Tribute to Amy Bajakian

Mom was inspirational and dynamic. She covered a great breadth of ground from serious scholarship and brilliant insight, to unbridled silliness and self effacing humor.

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Amy Bajakian was a long time student of the Vidyadhara, Trungpa Rinpoche, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, and Shibata Sensei. She attended the 1986 seminary and was a dedicated practitioner of Vajrayana disciplines including Vajrayogini, Dorje Kasung, Kyudo, and later, her studies with Khenpo Tsultrim over several years. She was a creative and devoted benefactor of many things Shambhala, from the community room furniture at the Boston Shambhala Center, to the Sakyong’s gold bell and dorje set, a lineage treasure which she personally commissioned from a master metalsmith in Greece who is connected to practitioners there. Amy also served on the governance board working on establishing a new Shambhala center in San Francisco.

Amy was very generous in offering the use of her large and lovely home in a “lha spot” overlooking the Bay Area. She is specifically acknowledged in the foreword of Turning the Mind into an Ally; she hosted Sakyong Mipham at her home numerous times, including the retreat during which he worked on that book. She also hosted numerous local and regional practice retreats at her home.

Amy’s husband Vince, a pre-eminent investment fund manager, had also been curious about and open to Shambhala; they visited Shambhala Mountain Center together in the 1990’s. They raised two sons, who are married, and Amy was grandmother to 4 children. (Vince died suddenly in a small plane crash on Long Island in 1995.)

Amy’s sukhavati was held Saturday September 8th, 2012, in her living room, with her body present, mostly undisturbed since her death during the overnight hours the day prior; her sons, their families, and numerous Bay Area Sangha, attended. It was a loving and spirited celebration of a life well lived.

Amy’s caregiver found a small spiral notebook which contained instructions about the after death experience; we do not know if these writings were notes she took from a teacher’s Dharma presentation, or her own inspiration. They are confirmed to be written in her own hand. These were read to her many times during her final days, and at her Sukhavati.

With sublime humor that faithfully reflected Amy’s spirit, the next page is either a grocery list or recipe for fusilli and tomatoes, which was served at the reception following the Sukhavati. Images of these pages are posted here for all to enjoy.

For reference, the attached photo of Amy was the one burned at her Sukhavati, and includes her beloved cat Petunia, who died a few a years ago. So she was also included.

With appreciation, respectfully submitted
Acharya Alan Schwartz
September 11, 2012

Dear The Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche,

My name is Clint Bajakian and I am Amy Bajakian’s second of two sons, currently residing in the SF Bay Area with my wife, Deniz, and two children, Lara 16 and Deren 13. I’d like to share some thoughts and remembrances about our mom to share a bit of her story.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Alan Schwartz whose dedication has been profound and inspirational at this difficult time for my brother, Kyle, me and our families. Once Alan learned of mom’s infirmity at Marin General Hospital some two weeks ago, he faithfully visited her every day, sitting with her, giving her strength and encouragement, speaking and reading to her. Afterwards, he performed the Sukhavati at her home with grace, providing invaluable guidance before, during and after the ceremony to help Kyle, me and others best understand and approach the occasion. And of course, a deep thanks to Alan for writing this tribute as well.

Secondly, I would like to thank Walter Fordham and The Chronicles of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche for hosting this beautiful and lasting tribute to our mom. It is poetic that your name and contact info, Walter, shows up in the spiral bound notebook referenced in Alan’s tribute.

Lastly, it is my privilege to thank the readers of this tribute and in particular those Buddhists who extended their love and concern to our mom at the hospital and in Sukhavati at her home — and indeed through decades past. Your respect for her and generous contribution of your presence and prayer helped convert a sad and poignant time into a powerful and beautiful one—one in which we held a strong sense of confidence in mom’s successful and peaceful transition. She had expressed some years ago the desire for Sukhavati, and Kyle and I are gratified to have done our parts to accomplish this and will always be grateful to Alan for his leadership and knowledge. She received a beautiful ceremony.

