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With very deep sadness and an unfathomable feeling of loss we pass on the news that Michael Chender died at home, surrounded by family on Tuesday evening, July 2, 2019.
For those of you who knew Michael, you know what an inestimable treasure of a human being he has been over so many years, and what profound and unrelenting devotion he carried for the Vidyadhara, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, for Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, for the greater lineage of the Buddha, and particularly for the Shambhala vision of the Dorje Dradül, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
For those of you who did not know Michael personally, please know that he was one of the early students of Trungpa Rinpoche in the United States, and that his life has in many ways and through many avenues contributed directly to the dawning and establishment of the Buddha Dharma and the Shambhala teachings in the West. He was a loving family man, a dedicated practitioner, brilliant teacher, astute businessman, stellar administrator and leader, creative innovator, and so much more. Michael was a wonderful person, a grand blend of acute intelligence, great personal warmth, genuine care for others, an always present sense of humor, and invaluable friend to so many.
KI KI SO SO! Go well Michael!
By Clarke Warren
I met Michael in Boulder around the time Trungpa Rinpoche first came to Boulder, maybe before, circa the fall of 1970. To tell the truth, I can’t remember when or where we first met, but after that Michael was always a part of my life in a prominent way. We instantly became friends, and began a lifetime of mutual exploits and adventures.
Even when years and individual dispositions and karmic projectors meant we did not meet for extended periods, I always knew the world was a more interesting place because of his presence in it. I always knew we would connect directly now and then in a mutual nurturing and continuation. Sometimes a harmonious charged interfusion and sometimes a playful jousting, we always created delightful sparks. We always enjoyed the dance.
Michael and I created the first fundraiser for Karma Dzong in Boulder, It was a poetry reading at Macky Auditorium, circa 1971. We were able to invite and feature Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Robert Bly, the Japanese poet Nanao Sakaki, who came with Snyder, and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. That reading marked a dramatic transition, one might say, from romantic hippie dispositions to grounded Buddhist practice. It was also a first volley is what became a sometimes contentious relationship between Trungpa Rinpoche and some poets. And cemented a deep bond with others, such as with Ginsberg, Burrows, and Ann Waldman. After a very charged evening of poetry, each poet reading from their works in turn, at some point Trungpa Rinpoche put the meditation gong from the stage helmet-like onto Allen Ginsberg;s head. At first Ginsberg deflected Rinpoche’s attempts, but quickly then let it happen, and took excellent meditation posture with the gong partially covering his face. A meditation gong with a beard! A short time later, Rinpoche interrupted a very serious recitation of a Yeats poem by Bly, and ended the evening by proclaiming, “Please don’t believe what we poets say. We don’t mean what we say. Please go back to your everyday depression,” Michael and I were not so sure what we had fomented, but that poetry reading forged the spiritual road of Trungpa Rinpoche’s unabashed warning message about spiritual materialism right into the thick of American counter-culture and culture.
Michael and I were to have many more adventures together, as dharma brothers, in business (I worked for him at Metals Economics Group for several years), and as fellow explorers of the vajra world. In recent years, Michael, Jan Wilcox, and I conducted several classes together on the Ocean website,. We launched into what are some of the most non-conceptual teachings of the Vidyadhara, now in the form of books like Glimpses of Space (the Feminine Principle and E VAM), Glimpses of Sunyata, and Crazy Wisdom. We had a medium size but loyal following, and the sessions were vibrant…the teachings self-ignited into life in the interchanges. And Michael, Jan and I, having very different styles, nonetheless worked exquisitely together.
I knew Michael was a true friend when, on the all too frequent occasions when I did something stupid, he would let me know exactly what it was and not let me off the hook for a second, while never judging me, condemning me, or getting angry. He was my life mentor in giving precise and unequivocally honest feedback balanced with a natural equanimity.
In the first Garuda magazine, published in 1971, the earliest journal released by the Trungpa Rinpoche sangha, there is a photo of people meditating at Karma Dzong, which was then in Rinpoche’s living room up Four Mile Canyon. In the front row is Trungpa Rinpoche, the young Vidyadhara, sitting with good straight and relaxed posture and a slightly quizzical expression. To the right of Rinpoche, I am sitting, bearded and bespectacled, holding zazen posture from my then Zen affiliation. Behind Rinpoche is Michael, with a head of thick wavy hair and an intent yet amicable expression. How still we were, yet on the brink of the Vidyadhara’s adamantine explosion of spiritual energy and brilliance into the West.
