Full of life and patience
I just found out about Robin's death online and am saddened to hear the news.
I knew Robin Kornman as a wise teacher and friend from UW-Milwaukee when he taught in the Honor's Program.
I was about 22 years old at the time. I did not have him in a class, but he did serve as my mentor when I was applying
to graduate schools in English and we struck up an unconventional friendship that lasted for a couple of years and
that was very important to me. I remember that he was the first one who told me about the world wide web and explained
how it worked. We spent many afternoons at his house just talking and laughing and learning from one another about all kinds
of topics and I watched his two sweet dogs when he was away. Sometimes we would meet up at Jalisco's on North Ave.
and enjoy fully a couple of pitchers of margaritas. He was always giving and gracious, intellectually and spiritually. He was
full of life and patience; all who met him felt his love and kindness. Here was a true disciple of his beliefs.
I miss him very much and am very lucky to have had his friendship and wisdom in my life.
Rest in Peace Dearest Robin,
I was one of many people touched by Robin's kindness
during his too-short but incredibly rich existence. We
made one another's acquaintance while Robin was in
Dordogne, France to request transmissions and
commentary from H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, on the
subject of Mipham Rinpoche's cycle of Gesar teachings
and the Gesar epic.
Many years later, and unfortunately too late to avail
myself of Robin's vast knowledge, I found myself
delving into Mipham Rinpoche's writings related to
Gesar -- which, back when I met Robin , were too
esoteric for my beginner's knowledge of Dharma and
Tibetan language to appreciate.
Naturally every time I read through the liturgies, I
thought of Robin and a few weeks before his death I
emailed him to tell him how happy I was to discover
them, and to remind him cheerfully not to 'up and die
on us'. I received an equally cheerful response but
sadly, that was the end of our correspondence.
When I received an urgent message from the Milwaukee
Shambhala Center that Robin was on the final stretch I
was saddened but resolved to perfom some prayers and
puja from Mipham's Gesar. Around mid-afternoon picked
up my drum and bell and Mipham's Gesar liturgies.
Within a few minutes there was a clap of thunder, a
heavy but windless rain, and then suddenly the sun
began to shine through the remains of the downpour.
Tearfully I assumed this meant Robin had left us --
but not without a legacy of great deeds and beautiful
memories, and huge project that we translators should
John Whitney Pettit
Do You Yahoo!?
Tired of spam? Yahoo! Mail has the best spam protection around
Robin (Hood) Kornman
Thinking of Robin, your full heart
Thinking of Robin, your playful mind
Thinking of Robin, opening a fresh bag of corn chips
Thinking of Robin, spilling hearty meat soup on my foot
Thinking of Robin, whether to spell Gesar's name, "One Who Accomplishes All Purposes," as Dondrup or Tondrup
Thinking of Robin, "Should we say 'ichneumon'' or 'mongoose,' 'vomiting' or 'disgorging' jewels?"
Thinking of Robin, introducing yourself as "a shabchi (servant of, at the feet of) of Trungpa Rinpoche"
Thinking of Robin, I feel like I hardly knew you, yet you gave so freely and easily, always encouraging.
Thinking of Robin, the last time I saw you, in Gesar's Court, flirting with dignified ladies and lovely maidens, over lunch.
Thinking of Robin, all those treasure troves of snacks, needed to come up with the right word.
Thinking of Robin, always digressing into the obvious question, "But what does this mean, Rinpoche?"
Thinking of Robin, the Vidyadhara addressing you as "Robin -- Hood"
Thinking of Robin, you stole freely from the rich treasure of dharma, and gave to whatever poor sucker you met.
Thinking of Robin, I am so very happy to be one of those that met you.
Thinking of Robin, unwilling to give up the splendors of youth, always riding the edge of wit
Thinking of Robin, so willing to discourse into some seeming meaningless eddy, only to find a rushing rapid of knowledge
Thinking of Robin, endless bountiful burgeoning of soft and tender heart
Thinking of Robin, true and loyal to the bka', the command, the word of Buddha
Thank you for being so you.
Thank you for being an exemplary student, unafraid to ask whatever you didn't understand.
Unafraid to just say what was on your mind.
You are a true student, and so a true teacher.
May you always be at your teacher's side, willing to ask the next question.
Da-O Chopel (Mark Nowakowski)
July 31, 2007
It is what it is (continued)
As summer broils to an end and the harvest season is again upon us, the fecundity of the Great Midwestern Soil gives up its fruit. In the same way the plans long in the working have begun to hatch and what particular chickens will come home to roost will take some time to ascertain. It has personally been a bittersweet summer. Many opportunities pursued and some accomplished. Not every plan and concept moves directly forward. Probably you already know that. One of those Zorba summers of Full Catastrophe Living.
I went with my wife, children, and a few sundry others to India for a couple of weeks. The day before I was to depart, one of my best friends departed instead; suffering a cardiac arrest in his home, very near to Columbia Hospital where he had been a patient quite a number of times over the last 3 years or so. A few days later he died after the ventilatory assistance was removed. He had been somewhat successfully field resuscitated to present in the late evening to the ER. Because of some problems with his airway he underwent a tracheostomy late that evening. It was a somewhat surreal but strangely wonderful experience. The loving care in the ER and OR. The captains of the shipmanship displayed alternately and completely by Drs. Gerschke, Boulanger, Gogan and Mosleth, to whom I will be forever indebted. Indebted as well to the Cancer Care Center where after consultations from across the country his malignancy had been successfully managed by Tom Zukowski. The grand technical and team skills of all involved were on display. Steve Becker, fresh from the Bog Invitational (he didn't as I recall mention his score) popping in to see what was up, lent his grand smile to the occasion. The RN nurses and surgical techs did their beautiful dance, the machines purred and the monitors monitored. An eerie quietude descended on the room, the blood pressure stabilized, the trach functioned perfectly, the seizure activity began and the patient was transferred to the ICU. One more evening, one among many and whilst we sleep*
As the morning sun rose up over the lake the fog of the night's activity cleared. The all too sharp Midwestern sun shining on endless fields of corn made clear the grim prognosis. The appropriate confirmatory testing was done, with Dr. Carter calling me that afternoon, clearing away whatever optimistic (not a trait I claim) notions I might have been harboring. The family, consisting of but a sister and brother-in-law, were called in to view and bless the scene. The passing of a renaissance man. Versed in epic literature, fluent in French and German, a translator of Chinese and Tibetan, dabbler in Greek, Latin and a few others. Newly accomplished player of Piano, lover of classical music, opera and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. A piece of my own heart. There as he lied supine, attached by his lovely trach to the machine, I embraced his sister. By now it was clear that he was likely not going to cognate again. The great irony of this was that it was the sheer power of his previous brain and heart, that brought fields of inquiry and people together, like collecting sticks in the yard after a hearty late fall breeze. Only the heart remained.
