Aba Cecile McHardy, aka the Friendly Dragon, and my beloved Dzogchen teacher since 2002, is currently in hospice care at Brairwood Healthcare Center in Needham, MA. Aba has been ill for some time and would say to me often: “Care, not Cure.” According to her care provider and dear friend, Aba likely had a stroke in November and recently has declined fluids and food.
Aba has always been a rare treasure in my heart and mind. I met her at Spirit Rock’s African American Buddhist Retreat in 2002 where she was one of many gifted teachers. At this retreat, she told me she had known me many lifetimes before meeting me. Aba was also a significant adviser to my book Healing Rage (2004).
Aba’s Dharma Names are Takseng Shepa [Tiger Lion Laughter] and Rinchen Gyalmo [Earth Queen]. Many of us know her fondly as Aba, The Friendly Dragon. Aba lived and worked in Africa for 15 years, and was an anthropologist, independent scholar, and Harvard Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute in 1968-1970. She served on the core faculty of Goddard College for 10 years before embarking on a yogic path.
Aba lived in Buddhist communities from Dhagpo Kagyu Ling Dordogne, France, to Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia. As a member of the Shambhala Buddhist community for the past 30 years, she had the blessings and good fortune to have served many teachers: Nyingma/Kagyu, HH Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche, HH the 16th Karmapa, and his Regents [Jamgong Kongtrul, Tai Situ, the Venerable Kalu Rimpoche, among others]. Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche is her root guru and Thrangu Rimpoche, Dzogchen Ponlop Rimpoche and Khenchen Tsultrim Gyamtso gave transmissions for the traditional solitary 3-year retreat training of a lama, which she completed in 1996. Since then Aba has lived as an urban yogi in great simplicity in Cambridge, MA.
When interviewed by Turning Wheel, Aba was asked: What kinds of experiences do you bring to practice? Her response:
A playful world of difference… I enjoy teaching stories from a treasury of wisdom traditions manifesting in all cultures, exposing vulnerability, ambiguity and complexity. Pointing out instructions of a simple direct path of skillful means—meditation in action, the mantra of sound, the tantric mudra, the vajra dance, pacifying, magnetizing, enriching, and destroying displays of reparations. I celebrate healers, cosmic garbage cleaners, and peacemakers.
Aba had one daughter, Alero, who passed away in 2005. Aba then came to the Bay Area for a long visit to rest. She stayed with me in Berkeley for several weeks while the communities of color cared for her and we were well cared for by her tender transmissions during this time.
Aba is transitioning with a clear heart and mind, surrounded by loved ones near and far. She wants everyone who knows her to know: “It’s all right. No hope, no fear.” I am grateful for how she reached out and called me to truth, and taught by example. I lovingly recall how much she enjoyed the earth, animals, tall trees, intimate time over tea and dinner, surprises, storytelling, thoughtful calls, and what she often referred to as Buddha bums and Dharma bastards – aka rascals.
Please join me in bows of love and gratitude to my beloved teacher, Aba, for her playfulness and mischievousness, inscrutability and generous light. May she have a graceful and easeful transition.
18 thoughts on “Honoring my teacher Aba Cecile McHardy, Friendly Dragon”
How full the path, how wonderful the presence you both have shared so others may experience the same fullness of being. Peace to both of you.
Thank you, Ruth, for sharing this deeply moving story. Much love to you both, and to all who are touched by Aba’s gift and her transition.
Blessings to the both of you for sharing such a beautiful journey together. This is what all transitions should celebrate…a way of life, joy, peacefulness and love.
Thank you Aba for everything. Thank you Ruth for sharing.
What a lovely testimony to a life well-lived, and a person well-loved.
I am holding Aba in my heart. What a blessing to know her. I love “No hope, no fear.”
I remember meeting the Friendly Dragon at your house and she made me tell her a joke. The only joke I knew was a dirty joke and I told her so. Her response “So tell me anyway!” And I did…and she laughed. She shared some wonderful wisdom with me that day. I’m glad to have had the experience. Missing you Ruth – Thank you for sharing this post. Sending love!
Dear Ruth, Thank you for introducing us to Aba, the Friendly Dragon, and your beloved teacher. I feel like I kow her too, through you. What we leave behing is those we have touched. Thank you for sharing some of her life and journey with us. It is inspiring!
Thank you for sharing the story of this wise and wonderful person. I am so happy she touched your life so richly that you may keep her alive through your teachings.
