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Khensur Jampa Tegchok, 84, died in India, October 28, 2014, of natural causes
By Ven. Steve Carlier
The life of Sera Je Khensur Rinpoche Gen Jampa Tegchog (Gen-la), has come to an end. What appeared out of the dharmakaya has merged back into the dharmakaya.
For his many students, there is a darkness inside and a sense of having lost their father.
He had many, many students from the East and West and affected many lives deeply.
Gen-la was born in 1930. I met him in 1979 at Manjushri Institute in the UK, on the day he arrived. I was living there then. I clearly remember seeing him get out of the car wearing a pair of sunglasses like mirrors, which I found quite odd.
He came from Sarnath, near Varanasi, in North India. He was one of the main teachers at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studiess. His students retained a lifelong appreciation for his kindness. Many of them went on to find good positions and recognized that it was he who had equipped them with the education that made that possible. I don’t think they necessarily appreciated him at the time. Several shared quarters with him. They had the back room and if ever they wanted to leave that room, they had to pass before him and be subjected to a dark, forbidding look that made them really think twice about whether they really needed to go out or not. That was how he got them to study.
He was a good friend of Lama Yeshe. It was Lama who had persuaded Gen-la to come to Manjushri to teach the Geshe Program. He had left a very good position at the Tibetan institute at Sarnath, well-paid and with a good pension. And, of course, he was living in a very holy place. He gave all that up to come to the West. In those days at Manjushri, he probably only got a very meager monthly stipend and certainly no pension. It was quite a sacrifice.
He told me several times, “Mao Zedong said Dharma is poison, so I thought to myself, ‘I think I’ll go to the West to plant some seeds of poison there’.”
Trijang Dorje Chang, one of Gen-la’s main gurus, told him before he left for the West in ‘79 that now that Westerners were taking tantric vows, they needed to know how to purify and restore them with self-initiation, so Gen-la should teach them that. When he eventually came to Nalanda Monastery, he taught us in great detail how to do the Vajrayogini and Yamantaka self-initiations, and we used to do this practice regularly.
I don’t know how Lama and Gen-la came to be such good friends, but they were. It was Lama who persuaded Gen-la to Manjushri Institute, and it was Lama who later persuaded him to come to Nalanda.
I remember seeing Lama and Gen-la in Gen-la’s room, shoving each other about, probably each trying to make the other sit in the better seat. This kind of thing was a bit amazing for me, because one had expectations of decorum and piety from the lamas. They could be serious, too, of course, but they also played around. (Some lamas have a very interesting sense of humor. I was told that one time when the late Ganden Geshe Konchog Tsering was visiting Geshe Wangchen at the old Manjushri London center at Finsbury Park, the other students staying in the house once were woken in the middle of the night by a lot of shouting and shrieking. Geshe Tsering had got up to visit the bathroom and Gen Wangchen had followed him there and locked the bathroom from the outside!)
We used to attend classes in his room. I don’t suppose there were more than a half-dozen in the class. Helmut Hohm was senior monk in our class, so he would offer the mandala for the teaching. He sat there chanting with his eyes closed. Gen-la held up a photo of a gorilla right in front of Helmut’s face. Helmut opened his eyes and saw it. He wasn’t able to finish the prayer for giggling.
When we had a festival at Manjushri Institute, there was a competition called “tossing the wellie,” a “wellie” being short for a rubber Wellington boot. Lama and Gen-la were falling about laughing as they vied with each other over who could throw it the furthest.
I can remember a different time when Gen-la was at Nalanda and Lama visited, they went to a summer fair in town, in Lavaur, and there was a game where you roll coins down a slope in the hope that if your aim is good a whole pile of coins will tip off the edge which you would win. There was a lot of screeching and laughing as they played that together. You could hear them a mile off. Of course, we were a bit disapproving of such frivolity. Well, I was, anyway.
Like a lot of Tibetans, Gen-la liked to joke. One evening, we were sitting together in his room at Manjushri. We had just been watching the news on an old black and white television which he had for a short while before he told the management to take it back to save on expenses. (The center was very poor.) He told me, “The Yorkshire Ripper stayed with me last night.” “Oh,” I said. “Where did he stay?” “Under that table there,” he replied. I didn’t know what to think! It couldn’t be true, but because I was young and had strong faith that he didn’t lie, it must have been true. It took me some time to realize Gen-la was helping me develop my own wisdom.
He stayed at Manjushri Institute until 1982. That summer he went back to India to renew his travel document. The following summer he came to Nalanda. Again, persuaded by Lama. He stayed until 1993.
While at Ocean of Compassion Center in San Jose, California, Lama Zopa Rinpoche mentioned in public and in Gen-la’s presence that when Gen-la was at Nalanda, Gen-la had had to practice patience a lot. An old friend, the late Andrea Antonietti, told me he went to Lama and went on a bit about how terrible a monk and a practitioner he was. Lama told him off, and said to him, “My Sangha are angels.” Well, Gen-la had his work cut out with this particular group of angels. Still, we did our best, and I guess he appreciated that, because he did stay 10 years.
In 1993 he was appointed abbot of Sera Je Monastery in South India by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I was standing there while he received the phone call in the office at Nalanda. For a brief moment, there was a look of joy in his eyes. But within seconds, that disappeared, and he said to me, “This is going to be difficult. This is going to be very difficult.”
He was very popular with the monks during the seven or so years he served as abbot. He got some very important work done there such as building a sorely needed new Serje temple through an exchange of land between Sera Je and Sera Me that was only made possible due to his good relationship with the monks at Sera Je. He was also very good at dealing with people, creating harmony and promoting reconciliation. They considered him a precious jewel.
