Lama Zopa Rinpoche requests that “students who read Mandala pray that the students whose obituaries follow find a perfect human body, meet a Mahayana guru and become enlightened quickly, or be born in a pure land where teachings exist and they can become enlightened.” Reading these obituaries also helps us reflect upon our own death and rebirth – and so use our lives in the most meaningful way.
Agathe Alderuccio, 2, died in Toulouse, France, September 24, 2009, of a rare illness
When Agathe Alderuccio was three months old, she was diagnosed with a rare illness that so far has neither name nor known medical cause. Agathe never developed the ability to see, walk or talk. By the time of her first birthday, she was unable to eat. By her parents’ accounts, Agathe was suffering all the time, the hospital becoming her second home.
Agathe passed away in her mother’s arms with her head close to her mother’s heart. Her parents share that at that moment, “Agathe was as she had never been before – every sign of suffering had disappeared, her body was transformed, she was just beauty. Her presence was emanating tenderness, peace, joy and love. The hospital room was full of sweet, warm light. A little smile appeared on Agathe’s lips.”
Lisa and Stefano Alderuucio, students of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, wrote this poem in celebration of their daughter and read it at her funeral:
Agathe, our little child, your life has been a mystery.
You could not walk and so every day we have walked for you.
You could not talk and so every day we have tried to talk in your name.
As you could not see the world, we have told you the beauty of the mountains, the flowers, the sky, the stars.
That is the mystery: you, who could not see, have opened our eyes and our hearts.
You have taught us patience, you who have never complained.
You have taught us gentleness, you who have never been in anger.
You have taught us trust and acceptance, you who let yourself go with no resistance into the arms of anyone who would offer to take care of you.
You, who were so different, have taught us not to judge, not to consider appearances, as they are just illusions.
You have shown us a path; it has not been easy for us. But you have showed us the way of happiness. Finally, it is not that difficult.
Now go, Agathe, go…, run, play, sing, laugh…, go, fly, fly little angel.
We tell you that we will carry on in the path you have shown us through your infinite love.
From where you are, little Agathe, look after all suffering children and their parents, look after those who nurse and assist them, look after your brother, our families and all humanity who needs so much to be loved.
Your parents in this life, Lisa and Stefano
Yvonne Boucher, 93, died at home in France,
November 10, 2009, of natural causes
Yvonne was born on July, 9, 1916. When she was 18, she lost her mother, and so took care of her sister and two brothers. She and her family had to escape during the Second World War.
She married my father at the time their first daughter was born. That daughter died in an accident when she was only 13 years old. My mother learned about it from a newspaper and because she was so distraught, she couldn’t take care of my sisters. I was born two years later at the suggestion of a doctor to have another child. My dad was 51 and my mum 43.
When I came back from the Kopan course in 1983, I spoke to my parents about what I had learned, especially about death and reincarnation. She said that my late sister believed in reincarnation but did not follow any religion. We gained trust in each other by speaking about my sister’s death. She wouldn’t speak to any of my sisters about this or about the guilt she had.
When I was working at Institut Vajra Yogini, my mum came to visit us. She met Geshe Tengye-la. She felt that I was in a good place even if I wasn’t earning money. She realized that I wasn’t exploited at all and that the way we were living was in accordance with her beliefs of respecting others, of loving kindness. She greatly appreciated the kindergarten and found Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s explanation of Universal Education very good – she and my father were very attentive to the welfare of their grandchildren.
My parents took an interest in Buddhism and read books of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They would discuss emptiness together.
Geshe Tengye-la came to their home twice. My parents were honored by his presence. They had a lot of respect for him.
My older sister has taken care of our mum since my father died. She did an incredible, perfectly sincere and dedicate job – especially when, three years ago, our mother couldn’t use her legs or arms very well.
After several strokes, my mum continued with courage to recuperate function in her arms and to speak so that she could communicate with her children and grandchildren. She was very much attentive to others.
Lama Zopa’s retreat on Chenrezig helped me a lot to take care of my mother. I also was using Rinpoche’s advice for death and dying. Mum appreciated the card with the Tibetan letters, the pictures of His Holiness and buddhas. She was very attentive to the recitation of mantras and translation. She adored the letter of Rinpoche starting with “my dear sister.”
The last time I read it to her, she said, “How right he is to say that we have to abandon everything, to be free of anything.” She smiled at the end of the letter when Rinpoche ends with “with all my love and prayers” and she said, “Please tell him, ‘thank you very much’.”
Then she told me: “Next time you will come will be for my funeral.” And she was right.
