Alan Schwartz


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