Boulder’s ‘Dharma Brats’ come of age

The local impact of Boulder’s spiritual generation’s offspring

By Tatyana Sharpton Dec 18 2020

Chogyam Trungpa

Boulder’s rich spiritual legacy has produced a raft of homegrown local businesses and entrepreneurs.

Businesses like Trident, founded in 1979 by Hudson Shotwell and James Gimian, members of the Boulder’s Vajradhatu Buddhist community, and the Boulder Book Store, opened in 1973 by David Bolduc who also helped launch Boulder’s first farmers market, helped lay the ground for the children that would grow up in Boulder’s heyday.

Boulder’s Buddhist roots still stretch to every discipline, from the tech world to coffee and finance, with the kids that sprouted in the 1970s and 80s — nicknamed “Dharma Brats” — now running the show.

Corey Kohn

Corey Kohn, born in 1975, got her middle name “Nigu” from Chogyam Trungpa himself; her parent met in Boulder in the early 1970s as people were starting to gather to hear teachings from Trungpa Rinpoche and they became close friends and disciples of the spiritual leader. Today, Corey owns Boulder-based tech co-op Dojo4 and helps run Shambhala Sun Camp, Boulder’s Buddhist childrens’ camp.

The outdoor sleepaway summer camp originally started in 1984, inspired by Trungpa Rinpoche’s Buddhist “military,” the Dorje Kasung, an organization used to integrate many of the forms of military life, such as uniforms, hierarchy and discipline to cultivate internal harmony and fearless wakefulness.

(Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche is a controversial figure; he did a lot of good but had some serious allegations of abuse, as with some other leaders of Shambhala, and leaves a bit of a tarnished if albeit revered legacy as a spiritual leader, which we’ll cover more in a future article).

Many children who grew up in Boulder’s Buddhist community attended this camp every summer, including Corey, and Waylon Lewis, who now runs the popular mindfulness publication Elephant Journal. In fact, Waylon and Corey went to preschool together, and then attended school together from third grade on.

Corey’s childhood friend Cara Rich, whose father John Baker co-founded Naropa and worked closely with Chogyam Trungpa, launched Boxcar Coffee Roasters on east Pearl Street in 2010 with husband Vajra Rich, whose brother Corey married.

Boulder’s Rising Tide Tattoo Emporium is owned by Phill Bartell, a practicing Buddhist and husband to another childhood friend of Corey’s, Kirsten Westby, daughter of Brus and Jean Westby who founded Boulder’s private high school September School. Kristen’s brother Noah Westby founded Dagabi Tapas Bar, Boulder’s spanish-style tapas, pasta and wood-fire pizza restaurant.

A slightly younger ‘Dharma brat,’ Sara Bercholz, now runs Shambhala Publications, founded by her father, which published Chogyam Trungpa’s first book “Meditation in Action” as its very first publication in 1969. Corey’s friends Solomon Halpern and Jesse Grimes run Boulder’s “mindful finance company” Highlander as its president and principal; Jeremy Fagan owns Mandala Painting, a local Boulder painting company, and Jessica Lief, another friend of Corey’s and daughter of Naropa’s president Chuck Lief, runs her own own skincare clinic, Jessica King Skincare, out of Broomfeild.

“We all know each other; we all grew up with each other,” says Corey. “Many of us feel like we’re cousins; many of our parents were friends before we were born.”

[Behind Boulder’s homegrown mindfulness media movement Elephant Journal]

Shambhala Sun Camp, begun by Buddhists, was a key club for kids of the Buddhist community’s children who all grew up together, and still exists today. Image: Shambhala Sun Camp.

Boulder’s Buddhist roots

Jack Kerouac statue at Naropa. Image: Sofia Drobinskaya.

Chogyam Trungpa moved to the U.S. in 1970, where he founded Vajradhatu in Boulder, the basis for what became Shambhala International, a worldwide network of urban Buddhist meditation centers, retreat centers, monasteries and other ventures, including Naropa University.

The energy around Boulder pulled many free thinkers westward, including beatniks like Allen Ginsberg who migrated to Boulder and launched Naropa Institute’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, which he co-founded with Boulder Beat poet Anne Waldman and others.

Many of Boulder’s ‘Dharma Brats’ were born during the memorable summer of 1974, the first of Naropa’s annual annual summer events when scholars, psychologists, poets, artists, and spiritual teachers from all over the country came to speak, while many others’ parents met there.  Many of the adults who came of age around that time and had children continued to raise their families within that community, and even after some left, many returned to Boulder in adulthood.

Some cringe at the phrase “Dharma brats,” seeing it as offensive, but Corey does not necessarily feel that way.

“In some ways it may be mildly appropriate,” laughs Corey. “Not in a horrible or super-spoiled way, but many of us grew up feeling entitled in our communities, like ‘I know about this.’ It highlights the sweet part of it, and we are kind of brats that way. But it may be the same way people use the diplomat term ‘brats.’ Most of us have known each other since we were babies.”

[Exploring ‘Old Boulder’ spirituality through its 2nd generation]

Shambhala Sun Camp’s next generation. Image: Shambhala Sun Camp.

Editors note: We have updated this article to include Vajradhatu, which became the founding teachings for Shambhala International, and have removed the inaccurate mention of the Dalai Lama. 

Header Image: Boxcar Coffee Roasters. Image: Paul Hagey.