How My Beautiful and Brazen Friend Became a Goddess of Global Buddhism in Brazil

    Chagdud Khadro

    Chagdud Khadro In 1978, one of the most beautiful and compelling friends I’ve ever had was backpacking through Nepal, where she came upon one of the world’s pre-eminent Buddhist teachers at an “empowerment” ceremony. Jane Dedman, who had recently begun studying Buddhism, humbly made an offering of a jar of honey and a white scarf to the wizened, gray-haired eminence.

    She asked if she could become his assistant. Two weeks later, in her dazzlingly brazen way, she would ask to become his wife. Today, from her home base in a fantastically colorful  and ornate compound in Brazil, she has become one of the greatest spiritual leaders in the male-dominated global Buddhist movement.

    The Jane I knew in 1970s New York was tempestuous, ravenous, wild, and restless, storming around the city in skinny jeans and boots. She was sparkly in her demeanor and speech, as if she had been sipping champagne day and night. She was secular and stylish and a connoisseur of fleshly pleasures.

    The Wild Child

    The night I met Jane, she was drunk, and she was screaming up at my second-story window. She was stomping her feet and punching the air and sobbing. It looked as if she were about to rip  her blouse off. Mascara ran down her cheeks. The expletives flew.

    Her problem was that the man she lived with was with me, in my apartment. I guess she assumed the worst. In fact, we were just having a nightcap. He and I had been friends before Jane even met him.

    Bob, the editor of one of the nation’s most prestigious magazines – and  a prominent, original thinker in the world of journalism and literature – had taken me to the famed Café Carlyle for drinks after spending the afternoon discussing my next writing project.

    An Unforgettable New York Night

    I was delighted that evening to witness the charming talents of Bobby Short, who had been the nationally known singer and pianist at the Carlyle for decades. His “high-spirited but probing renditions of popular standards evoked the glamour of Manhattan nightlife,” the New York Times wrote in his 2005 obituary.

    So it had been yet another memorable big-city night for me, which became even more memorable the longer Jane screamed. Bob’s initial reaction was to ignore her. Being the jealous type myself, I wanted to reassure her that nothing was going on.

    “Can’t we invite her up so I can meet her, and then you two can go on home?” I said.

    Our Own Darling Zelda

    I stepped out onto my little balcony and asked her to come upstairs.

    Despite her wrecked and disheveled state, she was radiantly lovely, right out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. She even wore her hair in a sort of bob and spoke with the unmistakable accent of wealth and privilege. She was a fact-checker at the New Yorker magazine, which seemed like the perfect pit stop for someone just out of Barnard or Radcliffe who was plotting her path to greater things.

    When I explained to her the nature of my relationship with Bob, she looked at me with those mesmerizing eyes of hers, and it was as if the sky had cleared. She wiped her cheeks, apologized, and asked if we could have lunch some time soon.

    A Zesty Girl Takes On the City

    Jane became a wonderful friend – incredibly generous and thoughtful. I was never completely comfortable with her, though, because – as I have written before – I felt somewhat shy with women at that time and tended to hang out with male friends.

    On top of that, I didn’t feel interesting or dynamic enough to provide satisfying company for Jane, whose vitality left me feeling quite dull. She glittered and twinkled like no one I’ve ever known.

    She had a robust mind – she grasped new concepts with stunning alacrity – and she had a marvelous way of weaving what she had just learned into the existing content of her vast and well-tended intellect. This she did while still playing the role of a saucy party girl from a bygone era when wry, clever repartee was in vogue.

    On Safari in the New York Jungle

    When we got together, I was inclined to sit around, drinking and talking. Jane wanted to stalk the city – seeing, doing and buying things.

    She was an explorer. She was an enthusiast. She was an avid matchmaker. She was a project person, who loved to take on big challenges, whether it was organizing a fabulous party or totally redoing Bob’s apartment, or editing an 800-page manuscript. Her energy seemed boundless, and it always came with that adorable, melodic laugh of hers and those playful, life-loving eyes.

