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Apr 25
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A Tribute to Peter Lieberson
Peter Lieberson with Samuel Bercholz

Peter Lieberson with Samuel Bercholz

Peter Lieberson passed away on Saturday, April 23rd. Obituaries have already been published by The New York Times and The New Yorker. There will be sukhavati ceremonies for him in various Shambhala Centers around the world tomorrow.

By Sam Bercholz

The entrance to the celestial pure land of Shambhala opened today, and the Vajra Warrior known on Earth as Peter Lieberson is welcomed back by the Rigdens, their Queens, and the general populace. The music that he had composed is playing in the Inner Kalapa Court.

Peter was a genuinely elegant man, a natural gentleman warrior of the Shambhala Kingdom. Throughout his life he exuded a friendliness and basic goodness to others and a wonderfully zany sense of humor. He was a musical genius, a loving father and husband, an accomplished teacher of the Shambhala dharma and Buddhadharma, an astute student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Mindroling Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche.

When I think of Peter, a variety of memories come to mind. I remember how the Vidyadhara Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche encouraged his musical composing skills and asked him to make it a vehicle for the transmission of dharma, and he did do that, just as he had promised. He paid his dues by getting a Ph.D. from Brandeis University and then teaching musical composition at Harvard University. He wrote several Tibetan Buddhist-inspired operas, working with his friend Douglas Penick, and wonderful music that expressed the teaching of Buddhism; his Six Realms is playing in the background as this is being written. He also wrote sublime love music in the form of his Neruda Songs and Rilke Songs that he composed for his second wife, the mezzo-soprano, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. All the important American orchestras and many European ones play his music, and he collaborated with many great musicians including the pianists Peter Serkin and Emanual Ax, and the cellist, Yo-Yo Ma. I once asked Peter how he wrote his music, at that time he replied: “I make an offering and then simply write down what I hear”.

He was born to artistic royalty, so to speak, his father was Goddard Lieberson, also a classical composer and then longtime head of Columbia Records and his mother was the ballerina Vera Zorina (she had been previously married to George Balanchine). Though he was brought up on jazz and classical music, he was no cultural snob. He appreciated and was a fan of the pop-singer Sting and of the antics of the comedian Pee Wee Herman. He really enjoyed watching Pee-Wee’s Playhouse and he would always laugh uproariously.

When Trungpa Rinpoche started Shambhala Training, he appointed Peter and his wife Ellen Kearny Lieberson to become the spokespeople to the public. Peter was also one of the first Shambhala Training teachers. Later in his life he became the international director of Shambhala Training in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Though he was no bureaucrat, he handled his assignment with great diligence and dignity.

He truly understood and believed in Trungpa Rinpoche and served as an outstanding student, example for others, and an excellent administrator during Trungpa Rinpoche’s lifetime and thereafter. He also was very interested in learning further about the Nyingma Dzogchen teachings. I remember his fascination with the terms trekcho and thogyal. He really wanted to find a teacher that would fill-in this aspect of Buddhism for him. He met the Nyingma master Mindroling Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche and was able to fulfill this wish. After a few years, she appointed him as one of her community’s senior teachers with the Tibetan title Loppon (Master in English).

Peter had lymphoma, a form of cancer, for the last five years. I was impressed by the way he handled the difficulties of his illness with such aplomb. He rarely complained and continued to write music and practice and teach dharma. He spent his last years with his long-time friend, companion and wife, Rinchen Lhamo, who survives him.

Peter Lieberson was the living embodiment of the true Vajrayana Buddhist practitioner and Shambhala Master Warrior. He was able to be fully in the world and at the same time practice the profound inner view of luminosity and emptiness.

Sam Bercholz
April 24, 2011

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