Memorial Tributes to Toni

Joan Tollifson – I have never met any teacher more amazing than Toni Packer, and I’ve never been to any place as amazing as Springwater. More than any other teacher I’ve encountered, Toni leaves you nothing to hold onto, and that’s the greatest gift you can give anyone. I still remember the last word of the Day Six talk at the July ’88 retreat, the first retreat I came to at Springwater. Toni uttered that last word with the most amazing intensity and passion, and the word was Nothing! [laughter]

Bob Brown – Here I am and feeling emotional. That’s interesting because Toni is the least sentimental person I ever met in my life. I remember the first time I met her; it was in the spring or early summer of 1970. I was newly at the Zen Center, and they gave me the job of wallpapering the Oak Room. Some of you may remember it. And so I was told that this member who lived in North Tonawanda was going to bring a roll of wallpaper because her sister or somebody worked for a wallpaper distributor. So it happened that I met Toni for the first time in front of the Zen Center as I arrived one day. I got out of my car and then I saw this woman walking up the street with a wallpaper roll in her arms. So I went up to her, I didn’t say a word of introduction. I said “This is for me,” and just took the wallpaper out of her arms. Imagine, if somebody came up to you and took something out of your arms without even announcing who they are. What would you think? She just gave it up. [laughter] Not a hint of resistance physically or in her manner; I never forgot that detail. That was my first encounter.

And I remember a number of other encounters, but this one [that I will tell you about] was also at the last retreat that I attended at the Zen Center [1981]. I went to dokusan, I was complaining about something or other and then she said to me, “Do you really want this [i.e., to wake up]?” I hesitated for just a moment, and she said, “No you don’t!” [laughter] That really did it for me. [laughter] Really turned everything around for me. [laughter] That sesshin was a big turning point, and I’m forever grateful.

Chana Santschi – It’s very hard for me to talk in public but I want to try. I met Toni in 1971, when I came from Switzerland to the training program at the Rochester Zen Center. One day, Toni invited me to visit her in the evening at her house. You couldn’t leave the training program at the Center unless you had promised to meditate at night. So I said to Toni, “I can come, but you have to give your word that I will sit at your house.” She told me “No problem,” so off we go, and we had a beautiful dinner. Toni had a sitting room in her house, but we never got to sit, because we had so much to talk about. I was worried because you know, what would happen if it would be found out. Toni said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, how would they know?” With her loving words, Toni changed my life, with her being down to earth, and her way of being and wondering. I’m so grateful to her, she taught me all about love.