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Tribute to Papa

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Tribute to Papa and Children of the Universe- his poem

August 1 Papa, Charles Saul Fein, died.  He had been sick for 22 years and courageously fought a battle with cancer. Finally he was done. He died at home living with my brother David Fein and his large family comprising four generations; Michelle, Carolyn, Rose and McKenzie.

Dad was a passionate man about three primary things; his children, the University of Chicago and cosmology. He was a deliberate parent and thought carefully about ways to instill in us values and capacity to forge our own way in the world. From the time David and I were tiny he taught us how to think for ourselves, shared his vast knowledge of biology, physiology, physics, cosmology, strategy, and business,­­ as well as his love for animals, beauty, elegance and his remarkable humor.

I share some stories with you so that you have an impression of this remarkable man and the way that he shaped me.

As a little girl I remember he would blow on my belly and make a loud noise. I would squeal in giggles. Recently shortly before he died, he brought it up. He did this not only just for the fun of it but he wanted me, his daughter to grow up knowing what ecstasy was.


Dad’s memorial, David, my brother told us stories of playing with marbles. They weren’t just marbles; they were atoms and electrons – building blocks to make a world. When David realized that we could create the world, his mind fashioned things entirely differently.

Dad wanted us to think for ourselves and be able to discern what was true even in the face of an authority who may think differently. He would deliberately say things that weren’t true and delight when we would say, “Daddy, that’s ridiculous.”

When we were little, one of our favorite ways of spending time together was to pick one the “Life” series books and crawl into Papa’s lap. I have fond memories of spending hours looking through the pages. He never tired of telling us what the pictures meant in language appropriate to our age.

After Mom and Dad divorced, we were often eating in restaurants and driving back and forth between parents’ homes. It was rare that the paper dinner mats weren’t transformed into drawing boards,  paper napkins into lessons. While waiting for dinner to arrive, the plates, saucers and glasses would be turned into planets to show their relationship with each other and the influence they had in our world. Driving home, Dad would often get so excited about a subject that he would pull over to the side of the road and continue talking- sometimes for hours before we could get back on track and get home.   Sometimes we would get caught up in Dad’s excitement and sometime we were tired, restless and bored and just wanted to get home. With Dad I learned about the many edges that are involved in training.

When David was 16, Dad was instrumental in developing a plan to make him the second youngest person ever to reach the South Pole as a Sea Cadet on a Coast Guard cutter going to Antarctica. Having an unreasonable idea and making it happen changed David’s life.  Not only was his outlook on what was possible in this world transformed, so too his place within it radically shifted.

Dad supported us, believed in us and loved us.  We felt the impact.

Since moving to Colorado Springs in 2009, we have had a lot of time together. After living abroad for over 20 years I felt caught up and current. We laughed, we cried and we shared in topics that were enlivening.

Dad’s was passionate about medical management. We were taught to fully understand our own medical problems, think through the treatment protocols that the doctor prescribed and only agree to what made complete sense.  When I was in India in 1987, before joining the monastery, this had significant ramifications. After my encounter with the bear, I had rabies injections. About 6 weeks later I developed a 105 degree fever and needed more medical care.  Traveling alone, I went to a clinic and saw a doctor who diagnosed me with typhoid and prescribed some medicine. I bought the medicine and then thought about what had happened. Even with such a high fever that I was going in and out of delirium, I tracked what the doctors had done and concluded that they couldn’t have been accurate in their diagnosis.  This motivated me to get to a medical center that had tests and treatments that made sense. The tests came back that I had hepatitis. Further, I discovered the medicine that had been prescribed earlier for typhoid were extremely liver toxic. In this instance my capacity for medical management even under duress made a difference. Taking the typhoid medicine could have killed me.

When I told Dad about my monumental decision to become a nun, he was quiet and sad for a while and then shifted. He tuned into the fact that I had come very close to death while in India. He would have preferred that I became a professor of Buddhism and thereby did something that was “in the catalog” rather than the utterly alien vocation of being a nun. He said he would miss me being close by and having children of my own that he could love and be part of their growing up. Yet he was grateful that I wasn’t a pile of bones in a bear cave. He also recognized how rare it is to have a measure of peace in one’s life and to live one’s calling. He sent me off to the monastery giving me his highest blessing.