Up to the last breath my mother was aware and never complained, and she had loving thoughts for her daughters.
Forty-nine days after my mother’s death (the time when traditionally it is said that a being must take rebirth), the sky was very clear and full of stars. Suddenly, one shooting star with a long tail crossed the sky. The next night, I dreamed of giving a bath to my mum. I felt confident that she was well.
Venerable Lozang Dhondrup, Pete Smith, 44, died in Queensland, Australia, November 13, 2009
Pete Smith was born in Brisbane in July of 1965. He completed his schooling in Brisbane and then studied graphic design at the Queensland College of Arts.
He loved his friends dearly and was always cooking for them or going out to dinner.
He worked in Sydney for several years as a graphic designer, production manager and sales representative for Flash Photobition.
Pete had very strong humanitarian ideals, and was always looking for something or some way to make a difference in people’s lives. Chenrezig Institute is where he finally found peace within himself and could finally become the beautiful sentient being that he was.
Pete Smith became Ven. Lozang Dhondrup when he took rabjung ordination from Geshe Tashi Tsering (Kusho Lama Lozang Rigdzin) in 2006 at Chenrezig Institute. Two years later, he took getsul vows, also with Geshe Tashi Tsering.
Ven. Dhondrup told lots of stories of meeting the Dharma and his teachers. He was a volunteer at Chenrezig Institute for a while before he became a monk, working in Lama Yeshe’s Big Love Café. For weeks he was hearing about “Geshe-la, Geshe-la” all the time and not really knowing who this “Geshe-la” was. Then one afternoon, while he was sitting in the cafe, he heard this great joyful laugh coming down the hill. Then bouncing down the steps to the cafe was Geshe Tashi Tsering. Dhondrup would say how he was totally in awe at this time.
Ven. Dhondrup also told us about meeting his root guru. In 2006, when Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrived, Ven. Dhondrup was in the welcoming line when Rinpoche came by put his hand on the top of Ven. Dhondrup’s head and said to him, “Thank you for all the work you have done.” Ven. Dhondrup said that it felt like his head was buzzing for days afterward.
After he was ordained, Ven. Dhondrup attended the Basic Program as much as he could, but the institute also needed a kitchen manager at that time so he took up the role for about a year. He worked really hard, baking the best brownies ever, despite his ill health – he kept the cafe and kitchen going beautifully.
Ven. Dhondrup saw a need for the monks’ community to be physically established at Chenrezig Institute. This was no small undertaking and it required a lot of his previous business skills (which he admitted that he thought he had happily left behind in Sydney) to create the plans and raise the necessary funds.
After he got permission to establish the community, he wasted no time in commencing the renovation of an old house on the property. He literally put his body on the line for this undertaking, giving it everything he had. It was his vision that made the project an eventual success. There is now a small monks’ community at the institute, Lozang Dragpa Monastery.
Due to Ven. Dhondrup’s kindness, enthusiasm and sheer determination, our small group of five monks has the opportunity to study the Buddhadharma at the high level that the Basic Program offers.
Without Dhondrup’s efforts, there would be no monks community at Chenrezig Institute. His vision was not for himself to be able to stay; he really was doing it for others. The enormous efforts in his life are a lesson in joyous perseverance and his death a lesson in impermanence. May Dhondrup always meet with infinitively kind teachers that can lead him to peerless enlightenment so he may be able to bring benefit to countless beings everywhere.
Kara Everson, 58, died in New South Wales, Australia, December 29, 2009, of breast cancer
First published in January – March 2010 Liberation, the newsletter of Liberation Prison Project. Edited here for space.
It was in 1968, when Kara was 16, that she discovered the two spiritual traditions that would shape her life. She first read The Way of the Pilgrim (discovered while reading J.D. Salinger’sFranny and Zooey), the 19th century spiritual classic about a devout Christian’s journey across Russia. That same year, she also visited Borobudur, the ancient Buddhist stupa on the island of Java in Indonesia. “She was overwhelmed by the beauty and energy,” Ariel, her daughter, said.
Later in life, when Kara retired from teaching high school, she spent 10 years driving the 600 miles (1,000 km) from Sydney to FPMT’s Chenrezig Institute in Queensland to take teachings from Geshe Tashi Tsering, Chenrezig’s then resident lama. In 2004, after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer, she continued her studies via correspondence.
