For my dharma sister Chris, may Milarepa lead you on your journey
From Milarepa’s Departing Aspiration Prayer:
Those undertaking hardship for the dharma’s sake
Build up merit far to great to tell
Those who inspire others to take up this call
Their kindness stretches far too far to tell
For those who hear of this austere way to live
Blessings gather far too high to pile
These are three qualities beyond all measurement
And through the blessings of these three may merely hearing set them free
By merely wishing may their wish come true.
May every creature down to the smallest worm
Fall in to samsara never more
For each and every one without a single one left out
May I be there to lead them on their way.
With much love,
Chris, I’m totally shocked about hearing about your transition. Babe, I will do practices for you for the next month. You helped me a lot when my best friend passed. It bothers me that I did not know what was going on for you. You were a good teacher to me…and you drove me crazy with your precision but that is why I knew when I gave you a job I never had to think twice about it. We were both in love with the animal and natural world and I hope that KTGR be in your mindstream as you move through the bardo. HEJKR is surely practicing for you as well. -Cheryl Foreman
Chris, my roommate in Boulder in the late 70’s. Many years later, when both of us ended up living in the Bay area, you always referred to me as your roommate as I did you. You had disliked living in Boulder and always sung the praises of Berkeley, saying that you felt you belonged there, so I always imagined that you were happy to be back in your natural habitat. It strikes me now that in some way, you were a uniquely Berkeley person devout, radical, informed, scholarly, deeply quirky, an environmentalist who worked with Judi Bari, a lover and liberator of animals, a journalist, a Tibetan translator, an expert on all of the practices. Isn’t it the way with a death that now I’m thinking of the conversations I wish I could continue to have with you about our difficult fathers, current politics, and what’s become of Vajradhatu/Shambhala. You were always kind, warm, self-deprecating, kvetchy, tough, insightful, funny, and utterly genuine and you will be widely missed.
Chris was an inspiration for me for her stories about her Marxist parents and her own concern for social justice, for her not buying into the superficial trappings of Western capitalist success, for her awkward and quirky genuineness, for her brilliance and love of language, for her straight shooting, for her disciplined practice, and for her unwavering devotion to the Vidyadhara. She was human, she was funny, and she was a steady presence and force in the early days of our sangha in particular.
With Chris, you never quite knew what might happen. I remember in the 1973 seminary, that Chris had a longing for something sweet to eat. In response her parents sent her a gigantic—I mean like a foot wide and a couple of feet longchunk of carob (not chocolate, alas). Chris place it on her leg and stabbed at it with a big knife to break off a piece, but instead, she stabbed herself in the leg! Although she had a knife stuck in her leg, there was no big fuss or drama simply a trip to the doctor for stitches.
My husband Chuck told me a Snow Lion story about Chris, who was in charge of salads. He parents sent her a rather ridiculous shirt covered with vegetable pictures, which she took on as her uniform.
On the surface Chris was a real dork, but lurking below the surface was a brilliant and dedicated true practitioner of the dharma. An example of what it means to be without pretense.
Although in recent years, I have not been in close touch with Chris, I am sad to see her go, and appreciate having known her in this life.
Good-bye Chris. I have missed you since you began fading away after your diagnosis. You were a good friend through many years of sharing not only our mutual passionate loyalty to the Vidyadhara (and resistance to the changes wrought after his death), but also our mutual passionate love for animals (especially cats!) and wild nature. There have been few close students of the Vidyadhara, that I know of, who have walked the double path of the Trungpa dharma and environmental activism with equal devotion to both sides, or I suppose we could say it was equal devotion to both heaven and earth. You were my closest sister in that, and I loved you for the intensity of your caring about all the injustices that we railed about with each other. At the same time, you were also a diligent practitioner and scholar, as others have noted, perhaps more diligent than almost anyone else I knew. I think you must have accomplished a great deal in this lifetime – more than meets the eye. So I have no worries about your journey at this point, and I feel confident that we will meet again. I will look for your great, pulsing, compassionate heart for all beings. -Suzanne Duarte
Chris and I bonded eternally on the first draft committee of the Rain of Wisdom as the only (but not lonely) two women translators. We laughed together at the men who had just come down from the ‘mountain’ (translators from RMDC) about their lack of etiquette/social skills/ and dirty socks. I will for ever remember her smile and warmth and intelligence. -Cathryn [Kate] Stein Abato
Speaking of Chris Keyser
Chris was a straight shooter with the heart of a proud and caring lioness. She was both a shining example of the type of person attracted to Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche from the onset, as well as an enduring lineage holder of Trungpa Rinpoche, replete with the qualities sculpted into his students through his teachings, their assiduous practice, and high voltage devotion and connection to lineage. She carried that indelible combination of qualities in Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s original Western students: razor-sharp critical mind, unassailable devotion, and tremendous wit and humor.