A spiritual friend of Aba, Eric, writes Feb 13:
I visited Friday, 3:20 – 4:00 PM. Aba is faded & fading; a stark comparison with my last visit a month ago (severe Winter has kept me away). She seemed asleep when I entered; responded quickly to my greeting with a smile & a gleam in her eye. Her communication remained totally non-verbal, her face quite automated in response to my dialog. We sat quietly for much of the time. Her spirit is strong, her body very weak. I lived at home with my father as he died under hospice care. My sense is that Aba may not have much time left here. …eric
May precious Aba’s transition continue to be at ease, may she be surrounded by love.
Precious Felicity, Aba’s core caretaker, shares the following:
Dear all, This afternoon – Saturday, February 28, around 12:45 – our dear Aba departed. It was a truly beautiful passing, a blessing to behold. Maryl and I were at her bedside. We had been visiting, the mood was light, I had just finished up pumping (for the little one at home), and Maryl and I were exchanging some notes on our children. Then Aba gave the eye – do you know the one? that squinty glare? Eyes wide and blazing, she called us to attention. And so we settled to quiet, with Aba still and breathing through her mouth. Gone were any gestures or moves of discomfort, her gaze steady with eyes unblinking. Presently we noted a gap in her breath, a long pause… and then her lungs came to breathe her again. This happened several times. Gaze steady, body still, right arm at her chest. Watching. And then the rattle. And soon, one loan soft sound, like an om, and she closed her eyes – her last breath marked, ever so gracefully she was off. Exquisite really. A final teaching, an extraordinary exit. So I send many thanks to all of you for your prayers and well wishes, your love and support near and far. As was Aba’s wish, she will be cremated at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. All who wish to witness are welcome. The cremation can be performed any day, Monday through Friday, with the earliest date Wednesday this coming week. If it is ok with everyone, I am going to request the service be performed on Monday, March 9. Aba’s apartment is still filled, and I plan to visit tomorrow to begin sorting her belongings. If there is anything in particular that any of you would like to have, please let me know. With gratitude for our connections, Felicity
Following is an update from one of Aba’s students, Bill Wooding. Join us if you can.
Dear friends and family of Aba,
Today marks the 49th day since her passing which, by her Buddhist tradition, is where we and the Friendly Dragon let go of our remaining ties, when her consciousness has moved on from this life and more toward the next life. Death as we know it is regarded as a process which started way before the moment of death and “ends” about 49 days after. The person is considered to have transitioned more toward their next existence by the 49th day. They have dis-identified with this life and more identified with the next life, or may have taken on a next existence by now. This points to one of Aba’s favorite themes: “deathlessness”. We cannot really say where so-called death started or when it ends and becomes life again. By this email, I want to be her messenger: “to share this with you” as she would say.
Today would be a good day to honor our connection with dear Aba, to say a last hello/goodbye. One could light a candle, say a prayer, or just think of her with a smile. Auspiciously Aba’s 49th day falls on a new moon day, when we of her tradition chant the Sadhana of Mahamudra. I will be doing this practice and burning her picture today at 5 PM. Anyone is welcome to join me.
Warm regards and love, Bill Wooding
Oh, thank you for this, Ruth!
Just this minute I wrote a footnote acknowledging Aba for calling my attention to the significance of African participation in the international maritime trade. That helped me a lot with “Black Bostonians, 1920-1940 . . . ”
If Aba is conscious, please say Lorraine Roses sends waves of deep gratitude.
Dear Ruth, these posts have helped me to catch up with the process that I had been sensing for several months from the distance of Jamaica. I type this on one of Aba’s gifts on one of her last joyful visits. ‘Is alright ‘ she often assured. I extend deepest bows to all her care and love community. Deep bows to her light.
Hi Ruth and all of you who were part of her life just ended. Aba e tered my life just after my extraordinary introduction to Buddhism. So powerful was her influence that despite the ensuing 14 years of my dedicated study and practice her presence permiated the presence of all the Teachers I subsequently met. I am sure she fought to the end to put her stamp on every part of the process to triumph in the end. She lived an extraordinary life, fought many a battle, escaped many a trap, and tiptoed through acres of tulips to just to prove she knew how. And how graceful she was.
It is incredibly uplifting and soothing to share words about the one I knew as Friendly Dragon, who set me on an entirely new life path. Blessings, so blessed. Thank you all.
I edited a biography of Aba called “Dharma Bums and Buddhist Bastards.” My own copy died recently and I was wondering if anyone has a copy. I was planning to gift it to another African American Buddhist scholar. Thank you for caring for this precious being.
En souvenir d’une amitié nanterroise toujours présente.
In memory of a friendship always present Nanterroise.