Terry Mason (Zanto, Zonto)

Terry died on July 6, 2018 of complications related to lung cancer.

Terry Mason

Terry Mason (Zanto, Zonto) died on Thursday July 5, 2018 of complications related to lung cancer. His children, Travis and Rebecca, and their mother Madeline Meacham were with him when he died. Terry was one of CTR’s oldest students and, with the other Pygmies, built the first shelters at RMDC. He was committed to his practice throughout his life, and was still riding motorcycles and teaching archery and birdwatching to his grandchildren until just a few weeks before his death in the VA hospital in Denver, Colorado. It was just over six months from his diagnosis to his death. He was one of a kind and he will be missed.

By his request, there will be no funeral, although there will be a Wake for him at the home of Marv Ross 888 Rockway Place in Boulder on Friday July 20, 5-9 PM local time.

Wind and Fire

Excerpts from Taming Untameable Beings by Jim Lowrey

In New Orleans, the future Pygmy Terry Mason was running the Roach, a rock and roll bar. Jim Morrison used to hang out there. So did Johnny Rivers and Tyrannosaurus Rex and other bands. Terry, a former biker from Chicago, was selling LSD and taking a lot of it. He was paranoid that it was just a matter of time till he got busted, so he decided to leave and go to a cool place like Boulder or Taos.

One night he went to work and three freaks walked in whose car had broken down during their visit to New Orleans from the Pygmy Farm. It was Curtis, Terry, and Rick. They were broke and stranded and asked for water at the bar. When Terry learned their situation he said, “I’ll get you a car and pay for the gas, if you’ll take me to Boulder.” They said okay, and with three women friends, they drove to the Pygmy Farm.

An early influence on the Pygmies’ spiritual lives came from a New Age guru in New Orleans who called herself Kumi Maitreya. At different times, several of the Pygmies drove to New Orleans to see Kumi. Kumi gave each of them a secret name: Terry Mason was Zanto.

Terry Mason and Sarah Winchell, March 1970

At the Pygmy Farm, I organized Sunday meetings, where we sat in a circle around the fireplace in the teepee and passed a pipe or joint around and shared humor, wisdom, or just bullshit, depending on what our group consciousness offered us. These gatherings were well attended, because even if some of the Pygmies—like Zanto—happened to be opposed to religion or church services, everyone was still likely to be open to group dope smoking. Even if they had to endure a reading from the Bhagavad Gita or Ramana Maharshi.

One day, Zanto and some other Pygmies were up Left Hand Canyon tripping on acid when Clarke Warren walked into their campsite and told them, “There’s a Tibetan lama coming to town, would you like to see him?”

Zanto barely knew what a lama was, but he said, “Sure, why not?”

When the time came, we smoked some hashish and drove our rag-tag caravan of cars to the talk at CU. Karl Usow introduced Rinpoche as the author of Born in Tibet and began his remarks with “Another mountain has come to Boulder.”

Zanto recalls some initial resistance to the event. “I was looking around for an excuse to get out of there, like ushers being uptight, but it was totally cool,” he said. “When Rinpoche came onstage, he looked like a little old man made of light. I don’t remember the talk, but I saw lots of colors—reds and oranges.”

After the talk, we went back to the Farm, where we sat around the dining room table, passed a joint, and talked about the event. For many of us, it was love at first sight. Zanto and Emur mentioned all the different colors of the auras they saw radiating from Rinpoche’s crown chakra. Su Ming Chu said that after hearing him talk, there was no reason for her to go to India to look for a guru, because she had seen Rinpoche as golden light radiating outward as far as she could see.

When we got the chance, we made arrangements to see Rinpoche at his house in Four Mile Canyon for personal interviews. The earliest interview was a group interview with Zanto and others. John Baker greeted the Pygmies and showed them into Rinpoche’s bedroom. They sat on a mattress on the floor at the foot of the bed, with their beards, long hair, leather clothes, unwashed looks, and smiles. Rinpoche had long underwear bottoms and a white top on and was sitting in his bed, which was a mattress on the floor, hippie style.

The Pygmies said that they had been at the talk at CU.

Rinpoche asked each of them what their religious knowledge or experience was. Zanto said, “Kumi and Madame Blavatsky and the Secret Doctrines.”

They chatted for a few minutes. The Pygmies told him that they lived in a commune on East Arapahoe. Rinpoche seemed very interested. Then he asked, “Why are you here?”

“We’re bodhisattvas, just like you,” Zanto said, whether or not he really knew what that meant.

Rinpoche took a drink and said, “We’re going to be together for a long, long time.” Then he added, “We have a lot of work to do.”

Zanto remembers his first solo interview like this:

I went in and said “I want you to be my teacher.”

Rinpoche said, “Let me see you meditate.”

I closed my eyes and sat real stiff. He said, “No, that’s not it. Open your eyes.”

I opened my eyes.

He said, “Try again.” So I closed my eyes and tried something.

Then he said, “No, no, no, that’s not it.”

I was getting frustrated. He said, “Try again” Then, “No, no, no,” again.

Now I’m pissed off.

He said, “Open your eyes.” I opened my eyes.

He said, “Look down.” I looked down.

He snapped his fingers and . . . instant . . . space. I had never seen space. I had never seen emptiness. It lasted about three days.

At some point the Pygmies invited Rinpoche to dinner at the Pygmy Farm and he accepted. It was exciting for us, a big deal. Steve Baker drove Rinpoche to the farm in the old Karmann Ghia that the Pygmies had given Rinpoche. The car was one that some visitors from back East had given to the Pygmies when they left.

