Dharma Bum Temple Sangha Spotlight: Interview with Community Member Kevin Harvey

“The practice I learned here took the prism that I’ve typically looked at life through and changed it. It has made me less critical of myself and others, and a little more patient. This in turn has made me more calm and joyful. I’m able to see the opportunities within problems and evaluate if I have any control over them or not. And if not, I am willing to ask for help.”

Long-time community member Kevin Harvey lives by the following words: “simple joys.” Throughout his life and journey at the Dharma Bum Temple, he has figured out how to find true joy in the mundane, a practice that is much easier said than done.

November 29th, 2023 was Kevin’s first day of vacation from work. Once his vacation time is up, he will be rolling straight into retirement after being a supervisor for the County of San Diego for the past 16 years. On December 15th, he will be heading to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the next chapter of his life.

Kevin was born 63 years ago in Washington DC, and was raised in rural southern Maryland as the youngest of 4 children. He grew up in a very traditional household, and often felt emotionally disconnected from those around him. Often feeling like the odd one out, Kevin grew up lonely. He didn’t feel that his beliefs, values, and desired lifestyle fit with those of his community. Even before he was fully aware of his identity, growing up gay also made him far more sympathetic to others, especially those more likely to face oppression or feel ostracized from their communities.

As soon as he was able, Kevin moved back to DC in hopes of finding an environment that better aligned with his mentality. Over time, he realized that he was becoming far less emotional, but the empathy he developed in childhood continued to shape the way he viewed the world and the suffering of those around him. Kevin has always worked in government or for nonprofits within the realm of social service. He is not a politician or businessman, nor did he never aspire to be. Rather, he has always remained in the business of taking care of people. He spent some time working in both DC and then Pennsylvania, and after some unfavorable changes at his company in Pennsylvania, Kevin decided to move to San Diego for a two year adventure…twenty two years ago. 

In describing his first few years in California, Kevin’s main retrospection was that he accumulated a lot of stuff. Eventually, all of his belongings began to control him, and he apathetically decided that it just would be too difficult for him to move again. What’s more, Kevin noted, is that all of the things that tethered him to San Diego didn’t even bring him joy or fulfillment; it was just stuff.

In 2011, Kevin’s mom passed away, and with her he lost the only thing that connected him to his childhood. After this loss, he decided to become the person that his mother thought he was, and reconnect with his spirituality. He began his journey by touring various churches and Christian organizations, but was unable to find a tradition that he resonated with. Kevin eventually met a friend who introduced him to Buddhism and brought him to his place of practice, but once again, it was not the right fit. He recalled learning more about the founder of the organization than the teachings, and he didn’t feel that he was learning anything useful. Feeling that this was once again not the right place for him but now harboring a newfound interest in Buddhism, Kevin continued to test the waters with other temples. 

As a highly empathetic individual, Kevin desired for a community that served the people who needed it. At some of the places he visited, Kevin noticed a lack of recognition for those suffering before their very eyes. He recalled stepping around homeless people living on the streets of San Diego in order to get to organizations whose funds often went solely to people abroad. Kevin couldn’t get on board with these causes while neglecting the suffering of those right in front of him. He continued looking, until one day the Dharma Bum Temple came up in one of his Google searches.

In 2012, Kevin attended his first Dharma Bum Temple food redistribution, and he knew immediately that he had finally found a community that would stick. Early on in his journey with the Dharma Bum Temple, he signed up for the Dharma Bum Life Program. At first, he was intimidated by everybody else’s exteriors. Nonetheless, it didn’t take long for him to realize that he was not the only one stumbling through life, trying to figure out how to do it a little more gracefully. In fact, they all were. Kevin no longer felt like he was the odd one out. This was a liberating realization for him, as well as the recognition that the often ungraceful nature of existence should be appreciated rather than constantly struggled against. 

For the first time, he began to truly understand the teachings of the Buddha. He realized that much of our suffering is self created, but there are also many external conditions that we have no control over. With that insight, he began to practice letting go of his desire for control. As he worked on fighting the illusion of control and breaking free from his past conditioning, he saw the people around him doing just the same. As he wisely told me, “what each of us needs is to find space and grace for ourselves and others.”

His favorite aspect of the Dharma Bum Temple was always the format of the Dharma Talks and Q&A sessions. When leaders and speakers answer questions at the temple, Kevin has always felt like he was being spoken to one-on-one, even while sitting in a room full of people. From this he recognized that everybody has their own variation of what are essentially the same problems. The teachings are tangible and seemingly easy to apply to his own life when talked through. Rationally, it all seemed to make perfect sense! 

Nonetheless, this love for the temple format proved problematic when he attended a Dharma Bum Life retreat to the San Diego Zen Center. The retreat consisted of long periods of meditation sittings. After each and every one, Kevin waited anxiously for a Dharma Talk. Nonetheless, after every meditation session came another, and Kevin found himself filled with anger and frustration; he was sick of sitting and breathing! But, just when he decided it was time to get up and leave, it clicked. The reason why he wanted to leave was the reason why he needed to be there. As much as he loved Dharma Talks, talking about Buddhism could only do so much. The simple act of sitting alone with his thoughts turned out to be the hardest part of his practice. Instead of leaning into it, he felt himself wanting to get angry and run away from it.

