Alumnus discusses new book on Buddhism

by Joseph Everett, The Daily Beacon, November 12, 2008

Tennessee, USA -- A University of Tennessee (UT) alumnus went from a “controversial undergraduate” to editor-in-chief of Esquire magazine to Buddhist priest.

Phillip Moffitt, a UT alumnus, returned to the University to discuss his new book, “Dancing With Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering,” Monday at Hodges Library.

“Writing the book ‘Dancing with Life,’ was one of the most nerve-racking things I’ve ever done because I knew there were going to be all of these monks and nuns looking at my book,” Moffitt said. “I am not standing here as a scholar. And I don’t think I could do some great scholarly work. But what I could do is share as an experience the direct opening on how to dance with life.”

Moffitt said he hadn’t planned to end up where he currently is.

“I have never intended to become a Buddhist priest or become a preacher of meditation the way that I am,” Moffitt said. “And I certainly did not intend to write a book on the Dharma.”

Moffitt said when he was an undergraduate at UT, he “was not necessarily considered a distinguished undergraduate.”

“I was a rather controversial undergraduate student because it was during the ’60s, and I had definite ideas on how the world should be and how the university should be,” he said.

In 1979, Moffitt purchased Esquire magazine and became the editor-in-chief and chief executive officer, said Patrick Wade, alumni program director.

“Moffitt sold the magazine in 1986 and walked away from his highly successful publishing career to focus on his inner life,” Wade said.

Moffitt said that, by leaving his job, he followed through on an action that many people may want to do.

“On the last day of 1986, soon after my 40th birthday, I did something that many people have since told me that they longed to do,” Moffitt said. “I completely abandoned my professional identity with all of its security and privileges in order to devote myself in finding more joy and meaning in my life. It was a good life that I left. Some would even say a great one.”

He said his decision to leave his career in the magazine industry came suddenly.

“The end finally came when I was sitting in a board meeting. I decided that if I did not act right then, then I would never leave,” Moffitt said. “My mind was calm and very clear, and I finally knew what I had to do. I excused myself from the meeting, went to a phone and called an investment banker. Six weeks later, the magazine was sold, and I was gone.”

Moffitt said he didn’t know what he would do with his life or even where he would live. Not wanting to continue living in New York and not wanting to return to Tennessee, Moffitt eventually ended up in California.

“Because I had done such a dramatic move, and because there had been a fair amount of media coverage of our success at Esquire through the years, unbeknownst to me, a number of people, men and women, in leadership positions looked to me as somewhat of a role model,” Moffitt said. “As I settled in California, a number of these people would show up at my door.”

He said that since that moment, he has tried to encourage people to start their own spiritual journey.

“Just because you are really good at something, doesn’t mean that you have to keep doing it,” Moffitt said.

Wade said, “Moffitt subsequently founded the Life Balance Institute, a non-profit organization devoted to the spiritual values of daily life.”

Moffitt said he felt awkward going from editor-in-chief of Esquire to “barely being able to hold a yoga pose.”

Moffitt said he used the knowledge he learned about meditation and taught others how to apply those principles in their lives.

“The primary thing that I do is teach the Dharma,” he said. “I urge any leader to have some form of stillness in their lives.”

“There are two types of suffering,” Moffitt said as he read from his book, “suffering that leads to more suffering, and suffering that leads to the end of suffering. If you are not willing to face the second kind of suffering, you will surely continue to face the first.”

“Dancing With Life” is Moffitt’s first book on Buddhism.