Mom’s story is an odyssey and adventure. Born in Ohio in 1930, and growing up in her younger years in Texas and Hollywood (Shirley Temple invited her to her birthday party), mom got the itch to strike out on her own and in the late 1950s headed to New York City. There she met her best friend for life, June, and June’s boyfriend (to be husband of 50 years) Bernt Rathaus, and the two of them introduced her to a young jazz trumpeter from Queens, our dad, Vincent Bajakian. Having two kids, my brother Kyle and myself, they lived near Philadelphia from 1959 to 1968, then in Concord MA near Boston from 1968 to the year of dad’s death, 1995. (Vin was killed in a private plane crash, flying alone in 1995). Mom lived in their home in Orleans Cape Cod for a few years (a few doors from Bernt and June), and then fortunately for us, decided to move out to the SF Bay Area in 1996 to be closer to our now growing family (Lara, 1996 and Deren, 1998). It was the Cape Cod home where Sakyong stayed and later the Tiburon CA home, first on the Belvedere lagoon then up the hill off Lyford Ave.

I will now depart from written prose to give a series of “bullet points”—random snapshot memories that I hold dear and that will hopefully sketch a brief picture of mom’s dynamic life and personality.

  • My family and I spent so much wonderful time with mom in her California years — spending most weekends at her lovely Tiburon homes and pretty much living there every holiday. It was always rich and dynamic having three generations all mixing it up together, cooking dinners, going out, boating on the lagoon in her pedal boat, hiking Mount Tamalpais, watching the New Years SF fireworks from her terrace, hitting the SF concerts and museums, and enjoying fine lunches and dinners out—her favorite enterprise.
  • We fondly recall Cape Cod from the 1970s-90s, with the Rathauses, boating, waterskiing, picnics on Nauset beach, driving 4WD vehicles with deflated tires out on beach loaded with picnics, drinks, towels, umbrellas and chairs…going to Nauset via boat, anchoring bow and stern, returning to discover the craft beached by the outgoing tide, picnics, swimming, sun and more picnics…and of course, plenty of tennis to go around.
  • Skiing in Vermont every winter, sharing a rental house with Peter and Anne Brooke’s family and three sons, Sam, Peter and John. Ski by day, cook and hang out in the house by night as a dual family.
  • Mom’s deep interest in classical studies leading to coursework at Wellesley College in early 70s. Her archaeological dig on Cypress was shockingly cut short by Turkish bombardment and a US Navy helicopter /aircraft carrier rescue. After being stowed safely below with her fellow archaeologists all in semi-shock, leave it up to my mom to quietly produce a bottle of Greek Ouzo stashed in her emergency bag for all to enjoy.
  • Amy loved to entertain, to cook and prepare complex and delightful dishes—she applied the care and precision that she did in her arts and crafts projects. My brother and I are fortunate to have learned what we know of cooking from her, and perhaps more importantly, the principles of cooking and food combination.
  • Mom loved to recount a story of her early art study about her art teacher who kept lecturing her to ease up on precision—to be more free and loose with her materials. One day grabbed a charcoal study she’d been laboriously working on and just tore it to shreds in front of her. He declared it worthless as it was too literal, too precise. I believe this was an early lesson in impermanence! Nevertheless, she appreciated the lesson and thought it worth passing on.
  • Mom skied and skied aggressively. We were in Switzerland in the 70s (the 70s held a lot of adventure!) and she was terribly sick, the doktor prescribed large pills that she had trouble swallowing—and her tongue turned black! The black tongue confounded the doctor, he must have seen it as a life threatening calamity, or his big break in the scientific community. The revelation that the pills were suppositories explained the effect. Her next doctor’s appointment was actually taken last minute by my dad who, after a violent ski wipeout of mine (9 years old), while leading me gallantly through a washboard of moguls —”Follow me, son, I’ll get you down the mountain!”—fell and broke his arm (I skied past). Mom’s existing scheduled doctor’s appointment that afternoon was most convenient for my dad to hobble into.
  • Mom’s favorite TV show, and ours, was Monty Python. We expended considerable effort importing their brand of humour into our household with perhaps the most diligent practice being mom’s placement of random non-hat objects on her head as makeshift hats, especially done at social gatherings and holidays. A gift box with ribbons hanging down would make for perfect Christmas morning headgear, rounded out with silly expressions and funny accents.
  • Mom read voraciously, her library is not only immense, but she’s read all the books in it. Her interests were classical studies, ancient history, music, art and painting, and of course, Tibetan Buddhism. Prior to Alzheimer’s, she read the New York Times cover to cover and filled out the entire crossword puzzle every day. Her mind was powerful and she used it with great expressivity and insight

