Friday, December 19, 2008

Rest in Peace, Rients

About three months ago, my cousin Rients, whom I had not seen for several years, suddenly emailed me to tell me that he was coming to India. He had just gotten divorced and was going traveling to follow up on a long-held desire to go on a spiritual adventure.

I immediately told him to come and see me first here in Rishikesh and that is what he did. I was waiting outside in the tea stall out in front of the ashram when he went trundling past in a three-wheeler, wearing his tilley hat and khaki shorts. I went chasing after the vehicle shouting at the driver to stop, and soon we were embracing in the midday sun.

In our childhood, Rients and his family were frequent visitors to our home in Montreal. At various junctures throughout our lives, our paths crossed. When I came back from India in 1985, he was in New York, trying to make it as an artist with his dark, brooding, almost frightening chthonic visions. Much later, I saw him in Montreal when he was on his way to England to stay at a Buddhist monastery, hopefully to commit his life to attaining enlightenment. Throughout it all, the underlying theme of his life was always that he was a seeker.

Most of the details of his life remain unknown to me, but he told me that when he was 18, he joined a kind of cult on Vancouver Island, which was led by a former Catholic monk who taught a potpourri of meditations. Rients stayed with this group for several years during which time he developed his artistic side. Besides being an artist, he was also a potter, cook and handy-man and undoubtedly had many other talents of which I know nothing.

But his main interest was always in meditation and exploring the spirit. He stayed for extended periods in several Buddhist retreat houses and monasteries, and served the monks and devotees as a cook at one such retreat near his home on Denman Island in British Columbia.

He spent three days here, which was probably the longest extended association we had ever enjoyed, sharing my room, where we had long talks into the night. He liked the atmosphere here and was even thinking of doing a silence retreat, but only one night alone in one of the cottages made him realize that it was not the right time for that. He needed to travel and explore.

From here he went to Dharamshala and Mcleod Ganj where he volunteered as an English conversation teacher, having what seemed like a great time meeting Buddhist monks from Thailand and elsewhere and teaching them English. He sent out irregular missals from there and then, when it started getting cold in the mountains, from Goa. After that, he continued south to go to what had always been his main goal, the Bodhi Zendo in Tamil Nadu.

On December 12, those on his list received the following email, ironically titled "This is It," in which he announced that he was truncating his stay in India, cutting short his six-month itinerary.

The end, and now to the beginning of the end. Yes three factors brought me to abandon india. Which one was the straw that broke my resolve? First of all I read The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

If your heart bled for the bare-footed rickshaw driver in City of Joy then you'll be happy with what the next generation of Indian writers has done for him. In The White Tiger, his son becomes a chauffeur and murders his rich employer for a huge amount of money destined for a Delhi politician. Then he escapes to a large city and creates a successful business. This is a great moral tale, aimed straight into the heart of the ruling classes. The effect is of opening a door into a dark world that a tourist can avoid to see but is feeling all the time. You can't hide from the distress any longer.

Then there was the temperature. Each day became progressively colder in the mountains and so I raced down to Kodaikanal, a hill station in the deep south. And discovered that the temperature on the southern plains around Madurai was nearly perfect. Then 50 km up the mountain rising a meter for every 100. Although you pass through an absolutely gorgeous florid tropical forest, you end up at 7,000 ft. When I got out of the bus at dusk the town was freezing in a blanket of cloud. Like Vancouver in December.

Got into the hotel and, as the power was out, the room was stone cold. Laying under sweat-smelly blankets, it took two hours for core heat to reach my toes and the lights to come on. They gladly gave me clean blankets the next day, but wanted more than my rent for a heater.

I went down to Bodhi Zendo, just below the clouds. Wow, what a sweet place. Really the best retreat/monastery I've seen. Very quiet and simple. But no heat. There was no way I was going to spend my winter retreat bundled in blankets. It turns out that December and January are cold and rainy up there near the equator.

