Edging Towards the Dark Side
Over a period of two or three years, Joyce watched as her husband’s relationship with Benita developed. Although she saw “sexual sparks,” she refused to believe her husband would ever cross that line. When she questioned him about it, she was shut out. It was her challenge, learning to be “okay” with Benita. “There was so much denial going on, on his part, that it could happen; but it happened, so somehow he had to, not scramble, because he would never acknowledge scrambling, but somewhere metaphorically he scrambled to justify it and call it ‘truth.’ It was a huge set-up.”
Whenever Joyce asked him about Benita, he would refuse to answer. “He had many evasive lines. His lines were, ‘You think I’m that stupid to fall for a pretty face?’ ‘They’re not women, they’re people.’ ‘I’m doing what I know is true.’” When his stock replies ran out, de Ruiter became angry and gave her the silent treatment; either that or he simply left. “If we were in bed and I asked, he would say on occasion, ‘If you keep asking I’m gonna leave.’ And he has gotten up out of bed at three in the morning and driven away because I asked.”
In the midst of the messy breakdown of her marriage, Joyce continued to attend the meetings. She took the Chair to confront her husband. He responded mostly with silence, as was increasingly his wont. Shortly after that, someone else questioned him (recorded on the tape, “Stillness in a Hurricane”); de Ruiter gave the following reply:
I am not guilty until proven innocent. And neither am I innocent until proven guilty. I am what I am. Nothing to gain, nothing to lose. Just living truth to enjoy and to be as. That is all there is. . . . I am not polygamous. And neither do I endorse it. All there is, is truth, being and expressing itself. And anything outside of that is just the manifestation of illusion that we discover in the presence of want or need. . . . It is not want or need expressing itself through the personality, chasing something that it thinks would be just great. There is absolutely no personal agenda.
Once again, if I’d heard this claim a few months before the affidavit, or read the transcript, I would have accepted it without question. Now it just sounded to me like gibberish. De Ruiter’s non-denial denial was like Richard Nixon telling The Washington Post (on November 17th, 1973): “I’m not a crook.” Was de Ruiter’s insistence on having “no personal agenda” an unconscious confession? Had anyone accused him of having a personal agenda? His claim that he was just “living truth to enjoy and be as” certainly wouldn’t get him very far in any courtroom. His claim that he was “not polygamous” was equally tenuous: polygamy is a social act, not a philosophical concept. (Technically, he was correct, since he didn’t marry the von Sasses; but I was fairly sure de Ruiter was doing more than splitting hairs here.)
It may be hard, reading all this, for anyone who wasn’t there at the time, and who hasn’t a sense of de Ruiter’s presence, to understand how so many people could be fooled by such obviously disingenuous behavior. The answer, I think, is that, whatever else de Ruiter is, he’s not obvious. And I’m not sure he’s disingenuous, either. If he had been practicing the kind of mealy-mouthedness favored by politicians and Mormons, I doubt so many people would have been fooled. What seems more likely is that Ruiter himself was unable to understand his actions outside of his own “truth”—those terms which he alone defined. Such willed blindness creates a powerful spell over others, because in such a case, de Ruiter wouldn’t be feigning innocence (as Nixon was): he would genuinely believe it.
But in the end, his argument was circular and in defiance of all logic: since he was absolute honesty and goodness, whatever he did must be honest and good. Yet his explanations for his behavior invariably pertained to realms beyond the understanding of anyone besides himself. What he was saying was, “It only looks like I’m an asshole. If you knew how good I really was, you wouldn’t question my actions.” At the same time, since he was justifying his behavior with circular arguments, apparently deep down he did have some doubts about it. On the same recording, de Ruiter talked about the end of his marriage (emphasis added):
Up until about three years ago, what characterized our relationship is that I would accommodate her, and I didn’t do so to cope. I did so because that is what I knew. So there was a constant bending, her way, and not standing in on insistence. And that is also why she loved me most was because of that. If there was ever an issue, I would soften. . . . And once it was clear for me to no longer be accommodating, then I couldn’t give her what she wanted. I could only stay in what I knew. It wasn’t pleasant for her and it wasn’t nice. It doesn’t feel nice. But it was genuinely good.
