Remembering Buddhist teacher and author Wes Nisker (1942-2023)

Wes Nisker, the Oakland, California-based Buddhist teacher, author, radio personality, and founder and co-editor of “Inquiring Mind” has died.

Rod Meade Sperry
1 August 2023
Wes Nisker

Wes Nisker, the Oakland, California-based Buddhist teacher, author, and radio personality who went by “Scoop” — a nickname assigned to him thanks to Nisker’s coverage of the Chicago 7 trial (Nisker’s own website credits Abbie Hoffman with coining the name) — has died.

Nisker was the founder and co-editor of Inquiring Mind, a journal for the Theravada/Insight Buddhist community, whose origin story is conveyed briefly on the journal’s online archive:

In 1983, vipassana teacher Joseph Goldstein asked Wes Nisker to create a journal that would serve the growing community of insight (vipassana) meditators in the West. Nisker invited Barbara Gates to help. Thus was born Inquiring Mind, a donation-supported, semiannual print journal. Each issue of Inquiring Mind offered a deep exploration of themes important to Westerners interested in the teachings of Buddhadharma.

You can review Inquiring Mind’s online archives here, and all of Nisker’s contributions to the journal here. These include interviews with dharma teachers including Gary Snyder, S.N. Goenka, Joanna Macy, and more; plus article credits with titles like “The Slang Sutra,”  “The Existential Get Down,” and the recurring “Empty Thoughts on a Full Stomach.” Nisker also published a number of books, including The Essential Crazy Wisdom and the recently reissued The Buddha, The Big Bang, and The Baby Boom: The Spiritual Experiments of My Generation.

Nisker was also a radio commentator, heard on San Francisco’s KSAN in the 1960s and 70s, and later on KFOG, and a comedian — “masterful at using humor to lighten the enlightenment journey,” The New York Times wrote. His show, Crazy Wisdom Saves the World Again, is described on his website as “a comic monologue with original songs exploring the human condition and the joys and sorrows of living in the modern age.” Watch a sample of it here.

Nisker had also been a teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, which held a celebration/benefit in his honor in February.

Writing on Facebook, Zen teacher Roshi Joan Halifax reflected today on the passing of her friend: “Our beloved friend Wes Nisker, now gone beyond. So it is… this funny, wise person slipped away from us. I am remembering the laughter in the zendo from his talks. Good travels, old friend. Thank you for your life, practice, your generosity.”

Likewise on Facebook, author Rebecca Solnit recalled:

When I was just a kid Wes Nisker was Scoop Nisker, doing the news program on the FM station KSAN, and his sign-off line was always, “if you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own,” a line so good it was one of the epigraphs to the first edition of Hope in the Dark. Then he became a zen Buddhist and did his best to benefit the world in other ways. Farewell to an altogether lovely person; may he rest in power, having made enough good news.

Performance artist, teacher, and author Nina Wise also wrote a remembrance of Nisker:

My beloved friend and colleague, the brilliant, funny, wise and cosmic Wes “Scoop” Nisker passed away peacefully this morning. He had been suffering from a neurological disease but managed in a remarkable way to remain at ease even as his mind and mental acuity declined. He maintained his sense of humor and wisdom and his heart seemed to grower wider and more loving and brilliant day after day. There are no plans yet for a public memorial. Please light candles, say prayers, make some cosmic jokes and help send Wes on his way into the universe of light and dissolution. And pull out one of his books and read a few passages aloud. The universe and thousands of his students and fans will laugh along with you.

Rod Meade Sperry. Photo by Megumi Yoshida, 2024

Rod Meade Sperry

Rod Meade Sperry is the editor of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Guide (published by Lion’s Roar), and the book A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his partner and their tiny pup, Sid.