Tribute to Polly Wellenbach

Polly was the director of Karma Dzong in Boulder for many years, and was part of the first group of people to settle Shambhala Mountain Center.


Polly Monner Wellenbach died early Tuesday, August 14, at her home in Halifax. Polly was a beloved student and friend of Trungpa Rinpoche, whom she met in 1970. She was the director of Karma Dzong (Shambhala Center) in Boulder for many years, was part of the first group of people to settle Shambhala Mountain Center, and participated in the first Maitri center in Elizabethtown, New York. She has lived in Nova Scotia since the late eighties. A deeply loving person, she was known for her kindness, humor and wisdom. She was unwavering in her devotion for her guru and was instrumental the development of many of his projects, as well as teaching and working with meditation students. Always a good and helpful friend to many, her loss is heartbreaking to her friends. However her conviction that she would be meeting Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche again is present in our minds too, as it was in hers.

In memoriam: Daughter of Karma Dzong

By Scott Wellenbach

Polly was a brilliant teacher, not so much a teacher of facts and figures, but a communicator of the Vidyadhara’s being. Many remarked on her penetrating quality, but for me what was most striking was that with her came the soar and the loft of the Vidyadhara’s mind. In part it was in her words; equally it was in the tenor of her voice, which would take on a warble that spoke of an earthy transcendence.

Polly’s connection to the Vidyadhara was strong. Among the things of which she was proudest was when the Vidyadhara would call her his daughter. His nickname for her: Daughter of Karma Dzong.

She had an uncommon ability to read the world, which came out not only in her teaching, but in visions, in dreams, in reading tarot, or just looking up at the clouds in the sky. To do that she had to let herself go into a certain state of mind, what she in time came to call her hypomanic mind: the strictures and usual ways that we clamp ourselves down are loosened and yet there was still a grounding. From there, she could see. This seeing, tempered by kindness, was what drew me to her, drew us all.

Hypomania is a fine line to walk. Err on the side of hypo and there isn’t enough loosening of the bindings; err on the side of mania and the grounding has been lost. During the Vidyadhara’s lifetime, their connection seemed to provide a measure of protection and guidance. With his passing, that protective sphere became increasingly less available and walking that fine line became harder and harder. The visions were rare, tarot became harder, and teaching, in the way that she had done it, would become dangerous. But what wasn’t possible during the day became all the more present at night. Her dreams were filled with receiving teaching and abhishekas—from the Vidyadhara, from Khyentse Rinpoche, and on occasion the Vajra Regent. There were weeks where every night she would attend some ongoing seminar or empowerment; it was as if she had gained access to another realm.

Who knows what to make of such things— It’s way above the pay grade of a husband to say, but my sense is: We should all be so lucky.

Polly Monner Wellenbach

by Jim Wilton

My dathun was at RMDC in the Fall of 1983. Polly Monner led the dathun and was my MI. I had been practicing for a year or so and had a pretty hard time of it. I caught a cold and spent a week or so sitting in the back row with a roll of toilet paper and a green plastic garbage bag next to me—blowing my nose every five or ten minutes.

Polly had a little bit of a mystical, other worldly quality to her—but she was unfailingly kind. One afternoon she gave me the best on the spot meditation instruction that I have ever had. She was sitting in the umdze spot. My back was killing me and every minute or two I would change position, twist to flex my back muscles, or put my knees up for 30 seconds, or lift my arms to try to relieve the pain that was knifing through my lower back. Finally the tea break came. Just before we went back to sit after the break, Polly came up behind me and whispered in my ear: “Whatever you do for the next session, don’t move a muscle.” I did what she said. After a few minutes, my mind settled into a real space of vipashyana — full of sadness and clarity. I have never forgotten that. I don’t think I have seen Polly Monner since that dathun—but I owe her a lot.

My love to Polly and to everyone who loved her.


by John Perks

From the Tuatha de Danann,
Having the gift of “an dara sealladh” [second sight],
Polly the seer,
Pure basic goodness,
Giving love to all,
In this realm of consumerism, and materialim there is always the effort to make one normal,
Thank goodness for you,
Clear breeze of delight,
Dear sister thank you for your help,
Fly to the heart of your beloved Guru,
While there are trees, grass, wind, sun, mountains, valleys, seas, sky and oceans, We will not forget,
Tay is ayrdye [one who is supreme]
Amongst us,
Aye, till you come home again,
In love,

For Polly Monner Wellenbach

By Carolyn Gimian

Today we have gathered here to celebrate Polly’s life, to say good bye to her, and to let her go. For my part, I would like to thank her for all she did to serve the dharma, the Vidyadhara, and all of us during her lifetime.

As a teacher: she was brilliant and an inspiration to many many people. In particular, people were inspired by her at vajrayana practice programs, such as the Vajrayogini fire pujas. She taught at Seminary, she taught classes in Boulder and Halifax, she travelled to teach—she did a lot of teaching.

Her service to the mandala was extraordinary, as the centre director in Boulder, in working with Maitri in the early days, and in other capacities over many years. She worked as a volunteer in the Shambhala Archives at our inception, the early 90s, and some years later she sponsored the Archives’ publication of a CD of Empowerment, recordings from the first visit of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa to America. She was a deeply dedicated Kagyu person, who loved the Kagyu lineage tremendously.

She was a good personal friend to many of us here. And as everyone has said here today, she had unquestioning and deeply rooted devotion to the Vidyadhara, to his family, and to his world. She loved him so much.

Like all of us, after the Vidyadhara’s death, she struggled. He had held us in some kind of suspended karmic animation during his lifetime, so that we could experience an enlightened being and an enlightened life and society, as model and inspiration. But then, after his death, we had to come back to earth. We were left to work it out for ourselves, as the Buddha told us, and that is not always simple or easy.