Although as abbot he did not have much of a role as teacher, from time to time he would be called upon to talk to the monks going to debate about the lam-rim. Some of these monks said that when he taught, you felt like you were just about to get the realization of whatever topic he was talking about. It was as if he was bringing you into his experience, and for that brief moment you really got a taste of what it was like. His teachings and advice were like nectar and I always found both very effective.
In 2004, after having lived at Sera as abbot emeritus for about three years, he accepted Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s invitation to teach at Land of Medicine Buddha in California. I’d gone there separately from the UK to serve as his translator. A few days after I arrived, we received a message saying his arrival was to be delayed and I should teach in his place. He finally arrived … two years later, in 2006! During that time, he taught about emptiness each Sunday morning. These lectures were intended right from the beginning to serve as the basis for a book. He had been saying for several years that he had spent a long time in the West, that that the West had been very kind to him, housing and feeding him, taking care of him, and that he would soon be gone and wanted to leave something behind as a gift in thanks for all that. Thanks to Wisdom Publications and disciple Ven. Thubten Chodron, his wish came true in the form of Insight into Emptiness.
He stayed at Land of Medicine Buddha until 2008 when he left to teach at Kushi Ling Retreat Centre in North Italy. It was only natural for him to go there because some time before Claudia Wellnitz had told him that if ever he wanted to go and live there, they had a place for him, even if he didn’t teach, and if ever he was ill, they would take care of him. This was important, because he was 78 years old then.
Later on, he was persuaded to join Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa (ILTK). There he taught Madhyamaka philsophy in the Masters Program. It seems to have been a real tour de force. The students were very happy, and amazed. I can imagine. He taught emptiness so often and so clearly. He told me that he really liked teaching Madhyamaka at ILTK, and really appreciated the opportunity he had of reading texts he had never read before and finding out things he hadn’t known before. I was a little bemused by that, because I thought he must have read everything and that he knew everything.
Over ten years ago, probably in 2001, Gen-la kept saying that he wouldn’t live much longer. I told this to one of his most dedicated students, who then sat down with him and explained many reasons why he thought Gen-la should stay longer. For a long time after that he stopped talking about how he was about to die. I have always thought that the reason he stayed on in the world for so long was because of that.
He was a really great scholar and a great meditator. His Holiness said to some of his students just after he passed away that they needn’t worry and that Gen-la was a true yogi. I heard often that when he was young he was quite a ruffian, and then his brother died and after that he started studying and practicing seriously. He never told me that the story that way. What he told me once, while we were together at Sera, was that he had not been all that good until he got to the Madhyamaka class. Then he memorized Gyalwa Gendun Drub’s commentary to the Madhyamakavatara and from then on he was always able to answer well in debate.
For sure he was a great, great master. A great scholar and a great practitioner of both sutra and tantra. Geshes and lamas used to go to him for clarification of the difficult points of sutra and tantra. When he gave initiations, it was always a totally amazing experience, with clear and detailed explanations, and again you really felt as you had been drawn into his experience.
Even on the level of ordinary appearance he seemed to have control over his subtle body – the airs, channels, and drops. And therefore, he seemed to have had control over his life and how long he would remain. One of his students told me that one time Gen-la met with Gen Wangchen just before the latter was to undergo surgery. Gen-la told him, “That’s good, you’ll be able to watch the various signs as the consciousness absorbs,” the ones which are similar to the inner signs that appear when we die. They also appear when you fall asleep, but most people don’t notice. An accomplished practitioner will be aware and will be able to use the situation for profound meditation.
At LMB, Gen-la showed the aspect of falling ill. One morning during that period he told me that the night before he had seen the death absorptions. I always thought that meant he was dying and had reversed the process, choosing not to die.
I heard people speak of his clairvoyant powers, but I never saw any of that personally. I know that Kiko, the late director at the Tushita Centro de Retiros in Spain and persistent smoker, once visited Nalanda and went to visit Gen-la while he was there. Gen-la gave him a dried apricot. From that moment onwards, he never smoked again. Kiko told me that, and told me that for sure he attributed that to Gen-la and the apricot. There was another old friend who Gen-la was extremely fond of, Denis Huet. He was director at Institut Vajra Yogini in France for many years and was a dedicated smoker. He loved smoking beeties, little Indian cigarettes. He went to Sera and visited Gen-la one year and got a cold. From then on, he never smoked and he attributed that to Gen-la.
I didn’t see any of that, but I listened to him teaching a lot, and that was pretty magical. He was not an ordinary person, that’s for sure.
Ven. Steve Carlier is a senior English monk, who has studied at Sera Monastery and served as a Tibetan interpreter for Khensur Jampa Tegchok. He is an FPMT In-Depth Buddhism registered teacher and currently resides and teaches at Land of Medicine Buddha in California, US.
In September 2014 during the CPMT 2014 meeting, managing editor Laura Miller met with student Françoise Majeste who revealed that a close student of Lama Yeshe and a long-time student of Institut Vajra Yogini in France – Jacques Haesaert – had died over five years ago, but had never been honored in Mandala. We’re happy to now share this tribute to Jacques’ life from his friends and students.
Jacques Haesaert, 67, died in Graulhet, France, July 2009, from a stroke
By Marilyn Magazin and Brigitte Jordan on behalf of the members of the Ambroisie Association
Five years have gone by since our doctor, teacher and friend, Jacques Haesaert, passed on. When he died in July 2009 at the age of 67, we were so unprepared and perturbed that none of his many students in France and Spain thought to send an obituary to Mandala magazine. Jacques was a member of Institut Vajra Yogini in Marzens, France and benefited not only his patients, but also his many students who came to his introductory classes on Tibetan medicine at the institute and his in-depth study programs. Now in remembrance of him, we write this biography as a tribute to him and his work.
