence in our lives. He was a great person, a wonderful teacher, and a good friend  (kalyamitra) along the path. Namu Amida Butsu.