After dinner, we sat around the living room on the madras-covered cushions and pillows on the floor and smoked dope. At some point, Zanto started a drum ritual. Other people joined in, with guitars or tambourines or whatever, and we played spontaneous music. Rinpoche said, “This reminds me of the initiation circle.” But we were too stoned or awestruck by him to question what he meant. Someone did ask if he had played an instrument in the monastery, and he said that he had played cymbals.

Rinpoche encouraged us to add wine to our ritual highs, because he said that alcohol gets you high on earth, while grass gets you high on space.

In July 1971, the Pygmies left our camp from a few miles above Rinpoche’s house for the Point O’ Pines summer resort and campground in Allenspark, about twenty miles northwest of Boulder. Rinpoche was presenting his first residential program in Colorado and had asked the Pygmies to be on staff and do some work there in lieu of paying.

The seminar was called The Six States of Bardo. A bardo is an in-between state, usually understood to be between death and rebirth. But the term also applies to any situation of being in-between two things.

About two hundred people showed up for that seminar, twice as many as had been expected. A number of them were from the Zen Center and other places in California. It was a challenge for us Pygmies, because we didn’t realize that Rinpoche had such a large and widespread following. We thought he was our private lama.

Zanto, photo by Sherry

Zanto was in charge of kitchen cleanup. He often couldn’t get any help, except for one newcomer, who was developing a reputation for drinking too much, too early, so Zanto was sometimes alone, washing pots and pans after dinner, sometimes until midnight. The only phone at the whole camp was in the kitchen. One night the phone rang. It was Diana, who wanted to talk to Rinpoche. Zanto went to Rinpoche’s cabin, where John and Marvin and some other people were hanging out with Rinpoche. Zanto delivered the message, and Rinpoche said, “Have a seat.”

Zanto remembers that he sat there and “experienced a moment of space, or openness, or something like that.”

In that space, Rinpoche looked over at him and said, “When are you going to cut your hair?”

Zanto asked, “Would you like me to do it now?”

“That’s very diplomatic of you,” Rinpoche said. And he looked at Zanto and started laughing and said, “I’m going to have you in a suit someday. Three piece suit, short hair, no beard.”

At that moment, Zanto realized where the teachings come from. “They come from an open place,” he said. “Somehow, sitting there that night, I had opened up. I wasn’t thinking of myself, but was just resting in that space. And that space allowed the meeting of our minds.”

After a very long pause, Rinpoche walked with Zanto back to the kitchen to call Diana.

In July 1973, Rinpoche gave eight talks at Rocky Mountain Dharma Center (RMDC) on the “Energy of Discipline.” At one talk, Rinpoche was sitting in his chair, with his back to the tent wall. Suddenly, there was a crashing sound and he sat bolt upright, as everyone in the tent froze. It was a bad sound somehow, an unnatural sound. It had a threatening quality to it, very threatening, right behind him. And then it happened again and again, several smashing sounds right behind him. Bam. Bam. Maybe a dozen times. It wasn’t just a bang, it was like the sound of an explosion. It was meant to really threaten.

Andy Karr recalls, “What was astounding, other than that we were a bunch of terrified wimps, was that Rinpoche didn’t do what you would do when someone’s threatening to kill you, like yell ‘Help,’ or ‘Get him,’ or any of that stuff. He just sat there. He was obviously upright and very intent, but there was no sense of panic. Not just presence—fearlessness. We all froze and nobody quite knew what to do. There was a guy with a five-pound sledgehammer pounding on the platform Rinpoche was on, just a few feet away from him.

“It was very shocking, watching Rinpoche, because the threat was on the level that someone could kill him. Shocking, how self-contained he was. He was completely aware of what was going on and not intimidated or panicked by it.”

At some point, the threatening sounds stopped without intervention and Rinpoche finished his talk as if nothing had happened.

After the talk, several of us were hanging out in my old A-frame. In addition to Andy and me, Zanto and some other people were there. We found out that Zanto, who had been a bartender at the Rustic Resort, had invited some local people to the talk, hoping that they might connect with Rinpoche. One was Mike Brinkhoff—a local guy, kind of simple, very aggressive, like some ass-kicker. He was the one who had pounded the platform.

Zanto told us that he was feeling guilty about the threatening hammering by Mike, and so after the talk he walked up to Rinpoche and apologized.

Rinpoche said, “You better watch out, you better watch out, you better watch out.”

At first, Zanto didn’t understand. He was apologizing, after all, and no harm had been done.

“But then,” Zanto said, “I realized that Rinpoche was pissing on my foot.”

From Vicki Genson

I last saw Terry at SalonSalon, which he co-owned, for the occasional haircut, in which I would listen more or less to unsolicited life advice, and his preaching dharma, which i did not appreciate as much as the haircut. That said, there is much we shared. Our appreciation and love for CTR,  Birthdays in December, and Three grandsons each!  Ages (+-) 6, 4, and 2.

His story went something like this, he had sold off his stakes in Boulder and was heading off to Parker (Colorado) to help Rebecca, a lawyer, with the children and horses. Last month, I heard from a close friend to Terry that he was facing cancer. His son Travis, a surgeon stationed in Germany, came for the consultations with surgeons. It was complicated and inoperable.

The original boy with the dragon tattoo, Terry was not at Jim Lowery’s book reception at Marv Ross’s on December 27, 2015. I told him about the snapshots I had taken and how it was not complete without one of him. I took it a year later, on October 17, 2016, when I remembered to take a camera along to SalonSalon.

Now I can imagine Terry riding off into the Bardos on his motorcycle swiftly and safely through the realms, continuing the journey.

Photos of Terry by Vicki Genson