Tribute to Binny Clarke

We just received word that Binny has passed on, quietly and peacefully in his home in New Boston, NH.

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Dear friends, we just received word that Binny has passed on, quietly and peacefully in his home in New Boston, NH. Janet Romaine, his siblings, as well as his caregivers were with him. – Diana Evans

***

We (Jim Rosen, Emily Weidman, myself and two other students) were at dinner with Kilung Rinpoche when I got the text from Mary that Binny had died. We immediately told Rinpoche about his passing and all about Binny and played Rinpoche some of his music. I asked Rinpoche to do some practices for Binny. Rinpoche also suggested we do Vajrasattva practice for Binny.

After dinner I shared with the rest of the retreat group the news of Binny’s passing. Many of the students here are long time students who all knew Binny.

At the start of his teaching this evening Rinpoche wanted a man and a woman to chant the Heart Sutra. We chose two students who knew Binny. As we all chanted the mantra I had this overwhelming sense of Binny and that we were all practicing for him.

We are in this wonderful silent retreat studying Dzogchen and all practicing for Binny. Many of the people here know Binny. We might even do a Sukavati for him here one evening, once we know what the Sukhavati schedule is.

May he dance with his guru.

Ilona [Anderson] and the retreat crew in Hingham.

***

Farewell my Roommate and drinking Buddy of Kirkland street, in the days when we were young and free of doubt.
My Meditation instructor and confidant of 40 years, almost to the day we first met at Hillside.
My Ambassador to gentler realms I would have never imagined.
My Shipmate in the Purnachandra, Tibet’s Navy-in-exile. Argh!
My Implacable adversary against whom I’ve hurled my cynicism of karma and the afterlife.
My Search Engine before Google, our friends encyclopedic mind of reference as in “OK then, let’s ask Binny”.
My most erudite Etymological Companion as we riffed over phone and email tracing meanings among the root languages of Ancient Greek, Latin, French and Sanskrit even.

We were fortunate to have a lucid parting moment extending into the 3 times. This during our makeshift pagan rite offering libations to being BFF’s—(The hospital nurse was not too happy with the spilled rum on the non-absorbent, yet sacred, linoleum floor).

I sign off with our favourite goodbye quoting Baudelaire who after describing some ineffable depravity of the incarnate spirit would wink at the reader saying: Salut mon ami, mon semblable, mon frere.

Gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate…

-Stavros Cademenos

***

A siddha of divine love and compassion
manifested in form beloved by the guru
moon in ocean
vast, spacious, non-ending

In form smiling, drinking, laughing
gentle, drunken space

The manifestation has not ended
although sadness is always
in the heart

While enlightened mind exists
it dwells here as a siddha
timeless and in love

“You are so beautiful to me”

Commodore John

***

I knew Binny in the early years of Boston Dharmadhatu, and, more recently, the past few years we’ve had a friendly e mail relationship, exchanging music, thoughts and poetry. Binny was a great student of the Vidyadhara, and always asked great questions when we heard Rinpoche speak. His humor was always at the forefront. I’ll miss his mind.

New England Warrior,
you were a good friend to many people.
You got the message from our guru.
You were a gentle leader.
Our exchanges were always delightful
and informing.
See you in the rainbow.

-John Tischer

***

Dear Binny,
Now freed of your chariot
But still lifted by the insight of your dharma songs,
May you meet the mind of the guru joyfully and unfettered
Like the true daka you are.

-Linda V. Lewis, May 30, 2016

***

Although we knew each other when he was the Ambassador of the Boston Dharmadhatu, Binny and I became friends during our summers at Karme Choling for Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche’s programs. He had a winning smile and a beautiful voice. His Song of Paldarbom became one of the favorites of the Milarepa Children’s Chorus and when I called to tell him how much the children love singing the song, he was so happy. The day after he passed, I had a vision of Binny soaring high up into the Dharmakaya leaving behind the constraints of this physical body. An amazing human being, a great practitioner and singer of dharmic songs, he is now singing and dancing with his guru. Love to you dear Binnyxo

-Rochelle Weithorn, NYC
milarepachildrenstheaterandchorus.com

***

I live in India, far away from Boston or from memories of years past. Yet the other night for some reason I thought of Binny Clarke. From many years ago he came, out of the blue. just to say hello and I did not know why. i admired Binny so much, He was a school mate of mine and a good kind light.
Its funny I never noticed his chair, He always seemed to stand tall.
A moment of deep sadness then on to some practice for Mr Clarke. SPS, class of 1962. That is all there is to do.

-Spero Latchis

***

Casimir and I were heading out to Boulder, CO from the Karme Choling area in Barnet,Vermont. Chogyam Trungpa was giving a Milarepa film workshop there and we decided to attend. Binny Clarke was driving out to Boulder at that time and we did a ride share, learning how to use hand apparatus for gas and brakes. There was such a wonderful delight being with Binny in those open and mobile days as we joked & had serious discussions driving cross country. A ‘mensch’ of a man, a warrior of a man…may there be peace, joy & equanimity in your journey now / love, Ish [Stephen Futral]

***

Next life may you attain a birth in the pure realm and be happy
dancing with the dakinis, bathed in clear light wisdom.