Jacques Haesaert was passionate about learning and taught himself to read even before starting school in France. His personal studies of biology, natural medicine, the powers of plants and minerals, archeology, religions, Egyptology, cooking, music, to name a few, surely helped him assimilate Tibetan medicine later on. As well as working in France, Jacques spent many years in Africa and later worked in the Phillipines with local healers.
In 1974, his spiritual search brought him to India where he had his first contact with Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and the medicine practiced in this country. In Nepal he became a disciple of Lama Thubten Yeshe who encouraged him to study Tibetan medicine. Jacques followed Lama’s advice and studied many years in Dharamsala, India with Dr. Ama Lobsang Dolma.
We do not know all the details of his many years of study, treating and accompanying patients in India as a Tibetan doctor, but we do know that he also studied with Dr. Tsering Dinggang and worked for some time with the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa in Calcutta, with the most destitute of people.
In 1981, Lama Yeshe asked Jacques to share his knowledge with the Western world in a way that was adapted to the special needs of the people living in those places in actual times. After returning to France, Jacques treated patients and taught for the rest of his life.
As well as a practicing Tibetan Buddhist, he was also a Christian and Bible scholar. Jacques often made parallels between passages in the Bible and teachings of Buddha.
Faithful to the ethics of a Tibetan physician, he expected no pay for his consultations, only accepting offerings. In his later years, he made only two appointments a day so he could remain for hours with each patient in order to treat the patient as a whole and help the person to understand the cause of his ailments, and not just treat his symptoms.
Jacques always intended to write a book so many people could benefit from the knowledge and wisdom he accumulated over so many years, applying Tibetan medicine to the West. He wanted to help Westerners discover the extraordinary and practical knowledge offered by this system. For him it was important to show, through Tibetan medicine, how people can become responsible for their mental and physical health, conscious of their potential for happiness, love and wisdom, and of the errors that would lead them to suffering.
Just months before passing on, after years of our begging for them, he gave to us, his students in France and Spain, his nearly finished book that he used for his classes. He compiled it over decades and organized the information into chapters used for his teaching. Jacques explains important teachings from the medical tantras and elaborates on many aspects of what is health and disease, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. Moreover, he explains many aspects of Tibetan medicine from a Western point of view.
We, his students and members of the Ambroisie Association, are in the process of translating it from French to English, Spanish, and German. It was his heart-felt wish to help preserve the extensive knowledge and wisdom that is Tibetan medicine from being lost or diluted.
You can find Jacques’ piece “Nature the Great Healer” in the June 2004 issue of Mandala.
Lama Zopa Rinpoche requests that “students who read Mandala pray that the students whose obituaries they read find a perfect human body, meet a Mahayana guru and become enlightened quickly, or be born in a pure land where the teachings exist and they can become enlightened.” While reading obituaries we can also reflect upon our own death and rebirth, prompting us to live our lives in the most meaningful way.
More advice from Lama Zopa Ripoche on death and dying is available on Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s advice page.
By Murray Wright
On February 28 we witnessed the passing of a fine Dharma brother and excellent practitioner. Born in England, Terry grew up in Canada and obtained a Ph.D. in Geology in New Zealand where he settled. He was an internationally respected geologist who utilized opportunities presented by his work to help others and pursue his love of the Dharma.
While researching his thesis, Terry began searching for something not to be found through drugs and wild living, and spent many hours discussing philosophy and religion. He met Lama Zopa Rinpoche at a course near Auckland in 1976, and fell in love with Tibetan Buddhism. In those early years of Dorje Chang Institute, Terry and his partner Naomi’s flat became the focus for Dharma gatherings. …
By Cecilia Tsang
No one is quite sure how Han Juan Kiat’s association with Amitabha Buddhist Centre (ABC) began. Some members said he told them he had started coming to the center in its very early days when it was operating out of a private home at Butterfly Avenue fifteen years ago.
But, somehow, he never became a member until he was advised to attend the Sunday morning prayers, which included the purification practice of Confession to the 35 Buddhas. After doing this for some time, he signed up as a life member of the center.
Han became a regular at many of the ABC functions and teachings by the lamas. He will always be remembered for his immaculate grooming – no sloppy T-shirts and jeans for him. He was always smartly turned out in a crisp white shirt and slacks. And he had charming, gentlemanly manners, a lost art in these modern times. He was also extremely respectful of all the lamas and was particularly devoted to and had great faith in our resident geshe, Geshe Chonyi. …
By Murray Wright
Elaine was an unusual Dharma student. The youngest of thirteen children, she was born into a Maori tribe from Northland. The Maoris have strong bonds with the land, their ancestors, and extended family, plus they have rich healing traditions. Not many have shown interest in studying and practicing Buddhism. Elaine was different. She had enjoyed an active life including karate, overseas travel, dance and poker machines, five children, and two grandchildren. With much love, humor, and delicious cooking she cared for everyone.
In 2004, Elaine sensed she was unwell. She stumbled across Dorje Chang Institute [Auckland] when she
spotted the stupa while on a shortcut to the grocery store. She quickly decided that Buddhism was her path, taking refuge and teachings from Geshe Wangchen. Diagnosed with lung cancer, Elaine came to Tara pujas and Friday night Medicine Buddha pujas, wrote the Sanghata Sutra, and helped at working bees. These practices gave her strength to cope with her illness and uncomfortable treatments. …
Brian Baumgarten, 48, died in Minnesota on April 7, 2007
By Sheila Duddy, RN
Brian was a patient of mine in our Hospice Unit. He had a “pontine stroke” which left him completely paralyzed. We were able to communicate one word at a time, and I realized he desired spiritual support with respect to Buddhism. I provided him with the beginnings of a shrine in his hospital room, and when he was transferred out to the Hospice Residence his parents brought his vajra and bell to his room. According to his parents, they only then “found out” that he was a practicing Buddhist.
