16 October 2014
When I first met Karl, as I recall it now, he was a rather scraggly fourteen year old with cherubic blond hair curling to his shoulders. We hung out together on 57th Street, the designated street for the hip druggie teens in our racially mixed, complex Chicago neighborhood where we sprawled on the sidewalk, drank coffee in the Medici Cafe, and ducked into the park at the end of the block to partake of the stashes we’d hidden in the bushes. Karl was quite shy and reserved, but one day he approached me confidently and happily announced, “I’ve discovered alcohol!”
Because I stayed friends with friends of his sister, a few years later Karl ended up on my couch for a month in Boulder in June of 1974 where we’d both come to attend Naropa Institute and meet Trungpa Rinpoche. Karl stayed stoned all month, but soon became a dedicated student of the Vidyadhara, and, like so many of us, renounced pot in favor of booze.
While he delved deeper and deeper into Buddhist studies, Karl also attended the University of Colorado. He studied music, history, and western and Chinese astrology. He attended the 1980 Seminary, quit drinking, and after the Vidyadhara’s death, became a devoted student of Khenpho Tsultrim Gyamtso. He made several trips to India and Nepal to attend teachings while always remaining deeply connected to his roots in Chicago as well as in Judaism. He practiced fiercely, understood the first noble truth in a deep way, and was drunk on the dharma.
After several years in Boulder, Karl moved to Portland, Oregon where his mother and sister lived. Most of our contact in the ensuing years was by telephone during which time Karl suffered a number of severe health crises. When his sister and then his mother, with whom he was living, died, Karl was left rudderless and increasingly isolated.
Despite these challenges, compounded by depression, Karl at all times retained a vibrant intellectual curiosity, delving passionately into everything from gypsy music to Middle Eastern history; a love of movies; a wry, ironic sense of humor; and also a sweet kindness. He shunned some, yet loved fiercely. He was completely genuine and unpretentious.
The last time I spoke with Karl was about a month ago and he was probably the most cheerful I’d ever heard him, reporting that he was doing well. I will miss his sharp intelligence and wit coupled with a soft, tender-hearted gentleness, his gravelly voice at the end of the line saying, “Barbara, it’s Karl.”
Karl Dorinson, Tharpa Lodro, passed into the light on October 6, 2014, dying of “natural causes.” Having known Karl since 1974 when he came to Boulder to join all of us on our quest to wake up with Trungpa Rinpoche, we had the last 40 years to travel together as brothers in the material and spiritual worlds.
Karl stayed in Boulder until Rinpoche died, then went to study and practice in Nepal. We had some adventures there over the years that were well worth the remembering, and he also returned there earlier this year for Khenpo Rinpoche’s 80th Birthday celebration.. He studied and practiced with Khyentse Rinpoche and others including Tenga and Khenpo Rinpoche.
Returning to America he studied with Khenpo Rinpoche until his death. Karl was not always the easiest person to get along with but he will be missed.
His last message to me was on my phone message “Hey Higgins, just called to see if you have transcended your hangover and achieved enlightenment.”
Trungpa Rinpoche once said that Karl was “one of my yogis.” Karl died in an unpeopled valley in peace (aka downtown apartment in Portland.)
Go into the light Karl, with love.
Karl was a Chicago guy, and you could hear it in his voice. I remember a night with him and several other colorful Buddhists….Pam, Kevin, and others at the balcony bar at the Boulderado. We were hammered, and Karl appreciated the performance. He had an acid wit…very Chicago. He was a brother and a great Buddhist. -John Tischer
Yes, It Is Better (for Karl Dorinson)
Woke up woozy after
a night with my Polish
friend fiend … had a hit
of hair of the dog, and
yes it is better, my head
is not hanging over me
like a basilisk in a
hurricane … it’s ok to talk
about this because I’m not
in AA, and I have no where
to turn … for what (he asked,
quizzically) except back to
To Karl and thank you Barbara,
I could not have said it better. It contained the humanity which was Karl. His eyes, his eyes, a smiling slyness…which I knew knew me, in someway better than I knew myself. Thanks for your amazing portrait. I’m in Portland at this moment and wanted to take him to dinner tonight for some good Lebonese when Howie told me what, from my living point of view, was a very sad loss. I ate dinner alone, with a new deep sense of aloneness. I wish I knew him better. -David Ternlund
Although I am not positive (since I never knew his last name), I think I met Karl in Nepal. The photo here looks like him in any case.
In Kathmandu, we hung out together quite a bit. I don’t remember how I came to meet him but we often rendezvoused at the Bir Restaurant and Bar, around the corner from the stupa. One day I remember he announced, “I do not freak out!” At the time I assumed he was referring to his sitting practice. And now I am able to think, “freaking out is not necessary.”
And even though we hung out a lot, I would not say I knew Karl except in the most passing way. He was an interesting character to me. An unusual person.
I wish I had known he was in Portland.