Tribute to Suzanne Duarte
by Clarke Warren
Suzanne Duarte (previously Suzanne Head) died suddenly, on Saturday, Dec. 5, of an apparent heart attack. Suzanne and her husband Jan-Paul Vroom were sharing a relaxed evening together in their home when Suzanne collapsed. She had recently been being treated for cancer, but her sudden death was unexpected, and a deep shock to her husband and her friends.
Suzanne was an early and very devoted student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, having met Rinpoche in 1972 in San Francisco.. She then joined the Vajradhatu sangha in 1974, attending her first Vajradhatu Seminary in 1976. Her own story of the circumstances leading to her meeting the Vidyadhara is a crescendo of auspicious coincidence and a wonderful account of the dawning of genuine devotion.* She engaged practice, study and community service passionately. She held various administrative and teaching positions at San Francisco Dharmadhatu, Karme-Chöling, Karma Dzong in Boulder, RMDC, and taught at various urban dharmadhatus. Over the years she served with Vajradhatu Recordings as one of the early recorders of the Vidyadhara’s teachings, and with the Vajradhatu Office of External Affairs. She also served as a Kasung for several years. One of Suzanne’s first work projects with Vajradhatu was to set up the household for the fist visit of His Holiness the 16th Karmapa to the Bay Area. She was a skilled and erudite Shambhala Training Director and Buddha Dharma teacher, and a meditation instructor, for over forty years. At one point in time, Suzanne spent half a year working to establish Shambhala Training in Brazil. Suzanne was also with the beginnings of the Vajradhatu Sun, which was to eventually become the Shambhala Sun. She was a prolific writer, and her writings are precise, elegant, and vitally engaged with the interface of Dharma and the world. Her fluency in the art of conversation matched her writing, and engaging with her in a conversation was a rich, educational and rewarding experience. Whether you agreed or disagreed with her, she was there with you, awake, respectful and listening in the interchange; she was a genuine spiritual friend.
Suzanne was a passionately committed environmentalist, ecologist and animal protagonist, having co-edited with Robert Heinzman the book Lessons from the Rain Forests. She established a website dedicated to ecological issues and Dharma, dharmagaians.org.** She taught eco psychology in the Environmental Studies program at Naropa University in past years, and then online from Europe. The welcoming introduction to the Dharmagaians website is as follows:
“How did the world get to the point where we’re facing multiple, intractable, converging, global crises? Wouldn’t the common good be better served if we understood what’s happening and prepared for what’s coming? Dharmagaians are people who cherish the Earth, care about future generations, and respect the truth enough to seek it and speak it.
If you honor and seek the truth, cherish the Earth, and care about future generations, you are welcome here…”
Suzanne swam in the currents of interdependence, which she felt as sensitively as her own nervous system. Of late, she would shed copious tears when discussing the predicament of the world and the natural environment. Her being and her deepest concerns were interwoven intimately with the natural world. She said that when she died, she wanted to go to the place where extinct species go. She meant it.
Suzanne did not hesitate to speak with a critical, honest and intelligent voice if she detected hypocrisy or self-serving agendas in the people and organizations she was involved with. Over many years, she was a critic of what she perceived and experienced as a heavy-handed male-oriented predominance of leadership in Vajradhatu, then Shambhala Intl. In her essay “Deception, Corruption and Truth”, first published on Radio Free Shambhala in 2009 but also available in her writings on dharmagaians.org, she begins, “Two dharmic values that Chögyam Trungpa embodied, which were reinforced in me by his example, are consideration and concern for future generations and the importance of being truthful, which are related with each other. After he died, I began to understand that our personal adherence to the truth – or honesty – in the present is essential for the sanity and wellbeing of future generations, and thus for the continuity of the dharma.”
In more recent years, Suzanne’s attention has been focused the issue of the preservation and continuation of the Vidyadhara’s sangha, teachings and practices, for which she had deep concern. She expressed her insights on the matter eloquently in a 2011 essay titled How to Invoke Magic and Revitalize the Third Jewel, featured on the website Radio Free Shambhala, and available for reading at: http://radiofreeshambhala.org/2011/06/third-jewel-magic/ She and Jan- Paul have been strong participants in Ri-mé Society for the purpose of continuing those very teachings and practices. Just a few days before her death, she had expressed a marked excitement about beginning to teach again, in the context of Ri-mé Society. Her voice would no doubt have been a rich contribution, but that opportunity has now slipped between our fingers like sand. Now she will teach by her enduring example as a genuine human being, an exemplary practitioner, and a dedicated teacher and writer. And as an example of pure, unrelenting devotion to her teacher and teacher’s world. Suzanne demonstrated with her life the crucial and indispensable interrelationship of genuine devotion and critical intelligence.
She and Jan-Paul lived in Colorado for several years, then Amsterdam for twelve years. They returned to Boulder in 2014. They have been living amidst the pristine skies, forests and mountains of Magnolia Road in Boulder County, where their love for the natural world has nourished them continuously and from where she has now left our world. Or else, more likely, she has dissolved and entered into this very world in a much more elemental and effective capacity, in line with her Bodhisattva Vow and her profound connection with the drala principle. She was already headed in that direction.
* In a 2014 videoed talk entitled “The Path to Becoming a Genuine Human Being” given at A Place to Sit in Boulder, Suzanne presented a vivid and moving account of her journey through her life and her meeting and interactions with the Vidyadhara.
** One can access the Dharmagaians website at http://dharmagaians.org. The images on the site are not visible right now, but it is still a rich resource on Dharma, Society and Environment. If one scrolls down to the bottom left, one can access “Suzanne’s Writings” The titles of pieces included there are: