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A Leader in Service

Jeanine Greenleaf: "And he loved it!"

Jeanine Greenleaf: “And he loved it!”

COLUMN: In Everyday Life
One Woman’s History of Service, Part One

Interview with Madame* Jeanine Greenleaf
by Cara Thornley, Shambhala Times Regional Correspondent

* A form of address for a French-speaking woman literally meaning “my lady”

Question: When did you first begin serving Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche?

I first met Rinpoche at Tail of the Tiger (TAIL) in 1971. (It was re-named Karme Choling in 1976). Pretty much every time after that, when I was where Rinpoche was – I was involved. When he needed something – that’s what I did!

It was at one of the early programs that Irv Weider (my husband at the time) and I saw that people needed something to sit on besides cushions from chairs and couches. We went home to New York and began making zafus and zabutons. Later we asked Rinpoche if we could exchange making these cushions for the price of his programs at TAIL. Rinpoche thought that was great!

In 1974 Rinpoche called us. He was hosting the U.S. visit of His Holiness, the Sixteenth Karmapa, the head of the Kagyu lineage. Rinpoche asked if we could help him make the throne cushions for the Black Crown ceremony that his Holiness would be giving. Rinpoche wanted us to come to TAIL and work from there to make what was needed. So we went.

Rinpoche was directing everything – everything!

stuffing cushions outdoors

stuffing cushions outdoors

He told us exactly what we had to do: the sizes of the cushions, the designs, how to work with the brocades, how to starch some of the materials. You know he would be always coming and telling us what to do!

I asked him how he knew all this. He said when he lived at his monastery (in Tibet), he would be spying to see how the monks did all this when the Karmapa visited there. So I learned about thrones, and shrines too, because I worked with Rinpoche. It was a marvelous time.

Q. When did you move Samadhi Cushions?

In 1975, when we went to be on staff, we asked Rinpoche if we could move Samadhi Cushions there. He agreed. From 75-76, we gave rent – paid for rooms in the barn which remained from the days when TAIL was an old Vermont dairy farm.

In April 1976, at the first Vajra Assembly, Ground, Path and Fruition, Irv and I decided to offer the business to Rinpoche as a gift. We were so excited. We went to see him and said, “We think that the cushion business will help to bring cash in!” We wanted the money to support Rinpoche’s work.

It was interesting. He said yes, but that it should not be just for KCL. It should be for the whole mandala. He also said, “I want you guys to have money in your pocket so don’t be too generous,” but we gave all the ownership away.

Q. So Samadhi Cushions isn’t your business?

That’s right. It belongs to Shambhala, and I manage it.

Q. When did you start being involved in household service?

Jeanine Greenleaf circa 1971, courtesy of Chronicles Project

Jeanine Greenleaf circa 1971, courtesy of Chronicles Project

In 1974, as part of his U.S. tour, His Holiness Karmapa came to TAIL. We prepared Rinpoche’s home, Bhumi Pala Bhavan (BPB) for His Holiness and his party. We were also trained in serving meals and told what to wear while serving: had to wear a bra, couldn’t show cleavage, couldn’t show our knees, and this and that.

When they arrived we greeted them with the traditional tea and sweet rice ceremony that has now been offered many times in our sangha. But that was the first time for me.

After that when Irv and I moved to TAIL in early 1975, I started to be head of household every time Rinpoche or the Vajra Regent would come there. I would be in charge of cleaning the house, putting new curtains up, or whatever was needed.

I was thinking about that … It was probably the way I was raised, you know, that I knew what you had to do when you had a guest, that you had to do better, clean more. Although the house was already clean, you totally turned things around when a guest came. That’s what I had learned from my mom. I guess that’s why it was natural for me.

Q. So you weren’t told how to prepare Rinpoche’s household, you just knew how because of your family culture?

April 1976 "Ground Path Fruition" Vajra Assembly-where Jeanine & Irv gave Samadhi to VCTR

April 1976 “Ground Path Fruition” Vajra Assembly-where Jeanine & Irv gave Samadhi to VCTR

That’s right. You know the French, we like to be precise – I didn’t particularly struggle. So if we had to clean, or prepare dinner – you know, “that was that.”

When I first worked for Rinpoche, his attendant was doing most of the cooking. I would be just helping in the kitchen a little and doing mostly cleaning.

Then suddenly, one evening during a program in 1973, there was a big party – 8 people, and I was asked to cook. I was French you know, I could throw together a dinner, right? I didn’t know much what Rinpoche liked, and I was told to prepare anything.

So that night I made snails for an appetizer and beef bourguignon with vegetables for the main course. I used to cook with my mother and father and I knew how to cook snails exactly like my Dad did.

He was a butcher and he knew about meat, snails, and exotic things. On Sundays when I was a girl my father and I would buy snails at the market. We’d prepare the snails, cooking them in a little ceramic shell, because the real shells would crack when you cooked them.

I don’t know to this day if Rinpoche even ate the snails. It was the dessert, crème caramel, which was a huge success with him. He loved it. And after that whenever Rinpoche came I always had to make crème caramel for him.

Sometimes Rinpoche would have a cook traveling with him who would say… “Let’s go out and have dinner.” Rinpoche would say: “Why go out when we have such good cooks here? We have our own restaurant here!” He didn’t want to go out. He would prefer to be in his house and have guests.

Q. When Rinpoche came to do a program how many people would be helping, doing household service?

Tail of the Tiger March 1973

Tail of the Tiger March 1973

Oh everybody wanted to … everybody wanted to help, you know. We had fun. We had quite a few people helping sometimes.

Everybody was doing everything. People wouldn’t have particular jobs. It’s not like it is now. So we would go in the morning to BPB, do the dishes from breakfast, maybe cook for Rinpoche’s staff, clean, whatever was needed.

Later on in ’75 Jan Watson, the TAIL director and I, started to talk about what special services we needed when Rinpoche came. We started to hear that Rinpoche should have his own dishes…before we didn’t know. He would never say, “I need my own dishes.” So we learned as we went along.

We started to have servers. And sometimes we wish we didn’t have those servers. They would be drinking, eating Rinpoche’s food – even fighting. That was hard. We were a pretty wild bunch then.

One day I made ducks, because I was told Rinpoche loved ducks. I made a stuffing with liver, seasonings, etc. The stuffing was like a pâté inside the duck. Rinpoche really loved the stuffing. He said, “Tell Jeanine to put it away and I will have it for tomorrow’s breakfast.”

The next morning, when his attendant came to get breakfast, it was gone. The kasung on duty had finished it off. It was so embarrassing.

And after that the Frigidaire was for Rinpoche – only his food – and nobody, no staff could eat anything from it.

~~
Stay tuned for part two in the coming days.

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