Friday, April 07, 2006

Glen Eddy (1941-2006)

On April 5, 2006, Glen Roger Eddy, a long time student of Chogyal Namkai Norbu and member of the International Dzogchen community died of a stroke in Cordoba, Argentina.
Born in San Francisco, California on May 17, 1941, Glen was among the first wave of Westerners to become engaged by Tibetan Buddhism in the early 1970’s. His formal training as an artist began at the San Francisco Art Institute. Later, he was introduced to Tibetan art at Pema Ling under the direction of Tarthang Tulku, eventually studying Tibetan art with several lineage masters including Tarthang Tulku, Dudjom Rinpoche, Trungpa Rinpoche and Gyaltrul Rinpoche—all who contributed to his knowledge of traditional methods. In 1974, he attended the Naropa Institute’s first summer along with other thanka painters of his generation. Considered by many, a foremost master of Tikse or proportional drawing, his elegant line drawings of yidams were highly regarded and adorned such early publications of Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche’s as, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism,” “The Myth of Freedom,” “The Dawn of Tantra,” and internally published images for practitioners within the Shambhala community. Images survive of a thanka painted with Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche as the central figure that was lost in the mail.

In 1974, he married Terri Parkin with whom he had two sons, Glen in 1977 and Austin in 1981. They lived together for 14 years in Berkeley and Oakland, California. Glen first met Choegyal Namkhai Norbu with his family in 1983 when they attended an early retreat at a private home in Berkeley.

From 1994-2000 Glen resided in the vicinity of Tsegyalgar in Conway, Massachusetts where he initiated the Golden Vajra Guild at the newly inaugurated Shang Shung Institute founded by Choegyal Namkhai Norbu for the preservation of Tibetan culture. For several years, he served as Gekod living in the schoolhouse with his then wife, Natasha. During that time he was commissioned by Choegyal Namkhai Norbu to create a number of large scales thankas representing Rinpoche’s Dzogchen lineage. These include a refuge thanka with Padmasambhava; the Primordial Masters; Ekajati, protector of the Dzogchen teachings; and Goma Devi, one of the ancient 21 Semde masters from whom Choegyal Namkhai Norbu received his Longsel terma cycle of teachings. All of these works remain at the Gar and can be viewed on the Shang Shung website. Among many other private commissions is a large thanka with the central figure of Choegyal Namkhai Norbu, as a yogin giving pointing out instructions that was commissioned by John Shane. All these works are available as reproductions through Tsegyalgar’s bookstore.

In recent years, Glen experimented and produced hundreds of mixed-media small scale watercolors for community members-- mostly of Tara, Mandarava, and Goma Devi.
Initially reluctant to create non-traditional works, Glen’s new work was deeply appreciated as it was affordable yet masterful. While at Tsegyalgar he created dozens of line drawings that were reproduced in the Mirror and Shang Shung Editions publications for practice booklets and in publications by Choegyal Namkhai Norbu. Many community members and gakyils over the years were enthusiastic patrons of his works financially supporting his efforts, so that he could paint fulltime.

An uncompromising artist, Glen focused daily on his work, making his own paints using minerals he collected and ground himself according to the centuries old traditional recipes, as well as executing line drawings and preliminary studies with exacting precision, often consulting Choegyal Namkhai Norbu for accuracy. Over the past thirty years, numerous individuals studied thanka painting with him including Cynthia Moku, Greg Smith and other prominent Western thanka painters. At Shang Shung Institue in America, the Golden Vajra Guild, Glen had three main apprentices-- Susan Handlen, Nanji Davison, and Martha Braun.

His thanka works display a radiantly transparent quality as they depict the luminous realms of their central figures rendered in the Rimed non-sectarian style (Karma Gardri) Glen favored that is characterized by a simplicity and spare clarity. Suspended in an ocean of space, the central figures are displayed against a background with minimal rainbows, mountains and streams uncluttered by details typical of other Tibetan thanka styles. The use of hand prepared mineral paints in these works create an unusual palate of subdued color that contribute to the sense of shimmering transparency found in Glen’s work. No one painted like Glen. His mastery of style, palate, and form as a thanka painter reveals a brilliant technique leading to works infused with light befitting the subjects he painted. His line drawings were considered by such masters as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, an artist himself, to be “very special and beautiful.” At the time of his death Glen was working on a step-by-step primer to thanka painting, “The Treasury of Luminous Manifestation,” for what he said, would be the thanka painter of the future a hundred years from now.

It was Glen’s dream that the Golden Vajra Guild become a center for teaching Tibetan art, especially in Tashigar Sur, Argentina, where Glen had retired to build a home and studio for himself that he bequeathed to his eldest son, Hala, also a gifted artist and practitioner in the community who plans to catalog his father’s complete works as a master thanka artist. Austin too is a successful artist in the film industry and along with their mother, Terri Antony, the entire family is knowledgeable about aspects of Glen’s artistic works and processes that we have yet to learn more about.

