Tribute to Christine Keyser
Another sad day has arrived for the Nalanda Translation Committee with the passing of our dear friend, Chris Keyser. As one of my oldest friends in the sangha, I’d like to offer just a couple glimpses into her life and our early friendship. While we remained in touch periodically over the last decade, since the times we spent together at programs with Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, others will have to provide a more comprehensive view of her life, and I hope we can all hear more.
It was during my college years that I first connected with and eventually met the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I lived in Ann Arbor, and I did not know any other Buddhists there, so the element of sangha developed elsewhere, mostly at Tail of the Tiger and the New York Dharmadhatu, places I went for seminars during the summer and school vacations.
Seminars in those early days usually afforded the opportunity to have a private interview with the Vidyadhara, and I remember seeing him twice during my first visit to Tail. I think it must have been during that first visit that I met Chris. During the morning work meeting, where daily jobs were assigned, there was a request for someone with a car to take a person to St. Johnsbury to see the doctor. I volunteered, after which I was steered to Chris, who was the person in need of such transportation.
In the ten-mile journey to St. J, it seemed that I learned everything there was to know about “the scene,” our community—who was who, doing what to whom, and why. Chris was simply a downpour of information about all and everything, evidencing keen awareness, discrimination, and loaded with humor and affection, along with occasional thorny irritations along the way. It was simply amazing and wonderful. Here was a group of people that were not trying to be holy or special (though of course we were the chosen people), filled with what later would be understood as passion, aggression, and delusion—relatively unpretentious and ordinary. This was a far cry from the scene around Swami Satchidananda, with whom I had studied hatha, raja, and japa yoga. It was a huge relief, providing additional certainty that I had come to the right place at the right time.
As anyone who knew Chris in those days knew, she was one of those rare people who cared to know all/most of what was going on, and she shared it willingly and enthusiastically. This was not just gossip, though of course those elements were included. It was part of the pith transmission of sangha, community, caring about and for each other, and seating oneself squarely in the midst of the enlightening chaos that was our inheritance as students of the Vidyadhara.
The ten-mile return journey proved that there was no limit to what could be known, and I reveled in the new-found family I was obviously joining, like it or not. I loved it, and Chris was a huge part of why.
I remember asking Chris about what it was that happened in Rinpoche’s bedroom, the second-floor right-front-corner room of the old farmhouse. Clearly a number of people assembled there every night with Rinpoche, and all sorts of enticing sounds emanated from time to time. How could you not be drawn to this; but it was terrifying to imagine what it might be like to enter that space.
It must have been later that week that Chris did a most amazing thing. I was coming out of the bathroom, just down the hall from Rinpoche’s room, and I saw Chris standing somewhere near the door. We said hello or something innocent and, before I knew it, Chris opened the door to Rinpoche’s room, pushed me inside, and quickly slammed the door closed. She had in one stroke pushed me through the looking glass, or some kind of portal. My life was never the same thereafter, and I remain deeply indebted to her genius and daring, and most of all, her friendship. It was one of the kindest (and scariest) things a friend could have done.
Chris and I both went on to become founding members of the Nalanda Translation Committee, beginning in the mid-1970s. She had a natural aptitude for language, and in subsequent years she became a journalist and excellent writer. One of her early translation projects was “Intensifying Devotion in One’s Heart: The Supplication ‘Crying to the Gurus from Afar’” by Jamgön Kongtrül the Great, first published in the Vidyadhara’s book Journey Without Goal.
As others have noted, she was a dedicated, serious, and enthusiastic practitioner, always among the first group to become tantrikas, sadhakas, or whatever the next step was. Raspberry (aka Dorje Root, one of Chris’s best friends in the early Boulder days) and I drove Chris to what was to become Dorje Khyung Dzong in Southern Colorado, where she accomplished the very first retreat on that property under our ownership, though not quite under our possession, as we had to deal with a fellow named Abdul and his girlfriend who were squatting on the property, renegades from the Libre commune next door.
Of course there’s more to that story, as there often is, but I’ll stop there for now. The stories are endless, and Chris was a master story teller. May they continue to inspire and awaken us all.