Kara was also an eloquent teacher for Liberation Prison Project. In her last email to Liberation Prison Project, Kara explained how serious her condition had become. She was paralyzed from the waist down and could no longer sit at the computer for very long, and so was forced to hand-write what would be her final letter to Dimitrios Topalis, a Greek Orthodox practitioner meditating with a group at Grafton Correctional in New South Wales with whom she corresponded regularly. Here we include excerpts from this last, moving letter:
… I am today at home but soon I will be taking a bed in a nursing home for half the week to minimize the impact on my family. It is a fulltime job caring for what St. Francis used to call “old brother donkey.”
… I have spent five years now preparing for my death. I have had the opportunity to review the painful situations in my life and to work at the negative emotions that I have been holding on to, without even suspecting that I have been holding on to them. Slowly, through meditation and contemplation I have been able to let these things go ….
…Dmitri, I think this will by my last letter, which is why it is so long. I have spent many days with it. In writing it I hope to have cast out seeds to you that you can water and watch grow. As I am no longer able to walk I was wondering if you would do a little something for me. You are the only person I can ask to do this – but of course, just you are able, or as the right moment allows.
I always thought I would get into walking meditation. When I went to the Buddhist monastery down near Woolongong the monks and nuns were doing this meditation. It felt very precise and calm and dedicated. I went home and I did return to it from time to time, but never consistently. Now, of course, I can’t even wriggle my toes, let alone put my feet on the ground. I wonder if you would do some walking meditation for all our fellow sentient beings who can no longer walk. With the beginning to any exercise it is good to set your motivation: I am doing this for the benefit of all sentient beings, especially those who are lame or paralyzed. This is a great joy Dmitri to be able to walk! Think what happiness greets a child’s first steps.
…No one needs to know what thoughts guard your mind. It is between you and Buddha, you and Christ. Remember that they are both dwelling in the same heart – yours.
Emily Paynter, 62, died in North Carolina, USA, January 9, 2010, of cancer
Emily had the very strong wish to take care of others that came straight from the heart, with great warmth, joy and kindness. This wish also translated into her becoming a trailblazer for bringing the Western vision of a chaplain into our Buddhist community, and at the same time incorporating Buddhist methods and ideas into a traditionally Christian approach to ministry. She saw people’s need for help during difficult times and transitions in life, and very creatively filled it.
Right before Emily came to Kadampa Center, she saw a counselor to find out her spiritual path. When asked, “What do you need?” out of her mouth and out of nowhere flew “a Tibetan Buddhist monk.” A week later in the grocery store, she saw Geshe Gelek Choda and chased him down, tugging on his robes to see if he was indeed a monk!
Many people were deeply, personally touched by Emily’s kindness and work as Kadampa Center’s Chaplain. She would find out who was absent or needed help and then coordinate group cards, flowers, hospital visits, and reach out to them to make sure they felt a part of the community. As this need grew, she developed a system of neighborhood support groups to encourage people to gather together and, by getting to know each other better, care for each other in times of need as well.
Emily was especially interested in preparing for death, leading workshops on the practical side of navigating the healthcare system and advance planning while incorporating Buddhist practice and the stages of death. With help from Geshe Gelek, she developed a memorial service based on the five powers as described in the lam-rim so that the community could come together in remembrance. She led all the services when members of the center died. As her own body deteriorated, her happy mind was an inspiration to everyone. She was concerned about pain, and how her illness and death would affect others around her, but as Lama Zopa Rinpoche recently noticed and commented, she was not afraid of death. Her courage, coming from a lot of preparation, was a great gift. Shortly after she died, members saying prayers by her body distinctly smelled perfume, which Geshe Gelek says is a sign of a great practitioner.
She was the first Tibetan Buddhist in North Carolina, and one of the few in the country, to become a chaplain, completing her Clinical Pastoral Education at the Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2003. During her residency, she was a spiritual guide and teacher for aides and patients, helping people of all faiths find a deeper spiritual connection and feel closer to God. She drew from her tremendous medical difficulties early in life as a way to understand patients and treat them with compassion and respect. Her close friend and colleague, Chaplain John Oliver, said that her time talking with people who were dying helped her make the choice when to stop cancer treatment and just enjoy life and the people she loved. He also said one of her most valuable contributions was teaching the value of loving kindness meditation as a universal method for healing. Outside the hospital she worked with youth, educators, the elderly, and the disabled, much of the time as a volunteer.
Her generosity bloomed in flowers on our altars, and in memory of her there will be a year-round garden of flowers that can be cut and offered on the altars at Kadampa Center, Emily’s Garden, as a reminder of the beautiful seeds she planted while she was here.Tags: obituaries