Henry Schaeffer, an early student of Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, died on May 4th in San Francisco, California where he had lived for the past 30-40 years. According to his close friends, Henry had been in decline for about six months. He had lost significant weight and admitted himself to a Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Francisco on March 27th. At that time he was found to be severely anemic, but other tests showed no pathology. He went to the hospital for further tests, and asked to lie down for a few minutes before the tests began as he felt fatigued. He then died suddenly.
Henry the Storyteller
As a storyteller, Henry had the ability to convey past events with rich visual detail. Here are two examples.
Thank you to Bill Scheffel for this interview
Henry Schaeffer, Cloud of Dharma
Everytime we met
You reminded me of Rinpoche-
What a jolly good job you did of that
I first met Henry as a part of a trip to examine land for purchase in Colorado (RMDC). Later shared a house with him, anchored by Howie Klein on 9th street in Boulder in the 80's (I think). What a treasure to know, practice and party with Henry for a time. Henry shared many Trungpa Rinpoche and Susuki Roshi stories with us. What a beautiful time, what a beautiful person.
Until soon old friend....
Here is a link to photo made of Henry with VCTR, maybe 1971, in Colorado mountains on a search for land.
After a talk in Los Angeles in March of 1974 I asked Rinpoche if he could come to Santa Barbara to give a talk. "I'd like to very much," he said, "But your will have to ask my secretary, Marvin Casper."
"Rinpoche is booked for two years." Marvin told me. "We will send Henry Schaeffer."
Henry drove down from San Francisco and we planned a weekend workshop. When the day arrived, 40 people showed up. Henry taught meditation and gave talks on the 8 fold path. It was wonderful, but after the program was over, I asked Henry, "Meditation is hard. I don't like it. Do I have to do it in order to be a student of Trungpa Rinpoche?"
"Yes you do." he told me with gentleness, fearlessness, and firmness. He was so kind. Through out my life I have remembered Henry's advice with gratitude.
I'm remembering the time in the early '70's when Henry and I shared a car going from Karma Dzong (called that in those days) in Boulder to San Francisco for a Seminar that Rinpoche was giving at the San Francisco Dharmadatu.
He announced, in a matter-of-fact-way, that we should stop at a store and pick up a bottle of tequila. But the bottle had to have a worm in it.
He was very business like in the entire matter - we went from store to store until we found the bottle with the worm in it. And this seemed to be how Henry approached most things - in-a-matter-of-fact-way. He always seemed to be enjoying himself in his same self assured way. Thanks Henry for being you, unique in your own way.
I was in Boulder with Rinpoche when he received the call that Suzuki Roshi had passed. The first thing he did was ask us to call Henry. When he got Henry on the line he simple said Suzuki Roshi has died. No small talk, no attempt to soften the news. It was a very raw moment for Rinpoche.
Henry was a treasure of stories about Trungpa Rinpoche and a regular presence at the San Francisco center.
As most who knew will say, he always told great stories and insightful questions at dharma talks. Years ago when we were moving the San Francisco center from Taraval Street to its current location, Henry told me stories of all the previous locations for the center with a small anecdote or story for each.
Recently i saw Henry at a Wednesday night dharma talk. As usual, he had a great anecdote about Rinpoche and how it related to the talk given. Afterward he was immediately surrounded by people eager to say hello.
How fortunate we were to have his presence at the center. Henry may your journey be happy and fortunate; and may the Vidyadhara's voice find you wherever you are.
I remember him coming over from Pulahari House in Boulderto talk to us Guru Maharajites next door in a building that later turned into a Naropa building for awhile. I'm not sure if he made any sense but the wild late night parties over there did wake us up! (his party probably isn't over yet!)
Henry was something of an eternal presence for me...until now, of course. I'd go to a breakfast joint in Boulder in the 70s; there was Henry eating eggs and reading the paper. I'd go to Karma Dzong; there was Henry. In 1979, I made my first trip to San Francisco with Howie Kiein and we met up in a cafe with Henry. Every Shambhala Day in San Francisco, you'd find Henry holding forth with one or several of his stories about the old days with Trungpa Rinpoche, often with some salacious or fascinating detail I'd never heard before.
Henry loved to dance. I found him rocking out by himself in clubs in SF during the 90s surrounded by people less than half his age. He said they looked at him with "What are you doing here, Pops?" in their eyes, then threw back his head with one of his almost-too-long gulping laughs. For the last couple of decades, I'd most reliably see Henry at Martha's Cafe here in SF where he went at couple of times a day to read the paper.
Good ole Henry. One of those rare people that was utterly predictable and utterly surprising at the same time. Love to you wherever you are, probably reading the paper.
I probably meet Henry in the mid-1970s, but didn't really get to know him until 2004, when we met at a program at SMC. He was such a lovely guy -- perceptive, devoted, and full of great stories, which he loved share. We'll miss you Henry. Check out the Henry Schaeffer page on Cuke.com