Tribute to Kris Ellis

Kris was a foundational and integral part of the Shambhala Buddhist Community providing meditation instruction and serving as secretary to Lila Rich for many years. Kris also served as a meditation instructor at Naropa University and for the Dharma Ocean Sangha

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30 January 2014

Kristine Theresa Ashton Ellis of Boulder died suddenly, unexpectedly on Monday morning, January 27, 2014. It sent a shock wave through her daughter Tingzin’s life in San Francisco, in the Boulder Buddhist community, and in her wide circle of friends and family. Kristine’s address book was overstuffed; she was organizing a summer retreat for her college sorority sisters, had kept in touch with high school friends, and had deep friendships from her 38 highly active years in the Buddhist community, the Shambhala Center, and Dharma Ocean Sangha. She was deeply connected. You heard it in her infectious laugh and saw it in her generous attention to friends. She always came bearing gifts. What mattered most to her was her daughter Tingzin, her own spiritual journey, and family and friends. She was an avid genealogy researcher (both on the computer and traipsing around the country in her little car) and was very close to her cousins. Ashton was never part of her legal name — it was the name of her much loved grandparents and her mother’s maiden name. She just felt it belonged to her, too.

An only child, Kristine was born August 22, 1946 in Seattle, Washington to Marijane Ashton Bubb and Wesley Bubb. After their divorce, her mother married Bob Riegel when Kristine was a teenager. Her father also remarried and Kristine has two half-siblings in Seattle, Kathryn and John Bubb. After attending the University of Washington, Kristine married Russell Ellis July 13, 1968 and they later divorced. Their daughter Tingzin was born in 1973. They moved to Boulder in 1976.

Kris was a foundational and integral part of the Shambhala Buddhist Community providing meditation instruction and serving as secretary to Lila Rich for many years. Kris also served as a meditation instructor at Naropa University and for the Dharma Ocean Sangha. Additionally, Kristine spent significant time as a close attendant to Pema Chödrön.

Kristine worked at Naropa University as secretary to President Barbara Dilley in the 80’s and early 90’s, and in 2008, she proudly completed her degree in psychology at Naropa. Kristine was a teacher in every sense: a skilled life coach, an astrologer, a mentor, a master macrobiotic cook having studied with Michio Kushi in the 70’s. And did you know she held great renown among her lifelong college friends as the champion jitterbug/lindy-hop dancing queen— Kris taught and reminded us simply through her being, that we can be fearless and embrace life vigorously; that the world overflows with rich, interesting material and experience everywhere we look — so we should look; that life is fascinating, heartbreaking, and hilarious; that one should talk out loud to the screen at movies, and that we should talk out loud to each other with continuity, genuine interest, time and depth. If you spent time with Kris, most likely you learned something (or quite a lot) that was riveting, new, and amazing, and had a rollicking good jitterbug of a time while doing so.

-This short bio was prepared by Jessie Friedman with the help Kris’s cousin Marcia. It was written for the printed program handed out last night and posted on the Crist Mortuary obituary website.

***

When a friend called me and told me Kris had died, my mind gapped out. For a few minutes I did not register her name and the person, it was as as though I was hearing of the death of someone I had a very distant connection to. Wrong. . I realized today it is because I could not believe she was gone, it did not make sense. I was not her close friend, I was not in her circle of close friends. But whenever I saw her, at parties or events, she had a definite effect on me. I am not saying this because she is dead, I have noticed this for some time. She was warm, genuine, she actually registered who you were and arrived not at some preconceived appraisal of you, but met you in the moment, with a wonderful smile, sometimes wry and sometimes utterly accepting, and openness. She was, for me, not the kind of person at all who tried to establish herself as a “person of interest”, as, quite frankly, many people do, despite years of Buddhist training. Whenever I happen to have a however brief interaction with her, she was so reaffirming to me that the Vidyadhara’s heart had entered into others hearts profoundly, and particularly into hers. She was the expression of sangha itself, free of any “organizational” prerogatives. . . She made my heart more relaxed, confident, and assured that she and people like her are the actual continuity of the Vidyadhara and his lineage, the living proof! She brought all her many years and life of practice and devotion to the moment, and her smile always melted me in the moment…however infrequently I saw her. For all her close friends, you are so lucky to have her as your friend! I genuinely envy you! I hope I can talk to you about her, and derive from you more of the gold that she embodied. Now that she is no more, may her genuine warmth and sincerity, her honesty and meeting you in the exact moment, be an example and enduring love for us all! And may her pristine heart connection with her root guru command her encounters with further life! And may her wonderful warmth, despite major challenges in her life, or because of them, be a beacon for us!

-Clarke Warren

***

I lost track of Kris after moving to China over 22 years ago. That was not all that extraordinary, since time and distance and events after the Vidyadhara’s parinirvana, culled my friendships to many of our Karma Dzong sangha. But in the times when I’d come back to Boulder and I’d run into her, it was like “oh, Lee, wow” with a hug and kiss on the cheek. It was like nothing changed; no time lapsed, nothing missing.