We all face that frightening prospect in our demise of having our body placed before a shrine, before which people then capsulize us in eulogy that may at very most reflect mere shavings, if not distortions, of how we ourselves lived and felt in the totality of our lives. And we can say nothing about it. It always seems tender yet incredibly presumptuous to talk about a person in the presence of their corpse, about things never coalesced so to their (our) faces in life. The only saving grace is the reassertion by the Vidyadhara that “we cannot attend our own funerals.” Yet I risk it, as something should definitely be said about Chris, because she was such a definitely good person, practitioner, and example.
I remember Chris from the earliest days of the Vidyadhara’s presence in Boulder. We would sit one-day sesshin together (before nyin-thun was coined) in the Vidyadhara’s living room/shrine room in Four Mile Canyon. The first time we talked, she confessed she had thought I was Japanese! A good deal due, no doubt, to my still being a Zen student, choosing, with the Vidyadhara’s acquiescence, to sit facing the wall while everyone else faced out, and in strict zazen posture. (I eventually got lonely, and turned around). We then launched into topics of mutual interest which were to shape both our lives for years to come. Thus began a friendship and camaraderie with Chris which would last onward until now.
We practiced together as the first death in our sangha, Melanie, baptized us into stark impermanence, sitting with her body for three days in the Vidyadhara’s living room/shrine room. We then went together to staff the Snow Lion Inn, a hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where 15 or so of the Vidyadhara’s early students went to operate a ski lodge belonging to Bill and Emily Hunter, and prepare for what was to be the first Vajradhatu Seminary there in Teton Village. Rinpoche visited there once for a week or two, and we shared the delight of dining daily with him, and visiting Yellow Stone National National Park, where rather than being awestruck by natural wonders, the Vidyadhara simply stepped out of the car at each stop, clicked a single snapshot, and reentered the car, with no evidence of the least enthusiasm…a Tantric parody of the American tourist! Throughout those early days at the Snow Lion, and together in the same sangha contexts over the years, as well as later when we spread out over the globe, that original group shares something precious from those days. No matter how long it had been, when I communicated with Chris over the years, it was as though we just picked up from the last sentence of a conversation at the Snow Lion Inn in 1972.
Chris was always utterly open and committed to dharma and practice, but just as ready to be challenging, critical, and on the spot with no nonsense. She was an intensely political person, fervent in her convictions. She would make occasional remarks about a situation or person that, in a wry scarcity of words, would capture something with deadly accuracy and piercing humor simultaneously. She accomplished two ngon-dros, starting the first before anyone had been given ngon-dro transmission, with the go-ahead of the Vidyadhara. She sat in the first row of cushions at the first (1973) Vajradhatu Seminary, right in front of the Vidyadhara’s chair, and never hesitated to ask very direct questions to the Vidyadhara, in her sometimes halting yet utterly sincere and probing style. She never let awkwardness prevent her from being boldly inquisitive.
We were fellow members of the Nalanda Translation Committee. We shared a passionate appreciation of our extended Tibetan lineage family and the power of language and the written Dharma. We, as did the entire translation committee, felt a deep resonance and kinship with the Vidyadhara, with Lama Ugyen Shenpen, with Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, with Karmapa Rigpe Dorje, Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche, Thrangu Rinpoche, Tenga Rinpoche, and so on…the entire immense lineage tree in living presence before our very eyes and ears! Chris endeavored to connect with our lineage relatives and teachers at every opportunity. She was also a dedicated professional journalist. She blogged, years later, the first visit to America of His Holiness Karmapa Ugyen Thinlay Dorge, and her lineage fervor flared up in great flames of eloquence. She was so much in love with the Vidyadhara and our lineage, and she practiced Dharma, writing and service fervently with that love!