A few hours later, I was on a plane to Delhi and on to Leh, Ladakh one of the few extant homes of Tibetan Buddhism, the true source of our connection. Ironic in the extreme, visiting 11th century monasteries and trekking in the Himalayas as he sat in his hospital bed, and following the requisite discussion died a few hours after the proverbial switch was switched. Off.
We walked and watched the cremation Ghats of Varanasi. We saw the fort at Agra and the Taj. We had hot oil massages in Delhi and went south to visit the families who that hosted my daughter most of this past year. A wonderful time was had by all.
If there is one thing I would like to say, it is that though the Taj is beautiful and the Himalayas impressive, the loving care received by my friend was what will always sustain me. As we work in this field, seeing pain at some distance, it is easy to forget the incredible poignancy of the moment. The shared experience we have of providing care and occasionally oneself requiring care.
I spend some part of my day, as some of you may know, reviewing safety and teamwork data that we collect. Not very surprisingly some of this data would reflect that our ICU's are difficult stressful units. I would say though that it was the care he received there that made me the most proud of all that we do together.
There may be a time when all of our perspectives are found to be limited and all that we now know to be true is found wanting. When the ground itself melts away and we are left naked in the night. When our hearts cry out to others and the morning sun lights our way. In this way humanity is constantly reborn and renewed. And it is this harvest season that makes all this clear again.
(My monthly column written for our Hospital/Physician Newsletter)
David Shapiro, MD
Chief Medical Officer and VP for Medical Affairs
You were my first Buddhist Teacher Robin, in the summer of 1995 in Milwaukee, your amazing stories with humor, love and wisdom helped to open a beautiful gateway to the Buddhist path for me and countless others. Thank you Robin for your great devotion to teaching.
On your last weekend in this world many of your friends knew that you were likely to be leaving us. By chance a good part of the Milwaukee E-Vam study group were together on retreat in Chatham NY. We prayed and waited to hear from Milwaukee, would you be coming back to this world or letting go? I kept thinking if you are going Robin " don't look back".
In a happy memory I see you sitting in the teachers chair at the front of the shrine room, holding a tea cup, with elegant hands you swirl the contents of the cup, gaze into it, take a sip and continue to teach. I see the smile on your lips as you craft teachings that keep everyone sitting alert, inquisitive, surprised, and inspired.
Silly moments make me laugh like one involving a large squash sitting on a table as a decoration, you pick it up and do a little dance dangling the gourd in a most provocative location giggling and smiling. My eyes increase in size by two, your eyes like a child who has just gotten the desired reaction.
When some of your friends from Milwaukee began to study with Traleg Rinpoche you asked Rinpoche if you could help us with our studies. He responded that anything Robin could teach us would be a benefit. You skillfully explained new practices to our little group at your home where we sat around your dining room table discussing the details of the practices, the meanings of Tibetan words, and descriptions of deities. You taught us about feast practices, the mechanics of Lasung ceremonies and Torma making.
With great sadness we sat commiserating on your king sized bed the night the news came of your cancer. Concerned friends came and went as Kathy and I sat drinking red pepper vodka to numb our nerves. People began to call from all corners of the world sending their best wishes. We had a helpless sinking feeling.
There was a really beautiful melody of the Tara mantra that someone sent you on a CD. One afternoon when I came to visit you were playing it over and over, we burned some incense and you took a nap listening. I remember the melody and sing it to myself at times and think of you and what sadness was brought on you in this part of your life.
I took you to the cancer clinic on the day your doctor told you what you were facing. We sat together in the waiting room and you asked me to stay with you. Your doctor told you in the gentlest way possible that they thought you had mesothelioma and asked if you had worked with asbestos. You were wearing your Mala beads and the doctor asked about them. Your answer began with your Buddhist faith and led to a description of your life's work. You asked him how much time you had and explained you needed to have enough time to finish the Gesar series. He did not promise any specific time, we were both struck by his compassion and honesty.
On the way home driving on the highway, out of the blue you remarked that I needed to get working on my Tibetan language studies and that I would really need it for my practices. I told you I was working on memorizing my practices in Tibetan and to prove it I began to recite the "Four Thoughts that Turn the Mind to the Dharma". You chimed in in Tibetan at the part which means "the world and all it contains is impermanent, in particular the life of sentient beings is like a water bubble". Your eyes filled with depth and you looked at me silent for a few seconds and then said "Wow, I'm really feeling that one now like never before"
After I moved to Ithaca we spoke on the phone a few times, and our mutual friend Kathy Carter kept us posted on each other's current details. I'm sorry I didn't call more, I should have.
Now I'm reading "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" reciting the prayers and reading other Bardo teachings, and in so doing the concept of Bardo is coming alive, thank you Robin for this your last and very meaningful teaching.
Safe Travels Robin,
Your Friend Nina
My great and wonderful teacher, my most great and wonderful friend, my true friend.
This jigten (/'jigs rten/) that is the "receptacle of all that is perishable", this "support of all that will disintegrate", this external world that appears to us, has a great and gaping hole now that you are not here with us.
Robin had a remarkable gift of being just who he was without pretense. His great body unabashedly extended itself to the food, wealth, music, gardens, literature, and depth and readth of the phenomenal world.
Countless friends found their way to you in countless ways. Though Robin and I had been social acquaintances, that initial thread of connection through Tibetan, that most remarkable of auspicious coincidences, grew into a big thick rope of genuine friendship and love. We spent countless hours reading, writing, rewriting, the smallest translation detail checked and rechecked in references and cross-references - Robin's mind displayed itself in teaching from a oceanic depth of knowledge about Buddhism, literature, language, music, history, all contained in his devotion and realization of practice.
Robin was the greatest of teachers "like a loving mother" always seeming to know the next most useful lesson, never bored in unraveling it for teaching over and over.