We got to know each other early in 1980 after I moved to Boulder. We shared a house on North St. I especially remember the events surrounding the visit of His Holiness that summer. I took a break from being a gemstone merchant to cook at Marpa House for the visiting lamas.

One day at Dorje Dzong there was the preparation for a feast, a tsok. I remember talking to Bardor Rinpoche and just feeling like he was a rock star. Everyone was so star-struck, but I realized they were approachable, so I invited him to our house for dinner, the house I shared with Kris.

A few days later, seeing Jamgon Rinpoche –who was even more a rock star– I did the same. He said, “I can’t come for dinner. Is tea ok—” So he came over and we, Kris and I hosted him for tea. It was extraordinary, although 33 years later, I can’t recall any particular take-aways from either of those events, it wove our lives together in a deep and quiet way, a way that was part and parcel of Kris’s being.

Maybe these are the words of eulogy, but her poise, genuineness, bearing, openness, and a certain sense of shyness had never wavered over the years and now in hindsight, seem extraordinary. She didn’t cast a very big shadow and for that reason, and maybe for that reason alone, it’s a pity that she didn’t have a bigger role in the community, since her example is, at least for me, the kind of person I’d like to be.

-Lee Weingrad

***

Dearest Kris,

Darn! I was so looking forward to going to the Wild Animal Sanctuary with you, which I learned about from you on Facebook only within the last month or two. We made a date to go together when I get back to Boulder next month, and you were the first person I was going to call. I was really looking forward to seeing you. Boy, you sure left precipitously. It was shocking to hear of your sudden, unexpected death. Considering how many people know and love you, I guess you saved yourself a lot of tearful good-byes that a prolonged illness would have occasioned.

But, seriously, Kris, I am really very sad as well as chagrined that I didn’t get a chance to tell you how much you meant to me. Even though you and I did acknowledge to each other that we felt like sisters, in a family sense, even more than just sangha sisters, because of certain similarities between our mothers (who even lived in the same town!) — even though we shared that intimacy, I am still chagrined that I didn’t get a chance to tell you how special I think you were.

I think your specialness had to do with what Clark said in his tribute to you, which bears repeating:

She was warm, genuine, she actually registered who you were and arrived not at some preconceived appraisal of you, but met you in the moment, with a wonderful smile, sometimes wry and sometimes utterly accepting, and openness. She was, for me, not the kind of person at all who tried to establish herself as a “person of interest”… [S]he was so reaffirming to me that the Vidyadhara’s heart had entered into others hearts profoundly, and particularly into hers. She was the expression of sangha itself, free of any “organizational” prerogatives. . . She made my heart more relaxed, confident, and assured that she and people like her are the actual continuity of the Vidyadhara and his lineage, the living proof! She brought all her many years and life of practice and devotion to the moment. [emphasis mine]

That is so true, Kris. You were the essence of sangha for me, and apparently for many others. But having looked at your astro chart, I saw that you also channeled a strong Venus: you exuded love, intimacy, beauty and laughter. You seemed to always see with the eyes of love and compassion, even when people hurt you. And also as Clark said, you did have many challenges, serious ones like cancer and a closed-head injury, but you never lost your warmth and humor, which greatly impressed me.

Darn it, I’m really going to miss you when I get back to Boulder. I guess the best I can do is to follow your example of loving, laughing kindness and delight. And I hope to see you again, next time. May your current journey be full of the blessings of our guru.

Much, much love, Kris,
Suzanne (Head) Duarte

***

[On the sukhavati:] I’m so glad that many of us loved and enjoyed Kristine Ashton Ellis. John Weber was the preceptor and he closed the ceremony by telling this story and joke. John said he and Kris used to do Kusung shifts together (“she looked very smart in her black uniform”) and they would save up jokes and tell them to each other. So, John said here’s a joke for Kristine: ]

Two whales walk into a bar. The bartender asks what he can get them. The first whale says [and John Weber did a whale sound that continued for about a minute:] “WOOOOOOWWWWWWWOOOOOOOEEEEEEEEEEE WWONNNKKKKKWOAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAWOOOOO.” The second whale says to the first whale: “damn it Frank you’re already drunk.” [much laughter from the crowd…and you can just hear Kris laughing at this joke!

I knew Kristine from when we both worked at Naropa in the late 1980s and we met again recently. And she was a great liker on facebook. I agree with what others said here about how she lit up when she saw you. She always rose to meet you with no hesitation. She manifested the teachings that many of us studied and practiced for years to develop in hearts. Kristine had authentic presence. She had a big heart.

So. I wrote a poem for Kristine and I read it at the ceremony. The photo that Kristine and I talk about in the poem is the photo of Kristine with George Ramsey that is posted on Kristine’s Chronicles page.