De Ruiter claims here that he was going into deeper levels of love and togetherness with Joyce, and that she was unable to follow him there. Is that a genuine explanation, or a clever “spiritualization” of something far messier and more personal? The message that’s abundantly clear, either way, is that Joyce was not equal to his “fineness” and that she simply failed to understand the goodness that her husband was. In subtle ways, he painted her for the group as unequal to him, and therefore, in the wrong.
“Her experience was the whole relationship falling apart,” he told the group. How else was she supposed to experience it? He wasn’t just “going finer,” into a deeper, more “impersonal” expression of his love for her; he was sleeping with two other women and lying about it! Even if Joyce agreed that he could sleep with other women (either instead of or as well as her), their marriage as it had been was as good as over. Joyce got to be “wonderfully worth nothing” and was given a “genuinely good” opportunity to “surrender.” The group condoned his treatment of her, because, John was “going finer,” into a deeper “bond of being” where his love and care for Joyce was no longer expressed through “surface bodies.” And though the relationship did fall apart, it was only because of Joyce’s demands.
But there was one question de Ruiter never answered: if all that was happening was the result of his being true to what he knew, why all the lies? The foundation of his teachings was “core-splitting honesty.” Yet de Ruiter wasn’t winning any core-splitting awards with Joyce. De Ruiter never explained why he chose to conceal his extra-marital relationships from Joyce until the last possible moment. He never let on who or what he was trying to protect. And he never addressed how much of his “accommodating” her was really based in self-interest. If he was keeping her in the dark because she wasn’t ready to know the truth, and because he knew how unpleasant things would get the moment it all came out, how was that different from a personal agenda? In the end, the best “spin” won. The official bio, as it reads in 2017, summed up the entire affair in four lines:
During the year 2000, the de Ruiters’ marriage came to an end. A formal divorce was granted on 20th December 2002. The settlement provided that custody of their children was awarded jointly to John de Ruiter and Joyce de Ruiter. Joyce remarried and accompanied her new husband to the Netherlands, living under the name Joyce de Ruiter-Kremers. John de Ruiter continued living in Canada, sharing his domestic life equally between the separate homes of two sisters. The personal aspect of these relationships has now come to an end.
In the officially revised history, only half a line is devoted to the existence of the von Sass sisters (though they were with de Ruiter for ten years); they aren’t named and there’s no indication that they were on the scene before or during the break-up with Joyce. Now flash-forward eleven years, to November 2010. De Ruiter is asked by an interviewer (Neils Brummelman) about his break up with Benita von Sass (who again isn’t mentioned by name). Before that, Brummelman asks de Ruiter about abusive relationships, and is told that, in such cases, the couple have “been doing the incorrect thing all along and that’s what enabled the relationship to develop like that.” De Ruiter suggests, reasonably enough, that even in extreme case of a physical abuse, the responsibility is with both parties. When asked about his break with Benita, however, he takes a diametrically opposed line:
You can have one individual within a relationship who’s being real and true to what they are knowing more deeply within, that doesn’t guarantee the other is going to be the same. . . . If there’s too much of a gap between the degree of realization . . . that is going to bring a difficulty; not so much for the person who is more advanced . . . but for the individual who hasn’t realized it . . . . Their partner is able to speak of things that are profound, more complex concepts can be talked about, and the other individual will have a hard time understanding that . . . . if there’s any distortedness within or contraction within, then that distortion is going to carry into everything, including what they’re not understanding of the other, and what they are understanding. Everything will be subject to that distortion. (My italics.)
As with Joyce, de Ruiter laid the blame for the relationship’s failure squarely on the other party, and in the process, practiced some sneaky spiritual damage control to ensure he came out of the whole mess smelling of patchouli oil.
John’s Secret Id-Entity?
“A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.”
One of the things I became most acutely aware of while writing this account was how de Ruiter tends to divide people into opposing camps, with very little dialogue between the two. Many people who’ve been exposed to his teachings and/or know people who have joined his group see de Ruiter as cynical and devious. They regard him as a liar and a charlatan with some powerful hypnotic or NLP skills, and that’s the end of it. Then there are those who are convinced de Ruiter operates at a “higher level of being,” outside of ordinary criteria for judgment. To them, my attempt to submit de Ruiter’s behavior to psychological scrutiny will appear futile and irrelevant at best. My hope has been to allow for both points of view, an impossible goal, except that I myself have allowed (or been forced to allow) both to co-exist in my mind for periods of time.