It is the most inconceivable of coincidences that when Robin collapsed I was the farthest away I had ever been, on the other side of the world, in a place I never would have been had I not known Robin - in Mcleod Ganj, at a Tibetan lesson (where though I have so much more to learn, it became heartbreakingly more obvious what a great teacher Robin had been in giving me a basis to be able to learn). And that, when Robin died, I was in Leh, Ladakh, easily the most beautiful place on earth, where the sky is so close and so clear, that I could feel in some heartfelt way connected to that great mind that was Robin's and that was now dissolving into what is inconceivable and vast. I hold dear those hours and hours I spent with Robin - translating,
talking, drinking tea, traveling to places near and far, those places alternating happy and sad, from Abhishekas to oncology consultations. Truly in this world it is unfathomably precious to have had such a friend.
My tears fall like monsoon rains and my being is soaked in the sadness that I knew one day would come. My tears fall like monsoon rains and my heart is filled with happiness for every moment together.
Love to your sister, your whole family, and the massive tangle of friends connected through knowing you.
tsewa thaye (/brtse ba mtha' yas)/
Limitless love go with you Robin -
Jane Hawes, July 31 2007
Life Upside Down
A still from La Vie à l'envers
by Alain Jessua (1963) -- Robin is seated lower right
Robin, 7.30.2006, Milwaukee
In Memory of Dear Robin
As I write Lama Chonam is visiting the Gesar palace just outside of Darlag Golog eastern Tibet and he is having many prayers and wind horses raised on behalf of Robin and his life's work. This area is considered by many to be the site of King Gesar's actual palace and the fortress for the launching of his enlightened activities. Robin's passing was in many ways indicative of the way he lived his life and it seems as though divinely orchestrated in terms of the way the positive signs have manifested. It is not so surprising since it is said that whatever one believes will become evident at their passing. Lama Chonam and I are sorry that we did not get to see Robin these last several years but we know that the time we did spend with him was the most important for our purpose together.
I first got to know Robin in Nova Scotia when I went there to translate at the enthronement of the Sayong Mipham Rinpoche. We had an immediate connection and soon discovered our mutual interest in the epic of Gesar of Ling. (Later I was told that Robin was trying to seduce me with little british tea sweets in his room!) I had just finished traveling with and translating for the Ven. Yangthang Tulku Rinpoche whom Robin had received empowerments from on the east coast. YTR always carried the epic of Gesar with him and this would be the first thing that he would place in the highest corner of any room he was to reside in. Then he would begin to recite the Gesar Guru Yoga, dharmapala practices and make many offerings on a daily basis. He also gave the empowerment on numerous occasions. This was fuel to the fire of my interest to know more about this manifestation of Guru Padmasambhava. After lengthy discussions I came to know that Robin needed an expert in Golog culture and literature to work with in order to continue the work he had begun on the epic. As karma would have it knew Lama Chonam who had recently come to the states and was relatively free to get involved in this and also had a keen interest. Everything happens according to timing! One thing led to another and one summer day Lama Chonam and I found ourselves driving from California to Milwaukee to live with Robin and begin translating the epic together. That I would just pick up and go to do this came as a shock to almost everyone that knew me. To this day I really cannot figure out exactly how it all happened.
The logistics of our living situation were rather humorous, especially when you think of the three of us living together. Back then Lama Chonam was still a monk and not nearly as accustomed to our culture as he is now. We all piled in together on the first floor of Robin's house with LC in the back room, me in between and Robin in the front. I was used to living with Rinpoche's so this took some adjusting but we were all very willing to rough it, so to speak, in order to work together. We had to walk through each other's rooms to get anywhere. We had very little money so we were always penny pinching and every other day Robin's Mom would call and talk to all of us.
This was the beginning of six years of working together to finally finish the first three books of the epic! That first year was the most memorable as everything was new and fresh. The three of us were excited like children on their own for the first time. Sometimes we would get into our antiquated mercedes that Robin loved, put on the oldies station and drive around singing at the top of our lungs. Lama Chonam would laugh and laugh. Sometimes we would go to the fancy new mens' clothing store and Lama Chonam would dress Robin in outfits that were nothing short of dashing on him. I think this was when Robin's fascination with nice clothes began and LC was truly his mentor. Whenever I could not find Lama Chonam and Robin I would go to that store and there they would be with Perry, their favorite salesman.I have so many stories from our years with Robin. The time we spent together as colleagues at the round table was unforgettably rich. We cracked the secret code of this timeless epic together as a dynamic team. With piles of dictionaries and grammar books we would read together and Lama Chonam would explain. I would translate what he said and Robin would write it down in a way that only he could do. We would work without regard for time and so enjoyed our own company. The Milwaukee sangha would help to take care of us.
Each year that we met it was like that when we worked. My only regret is that we were only able to finish three books which brought the epic up to the point where young Joru (as he was known before he became Gesar) won the horse race and assumed his position as the King of the land of Ling. Nevertheless some day the rest of the epic will be translated and most importantly the first three books are done and readers will be able to finally know how this great manifestation of enlightened activity came into this world and engaged with sentient beings. On behalf of our dear brother Robin, and forever dedicated to his memory and mark in this world, Lama Chonam and will do whatever we can to help speed along the process of publishing these books so that Robin's life's work can bear it's fruit for countless generations to come.
I find myself thinking of Robin many times each day with mixed emotions to be sure. When colorful characters come into our lives they leave the strongest impression. Whenever I pray to Gesar I will think of Robin too.
KYI KYI SO SO LHA GALO TAG SANG GYUNG DRUG YARGYAY!!!
Sangye Khandro (or Sonjay as Robin would always refer to me)
Tashi Choling Oregon
This is some of what I remember: Robin's enormous yellow Samsonite suitcase, perfect luggage for a wish-fulfilling jewel; Robin cruising around in the car he'd inherited from his mother laughing, "Death has been good to me!"; Robin at a dinner party making a joke about masturbation & the whole room going quiet; in Robin's living room, sitting down on what looked like a couch, & sinking to the floor; hanging out with Robin on his front porch, eating cookies & drinking tea (Robin poured some tea into a saucer for his beloved dog) talking about Buddhism--his teachers, mine, the differences & similarities of our respective traditions; Robin breaking off in mid-sentence to stop & stare, mesmerized by a passing female jogger, then taking up right where he'd left off. I remember his wonderful laugh & how he could talk about anything, swinging wildly from Dzogchen to Buffy the Vampire-slayer & back, without missing a beat. We spent one happy afternoon wandering around Walgreen's, when neither of us had much money, discussing all the merchandise & eventually buying a translucent blue plastic mug (him) & some red & green padded envelopes (me) & feeling we'd spent our time & money well.