A Good Photograph
(by Elaine Logan, January 29, 2014, Boulder, Colorado)

You who never did anything wrong in your life.
You did nothing wrong this time.
You did everything right, just the way you should.
You called your good friend at the very last.
You talked to Bill and you heard his good voice.
When you fainted on the stair, life lifted you up and death cushioned your fall.
You did everything right and you floated off like a bubble.
I remember I met you in the church when Emily flexed her fingers and played piano for us.
Each note injected joy into our lives.
And we felt it.
You smiled at me and we said to each other: let’s get lunch, let’s get coffee, let’s go for a walk.
That’s how we felt when we said hello.
I smiled back and said let me take some shots of you.
When I showed you the photos, you said, that one. I like that one. That’s a good photograph.
And that is a good photograph because you smiled real big and you lit up the room.
Now, today I am here for our date.
I am happy to see you and to sit with you.
And I hear you too.
I hear your laughter in the shrine rooms.
I see your smile as I climb the stair.
You lived this radiant life.
You passed many happy days.
Here in this building,
You shed light on us.
And you left in an elegant release.
Today I celebrate you,
Kristine Ashton Ellis
Joybringer.
-Elaine Logan, January 29, 2014, Boulder, Colorado

***

I last saw Kristine a few Sundays ago — she came over to watch the Broncos playoff game. I texted her later to come over for the Super Bowl. I never heard back. Kris died on Monday. It snowed all day. Some Buddhists consider snow flakes like blessings. There may be more blessings as we speak.

I, like others I’m sure, wonder what I could have done to save her life. As if I am a life saver. I guess firemen save lives, but there was no fire here. Kris got sick, and died quickly, and now she’s passed on as they say, and we’re here, saying goodbye. Looking at our own lives. In my case, wondering about how I held back from being a braver (being brave) friend with Kris, who I considered like a sister, but without all the baggage family carries with it. She was so much fun to be around. She could find the humor in anything. I’m sure she could find the humor in this service.

I first met Kris in 1977 when she was working at Karma Dzong and I was in Boston at the Dharmadhatu, running the mailing list for brochures.. We had endless discussions over the phone how we were going to publicize ‘the life of Milarepa’ and other dharmic topics. We talked zip codes.

We met in person in the early 80’s when she and I worked for Lady Rich. Kris had a job at the Kalapa Court — Rinpoche’s kusung, where she had to show up every Thursday, no matter how she felt. Trungpa Rinpoche her teacher, mirrored her state of mind back to her. Not always gently. It was probably one of the most difficult things she ever did, and the most rewarding. I remember the beautiful, spectacular wedding she had to David Mann at the encampment one summer, officiated by Trungpa Rinpoche. Married a man in uniform. Unfortunately, it didn’t last.

About 7 or 8 years ago, Kris and I would drive down to Crestone Co together to meditate with Reggie Ray and the body. I’d pick her up at her Pine St apartment and she probably carried 14 bags with her. I had a suitcase and a cushion. Reggie sat down in an interview with her, she told me later, and said ‘my aren’t you just the queen—’ She laughed in her very distinct Kristine laugh. A laugh that was unmistakable, that could light up a room. And then I’d drop her and her 14 bags off on Pine St. until the next time.

During one of those car rides she told me that she had gone to a Catholic boarding school at something like 4 years of age, and sat in the back row and kept quiet, scared to death. Her early years were not exactly a model of stability. Her father drove a red Chevrolet convertible with black leather bucket seats and console. He was a striking figure, slicked back hair. Very romantic. Not around much.

Mom was the queen bee. Formidable figure. Her family owned a house on a large lake near Couer De ‘Ilene Idaho if I remember correctly. Sold it for a good profit. Kristine went to University of Washington, and studied math. Very brilliant at it, saw the big picture effortlessly I was told by Russell Ellis, who came to the service. In the last dozen years she reconnected with her college sorority sisters, to her great joy. She also had family cousins that she reconnected with in Denver (several came to the service as well, and told stories of how family Thanksgiving didn’t really start until Kris arrived, always bearing gifts). It brought her joy to be connected. She was always connecting, and reconnecting. Connecting effortlessly, distancing, reconnecting. Maintaining connection was difficult for her I believe. We shared that. She had so much to offer, and she was so smart, and gifted, and joyful. After that Bronco game we talked in the kitchen for a few minutes about this and that, and she said that she continued to study with Reggie in Crestone, and was studying the Profound Treatise work with Judy Lief. I think I said that studying with Reggie helped me on my path back to Shambhala, and studying with the Sakyong. There was a moment that I realized that our lives had gone down different streams, in somewhat different directions, and I was aware of feeling so appreciative that our differences didn’t seem to get in the way of friendship. I’ve never met her daughter Tingdzin, but she spoke of you often, how hard it was for her that there was distance between you. I’m sure she might have been impossible as a mother. But she loved you very much. And we who are here, if I can speak for some, loved her, loved to be around her, loved what joy and humor she brought to our lives. Loved how we could pick up our relationship at the most unpredictable times, and have joy, and laughter, and the pain she didn’t dwell in, but wasn’t invisible.

She was as unpredictable in death as she was in life. No dragging things out. No standing around awkwardly, wondering what to say. She was always out there, didn’t hold back. Now, in this case Kris, you’ve done it. It’s done. Onward. We’re left in your wake. Your cheerfulness and humor continue to inspire me. Your basic goodness. May you have a glorious journey ahead. Ki Ki So So.

-Chris Randol

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