“Ancient dogma decreed that no man can see God, which is true. God is not an object. We can only see as God, but then, when we do, God is all we can see. . . He is the robber, the desperado, the saint, the slave, the king. Each of us defines him, and each must then experience his or her definition of him.”
—Joseph Chilton Pearce, Evolution’s End
Off to See the Wizard
“When you follow a teacher that doesn’t have an expanded will, then that is giving power to that density of will within that teacher that will not let it go at all costs. That then makes a teacher a somebody. Where there is an expanded will, there is no somebody. Unless you know that someone is mastered by truth, you can listen to them and hear them, but don’t follow them.”
—John de Ruiter, 2000
When I set out to analyze and understand de Ruiter, I knew I was entering a rabbit hole. I knew that all the psychological or even metaphysical theories in the world wouldn’t be enough to make sense of him. One of the biggest difficulties was that de Ruiter can’t be judged, or understood, as a discreet entity, because, as a guru, avatar of truth, and/or cult leader, he has become the center of a collective body called Oasis. The King and the people are one, and the only way to really understand de Ruiter is to see him as part of a larger system made up also of his followers.
Whatever his motives might be, there’s no getting around the fact that de Ruiter is on a bid for worldly power. If a carpenter enters his workshop in the morning and by night comes out with a table, it’s safe to say that he intended to build a table. It didn’t simply “happen” while he was pottering about the workshop. So it is with de Ruiter and the Oasis Empire. He and his followers can talk all day about “movements of truth,” while the skeptics can argue that it’s pure self-interest at work; both are blinded by preconceptions, and neither is correct, because neither conscious self-interest nor transpersonal Truth is in the driving seat, but unconscious patterns. Truth moves in mysterious ways. My challenge (and presumably de Ruiter’s, and that of his followers too) is to understand how the various, opposing agendas—the unfolding of truth and the will to power, Myshkin and Machiavelli—can combine into a single “movement.”
On March 23rd 2011, I flew to Edmonton with the intention of meeting John and telling him about the book I was working on. I timed the trip to coincide with a gala event at Oasis to raise money for the Oasis garden, to the tune of $50,000. The event was an auction of items and services provided by members of the group, as well as a raffle, the first prize of which was “a day in the wilderness with John”! It seemed like an opportune moment to make an appearance. I also wanted to meet several people in Edmonton to interview them for the book: Barrie Reeder and Hal Dallmann from the Bethlehem Lutheran church, Jason Gerdes and possibly others, as well as to visit the courthouse for updates on the von Sass/de Ruiter case.
I arranged to attend a meeting with Jason Gerdes on the only night he had free. It was Jason’s first time at the new building, and he hadn’t seen John in several years. It was a long and very dull meeting, over three hours, and although we both put our names down, neither Jason nor I got to speak, because the meeting was taken up entirely by an Indian man and his wife. During the first part, I stayed focused on de Ruiter. I was watching his breathing because I’d read at a forum that his breathing was shallow, an observation that was presented as proof that he was “obviously a fake.” So far as I could tell, his breathing was normal. The Indian woman was gushing adoringly, and when I looked at John on the screens, his expression seemed sad. A bit later, when I looked over at the left screen, it looked as though his right eye was melting off his face. He looked heavy and stricken.
I felt no awe, only compassion, some gratitude, skepticism, a trace of pity, and a smidgeon of hostility (as it happens, these were all feelings I’d felt towards my father). I felt mild curiosity but it was almost as if it didn’t matter who de Ruiter was anymore. His words no longer seemed profound, and I began to wonder how hard I’d had to work in the past to generate the feelings of awe I’d experienced in his presence. It was as if I’d followed cues from de Ruiter and the rest of the group. Maybe I’d wanted so much to get it that I had pulled the necessary feelings and associations from within myself. And then, once I’d got it, no one could have told me I hadn’t.
