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 lived until, at the age of sixteen, he traveled to Europe and began studying in the Anthroposophic communities of England and Germany, 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 and a theater company that toured throughout Western Europe, East Germany, and Poland. While living in Germany, he also studied Waldorf pedagogy and eventually taught theater to high school students. He returned to the United States in 1986, where he met Lama Tsultrim Allione because he was teaching her children in Spring Valley Waldorf School after she returned from seven years in Italy. David became her partner and her husband and helped to raise her children who adored him. Together they moved to Pagosa Springs, Colorado in 1994 and co-founded Tara Mandala. David built the dream that Lama Tsultrim had carried with her since she was a nun in her twenties, of a retreat center in the west dedicated to the interface of Buddhism and Western psychology.
Two years before his death, Tsoknyi Rinpoche recognized that David was ready for the advanced Togal (Leap Over) teachings which lead to the rainbow body. 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 his mind in the vast Colorado sky. Even in wintertime he continued his outdoor practice and he would come in afterwards covered with icicles.
Shortly before his death, just after the completion of the temple, he became aware of a strange energy entering Tara Mandala. Lama Tsultrim noticed this same negative energy and gathered the senior students who were on the land together and requested them to do daily Protector’s Practice without fail, in order to work with this obstacle. However on July 21 for a variety of reasons, the Protector’s Practices were not done and David passed away from a heart attack in the early morning hours of July 22, 2010. He was only 54 years old.
The impact on Lama Tsultrim, her family and the Sangha was immediate and devastating. Without David it was hard to continue. But after a year of mourning Lama Tsultrim came back and carried on overseeing Tara Mandala with the loving support of the Sangha and her family.
Light on his feet and cryptic with his words, David gave us the experience of the unexpected and brought Tara Mandala to fruition. It was as though he had been sent to fulfill Lama Tsultrim’s dream, which he accomplished with great skill. Let’s remember David today with great gratitude.
David Petit (1955-2010) died at his home, Hawk Hill Ranch adjoining Tara Mandala, during the early morning hours of July 22, 2010. That afternoon rainbows filled the sky at Tara Mandala. 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 (Tulku Ösel Dorje), was in one of the most remote areas of Tibet with his teacher, 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 his teacher with him as he made the four-day journey back to Chengdu in 34 intense hours.
The day after David’s death, as tears fell, Tara Mandala was enveloped in heavy rain clouds and the sky opened, raining tears 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 during the full moon, 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, Sherab, Aloka and Tulku Ösel 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 in August, 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.