Tribute to Marvin Casper

Please keep Marvin, his family and legions of friends in your hearts


Following is a letter from Chuck Lief, President of Naropa University dated February 10, 2020.

Dear Friends,

We received the sad news that our treasured founding faculty member Marvin Casper died over the weekend. His death was unexpected and arrangements for a memorial are just being formed.

Marvin played a central role in the founding of Naropa University. He met our founder, Trungpa Rinpoche, in 1970 and, together with fellow student John Baker, edited Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism and The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation.

I met Marvin in 1970 when we were both exploring the most unlikely karmic unfolding that led two young American Jews to Vermont, where we made the life changing connection to Trungpa Rinpoche. Marvin played a central role in the founding of Naropa University. Marty Janowitz, Naropa Interim Board Chair and our first executive director in 1974, recalls:

In 1973 Marvin and John engaged in a series of provocative conversations with Rinpoche about an idea to create a school where Buddhist teachings around wisdom, compassion and enlightened action could mix with Western intellectual and artistic traditions to spark new perspectives in learning, Buddhist in foundation but intentionally open to those of all faith traditions or others who worked with mindfulness and compassion outside a religious frame. -Marty Janowitz

They imagined a unique and radical shift in how higher education could marry intellectual, personal and spiritual development. With Rinpoche’s encouragement, they developed the concept of a 1974 summer institute to launch this experiment, and reached out to a diverse and eclectic variety of prominent artists, scholars and poets as faculty.

In late 1973 and 1974, Marvin played a primary strategic role which ultimately attracted more than 2000 students from June to August. Marvin went on to be a founding faculty of Naropa’s contemplative psychology program and its core Maitri Space Awareness training, developed in close collaboration with Trungpa Rinpoche.

As Marvin put it in January 2000 in the (now called) Lion’s Roar Magazine “We were certainly aware that we were proposing a unique and radical departure from what higher education was like in America. There was no school in America that focused on personal and spiritual development as the root of the educational program. The tradition in America was developing people through the intellect.”

For the 46 years since our launch, Marvin was a beloved teacher at Naropa and, to me, embodied an exceptional ability to hold true to the founding vision while evolving his teaching to meet the emerging challenges of the times.

In response to a request for comments from faculty colleagues, Professor Lauren Casalino, both a student of Marvin’s from 30 years ago and a longtime faculty colleague, offered these recollections:

Marvin was a shape-shifter, one who could relate with and manifest all the Buddha family energies. His wisdom and his compassion, words so often used they can seem meaningless, were palpable qualities when one was with him. Two weeks ago, he was deeply considering how to put in writing the need for humankind to live with more humility. In the face of my expression of despair around the climate crisis, and my view that we were going to go down and to take a lot of other life with us, he said ‘not necessarily – as long as there is life, life has the potential to manifest in more caring ways, precarious though these times are’. I felt and knew he spoke truth, once again helping me relax, opening me up, pointing the way forward. -Lauren Casalino

Generations of Naropa students had the good fortune of working with a genuine scholar-practitioner, and a person whose commitment to the learning and experiential journey of his students was unmatched.

Please join me in keeping Marvin, his family and legions of friends in your hearts.

Warm Wishes,

Chuck Lief

Please post tributes to Marvin here.
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Lee Weingrad
4 years ago

This past weekend I had dinner with Bill Indich, seeing him maybe for the first time since 1973. Along with Marvin Casper, and John Baker, Bill was Ming the first generation of Trungpa Rinpoche’s American students. The three of them were involved in the purchase of Rocky Mtn Dharma Center, Marpa House and the creation of Karma Dzong our Boulder meditation center and capital.

There are not enough words in any language to express my debt to them and particularly now to Marvin. We should have a room somewhere where we can memorialize their contributions so we never ever forget our debt to them.

Hellen Newland Koerber
4 years ago

Marvin was a magic teacher, he could manifest and fill the whole room with each of the five families so it was palpable and one understood it from experience right in that moment. Amazing man! I am glad to hear what he said: 'as long as there is life, life has the potential to manifest in more caring ways, precarious though these times are’ Wonderful reminder. Thank you Marvin.