Jun 01

Letter from Lama Tsultrim Announcing Our New Executive Director

Dear Community,

I’m writing to introduce you to Tara Mandala’s new Executive Director, Robert Thomas.  We are thrilled that he has accepted the position!  He has a deep background and experience that is suitable for this role, including first living for six years as a student at Tassajara Mountain Zen center in the 90s.  Tassajara is a practice center part of the year with a guest season in the summer in the Ventura Wilderness in Monterey County, California.  It is even more remote than Tara Mandala and was founded by Suzuki Roshi, in 1970.

Robert then returned to San Francisco and became president of San Francisco Zen Center, the city center, for two years (2003-2005) and then moved into overseeing all of Zen Center’s emanations as President for 8 years (2005-2013).  This included overseeing the city center in San Francisco, Green Gulch Farm in Marin and their conference center, the Tassajara Retreat center near Big Sur, and the iconic Greens Restaurant in San Francisco.  His Zen Center presidency included managing a $10m annual budget with 180 employees and raising $30+m for Zen Center.  After that he was Director of Mindful Schools for three years (2017-2019).

What is interesting to me, at an inner level, is that Robert recently quit his job at a company that was developing mindfulness programs in schools, and went to live in Mexico.  There he started painting again.  He had started out as an artist in San Francisco before he found his way to Zen center in the 90s.  What kept emerging in his paintings was images of female Bodhisattvas.  He had also been drawn to work for Zen Center because of the strong female leadership there at the time.  He had been following my work and Tara Mandala for some time and when the Tara Mandala Executive Director job was posted, it felt like the job was calling him, and that the female bodhisattvas in his paintings had been leading him to his next step.  He also has had the feeling that he would like to live in a practice center again.  So he will be living on the land part time, approximately six months, each year.

Above: One of Robert’s paintings, depicting a female Bodhisattva

In the past two years we have made a conscious decision to include work on the development of the sacred masculine, in partnership with the sacred feminine, within each of us.  So although we had envisioned a woman for this post, to have a man who has this kind of interest and dedication in this leadership position, feels like it is resonant with our intentions.

Although his main training has been in Zen, Robert has also traveled to India and Nepal several times to study with Tibetan Lamas in the Nyingma tradition, so Vajrayana and Dzogchen are not foreign to him.  Also, the unique challenges that arise in both an in- person and remote Dharma community are very similar, whether it’s Zen or Vajrayana.

I hope you all will join me in welcoming Robert, as we simultaneously thank Joanne Brion, who has made tremendous progress in bringing Tara Mandala into greater alignment with our mission and values.  She has also helped to create a more stable productive organization in the last five years.  She has guided us into being financially viable and well organized, as well as being a strong practice center.  Under Joanne’s leadership we have also developed a skillful and competent team and a large online presence.

As you know, our international reach has expanded greatly and our virtual and online offerings have been a nurturing refuge for many throughout COVID years.  We are deeply grateful to Joanne for her gifts and look forward to a continuing connection with her.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Warm regards as we enter Saga Dawa – the most sacred month of the Buddhist year when the Buddha was born, enlightened and passed into parinirvana.

May all be auspicious!

Lama Tsultrim

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