Though Chris and I shared similar or common sentiments and views, sometimes we found ourselves at odds. Once, I remember, it was over whether it was “OK” to have her beloved cat with her on retreat at Dorje Kyung Dzong or whether it was a distraction! But I always relished the times of being at odds with her, because she was so revealing and striking in her opposition. She was a superb debate opponent and friend in the same moment. She could irritate, illuminate and endear in the same exchange. We should cultivate such debate in our community and lives using her model. Now I know that Chris having her cat with her on retreat was itself a practice of pure compassion and care. She won that debate!
My last communication with Chris was recently, on the Sadhaka Talk website. We shared a common dismay with how much the Shambhala Intl. organization is obsessed with money…relentless fundraising, the emphasis on practices for attaining wealth, and so on. And the neglect or removal of much of the Vidyadhara’s teachings and immensely powerful spiritual and temporal endowments to us. It seemed to fulfill all that the Vidyadhara warned about in his prelude to the Sadhana of Mahamudra, and his relentless teachings on the perils of spiritual materialism. One cannot speak of Chris truthfully without acknowledging her immense disappointment in and critique of how the precious and powerful legacy of the Vidyadhara has strayed, and her precise and incisive communications about that. And her relentless loyalty in continuing, with other of the Vidyadhara’s students, that legacy and lineage. It is better to take her honesty and forthrightness as a model for emulation, even if one does not agree with her. If you haven’t listened to her before, listen to her now.
Some years ago, Chris almost died in a car crash in India, on the same road that Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche died in a car crash. In retrospect, it seems like a strange act of karmic devotion that she endured a crash in such similar circumstances and on the same road as the one on which Jamgon Kongtrul died. I have no doubt that if Chris had had the opportunity to have been a ransom offering to save Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche’s life, she would not have hesitated. She lived on, though, with Jamgon Kongtrul and the vital practice lineage alive in her heart. This is a sliver or two about Chris Keyser, close heart disciple of the Vidyadhara, close Vajra sister, exemplary yogini of the practice lineage, scholar and translator, vajra journalist, enduring embodiment of the Vidyadhara’s teaching, love and immense insight. If she were able to hear such utterances, she would not hesitate, I’m sure, to challenge some or all of of it. I only wish I could be the willing victim of such challenge, one last time, replete with her immensely good-hearted wit and insight. We don’t have to wish Chris any kind of good journey…her heart is the heart of the lineage and the Vidyadhara, and that journey is always complete.
from Clarke Warren
May 13, 2012
Another sad day has arrived for the Nalanda Translation Committee with the passing of our dear friend, Chris Keyser. As one of my oldest friends in the sangha, I’d like to offer just a couple glimpses into her life and our early friendship. While we remained in touch periodically over the last decade, since the times we spent together at programs with Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, others will have to provide a more comprehensive view of her life, and I hope we can all hear more.
It was during my college years that I first connected with and eventually met the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I lived in Ann Arbor, and I did not know any other Buddhists there, so the element of sangha developed elsewhere, mostly at Tail of the Tiger and the New York Dharmadhatu, places I went for seminars during the summer and school vacations.
Seminars in those early days usually afforded the opportunity to have a private interview with the Vidyadhara, and I remember seeing him twice during my first visit to Tail. I think it must have been during that first visit that I met Chris. During the morning work meeting, where daily jobs were assigned, there was a request for someone with a car to take a person to St. Johnsbury to see the doctor. I volunteered, after which I was steered to Chris, who was the person in need of such transportation.
In the ten-mile journey to St. J, it seemed that I learned everything there was to know about “the scene,” our communitywho was who, doing what to whom, and why. Chris was simply a downpour of information about all and everything, evidencing keen awareness, discrimination, and loaded with humor and affection, along with occasional thorny irritations along the way. It was simply amazing and wonderful. Here was a group of people that were not trying to be holy or special (though of course we were the chosen people), filled with what later would be understood as passion, aggression, and delusionrelatively unpretentious and ordinary. This was a far cry from the scene around Swami Satchidananda, with whom I had studied hatha, raja, and japa yoga. It was a huge relief, providing additional certainty that I had come to the right place at the right time.