Glen will long be remembered by his family, many friends and dharma practitioners as a generous and insightful friend leaving behind an important legacy of work for future generations. As a practitioner, he exemplified a deep devotion to Choegyal Namkhai Norbu integrating the profound essence of the Dzogchen teachings in an authentic manner.

Jacqueline Gens
April 12, 2006

* * *

A Celebration for Glen Eddy in his own words

Personally, I will miss Glen Eddy a great deal as I consider him one of my dearest dharma brothers—someone with whom I could always discuss in depth the meaning and application of the teachings in relation to one’s life. He is someone who proved an insightful ally and friend in difficult times. I tried to reciprocate this gesture in return whenever possible, as such friends are rare.

After being out of touch for many months, we recently engaged in a brisk correspondence between January-March 2006 about a variety of topics—the bureaucratic difficulties of assisting him with the paperwork to receive his social security benefits in Argentine, his enthusiastic response to my offer to put together a web site for him and all that he needed to do around this project, and of course, an ongoing conversation about his recent troubled state of mind.

When a friend dies, it is as though a piece of one’s own history incinerates too. Whom now will I share a few unique circumstances of common history-- a bohemian upbringing in Southern California circa 1950’s by difficult European mothers—his Portuguese, mine Russian; our mutual love for poet friend, Allen Ginsberg and appreciation for Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche; our shared devotion to Choegyal Namkhai Norbu, the great and kind but sometimes unpredictable master whom we both owed our lives to, finding at last what we were seeking for years.

Glen had a warm domestic side to him. During the time he was gekod at Tsegyalgar living there with his wife, Natasha, I was secretary of the gar for a couple of years. For many months, nearly every night, they graciously invited me to dinner which allowed me then to go back to work for another couple of hours. He communicated a real family atmosphere to whoever was present. Glen made great soups, the true mark of a fine chef. I still remember a bean soup he made as one of the all time culinary events of my life, only to find out later he made it from a box. Sometimes, he would come into the office and chat a few minutes, little gems of humor or odd gossip. But, mostly it was the bond of practice and insights I so appreciated about Glen. Once, when I had gone to Tashigar traveling in the dark with him after some practice back to the little casitas I stayed in across from his own, he mentioned that he had passed a beautiful woman on the pathway earlier in the day but couldn’t tell if she was a real woman or just an apparition. I appreciated this aspect of Glen’s mind—his ability to manage multiple realities with a childlike and open simplicity. On the other hand, he could be quite bilious. So, I am not surprised that in the months before his death he did “not go gentle into that good night," but raged against the dying of the light.

Early in March 2006, hearing through the grapevine that Glen was having emotional and financial troubles at Tashigar in Argentina, I wrote him asking him if he had filed for his social security benefits at the recommendation of some community members who thought it might help his financial burdens. On Mar 9, he wrote back:

“I'm having some kind of mid-life crisis, and I'm in therapy, and
Rinpoche has allowed me to remain in Tashigar, so I'm painting
everyday inspite of my crazies. Sometime I can relate how it is for me, but not this time. I'm feeling good and getting clearer everyday. Now when the tapes start I realize it and can just relax and notice, and it calms down. Sometimes I get carried away for a while. But mostly my days are not too bad…. I’m out of gas, Much love, Glen”

I then responded with a reminder of the co-emergent aspect to his emotional upheavals—that behind every great yogin was a similar experience of shedding baggage. I talked about how it’s never too late for therapy; how courageous he was to face his demons and go into the cellar, very atypical of most men at his age. Having beaten his serious drug addiction once, maybe this was an opportunity to clear up the last vestiges of unfinished business. In previous conversations, we had discussed how to dissolve intense emotions in the moment. Glen understood things well in his bones, not just in words. It seemed that he was handling his state of mind when on March 17, 2006, he wrote back, his last email to me:

“Dear J.
Thanks for the inspiring words.
I am doing really well, I saw my therapist again last night, and she’s really good. I feel great. She also has transmission from Norbu and has been to see Pema Chodron, etc. So she knows pretty much where I 'm at in terms of the Dharma. And she speaks English. And Rinpoche is allowing me to stay in Tashigar. So my balance is coming back. But I have to get to the bottom of this anger thing that I have. It's coming, and my presence and clarity are manifesting like never before. So I feel as you were intimating that this is a good thing. Today I'm actually happy!”

I have no doubt that Glen died an appropriate death and will navigate his way to some purer dimension. A couple of years ago, after I posted a poem on Norbunet, I received a cryptic but stunning poem in return from him that I later incorporated into a long poem I’m still working on. Today, on the day of his death, these words of his seem to me to say everything about the beauty of his mind and his life’s work as a thangka painter that will continue to give so much inspiration to all of us and to future generations of practitioners.

In dreams, they come with out-stretched
hands the color of malachite
giving, magnetizing
palms formed by leaf and wind,
torrential waters--
As they pass to me the white lotus bud
grown up from mud, its stainless bloom

Jacqueline Gens
Midnight, April 6, 2006
Brattleboro, Vermont, USA

[Photo credit: Ellen Pearlman at Tashigar Sur, Argentina]