    Maybe if it had occurred to me that she was sort of like a whirling dervish, her subsequent plunge into an exotic religion wouldn’t have seemed so incredible.

    So Raging, Yet So Engaging

    Jane was also known to have a raging temper, although I never witnessed it after that first night. I am told she had screaming fights – most likely with lovers rather than friends – that could involve quite a bit of broken glass, chipped plaster, torn clothing and, ultimately, a collapse into sobs.

    Jane could be fierce or fragile, cold or compassionate, but in my mind, she had just the  sort of desire, intensity, anger, judgment, willfulness, possessiveness, mercuriality and tempest that the practice of Buddhism seeks to annihilate. And that, apparently, was in part why she began exploring it.

    She acknowledges that her “self-righteousness and harsh speech” were the aspects of her ego that she first addressed in her practice.

    An Impulsive Leap Into Neverland

    It all began in 1977, when she bought a round-the-world plane ticket and jammed a few things into a backpack. I wasn’t surprised, although I did assume she’d return in a few months, full of colorful stories with which to regale her large circle of New York friends.

    But she never came back.

    About 20 years later, a mutual friend – who, like me, had left New York within a couple of years after Jane did – told me he’d heard that she had “found herself a guru” and had become his “helpmate.”

    This made sense. It seemed to me that Jane had a pattern of attaching herself to esteemed men and making herself essential – by administering their lives, by serving as a soundboard and eventually by becoming a muse and/or lover.

    Google: We Have A Problem

    But despite the wonders of the Internet, I wasn’t able to find her until about a year ago. She is known throughout the vast Buddhist empire as Chagdud Khadro. I found an account online by an American woman who described meeting Khadro, “formerly known as Jane Dedman,” in some wild jungle setting. I was ecstatic at having located her after all these years.

    It was thrilling for me to see pictures of her – bless you, Google images – ranging from the late 1970s to the present. I was overcome with emotion to hear her voice, in a couple of YouTube videos and on MP3 clips of her seminars on various aspects of Buddhist discipline. She still sounds like my beloved, very worldly Jane, with that endearing tipsiness and sense of enchantment in her speech.

    The Geisha Of The Rain Forest

    The American woman who had stumbled upon Jane in the rain forest said that at that time, Jane characterized her role as essentially being the housekeeper for His Eminence Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche, the renowned teacher in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism. He was famous worldwide for his teachings, his melodic chanting voice, his artistry as a sculptor and painter, and his skill as a physician. He was the spiritual guide for tens of thousands of followers.

    For the next 24 years, until Rinpoche’s death in 2002, Jane devoted herself to him and to her mastery of Buddhist precepts. She and Rinpoche traveled the world as he gave teachings and empowerments to throngs of dedicated students.

    Beckoned by the Beauties of Brazil

    In 1992, Rinpoche accepted a calling to spread the Dharma (the teachings) in South America, and he and Jane established Chagdud Gonpa at Khadro Ling, a breathtakingly beautiful enclave in Brazil, which they  built as their base of operation and which is the main temple in the Chagdud Gonpa global network of  missionary organizations.

    Jane was ordained as a lama in 1997 – two decades after she immersed  herself in the study of Buddhism – and  she was invested by Rinpoche as the future spiritual director of Chagdud Gonpa Brasil, in Três Coroas, Brazil. She has continued to hold this position since his death nine years ago.

    A Delicate Woman Wears a Heavy Mantle

    Today, Jane is the one who, like Rinpoche before her, travels throughout South America, Europe, the United States and Australia, to seminars and retreats – which are often in incredibly spectacular settings – and  teaches the development and completion stage practices of Vajrayana, focusing particularly on the teachings of death and dying and on the practice of P’howa, the transference of consciousness at the moment of death.

    “P’howa transforms death into an opportunity for liberation rather than merely a severance from what we have known and loved in life. It assures us that we won’t die in a state of spiritual uncertainty and drift helplessly after death,” Jane explains.