They told me he lived in Japan for six years and wandered through Korea, China, and Thailand. He asked if I could support him for the forty-nine days after he died. He knew to request no movement of his body for three days prior to his cremation. He told me he had read The Tibetan Book of the Dead at least six times. He was a Tai Chi instructor for a while: Some of his students came to visit him in the hospital. They said he was a quiet guy but he could listen well and he was very intelligent. …
By Cameron Chesson
Elliott was a member of Maitreya Instituut Amsterdam. He took refuge with lama Zopa Rinpoche and participated in guided meditations and Lam-Rim study courses at the Instituut. Elliott’s message to all of his family of friends, clients, and acquaintances was, “Loving kindness, compassion, generosity and humanity.” He, too, often struggled to realize these aspirations in his daily life. …
Mathijs Schut, 45, died in Amsterdam OLVG Hospital, the Netherlands, April 20, 2007
By Greg Suffanti
Lama Zopa Rinpoche says we are fifty percent dependent upon sentient beings for our enlightenment. They are essential to reach the complete state of buddhahood, he says, which calls for half method and wisdom, and half the world we live in and learn from. That’s the deal. If we are fortunate, people like Mathijs cross our paths to teach and inspire us.
Mathijs was born with a severely deformed body and organs. His heart, the doctor said at the end, wedged near his neck, was near exploding from the strain of having pumped forty-five years and two days in a body that was predicted to survive no more than five years. That’s the body.
… Mathijs and I soon developed the pleasurable tradition of riding home together after class: me on my bike, Mathijs in his electric wheelchair. My own primitive accommodation, while cozy enough, represented my having renounced everything – and it was lacking a shower. It wasn’t long before we began a four-year tradition of my bathing at Mathijs’s house. I’d often prepare dinner for the two us so that it was ready at 6:00 P.M. when Mathijs came home from work. I was still quite new in Holland and Mathijs always made me feel welcome. …
Lee Tie-Shen, Director of Hayagriva Center in Taiwan, 57, died on May 20, 2007
By Shen Mei-Chen, Chairperson of FPMT Taiwan
Lee Tie-Shen, the late Director of Hayagriva Center in Taiwan, was the eldest son in his family. His father had a dozen pelagic [open-ocean] fishing boats and a textile factory. His mother died when he was twelve. At that time, the youngest sister was only three years old, and he took care of his siblings like their mother. Lee took over the family business at an early age, and his first job was that of the board chairperson. Later, he went into the construction business and eel commerce, and had investments in China.
Afterwards, Lee’s business failed and he became unemployed. When the Hayagriva Center in Taiwan was set up in 2001, he came to help as a volunteer. Soon the center invited him to be the center’s manager. This was only the second job he had had in his life. When he was the manager, he took over all the work at the center except for spiritual program coordinator, publicity, and accounting. He bore all the hardship without complaint, and often worked overtime. He was always cheerful with people and loved to joke. He was ready to help all the time, and was never calculating, not to mention never arguing with people. He was a great cook, and did his best to take care of the teachers and the sangha. He had a brotherly close relationship with the geshes and lamas, and was well-loved by teachers and students. …
LyndaII Rowan, 41, died in her sleep in Nelson, New Zealand on June 2, 2007
By Phillipa Rutherford
Lyndall was one of those people who was always smiling, larger than life, bright and cheerful and with a positive encouraging word for everyone she met.
Lyndall was the loving mother of three children and had a very supportive husband, Boaz from Israel. She was a midwife and spent all her working life caring for mothers and babies, selflessly giving of her time and energy.
It was shocking to all her friends and family that she passed away so suddenly — she was expected to attend a birth quite early in the morning and had not woken up. Boaz went to wake her, only to find her dead in bed: No medical reason was found.
Lyndall was always one for directness; this was certainly a direct lesson in impermanence, which jolted us all out of our complacency. …
Betty Chalupsky (formerly Kester), 67, died in Brisbane, Australia on June 26, from heart failure
Betty had the good fortune to be a student of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa in the early 1980s at the time when Tara House (now Tara Institute) was first set up in the Melbourne suburb of Kew. She made a significant contribution to the establishment and administration of the center at that time. Betty remained a devoted student of Mahayana Buddhist teachings for the rest of her life. She returned to South Africa in 1983 where she was born, returning to Australia in 2004 with her second husband Paul. Ven Tenzin Chodron offered prayers in the loving company of Paul, her sons Mark and Murray, and her first husband, Garth.