So many stories, so much of what has made life delectable. Michael, I can’t pinpoint the exact day we met as young scruffy students, and now I cannot imagine life without you around. But you and I, we always were mutual connoisseurs of the unimaginable.
Michael, it is not only
that so many people count you as
a jewel of a human being, a mentor, a true spiritual friend,
but also that
the world really needed you. And needs you now,
As the world needs the daily dawning of the sun.
As the world needs the constant infusion of brilliant mischievousness.
As brilliance and mischievousness actually give rise to the world.
You were and are a brilliant and piercing ray
of the Great Eastern Sun.
A force of nature
With a twinkle in your eye
That reminds us again and again
To take things dead serious
But with great wit and humor.
Having no brothers, your departure is exactly losing a brother.
Having lost our mothers, we share the primordial mother of the unconditional cosmic cervix.
Having no origin, we dance on the razor edge of co-emergent friendship.
Having had to let go of our fathers, we proclaim the paternity of pure appreciation of our guru.
Having innumerable children, you proclaim unconditional love.
Having lost you, I proclaim the echo of unconditional missing you.
Knowing I am next some time sooner or later,
I proclaim the intention to track you down!
With no exceptions to mutual arising
of all beings and so-called things,
is the gap we never wanted.
May we all arise again and again, together,
From that gap!
My earliest memory of Michael is from a Khyentse Foundation meeting. Rinpoche had just announced a new financial goal that many in the room appeared somewhat taken aback by. Not Michael. He chimed in that the number in question was ‘an achievable amount that even young hedge fund managers commonly accumulate, so if they can do it then surely we - with the guru’s blessing - can too.’ I thought, wow, who is that guy?! What a “bad-ass!” Over the following years I got to know Michael more and came to regard him as one of the Crown Jewels of both sanghas. As others have noted, he was SO savvy (in the exact way I hear Trungpa Rinpoche and Kheyntse Rinpoche encouraging us to be in the world), and was also an amazing conversationalist with piercing intelligence, razor sharp wit and one of the most melodic voices one could ever hope to hear. Or, as another dear friend summed him up, Michael was a “mensch” (to which I replied, “Michael was an uber-mensch!”). Our last encounter was at a drupchen earlier this year. There we spoke for almost the entirety of one of the extended breaks. Among other things, we discussed Michael’s incredibly coherent vision for the future of Shambhala. I was left with the impression that so long as Shambhala had Michael, all would ultimately be well in that world. That’s how much confidence I had in this one man! I subsequently didn’t hear anything regarding Michael until a few days after he had passed. I will never forget reading the email announcing there would be a “sukhavati” service for Michael Chender. I immediately started screaming. Since then I have been weeping on and off for days now. While I am of course saddened by the thought of not seeing Michael again (drenched in sweat at a teaching in one of his trademark dress shirts and ties), what hurts most is the thought of all the beings who will miss the opportunity to be benefitted by him. I truly feel Michael was a “precious one” and I both celebrate his life and mourn his passing with all my heart.
The news of Michael's death went straight through my heart like an arrow, penetratingly sad, yet brilliantly purposeful. We were not close, yet his journey intersected mine and affected me in many ways. As early students of the Vidyadhara, we seemingly had little in common because Michael had apparently shown up already fully functional, articulate, elegant, and mysteriously confident - like a fish out of water, wearing a suit. What sort of creature was this, I wondered? I admired his statesman-like qualities and inscrutable cheerfulness, his fatherly insight, as well as his humility. In the mid-80s, I worked for MEG in Boulder for a year or so. Aware of each other's activities, we occasionally conversed and shared stories - once via Skype when I was in Sweden and then 2 years ago at the PT retreat in Maine. No, not especially close.
