The Many Lives of Jampa Dorje

Jampa+Dorje+brings+his+knowledge+of+Tibetan+Buddhism+to+Ellensburg

Jampa Dorje brings his knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism to Ellensburg

Katherine Camarata, Senior Reporter

From the streets of Berkeley during the post-Beat poet era to the farms of Kittitas Valley as a cattle rancher to the mountains of Colorado studying Tibetan Buddhism, Jampa Dorje has lived many lives within the span of his well-documented existence. 

Students may recognize Jampa as the creator of the High Mountain Valley Local Authors Collection in the special works section at Brooks Library. The collection features published works by notable authors from central Washington. 

Jampa’s charming bungalow in the heart of Ellensburg is home to over 400 “chapbooks,” he created. “Chapbooks,” are short books that he prints, sews together and fills with prose, poetry and the trappings of a life fully lived. 

Jampa’s journey began in 1941; he was born in Santa Clara, California and given the name Richard Lee Denner. 

While later attending the University of California Berkeley, he met his mentor Luis Garcia who inspired him to write poetry as if he was a jazz musician. Jampa said that he focuses on a flow of words that sounds natural when read out loud. 

Jampa moved to Alaska in the early ‘70s and worked for the Ketchikan Daily News, dwelling in a fisherman’s cabin with his wife Cherie and their young son, Theo. He later relocated to Ellensburg after answering an ad seeking a cattle foreman.

“I irrigated the land, I rode, I took care of horses and a cattle ranch,” Jampa said. 

In 1978, Jampa followed his lifelong dream and opened Four Winds Coffee, Tea and Books on Fourth St. in downtown Ellensburg. The shop operated for over twenty years. 

After a dark period of time and a battle with alcoholism, Jampa left Ellensburg and began learning from Sufi leaders of the Islam faith. At 55, he expanded his studies to Tibetan Buddhism because he said it always resonated with him. 

Jampa described Tibetan Buddhism as a mixture of practices called sutra, tantra and the teachings of Padmasambhava, a Buddhist Vajra master circa the eighth and ninth century.

Jampa Dorje shares his poetry _chapbooks_ all over Ellensburg.

“It’s kind of shamanistic, kind of this Dzog Chen thing,” Jampa said. “Dzog Chen” means Great Perfection, according to Jampa.

Jampa studied Tibetan Buddhism in Colorado at a retreat center called Tara Mandala under the leadership of Lama Tsultrim Allione, author of Tibetan bestseller Women of Wisdom.

“My teacher wanted there to be equal footing for women in tantric Buddhism and not to have so much male domination,” Jampa said. “Having a teacher helps a lot.”

Much of Jampa’s study occurred while secluded in a mountain cabin called Luminous Peak. He said that those who choose long retreats at Tara Mandala might spend as long as six months in solitude with helpers bringing food to a space of isolation. 

“That part is very rigorously structured,” Jampa said. 

After studying at Tara Mandala for three years, he returned to Ellensburg with a new name given to him by Lama Tsultrim Allione: “Jampa Dorje,” meaning Indestructible Loving Kindness. 

Jampa has been auditing philosophy courses at CWU since 2015 to bridge the gap between his study of Eastern philosophies and the work of Western philosophers like Nietschze, Kant and Heidegger. Each course that he takes is later turned into a “chapbook,” that becomes part of his collection.

“Whatever the class was about, I needed to turn it into my writing about how I was reimagining things that I thought I had understood from years ago,” Jampa said. 

Jampa’s art is available to view on his websites, www.dpress.net or www.capala.net. He is an accomplished poet, multimedia artist and philosopher who has left a permanent and resounding impact on our community.