Later, after he found out about his illness, enthusiasm undimmed, he took me to his favorite restaurants where he held forth on art, music, literature & philosophy, relating it all to Buddhism & always coming up with fascinating & original connections that made me feel like going out immediately & reading, seeing, hearing & thinking more about every subject he mentioned. One time we met at his hotel in New York & as we were crossing Broadway to look for a place to sit down & talk, he spontaneously hailed a cab in the middle of the street & took me to the Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel for High Tea. We ate tiny pastries & drank tea with milk under the most beautiful crystal chandeliers I'd ever seen. It was magical. A lot about Robin was magical--his irrepressible energy & zest for life, his passion for practice, his courage in the face of illness, & his immense neverending ecstatic & inspirational appreciation of everyone & everything everywhere.
I'm glad he gleefully got into manicures & pedicures & having his clothes custom-made by a tailor ("I'm turning into a metrosexual!" he announced, laughing). I'm glad he got a fancy iPod with a white ring of a speaker that made the room fill with music. I'm glad he planned that trip to Hawaii. I'm glad he found students who wanted to learn everything he knew. I'm glad he took up the piano & learned to play so beautifully. Every time I spoke to him he had more stories of his escapades--all hilarious or touching or both. I'm glad he had so many friends who stayed with him till the end of his life. I'm very glad I met him.
Shardrol Du-nyam Wangmo, New York
For my friend Robin Kornman
My friend and teacher has recently passed. I was there with him up until the end. A community of practioners overcoming there on fear of death united for a dear old friend - we practiced for him day and night. It was his last gift to us.
Robin touched the lived of all who came into contact with him. He would talk to waitresses, clerks, priests, Buddhists, gardeners, students - all with generosity and infectious glee. Robin was one who truly enjoyed life to its fullest. He is an inspiration for me as a tantric practioner
and as a human being. We will all miss this great warrior!
Here is a poem I wrote for him after I left the hospital and shortly after he passed.
A Child of Tigers becomes a Tiger Himself - */
Ala Ala Ho!
Homage to you marvelous Tantrika who enjoys all sense fields with passion and precision!
I enjoyed your presence in life and now still in your dying -
You are a true Sadhaka. You are a true friend.
You have taught me through my pain and through my joy; the dharma that liberates.
You were next to me as a friend and teacher through all of my changing life circumstances.
You taught me to revel in impermanence and enjoy the fundamental purity of the phenomenal world;
through music, through taste, through love - the feast of the senses!
I sat on your couch and in your kitchen, I listened as you talked with great love and devotion about your Lama -
The Great Mahasiddha Trungpa Rinpoche who said he would never abandon you -
Trust him, dear friend, now that you face this great and dangerous impasse.
I wish that I could come with you, I wish that I had the power to guide you through the bardos,
the intermediate space between this life and the next.
But I have confidence in you because you practiced the path of the Rig'dens.
You followed your tiger parents and watched as they crossed through the gates of death.
You defied and tested, you challenged and surrendered, you ignored and you listened well -
That is the swift path of the diamond vehicle;
this indestructible vehicle that provides liberation from cycles of suffering with promise.
My friend, I am here, by your side.
I stand next to your hospital bed and breath with you.
I watch as your breath arises and dissolves, your chest seems rough but your mind is smooth.
I sense that you are mixed with the Vidyadhara now.
You are mixed with the love of your friends and family.
You are mixed with the wondrous Kings and Queens of Shambhala.
You are mixed with the beautiful dancing Khandros who fiercely guard you.
You are mixed with that breath until your last breath -
That last breath that you breathe out into the loving space of the Dharmata.
And I will be by your side until that last breath -
May we meet again my old friend.
I love you. I will not forget you.
With love and devotion, Ja'tsal Pawo
(Jason Geils, Milwaukee, WI)
when he collapsed
I was one of Robin's students in Milwaukee. I am thoroughly enjoying listening to the audio files. I was with Robin when he collapsed, after he had a wonderful piano lesson.
I couldn't believe it was him playing, he was so good...I was in his kitchen, I came out, and his piano teacher and I complimented him. He just beamed, though his eyes were almost swollen shut and a minute later after getting up he fell and passed out. He never regained consciousness. What an incredible loss.
Kathleen Carter. Milwaukee
My first teacher
From Tuesday nights, to Wednesday nights
Sunday brunches after morning practice
New York Times, coffee
Vajra diamond comfyness slicing bagels with my friend
Late nights of channel surfing
What to do about pop culture decline
Into image-heavy booghboogah fear-monger
Drink more tea
L a u g h i n g
'til you can't
'til it hurts
Where's my friend
Where's my teacher
Where's the heart
Gone but not gone
Prayers for whatwhowhenwhere still inside
He will never give up on me
Thank you Robin
Tribute to Robin
My wife Amber and I were good friends of Robin, and even though we knew he was very ill, his death still came to us as a shock. Robin was our friend, our teacher, and even the man who married us... yet however sad his death is, we were happy to find a tribute page for him and hope that it will remain for years to come.
The other night I finished the third in a series of work as I thought of Robin. I would like to submit a picture of that piece to the page in honor of him. The title of the piece is Kyema III (for Robin Kornman). If you would like to know more details about it, e.g. size, media, etc. please let me know and will be happy to send it to you.
Thank you again.
Drew KunzDear Drew, Thank you so much for submitting this piece. Yes please, let us know the details so we can post them here. And, btw, this tribute page to Robin is a permanent part of the Chronicles, as are all of the features, stories, tributes, etc on the site. Thanks for asking, -WF
An Exchange with the Vidyadhara
About a year ago, I sent Robin this exchange, which took place during the Line of the Trungpas Seminar at Karme-Choling in 1975. [This seminar will be published as THE MISHAP LINEAGE later this year.] I had been editing this material and enjoyed the humor of the situation. It may be one of the few times that Robin DIDN'T know something! He didn't remember this occasion, but seemed delighted to be reminded of the interchange. It's a fond reminder for me of the humor he shared with so many, including his teacher, so I thought I would share it here.