With his graduation from the Dharma Bum Life Program, Kevin had completed his introduction to Buddhist practice. Nonetheless, he experienced a period of self sabotage not long after. “I still wasn’t ready to look in the mirror and take responsibility for my flaws yet,” he shared, “It was always in the back of my head, but I wasn’t ready yet.” Through the Dharma Bum Life Program, Kevin had discovered the foundational tools that would help him grow in many ways, but he chose not to pick them up for a little while. He described this as “a time of missed opportunities.” Eventually, after speaking with a variety of mentors and insightful people, he rediscovered all of the opportunities he’d been missing. He realized that they never actually went away; he just hadn’t been seeing them for a while.

This year, Kevin became a member of the first inaugural class of the Engaged Buddhist Training Program, which is the temple’s modern version of the Dharma Bum Life Program. Kevin got a lot out of Dharma Bum Life, but allowed outside factors to distract him from his practice once it concluded. This time, he was ready to pick back up the tools he was handed years prior and truly put in the work to better himself. He began the Engaged Buddhist Training Program as an entirely different person than the one who completed the Dharma Bum Life Program. More importantly, the Engaged Buddhist Training Program was exactly and absolutely what he needed at this point in his life.

Along with this program, the final step in Kevin’s Dharma Bum Temple journey was his participation in the Residential Retreat, in which he stayed at the temple for a week, abiding by the temple schedule and policies in order to practice concentration. He attended all of the programs and in each one he found immense value. In his reflections, he shared that he was especially surprised by the Recovery Program, as he didn’t expect that those classes would be as beneficial and impactful to him as they were. He was also surprised by the fact that sitting in meditation had become much easier for him. 

The area in which he found himself struggling this time around was in his downtime. Because he had been working all of his life, he’d become conditioned to believe that he must always be productive. His biggest challenge was shaking that belief and getting to mindfully experience his free time. Ultimately, like many temple programs had done in the past, the residential retreat sparked a true awareness of the path he must walk on.

On December 15th, Kevin will be setting off for their move to Pittsburgh. He has been packing his essentials into a few boxes, and will be leaving everything else behind. Kevin has massively downsized on stuff, as he no longer holds onto things that he doesn’t need, nor does he let those things hold him back. I asked if he was scared about starting over. He responded by saying that for the first time since childhood, he has been experiencing that anticipatory rush that young children often feel on the last day of school, or perhaps during the holiday season. He is not scared by the possibility of potential, but invigorated! “The final chapters of my life are going to be written based on adventure,” Kevin told me, and he is equally as excited for the journey as he is the destination.

In terms of leaving the Dharma Bum Temple, Kevin is admittedly devastated. Nevertheless, he is committed to continuing to support the temple as much as possible from a distance, remaining active from a remote setting and staying connected. Plus, his new doors in Pittsburgh will always be wide open to anybody from the Delta Beta Tau Sangha who might happen to pass through! Once he gets there, he will also be going back to Dharma shopping, hoping to find a space comparable to the Dharma Bum Temple.

Kevin sincerely loves and values the temple because not only has it given him hope for himself, but it gives him hope for the future. Kevin attended the recent Thanksgiving Food Redistribution and was once again touched by the diversity and number of people who committed part of their holiday to helping others. Kevin fell in love with the Dharma Bum Temple after his first food redistribution, so it is truly an honor that he came to participate in one more before setting off to begin this new chapter in his life.

On a more personal note, he shared that his spiritual and emotional development would never have progressed without the temple; “This was the only place that checked all the boxes: community, selflessness, and those Dharma Talks,” he beamed. His Residential Retreat in combination with the Engaged Buddhist Training Program transformed his practice from one that sometimes felt performative into a meaningful and highly personal one. When he took the precepts at the conclusion of the Engaged Buddhist Training Program, he realized how much more weight they carried this time around. Although he went through this same process years prior when he completed the Dharma Bum Life Program, this time Kevin took the precepts with profound intention!

Now, Kevin incorporates Dharma practice into his life every day. Each morning before getting out of bed, he takes a moment to recognize everything he is grateful for. Afterwards, he listens to a recording of the Sublime States, followed by at least 10 minutes of breath meditation. Kevin has gone on an extensive journey with Buddhist practice, and despite having moments of disconnect and resistance, he has been able to take inspiration from so many practices and experiences that have resonated with and changed him in order to create his own, honest practice. This is probably the most significant thing that he will be taking to Pittsburgh with him – along with his dogs, of course! With all of these tools now stored in his back pocket, Kevin no longer struggles to find “simple joys;” they are everywhere and will surely continue to appear wherever he goes and shines his light! 

With lots of love, appreciation, and a little bit of sadness, the Dharma Bum Temple wishes Kevin lots of joy and fulfillment as he enters this new stage in his life; we appreciate you!


See more photos from Kevin's journey

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