Being there, I had a visceral sense of reclaiming my own power. It was as if I’d left it with the guru for safe keeping. I wasn’t there to ask for it but to take it, and it was happening just by the fact of my sitting there. I had flown all that way to discover that I no longer wanted anything from John, perhaps even that I had nothing to say to him. In the past, I had sat in front of him and tried to match his power, to receive it or honor it or surrender to it. Now I was aware only of my own power, and of how much I did not belong there, with these people. The guru was just another person, doing his thing. After the meeting, Gerdes commented on how unhappy John looked.
The next day, I went to the Queen’s Bench courthouse to look for new affidavits, but the only extra information I found in the case file was a transcript of Benita’s testimony. There were a few interesting facts, including that Benita had apparently been working on John’s “book” (I presume his biography). It also listed Benita’s home address. According to the file, the case had been dismissed by the Judge the previous year, and there had been an appeal which had also been discontinued, on August 18th (Joyce’s birthday). That didn’t gel with what Peter von Sass had said to me, on several occasions, that the case was ongoing, which was the ostensible reason why neither he nor his daughters would speak to me. I went to another section of the building and confirmed that the appeal had been discontinued, possibly with a settlement.
The next day I had a meeting with Barrie Reeder at the St Peter’s Lutheran church. The meeting lasted three hours and went fairly well. At one point, Barrie threatened to break my neck if I repeated what he was about to tell me; he sounded like he meant it. I told him there was no need for threats and he mellowed and assured me that he’d only sue me. He then revealed something fairly unremarkable around the whole Rousu/Dallmann/de Ruiter affair, including a few clues which helped me to correct the picture I’d been building, based mostly on Joyce’s recollections. Reeder suggested some questions for Dallmann and asked me to call him, Reeder, after my meeting, in case Dallmann didn’t give the full story. Towards the end of the encounter, Reeder knelt before me, put his hand on my shoulder and prayed for the success of my enterprise and other things. I wondered if Reeder’s death threat, followed by his blessing, was an indication of what I could expect from de Ruiter.
I got a ride to Oasis with a lady named Kali, from Boulder, Colorado. Kali had finally moved to Edmonton after eleven years of following de Ruiter. She had sold her farm in the country now that her daughter had finally grown up. I felt sad for her. When we arrived the café was jam-packed with people in elegant evening dress. I wore a cream linen suit I’d found in England, in a thrift store, before I attended my brother’s funeral. I got my raffle ticket and drink coupon and exchanged words with an Englishman wearing a silver crop circle around his neck. He knew of my writing and various identities, and spoke in complex sentences that meant nothing to me. He seemed to be trying to show off his intelligence, and I slipped away as soon as the doors opened. I was curious to see how they had turned the “church” area into a party space. All the seats were gone, and in their place were several round tables covered in black cloth. The room was candlelit and tastefully arranged. On the various tables were the donations of followers that were being auctioned, strange items, ranging from a buzz saw to a Jester’s costume. I wondered if the buzz saw was an in-joke.
I floated around waiting for John to show up, exchanging pleasantries with a few of the followers who recognized me. I had brought a small digital recording device to record my encounter with de Ruiter. Normally, my preference is for total transparency, but I had weighed the pros and cons and decided I could justify this subterfuge in the interests of keeping a complete record of the event. I drank a few glasses of water and then saw that John had arrived with Leigh-Anne. They were wandering around in their usual regal fashion and I followed them with my eyes for a while. Presently, a short lady joined the couple and I decided to take the next opening. When I saw the royal couple was alone again, I cashed in my drink coupon for a glass of champagne (some Dutch courage) and resolved to approach them. They were walking slowly around the edge of the room, appraising some large paintings rested against one of the walls. They had their backs to me and I had to come right alongside them and speak to get their attention. My heart was pounding.
“Hiiii,” I said, a long drawn out sound.