Dad was truly brilliant.  After getting a degree from the University of Connecticut, Dad Entered PhD program at University of Chicago in Medical Physiology.  The University of Chicago was unique in its approach to education. In one class, there were no exams and no curriculum, just an open laboratory to “do stuff”. The disorientation was quickly replaced with exhilaration that he could do whatever he wanted – for someone of his creativity and intellectual capacity it was a dream come true. He set about making a type of microscope. When Professor Patrick Wall came over to see it, Dad was devastated that it didn’t work and frightened that he was going to fail but nevertheless explained to him what it was and how it was supposed to work. Professor Wall was nonplussed that it didn’t function as planned because he said that his thinking was correct and it would have worked if it had been machined from metal.  He continued by saying that that original thinking was rare and singularly important in research. The next day Professor Wall asked Dad to come his own lab and specifically invited him to evaluate the experiment he was in the middle of. Dad took one look at it, took a deep breath and said, “There is nothing in all of physics, chemistry or biology that suggests there is any way this experiment is going to work.” Frightened that his truth telling had just insulted the head of the department and expecting to be thrown out of the university, he was shaking when Professor Wall called him to his office the next day. Prepared for the worst, he was not at all ready for what followed. Professor Wall said to him, “I want you to be a full partner in developing research on the mechanism of nerve impulse. And when we publish, we are publishing side by side.” Dad was just a freshman in graduate school at that time. He went home and thought about it. Shortly thereafter, the nature of the sodium pump as the basis for the mechanism of the nerve impulse came in a series of insights all in a matter of seconds. He left school as a result of mononucleosis and never was able to publish. The string of insights that came as a thought experiment were later proven by Jens Christian Skou, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1997.

In 1991, Dad came to Amaravati to offer me my alms bowl in the ceremony of my nun’s ordination. The somber occasion didn’t dissuade him from the humorous opportunities that presented themselves. Before coming he noticed that the flight he booked said that they could accommodate special diets. So he called up the airlines.  He told the customer service rep that he had a special diet that required equal parts dinosaur, sheep and camel meat roasted over an open fire. The customer service representative replied without missing a beat, “No problem sir. We will be able to accommodate that but it may delay your preferred departure date as we are going to have to build a new type of plane that is equipped to handle open flames.”

Ajahn Sumedho was my preceptor for my first ‘going forth’ and until October 2011, the spiritual director of Amaravati Buddhist Monastery. He is a similar age to my father. The first time they met, the very first thing Dad said was, “I trained my children to be independent, but my daughter has out done my wildest expectations!” As I listened to the two of them roar with laughter, I smiled. I felt seen and celebrated for what often got me into a lot of trouble.

While at the monastery he wrote the “Children of the Universe”as tribute to his baby brother Teddy who died on his own 6thbirthday. In finding some completion with something that was deeply disturbing to him he made a tribute to all who have lost loved ones.

My relationship with Dad has evolved since I was child. I have had many occasions when I have had to stand up to him. If he micro managed me as I was washing dishes, I turned to look at him and said, “Exactly who do you think you are talking to?” He said, Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot who I was talking to.

It was sobering when Dad needed help and couldn’t ask for it. I remember once changing plans and going to back to Colorado to help him find suitable housing, clear that I would be doing this without asking permission. Doing things for Dad without his permission was a significant reversal of roles.

The last years of his life, Dad lived with David, Michelle and Rose, his great granddaughter and later Carolyn and McKenzie, his second great granddaughter. Michelle was the one not only who invited but insisted that he live with them. Dad told me many times the impact it had on him that he lived with them and that Michelle was the one who instigated it.

I also heard about the times Rose would come down the stairs by her own volition before bedtime and say, “I love you Zeidi,” a Hebrew endearment for great grandfather.  Sometimes Rose would bring her teddies and tigers to Dad when he wasn’t feeling well. Dad told me that once when he was in a lot of discomfort, Rose climbed into bed with him and played ‘piggy’s with him- a four year old’s remedy for all that ails. I heard repeatedly of Dad’s delight of the special dinners that David would make for him. Dad repeatedly used the word “magnificent” describing David and the way that he felt cared for by him. I continue to be profoundly grateful that Dad was so well cared for and rejoiced watching him relax into their love.

I learned from Dad not only in the ways that he was brilliant but also in the things he didn’t do well.  When he negotiated his needs at other’s expense, it motivated me to find ways to tune into the situation around me and communicate so that everyone’s needs are met.