Hazel Cullimore, 67, died in Burlington on August 3, 2007 Canada of leukemia
By Heather Moore (Thubten Khadro)
Hazel Cullimore was one of the warm-hearted elders at Lama Yeshe Ling Tibetan Buddhist Study Group in Ontario, Canada. She had a Master of Social Work and was a Psychoanalyst. For years she had advised on ethics for McMaster University Hospital. She was a wise and compassionate woman whohad made a difference to countless people through her career and her caring friendships. In the last year, she led our group, Companions on the Path, as we studied “Ethics for the New Millennium” by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
After she had a brain aneurism some years ago, her vision was severely limited. One night, after the teaching, someone passed Hazel the bundle of incense that was to be carried in front of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and his party. Unable to see in the gloom of the arena, she was bumping around beside the group and I wasn’t able to get past them to help her. Rinpoche saw what was happening, got to her, took her arm and together they hurried out to his car, laughing and skipping ahead of the others. When they reached the car, Hazel said, “You must be very tired,” and Rinpoche responded, “Not as tired as you are.” Those moments between them made such a difference in her life. …
Pascal Escoffier, 47, died in Paris, France, on July 25, 2007, of cancer
By Marie Adeline
Pascal was a joyful person, a talented musician, composer and guitar player. He received the Kalachakra teachings and initiation from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New York and attended many teachings from Lama Zopa Rinpoche as well as many other Lamas in the US and in France when I was director of Kalachakra Center.
Upon a request from Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Pascal wrote three Dharma songs: “Destination Love,” “We wanna be happy,” and “We make the world better”. …
Alessandro Falaschi, age 57, died suddenly of a massive heart attack at Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, June 20, 2008
By Adalia Mara and Ven. Joan Nicell
Alessandro was one of the many young people who, in the late ’70s and early ’80s, set off for India on a “spiritual holiday”. He was enjoying the hippie life in McLeod Ganj when word spread that His Holiness the Dalai Lama would be passing by. Alessandro, standing back from the crowd in order to get a better view, was struck when suddenly His Holiness turned and seemed to look right at him. Unusual for Alessandro, he burst into unstoppable tears.
Upon returning to Italy, Alessandro heard about the new Buddhist center located in a castle in Pomaia and soon went there to offer his help in its restoration. He lived at the Istituto for several years in a room which breathed of India, filled as it was with silks, oriental images, garlands of flowers, and burning incense. During the summer months, he worked in hotels and bars on the coast of Tuscany or on Elba Island whew he eventually met his longtime companion, Alessandra, and her young child, Maria Chiara. Together they bought an old house that needed restructuring in Pastina, 5 kilometers from the Institute, and eventually had two more girls, Andrea and Rachele.
Over the years Alessandro continued to receive teachings and initiations from many lamas, both in Pomaia and in India. He was a disciple of Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, and always helped out with the visits of His Holiness to Pomaia, acting as body guard and generally doing whatever needed to be done. In addition, he had a particular soft spot for Geshe Yeshe Tobden and Geshe Jampa Gyatso, resident lamas of the Institute. …
Mitchell Samuels, died June 18 2008, in Auckland, New Zealand, aged 32
Mitchell Justin Samuels’ parents are Shirley and Wayne Samuels. Wayne’s Niuen birth name is Eteuaita Tuleiatama Lavakula, so Mitchell’s ancestry is both Niuean and New Zealand-European. Mitchell was second-born to his brother Steven.
Mitchell described his early childhood as a carefree time which was fun and free. He enjoyed close relationships with grandparents and extended family. Some of his best friends were the family dogs.
Mitchell read broadly as a youth and from early on was interested in health and well-being, medicine and spirituality. His first part-time job was as a caregiver in a local rest-home for the elderly. He went on to study nursing, cranial sacral therapy, psychosynthesis and other healing modalities. By the end of his life he had worked in the organics industry and was a physiotherapy assistant at Waimarie Hospital, Remuera. …
A family perspective by Randy Hollingshead and Margie Ginotti
Sometimes it takes time to find one’s paths of action and being. And those previous paths that one tried all contribute skills, challenges and confirmation that this path is yours. For Kim, Buddhism was (and still is, we think) his path – bringing action and being together.
As an adult, Kim explored a number of careers – landscape architect, real estate agent, hospice caregiver, personal chef to wealthy families, bakery bun entrepreneur (the name of his product was Cinnful Buns), project manager, office manager and executive director. In all his work, caring service was his hallmark. It was significant to his family that his past four employers sent condolences, and three attended his services after his death.
Working at FPMT [as Director Administration] allowed him to use many of his skills as he coordinated the move from Taos to Portland and spent many hours ensuring that the new building was engineered and made suitable for the organization. Once in the new building, one of his goals was to make the office environment pleasant for staff and the outside of the building attractive to those passing by. A local who attended Kim’s service in Portland told his family that he was very impressed that a manager in FPMT could be seen on weekends planting and gardening around the front of the building and sweeping the sidewalks. …
Thomas E. Flynn. 60, died May 20, 2008 in Dublin, Ireland, of heart failure
By Ven. Sarah Thresher
Tom Flynn was quite simply a genius in his own way. Irish, with a Jesuit training and a highly successful business background as well as a yearning for the truly spiritual, when Tom met Buddhism during a course at Land of Medicine Buddha (LMB), he was ripe for a new challenge. And that is what he got; with less than a year till the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Bay Area, Tom was asked to take over a debt-ridden organizing committee for the event and simultaneously transform Land of Medicine Buddha from an antiquated motel in the redwoods to a modern commercially viable spiritual healing retreat center. So that is what he did.
Under his directorship [2000- 2002] everything changed. As one student describes it, “Each week you came to the center you never knew what to expect. Things were changing so fast.” All the guestrooms were renovated and upgraded, the gompa, the pine room, the lama’s house, the office, the swimming pool, the sauna, the meadow, the car park, the landscaping – the list is endless. Nothing was too daunting or too expensive; somehow Tom had the genius and the courage to take risks and to follow through his vision to make the place the best it could be immediately!
