David was born in Salem, Massachusetts to Margaret and Robert Petit. He was the third of six children. The family later moved to New Hampshire where he was raised. At the age of sixteen, David traveled alone to Europe and began studying in the Anthroposophic communities of England and Germany which were founded by Austrian philosopher, social thinker, and architect, Rudolf Steiner.
David graduated from Eurythemeum College in Stuggart, Germany in 1981 where he studied Eurythmy (an expressive movement art), acting, choreography, directing, music, literature, and philosophy. He stayed in Europe for a total of thirteen years and became a well-known performer and director of plays that toured throughout Western Europe, East Germany, and Poland. While living in Germany, he also studied Waldorf pedagogy and eventually taught theatre to high school students. He returned to the United States in 1986, where he met and married Lama Tsultrim Allione. David became her student, and together they founded Tara Mandala. David built the dream that Lama Tsultrim had carried with her since she was a nun, of a retreat center in the west dedicated to the sacred feminine.
Two years before his death, Tsoknyi Rinpoche recognized that David was ready for the advanced Togyel (Leap Over) teachings. David’s diligence with this high level of practice allowed him to reach liberation immediately after death, as confirmed by all of his teachers. He sat every day from 5:00 to 8:00 a.m. and, when possible, at sunset again, always outside, resting in the vast Colorado sky. In wintertime, he would come in covered with icicles.
Debonair and exceedingly mysterious, we were often delighted and amazed by even the smallest interaction. Light on his feet and cryptic with his words, David gave us the experience of the unexpected.
David Petit (1955-2010) died at his home, Hawk Hill Ranch adjoining Tara Mandala, during the early morning hours of July 22, 2010. Immediately upon the discovery of his body, Lama Tsultrim, Khenpo Urgyen Wangchuk, and Lama Gyurme began Phowa, the transference of consciousness practice. Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche was contacted in Taiwan and gave instructions for handling the body and performing cremation.
As family and sangha members were contacted and began to arrive, practice for David continued throughout the night. Lama Tsultrim’s son, Costanzo (Osel Dorje), was in one of the most remote areas of Tibet with his teacher Adzom Rinpoche, who told him of David’s death before the news had reached the monastery, and told him to prepare to leave. Costanzo received his advice and carried instructions from Adzom Rinpoche with him as he made the four-day journey back to Chengdu in thirty intense hours.
The day after David’s death, as tears fell, Tara Mandala was enveloped in heavy rain clouds and the sky opened to mirror the grief of the Sangha. The next morning, preparations began to construct a funeral pyre on the east side of the Stupa that David had built with his own hands. Sangha and family traveling throughout the day and night arrived for the sunrise cremation ceremony and were received by the dawning of a clear, Dharmakaya-blue sky. The glory of the procession, with Tibetan instruments, ceremonial hats and robes, five-colored silk scarves, and garlands of flowers, was beautiful to behold as David’s body was placed upon the pyre.
When the ceremony began, feather-like clouds started to dance in delicate, woven layers across the early morning sky. Gathered sangha offered juniper branches and silk scarves with blessings and prayers for David’s journey. Brilliant shafts of light emanated in all directions from the sun, as traditional offerings of oil, grain, and flowers were made to the fire while David was visualized as the deity Vajrasattva in the center.
For the next week a twenty-four hour vigil was held at the Stupa. During that time, rainbows appeared daily, and on the third night the rarest atmospheric phenomenon called a lunar rainbow stretched from the peak of Ekajati to Lama Tsultrim and David’s home.
For many days the fire smoldered and practice continued at the Stupa. On July 30th, a hot and dusty morning, Lama Tsultrim, Khenpo Urgyen, and Osel Dorje sifted through the ashes, discovering multi-colored fragments of bone and teeth. The next day, David’s ashes were offered to the river as the community gathered in practice and prayer. When the ashes were released, the previously flat river swirled clockwise, generating an auspicious, white, foam-like flower which traveled downstream along with many tears.
Each day during the 2010 Drub Chen, Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche poured purifying saffron water over the bones. In accordance with Rinpoche’s instructions, many have practiced merging with David’s mindstream. Tsoknyi Rinpoche said that upon liberation David became the three kayas, and whenever he is invoked, he will be spontaneously present. Lama Tsultrim lovingly refers to him as “Dharmadatu Dave.”
The Artist David Petit
David Petit was also, to no one’s surprise, a secret artistic master. He began painting in Bali in 1990 and continued to work whenever he had free time, especially during his Colorado years, 1994 – 2010. He worked privately, almost never showing his work to anyone. Though we knew he was imaginative and abstractly ingenious, most who knew him were unaware of the large body of work that he had developed until his collection was revealed after his death.
David’s collection reveals his soul’s journey, his inner struggles, and his path into the light. Such extraordinary images in art might have the propensity to alienate or unnerve the psyche, but in the David Petit gallery this is not the case.
Mystifying and spontaneous, David’s work creates in us space for the exploration of light and shadow. Viewing the images that continue to surprise, we have little choice but to relinquish conceptual limitations.
To those who knew, loved, and admired him, David remains a mystery. Let his work tell you some of what lay beneath the surface of this complex, generous, beloved man.