The Passing of Tania Leontov

We stand both in great sadness for the passing of Tania Leontov as well as a reverence and immense appreciation we feel toward a spiritual sister who has been such a pivotal person in the legacy of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the genuine Dharma coming our way! And for her tireless work for the benefit of beings in utterly tangible ways!


Tania Leontov was born October 16, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York, to Ann and Mo Rothman. She attended Antioch College and Columbia University where she earned a B.S.

In the late 1960’s her travels landed her in Scotland where she was one of a small handful of western students residing at Samye Ling Monastery with Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche. If you knew Tania well you have probably heard a lot of stories from this chapter of her life!

After leaving Scotland in 1970 she was instrumental in setting up Tail of the Tiger (now Karme Choling) in Barnet, Vermont, the first land center of Trungpa, Rinpoche.  She married her former husband, Alan Schwartz, at the Maitri Community in Wingdale, New York, in 1974. They attended 1974 seminary and later that year moved to Boulder. The next year they embarked on the first of several business ventures, the famous New York Delicatessen, which was a much loved fixture on the Pearl Street Mall until 1984.

Tania was then a staff member at the Boulder Shambhala Center for 13 years, handling outreach, volunteers and mentoring the youth of the community.

Tania then set about reinventing herself by earning a Masters degree in Non-Profit Management at Regis University as well as a certificate in Religious Studies. She went on to found a number of non-profits, among them Restoring the Soul, and Focus, a program to mentor those leaving the Boulder Jail which had great success cutting recidivism in that population.

She also founded Shelter International, a private company that helped develop low impact tourism in the Tibet Autonomous Region until 1989.

Tania was an adjunct faculty at Regis University and received the Excellence in Teaching Award in 2006.

For over 25 years she was involved in the Snowmass Interfaith Conference along with Father Thomas Keating and co-authored The Common Heart, a collection of dialogues from the Conference.

She was a long -time student of the Time, Space, and Knowledge work of Tarthang Tulku and was a student of H.E. Gangteng Tulku.

“An active spiritual life includes the recognition of our common humanity and interconnectedness with all living beings. A crucial way in which this insight comes to fruition is in service to others. This is engagement which does not measure itself or look for rewards, but moves on tender appreciation for life in all its forms. In my tradition, Vajyrayana Buddhism, it is called heart drop or the mind of sadness. This does not refer to tears or depression over the endless suffering that life offers, but rather to a softness towards the rawness of life and a willingness to be in touch with it.” Tania Leontov, 2010

-Mary Sweet

Thank you to Mary Sweet for composing this biographical sketch of Tania, and to you and all others who were so essentially helpful and essential to Tania in her final years.  You all were both spiritual and worldly friends to Tania!


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Alan Schwartz
5 months ago

On the passing of Kesang Tönma “Light of the Era in which the Dharma is Taught”

Kesang, or Tania, as many of you knew her, was a force of nature. She was a primary facilitator of Trungpa Rinpoche’s manifestation as a teacher in the Western world. From the first time she heard him speak, she recognized the experience of truth, unshakeable and immutable, and she knew with certainty that she needed to be in his presence.

Moving into Samye Ling, in Scotland, she became his secretary and closest attendant. She was unshakably and unconditionally with him in the days and weeks following his devastating car crash, when it was unclear if he would continue to teach, or ever do anything, for that matter. She preceded him to the United States, as if guided by his irresistible life-force intention to offer Dharma to the world. The founding of Tail of the Tiger, to be renamed as Karme Chöling, was an improbable and immeasurable feat; she accomplished it spontaneously, with grace and humor.

We were married and business partners at intervals in the 1970’s, but mostly she was a deep, subtle and generous Dharma friend, always ready to share moments of transmission of spontaneous abrupt non-dual insight that she had understood effortlessly. Her mind for the Dharma was quick, deep and sharp. She had a profound intuitive grasp for the unique and spontaneous way transmission flowed from Trungpa Rinpoche’s creative dance with people.

By way of temperament and style, Kesang was one of the few people who naturally tends to perceive themselves as large, and the world as small. I think this style of manifesting reflects inherent Ratna family energy, but she wielded it in a unique way. She could always be trusted to turn that energy towards Dharma, and was attuned to and curious about how magic appears in ordinary life.