Student: Could you say a little bit more about the Indian saint that Kunga Gyaltsen dreamed about?
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche: Dombhipa? Can you say something, Robin?
[Speaking to Robin Kornman]
Robin Kornman: Actually not. I don't know much about Dombhipa.
CTR: I'm sure you can. Get the microphone.
RK: I have to put my ignorance on tape?
CTR: Yes! [Laughter.]
RK: Karme-Choling, December 23, 1975. I don't remember anything about Dombhipa. [Laughter.]
-Carolyn Gimian, Halifax, 6 August 2007
To Robin Kornman
You were one of my first teachers, at an eight-week program in Stowe, VT, in 1975. I asked you if karma has an end, and you responded, "We can't say yet"--still one of the most profound Dharma answers I have ever gotten. Later, I asked about Vajrayogini practice, and you knew every pertinent detail.
You were younger than me, and you called me, "My boy!" with a big grin and that gleeful laugh and hugged me.
You walked to the microphone to ask the Vidyadhara
questions with such delight. He began to smile, you
began to ask an impudent thing, that turned into an
impish thing, where the victim of the joke always
turned out to be yourself. Your infectious joy and
intelligent questions brought him out, and made us all
worthy of his vast enlightenment.
You knew the Gesar myth/reality better than anyone in
our sangha by far. You proclaimed that the Shambhala
teachings were meant for the world, for the millions.
You knew the world needs windhorse, authentic
presence and all the rest. When your life's main
toil is finally in print, what you understood will be
You magnetized the sangha. Your students are lucky
We met this January in Chicago--you came down from
Milwaukee--and we went to the opera, Turandot. You
dressed in formal attire, including a new cashmere
coat, copious, of exquisite hand. We skipped the
last act, which you knew by heart, summarized for me
and said wasn't important to stay for; and so we went
to your hotel, and whiled away the evening into the
wee hours, talking through all things Shambhala, a
conversation you later said was "important for both
our work," a confirmation of Dharma.
I loved you so much, when I heard the news of your
heart attack, I started sobbing uncontrollably.
You are riding with Gesar now, there is no doubt in my
mind. You are riding the breeze of delight. You
are laughing that high laugh. You are beamed along
the brilliant rays of the Golden Sun of the Great
East. You are following the Vidyadhara
imperturbably, outrageously, faithfully, meticulously
to Shambhala, through the power of your well-lived
31 July 2007
I was in heaven
I was in heaven -- 5th floor of Barkley at 1984 (82?) Seminary at Bedford Springs. The Nalanda Translation Group was hard at work with the Vidyadhara who was holding court from his huge bed with translators sitting all around on the floor and at tables with texts. This particular translation just happened to be Jambhala. Robin was there of course, and being from New Orleans, this translation was not lost on his wonderful sense of humor -- Jambhala/Jambalaya -- what a wonderful mix -- with this big black beautiful protector. It was hysterical. We were all practically rolling on the floor. Farewell Dear Robin, Farewell! And oh, thank you so much for your generosity!
who cured my baby boy of his nightmares
who my wife called the exorcist
who took my wrathful thanka
who kept me up till 2 AM
engaging Rinpoche with questions--
why twelve hours?
why twelve months?
why twelve-year cycles?
Now I can't remember why
who didn't know that Mipham was Denma
but who knew Denma so well
who didn't return my emails
but took my phone calls
(but never sent the horse-race chapter)
why does death seem so sad
when it is just another bardo
like those others?
July 31, 2007
Boundless brilliance walking around in such a difficult body.
Your mother fed you all those googoo clusters because she wanted her boy round and happy.
Such voracious hunger for everything--
knowledge, wisdom, love and all the sensual delights.
The interpenetration of all things.
The easy way that your mind flowed across all topics, no matter how banal or abstruse,
like a mountain stream flows over and around all obstacles,
the rocks and the trees and so forth.
Pure and fresh and sparkling with incredible energy and delight,
no matter how sad you were about your personal samsara.
So many hours spent together--
in your house on Grape Street,
in my house,
in so many dharma moments and spaces as we helped build the Shambhala world together
or roamed beyond it's early narrow confines
in the riches of the phenomenal world.
You introduced me and connected me:
to the very first computer networks as we played Colossal Cave on Compuserve,
all green letters on black screens
before anyone had heard of the internet;
to countless books we discussed and dissected;
to wonderful men and dazzling women, one of whom eventually became my wife.
Brilliant conversation at dinners, dinners, dinners at Grape Street--
Tessa and Diana and Diana's husband and the dogs.
How you successfully stopped smoking one day with the Kornman method --
a bottle of Jack Daniels in your desk drawer at work at Naropa.
And many sad and painful times of break-ups and heartbreaks, frustrations and even despair.
And then you left Boulder,
now a long time ago,
to share and demonstrate in the greater world what we in Boulder already knew.
Princeton PhD, college professor, Library of Congress, translating, teaching, performing, transforming, eating, making love, celebrating and always studying and teaching the dharma.
And then came more obstacles and the cancer you believed had been there a long time,
stealing your energy and your sense of wellbeing.
You fought it with passion and intelligence which was an inspiration to all of us cancerniks
along with everyone else who was fortunate enough to meet you.
And you lived so much longer than you or we expected,
an incredible demonstration of the generosity of the dralas and of your mind.
You offered us so much in the past gifted years.
Teachings and transmissions and connections which no one else on this planet could make.
Setting a whole new group of students on the authentic path
and almost, almost getting your epic on Gesar into our hands and heads.
May it quickly be completed by the network which you created
to benefit all of us sentient beings.
Who else but you could pull off the incredible mind trick,
over and over again,
of expounding on this or that with great eloquence, as always,
and then drifting off, mid-sentence into a morphine dream state
returning in 10 seconds or 2 minutes,
continuing the same sentence, the same train of thought,
without hesitation or grammatical error.
Robin who kept falling in love until his last day,
with the beautiful women who were always somehow mysteriously around him,
and with beautiful ideas, teachers, music, experiences.
