Greg Smith

I just finished watching the video of Jack's contribution to the 50th anniversary of Karme Choling. It is shocking to realize that Jack is no more. I first met Jack in the summer of 1977 when I enrolled for his banner making class at Naropa Institute. I recall asking him what sort of art he was working on and his reply (roughly)My latest project is a world class fashion model. He probably put it more elegantly. So much of what spoke to us as new students of the Vidyadhara in those golden days of Vajradhatu was visual display of the wisdom of Trungpa Rinpoche as translated in the hand of Jack Niland. As Jack repeated like a mantra, the Vidyadhara's teaching, "In order to change the culture, you have to change the art." Jack was the tool to accomplish this. Some years ago I started contacting Jack when I came to New York to visit with my sister and I would relish the annual download of seeds planted by Rinpoche. Just last month I contacted him when I came to New York for my first post pandemic-lock-down visit. I called him and he told me he was in the hospital being treated for Diabetes. I said I would visit but he said, no don't come. He explained that the reason he went for medical help was in fact because his ears were clogged with wax - but after a week in the hospital they had still not removed the wax. He said, "I can hear you well on the phone but I won't be able to if you come here." So I had several long conversations with him – while I walked on the aquaduct near Irvington, or riding Metro North into the City, the last one when I was at the airport about to leave. There was a lot of repetition year after year in his recollections and it was good to hear the stories again and again and to try to unlock the puzzle of their meaning, but there were always a few new insights that somehow were called up fresh for our meeting. One of the gems this last visit was him telling me about Trungpa's love for the John Steinbeck translation of the Arthurian epic. He told me that Rinpoche had wanted this to be a text for the training of the Sawang. He said that he understood that this epic was a sort of Gesar epic for the west. I have just recently finished the wonderful Epic of Gesar of Ling - Book 1, translated by Robin Kornman, Sangye Khandro and Lama Chonam. I have always wanted to get to the King Arthur story and I jumped at the suggestion that this book was favored by Rinpoche. Luckily found a hard cover on-line for $5! On one trip he said, Oh you should check out the Nicholas Roerich Museum. Or another time, take me around the corner from his apartment to see the Cake dressing store and all the amazing decorations. With child-like wonder pointing out the treasure lest you miss it. Jack would always come up with these things. He had been favored with gifts of startling beauty and magic in his life and he saw it as his job to rummage in his collection and share these gems with all who presented themselves. I was one such lucky soul. Here are a couple of shots that I grabbed of his visage while we were out talking and enjoying the cultural richness of New York City. Somehow it strikes me that Jack probably continues to enjoy his journey.