Rob was an unusual student, to say the least. I think that his peers at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center, in Cambridge, MA, would say the same; they appeared inspired and even awed by his passionate search for the truth. He had come to the U.S. to study at the New England Conservatory of Music from 1993-94 and he became part of the CIMC sangha shortly thereafter. He stayed until 2003 when he left to sit a year long retreat at Gaia House. One of his peers, a fellow musician with whom Rob shared his original compositions recently told me that Rob’s music was “very challenging and adventurous, often without a key or center, but definitely with a mood and character.” Perhaps this reminds you of Rob himself and the immense richness of who he was, what he was able to accomplish, and his remarkable capacity for love. He was uniquely gifted.
Rob joined a class I called the “Old Yogis” class at the time. We joked that we could write “OY’ in our calendars. During that time, he met with me regularly for interviews and each time we met I was struck by a particular experience. Because I met with so many yogis one night of the week, I would be tired by the time Rob came, whom I was seeing at the end of the night after meeting with eight or so practitioners before him. When he would arrive, I would be aware of feeling really tired. Like, why did I say he could come at that time? However, each time, as we continued to discuss the dharma and his daily life of practice, I would feel more and more awake. His mind was so lively and his dharma so deep that my fatigue would disappear and by the time we ended each interview, I felt I could continue to talk all night long.
Although he had a fierce intellect, it did not overwhelm his beautiful heart, which was surely as open as his mind. Long after he had left CIMC and had become a wonderful teacher in his own right, I traveled to Gaia House for a not-self retreat. At that time, I was experiencing a lot of loss in a variety of arenas, and I spontaneously asked him to do a healing ritual for me while I was on retreat, not giving him any details as to what he should do. He immediately kicked into gear, gathering up as many Buddha rupas and bells as he could find around the Center. At an agreed upon time, we met and spent an afternoon of chanting, singing, and shouting our intentions that all suffering be in the service of the awakening of all beings everywhere. And then collapsing in uncontrollable laughter at the absurdity of it all. I did feel a bit better afterwards though!
Before he left CIMC for Gaia House in 2003, I asked him to reflect on whether he could see himself as a dharma teacher because I saw him as having the capacity to help people a lot. Due to his humility he was uncertain but he said he would consider it. Before his last class, I asked him to sit with me on the platform in the meditation hall at CIMC and give a talk to his OY peers. He accepted my invitation with a mixture of self-doubt and confidence and offered a beautiful talk to those gathered. So it was that he gave his very first dharma talk anywhere.
I feel so happy that I had even a small part in his maturation as a remarkable human being who touched so many hearts in tremendously profound ways. On the other hand, I want a lot of credit for suggesting he consider teaching! His presence and his teaching were blessings to us all. Even though we didn’t see one another often after he left the Cambridge area, our mutual affection, trust, and respect endured. What a noble friendship indeed. It is rare for a teacher to have the experience of witnessing a former student’s mastery to the degree that Rob manifested. He was a great yogi, a great teacher, and a great friend to so many. Like you, I will miss him dearly.