As anyone who knew Chris in those days knew, she was one of those rare people who cared to know all/most of what was going on, and she shared it willingly and enthusiastically. This was not just gossip, though of course those elements were included. It was part of the pith transmission of sangha, community, caring about and for each other, and seating oneself squarely in the midst of the enlightening chaos that was our inheritance as students of the Vidyadhara.
The ten-mile return journey proved that there was no limit to what could be known, and I reveled in the new-found family I was obviously joining, like it or not. I loved it, and Chris was a huge part of why.
I remember asking Chris about what it was that happened in Rinpoche’s bedroom, the second-floor right-front-corner room of the old farmhouse. Clearly a number of people assembled there every night with Rinpoche, and all sorts of enticing sounds emanated from time to time. How could you not be drawn to this; but it was terrifying to imagine what it might be like to enter that space.
It must have been later that week that Chris did a most amazing thing. I was coming out of the bathroom, just down the hall from Rinpoche’s room, and I saw Chris standing somewhere near the door. We said hello or something innocent and, before I knew it, Chris opened the door to Rinpoche’s room, pushed me inside, and quickly slammed the door closed. She had in one stroke pushed me through the looking glass, or some kind of portal. My life was never the same thereafter, and I remain deeply indebted to her genius and daring, and most of all, her friendship. It was one of the kindest (and scariest) things a friend could have done.
Chris and I both went on to become founding members of the Nalanda Translation Committee, beginning in the mid-1970s. She had a natural aptitude for language, and in subsequent years she became a journalist and excellent writer. One of her early translation projects was “Intensifying Devotion in One’s Heart: The Supplication Crying to the Gurus from Afar'” by Jamgön Kongtrül the Great, first published in the Vidyadhara’s book Journey Without Goal.
As others have noted, she was a dedicated, serious, and enthusiastic practitioner, always among the first group to become tantrikas, sadhakas, or whatever the next step was. Raspberry (aka Dorje Root, one of Chris’s best friends in the early Boulder days) and I drove Chris to what was to become Dorje Khyung Dzong in Southern Colorado, where she accomplished the very first retreat on that property under our ownership, though not quite under our possession, as we had to deal with a fellow named Abdul and his girlfriend who were squatting on the property, renegades from the Libre commune next door.
Of course there’s more to that story, as there often is, but I’ll stop there for now. The stories are endless, and Chris was a master story teller. May they continue to inspire and awaken us all.
I put Chris Keyser’s name on our prayer list out here in Little Rock. But how would you ever explain how precious she was to people who never met her Still, they will be faithfully sending her their best wishes for weeks.
On the day I moved away from Berkeley, Chris came by to walk my dogs. She said she was concerned about their distress at leaving the only home they’d ever known. As the movers carried my life out the front door, Chris and I sat in the back yard talking. She asked me all about the details of my drive to Arkansas and my plans for settling there. It wasn’t until I was halfway across Texas that it dawned on me: She’d come to help ME, not the dogs! I never dreamed that would be the last time I saw her.
In an email not too long ago she told me that she felt like an incredibly lucky person. If so, we were lucky together.
She was utterly unique and inspiring. The truest, kindest person I ever knew. Surely, surely, we will meet again. -Cheryl Woodard
Dear heart friends of Chris Keyser,
Our unique, special Berkeley yogini most precious sister-of the-heart Dharma Treasure friend, Christine Keyser, has left this life for her next great adventure. She made a peaceful exit on Thursday May 10 at 6:50 am Pacific Time following a very calm night.
There are no words for our and the family’s grief and loss and heartbreak. Even though we knew the time was near the news is still shocking. Tsoknyi Rinpoche recently visited Chris and reminded her (and us) to remain in the Nature of Mind; that this body dies, but that the natural primordial luminosity remains. What will Berkeley be without our Chris’s kindness, wisdom, knowledge, compassion, boundless generosity, curiosity and kvetching — Henia Miedzinski
To The Noble Sangha,
Chris Keyser was a very dear friend. I am so saddened by her passing especially since I never knew she was ill. Chris was one of the best vajrayana practitioners I have ever met. She had a pure yogi heart with great devotion to her guru and the dharma. We got to know each other during sangha retreats at KCL for Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche.I often saw her when visiting Berkeley. Once during a Werma Feast Chris brought me a gigantic organic zucchini from her garden which I brought back to NYC and cooked in my kitchen. It was one of the most delicious meals I ever had. We sat next to each other in Seattle in 2008 for the last day of the 17th Karmapa’s visit and she enthusiastically told me about her blog for the visit. Often misunderstood by sangha, this saddened her very deeply. If there is a dakini realm surely there is a seat waiting for Chris there. Love and remembrance for a beloved vajra sister, — Rochelle Weithorn
It is with sadness that I experience Chris’s death.