However skeptical I now am about de Ruiter, I still have the memory of my initial experiences. Because of those experiences, I can’t ever take an entirely skeptical view, if only because the idea of de Ruiter as a masterful conman doesn’t explain the impact he had on me (including inexplicable phenomena such as his infiltrating my dreams). So ironically, my point of view is probably untenable to both sides of the fence, namely, that de Ruiter is both a powerful spiritual entity and a liar.
My impression is that this dualism (not either/or but both/and) is possible only if there’s a corresponding division in the man himself. If so, my sense is that it pertains directly to his sexuality, which is where all the controversy first started. At least partially due to his Christian upbringing, de Ruiter apparently once had a very traditional view of sex and marriage, one that centered on a belief in monogamy. Within such a moral framework, any kind of sexual involvement with his followers would have been strictly forbidden. At some unknown time, that changed dramatically; and to a certain degree, the teachings (most especially the style of them) changed along with it. So how did that change come about? Joyce recalled how her husband amended his opinion about the spiritual teacher Barry Long, in what she believed was a slow preparation for revealing the truth about the von Sass sisters:
Barry Long called himself a Tantric master. There is room for that with these gurus. For John and I, who come from a more traditional background, that set off alarm bells. But for many of these people it’s not a real deal breaker. I knew that he had connected with Barry Long, or had heard of him, and I was reading Long’s books and I asked John about him: “He sounds like you: maybe he is truth?” At that time, John was very clear in saying that evidently he wasn’t, because of all the women in his life. That reassured me. But then, sometime later, he actually gave me some article written by Barry Long’s five women, their experience with Long. He asked me to read it, and asked what I thought about it. I was shocked, I didn’t understand why he was asking for my response. There was always this context of Barry Long. So when he finally told me about the women, it was one of the questions I had: “What are you John, are you a Tantric master?” And he gave me the slow, silent nod again.
Joyce believes that, when her husband was nudging her towards the idea of “Tantric discipling”—which he’d previously denounced as a transgression from truth—he had already embarked upon his clandestine activities with the sisters (and possibly other women too). Yet once the “scandal” broke, de Ruiter didn’t explain his behavior to the group in terms of Tantric mysteries, and he didn’t reverse any of his previous teachings on monogamy and sexual frugality (until that time, he had advised against sex before marriage). If anything, his teachings became more austere, at least in delivery style. De Ruiter’s explanation was simply that none of this was what it appeared to be and that he was only doing what he knew was true. At the same time, he was careful to imply that his behavior was not something for others to attempt to emulate. In other words: “Do what I say, not what I do.”
If at that time de Ruiter “graduated” from a post-Christian mystic to a Tantric master, he chose not to discuss it with his followers. Possibly he considered the knowledge potentially harmful, either to himself (to his reputation) or to his followers, or both. They were not ready to know the truth because—as he frequently told Joyce—they would not understand it. It’s also possible de Ruiter was still struggling to understand the profound new developments taking place. Had he let the devil possess him and found that the devil was a powerful teacher too?
According to Joyce, de Ruiter was something of a hedonist, a tendency which apparently only increased with his material success. Although those around de Ruiter saw that side of him all the time, they were given to understand that it didn’t mean anything to him because he was “coming from a different level.” He lived in a different, more detached way, and since he had a profound connection to truth, his pleasure seeking was superficial and irrelevant. Joyce and others “granted him that right to live the split, the dichotomy, this schizophrenic kind of life,” believing that “the vulgar was just playful for him.”
Joyce was shocked when she read Benita and Katrina’s affidavits, because she heard them voice the same complaints she’d had: his lack of willingness to help around the house or be involved, the secret late night visits: “I thought, he just repeated it. The four-wheel driving, the movies, there’s nothing particularly impressive about John’s private life, it’s self-indulgent and he likes adventure, he likes fun. I see nothing ‘fine’ about him, except the way he walks on stage and sits silently. That may be ‘fine,’ but to me that is such an image.”
