Catherine Rathbun (Jetsun Yeshe) 1943 – 2015

Who was the Founder of Friends of the Heart? 

A householder, a mother, a wife, a teacher, a friend.


Catherine was a dancer and a member of the National Ballet Company of Canada in the early 1960s. She left the ballet world due to a dance related injury. She later attended the University of Toronto where she graduated in 1966 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Philosophy and Religious Knowledge.

From 1966 to 1969 she lived and worked in Europe and in London, England, where she trained in Modern Dance and performed in multimedia theatre at the end of the 1960s. Founding the Nobbing Hill Arts and Community Centre, she taught low income children about dance and street theatre.

Her formal meditation training began in 1969. During this time she took initiation and teaching from the very Venerable Kalu Rinpoche and the Venerable Karma Thinley Rinpoche. Having sold or given away all of her belongings in 1972, she and her husband traveled with their two babies first to Morocco to do intensive training with Namgyal Rinpoche, then to India to take teaching from His Holiness the Sakyapa, His Holiness Sakya Trinzin and His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche. She completed her Ngondro practices (Tibetan foundation study) in 1973 and was given permission and encouragement to teach in 1976.

Residing in New Zealand from 1973 to 1979, she continued to study, attend retreats and teach. During this time she traveled to Sikkim, where in 1979 she received initiation and teachings from His Holiness XVI Karmapa during a month-long retreat. She returned to Canada later that year, which remained her principal residence.

In Toronto, she founded Friends of the Heart, and spent 27 years there living and working as a lay teacher while raising three children. In addition to Buddhist practices, she studied and taught Christian, Sufi and Western Mystery practices, incorporating ideas into her classes that helped the Western practitioner build bridges between East and West. For 7 years she taught courses at Vanier College in York University on these subjects. She has students in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Canada and the U.S. and has trained a number of students who are now teaching in Canada, Australia, Thailand and Japan. 

In recognition of her contribution, in 2001, she was given the title of Jetsun (highly realized being) by Venerable Karma Thinley Rinpoche, who is a Choje Lama. He is the 4th throne holder in the Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, which is His Holiness XVII Karmapa’s main monastery outside of Tibet. He is also a master of the Karma Kagyu and Sakya Lineages.

She is the author of several booklets and 2 books: Developing The World Mind and Clear Heart, Open Mind.

Our beloved founder, Lama Catherine Jetsun-Yeshe, took her last breath on Sunday February 22, 2015. She was peaceful and surrounded by love from her family and other meditators. Her meditation practice was strong throughout this lifetime which will take her through to carry out her vow to help all beings.

May her Dharma activity flourish.

About Friends of the Heart

Friends of the Heart is a group of lay people who actively pursue the deep philosophic and ethical teachings of East and West while maintaining an active, ordinary life within the community. We practice meditation from the Buddhist, Christian and Sufi traditions: we study these systems intellectually as well as engaging our creative talents in movement studies, hatha yoga and the creative arts.

Our aim is to help people develop ways to live with a compassionate heart and a clear mind while remaining engaged with the ordinary world. We work in a variety of ways: through meditation, creative movement and yoga, through intellectual study and discussion, through visual art, story telling and sound.

As householders, parents, and people leading ordinary lives in the city, we believe it is possible to live within society and bring compassion and awareness into our lives. We believe that our society urgently needs to develop a thoughtful and ethical way to live. Meditation studies can help us develop wholesome and happy lives.