It was the summer of 1989 that Richard Rose told me he would no longer be my teacher, but that I would continue to be welcome in his house. I took him at his word, I guess, because I continued to stay with him until 1991, when I moved out to my cabin and took on a larger role in the maintenance of the farm. Two years later I left my law practice for good, and began searching for ways to spend my time on something more meaningful than "going for the million bucks."
One thing Iíve done is finally write this book--something Iíve felt compelled to do for twenty-five years now, ever since that first summer Intensive in 1973 when Rose told me to "Just pass it on." Itís been a labor of agony and love.
A lot of people who have read drafts or advance copies of the book have asked, "So then what happened? Where is everybody now?" And so Iím back at the keyboard for an Epilogue. As I write this, it is sometime in the early morning hours of December 30, 1997. I am in my cabin after a long absence, halfway through a two week isolation. A light snow has been falling since late yesterday afternoon, and the view from my window is of tall snow-encrusted pines and vast acres of still, silent white. Nearby, two does graze with their fawns on the tips of tiny maple branches.
Keith Ham--"Swami Kirtanananda"--was tried and convicted of racketeering charges stemming from a variety of offenses, including the murder of Steve Bryant, the kidnapping of Devin Wheeler, and the multi-million dollar begging operation he orchestrated from New Vrindaban. His conviction was overturned on appeal, however, and in April 1996 he was re-tried. Mister Rose and I were subpoenaed as witnesses.
Thomas Drescher was convicted in California of the murder of Steve Bryant and sentenced to death. He was also convicted in West Virginia of the murder of Chuck St. Denis, where he is now serving a life sentence without parole in the Moundsville penitentiary. At Keith Hamís re-trial, Drescher was a witness for the prosecution. His testimony was so precise and devastating that Hamís lawyers threw in the towel and Ham changed his plea to guilty. Keith Ham is now doing twenty years in a federal pen. Not long after, one of the two main Krishna lawyers was paralyzed by a severe stroke. The other has recently become a near-invalid after a heart attack and triple bypass surgery.
In 1987, after a ten-year absence, Augie Turak came back to Rose. A year later he settled in Raleigh, North Carolina and started the Self Knowledge Symposium (SKS), a spiritual group based on Roseís teachings. He now oversees four highly successful SKS groups in the area, including campus groups at Duke, North Carolina, and North Carolina State. In 1994 I also moved to Raleigh, and am now working with Augie again on group matters, much as we did in the Chautauqua days.
Not surprisingly, Augie has grown into a teacher. Heís always had the drive, the brilliance, the charisma, and an incredible repertoire of spiritual references and anecdotes. Now, in the last year, heís been blessed with the final piece--the capacity to love.
If you asked the students of the North Carolina State chapter of the SKS, they would probably tell you that I function as something of a teacher as well. It makes me uncomfortable to think of myself in those terms, though, because as Rose always said, "You donít know anything until you know Everything." But I would be dishonest if I did not admit that I love the work and the people, and the profound impact that the SKS has had on so many lives. Including my own.
Several years ago Mister Rose began to show signs of forgetfulness and memory loss typical of many older people. It became considerably worse, however, and Mister Rose was finally diagnosed as having Alzheimerís disease. The last time I visited him at his house he didnít recognize me until Cecy, his second wife, reminded him who I was. Most of the fire and stern methods of the Zen teacher had faded, but their absence seemed to accentuate the incredible warmth and affection Mister Rose has always had for people, especially his students. Being with him, I experienced an almost overwhelming feeling of love. When I left he walked me to my car and put his arm on my shoulder--a gesture I had never seen him use before.
"Come back soon," he said. "Donít forget they way."
"Iíll make you a deal," I smiled, ever the lawyer, "I wonít forget the way if you wonít forget who I am."
He laughed. "I donít know if I can hold up my end of the bargain."
Mister Rose now lives in a nursing home that specializes in Alzheimerís patients. The disease has taken his memory and words and personality, and left only the all-compassionate Buddha behind. He smiles and laughs and looks after the other patients, bringing them food or just standing next to them with a hand on their shoulder. Watching, you can almost "see" him using his direct-mind abilities to send silent messages of pure love to the ravaged minds of the others in the home.
It is hard for those of us who know and love him to watch as he slips farther from this world, even though in many ways he has never really been a part of it anyway--in it, but not of it, as the saying goes. But in the end the body betrays us all, and it must inevitably find a way to die. One way is no better or worse than another, I suppose. Still, it is difficult to know how to understand this particular way for Mister Rose, a man who once said that the difference between him and most people was that, "They live to live; I live to think."
What does it mean when an Enlightened man slowly loses his mind? He never spoke of this, and perhaps there is nothing to be said. The death of the body and its manner of leaving have nothing to do with oneís true nature. Mister Rose would probably say that he is dying an ordinary death, as he must, like any other man in this madhouse. The only difference, he might say, is that he knows exactly where he is going afterwards, that this is the great gift of his Enlightenment experience. In a short, haunting poem he wrote many years ago he seemed even to foresee the particular manner of his passing. Reading it now, I am strangely comforted. It is called, "I Will Take Leave of You."
I will take leave of you
Not by distinct farewell
As one entering vagueness
For words, symbols of confusion
Would only increase confusion
But silence, seeming to be vagueness,
Shall be my cadence
You will understand.
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