Warrior Tribute to Bob Sonne | Shambhala Times Community News Magazine
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Warrior Tribute to Bob Sonne
photo by Bob Sonne on his 2008 trip to Nepal and India

photo by Bob Sonne on his 2008 trip to Nepal and India

Life-long sangha brother and Kusung, Bob Sonne died in his sleep on December 2, 2013 in Boston.

Bob Sonne was a dedicated dharma practitioner, a devoted student of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, and a loyal member of the Dorje Kasung. Bob completed four years of solitary retreat in a small apartment near Gampo Abbey in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in the early 2000s. A Shing Kam Shambhala Funeral ceremony led by Shastri Diana Evans was held for Bob in Boston earlier this week.

What follows is a report from the ceremony as well as a few tributes. Please share your stories and tributes as well by leaving a comment below.

Shastri Diana Evans on the ceremony:

Bob Sonne with Thrangu Rinpoche in Nepal in 2008

Bob Sonne with Thrangu Rinpoche in Nepal in 2008

Our Shambhala Funeral ceremony for Kusung Sonne was quite moving, strong and full of kindness and sad joy. The room was full of older practitioners, and lots of stories about Bob expressing much love and also the true challenges experienced in relation with him. Everyone who spoke with me after the ceremony expressed deep appreciation for the ceremony and the view and practice in this text. They were very moved by the ceremony and appreciative of the Sakyong.

A message from the Sakyong arrived through David Mukpo Rupon and was very helpful in bringing forward Bob’s powerful devotion and dedication to the Makkyis:

“The Makkyi Rabjam Jampal Trinley Dradul (Sakyong Mipham) asked that I express his deep appreciation for Kusung Sonne’s great dedication as a kusung and practitioner. He served the Makkyi in countless campaigns, notably abroad in Nepal in challenging circumstances, with undying devotion and warriorship.”

The funeral liturgy is so clear and kind and the confidence of Ashe comes through naturally. Bob’s brother told us he had a profound insight into their relationship and the family during the ceremony and I think that is why. We had many (all!) of his pins and we brought forward the Shambhala and Kasung flags during the ceremony. Someone also brought his leather coat and hat and we had those on a chair in front as well. And then we had a lovely reception with great food and drink and conversation.

Neil Boyce shares his thoughts:

Bob Sonne photo courtesy of Chris Magnus

Bob Sonne photo courtesy of Chris Magnus

I am undone by Bob’s death. He was a great friend. Bob and I met in 1969 when he arrived at the Federal prison in Virginia where I had been living for 5 months already. We were both failed smugglers.

We were natural friends, we shared our stories; Bob’s life, as a novel, is like the continuation of On The Road with a new Neal Cassady. Bob joined the army at 17 and was stationed in France. Somehow he was spending a lot of time in Paris in the pigalle with Moroccans smoking hash. He eventually went AWOL and moved in with a woman who worked in the pigalle. After finishing his time in the brig and leaving the army, Bob returned to Baltimore and got married. For whatever reasons Bob decided to go to Lebanon and bring back a brick of hash via London. It didn’t work out.

I had decided to use my time in prison to really become a better person. Bob had the same idea. I had books on Zen, Taoism, Hinduism, Hatha Yoga and more. Bob and I wore out days and nights doing yoga, talking about the acid trips we had taken, and working in the tire re-capping shop (huge truck tires).

Bob Sonne receives a visitor in retreat

Bob Sonne receives a visitor in retreat

We had the Evans-Wentz books and we read and re-read them. Bob fell in love with Milarepa. A year and a half later (11/1970) I was released on parole; Bob had almost another year to do. I was paroled to live with my parents in PA. I tracked down Garma C.C. Chang (translator of The Songs Of Milarepa) who was a professor at Penn State. He advised me to seek a Zen teacher, or if I was inclined to the Tibetan practice lineage, there was a young Lama who had started a center at “Tail of the Tiger Cave” in Vermont. After a stint in Rochester at Philip Kapleau’s Zen Center. I made it up to Tail and decided to stay; I got a job at Hatch’s store in St. Johnsbury.

When Bob got out he got a job in a tire shop in Baltimore. He got back with his wife. She was in very poor mental condition and tragically ended her own life that same year. I invited Bob to Vermont. Bob came up and got work right away building a house on the land at Tail for Howard and Cindy Moore. He was accepted to live at Tail, and he was off to the races, dharmically speaking. He was admitted to the first Seminary in 1973.

Bob was powerful, dynamic, roughhewn, funny and very tender. He was in the thick of the evolving relationships and events at Karme Choling in those early years. He continued his career as a carpenter working on the expansion of the facilities at Karme Choling.

Bob Sonne, photo courtesy of Chris Magnus

Bob Sonne, photo courtesy of Chris Magnus

Bob moved to Boulder in 1975. By then I was married with 2 children. Bob said Boulder was full of work and invited me to Boulder (by then I was also a carpenter). Bob was a hard liver, and hard on his liver, he drank, partied, and practiced with uncommon gusto. During those years he learned to waltz, got his first tuxedo (he could be powerfully handsome), built a number of houses and went to I don’t how many more seminaries, assemblies, and talks. He lived for the Dharma. He loved Rinpoche immensely.

He was a tireless Kusung. There are many people who could flesh out the story of the ensuing years with outrageous and poignant personal anecdotes, I am sure. Bob will certainly not be forgotten by anyone who ever got to know him, and probably not by many who only met him in passing. He was a dear, dear friend and we were kissing close and in touch up to last week.

Bob had many painful ailments, which he shouldered with aplomb. He was recuperating from a second spinal surgery he had a month ago. He was a superb sufferer, he was funny about it. Finally his body was wrecked, but Bob was happy. Happy in being what he had become: a genuine yogi.

I’m sort of stopped in my tracks right now. Thinking of Bob I will move gently forward, happy to have been a real friend to a real yogi.

Acharya Susan Chapman offers this:
I had the privilege of assisting Bob in his four year retreat at Gampo Abbey and we became good friends. I was deeply inspired by his practice, humbleness and exertion. His health was poor at the time and he was in constant pain but earnestly and fully completed all his practices, including the complicated drupchens and fire offerings and yogic exercises. His devotion was epic. One day he had a severe tooth ache and I convinced him that he could leave retreat to go to the dentist. Accompanying him, I was amazed that after years in retreat, he slipped in and out of the ordinary world without a ripple of reaction one way or another. I’m sad to think we’ve lost Bob but he is someone who surely didn’t waste his precious human life and I have no doubt the dralas will be with him in his transition.

More tributes can be read on the Chronicles website.

Please share yours below in the comments field.

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