Tribute to Tom Ryken

Tom Ryken, dedicated, loyal, and original member of the Vajradhatu/Shambhala community, passed away early Saturday morning, March 14.


22 March 2015

The following is excerpted from an interview with Tom and Jane Ryken, conducted by Sherab Chödzin

Sherab Chödzin: Can you tell that story of how you met him—

Tom: Well, we’d come up from New Mexico to Boulder. We didn’t just stop in Boulder. We kind of ran out of money in Boulder. We got jobs, we had a house, the whole thing. I went to work for Everett Lumber in Longmont. It was during football season, so Monday nights I snuck off to the pub and watched Monday night football. I went down to the Lamplighter, which was down on Arapahoe and 28th St. And I was watching the football game and having a few beers — scotch and water, actually, in those days. And there’s this ruckus taking place across the room, across by this circular bar. And there’s someone over by the door. And there’s this Mexican and four other guys, and they’re talking very loudly, and very distracting from the football game. So I’m patiently going through this thing: my eyes keep following down to this guy in the corner, then back to the game. So at halftime, I go into the bathroom to relieve myself, and one of these guys who was creating all this ruckus was in the bathroom. He’s arguing with someone else in the bathroom. So I got a little irritated, in fact a lot irritated, and I grabbed him and slammed him up against the wall. I said, “Some people are trying to watch the football game here!” And then I forgot it and left the room. Well this guy scurried out of the bar. And the next thing I know the game is back on, and these drinks mysteriously appear in front of me. There’s not that many people in the bar that night. And I say to the bartender, “What are you doing—” And he says, “That guy over there is buying you drinks.” So I waved politely, and he keeps going like this [come here gesture]. I wave back. And I was still watching the game and another drink shows up, and I say, well, shit, I’d better go over and say thanks or something. And I do. And he introduces himself as Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. And I said: “What part of Mexico are you from—” He’s got his hair all slicked back, he’s got a Mexican wedding shirt on. Of course the two people with him started laughing. They thought it was hilarious. He mentioned some place, and it was all Mexican to me, so I didn’t have any idea. Then he says, “Well, listen, I’m giving this little thing on Friday. Would you like to come— And I said: “Yeah, sure, why not.” I say: “Well, it’s been a pleasure meeting you.” I go back to watching the football game. And left and went home. And the whole rest of it is history.

Sherab Chödzin: So why did he send you drinks—

Tom: Because I’d got the guy to leave. The guy in the restroom was the one creating all the turmoil. Bill Indich and John Baker were the ones who were with him.

Jane: [correcting him] It was Marvin [Casper] and John.

Sherab Chödzin: This guy was hassling them at their table—

Tom: They were sitting at the bar in the corner, right near the door. And this argument was going on. I don’t know what it was about. It was very distracting and it was very loud. And there was actually verbal confrontation between Rinpoche and this guy.

Sherab Chödzin: So he said, “I’m doing this talk Friday night, why don’t you come round”

Tom: And I said, “Sure, what the hell.”

Sherab Chödzin: And you forgot all about it—

Tom: I got ready to leave, and I’m looking around for the little Mexican. And he’d already gone …  I get home and Janey says: “There’s this meditation teacher in town and it’s right around the corner.” So I’m feeling guilty, because I usually don’t do this. It’s right around the corner. I said: “Sure.” This is the end of the week. This is Monday. This Friday night. She’ll forget all about it. So Friday night gets there and it’s about 6:30, 7. She says, “You ready to go—” “Ready to go where—” We’re going to see this meditation teacher. So I reluctantly go. And I go in irritated because I have to sit on the floor. And next thing is, in walks Rinpoche. And then I start to say to her … and she goes “sh sh!” Rinpoche looks over and goes [waves to me]. And I say: “That’s the Mexican I met.”

Tom: This whole thing is that I’m sitting there listening to him as he goes on with this thing and he’s saying these things that actually make sense. He got my attention and I was actually listening. And then the talk ended and people are milling around. And he waves to me: come here, come here. And he invites us into the kitchen; everyone else is leaving.

Jane: You forgot to say why. About 20 minutes into the talk there’s a big pounding on the door. The cops come. They say: “You have to break this up, the neighbors are complaining.” So he only talked for 20 minutes. And then when he invited us into the kitchen, we only had a few minutes actually, but I got the information on how to get in touch with him. John gave me the number where we could call if we wanted more information.


To Tom Ryken

You old grouch
With that dry humor and powerful aura
You old Kasung Rupon
So trusted by the Boss
Was your heavy hand visible or invisible—
As advisor, friend, and enemy of the Pygmies, you directed the primitive Colorado mountain center from wilderness to mandala. Thank you and see you next round.

Jim Lowrey
March 15, 2015


Tom Ryken

You and your brother, Willie,
American samurai
in the down home meaning
of common sense. It was a
pleasure to have known you,
though, not well, but some people
you can just be around and
their sanity orders the environment.

Just a real person, made in America,
but, that’s why Rinpoche had such
faith in us.

-John Tischer


Tom Ryken, Warrior of the Kingdom of Shambhala

The owl proclaimed your passing—
hunting until rising sun
on our bedroom tree.
The Duke from Boulder
called that day.
I wrote a few words of a lament
remembering you
then smiling, then chuckling,
then laughing.
I could not find sadness,
your image in my heart
brought only joy.
Our shifts together
through long nights
and early days,
at the Court,
Shrine room,
on the road,
in the myriad taverns
with the Mexican Mahasiddha.

The stories you related
of how you and young Willie
were taught to hunt deer
by an eagle-feathered Indian,
jumping from trees
with knives clenched
between your teeth
upon the backs
of unsuspecting deer.
Cooking meat on open fires,
making clothes of buck skin,
roaming the hills
with bow and arrows,
winning gold medals
for shooting.
Willie got a bronze.

Laying in the bracken
far beyond encampment lines,
whispering, “Pass the whiskey.”
Tom told me the Ryken family story.
They were from County Mayo
from way back.
The women were seals
and the men related to no other
than Cuchulainn himself!

Tom did a stint with me
at the Cosby house
as chauffeur, where on the first day
I opened the door and there was Tom
standing next to the Rolls Royce
in his Vajra Guard uniform.
That made us both smile.
I asked Mr. Cosby,
How did Tom do—
“You did not tell me
he was a Green Beret.”
“Oh, yes, that’s right”
I replied.
“Well he drives very well,”
he said, “and he treats me like royalty.”
I wonder where he learned that! I thought.
Later, when the Cosbys were away
we borrowed the Rolls
and drove around town
drinking whiskey
and smoking cuban cigars,
telling stories to all we met.

Sometimes people ask me about visiting Ireland,
to which I say, “leave your static logic at the airport.
It does not really work there.”
Tom Ryken was the first Vajra guard
recognized by the Boss.
He was totally devoted
to the Mexican Mahasiddha.
It is a love affair
that goes beyond living or dying.
Tom Ryken was my comrade,
my friend, and my teacher.
Thank you, Tom. You are the holder of the wisdom tooth.
Your image remains in my heart forever.

We salute you, slainte!
H.H. Seonaidh Perks the Servant
Celtic Buddhist Lineage