Tribute to Monika Kretschmar

Monika was a close and principal western student of the great Tulku Ugyen Rinpoche, and embodied the simplicity, earthiness and unconditional good humor of an accomplished Dharma adept.


1 December 2014

By Bill Karelis

It is with sadness and also joy that I note the passing of Monika Kretschmar on Sunday, December 7th, 2014. Monika was a close and principal western student of the great Tulku Ugyen Rinpoche, with whom I also studied. After Rinpoche’s passing in 1996 she lived at Shambhala Mountain Center for some time, and subsequently in New Paltz, New York. I first met Monika in 1990 at Nagi Gompa on the lip of the Kathmandu valley, the nunnery where Tulku Ugyen Rinpoche lived, along with the nuns and about six of his western students. It was obvious from the beginning that Monika was a dedicated Dharma practitioner and student. I learned a bit later she was also a scholar, fluent in Tibetan and conversant with other Nepali languages. She rarely left Nagi. She embodied the simplicity, earthiness and unconditional good humor of an accomplished Dharma adept, avoiding the complexities of politics in favor of living life directly in the moment. In my experience, it is rare to meet such a pure practitioner. I become convinced of the strength of the depth of her practice when I visited her in her retreat cave at Nagi Gompa around 1994. She had been there for some months and would stay some months more—as she had, off and on, for years. The cave had a bee hive hanging from the ceiling, with hundreds of bees swirling around. I asked her if they bothered her. She said sometimes she got stung, but they didn’t really trouble her. They co-existed in the cave.

Monika had seemingly endless ways to cheer everyone up. She could neigh exactly like a horse, for instance, usually quite suddenly and loudly, with no warning. Of course, you would break into laughter on the spot. I remember once an Italian gentleman visited Nagi Gompa, speaking English in a thick Italian accent, which she could imitate perfectly, complete with gesticulation. She was also versed in some kind of martial art, possibly homespun, and used to parry with her husband (at the time), Andreas, on the front lawn of their little house at Nagi, which was impressive, as she was about half his size. I visited her three times over the last two years or so at her home in New Paltz, a university village with a strong arts and healing community. Everywhere she lived that I saw her, whether at Nagi or SMC or at New Paltz, her residence was like a retreat cave. For instance, I asked her if she had Dharma materials she wished to pass on after her death, and she said she didn’t have much anymore from the half-empty shelves, I could see she had given most of them away. In New York, she propagated a web-based arts education course, called Inner Voice Drawing, encouraging students to find their gentle confidence and voice through that medium.

Monika was incredibly modest. I used to ask her to present the Dharma to the people around her, and she always demurred. In fact, even though she was completely devout, she kept her knowledge secret, and did not present herself to the world as a practitioner. She just went around her life spreading kindness and cheering people up, including the doctors and nurses during her final months, dealing with the cancer as it spread inexorably through her body a hidden bodhisattva. She had a wide and loving circle of close friends, who supported her during the final months; it was a mutual dance, as she was also doing her part, keeping everything bright. Among those closest to her were her companion, Clifford Young, as well as Will Boorstein and Jocelyn Stein.

She wrote in her final days the following letter to her friends, quoted here in part. I think this letter is very worth reading, as it contains the last advice from a great practitioner of our tradition. It is said that a true yogin or yogini looks forward to the time of their death. As you can read, such was Monika’s attitude.

Dear Friends,

I have lived my life always according to my wishes, according to my dreams which was not always easy, because it went against the mainstream. The journey continues in a different way. And I am actually looking forward to it. The body is slowly failing…I am preparing myself for the end stages which may come within days or weeks, nobody knows…Things are moving fast.

I want you to know I am not sad to finish this phase of my journey the one that is connected to this body. I want you to know that I am very connected to my Buddhist practice and that anyone who is connected to me is also under the protection of my teacher. That means we are all connected on a deeper level. It also means that I am not leaving anybody. I am just going through a transformation. The mind is powerful. In the final stages I will make aspirations that each and every one of you will reach a greater degree of mental freedom. I want you to know that I think of you all. That you are all in my heart. We will always be connected and may that connection flourish especially through staying in a place of joy and good aspirations for all sentient beings as much as possible. So even if you feel like crying, the connection is established already. It’s OK to be sad. I’m sad as well to leave you all behind, and all the joy that I experienced with you. Now we have to meet on a higher level.

We will keep you updated about…the moment of my passing. When that time comes, I would love for you to make some prayers while I will make the aspiration for each of you to reach a higher level of inner freedom. Inner freedom leads to true joy. This is not so easy yet it is important because it is the antidote to any kind of fear or anger and this is what sets us free. We want to bring true joy to all beings.

I am not saying goodbye yet. I am just encouraging you to find a way that you can be joyful. There is no need to worry about me. I am in a good space.

With all my love,

Submitted with admiration and longing,
Bill Karelis

* * *

From Robert Higgins

so sad
but not really
If anyone was prepared
it was Monika
love on her journey

it was Monika
translated for me
my absolute best
meditation instruction
one hour and a half
with Tulku Urgyen
i said “we are wasting his time”
thanks Monika for that
and also later
we worked together on the Great Stupa
so nice knowing you
see ya next time … around.