Frequently asked questions on the creation of Jun Po Roshi's award-winning memoir, A Heart Blown Open.
Later that year Kelly returned to Boston to serve as the Tenzo, or cook, for Trungpa and the 16th Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpei Dorjé. The position was an honorable one, and Kelly spent a month preparing, learning the finest Japanese preparation for the six-pound red snapper he was going to cook.
Author note: this was cut in the drafting process, but it always makes me laugh.
When Kelly and I were working on this book, I flew to Appleton, Wisconsin on a sub-zero night in December 2009. He picked me up from the airport at 11pm, having just finished watching the Green Bay Packers play football. We drove back through the freezing streets towards his and Vicara’s home, making small talk about the game and the flight.
Author note: this excerpt is read in its entirety in the live reading at the very bottom of this page
Anger had so long been a part of who I was; I was angry at my upbringing, angry at the Catholic Church of my youth, angry at my bank account, angry at my girlfriend, angry at the world, and often angry at myself. What would it mean to live in a world where anger was inconceivable?
In the mid 1990s, Kelly and another dozen American Buddhist teachers were invited to visit the Dalai Lama in India.
“You’re going to India?” Sandra asked him, amazed. “To meet the Dalai Lama, personally?”
Kelly looked at the invitation in his hands. “Well, guess it’s time to go and see dad,” he said with a grin. “Find out if we’ve been bad boys and girls, or good ones.”
The little boy’s hands were splayed out in front of him, gripping the floor. Overhead the springs of a bed touched the top of his head. He peered past his own chubby fingers, looking through the gap of the bed and the hardwood floor, his instincts having taken him to a place where he might be safe from the madness in the next room.
He felt the sickening thud of his heart against his ribs, itself a terrifying, otherworldly feeling. In this choked silence, breath came and went in ragged, uneven gasps, and tears slipped out of his eyes and dotted the floor around him, creating little craters of clean wood flooring in the thin layer of Midwestern dust.
Jun Po Denis Kelly Roshi sits across from me on a rainy morning in Massachusetts in 2009, a black hood draped over his head. We are on the porch of an old lake home, overlooking a small stand of trees and then, through an opening in the underbrush, water.
We are both holding steaming cups of coffee, and even though it is late June our hands huddle around the cups for warmth.
Traveling to India had once changed his life, so Kelly thought it was time for him to make another trip. Perhaps this would provide the clarity he sought. His plan was to spend several months studying under Pattabhi Jois, the master yogi in Ashtanga who had few equals. Life in India was cheap by American standards.
He would be able to stretch his modest savings a long way there. He rented a spacious apartment near Pattabhi’s house where the master lived and trained. Pattabhi was a real character in his own right, a yogi of almost unparalleled realization and skill, and not above the occasional demonstration of his humanness.
“Mrs. Kelly,” one of the agents said, sweating in his suit on a hot Green Bay summer afternoon. “Ma’am, we are looking for information on your son. It is very important that we find him; he is reputed to be armed and very dangerous, and we want to make certain that we can find him without any unnecessary violence.”
Mrs. Kelly sat down at her kitchen table. “Armed and dangerous? My Denis? The boy is a lot of things, but dangerous isn’t one of them, and I don’t think he’s owned anything more lethal than his own tongue for the last 30 or so years.”