We remember a few of the friends, teachers, and inspiring figures from the Buddhist world who died in 2016.
Yangthang Rinpoche was a highly revered lama in the Nyingma lineage of Tantrayana Buddhism. He was recognized as the reincarnation of Dorje Dechen Lingpa, and was trained in the teachings of Longchenpa. He spent twenty-two years imprisoned by the Chinese government after its invasion of Tibet.
Stephen Levine was a great American spiritual writer and teacher. A friend of Ram Dass, Levine espoused teachings from the Buddhist and Hindu traditions.
Albert Low was founder of the Montreal Zen Center, a dharma holder in the Zen lineage of Philip Kapleau, and an author of multiple books on Zen. Born in England, he moved to Canada in 1963 and began studying Zen soon thereafter.
In his obituary for Mitsu Suzuki, Taigen Dan Leighton described her as “a strong, kindly, steady presence who demonstrated everyday Zen life for us. She was a true matriarch of American Zen.” Mitsu Suzuki was the widow of the late Buddhist teacher Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. She authored two collections of haikus.
Chatral Rinpoche was a devout wandering yogi, committed to the causes of vegetarianism and animal rights. He studied in the Dzogchen tradition under Dudjom Rinpoche, Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö, and Sera Khandro. He died in Nepal.
Jim Harrison was an a celebrated author, poet, and practitioner of Zen Buddhism. He wrote more than 30 books in his life, including poetry, fiction, food writing, and essays. He was an avid outdoorsman, hunter, and fisher, and known, as Pico Iyer wrote, to “express a wide-awake, embracing transcription of all that the natural world might offer us.”
Garry Shandling was famous as a comic and writer, but to his friends he was known as a serious student of the dharma. Shandling had a Buddhist funeral, with a remembrance by Buddhist monk Brother Phap Hai. Shandling helped to found Thich Nhat Hanh’s Dear Park monastery and had a personal connection with Thich Nhat Hanh. The Plum Village International community wrote that, “Garry’s work was to bring healing to the world through laughter and comedy.”
A pioneering scholar on Tibet, David Snellgrove authored many books and essays on Tibetan culture and religion. Snellgrove was called to military service in India in 1941. While recovering from malaria in a hospital near Darjeeling, he began reading books on Tibet and learning the language. After leaving the army, he began studies in Pali, Sanskrit, and Tibet. He taught at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London until his retirement in 1982. He died at his home in London.
Ernestine Anderson was a Jazz singer and practicing Nichiren Buddhist. In a remembrance on Lion’s Roar, her friend Evelyn C White writes that her performances were marked by “a palpable in-the-moment ecstasy that I believe was shaped by her Buddhist practice.”
Sayadaw U Pandita
Sayadaw U Pandita was one the most influential modern teachers of Vipassana meditation and Theravada Buddhism. He was the abbot of Paṇḍitārāma Meditation Center in Yangon, Myanmar, which he founded in 1991. U Pandita was a strong influence on Insight Meditation Society, where he taught in 1984.
Jampa Pawo, a member of the Atlanta Shambhala community, died after receiving the lethal injection. He had been sentenced to death for the 1998 murder of a father and his two children, who interrupted Pawo and an accomplice while they were burgling the family’s home. He was 19 at the time. Pawo practiced Buddhism while he was in prison. In his final statement, he apologized to the family, expressed love for his friends and family, and said a Buddhist prayer.
Zenkei Blanche Hartman
Zenkei Blanche Hartman was a prolific figure in American Buddhism, a student of Suzuki Roshi, and the first female abbot of San Francisco Zen Center. She was also a long-time contributor to Lion’s Roar and Buddhadharma magazines, including Buddhadharma‘s Ask The Teachers department. She was 90 years old.
Michael Herr was the author of the famed memoir Dispatches, about his time covering the Vietnam war. He wrote the screenplay for the film Full Metal Jacket with Stanley Kubrick, and contributed to the narration of Apocolypse Now. He was a devoted student of Buddhism, studying and practicing with the late Thinley Norbu Rinpoche. He edited the book Wisdom Nectar: Dudjom Rinpoche’s Heart Advice.
He was a singer-songwriter, poet, author, Zen Buddhist, and (for a while) a monk. As Pico Iyer wrote of Cohen,
What he’s brought to the expression of the Zen tradition is an undistracted and sophisticated psychological acuity. Insofar as Zen can try to break down our attachments to theories and notions of the self, through hard labor and relent- less discipline, Cohen has been as unwavering a student as any, finding in the monastery a perfect way to be alone in company and to unearth a silence that’s “communicative.”
He had just released his final album, You Want It Darker. He was 82.