Third, imagine you've been moving for days and are finally in bed imagining that today is the day. Snuggle in after a cold shower and have this feeling in your anal sphincter that someone left a cigarette burning and there is not way to butt it out. Really it got so bad that my mouth refused to open. No amount of reasoning would allow one more spoonful. Having already lost 12 lbs I decided to escape to Sri Lanka or Thailand. Fear overcame me, aren't those ass-burning countries as well? That was checkmate. For 200 Canadian I got a flight to Vancouver.

Now I'm at Dad's in Penticton. Luckily he's in Spain for a month visiting an old childhood friend who looked him up. Now I have to decide what to do next. My imagination is going east. First it was Regina, then Montreal, but it may take me all the way to Halifax.

Lots of love, I enjoyed writing this.

Yours, Rients

Two days later, on the 14th, an email was sent to everyone on Rients' list announcing that he had been driving on the Trans Canada near Kelowna and had been in a serious accident. He was in a coma in very serious condition. Today I received the news that he passed away at 12.10 on the 19th.

For the past few days, a Sufi story has been ringing in my head. I believe it is one that Idries Shah tells, perhaps it is older. It is about an Arab merchant who was traveling on business and was in Damascus selling his wares in the market when he suddenly saw the frightening apparition of Death. He and Death looked at each other, the one with apprehension and dread, the other with a kind of bemused astonishment. The merchant immediately got on his horse and dashed the many miles back to his home in Mecca, where he let out a sigh of relief as he locked the doors to his house. The next morning, however, he heard a knock on the door and who should be there but Death! Shocked, the merchant expressed his astonishment, "But I saw you yesterday in Damascus!" "Yes," replied Death. "I was surprised to see you there, too, because I knew that I had an appointment with you here today."

Rients never seemed to be the luckiest of people, never quite finding himself despite his long and persistent search, but he had a simple good nature that won him many friends. I am glad that I had the chance to spend three days with him so near the end of his life, during which time a strong bond of affection was renewed between us.

All my love to you, Rients. All the best to you as you continue your spiritual quest, wherever that may be.


Mano said...

Thanks so much for sharing this post online. It is life stories, meetings, and simple joys like this that keep love and simplicity burning as the main focus of my life.
And I am sure for others too.

Thank you Jagat.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about your loss. He's lucky in that I know your continuous good thoughts for him will help him on the other side.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of God and his grace and all that, but I feel as if, despite the lovely memories, the warm comfort of a life of faith, I must finally make it official that Santa Claus really does not exist. There is no harm in continuing celebrating Christmas, and even cheerfully hanging the stocking over the fireplace, but the truth is that I now know that the gift placed under my tree does not come from an immortal father ridding a sleigh in the sky. It comes from my wishing him to be. All that sense of self and confidence in my life has come from this sense of him being there at all times. But he isn't there without my hard work. And I am tired. I don't want to make up God, I want him to be.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a happy new year!

Anonymous said...

Dear cousin of Rients,

Thank you for this elegant memorial for my dear brother Rients for whom I grieve at the deepest level.

I first met your cousin - and my old friend - when he was 18, in ottawa at the home of his father Lee. A couple of years later he suddenly materialized at a house I co-rented on the shore of Sooke Harbour in B.C. He was interested in the aims of our group - which I suppose we can call a "cult" though that has some perjorative inclinations - which were to have people working to achieve what CJ Jung and others had referred to as "the christ within" or the "true self" while still being part of this world. So our association dates back about 40years and this is a painful loss.

Hearing this news has felt like a wound to my heart. This is such a loving, creative man, who has worked so hard on his spiritual development. I know he was not at peace, therefore his inclination to wandering. But I'm blessed to have been on his circuit of friends; and this untimely passing has left a feeling of profound emptiness where this kind, humourous and creative soul was held in my heart and now this absence, these tears.

All we who love him can do is - as you suggest - to focus on wishing him well on his continuing journey to the state of wholeness he sought so urgently to achieve while in this life.

With love to all,

Chris Anderson.

Anonymous said...