Mom was inspirational and dynamic. She covered a great breadth of ground from serious scholarship and brilliant insight, to unbridled silliness and self effacing humor. In this way, she always kept you guessing & on your toes. You simply couldn’t be complacent with mom as she’d call you on it, and somehow tweak your funny bone, or plunge your mind into some new thought you’d never imagined before. She would challenge you, teach you and poke fun at you all in one simple turn of words or actions. Through all the traversals, her love for us, our dad and everyone in her life shone through at all times. And her love of activity—getting out there and doing, experiencing—was a profound inspiration for Kyle and me. It helped us develop our appreciation for the world and its many arts, cultures, and histories. Her love of learning and dedication to scholarship is something for which Kyle and I will always be grateful. We’re very proud of mom for all her many walks of life, especially her loving leadership as a wife and mother, and her devoted practice in the Buddhist Shambhala tradition. May her journey continue with love, radiance and joy.

With appreciation and gratitude,

Clint Bajakian
September 17, 2012

The Biography of Amy E. Bajakian

by Amy Bajakian
Tiburon, CA

I was born in Cleveland, Ohio.

My mother, whose father was a world-famous author, chose a Czechoslovakian immigrant as my father. But by the time I was two years old, a marital mistake was acknowledged; and my mother and I left to join my aunt in Hollywood. I never saw my father again.

My new father was a dashing Canadian aviator who worked for Lockheed Aviation, a company socially in touch with the movie industry. My most vivid memories of this period were:
(Best) Being invited to Shirley Temple’s birthday party. (Worst) My mother not letting me go.

The golden days ended and we moved to Texas where I was plunked into Ela Hockaday’s School for Young Women. (The tune for the school was “On the Road to Mandalay.”) Except for wondrous days on the ranch in West Texas, swimming in the Guadalupe with cottonmouths, riding horseback in the hills with rattlers and copperheads, helping the ranchers and dancing with cowboys…things began to go downhill.

My parents divorced after twelve years, leaving my mother and me quite poor. However, I managed to get a B.A. from SMU in applied arts and architectural and interior design.

My first job was with the then-only Neiman Marcus in the display department decorating seven windows once a week—a wonderfully challenging and creative experience.

From there it was the Big Apple—made possible by a shoebox of savings and a roommate. I helped edit the Episcopal International Magazine, until an opening came up for an assistant merchandizing editor at Conde Nast’s Glamour Magazine. When my boss left Conde Nast to become publicity director for fashion designer Anne Fogarty, I followed as her assistant.

Then I met my husband and we were married in NYC. After our first son was born, we moved to Philadelphia, where my husband went to work for Wellington Management Company. After #2 son was born in Bryn Mawr, Wellington soon merged with a group of young investors in Boston.

And so we moved to Concord, Ma. There I enrolled in Wellesley College’s new Continuing Ed department in order to study Classics and Classical Archeology. I joined a Harvard dig in Cypress that was working to uncover the temple of Aphrodite. In a few weeks, Turkey began bombing the island, we were airlifted away: first to Beirut, then Teheran, then home.

Then I became a Buddhist.