Should the karmic winds blow you towards another
human birth, may you become a son of the sangha in a
body with great intelligence, strength and physical perfection.
May music follow you.
May the flower of bodhichitta bloom unceasingly.
May you know the fullness of your faith.

And may you always practice dharma
and benefit beings.

Jolly good luck,
-Deanna

***

At the end of the three days in New Boston, the old warriors who were present – Chris Pliem, Charlie Trageser, Janet Romaine, Diana Evans, Jim Katz and Chris Magnus, also sang the anthem to Binny and had a very quite Ki Ki So So, before the funeral home came to take away his body.

Being his friend was so ordinary – dinners, drinks, hanging out, playing board games, that one forgets how extraordinary a person he was.

May all beings be happy.

***

I first met Binny around 1978 and so often these days those forty years ago feel like another life time. Exceptions happen and when I saw the announcement of Binny’s death and the tribute posted on the Chronicles of CTR. I suddenly felt the years dissipate…

There have been hundreds of people that I have met over the past forty years. Binny left an indelible impression. In a flash I had no problem remembering conversations we two had as if they were yesterday. We first met when we both lived at the Cambridge, Ma. Dharma abode on Hillside Ave. I was very young and spry back then and I could easily leap, prance and skip over Binny’s wheelchair ramp. Now in retrospect as my own dexterous days have dwindled, with less body mobility and at a more mindful pace I ponder at how truly advantaged Binny always was and at how askew my perception of being fully able was back then.

Bodhisattva like was an anthem in which Binny could easily have spun circles around almost all the hundreds of people I’ve met these past forty years. I remember so well Binny’s remarkable wisdom, his compassion and his uncanny ability to be present in the moment. I remember how Binny no matter what was happening listened intently and how much he loved mischief !

Binny, I’m counting on your ability to hear me now… I never had a chance to thank you enough nor to let you know how your kernel of Buddhist compassion grew within me. I sincerely regret not having had that opportunity. May your reincarnation be a swift one. I would wager wherever you go and whoever you embrace they will benefit by your tender consciousness. I wish you the best of continued spiritual journeys and I certainly look forward to meeting you once again.

-Tamara Berdofe

***

Winfield Shaw Clarke – In Memoriam

By Bill Karelis

I spent 5 years serving as Binny Clark’s legs, so to speak, while in Boston, from 1978 or so to 1983, as the Co-coordinator of the Dharmadhatu. He was, famously, the “Ambassador,” leader of the sangha and its principal teacher, during this period. I worked with three different Co-coordinators during this time and subsequently was asked to move to Boulder, Colorado, to help repair the finances of Vajradhatu and Nalanda Foundation.

Little did I know when I left that the Boston organization was actually more highly evolved than the much larger Vajradhatu organization in Boulder. The Vidyadhara said to me privately, “Dharmadhatu has become more sophisticated than Vajradhatu.” In Boston we had a brilliant crew of administrators, leaders, teachers, meditation adepts, many of them admittedly misfit geniuses on a certain level, and all willing to get the cosmic joke, as the Vidyadhara phrased it. Somehow Boston had become a shining star in the Vidyadhara’s firmament, growing from 40 to 140 members in 6 years, acting as the first or last host stopping-off place for the tours of the XVIth Karmapa and HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and just plain brilliant in its own right. For instance, we acquired a space on the top (6th) floor of a building at 711 ½ Boyston St. in downtown Boston, above the administrative offices of the Boston Ballet, overlooking Copley Square. We uncovered skylights in the ceilings and redecorated, and made a true palace of the shrine hall, with its red floor and 200 + person capacity. When we lost the place at the end of the extension of our lease to an architectural firm that paid four times as much, the Vidyadhara said, with his usual smile, “Interesting karma.”

To a considerable great extent, the excellence that the Boston Dharmadhatu reached during this era was due to Binny’s presence and leadership. The Vidyadhara wrote a poem to him upon his retirement from Ambassadorial service, proclaiming that “somehow” Binny had attained victory. I always found Binny to exercise the best of Buddha-family leadership—that is, without his doing much at all (and yet with great aplomb), everything worked vibrantly and effectively around him.

Binny in turn wrote a birthday poem to the Vidyadhara one year: “Happy Birthday from Boston, home of the bean and the cod, where the Cabots speak only to Lowells, and half of the members are odd.” You might have to be a New Englander to understand this joke. There is an old saying, referring to the bluebloods who have run Boston society and much of its business for 400 years, which ends, “…where the Cabots speak only to Lowells, and the Lowells speak only to God.” Apparently (according to Binny), the Vidyadhara did not laugh at Binny’s nonsense verse, I never quite knew why, but I assumed because it was not dignified enough and somewhat self-deprecating. However, I thought and still think it was very funny—maybe that’s one New Englander amused at another New Englander’s improper sense of humor. Binny himself laughed when he recited the verse to us.

Part of Binny’s charm is that he was usually self-deprecating—although not always. He was not averse to holding his own among haughty company when necessary, with quiet grandeur and elegance.

