Remembering Jason Lowen-Ross
The Shambhala Centre of Vancouver gathers to honor and remember fellow warrior Jason Loewen-Ross
by Bob Stiven
On Thursday, July 7, 2016, our friend and fellow Shambhalian Jason Loewen-Ross succumbed to a massive heart attack. Monday, July 11, a ceremony was held for Jason at the Vancouver Shambhala Centre. The large meditation hall was completely filled with family, friends, and sangha members. During the ceremony, among the many who stood to offer memories of Jason was Bob Stiven, a longtime family friend who shared with us parts of emails he had received from Jason over the years. What follows are Bob’s words, with Jason’s own in italics.
These notes were hurriedly put together on the ferry from a hard copy file of e-mail musings between myself, when I was in my seventies, and Jason, who was in his thirties, as Jason shared his journey toward the pure land of Shambhala in a loving community in which he found spiritual succor. It is obvious that I could not ask Jason’s permission to quote him, but Jason had such a lovely way with words and such an open, seeking, searching spirit that I cannot resist sharing some of his delightful, probing (and sometimes amusing) spiritual reflections.
I arrived in Kenora in 1979, and got to know the Loewen family soon thereafter. Jason, born in 1974, was then just a lad. In 1996 he rolled into Comox on his bicycle while touring British Columbia, and his stories included memories of canoe trips on India Lake, Stewart-Dryberry Lake System, Manomin Lake, and the Winnipeg Folk Festival.
By March 2007, he was obviously courting Amanda: “We’ve been blessed with many people in both families who have shown us something real about what it means to love over the course of time.” The perceptive fellow added that Marlene and I “modeled patience and generosity.” (Well, at least it’s true that Marlene has enough patience for both of us.) On June 2 in 2007, nine years ago, Jason and Amanda danced their way into marriage at Gunn Lake.
On February 19, 2010 when their son Robbie was born, Gloria and Waldy e-mailed their friends “We invite all our friends to be the village which raises this child.”
Soon afterwards, he wrote: “We want to develop authentic and creative community. Maybe I’m not spiritually ripe enough to feel it. Maybe I’m spoiled by witnessing other expressions of authenticity and community elsewhere in my life.” And added, “the difference between us peoples and them animals is the way in which we interact with someone or something that is pointing at something else–but not just POINT, GAZE!”
On December 8, he had this to say: “In a nutshell, your comments were less isolating and more encouraging. It’s unfortunate, but I know from my own life that loneliness really is a state of mind. The Buddhist tradition requires a willingness to be alone – only then will one be able to comprehend the universal interconnectedness. This idea is probably either explicitly or implicitly expressed in most traditions (“Will no one stay awake with me?”), but I believe it to be the case. Its a profoundly satisfying feeling. For me it’s meant using tools such as meditation to understand this, but there it is. So, when you tip your hand and reveal that you understand this in your own existence, it’s met with my own understanding.
FUNNY: As I spend more time with Shambhala, I understand more about Christ. It’s never been a preoccupation of mine. Not like it’s been for my parents. But for me the poetry of the New Testament – the poetry of Jesus’ life and deeds – is less mysterious and more practical, and therefore more relevant. Entering the Kingdom of Heaven as a child: I’m reading a book by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche “Crazy Wisdom” where he describes the life of Padmasambhava, the guy who brought Buddhism to Tibet. Apparently he was born from a lotus flower in a lake in Afghanistan. He was born as developed as an eight-year-old child, and essentially two steps away from enlightenment. If you thought the Virgin Birth was suspicious——
The whole point of the story of this guy’s life, according to Trungpa, was that awareness comes about when you return to the openness and awareness of a child – and that state is immediately available to us. This child-like quality is also primordial in all of us. It never dies and it never changes. It’s like gold that’s been buried under the earth. You brush it off and it shines forth, its precious qualities unaffected by millennia of darkness. But, just as Jesus prescribes, you have to do it. You just have to do it. And you have to do it with willingness to be alone. And when you’ve figured it out, you realize that you haven’t given anything up – anything of value – because all there is is inexorably connected.
FUNNIER: How Shambhala opens its doors to practitioners of all faiths – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Other – and that the lineage was developed so that all people from all persuasions could benefit from those sorts of teachings. And, yet, we never talk about other traditions. We never hear their stories at the centre, understand their symbols or rituals, understand how they relate to us, how they relate to the same thing we’re trying to relate to in our collective isolation and aloneness. And trust me, I do find this amusing. Sad, but amusing.”
In my reply to the above I think I must have mentioned William Hamilton and his “God is Dead’ movement in the sixties. (I was ordained in 1967 so Hamilton was pertinent–impertinent–in my life). A few days later, on December 14, Jason wrote: “As a self confessed post-Christian post-modernist there is lots I cannot comprehend. My interest in church declined along with my interest in basketball. and it often eludes me that the reality for most of history–even my parents’ history–was the pervasive influence of the Church. I didn’t know God very well when he died. I was very young but the author’s point that our society continues to struggle with the loss is very good. (Although if you talked to my parents, they might say that the Church’s guiding influence didn’t simplify things very much.)
My personal view on finding meaning in life would probably strike others–others with open hearts, available to love–as cold and clinical. But science does have some currency these days, and when the scientists discover that almost every mental trait and experience has a correlation to a specific pattern of neurons firing, one eventually has to consider whether our subjective feeling of meaning in our lives is simply a matter of brain function. And yet there is no way out. The Buddhists have known for hundreds of years before Christ walked the planet that training the mind to attain a life of meaning is possible. But one must be willing to give up one’s own investments and, in short, to open one’s heart. That takes time and practice but is possible for everyone.
YET: people are people. I can’t honestly say that I’ve met more Buddhists who aspire to be Buddha-like than Christians who aspire to be Christ-like. For me though, there has been a steady reduction in the ‘mystery’ of the religious/spiritual realm. A sincere Buddhist would say that every moment of every endeavour contains the opportunity to become awake and aware of the meaning (i.e. connections) around us. And that takes a lot of practice indeed. But once you’ve caught a glimpse of what it is, there’s really no mystery.”
“— Oh and thanks for the stories. It’s all about the stories.”
Jason adored Amanda and Robbie. About Robbie’s second birthday he wrote: “Sister Tanya and bro-in-law Al visited for Robbie’s birthday this weekend. Brought them to Spirit Gallery on the recollection of your affinity with the place; and to the Trolls’ where we ate and talked and enjoyed the luminous charms of our little boy. He may soon be ripe for a stroll along the creek with you, Bob.”
On October 4, 2015: “Saw my folks briefly yesterday and they left us with a veritable bounty of diverse produce. I would have thought they had been to a fancy schmancy grocer like Whole Foods, or at least a farmers’ market, but it all came from your back yard. That seems amazing to me. We’ve already devoured most of the pears and much of the garlic. Haven’t tasted better pears. I understand that was the actual forbidden fruit, given what Adam said after he’d had a bite, but what do I know? I’m neither a biblical scholar nor a gardener. The only seed I’ve planted was over six years ago. Managed to keep it alive. Here’s a pic.” And he added a photo of Robbie rolling his wheelbarrow. That is all I have to say.