The entire span of decades I've known her, now over 54 years, Kesang has lived with this delightful pen-and-ink sketch, drawn for her by Trungpa Rinpoche. This sketch reflects at least two meanings. On one level, the image is unmistakably her, drawn in proportion to something much larger, serving to counterbalance in vast humor any excesses in her perception of largeness. At a deeper level, it reflects her recognition of, and unhesitating submission to, Trungpa Rinpoche’s wisdom mind, vast, patient, weighty, and immutable. I am certain that many of you who knew her will see other Dharmic reflections in this wonderful sketch. In appreciation of her journey, I offer a photo of it below.

You may also enjoy the story “Mother’s Milk” here on the Chronicles website, which I wrote, but is really about her, and contains another marvelous pen-and-ink spontaneous drawing of the Vidyadhara that perfectly punctuated another moment of Dharma that illuminated our path during a dark time.

Blaze on, dear Dharma sister. May you abide in the radiance of the Guru's smile and ease.

Drawn for Kesang by Trungpa Rinpoche

Cheryl Crosby
5 months ago

My dear friend! I first met Tania at Tail of the Tiger in April 1970. She was so kind in orienting me and understanding of the pain that I was in at that time. We quickly became friends. When we were both in Boulder I worked for her at the New York Deli. Many years of deep conversations and shared experiences. I had so hoped to return from Thailand in time for precious last moments with her. When I did her phowa I felt her power and grace. Strong and clear. Thank you, darling, for all the great years.

John Tischer
5 months ago

I first met Tanya at Tail of the Tiger in 1972, so, you could say, I knew her
most of my life. When our sangha was our sangha, she was one person I always heard some news about, so I know she was quite involved….and
she did invite VCTR to Tail. Like Clark said, she was a keystone without meaning to be.

Phyllis Segura
5 months ago

She was all that and more. An amazingly accomplished person who transformed much including herself. We all might take our various hats off to her. I first met her in 1970, the same time I first experienced CTR, at the St. Marks Church in New York City. May she roll into the celestial mandala with ease and confidence. Hail Tania!

Dessie + Bob Howard
5 months ago

Heart wonder
Founding pillar
Love to you Tania
as you journey forward.
You have surely been the eagle
And the lion.
You have been our boss.
The New York Deli, our first date
First dharma job.
May you always return when needed.

Sandro Chubinidze (Beautiful Moon)
5 months ago

I am so greatful to existence for meeting you dearest Tania, my guardian dharma angel, you were real blessings for so many beings, may the dralas folllow you werever you are, may you always enjoy Shambhala dharma. KI KI SO SO!!!!!!!!!

Sandro Chubinidze (Beautiful Moon)
5 months ago

I am so greatful to existence for meeting you dearest Tania, my guardian dharma angel, you were real blessings for so many beings, may the dralas folllow you werever you are, may you always enjoy Shambhala dharma. KI KI SO SO!!!!!!!!!

Clarke Warren on behalf of Ri-mé Society 
5 months ago

When one considers how Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche forged the entry of Buddhism to the West, Tania (known to many of us for years as her dharma name Kesang)_ was an indispensable presence and force in that grand adventure. By virtue of uncanny auspicious coincidences, rather than any premeditated plan, Tania was drawn into that great current of Dharma, and she had the right stuff to carry out the trajectory of that grand vision. We all owe a great appreciation to Tania for being a founding mother of all we pursue in Dharma today! Anyone who appreciates the brilliance and dharma activities  of Trungpa Rinpoche should consider Tania as a close member of his spiritual and practical entourage. She has a reserved seat next to Rinpoche in the circle of his mandala.

Tania was a superbly adaptable and able person.  She was utterly dedicated to whatever pursuits she turned her attention to, and there were many varied pursuits throughout her life!  Whether situations were positive or negative, clear or confused, workable or disarrayed, she danced with them with exuberance. Yet in each pursuit, she contributed an adamantine devotion to her teacher, Trungpa Rinpoche, and she reflected Rinpoche’s brilliance and consummate care for others in all she undertook. This was in concert with her own very big heart, sparkling intelligence and multi-faceted capabilities in all she pursued and accomplished. She leaves us with a splendid and enduring example of what it means to be an authentic bodhisattva and an utterly genuine human being!

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