Sanje Elliott, a native Northwesterner, got an early start in his long life of artistic expression. Sanje remembers that his parents bought him and his sister musical instruments when they were in grade school. Following the example of his mother, who was a music and art teacher, Sanje developed both skills while he was at Portland’s Grant High School. He played music throughout high school, and in his junior year, formed his own eight-piece band. There, he also learned commercial art, designing and painting posters and flyers. Right out of high school, he got a job doing window displays for a local company.
From as early as Sanje can remember, his most important life experiences have come by way of intuition and synchronicity. In other words, Sanje’s next inspirational steps revealed themselves to him when he was ready to receive them.
Sanje attended Lewis & Clark College, with the plan to learn commercial art in order to go into advertising. But in his senior year, when he studied the History of Religion and learned what popes and other church leaders had done to others, he rejected the Christianity in which he was raised and starting seeking other answers. Sanje spent his days walking among the trees on the beautiful college campus, asking himself: “what am I here for?” Perhaps it was for something more than being an advertising executive. One day, as if by magic, he heard clearly the word “give.” But what was he meant to give?
Shortly after Sanje’s graduation, he travelled to Europe. Drawn to extend his stay, Sanje wound up living in Italy and Germany for six years, earning a living through his music. While in Italy, Sanje had another experience that had a long-lasting impact on his spiritual life. While travelling down the road, he had the unbidden and vivid experience of the interconnection of all things. While he understood this insight to be profound, he did not yet know how to connect it to anything else he recognized.
1958, Sanje’s jazz quartet in Munich, Germany
Over time, he put the pieces together that lent meaning to his epiphany in Italy. Some milestones during the 1960’s were his reading of the Bhagavad Gita and Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism; his meditation practice at the Vedanta Society, a Hindu Center in Portland; and his participation in an Edgar Cayce study group. This latter experience exposed him to concepts of karma, cause and effect and
Sanje’s first exposure to Buddhism came in 1969 when Rinzai master Sazaki Roshi came to Portland to do a seven day sesshin. After three days of sitting he realized he was “home” and that Buddhism was his path.
At the same time, he and a friend began reading The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, by Gampopa. In the 1960’s, there were very few books available in the West related to Tibetan Buddhism. Since he could not find another copy, he borrowed the lone book from his friend and copied it in its entirety, completely captivated by it. His next reading was The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa. This is when he realized he had to find a guru in the lineage of Milarepa, the Kagyu lineage.
In 1971, Sanje set off for India, though his itinerary covered most of Europe as well as the Middle East. While in Morocco he had a vision of light around England, for reasons he did not understand. After spending a month in London, he felt that something important was about to happen. He sat with a zen group and met some of Trungpa Rinpoche's students, who urged him to go to Samye Ling in Scotland. So he wrote to Samye Ling requesting to come. He was told that they were totally full and had no rooms and that he should not come.
At that time, Sanje was traveling with the I Ching, which he consulted for guidance. The text said: “you must meet the great man—you must leave immediately.” So he boarded the next train for Scotland and was met at the front door by Akong Rinpoche, who kindly allowed him to sleep in the shrine room. The next morning, a young Canadian nun told him that he was very lucky since a very great Tibetan teacher had just arrived on his way to Canada and he could meet him. The next day they met, and Sanje was given Refuge and the Bodhisattva Vow. The experience of being
with Kalu Rinpoche was transformative. He described Kalu Rinpoche as having “empty presence.” He also had the ability to see into the future.
1972, the year Sanje lived in India
Several months later, Sanje arrived in Darjeeling, near Sonada, where Kalu Rinpoche lived. Since Rinpoche was not there at the time, he went to spend a week with the 16th Karmapa and received empowerments and teachings and also viewed the Black Crown ceremony for the first time.
Eventually Kalu Rinpoche returned from North America and both he and Bokar Rinpoche gave many empowerments and teachings. It was not until 1974 that Kalu Rinpoche came to the West for his second tour, and Sanje and Tamara Hill invited Rinpoche to San Francisco to give teachings. After two weeks, Rinpoche left for Hawaii, and promised to return and open a center if they could find a suitable location. The house was found, and Rinpoche started his first U.S. dharma center called KDK (Kagyu Droden Kunchab).