But when I heard of his illness, a relatively rare cancer, I could not avoid the eerie resonance I felt - for my mother had died of the same cancer. Only weeks before, he was kind enough to read my memoir and write a glowing review. Somehow we had moved closer. Attending the moving ceremony for Michael last night here in Boulder, which happened to take place on the 1-year anniversary of the death of my close friend Bill Scheffel, I could not ignore these many signals of karmic coincidence and blessings that Michael brought into this world and that I know will continue to flow from wherever he lands. I feel sad, but a good sad full of heartfelt gratitude and appreciation for his dedication and solid goldness.
The amount of time I spent with Michael was short in comparison with many of you, but the depth of sorrow and loss I feel is profound. This speaks to the quality of the man. I can’t imagine the world without him. Yes, go well, Michael.
Love to Julie, your daughters, and to all others feeling the loss of this remarkable man.
Michael was a classy guy. The world will miss him.
The first time Michael and I met we became friends. We discovered right away that we had the same unswerving life purpose. His came through a profound devotion to his teacher Trungpa Rinpoche and a desire to fulfill his final wishes, mine came through a personal revelation - but they were the same unusual calling – to build in Nova Scotia, of all the unlikely places in the world, an island of sanity and wisdom for the future of an increasingly troubled and darkening world. We didn’t decide to work together, it was just obvious that we should, and we did, off and on for the next thirty years.
In the first year of the first project we worked on, it was then called the Shambhala Institute, I witnessed Michael’s razor-sharp wit and luminous wisdom as they combined in a quick moment. He and I took on the task of checking out the local Art College as a possible venue for a large international event. One stormy afternoon, in very wet raincoats, we climbed several flights of stairs up to a huge high-ceilinged attic space with massive wooden beams built during the Napoleonic Wars. There was a class in progress seated in a block of chairs in the well-lit centre of the space surrounded by dark shadows. We listened to the lecture for a couple of minutes from the doorway. It was something about Surrealism. It was pedantic and uninspiring. I gestured to Michael and began to leave making some noise opening the door. Suddenly the lecturer noticed us and said with a slight undercurrent of aggression “Can I help you with something?”
After a two-beat silence Michael replied in a flat curt tone, answering a different question, “ Thought Police” then started to follow me downstairs. There was brief silence followed by whispered confusion in the big room. Michael turned and stepped back into the room and said in a reassuring voice “Don’t worry folks, there are no signs of that kind of activity here”. The room erupted behind him.
I knew from then on that keeping up with Michael was going to be a challenge and a profound, life changing privilege, which it was. Thank-you my friend for sharing your warm friendship and cool warriorship, for sharing your diamond hard commitment to Nova Scotia and thereby making my similar one seem almost reasonable in the process, and thank-you for your amazing spark. I am deeply grateful to have known you and had your trust.
Michael, travel well
Gracious and Audacious
I met Michael in the early 70s in New York, when he was running the Dharmadhatu on Fifth Avenue (which included being the landlord for some sangha members crashing there), but I really got to know him when I went to work for Metals Economics Group (MEG) in 1988. I did a four year-stint there. I won’t lie. I often found researching and writing about metals drudgery, but I came out of it with a deep friendship with Michael, and was asked to return many times to do work for MEG, frequently directly with him.
Michael did something alchemical with MEG, and he did it at least twice. He first took hippie buddhists and turned them into mining industry information professionals, and then in Nova Scotia he created a company blended from come- from-aways and Maritimers, some of whom actually knew something about mining before they came to MEG. One of Michael’s great legacies is how much employment and livelihood he created for so many people, how many careers he launched and boosted.
For Michael his buddhist understanding and his work interpenetrated. He believed that meditation sharpened your perceptiveness and made for good information handlers and editors. I still follow what I call the Chender Rule: When you’re reading something you intend to publish, whatever stops you requires investigation, and may need to be changed.
The signal feature of Michael at work, though, was his presence. He carried himself with a grace that I think he partly inherited from his father, and an infectious cheerfulness. When he invited you into his office, he most often made you feel like a colleague. I can still see him rising from behind his desk, striding over to greet me, and escorting me to the good seat at the circular glass-topped table by the window.
While gracious, Michael was also a no BS kind of guy, down to earth, and he could take any ribbing and teasing you offered. That’s how New Yorkers show the love. While mostly down to earth, he could drift off into an ozone of his own making, which is why it was great if Julie or one of his children could be around. They had his number.
Michael excelled at lunch. Though he liked good food well prepared, it was the ritual of it that he was so good at. A good conversationalist, the lunch didn’t drag on, but it was never hurried. He listened well, he scribbled his notes—always with the notes—and shared what was on his mind: sometimes brilliant, sometimes wacky, but never old hat. His mind was constantly generating, like a fireworks display. Sometimes you’d think it was at an end and then another blast of sound and light would spring forth. And yes, it could be annoying, sometimes more than you could handle, maybe more than he could handle.
Finally, Michael was audacious. He would stake a lot on a lark. And I’ll end with a little story that illustrates that. Michael concocted the idea of a Titanium Study (this is where Dominique, his indomitable business manager will cringe at the memory). I was put on the case. Honestly, I had to look up “titanium” in the dictionary. It’s mainly used as a pigment, to make things like lines on airport runways shine super bright, and it’s in kind of limited supply.
To make this study worth the huge price tag we attached to it, we needed to know the production capacity of the small number of titanium processing plants across the world owned by an even smaller number of producers. This information was closely guarded. After months of digging and prodding, I had nothing. When it was clear we were screwed, Michael sent me on the road. I would have to channel his audacity. Despite being in my early thirties and a total titanium neophyte, I would have to look like someone who knew something that you didn’t. Michael taught me that you don’t pretend to know something you don’t; you simply don’t make a big showing of what you don’t know. Lead with curiosity, learn as you go, fill in the blanks.
OK, boss, here I go.
My first meeting was at a conference in St. Louis. I had to buttonhole a senior British executive (in a Saville Row bespoke suit as it turned out) and persuade him to have lunch with me, try to get him to share his information, not let on how little we knew. On top of that, I had to persuade him that he ought to buy the study. I ushered him into a limo from the airport hotel the conference was at and took him downtown to the best restaurant in St. Louis, with a view of the Gateway Arch. Michael was in my ear the whole time, figuratively. I channeled his chutzpah.
Mr. Saville Row was way too canny, though. He did not budge an inch. No info from him and no purchase, but we got noticed: who are these guys from Nova Scotia?
Next and last stop, an actual titanium plant in Baltimore. Here I was to see the supposed guru of the titanium industry, the production manager at this producer, the person everyone said had the numbers. After my meeting with Saville Row, I was not optimistic, but Michael was still in my ear, ever cheerful. I arrive at the plant, ready to meet Bill the Guru, and they let me know I’m going to start with a plant tour. They give me a hard hat and before I know it, I’m wending my way through pipes and vats intermingling in every direction with people yelling over the din, in an impenetrable jargon. They think I know something. Michael in my ear: “Barry, you got this.”
The tour ends, I’m escorted into Bill’s office. After the small talk, letting him know how respected he is, etc., I ask for his numbers. “Sure,” he says. “I’m retiring. This is my last day here.”
I call Michael. After we share a laugh, he says, “Great,” as if he expected it, as if we had never been an inch away from it all going to hell. “Let’s get him up here. He’s our new titanium consultant.”
When I brought Bill in from the airport and into Michael’s office, he rose from his chair, strode across the room, greeted Bill warmly, and escorted him to the place of honour at the circular table. After some small talk and some big talk, we went to lunch.
Your intelligence penetrated
Your insight engaged
Faithful in hearing and elaborating
The subtlety of your speech amazed
A brilliant entrepreneur in many dimensions
Curious and persuasive
You always looked forward
With kindness and laughter
Stubborn when you were certain
You achieved so much
And would have done so much more
It is hard to imagine this world without you
It is wonderful to have known you
To have played in business with you
To have understood and been understood
Over so many years
We shall miss you beyond description
We shall treasure what you brought into our lives
The gifts you have placed
In so many hearts
Our condolences go out to the entire Chender clan.
Gerry Haase and Nancy Wallace
You were such an inspiration to the Houston group years ago. Your unique presence is remembered. Miss you.