    Teaching Death as Liberation

    Her teachings have found a receptive audience not only among dharma students, but also among health professionals who are seeking new, more profound techniques to alleviate the pain and grief of
    those they work with.

    Jane told me that she still experiences a sort of stage fright before these intense instructional sessions. She becomes overwhelmed with doubt about whether she is really “worthy” to be looked up to as a great teacher.

    She agonizes over whether she will be able to establish the necessary rapport with the gatherings of strangers and will succeed in articulating  the difficult and nuanced material in which she believes so passionately.

    The Wonders of Karmic Connection

    But once she begins speaking, she told me, “the flow” rises up and carries her along, and she becomes exhilarated by the energy that is given and taken as each session unfolds.

    Jane believes that an unmistakable “karmic connection” must exist between teacher and student if the transmission is to be successful. She felt this connection the moment she saw Rinpoche, she says. This emphasis on a powerful rapport is called guru yoga.

    “I love to teach, I love to work closely with a roomful of people, particularly if they are learning a practice. Sometimes that sense of a seamless mandala arises,” she said.

    A Mystical Sense of Oneness

    (A mandala enables one “to access progressively deeper levels of the unconscious, ultimately assisting the meditator to experience a mystical sense of oneness with the ultimate unity from which the cosmos in all its manifold forms arises.”)

    I enjoyed the way Jane described to an interviewer the way she gauges her students:

    “People enter with different degrees of readiness, based on their previous spiritual development, in this lifetime and in past lifetimes. Some struggle to purify tremendous negativity and have to pass through a lot of cycles of confusion along their spiritual path. Every increase in compassion and inner peace is a personal triumph. Other people hear high teachings just one time and the words resonate with a knowledge that until then lay dormant in their mindstreams. When this knowledge is stimulated, they develop very quickly if they find a qualified teacher to guide them.”

    An Understudy Brings Joy to the Star

    Jane has come a long way since the day she impulsively offered herself to the great Rinpoche.

    In the earliest months of their union, Jane served as a homemaker for him – truly the maker of a home – for an exalted spiritual leader.

    She derived great satisfaction in being a sort of enabler for him, ensuring that his domicile, however modest, was clean, cheerful and running smoothly. When visitors came, she quietly made tea and served it humbly, as if she were a Geisha. She took care of everything mundane so that he could focus on the profound and the eternal.

    Wading Into Deep, Shimmering Waters

    At the same time, she was receiving teachings from Rinpoche, and she spent all of her spare time immersing herself in the practice of this complex and challenging way of being.

    “For about four months we had a kind of teacher-student honeymoon during which I seemed to do no wrong. Rinpoche never criticized me,” Jane recalls. “Then we moved into a phase of about four years in which I seemed to do nothing right. We had fierce arguments, and not always privately…for me they were like electrical storms. Afterward the atmosphere was really clean, and I can honestly say there was no resentment. We would be laughing ten minutes later.”

    The Allure of the Hellcat

    That sounds like the New York Jane’s style of romance. I think the tantrums may have been her way, probably unconsciously, of bringing intensity to her love life.

    Her stubbornness, willfulness and volatility made her all the more alluring. A man, I imagine, would be inclined to pin her down and kiss her forcefully, melting her tempest into tears and/or laughter. This scenario does have its appeal, but I expect that it could become tiresome as one matured.

    The Ecstasy of Surrender

    I believe that, on some level, Jane wanted to be subdued by someone or something. Throwing fits was her way of “asking for it.” I think she yearned for a force greater than she to put her in her place – although it needed to be a very nice place – and maybe that is what Buddhism has done for her.

    Jane recalls a day-to-day process in which she was attempting to rebuild herself, discarding many concepts and habits, under the watchful eye of Rinpoche.

    A Never-Ending Construction Project

    “I was learning how to check my motivation, how to see things beyond my own point of view, how to be patient and to wait, how to meditate in intense situations, how to speak and how to listen. I’m still learning these things,” she said.