Over these last few years when Dad would dig into something and wouldn’t budge, I would shout, “I am going to put on your tomb stone, “I did it my way!” He’d say, “Oye Vey!”

In February, David organized for Professor Michael S. Turner from University of Chicago to come to their house and talk with Dad. Prof. Turner is world renown in the field of cosmology and physics and coined the term “Dark Matter”.  He is a rock star in his own world. They spent an hour talking about cosmology and Dad shared his own theory of black holes. He was so excited, so delighted and so honored by the visit; he talked about it until his last days. At the time of the visit I said, “Dad, now you can die in peace.” He said to me, “Yes.”

The time before the last I saw him he showed me a picture of “the Self Made Man” a statue of a man chiseling himself out of stone and excitedly said, “This is me, this is my life this is who I am! I have been doing this all my life! If I were a wealthy man I would offer every university a statue so students can see that what they think and do shapes who they become; shapes their destiny.”

Dad deliberately trained us to stand on our own two feet, fight for what was right, think and take care of ourselves and those we love and to understand how we frame things. Grateful for his tremendous love, support, and all that he taught me, I feel proud that he has been my Dad and will miss him. Grateful that David and I can go through this together and that the family comes closer as we navigate the full range of our feelings around his death.

I am left with the visceral experience of an extraordinary man who is part of who I am and how I experience the world.

Yet grief is a river, it flows, changes. Some days I feel deeply tired and achy. Some days I feel grounded and clear. My sadness ebbs and flows in a rhythm with my gratitude. I turn a corner and find myself in an entirely new internal landscape; each day is new. Attending to loss, my attention sharpens on what is important in life.  My ongoing commitment to awaken is energized from all that he has given as well as his death. When I attune to wanting to be close and wanting to connect, I recognize that my wanting is there because I have learned how to love.  It is a gift. And yet, this longing for connection and closeness pulls me to touch a Divine love, touch my true nature and original mind- a love that all at the same time includes, transcends and embraces everything, even death.  When I ask, “What is left when everything falls away?” I feel peace.



LET US LIGHT A CANDLE TONIGHT in loving memory of all our beloved family and dear friends who have left this brief life too soon.  We shall always hold you in our hearts with love and devotion and treasure that precious time we had together.  It is our deepest hope and desire that your body and soul and spirit and life force return to the universe ever so gently, always nurtured and sustained by the love and affection we send with you.  May all dearly departed ease your journey towards infinity, guide you to eternal peace and surround you with love and beauty forever.


 Let us surely honor and respect those generations that preceded us for 5,500 years in the Hebrew faith and tradition of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the unimaginable suffering our people endured.


Let us honor and respect those countless multitudes struggling since the dawn of civilization 12,000 years ago in the crucible of nature that shaped cultures and nations.


Let us honor and respect the family of man, emerging from the forest primeval eight million years ago, fighting fiercely to survive, launching human destiny.


Let us honor and respect all of our biological ancestors as well, evolving miraculously from that fateful moment when life began on our planet from dust four billion years ago.


Let us honor and respect the Sun and Mother Earth formed five billion years ago in cosmic fire and fury, then nurtured and sustained in an unbroken chain the fragile life we treasure today.


And surely we must honor and respect the universe itself with all its mysteries, created fourteen billion years ago out of the void, at the beginning of time and space and still unfolding.


And at last, we will honor and respect our present family and friends and those yet to be born, whose destiny will carry our hopes and dreams and aspirations along with their own through future generations on their inexorable march to eternity.


For truly we are Children of the Universe, minds yearning for wisdom and spirits striving for enlightenment, made of elements forged in the very stars; heirs to the sustaining teachings and traditions of family, faith and civilization, blessed with freedom and eternally grateful for the love and devotion so generously bestowed upon us with the gift of life itself.






Written by Charles S. Fein, September 1st, 1991
at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery


Charles Saul Fein
September 20th, 1927 – August 1st, 2012

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Amma Thanasanti is the founder of organizations Awakening Truth and Whole Life Path. She is a California born spiritual teacher dedicated to serving beings. She has been committed to awakening since she first encountered the Dharma in 1979. As a former Buddhist nun of 26 years, she combines the precision and rigor of the Ajahn Chah Forest Tradition and a passion for wholeness. Amma invites you to pause to see what is liberating at the core of your human condition while also considering your well-being, your ability to know and and advocate for successively complex needs and integrate these into all aspects of daily life.
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