I do remember Michael at a cellular level. Thank you
Michael taught the very first Level I Shambhala Training in Boulder at 1111 Pearl Street. you could say he was a pioneer of Shambhala, a trail blazer, and a natural Shambhalian. He was always so kind and welcoming to me and to my son, who when he found out I had just seen Michael at the hospital, was so shocked and saddened, saying like that Michael was "so good at the world as well as at dharma." And that's true, even after retirement he always had projects percolating. And he loved his family and wanted to continue to be an active grandpa. He was especially proud of his daughter Claudia for being the first "Shambhala politician" that we know of. Thank you, Michael for being the Shambhala gentleman par excellence.
I do not know you Michael but grateful for opening the space for the teachings to flourish & grow. May the soul continue its journey in peace and in the light.
Michael was so dear to me, a long-time friend, and something of a father - that's the only word that really fits. He took “response”-ability for those he loved, a lot of people (maybe everyone). His care and love were always so clear, offered so generously, with a kind of unconditionality and appreciation that one rarely experiences. His deep relaxation and ever-present sense of humor meant so much – that sharp-eyed heruka smile, a flash of light – somehow giving me confidence in his wisdom, enough to often seek his superb advice, which he seemed always to have a moment to give. I can't tell you the number of times I asked him what he thought about this or that, often via Facebook messenger or email.
Years ago, 2002, I was making a tv series called Quiet Mind: Meditation for Real Life, and came from Vancouver with the producer to Halifax for research. Michael went out of his way to have lunch with us. What excitement! His openness and enthusiasm, his interest in her and her work, made an instant meeting of the minds. I remember he had been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” (it was just out), and told her about it – and then their minds mutually blazed forth, it was exciting to see. Months afterward, as we labored on, she would say to me, I LIKED that guy. And later, when we needed an “emergency” letter of support to land some grant money, Michael kindly stayed up late and wrote one, and helped us land half a million dollars which made the difference in getting the show made.
Michael knew value, could recognize quality. Of the many wise things he said over the years, one thing I remember above all: When speaking of the Shambhala teachings of Trungpa Rinpoche, Michael said that we too often keep them on a high shelf, gathering dust, when really, if fully appreciated, they belong in a golden bowl in the center of the coffee table, in the middle of our lives. That was a difference he understood and modeled every day, in every way. I am so grateful to Michael and so sad that he is gone, seemingly ahead of his time – though I trust he’ll find just the right helpful rebirth and be back with us soon. Still, I will miss him, a lot.
OH NO! A Dear One passed onwards. An early warrior who indeed connected to Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche on a personal level, as well on the organizational level to help establish CTR's teachings......And he connected on the larger societal scale as well. I knew him as I had invested in Metal Economics. He stayed true to ethical business practices and as such he fully re-embursed me when many years later he dissolve this business.
Although he moved to Nova Scotia, and i remained in Colorado, we had sporadic contact.
I am saddened he's no longer with us [to help strengthen / propagate the non-theistic ways], especially during these hard times when I see the many things we worked so hard to establish is now being seriously compromised if not right out dismantled. But by his exemplary example may we can gain the inspiration to carry on here and now, and into the future --- where ever we live, and in whatever smaller humble ways to keep the incomparable teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche like fresh baked bread, with our immediate experiences of that we can benefit this world far and wide.
I only met him recently, through an on-line class where he was teaching. It was such a complete joy to be able to learn from Michael and to be in his (digital) presence each of those few weeks! I am saddened to learn of his passing. I am honored to have had the opportunity to be touched by his wisdom and beautiful spirit. Condolences to his family and friends. Wishing you peace and solace. Much love, Elizabeth
Though I have not directly connected or corresponded with Michael for over 27 years, his sparkling presence, inquisitiveness and humor are still etched steadfastly in my heart and mind! As he generously endowed blessings on so many others, may the Shower of Rigdens’ blessings cascade upon Michael and his beloved family!
I recall being a server and Kusung to the Vidyadhara at the Kalapa Court, working with Michael who I shadowed and learned from on numerous shifts. He was truly a human being who was always kind with egoless confidence, devotion and such a good heart. You will be sorely missed Michael. Wishing you well on your journey!
To Michael with love and gratitude!
May your work and example continue to shine as a beacon of sanity, kindness and practical wisdom.