"anonymous said:
but the truth is that I now know that the gift placed under my tree does not come from an immortal father ridding a sleigh in the sky. It comes from my wishing him to be....But he isn't there without my hard work. And I am tired. I don't want to make up God, I want him to be."

Maybe Christmas is a time to make light of something that 'is' very demanding. Kids may project a God somewhere out there, and their imagination is well suited. The adult may need to re-imagine what his/her God is.

The most evident encounter I am finding, is the inner work, and yes it is very hard work (for me personally). Especially living in non-ordinary states of consciousness (that society does not accept due to some ethnocentric bias). For many the most obvious is the external.

I tend to look to the writings of someone like Stanislav Grof for keys these days; maybe I am just not suited for the soft-hearted full surrender that was taught in basic terms, in the KC movement.

As we go deeper, support from outside (God) may not be just a theological text book model or faith system. Real support from outside may simply mean someone who understands the experience we are encountering. So that we can begin to integrate it.

Personally I am not anywhere near a suddha bhakta, so instead need to be practical. Therefore the need arose to begin reading outside of the faith system. Some 21st century jnana.

...from Holotropic Mind - Grof
Chapter 3 Expulsion from Paradise:
"My bodily sufferings were so intolerable that, though in my life I have endured the severest sufferings of this kind, none of them is of the smallest account by comparison with what I felt then, to say nothing of the knowledge that they would be endless and never ceasing. And even these are nothing by comparison with the agony of my soul, and oppression, a suffocation, and an affliction so deeply felt, and accompanied by such hopeless and distressing misery, that I cannot too forcibly describe it - Teresa of Avila"...

So really, all this is inside and projects outward. Maybe God was never out there somewhere, but is in here - giving the real deal. What they call super-soul. Buddhi-yoga. Maybe when this gets sorted the tradition of suddha-bhakti will be deeply relished. And maybe then, the myth has become real, and very potent.

Jagat said...

Thanks, Chris, for your comment. Nice to make your acquaintance, in spite of the sad circumstances.

The use of the word "cult" was perhaps injudicious. After all, I joined a "cult" myself. Clearly I don't know anything about that part of Rients' life.

Finding the Christ within seems like a noble goal to me. God bless you all.

Anonymous said...

Maybe God was never out there somewhere, but is in here - giving the real deal. What they call super-soul. Buddhi-yoga. Maybe when this gets sorted the tradition of suddha-bhakti will be deeply relished. And maybe then, the myth has become real, and very potent.

Nice words, very nice, thanks.

However, the real deal has got to be more than the supersoul. Really, blessed are the children for they never doubt the flight of Superman!

But us, we must every day meditate our propositions over, for not doing so renders us more helpless than infants. The mature don't look up at the sky - they grinn at one onether, Merry Christmas!

God is going more and more inside.

Lets hope he doesn't put up the Do Not Disturb sign on the door.

Anonymous said...

any news, are we getting a new blog any time soon?

Anonymous said...

It's been a while Jagadananda Prabhu. What's going on?

Also, can you refer me to any forum/webCommunity of trad'l Gaudiya Vaisnavas so I can find out what's going on with some of the greater personalities?


Anonymous said...

What happened, mate?

Anonymous said...

Where are you Jagat?



Anonymous said...

Just want to express my appreciation for the wonderful photos and memorial for Rients, an old friend of mine and my daughter's.

Like Chris, I knew him when he lived on Vancouver Island; I too never thought of myself as a "cult' member, but as a single mother with a toddler, its was Rients' mother Marion who gave me a home and much needed support at that time.

There was much to love about Rients, even though he was sometimes too earnest and too hard on himself. He was true to his beliefs, and was a warm loving individual. He will be much missed, but I know he is continuing on his journey.

"Ka whati ra ia taku mahuri totara"
A Maori expression of grief; it means "My sapling so suddenly broken off".

thank you Jagat
Gloria Williams

Elizabeth Kolansky said...

Thank-you for writing this about Rients. It is 5 years later and I am happy to be reminded of his existence.