Interview with Susan Wagner

From Susan Wagner…

tibetan buddhismSeven years ago, after doing much, solo meditation, I went looking for a more formalized group that would fit my schedule.  With no particularly sect or style in mind, I found my way to a Tibetan Buddhist group, in Media, PA.  The group was led by Susan Wagner and I was immediately struck by her calm, welcoming demeanor.  She has a glorious combination of big sister/teacher/sage energy to her.  I learned much within this group and from Susan; I went on to take vows a few months later at Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, NY.  It was a special time in my life and much peace and guidance came from the Buddhist teachings of the group and Susan’s leadership.

Q.  It was such a pleasure to be welcomed into a Tibetan Buddhist sangha, by you, 7 years ago. What drew you to lead the Media Shambala Meditation Group?

A.  My friends and I started the Media group so that the local community would have a place to sit together and study the dharma.  I was active in the Philadelphia Shambhala Center but it was difficult for me to commute there on a regular basis.  I had been active in meditation centers for a long time, and so it seemed like a very ordinary thing to do.  It helps me with my practice and study.  When I need to teach something I always learn.  Having this little group has helped me with my understanding.

Q.  I know your meditation practice began years ago.  Will you please share with us, what started you on this path?

A.  It was really the First Noble Truth.  I started practicing meditation when I was 16 years old in 1970.  That’s when I was initiated into the tradition of Transcendental Meditation.  My teenage years were a time of upheaval.  I remember doing my homework with the Vietnam War in the background on the news every night.  Some of my friends who were drafted and had to go.  I remember going to a funeral home one evening for the visitation of a friend who had died in the war.  His mother reached into his casket and lifted him up so that she could hold her son one last time, all the while crying and sobbing.  Two men, her brother and the funeral director, had to separate her from him.

I went to church every Sunday, I was raised Episcopalian.  And yet I felt that I needed to do more.  I wanted to find something to help me make sense out of my life.  I practiced TM every day for 5 years, and began studying Buddhism when I got to college.  I connected with Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan meditation master, though his first two books, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, and Meditation in Action.  When I read his books, I felt that I had come home.  I went to see him for the first time in 1976 at Karme Choling.

That was the first time I did intensive mindfulness meditation practice.  It was difficult, but his teachings were so strong, and I kept practicing.  I started a meditation group with some friends in Lexington Kentucky where I was living at the time.  We started a practice center there too.  Several of us lived in a house together and practiced together.  We supported each other’s practice.  We practiced two hours every day and 8 hours two Sundays a month.  There is a Shambhala Center there now.

QYou and your husband have raised two beautiful, young adults.  How have Tibetan teachings and meditation, influenced your parenting?

A.  These teachings and the practice of meditation have helped me so much with being a parent… and being a parent in turn has helped me on my spiritual path!  It’s hard to know what to say here because there is so much.  Parenting is the perfect paramita practice.  Parents all need generosity, discipline, patience, exertion, a practice to calm their mind, and higher knowledge. My dharma practice helped me with things like letting go of worry (especially when they were teenagers!) and forgiving myself when I didn’t get everything right.

It wasn’t easy raising Buddhist kids in American culture, and I’m sure we made a lot of mistakes.  Sometimes we got together with our friends for help.  We taught our children about the life of the Buddha, the life of Milarepa, and the Jataka Tales–traditional stories of the past lives of the Buddha.  We taught them things like the 10 virtuous actions.  The most important teachings were about kindness and compassion.

Q.  Would you please share one of your favorite aspects, of the Kagyu lineage?

A.  The Kagyu Lineage is the practice lineage, and regular meditation practice is very important.  There is an uncompromising quality to this.  At the same time, there is softness, a tender-hearted quality that comes from devotion to the teacher and an appreciation for sangha, the community.

Q.  One of my deepest friendships has arisen directly, from the MSMG.  I’m forever grateful for this. We both attended on the same Introduction night, seven years ago.  What words of wisdom can you share with those just beginning to meditate?

A.  Keep it up.  Some days you might have a pleasant experience, maybe you feel some peace and serenity.  Other days you might have difficulty; your mind is churning with unpleasant thoughts and negative emotions.  Both experiences are “good meditation.”  Learn how to make friends with whatever happens.

Susan teaches meditation and does contemplative counseling.  She lives with her husband in SE PA and can be contacted at

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