In the Great Northwest, Buddhism Nourishes a Barber’s Soul

To a Buddhist barber in the Pacific Northwest, each haircut he gives is the product of a vast network of karmic causes and conditions that has brought two beings together in the vast reaches of time.

haircut (Photo by Rovsky,
(Photo by Rovsky,

In his one-chair studio in the North Hill neighborhood of Spokane, Washington, Jefferson Workman serves clients from all walks of life, religious persuasions and political beliefs. His business mantra: recognize that everyone has the same bombu nature. Bombu means “foolish” or “ordinary” person or the common nature everyone shares.

This concept is further described in an article on the Spokane Faiths and Values Network: Everyone has “the same foibles and failures in life, everyone stumbles when they walk, and sometimes they’re virtuous in their lives and sometimes they’re not. Understanding that everyone has the same bombu nature; the same feelings and foibles, helps people develop fellowship with others.”

Workman, who is known as the “Bombu Barber,” says Buddhism “cultivates a sense of compassion for everyone, which then helps you become less judgmental of everyone else because you understand everyone shares the same thing.” 

When Workman meets his clients, he takes care not to have any preconceived ideas about them and makes no judgments about them. Instead, he hopes his client and he will get to know each other and perhaps share their thoughts about the human condition.

“How can you not be humbled by all of those things that had to happen for us to share this moment and for us not to respect and honor this moment that we have right here?” he says.

Being a mindful listener during this precious once-in-a-lifetime encounter is another Buddhistic lesson the barber practices in his salon.

Workman was raised Episcopalian. At 35, he felt he was drifting through life like “a rope twisted on a limb.” He developed an interest in Buddhism when a friend gave him a book on the basics of the Eastern faith.

That led him to the Spokane Buddhist Temple, which practices the non-monastic tradition of Shin Buddhism. Its founder Shinran Shonin (1173-1263) was one of the first Japanese Buddhists to marry and raise a child, and described himself as “neither monk nor layperson.”

Workman was 50 when he went to barber school and began his new profession.

“I’m constantly learning, always growing as a person,” he says, “growing in my practice as a Buddhist and growing in my practice as a barber.”


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