For many years, Sanje lived in San Francisco, devoting most of his time to ensuring KDK’s success and acting as omze for the daily practice sessions. It was at Rinpoche's first public refuge ceremony that Sanje met Michael Conklin, who became one of the residents of KDK.
Many of us know Sanje to be an accomplished Thankga painter. He initially learned this art in 1974, at KDK. He was taught by the late Glen Eddy, a world-renowned Thankga painter. Sanje’s original inspiration for Thankga painting came while he was living in Germany in his twenties. There, he found himself writing the phrase: “Once upon a time there was a painter who wanted to paint his gods.” But at the time, he did not know who his gods were. He knew that it did not feel authentic to paint pictures of Jesus and Mary. Only later did he understand what he was meant
After ten years of painting Thankgas, Sanje began to teach it. To this day, he teaches out of his studio in Northeast Portland. His classes entail a study of the historical iconography of Tibetan Buddhism. He teaches students the history and iconography of Tibetan art, at the same time as they are learning “thigse” (correct proportions) and beginning to draw and ink the Buddha head and body. Sanje has just published a wall calendar composed of his Thankga paintings, which is available in KCC’s bookstore. He is also the author of a how-to book on Tibetan
Sanje’s connection to KCC goes back to the mid-1970’s. At that time, KDK sponsored an all- day meditation retreat at Mt. Tamalpais, in the Bay Area. His good friend from Portland, Tara Franklin, flew down to attend the retreat and take refuge. Tara asked for his help in starting a Kagyu center in Portland. He agreed to come to Portland to do that and invited Lama Tsewang Jurmay to preside. They rented the Old Church downtown. After putting out the word by various means, forty people came to the presentation and many took refuge. Tara Franklin became KCC’s first
1993, Sanje painting a thangka
Until 1991 when Sanje moved back to Portland, he followed KCC’s development only from a distance. But when he arrived in Portland, he learned that the Lama who had been sent to KCC by Kalu Rinpoche years earlier, Lama Thinley Drupa, was interested in leaving this post. Bokar Rinpoche permitted him to depart and KCC was in search of a new lama.
Sanje remembered that Lama Michael had just completed three-year retreat. Knowing Michael, he felt confident that he would be a superb choice. So he got in touch with him and, along with a small band of KCC members, set about trying to persuade Michael and his wife, Tara Sullivan, to come to Portland so that Michael could serve as lama. Of course, he eventually agreed.
Sanje’s spiritual and artistic paths are intertwined. Only an artist of his caliber could have brought the exquisite art of Thankga painting to this part of the world, providing so much inspiration to dharma practitioners. At the same time, his dharma path animates and lends meaning to all of his artistic expression. Sanje’s life, filled with the magic of strong intuition, is clearly a blessing to the KCC community.
Buy Once, Gift Twice Continues...
by Diane Lucas
KCC’s Dharma store has been having a banner month, with some $716 in sales in the first nine days of December. Way to go, Bodhisattvas! In our attempt to contribute to KCC’s call for more funds at the end of 2015, we would like to invite you to participate in our Buy Once, Gift Twice event. That is, when you buy a meaningful gift for someone on your shopping list (or for yourself), you are also supporting KCC. What could be better?
For the month of December, we are offering both our high-quality prayer flags and our bronze Buddha statues at half price. Especially for the holidays, we have brought in beeswax candles, handmade in Oregon, and at prices lower than the local stores. At your request, we obtained exquisite wrist malas which have been selling so fast that Mary Woods has jumped to the rescue with another collection of wrist malas. For that precious child, we still have several copies of Buddha at Bedtime. And don’t forget that our free trade
chocolate and one of a kind prayer shawls make wonderful gifts.
Did you know that many of the items in our store are handmade by our own sangha members? Sanje Elliott has handpainted the mani stones, as well as the Sacred Images of Tibet wall calendar. The calendar, in turn, was produced by Tim Campbell’s company, Amber Lotus, which also produced the Bodhisattva pocket journals. We have Mary Woods to thank again for malas. And if you elect to buy one of the many brocade items made by a sangha member (altar cloths, pecha
holders, little “thangkas”), KCC will receive 100% of the purchase price.
Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche’s Crystal Clear, which Lama Michael recommended so highly during the discussion session recently, is on the way. And we have been able to commission a special printing of Thrangu Rinpoche’s
short book, Guide to Shamatha Meditation, which is also heading to Portland. Watch for them in our Dharma store soon!
Before you shop anywhere else, please look at what KCC’s Dharma store has to offer. And if you shop smile.amazon.com—sign up to support KCC at smile.amazon.com/ch/93-0799664—or Powell’s Books online, you can also contribute to KCC, using the links here, or at www.kcc.org/study. Little by little, it all adds up to real support for our center.
Saturday December 19, 6-8 PM
Join us for an evening of stories and other offerings depicting and celebrating Bodhisattvas in all their incarnations!
We’d love to have your presence and participation. So start thinking of your own story to share as we gather community members families and friends for this annual holiday get together.
Bring a holiday treat to share
(finger food or anything that does not require utensils to eat)
Memories of Bodhisattva Nights Past
by Mary Woods
When I think about KCC's Bodhisattva night, it makes me smile. This gathering was first held in the 1990's to celebrate the holiday season with children in mind. It is a time to gather as friends and family to share love, laughter and treats. Over the twelve or thirteen years I have been coming and participating, I have seen so many moments that stand out for me. Here are a few:
I will never forget Jeff Alworth dressed up like Milarepa, long-haired black wig and all, in a skit that Char Edwards created for the night. It was both informational and hilarious!
Then there was the time one little girl came with a boom box and played " Bodhisattva" by Steely Dan, all the while dancing exuberantly and chiming in on the chorus "Bodhisattva, Bodhisattva, gonna sell my house in town!"
Or listening to our dear departed Ephraim Miller tell tales of long-ago saints and the kindnesses of strangers in difficult times.
Then last year when Corey Elton's four-year old son, Zach, regaled us with a free-form song about a "cowboy who wouldn't go into the woods.. he had slug that really loved him.." all the while strumming his ukelele with gusto, holding it like a stand-up bass (if you held it waist-high off the ground!).
I especially enjoy the fun and creative presentations by the kids program, sometimes with costumes lovingly made by parents and other adults, with kitties, yeti, pig princesses and other fantastic creatures.
Every year, Bodhisattva Night is a little different and, because the performances are not all known ahead of time, it always surprises. I can hardly wait to see what happens this year! Hope to see you there!
New Year’s Retreat 2016 and Refuge Ceremony
with Lama Michael Conklin
Thursday, December 31, 2015, 9:00am – 4:00pm &
Friday, January 1, 2016, 9:00am – 6:00pm
Zhinay, or Calm Abiding, will be taught during the New Year Retreat. The practice is the essential underpinning of all other meditation practices. While our minds are busy and distracted by a myriad of disconnected thoughts, feelings, and emotions, it is not possible to deeply engage the meditation methods which could lead us to the intended result of directly recognizing the nature of mind. Zhinay is a direct method for learning to let the mind rest naturally, free of our commitment to the tyranny of these distractions.
This short, two-day retreat will provide participants an opportunity to learn how to meditate using a few of the many methods available, to explore in open discussion how we can carry this meditation into our daily affairs and, vice versa, our daily affairs into our meditation. In short, we will take this opportunity to explore how we can integrate our spiritual path into the rest of our life, laying the ground for them to become completely inseparable.
Long-time Sangha member, Pat Parker, was recently asked: Why come to the New Year's Retreat? Pat responded; “When one is in need of extensive teachings on Shinay/Calm Abiding, having two full days of practice with our resident teacher, Lama Michael Conklin, can bring new insight. Traditionally, this is a time to renew one's aspirations for a new year of peace and increased practice in one's life. What better way to do this than to come together with fellow practitioners? If you have been wanting to take refuge and need an incentive, now is the time; Lama Michael is offering this ceremony on New Year's Day. Check in with him in advance. This precious opportunity only
comes once or twice a year. Our lives together are short and these moments pass too quickly, let's not waste a single minute.”