Vivian Kurz

In the early days of Buddhism in the USA, women played a key role in establishing centers. And they had to be tough, and sure of their commitment, know how to make something out of nothing and create sacred spaces with little resources. The Tibetan Buddhist world owes much to Fran Lewis - that irreverent New York lady, the epitome of Governor Cuomo’s description of New York: “tough, disciplined, smart, united, and loving.” She was a pioneer; pioneers have to be one-of- kind unique, inventive, and very dedicated. She had the guts and vision with Tania Leontov (Kesang) to bring Trungpa Rinpoche to the USA, turn a remote Vermont farmhouse into a center that became one of the most beloved sites for our lineages’ teachings. I knew Fran in the early days of Tail of the Tiger (Karma Choling). I arrived there in 1970 to meet Trungpa Rinpoche after reading his book, and attend my first ever Buddhist teaching. Fran immediately magnetized me…she was totally herself. She was a breath of fresh air. I had just come from a “love ‘n light” yoga world and Fran instantly became my role model of how to be your own particular self, true to your own culture and also be open and utterly devoted to the teacher and the Dharma. She taught me how to work creatively with what was given with dedication and imagination. Those were the wild days when Vajrayana Buddhism first came to the West (see the photo of our community in the first Mudra magazine and you will understand the situation). Franny had a funny and pointed wit and great intuition about people. She had been Lenny Bruce’s assistant and that itself explains her sharp sense of earthy humor. With her beautiful wicked smile and flowing hair, she seemed to be able to roll with any punches. I was mesmerized by her and inspired. Franny took me and the elegant Sara Kapp under her wing. She created the environment at Tail helping to run and organize it (not that easy), tending to the many plants decorating the house, buying furniture and materials to create both a sacred shrine room space and a comfortable “sewing room,” and so on. She knew how to bargain and how to make magic with very little resources, creatively careful as money was so scarce in those days. Rinpoche loved her honesty, her smarts, her joy, and her pure devotion. She could be perfectly culturally correct with the lamas and act with pure devotion and still be herself, if you know what I mean. To the delight of the teachers. Frannie spent a lot of time at Shechen Monastery in Nepal with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. She loved the Shechen monks and, loyal as ever, she continued to send them annual donations for decades. Her heart was so full of love, her eyes twinkling with compassion. Earthy, honest, spiritual, caring, and stable in devotion, practice, and friendship. She was devoted to the very essence of the Dharma. And thanks to her and other pioneers who, alas, are fast leaving us, the teachings were planted and thrived. I will always cherish and be grateful to her.