It started with a yoga class in 1985, taught by Persis McMillan, one of Trungpa Rinpoche’s first students. She sent me to the Boston Dharmadhatu where accomplished dharma teachers convinced me to do a dhatun in 1986. Afterwards we were privileged to be able to serve Rinpoche. This meeting opened my mind and changed my way of life. Sheer determination and auspicious help swung me into the ’86 Seminary, where three magical months unfolded. Then the Kalachakra with Kalu Rinpoche.

Then Rinpoche died.

Endless sadness / endless joy:

Shambhala teachnigs, D. Khentse Rinpoche’s teaching and empowerments, Ngedon school, the Sakyong’s Empowerment, Vajrayogini Abhisheka, Kalapa Assembly, Fire Pujas, the Stupa not to omit the faithful Kasung, the Sakyong’s teachings and his book.

When Khenpo Tsultrim Rinpoche met with Vajradhatu to learn what teachings Trungpa Rinpoche had given us, he commented,

“He has given you everything.”

My Mother’s Books

Over the course of her life, my mother amassed such an extensive library that some sort of catalog system might well be in store. Books overflow all the customary places in the house. They line kitchen counters, fill drawers, occupy every available cabinet, and are neatly shelved in back rooms and closets. Magazines like Architectural Digest and National Geographic on display in the bathrooms are optional reading. Others like Tricycle, Buddhadharma and Bodhi lay on the coffee table and her nightstand.

Amy was not easily satisfied with overviews and generalities. Actually, she really had very few “passing” interests. When Amy was curious about something, she dove in completely. Her modus operandi would often be to study the history and usually the art history of a culture; to learn the basic grammatical structure of its language; and to then pack her bags and travel to the epicenter of its mythology and explore from there.

Take her interest in Ancient Greece, for example. Scanning the titles in one stack there’s:

Homer’s The Iliad,
The Companion to Homer,
The Catalogue of Ships in the Iliad,
The Mycenaean’s,
Greek Mythology,
A Greek-English Pocket Dictionary,

Various maps of Athens,
The Blue Guide to Greece

When I was in 4th grade we travelled to Greece as a family. I remember seeing the Parthenon at night; playing in the original stadium in Olympia, hamming for the camera in various track and field poses; being treated to a special glass of fresh-from-the-teat goat’s milk by an old farmer who lived in the mountains near Delphi; just a few of the benefits of travelling with Amy. About 5 years later, she was off to Cypress on a solo trip to work on an archeological dig that brought its own adventures.

On another occasion she went to Italy to do research for a novel she was working on. It was based on a true story about a conman’s staged discovery of an “ancient” Etruscan statue that the MET took hook, line and sinker and proudly displayed it in its foyer. Amy recalled seeing it on trips to the museum when she lived in New York back in the 1950s.

In another shelf:
French cooking;
Macrobiotic cooking (Amy studied with the master himself, Michio Kushi, credited with introducing macrobiotic and natural-foods movement to this country);
Shakespeare’s plays;
Books on Shakespeare;
Alice in Wonderland;
Books on Alice;
Winston Churchill’s autobiography (4-volume set)
On the Road (re-print of Kerouac’s original teletype manuscript)
Evelyn Waugh’s literary works;
Books by Carl Sagan, Stephen Hawking;
Pogo comic books…

Amy’s energy powered a huge curiosity about the world, and what lies beyond — an almost childlike curiosity—wonder, in the deepest sense. Perhaps that is the greatest gift she leaves: a call to be curious, to wonder, what would it be like—and to explore.

– Kyle Bajakian

Happy October 28 Birthday Amy!

Words could never adequately express my heartfelt gratitude to Amy, her family, and friends, for our journey together. All of you have touched my life in a way I cherish. Though I miss all of you, I’m comforted by faith that Amy’s non-physical being lives on. On behalf of Angel, LJ, PT, and the other kitties fortunate enough to have found their way to Amy’s door, thank you from them too. We will always love you unconditionally.

With sincere respect, love, and appreciation, to Amy, her family, and friends,
Janet Coppini
Amy’s Assistant
October 28, 2012

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