Here is a brief offering to our dharma sister:
Once a roommate
She kept to herself,
Yet always met us with her smile.
Brilliant, foxy, and always curious.
May you meet with our guru
And dance the dance
That you sooooo know how to move.
Love to you on your journey.
— David Sanford
Please give Chris my love, as well as my undying gratitude for our long friendship and good fortune to share our guru’s world together. I’m sure we will meet again in his retinue. With best wishes, — Larry Mermelstein
I am very sad not to be there at the sukhavati to pay tribute to such a wildly wonderful dakini. Even though Chris and I were the odd couple in terms of physical appearances we shared a deep bond around our genuine love of our gurus and our practice. Her knowledge of the teachings was profound and there is no one who can replace her. I offer a deep bow — a few bunnies and kittens — and might as well throw in some organic root veggies to our precious sister.
Yours in the dharma
— Sheila Sabine
I’m on my way to the cushion to send warm aspirations for Chris’s journey through the bardos. Chris, a true bodhisattva, will be back. Humans and animals will benefit from her love again. How fortunate for us to have been touched by this precious human being. — Deborah Lafferty
Chris was such a special one – I loved her brilliant translator mind mixed with her true love & care of the earth and all its inhabitants.
She will be missed!
I imagine her journey forward will be a very good one. — Kristine Ellis
Please know that I am holding Chris, her family and all who are close to them, in my heart and practice . . . With much warmth at this poignant time, — Richard Reoch
Chris “fractured” conventionality. Her sensitivity (and action) to the suffering of ALL sentient beings was extraordinary. With Breaking Heart, — Jerry Chapman
I wish Chris love and strength in her continuing dharmic adventure. She will be greatly missed. Loving regards, — Lucille Celestino
I’ve been traveling with Chris in my heart as I began to realize that the day we said goodbye just before I left for New Zealand was the last time we would see each other. I feel very sad and very far away for a time like this. She was such a unique jewel in this precious odd sangha of ours. I’m glad she left her mark on the Berkeley shrine room floor. An enduring dot in space and a fitting memorial to her love for animals. Much love. — Jesse Miller
I had a vivid dream about Chris last summer that I shared with her. I was leaving Trungpa Rinpoche’s court in Boulder and Chris was approaching, coming up the Colorado flagstone walk. I was very happy to see her and we hugged each other. When we hugged Chris passed right through me. It felt like she had a transparent luminous yogic body. We hugged — or merged — in this way, rotating to each of the four directions. As we did this, Chris whispered in my ear “you should be practicing the “Gurugarbha.” (Yes Gurugarbha, not Guhyagarbha; it was a dream.) I so appreciated Chris as a direct link and guide to our Guru. — Sandra Ladley
Thank you, Chris, for the many many sukhavatis you did for so many beings, including my mother. — Diana Wolfbear
We, at Gampo Abbey, send condolences to Chris’ family and friends. We will include her in a Sukhavati here. May she have a peaceful passage and auspicious rebirth in which she continues to benefit many, many beings! Your in the dharma, — Shiwa, Office of Practice, Gampo Abbey
Chris was one of the first people I met upon moving to Boulder from Wisconsin early in 1972. Shortly afterward she guided a visit to what is now Shambhala Mountain Center. I remain grateful for that introduction. Last summer she was here in Crestone but I understood she was not well and so we did not meet. I am not much of a practitioner in the formal sense, but will keep her, affectionately and respectfully, in mind. — Bea Ferrigno / Drimed Chodron, Crestone CO
Dear Chris, It has been wonderful for me to have your friendship in recent years. I think of you fondly and always will. I send you profound love and best wishes for your journey now.
Your vajra brother, — Bill Karelis
I join our sangha in sorrow and joy. May Chris’ transition be filled with that primordial luminosity, and may she continue to benefit many beings.
With deep appreciation, — Faith Miller