    She initially resisted Rinpoche’s pleas for her to enlarge her role beyond that of domestic helpmate.

    “Rinpoche thought I had ability as a writer and that any other activity should be secondary,” Jane recalls. “He thought I was wasting my main opportunity to benefit others.”

    Snappish, Bossy, Beautiful Jane

    She assumed more and more administrative duties, which she says she “wasn’t particularly good at. I didn’t know how to incorporate the skills of others, so I often felt overwhelmed with work, irritable, snappish, and bossy. Then I would despair of ever subduing my harsh speech, of being able to maintain smooth relationships in the sangha (the community). Still, I’m glad I went through that, because I learned a lot about dharma center administration and I learned to have a deep appreciation for administrators.”

    A Brief History of the Great Rinpoche

    Jane’s husband was regarded as the fourteenth incarnation of the previous Chagdud Tulku, and – at the age of three – he was sent to a monastery to begin a seven-year retreat.

    “Throughout, I had many visions, many clairvoyant experiences, many extraordinary dreams, and within these, I sometimes had glimpses of absolute open awareness,” he wrote in his autobiography, The Lord Of The Dance.

    He fled Tibet in 1959, following the invasion by China, and stayed in a number of Tibetan refugee resettlement camps in India, where his medical expertise, as well as his spiritual guidance, were in great demand.

    The Charm of a White Scarf and Honey

    He wound up in Nepal, where he was attending a series of empowerments, when my irresistible friend Jane approached him in 1978 with the now-legendary white scarf and jar of honey. He gave her instruction in Buddhist practice and accepted her offer to be his attendant in retreat. Although Jane soon asked to become his wife, it wasn’t until late 1979 that the pair were wed in South Lake Tahoe, California.

    At that time, Rinpoche was in the U.S. fulfilling a mission given him by the Dalai Lama several years earlier. It had taken this long for him to get a visa. For a number of years, he taught in Oregon, and he organized the construction of the Chagdud Gonpa Foundation, which was completed in 1983. Several groups in Oregon and California continue to study his teachings.

    A Publishing Empire Is Born

    Together, he and Jane founded Padma Publishing (USA) which published many translations of Tibetan works into English and Portuguese. Jane loved this work and was deeply saddened to leave Padma. She compiled Rinpoche’s teachings on the Dudjom Tersar Ngondro, the Longsal Nyingpo P’howa and collaborated with him on his autobiography.

    After they moved to Brazil, he helped to establish Chagdud Gonpa centers throughout the Western Hemisphere. These include more than 38 Dharma centers under his supervision and inspiration, in the U.S., Australia, Switzerland, Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. He continued his exhausting schedule of teachings and empowerments on the continent and around the world until his health declined.

    The Miraculous Work Goes On

    At Khadro Ling, Jane has continued to work with a “miraculously assembled team” of lamas, artists, and talented sangha members to construct a Guru Rinpoche Palace (Zangdog Palri), publish texts, and accomplish projects related to education, spiritual care for the dying, and ritual arts.

    There is much in the fundamental values and ideals of Buddhism that is very appealing. I believe it is right and true, and I believe it is particularly relevant to me for some of the same reasons that it was to Jane when she was initially drawn to it. If I had the will and strength to live with real integrity, I would devote myself to following this path. I simply don’t – the whole process overwhelms me.

    The Business of Buddhism

    There are aspects of modern Buddhism that are somewhat concerning, irrespective of the faith’s basic premises. It seems to some extent to have become a Big Business – much in the way yoga has – and those who wish to explore or receive training in the faith are charged lots of money to attend various retreats that are held around the country and around the world. It is entirely possible that the funds collected are used in a way that we would regard as legitimate, nonprofit outlays, but the seminars do seem elitist in ways that are incongruous with the faith.

    A Cult of Hocus-Pocus?