This past year, he not only produced an incredible body of dharma teachings
but also took great delight in studying Jewish mysticism with a Chabad rabbi in Milwaukee,
started studying and playing the piano again practicing as much as two hours every day,
and traveled to exotic locales with at least one lovely woman on his arm at all times.
An inconceivable tantra of pain
And that is just what I know about.
You will be missed.
And you are well loved today as you were on every day you were with us
whether you knew it or not.
The Shambhala virtues of fearlessness, gentleness, cheerfulness, daring, dignity, compassion
and tenderness all flowered in you.
There was no place or space you were afraid to venture into
or out of.
You were uncontained and uncontainable.
You surfed the undertow -
And you overflowed.
As much as you always took
(anyone remember what was left in your refrigerator after having Robin as a houseguest?),
you always gave back much more.
I am grateful for your time here Robin.
And I am grateful that you are now at play in the bardos and beyond.
May you come back to further teach us Bodhisattva Robin
and may you have the perfect dancing body next time.
August 3, 2007
Robin was a great dancer
At the end of a fire puja many years ago at Karme Choling, perhaps it as late 80's or more likely early 90's, we tripped the light fantastic for many lovely hours
It was refreshing to find that such a scholarly fellow could dance so delightfully
Here is to a genuine human being
May all blessings go to him
From my little window, flying
above desolate Alaskan and Albertan
ice fields and glaciers,
great nameless muddy rivers,
parks without rangers
a land without strip malls or parking lots,
where enthusiasm need not be curbed,
the reach of this magnificent wonder,
so calming to my heart, like seeing Tibet,
connected in time and space to our
futile attempts to get something done,
to survival and find meaning,
Robin, this is the world you embraced with your wisdom and kindness,
fearlessly and unscripted,
the dwelling place of the only father guru.
In Boulder in 1986 you were my ,
cut man in the bout
encouraging me to bob and weave in the battle with the beauteous maras,
I was almost down for the count, but the bell rang and you brought out the stool of sanity,
you gave without words, ideas or judgment
and without expecting anything in return.
that was something.
you were in my corner.
You encouraged me to go to Tibet while some scorned,
and when I came back you said,
"you see you really accomplished something for yourself, old man, nobody gave that to you."
1986, living at your house on Grape Street,
studying han yu with Prof. Xing Yan,
you had a crush on Shan Shan,
you were a booster of my leap into the unknown --
with your Apsos and orchids,
you had once been married to the late Crown Princess,
you told me that you were trying to be careful,
you had a professional shopping service
and store-bought jars of crushed garlic in oil,
and we listened to Blood on the Tracks endlessly and
you told me how amazing that Dylan could be so public with his deepest grief,
grief about love and loss.
Lover of knowledge, philosophy,
you were a mandarin, Robin,
not born of official hierarchies,
your accomplishment didn't need confirmation.
your knowledge was transmitted effortlessly and passionately,
outside the scriptures., and while that fucking disease could kill you,
in the words of the Boss,
it can't kill the memory of you.
you were good to me once and I'll never forget your kindness,
August 2, 2007,
Dynasty Garden, Beijing
The Scholar Who Got the Highest Teachings....
While I first met Robin when my wife and I were his next-door neighbors at the first year Vajradhatu Seminary was held at Bedford Springs PA, I didn't get to know him well until he moved to Milwaukee.
I had left the organization in the wake of the Regent debacle, and was studying (and continue to study) with Chogyal Namkhai Norbu. Robin and I bonded over our mutual interest in Dzogchen and our love for the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche. We probably averaged close to a call per day for the last 8 years or so, ranging far and wide, and always at some point laughing our asses off. Robin's fierce loyalty to his teacher was beginning to manifest in concern that somehow the teachings he loved were being subtly displaced. When the Chronicles Project was begun I know that it was incredibly heartening for him.
Along with all that loyalty there was also a real desire to continue on the path and that meant Dzogchen, Maha Ati, the 9th Yana. One day I got a call from an old friend. Out of the blue, he said that there was a Lama in the US on a visit, and I should invite him to teach in Milwaukee. Later that day I talked to Robin and he said 'He called you? He called me and said the same thing!' We decided to collaborate, and invented the fictitous 'Ad Hoc Rime Committee' to host the event. That is how Robin met his Dzogchen teacher Wangdor Rinpoche, also known as Lama Wangdor, the retreat master at the caves of Padmasambhava at Tso Pema, Himchal Pradesh, India.
Most dharma events in this country are put on by organizations or in some cases sponsored by wealthy individuals. We certainly did not fall into either category. But we could scrape up airfare and groceries, and Rinpoche and his translator stayed in the flat above Robin's (Lama Chonam and Sangye Khandro were out of town). They had groundrules - anyone who showed up was allowed to attend the teachings, regardless of their level of experience, and we could not charge for the teachings! This is where Robin's network of friends really showed. He finagled the use of the Shambhala Center in Milwaukee (eternal thanks!) and many friends helped out. The place was packed, the teachings wonderful. People made offerings directly to Rinpoche and his translator Lama Lena, and we separately collected enough donations to defray our costs and give several hundred dollars to the center. Tom Sawyer's fence meets Maha Ati!
So we did it again and again. And our trust in karma grew, as well as our trust in the self-secret nature of the teachings themselves. Some of this was reflected in the article Robin wrote about the language of Dzogchen in Buddhadharma magazine a few years back. Wangdor Rinpoche last visited Milwaukee this June, and this time the Ad Hoc Rime Committee was joined by the Shambhala Center as co-sponsors of the event. Robin was too sick to attend the teachings at the center, but Rinpoche came to Robin's home and gave him and his translation group a short and incredibly direct Dzogchen teaching from his root guru Nyala Changchub Dorje. He had given it to a few of us privately on his previous visit - this time he went through it line by line, word by word. Robin was like the Robin of old, totally animated and engaged, smacking himself on the forehead and saying 'THAT'S what that means!!'. It was a joy for this non-translator to be a fly on the wall of that session....
Robin got one more teaching from Wangdor Rinpoche. Rinpoche called him late in the afternoon on Thursday July 26, and gave him instruction on practice in the Bardo, both the 'ideal' method and a 'backup' method - in case he was in the hospital and things were confusing. He also pointed out his mind yet again, and confirmed Robin's understanding. Robin then got a piano lesson (from all reports he played beautifully) and then got up and collapsed. He never regained consciousness.