I will never forget how he decided to spend no money on advertising His Holiness’ visit in the spring of 2001, and yet still the news spread like wildfire. Phones rang day an night with people in Silicon Valley desperately wanting tickets: “We heard the Dalai something is coming and we just got to go…!” …
Henk Sinnema, 55, died May 22, 2008 at home in Narracan, Australia, from cancer
By Helen Sinnema
Born in Friesland in Holland, Henk migrated with his family to Australia when he was eight years old. His father died of lung cancer during Henk’s final year of high school. This was a huge blow to him and he searched for meaning to life during his twenties.
I first met Henk when he was thirty at a Reichian Therapy weekend run by Lew Luton. We started going out together when Henk was thirty-four and I was thirty-three. Henk seemed to be a generous, philosophical, laid back kind of guy.
One of the first things he told me about himself was that he had met this man, a monk or a lama – someone who had “just looked at him…”. This had changed his life. I had no idea what he was talking about, because the only sort of personage from an Eastern religion I could imagine was someone like the Maharishi or the Bhagawan Sri Rajnesh – very unappealing even in the 1980s!
The man whom Henk met was Lama Thubten Yeshe, and at the age of twenty-two Henk had been to the inaugural 1974 course given by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa at Diamond Valley where Chenrezig Institute was later founded. Henk stayed at the retreat for only ten days; he grew tired of the teachings being given by a young Lama Zopa, and so he used to hang around outside the tent. Lama Yeshe took the trouble to approach Henk one day although, as far as Henk could see, Lama Yeshe never spoke to anyone (he was in retreat). Henk described a kind of mutuality developing between them, which became a transformational experience. …
Brenton Pratt a.k.a. Brenton Stringy Bark, artist, 54 ,died October II, 2007 in South Australia, of cancer.
By Lindsay Pratt
My brother had been experiencing discomfort for a few months prior to being diagnosed with cancer. He underwent surgery and initial results were positive, however a scan six months after the initial diagnosis showed further cancer. At this stage Brenton told me that death was a high probability.
… After the results of the second scan, and with the knowledge that death was likely, Brenton asked me to send him some books on the death process that might help him to prepare for death. His health declined quite quickly, but he remained determined to be as independent as possible and managed this with the help of his friends and especially his daughters Arwen and Katie. …
Rainwolf-Brad-Horn, 47, died February 10, 2008 in Tonasket, Washington State, USA, of cancer.
By Willow Wolf-Horn
My husband Rainwolf’s story is certainly an inspiring and courageous one. About six months after I came to the Dharma [in the Fall of 2006], Rainwolf developed an interest in Buddhism himself. At that time, he was dealing with esophageal cancer for the second time in seven years.
… We lived in a rural setting, where I continue to live. We had to drive hundreds of miles, and be away from home for months at time, while he was undergoing desperate treatments. One night, while we were alone in the home away-from-home that his kind brother and sister-in-law had provided for us, he asked me what I was reading. I knew very little of the Dharma at that time, and most of that was from books by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and others I was slightly familiar with. Until then he’d not shown much interest in what I was reading or doing. That night, he set down his Time magazine, met the Dharma for the first time, and virtually never looked back.
For months he had been angry, agitated and very ill from the treatments and his likely impending death. One such treatment would soon damage his cervical spine, causing almost unmanageable pain in his neck, preventing him from sleeping in any position other than on his back But from the time that Rainwolf met the Dharma, all the while he was in treatment, until he died at home under Hospice care months later, he was steadfast and determined to be as ready as possible for his chosen path and approaching death. …
Beatrice Ribush, 95 died March 15 2008 in Melbourne Australia
By Nicholas Ribush
I was attending His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings in Bodhgaya in 1981 when news of his mother’s death arrived. The Tibetans became very distressed, weeping and wailing all over the place, but at his next discourse, His Holiness looked at them bemused and said words to the effect of, “People, get a grip. What are you crying for? She was the mother of the Dalai Lama, had a long and privileged life, did millions and millions of manis and other practices, and has been reborn in a pure land. There’s nothing to cry about.”
So when my mother died March 15 this year and people suggested I must be taking it hard, as many did, I was reminded of His Holiness’s words. Not that she was the mother of anybody holy, but she did have a long and happy life, was devoted to the Dharma for her last thirty-five years, was ready to go, had a swift and relatively easy death, and from the moment it came had Lama Zopa Rinpoche doing pho-wa and other prayers for her. In addition, many other lamas have been doing prayers and pujas, and at a recent teaching in New Delhi, which I was able to attend a few days after Mum’s funeral, His Holiness the Dalai Lama blessed her ashes. Also, her old and close friend, Ven. Konchog Dronma (Bonnie Rothenberg), who lives in Dharamsala, immediately organized many prayers and pujas at Gyüto and Gyümed Tantric Colleges and Kirti Gompa and many other merit-generating things as well. Finally, Lama Zopa Rinpoche had very kindly visited mother at her home in Melbourne in 2006 and felt that mentally, she was in a great place and had nothing to worry about.
I always (well, almost always) felt she was a perfect mother. Giving my brother Dorian and me top priority in her life, she always did what had to be done for our benefit and unconditionally supported our life choices, no matter how weird or unconventional they might have been, and often were. She frequently told me, “I just want you to be happy” …
In November 2007 Lama Zopa Rinpoche wrote to long-time student Henry Lau who was seriously ill and who has now passed. Rinpoche has asked that we all read this, especially those who are suffering a serious illness:
My very dear Henry,
Even non-Buddhists should prepare for death every day, and especially as practitioners we should all prepare like this – “Death is definitely going to happen” – rather than to think that I will have a longer life through operations. This doesn’t mean not to have an operation; I just mean how to think.
1. For liberation from samsara and especially for enlightenment, as well as for all sentient beings, it is very good if you can read the “five powers at death time,” that I wrote recently.