    There is also a lot of what most of us would regard as hocus-pocus in the practice of Buddhism, which surprised me. I had always though of it as a simple philosophy of goodness, oneness, patience, compassion, forbearance and the taming (ideally elimination) of the ego. But there are also visions, “mirror divinations,” clairvoyant experiences, prescient dreams, celestial surges and empowerments that make it all seem a bit cult-like. This opinion probably just reflects my ignorance, and I suppose one could respond that virtually every other religion has similar aspects.

    These mystical, magical experiences and powers may keep those of us who have a more rational, data-based, linear approach to life from exploring Buddhism, very possibly to our detriment.

    Rinpoche Meditation Defies Death

    I reprint below an account of the death of His Eminence Chagdud Rinpoche, which exemplifies what I’m talking about. To believe it requires a leap of faith that many of us may be unable to make:

    In the last week of his life, he concluded this retreat on Tuesday, November 12, worked with a student artist to complete a statue of Amitabha, talked with many of his students, and led a training in phowa (transference of consciousness at the moment of death) for more than two hundred people. He continued teaching with great vigor until about 9 pm on Saturday night November 16. Then on Sunday morning of the 17th, at about 4:15 a.m., Brazilian daylight time, he suffered massive heart failure while sitting up in bed.

    According to his son, Jigme Tromge Rinpoche, Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche then remained in a state of meditation  for almost six full days. The ability to remain in meditation after the breath stops is known as (t’hug dam). Jigme described this in a release to the Brazilian press:

    After his last breath, my father remained in a state of meditation for almost six full days that prevented the usual deterioration of his body. The ability to remain in a state of meditation after the breath stops is well known among great Tibetan masters, but circumstances have rarely allowed it to occur in the West. Chagdud Rinpoche remained sitting in a natural, lifelike meditation posture, with little visible change of color or expression. During that time, no one touched his body.

    Until the sixth day, Friday, November 22nd, Rinpoche showed no physical signs that his meditation had ended. In the interim we were in constant consultation with a lawyer and other officials about local customs and regulations. Friday midday, his meditation ended and his mind separated from his body. Within hours, his appearance changed. He took on the signs typical of those occurring within the first 24 hours of death.

    His body was flown to Nepal, and was cremated a year later.

    I Miss You, Your Highness!

    It appears that my friend Jane has carried on his work with great devotion and integrity. I know that she is happy and has no doubt that she is doing work that is profoundly worthwhile. Even so, it’s hard to believe that she doesn’t want to come home.

    Jane was a featured teacher at retreat in Ireland last year.
    I know, I know: Khadro Ling is her home, and the people there have been her family for more than half of her adult life. It’s just that she’s so far away!

    Jane – Your Highness – I miss you. We haven’t seen each other since our late twenties, and now she is 65 years old, still beautiful and effervescent.

    I have quite a few Jane stories, but in closing, I’ll just recount one.

    Before She Was an Eminence, She Was a Dear

    I returned to New York from a business trip – it was probably in 1975 – to find my door busted in, and most of my belongings stolen, including the irreplaceable jewelry my grandmother had brought with her from Poland in 1900. I was shaken – in shock –  and felt lonely sitting there amid the wreckage. I just had to call someone and describe what had happened to me.

    Jane asked me what I missed the most of all that I had lost, and I replied – without hesitation – “my radio.” If I have music, I can endure almost anything.

    Within 30 minutes, a digital AM/FM clock radio was delivered to my door, and “WBLS: The Total Black Experience in Sound” was lifting my spirits and getting me back into the groove of life.

    That was Jane.

    That was Jane before her “enlightenment.”

    Think what she must be like now.

    Sylvia Kronstadt is a semi-retired writer/editor living in Salt Lake City. During her years in New York, her magazine articles appeared in some of the most prestigious publications in the country. She has since worked as an editor for newspapers and magazines. Her most recent article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education in April.

    Kronstadt loves Brazilian people, culture and food, She didn’t mention in the article that she met three young men at the “ball” – two of them were diplomats, and one was president of the Brazilian American Society – who she dated for a time. She liked going out with them, but her favorite experience, she tells, was being invited to their family gatherings. She wishes she had a family like that – so much fun and warmth!

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