Almost every student of Tibetan Buddhism tells stories about their teacher. It is not so common for a teacher to tell stories about their students. A few years ago Robin requested and received Thogal instructions from Wangdor Rinpoche, one - to - one. Rinpoche and Lama Lena were then taken to my home for a dinner. Robin never showed. Afterwards, I called, and it turned out he got lost 3 times on the way home! The next day, on the way to the airport, Rinpoche told me about 'The Scholar who came to get the highest teachings, and couldn't find his way home' and then laughed so hard he was crying... He told one more story about Robin, while teaching the 3 Words that Strike to the Essence in Marin County, when Robin was on a ventilator near death. He cited Robin as an example of a westerner who had truly achieved realization.
So long, old man!
I have known Robin for about the last ten years, far less than many in the sangha. But he was nevertheless my most important and beloved spiritual friend. The news of Robin's demise was much more of a shock than I expected. After years of practice, death still surprises us. As I sit with my sense of loss, I provide this posting in the hope that some of you who knew Robin from long ago might like to know about his more recent activities. He profoundly influenced many young meditators right up until the end.
For several years around 2000, while a postdoctoral researcher in Madison, I attended "pre-seminary" classes Robin offered at the Milwaukee Shambhala Center. These magnetized the center, and soon he had a following, of which I was a most enthusiastic part. As an academic scientist, his depth of understanding and his tight logic were instantly compelling. But his approach was irreverent, hilarious, and yet deeply serious all at once. In this way he was channeling CTR, and through Robin I felt I was meeting him. Robin often strayed from the "curriculum," in a confident way that only a deeply grounded teacher can do without becoming self-indulgent. I recall one whole class dedicated to appreciating the subtle distinctions in different types of fine Chinese teas. I don't drink tea the same way anymore.
After class Robin often shared a late meal with the students at a nearby Mexican restaurant. He was always greeted by the help as "Maestro!" ("Teacher!"), and these nights of conversation over enchiladas were memorable to many of us. The group that attended these classes eventually became guinea pigs in a pet project of Robin's, The Gesar Group, in which students with a stated commitment to the Dharmadatu path take the Shambhala Training levels as a tight cohort and on an accelerated timetable. This was intended to make some sort of point to the chiefs in Halifax, I believe, but for us it was first and foremost an opportunity to get more time with Robin.
I saw Robin regularly again a couple years later (roughly 2002-03), when I had moved to suburban Washington to take a faculty job and Robin spent a year as a visiting scholar at the Library of Congress. He had become completely consumed with the Gesar epic, and was already fighting the cancer that eventually claimed him. It was a wonderful year of brilliant colleagues and a stimulating city, but also hard. His health was declining, and his beloved Lhasa Apso (whose Tibetan name I cannot recall) died soon after. We shared the joy of a modest advance from his publisher (Penguin) that, though hardly enough to support him, was at least confirmation of the work's importance. We ate a grand meal at a Chinese place in DC to celebrate, and as usual he ate a lot. An unexpected panic occurred, though, upon my ordering of a fish that was, at that point, still swimming in the tank next to us. Robin got rather agitated and began chanting "Om Mane Padme Hum" as the fish was extracted from the tank and taken to the kitchen to meet its maker. But he nevertheless ate it quite gleefully a few minutes later.
I last saw Robin in the summer of 2006, when a biology conference brought me back to Wisconsin. We had a lovely time, and spent some time with some very young Virginian dharma students who had heard about Robin and wanted to meet him. In his living room on Kramer Street, Robin patiently corrected various misconceptions regarding various sutras, Madhyamaka, and other topics I wish I could recall specifically, and for a few hours it felt like old times. During all that, an installation guy from the audiophile stereo shop was busily drilling holes in the floor to put in his new super-sweet sound system. But there was an unmistakable melancholy about Robin that I found unsettling, and I left wondering whether I'd see him again. This past February he asked me when I was coming to Wisconsin again. I moaned about the demands of a new baby, and said that along with my faculty job I was now so busy that it was not likely to be for a long time. He wrote back the following (my last message from him):
"Yep. That's a baby alright. Well, you'll have personal time when it's about fifteen. I can't wait that time to see you. The cancer is in remission, but it won't last that long. Anyway, congratulations. You've got the whole thing now. I'm doing pretty good myself. I've sued myself into a position of modest wealth and I'm working hard on translation.
I see that I never replied to that message. I suck. Or I'm just human. Still feels like guilt, though. Clearly I totally misread his condition--he had seemed to be so improved that I expected he'd live for another decade or more.
Robin Kornman in many ways lived his life as if there were no tomorrow, and gave up stability that would have naturally accrued to someone of his intelligence in order to share his devotion with anyone and everyone as a sort of intellectual nomad. It's extraordinary to meet someone like that, even as the conventional part of myself was often impatient with his refusal to be practical or plan for the future. In this way he was very much like his beloved guru, CTR, who burned out fast but left a huge legacy. I hope Robin knew that as he was leaving us. He will be missed.
Eulogy for Robin
My memorial to Robin is based on my latest experience of him which was listening to a series of five talks he delivered in Milwaukee in a seminar called "Creating an Enlightened Society". Robin is/was exemplary because he was willing to take full ownership of the gifts we were given collectively, nurture them, and further them as his own. It is in establishing the meaning of Ownership, how to be a proper recipient of the teachings, that I think is Robin's greatest gift to us.
How many times did we hear Robin get up during Rinpoche's teachings and express doubt, raise difficult questions, and keep pressing when he wasn't satisfied with the answer. This grinding and sometimes embarrassing process is the process of properly receiving. The teacher's honesty meeting the student's honesty.
Robin describes the process of Kagyu Ngondro, five years worth, as developing faith. He was adamant that only through this process was he able to ripen doubt and develop faith in his guru.
In so doing, he demonstrated how we learn to trust ourselves completely.
Once he received, Robin worked very hard to further the transplantation of the dharma in the west. He took personal responsibility for it. He used his gifts as a scholar, a translator and generous person toward that aim. His style of teaching was more like partaking in a great meal where you couldn't stop talking about the food. Of course, what is interesting other than the delicious and penetrating flavor of the truth?
In so doing, he demonstrated how we hold the teachings and pass them on.