2. Then also it is very good if you can play and listen to the recitation of the Arya Sangata Sutra if possible all the time – best version is the one I have recorded.
3. Also listen to and play the Golden Light Sutra …
4. … and the Diamond Cutter Sutra, these could be one recited by myself or Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche.
5. Also you can listen to the “Namo Amitabha” recording. The way Taiwanese chant this (that is, in a small box that plays continuously) is very good to uplift the mind. Listening to this fills the mind up, and you feel that there is nothing else in the world, except the Buddhist path. It creates the cause to be reborn in Amitabha Pure Land – maybe you will be the first bank manager in Amitabha Pure Land, HA HA!! Then from there you can help all the suffering sentient beings in this world, also all our projects, HA HA!! …
By Alfred Leyens
Berni Kohnen, the youngest of four children, was born in a small town (3000 people) in the eastern part of Belgium. He grew up in modest conditions, raised by a hard-working, loving mother, who had to care for her four children by herself. After school, he did an apprenticeship in automechanics, and then went to work in a newspaper printing company. He was liked by everybody for his good humour, and helpful, easygoing ways. Everybody remembers his contagious laughter.
I came to know him when we were 24-years-old. He had just lost his job because the printing company closed. A few very wild years followed. Because we wanted to find meaning in life, we desperately tried to have as much of a good time as possible, travelling, and so on. Although he was wild, he had a really good heart, and was never destructive or negative or aggressive, but rather he was very open and eager to experience life, to know new people, their opinions, way of seeing, etc.
At the end of our twenties, we went to Switzerland, cowherding in the mountains from June till September. The rest of the year we would travel, as the job was well-paid. He travelled to Africa; I left for India, to Dharamsala, where I met Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and to Kopan, to do the Kopan course for the first time, in 1984. …
Alison Kaye Harr, 36, died in San Francisco, California, United States, June 1, 2013, of complications due to a car accident
By Carina Rumrill
Alison Harr was born in Fresno, California, on December 28, 1976 to Bruce and Pearl Harr.
Alison’s involvement with FPMT began in 2002 when she was invited to visit a friend who was living in a cabin high up in the redwood forests of the Santa Cruz mountains in California. With her beloved Boston Terrier, Buster, she drove the five-mile dirt road leading up to Vajrapani Institute. In 2009 she recalled in a conversation with Mandala, “The minute I stepped on Rinpoche’s land I found refuge, the feeling and protection I was searching for, for so very long. The FPMT saved my life by being there for me.” She would continue to refer to Vajrapani Institute as her “heart center” throughout the remainder of her life.
In 2004 she attended a lam-rim retreat with Ven. Robina Courtin at Land of Medicine Buddha in Soquel, California. During this retreat she identified Ven. Robina as her teacher. Another retreatant remembers Alison asking many questions during this retreat and really checking out sincerely if this path was right for her.
In 2005, she went on Buddhist pilgrimage with Ven. Robina to Nepal and India and ended up staying a year in the area. She often expressed that it was a year of incredible experiences, growth and focus. She moved to San Francisco in 2006, determined to offer service to the Liberation Prison Project (LPP), which Ven. Robina founded in 1996, and ran until 2009. I met her at this time while I was serving the project as operations director and teacher coordinator. At LPP she offered service in many capacities: offering water bowls, cleaning, packing books, managing the resources department, and eventually writing to prisoners herself.
As the teacher coordinator, I handled letters between prisoner-students and their assigned Dharma friends. As an extension of this, I read Alison’s correspondence with the prisoners she was helping mentor. She had a natural ability to connect with people who are struggling in the most unimaginable ways. Alison didn’t throw up the same walls many of us do in relation to others: She was able to find commonalities and ways to communicate with anyone, no matter their background or current situation. Ven. Robina often praised Alison for the care she gave to running the resources department. She worked closely with Dharma friends to help them provide books and materials specific to their prisoner-students’ needs.
“What I’ve always admired about Alison is her courage, the effort she made to practice. She persevered.” Ven. Robina said after Alison passed away. “The dictionary says that this means ‘to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly.’ Well, that’s Alison! This was evident ever since we first met. … She never gave up. No matter how difficult things got, she picked herself up, renewed her faith in the Buddha, in the teachings, and kept on going. And she never gave up on others, either. She always had enthusiasm to help. The prisoners she looked after when she worked for the prison project felt so supported by her. She made such effort to give good advice, to write nice letters, to send the most helpful books. Our lamas tell us that without this joyful effort or enthusiastic perseverance, we simply can’t succeed, we can’t get enlightened. And Lama Zopa Rinpoche says that unless we make effort, we don’t create much merit at all. Well, Alison must have created bucket-loads!”
Alison worked for LPP until 2009, when the US office downsized and relocated from San Francisco to Raleigh, North Carolina. She continued on as a volunteer, writing to inmates and forwarding prisoner letters received at the San Francisco post office box each week to the Raleigh office.
She was thrilled when Ven. Robina invited her and a handful of former San Francisco prison project staff to help with an auction fundraiser in Raleigh in November 2012 to support Ven. Robina’s Bodhichitta Trust. “A great event,” Alison said. “So good to work with the old prison project crew again!” I created all of the food for this event with Alison on my “kitchen crew.” It was wonderful to work closely with her again; I think we laughed more than we cooked.
She often used her Facebook page as a platform for articulating her motivations to benefit others. In January of this year she posted, “I have so much love in my heart to give. Therefore, I could never give most of it to just one other person. I want to find love in every being in samsara no matter if we are friends, enemies or strangers. I love you, no matter what” and, “Sending lovin’ vibes to all migrating beings suffering in Samsara. We shall continue to strive to reach enlightenment’s shores. Carry on despite harsh hardships.”