One of de Ruiter’s teachings with which I am quite familiar is “let the shallow be shallow” and let “the deep” take care of itself. To attempt to make the shallow deep is a mistake, according to John, because the shallow can never comprehend the deep and will only try to use it for its own (shallow) ends. That philosophy might explain why de Ruiter sees no contradiction between his privately hedonistic lifestyle and his public teachings, which have always been highly abstemious, even puritanical. (Self-interest and even personal preference are to be sacrificed to what we “know.”) But does it explain why he feels the need to keep his shallower, hedonistic lifestyle separate from his public interactions, even to the point of secrecy? As Joyce said:
He always says that he enjoys things shallowly, that they don’t mean anything to him. So I don’t think he would attribute great things to his hedonistic lifestyle. He would just say there’s freedom to do that. One of his lines is that, because he has fully died, he can fully live. . . There are two different kinds of behavior. One is just his enjoying life: he loves to four-wheel drive, he loves movies, he loves to sleep in. That’s just John being free, there’s no meaning attached to that. The other is a blatant contradiction to what you would expect, and then there’s tremendous meaning attached to it, and that is [that he is] being asked to go against what he knows. (My italics.)
De Ruiter’s justification for his shallowly hedonistic behavior in the past was that it was shallow and didn’t mean anything. His justification for his “deeply” hedonistic behavior (i.e., his sexual infidelities) was more interesting: he was being asked to go against what he knew, in order to prove his love of truth. The upshot of this elaborate philosophical premise is that, even when de Ruiter goes against what he knows to be true, he is still doing what he knows to be true. He has all the bases covered. When looked at closely, de Ruiter’s more mundane forms of self-gratification appear to be a lighter, more superficial case of the same process occurring, i.e., of his going against what he knows as true—or what he has taught as truth—in order to access a higher or deeper level of knowledge. Might such a strange, even pathological, rationale have signified a shift in de Ruiter’s psyche that has taken him further and further away from his early Christian asceticism and moralism, into a more “Dionysian” kind of embodiment?
The question that seems pertinent at this stage is, what exactly does “going deeper into what he knows” mean for de Ruiter, psychologically speaking? Is he really engaged in integrating a darker, more Dionysian aspect of his psyche (adultery, lies, etc.), and doing it publicly? Judging by the messiness of de Ruiter’s private life, he has been either unable or unwilling to acknowledge (own up to) some of his deeper impulses, and so they have spilled out, not only into his home life, but into his temple. This is apparent in his strategy of “spiritualizing” his more dubious activities by using his teachings to give them the right spin. The flip side of this strategy—the price of it—would be that his teachings become more and more “peppered” with unconscious rationalizations. And while his public persona has become increasingly “refined” and “Christ-like,” his hedonistic side has, presumably, been enjoying full, horny expression in his private (actually secret) life.
His followers sometimes argue that it is John’s private life and he has a right to keep it that way. The logical answer is that it’s not private, and never was, when it directly concerns his followers. If de Ruiter’s strange spiritual journey of going against what he knows in order to do what he knows is out of control, as all the evidence indicates, then it is causing collateral damage and other people (especially his followers) are in the line of that fire. And if de Ruiter finds it more and more necessary to exclude this stuff from his public interactions and shield his flock from whatever dark new impulses he is embodying, in whose interests is that concealment, finally?
Hearing about a guru who secretly takes on his disciples as sexual partners no longer comes as a great surprise. These days it’s seen as proof, if proof were needed, that the guru is “only human.” This isn’t the conclusion de Ruiter’s followers reached, however. If anything, today de Ruiter is seen as even more superhuman than he was fifteen years ago. It’s possible that de Ruiter’s sexual proclivity is seen (by his long-time followers at least), not as a negative, but as proof that he has attained a “higher level” of being and requires a higher level of sexual gratification.
Most people tend to associate spirituality with saintly virtue, but there are plenty of stories—in both legend and fact—that indicate the reverse, that sensuality increases in proportion to spiritual attainment. Biology is destiny. Why wouldn’t an enlightened being with his very own flock of adoring subjects—many of whom are attractive and willing females—be drawn to sexual dallying? Civilization is only skin deep, and the most primal and fundamental drive in the male of the species is the desire to spread his seed and inseminate as many wombs as he can get into. Judging by the many tales of polysexual deities, the biological imperative has its corresponding expression in the more numinous realms also. Krishna had one hundred and eight gopis, Mohammed had his harem, Charles Manson his “family,” and Castaneda his witches. It is a tradition for shamans to have many wives, presumably because, if their energy is raised and refined to a higher level than ordinary men, their appetites increase accordingly. Biology has nothing to do with morality, and sorcery operates by laws another than social.