It was sometimes especially challenging for people who were so close to the Vidyadhara in person or in the flesh, so to speak. People had to go from his seeming presence to his seeming absence and that was painful for many. Some people have struggled privately, some publically and some of Polly’s challenges were more public, with the challenges to her health, for example.

She showed us, among other things, that we really have to be more nontheistic about our expectations of being rewarded for what we do for ourselves and others. You do not necessarily get an easy time because you work on yourself and work for others. What you get, your reward, is more burden and more opportunity to transcend your confusion and neurosis — by experiencing it in a raw, naked and vivid manner. It’s not always pleasant, and there are no instant solutions or cures. That is really the bodhisattva path, which Polly travelled with courage and determination.

You never really know what is going on inside someone else, unless you are a great being, and I certainly am not. But over the years, I felt that Polly was working with herself as a genuine and very brave human being, not always finding the answers, not always seeing the path clearly, but never giving up. What more can any of us do— She certainly loved all of us, especially family and friends, particularly Scott and her close friends, human and doggie. And we love her as well. I am immensely grateful to her. And I wish her well on her further journey.

In Memory of Polly Wellenbach

By James Lowrey

We all await our turn;
we don’t want to suffer.

Perhaps like Polly
we were fortunate in our human birth
and met the Guru early
and began learning to be alone
in stone Gunung Mas in the mountains of Boulder
reading the Sadhana of Mahamudra
and learning to ask “What is Mahamudra—”

Perhaps like Polly we took Bodhisattva vows
and committed our life to others
and led dharma centers and programs
and tossed rose petals into Vajrayogini’s fire
her dog by her side.

Perhaps we were afflicted by illness
and confounded by medications
but never forgot the kindness of the Guru
and never gave up our devotion.

Perhaps at our moment of death
we can arise from our empty body
like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon
and fly and cry
“I am awake; I am free.”

Eulogy for Polly

From Karl Usow

Polly and I were good friends for such a long time. I remember picking her up at the bus stop in Boulder, (I think) even before the Vidyadhara had arrived. Who was this nice looking lady with a fur covered backpack and guitar, I wondered. She fit right in the ‘scene’ of 1970 Boulder. Over the years we became good friends — she was so magnetic, kind and devoted. In fact she taught me a lot about devotion. On one occasion, at Karme Choling, sitting at the feet of the Vidyadhara, we asked him what our buddha families were. Polly was padma with a padma exit — that was how she manifested – completely magnetic. Polly became co-director of Karma Dzong with Lynn Gingrass. Then, when he left and I took his place — perhaps it was 1978. For the next 4 years we worked together with the community trying our best to work with the Vidyadhara’s vision, despite struggles with the Vajradhatu administration, which often left her in tears. During this period the sangha grew enormously due to the start of Naropa. She was never not one with the teachings; she was never not devoted — through her connection to Trungpa Rinpoche and the teachings she was continually an inspiration to practice for myself and others.

Polly called me a week before she died just to talk, say hello, catch up. One thing stands out—she was completely proud of Scott’s poker prowess.

Dear Polly, may you manifest as the dakini you are, inseparable from peacefulness and yet acting whenever action is required, subduing what needs to be subdued, destroying whatever needs to be destroyed and caring for whatever needs care.

I was fortunate to know you. Love, Karl

An Indelible Memory of Polly Monner

George Gerdes

One clear blue sky afternoon in Shadyside, I ran into Polly walking down the sidewalks of Copeland Street. Our eye-to-eye conversation was dripping with Logos. No lower chakra shenanigans figured in the equation of our discourse. I impulsively asked her if she would let me wash her feet. Her brow furrowed somewhat quizzically but then she smiled and assured me that doing such wouldn’t be necessary. We bid a fond adieu… this clear blue sky pittsburgh encounter stays so crystal clear in my good memory bank. Laser beam of purity & good humor able to pierce through the mucky muck.

Polly Monner

David Lewis

I’ve been thinking a lot about Polly lately, especially the times I bunked with her (and the late Melody Pappini) at Gold Hill, and all the times Polly and I sang “You Can’t Do That” together (once, the first year of Naropa Institute, in the Oxford Hotel in Denver with Artie Traum and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott). She was the only person ever who would let me sing. I miss her, now more than ever.

Thanks so much, Steve. I love you and miss you. Of course, I miss Polly, too. She was the only person I could speak Turkey Talk with (you put an “ob” sound before each vowel). Just after I wrote you, I read this:

“Groucho and I had one thing in common. Both of us believed that a real friend is anyone willing to sing harmony.” – George Burns

So here’s to the day — not too far off, I hope — when you and I can sing “Lida Rose” together again.

Tribute to Polly Monner Wellenbach

Suzanne Duarte

Polly was my very first meditation instructor. This was probably in 1975. I was in awe of her because Rinpoche called her “daughter of Karma Dzong,” and because she was the first woman I met in our sangha who had the “sight,” was a seer. On our first interview, she saw right through me and told me what my obstacles were, and not at all unkindly, but with compassion. She also told me of some remedies to try.

I was never close to Polly, she was very busy running Karma Dzong, and I was behind the Vajradhatu Recordings table. But her devotion to the Vidyadhara was a model I unconsciously incorporated. I appreciate reading what Scott tells about her journey, “as if she had gained access to another realm” after our beloved guru died. And I agree: “We should all be so lucky.” I’m glad she had an understanding husband and friends who cherished her. I feel fortunate to have been imprinted by her when I was a little duckling entering the stream of dharma.