Binny’s family hailed from New Boston, New Hampshire, from long before the time of the American Revolution—that is, he himself belonged to the aristocracy. The house was full of Queen Anne original antiques in perfect condition—a museum, basically. His family was fraught with tragedy. For example, his father drowned at the age of 39 trying to save one of Binny’s siblings, and Binny himself, 6′ 4″ tall, was paralyzed from the waist down when the Jeep he was driving on a mountain road in his home town rolled over on to him. He was 16 at the time. He took me to the spot of the accident once and said, “A big Mahakala lives there.” He described the post-accident scene to me. He was lying under the turned-over Jeep, with police, medics and others milling about. He said there was gasoline all over the ground, and people were standing there next to it, smoking. He was trying to warn them. To me, this was Binny’s awareness in a nutshell. He often remarked on near-disaster or very difficult situations with this kind of peak clarity, anguish and helplessness.

He had encyclopaedic knowledge. You could ask him about anything, and he would have something intelligent to say. You could ask him how oysters procreate or why the moon looks fuller when it is closer to the horizon. He always gave the impression that he had studied and contemplated deeply on whatever the topic of the conversation was. I don’t know if he had really or just sounded like he had, but in any case, he never uttered fabrications, and he always educated those around him. On the other hand, he would sometimes respond to complicated inquiries with a joke of some kind. I believe this was one of the secrets of his victory—he never took himself or any of us or any impending disaster too seriously. He had known a lot of depression and had worked with it, especially through meditation practice.

I remember one visit I made to New Boston to see Binny and his redoubtable mother, Rhoda Shaw Clark, who lived to the age of 99 and died in 2011. We used to joke that she would outlive us all, and she nearly did. Binny, his sister Cathy, and their mother and I had supper (to use the New England vocabulary for the evening meal) together on one of the antiques, using the family silver, about ten years ago. Binny cooked steak and everything else; he was also a fine chef. I toured the house, as I liked to do, and as they liked me to do, noticing the Harvard grads going back numberless generations, with names that were some variation on Binny’s: Winfield Shaw, Shaw Clark, Shaw Clarke Winfield, etc. That night at supper Rhoda drank us under the table, although we were all robust drinkers in those days. She started us with vodka tonics, then, naturally, wine to suit the various courses at supper, port following dessert, as well as some kind of nightcap in the form of distilled spirits, if memory serves me well. I was so drunk I could barely climb the stairs, and Binny had been slurring his words for at least a couple of hours. Rhoda was in great spirits until—and probably after—we all retired for the night. After her husband’s passing, Rhoda Shaw Clarke ran the local newspaper for13 years, an unusual position for a woman in the middle part of the 20th century.

I think Binny practiced the Dharma more extensively than almost any of our generation. Of course, he never left his wheelchair, except to lie down, and so he was rooted to it; he chose to use it formally as a meditation seat. I once asked him how many Vajrayogini recitations he had done, and he said after the 3rd or 4th million, he had stopped counting. I am sure this was another of his secrets to attaining victory. His formal practice provided conducive conditions for uncovering substantial equanimity when the rest of us were flying around, trying to enjoy Samsara, imagining that we were sufficiently blessed by having discovered the Dharma or by virtue of having the Vidyadhara as our root guru. Binny knew for sure there is there is nothing like that to hang on to, as well as nothing to lose, and therefore he developed the kind of renunciation where “rock meets bone in insight,” as the saying goes in our lineage. At the end of his life, the cartilage literally had given way in his once-massive shoulders, owing to decades of wheeling around.

It would not be a complete encomium if some mention of Binny’s endurance were not made. His physical condition was so difficult it is hard for those of us with more complete faculties even to imagine the pain he dealt with on a daily basis for his whole adult life. The last period was marked by year-long stints in the hospital where he could not turn on to his back due to bed sores. I never heard him complain once about his disability, the pain that accompanied it, and the uphill he faced just to exist.

Binny’s spoke in simple, pithy phrases—as Yankees are wont to do. I was privileged to interview him towards the end of his life, where this ability is clearly evident. The interview will be published in the next few months.

About our time together in Boston (which ended when I left in 1983) and his time there in the subsequent decades: we truly loved Binny, and he truly loved us. He accomplished much, and we accomplished it with him. He rose above the fray in terms of maintaining the integrity of the Dharma even at the most difficult times, and in so doing he kept his own integrity as well. He was a true New England, American revolutionary Shambhala warrior of impeccable mien, great erudition, profound practice, humility, soft accurate words and, to use an adjective he loved, “sparkling” ziji. He will be remembered long.

Bill Karelis
Venice, Florida
May 30th, 2016

***


This song was written by Winfield “Binny” Clarke in 1992. It’s performed here by the composer in 2013 in a lower key than in the sheet music. The mp3 file and the sheet music (vocals, piano and chords) are available for free download at: http://winfieldClarke.com/29november.html

Published on Jan 2, 2015; Lyrics loosely adapted from the translation by Garma C. C. Chang and set to music by Winfield “Binny” Clarke. Duet performed with Suzann Duquette. The mp3 and sheet music can be downloaded for no charge at: http://www.winfieldClarke.com. Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed)

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