So far, I had heard two opposing points of view, de Ruiter’s and Joyce’s—the man and his (ex-)wife. Was there a reading of the facts that reconciled the two, or at least laid the groundwork for reconciliation? One thing became clear in the course of writing this section of the book: outside of his (seemingly exclusive) relationship with Truth, Joyce was a particular kind of reality to de Ruiter. She was flesh and blood, down to earth reality. She knew all his flaws, weaknesses and soft spots. She would always see through his stage persona, and she was never going to fully buy into his transpersonal “reality” as Truth-Messiah. Maybe that was another meaning of de Ruiter’s comment that Joyce “knew too much” (to need to see a miracle), maybe it was because she couldn’t believe in his supernatural powers that she didn’t experience them? If Joyce saw her husband as an ordinary man, to some extent that would have been how he experienced himself around her. “My experience of John was [of] a completely normal guy with nothing different about his sexuality,” Joyce told me. “He’s not a Tantric master. I don’t know what a Tantric master is, but I’m sure John wasn’t one.” Not for her, at least. (Unfortunately, Benita isn’t talking.)
As long he was with her, de Ruiter would have had no way to avoid the parts that constituted his raw humanness, which are generally the parts we try most desperately to avoid (or have seen). When Joyce refused to submit to his final test (as he must have known she would), he chose to follow the primal currents of his unconscious soul (libido) that had opened up, and shut her out as unworthy. He chose to go against what he knew in his heart in order to be true to what he knew–in another part of him. Unable (or unwilling) to explain any of this left him no choice but to fall back on tired but trusty post-Christian vernacular, and to give account of himself that way.
Perhaps the only feasible solution to alchemical stalemate with Joyce was the bizarre vision of polygamy which de Ruiter hatched, a vision in which he extended his goodness, not just to one but to many wombs—disengaging from a futile and self-defeating struggle to define his wife’s reality as husband and master, and instead taking on godlike proportions. By splitting himself three ways among three wives, he got to be the father, son, and the holy ghost.
The truth made him do it.
 De Ruiter gave this interview while his legal battle (over the ownership of Oasis) was on-going with Benita and Katrina von Sass, and the unspoken message is: don’t believe anything you hear from these women, because they are not at a high enough level to understand me. So why did Truth select such unworthy women for de Ruiter? If, as all the stories have it, de Ruiter picked Benita for her “amazing heart,” where was that amazing heart as she set about eviscerating his empire? I can think of two answers: either de Ruiter was wrong about her, or ten years living with him turned her heart to stone. There’s possibly a third: her amazing heart was what gave her the courage to stand up to de Ruiter and say no to him.
 It should be noted that the terminology which he and his followers employ has become increasingly sexual, see for example the following exchange from April 2011 (italics in the original transcript): Woman: “I’m trying to stay sensitive to the stream of you coming into me, and seeming to have a movement deeper and deeper. . . . There is a longing to really let you all the way through, in, and meet you . . .” De Ruiter: “Open to the fine interference of intimacy of being. . . . Open to Intimacy of Being—being free to provide fine, most delicate sweet interference to your function; tiny little touches. (Long connection) If Intimacy of Being is the most beautiful fine … soft tipped brush … let it be continually, within, touching something. (Connection) So that there is just, just a wisp … of shyness and embarrassment, that is always just there.” (Long connection.) Emphasis in the original.
 In his article “The Gospel According to John,” Brian Hutchinson quotes “Susan Scott” (not her real name) on de Ruiter’s increasingly self-indulgent lifestyle: “People started to spoil him and buy him expensive clothes. . . . In the beginning, we’d take him out to dinner, and he was so humble that he didn’t want to order. Then after a while, when he went out he would ask for cigars or cigarettes.” Hutchinson, Saturday Night Magazine, May 5, 2001.