Being a citizen
Robin was not a cultist. Nor did he narrowly define himself. Integrating the eastern and western wisdom lineages was a passion of his, and I think a line of inquiry, that if we pursue it, can set a course for the evolution of Shambhala. He loved he Greek philosophers and did his own spade work to find meeting points in their contemplative path and the Buddha-dharma. He was clearly taken with the idea that the west has to revive the ideal of the renaissance courtier, the well trained and cultured person as a model for living. He held the view that the enlightenment culture of the west was eroded with industrialization, but could be revived. He articulated the Shambhala teachings using both western and eastern paradigms to show that they can be equally at home in both.
In so doing, he demonstrated how we can work to heal the wounds of our world.
To know Robin was to laugh with him. Or eat, or shop. I remember him at the Kalapa Assembly, participating in a full bore Shambhala Wedding. He was dressed as a Japanese nobleman in clothes borrowed from Shibata Sensei, hair oiled, clearly delighting in the whole affair. He wrote me "Oh how I loved that outfit Shibata Sensei dressed me in. Those were the only clothes I've ever worn that felt completely and utterly right."
In living, he demonstrated how we can make the most of being human.
Bob Gailey, August 2, 2007, Halifax, Nova Scotia
I met Robin once, when I was shrine master for a program he taught at Berkeley SC on Gesar of Ling & Padmasambhava. We had to set up for a lhasang, which included a substance that, it I remember correctly, was called chemar. It consisted of 3 kinds of barley, milk, some other stuff, and cut-up pieces of brocade. I was cutting up blue brocade and putting it in this huge bowl with the other ingredients, which had about the consistency of bread dough, and Robin was stirring it with a big spoon and grinning like a demented dharmic Julia Child.
I'll miss just knowing he was in the world somewhere.
Ngakma Zer-me Dri'med
An Hour with Robin
19 May 2007
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Yesterday, I visited with my friend Robin, who was staying at the Lord Nelson, which he grandiosely called "The Lord Nelson Arms." He has been afflicted for the past several years with a severe form of cancer that attacks the lining outside the stomach. He contracted it apparently from working briefly in construction when he was a teenager. Robin is a brilliant translator, teacher, writer, scholar and bon vivant. I've known him for more than thirty years. It was late afternoon and he sat in his pajama bottoms and an elegant kind of overshirt. In the early stages of his disease it was very grim, but a little while ago, his condition improved greatly as a result of some surprise chemotherapy successes, but now there's been a setback and he is on chemo again. He has to travel with his doctor. She does translation work with him, so it's somewhat convenient, but there's nothing convenient about Robin's condition. He winces--more than winces--in pain every few minutes or seconds. He's used to this; he elicits no self-pity from himself and solicits no pity from his visitor.
Pills and potions are all over the place. He takes a couple while I am there after searching for his box, the kind that has compartments for each day and each time of day. At one point, he excuses himself to go into the bathroom where unpleasant growls and groans ensue. I stand and look out at the Public Gardens from this eighth floor perch. It is suffused with mist and looks almost Brigadoon-like, but with Robin's pain so filling the room and my mind, that beautiful garden has never seemed so lovely by contrast or so irrelevant at the same time. As Robin's absence lengthens into indefiniteness, a feature I recall of my own teacher, I am permitted a reverie standing transfixed at the window. I am often encouraged these days to rally round something, to get excited, enthusiastic, supportive, about this new development or that. The golden age is arriving it would seem. How to explain my not turning cartwheels? I am of a generation that overdid our excitements and enthusiasms. With what we now face--I hear Robin retching--we shall have to get by on the enthusiasms we have been granted thus far. Permit us this much.
Robin returns and searches the room for a sock. He needs to get dressed eventually for the evening abhisheka that has brought him to Halifax. He's mildly disoriented and can't quite find the sock. I locate it for him. Labored, he returns to his chair. As we discuss topics high and low, he fades in and out of morphine sleep. At times he is brilliantly lucid and at others he slips briefly into what he calls "a morphine dream," producing an utterance that is half intelligible and yet beautiful, like Coleridge. He tells me of his many projects and then forgets briefly what we were discussing, but it's not hard to get him back on track. All of the students of Trungpa Rinpoche hold the lineage collectively, he says to me. We have to carry it on without credentials and the secure recognition of grand institutions--nomadically, or so he says. Impending death has made this jolly rake a driven man.
Robin is Falstaffian, Brobdingnagian, and despite his weight loss one still feels that. Hanging in the open-air hotel closet are lovely clothes, made affordable to the continually struggling Robin by asbestos industry litigation rewards, an ironic twist--fibres giving way to fibres--that we laugh about. A notorious sybarite, when I knew him when, Robin could eat a whole meal as an appetizer. He had a large, jolly wit and a prodigious appetite for life. Some found him appalling, offputting at times, but his revels never occasioned any shame. He lived full, and the discourses and yarns he could spin would usually be well worth the wining and the dining. He would sing for his supper. A good friend of his who died of cancer left him a not-insignificant amount of money. Feeling that death loomed but in a phase of feeling a little better, Robin repaired to New York and set himself up in a hotel with a valet and a liveried chauffeur and took his sister and friends out to dinner and a show or opera every night. He used up the money in a week. No regrets. Some might not get that. I do... Robin, I'm sure made better use of his week of luxury than Donald Trump has in decades of excess.
Robin is failing before my eyes. He needs to sleep now and it is time to go. The short visit has used up all his energy. He tells me that he hopes this round of chemo may knock it down and he could live for a long time...or not. Apropos of being in the Lord Nelson, and Robin is always apropos (except when his appetite and expansiveness overwhelms any hope of tact), he tells me, in his ever-squeaky voice, "I'm bloodied but unbowed, old man." I emerge into the wet gray day with heavy thoughts.
I could separate myself from Robin by the simple thought, He is sick and I am not, but that kind of cheap separation seems tissue thin just now. What a farcical notion that one is secure from ill or harm. We think, no, no, that way lies depression and despair, not life. When the reality game show host prattling on in our mind asks us to choose from door # 3, hope, and door # 2, fear, we always prefer them to good old door number 1, the real thing, straight up, no ice and soda, beyond the pettiness of hope and fear. Comfort is crap. To live, to die, is to peel back the skin of the heart. It hurts a lot. It's very tender, but it's also tough. It can take it. Kiss me Hardy.
-Barry Boyce, 19 May 2007, Halifax