On May 5 of this year, she attended Big Love Day at Vajrapani Institute. Tenzin Ösel Hita was in attendance and took many questions from the crowd. Alison asked the last two questions of the day. Her final question was, “They say ‘welcome hardships’ in Buddhism. … Is there any advice you can give me for welcoming difficulties?” Ösel answered, “As long as you don’t learn what you have to learn when those things happen, they will keep happening. As soon as you learn what you have to learn from that, it will be different. It keeps on happening because you haven’t learned what you need to learn.” She replied, “Ah … okay, well said, and thank you.” Laughter erupted among the others and as usual, Alison asked a probing question that got to the heart of many people’s experience.
Alison was hilarious, sharp, generous, altruistic and extremely open-minded. She was a committed Dharma practitioner who was always pushing to deepen her practice and understanding. She was quite courageous in teachings, asking questions most people would not ask for fear of damaging their reputation. Her questions were often really helpful to others. You could always count on Alison to speak up if she felt something wasn’t right. She was brave and sincere in her convictions.
She graduated from the Bay Area Medical Academy in 2011 and was a nationally certified medical technician. After her graduation, she volunteered at San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic. She was a phlebotomist and her work included drawing blood, collecting samples, and running them through lab tests or sending them out to labs for more complex testing. She also roomed patients, took their vitals, and in-took patient charts and data. During this time she also volunteered as a medical assistant at rock concerts for RockMed, a social service project of HealthRIGHT 360.
About this work she commented, “I love serving Haight Ashbury Free Clinic. Helping the homeless and all those in need gives my life greater meaning. I love making vitals and lab tests a comfortable experience for patients. It’s a beautiful day as I watch it go by from the rooftop of the clinic on my break.”
Alison was registered for a retreat at Vajrapani Institute called “Breaking Through Illusions” led by Bay Area teachers, which was scheduled for May 23-26. On May 20, 2013, she was driving near her parents’ home in Santa Cruz when she swerved to miss hitting a cat in the road. She was released from the hospital on the same day as the accident and went home to San Francisco. However, by May 23, the day she was supposed to drive to Vajrapani Institute to attend a retreat, she was unable to move. Her father drove her to the emergency room at the hospital. Once admitted, they discovered she had internal bleeding. Alison’s teachers – including Lama Zopa Rinpoche; Geshe Ngawang Dakpa, resident teacher of Tse Chen Ling in San Francisco; and Ven. Robina – were immediately informed of her critical condition. Her Dharma friends around the world participated in 24/7 prayers and practices for her, and Ven. Robina arranged for prayers and pujas to be done by 100 monks at Kopan Monastery.
She was added to the prayer lists of many FPMT centers. Sangha communities at Kopan Monastery, Sravasti Abbey, Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, Land of Medicine Buddha and elsewhere offered prayers and practice. Additionally, retreatants at Vajrapani Institute and Vajrayana Institute in Australia engaged in group prayers for her. Her hospitalization and subsequent passing brought people together worldwide in prayer and practice. Her parents and her partner, Irene, expressed how much it meant to have the spiritual side of her passing handled with such organized care.
The day she passed away, a handful of her Bay Area Dharma friends, including Geshe Dakpa, were with her. She was blessed by holy objects and her friends performed puja and prayers beside her body. A flood of prayers and condolences were expressed on Facebook and many posted fond and profound memories of this remarkable woman.
Alison’s voicemail greeting captures her view of the world, and her wish for those she knew: “May you be blessed with a joyous, splendid and auspicious day today and every day.”
Lama Zopa Rinpoche requests that “students who read Mandala pray that the students whose obituaries they read find a perfect human body, meet a Mahayana guru and become enlightened quickly, or be born in a pure land where the teachings exist and they can become enlightened.” While reading obituaries we can also reflect upon our own death and rebirth, prompting us to live our lives in the most meaningful way.
More advice from Lama Zopa Ripoche on death and dying is available on Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s advice page.
FPMT News Around the World
It is with sadness that we share the news of Gunjiimaa Ganbat passing away. After struggling with a very difficult to treat form of drug-resistant tuberculosis, Gunjiimaa died in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on April 1, 2012. Gunjiimaa made significant contributions to the development of FPMT Mongolia, including serving as an FPMT Mongolia translator, as Ven. Thubten Gyatso’s (Adrian Feldmann) Mongolian translator and as the previous director of the FPMT center in Ulaanbaatar, Ganden Do Ngag Shedrup Ling, founded in 2000.
“Gunjii,” as she was fondly known, was also the driving force in connecting MK Sen, current CEO of FPMT Mongolia, with several parties able to offer the help and assistance needed for Rinpoche’s priority projects in Mongolia. Gunjii was part of the special team overseeing these projects. Her immense personal contributions to ensure the success of each project will remain as testimony of her faith and devotion to her guru, Lama Zopa Rinpoche. As MK puts it, “Gunjii will be irreplaceable and a great loss to FPMT Mongolia. We pray for her blessed rebirth.”
Lama Zopa Rinpoche was reached very soon after Gunjiimaa’s death and was able to give advice to those near her. Rinpoche also immediately did Vajrayogini powa and other prayers and then requested Khadro-la to also do the necessary prayers and practice for Gunjiimaa.
When reading an obituary or an announcement of death in Mandala, Lama Zopa Rinpoche advises that students make prayers for the recently deceased that they “find a perfect human body, meet a Mahayana guru and become enlightened quickly, or be born in a pure land where the teachings exist and they can become enlightened.”
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