John and Leigh-Anne both turned and said “Hi.” John said it was nice to see me. He sounded sincere enough. I asked him if he remembered me from Bristol and he said yes. He made a comment about my wife not being there and I told him that she had stayed at home. I asked how they both were and John said they were very well. I started to explain why I had come there and had a moment of disorientation when I realized I didn’t remember where I was! I stared at Leigh-Anne and said: “Where the hell am I?” before I regained my senses (“Edmonton!”). I pushed on by saying that I had come expressly to talk to John and was hoping I’d be able to see him outside the meetings. He said nothing so I added that I knew he was flying to Australia soon, but that I hadn’t contacted him ahead of time because I thought he was “a very abstract kind of person” who liked to do things spontaneously.
After a pause, de Ruiter said that it wouldn’t be possible because he was leaving tomorrow. Leigh-Anne asked how long I would be in Edmonton and I told them a few more days. I said that I had many things I wanted to say to John and that I didn’t know where to begin. (No response.) I admitted that it was probably not a good place for it, however, since he was there in a social mode and (no doubt) wanted to keep things light. That prompted a small nod from him. I mentioned that I’d written him a song (“Little Johnny Golden Hands”) and that I had brought my guitar, hoping I could play it for him. He remained silent so I ploughed on. I explained how, in the two years I had known him, “my whole life had turned upside down.” Leigh-Anne smiled approvingly.
“Particularly in the last few months,” I said, “I’ve been going through a lot of confusion around yourself, and I think that I came here to just see where I was at with you, and I came to the meeting on Thursday, I’m not sure if you saw me?”
John nodded and I added that I was with his old friend Jason and wondered if he’d recognized him. John nodded in a noncommittal way. I said I’d wanted to speak to him on Thursday night but hadn’t had the chance, adding that “just being there allowed me to see things more clearly.”
De Ruiter acknowledged that—I think he said “good”—and I sensed that he was about to excuse himself. I said that I didn’t want to be a burden and impose on him, but that I wished we could have some “quiet time,” even if was just half an hour. There was a pause, during which de Ruiter did not show a flicker of interest.
“The feeling that I get,” I said, “is that all these people are here looking to get something from you, and nobody’s actually giving anything back to you.”
In retrospect, my comment was a bit ironic, considering that hundreds of people had come to give up their goods and services to him. I was fumbling to find the right words, while outwardly I remained confident and calm. A woman on stage started to make an announcement. She began with a loud “Hello!” De Ruiter told me that he wanted to listen, smiling faintly. I stood by silently while he and Leigh-Anne listened to the woman talk about the event. I didn’t hear a word she said; I was simply waiting for the next opportunity to speak, acutely aware that I would only have a small window of opportunity. The three of us stood there for a couple of minutes and then the woman’s microphone started to fail; de Ruiter remarked on it, and the announcement gradually wound down due to the technical fault. I was sure they were preparing to make excuses and leave.
“Maybe I won’t get another chance to speak,” I said, “so I perhaps should just . . . cut to the chase, as they say.” (I had hesitated because the expression seemed faintly aggressive.) “Since I last saw you, I’ve written a book. . .” De Ruiter’s face remained blank, devoid of emotion or interest. I told him in a few short phrases about the book; still there was no response. I reminded him of our encounter in Bristol when I had asked him if I could tell his story and he had told me that somebody was already telling it. At that point, he nodded. I told him that I’d had no idea back then that I’d end up writing my own book about him.
“But since I came in October,” I said, and trailed off. I was remembering the affidavit, the train wreck of de Ruiter’s relationship with Benita, and everything I’d been through since then. How on earth could I sum all that up?
“Things have come up,” I said. “I don’t want to go into detail, but anyway I’ve written this book and I’d very much like to get your input, coz it’s obviously incomplete without your side of it.”
De Ruiter still made no comment.
“I know that you don’t talk about your personal life very much,” I said, “and you like to keep that separate from what you do; but for me that hasn’t been possible. For me to know you and understand you as a man, as a human being, has been absolutely essential for me, because until that time you were like this abstract, godlike being that I couldn’t even relate to. That was very disempowering for me. I tried to match you, I tried to be like you, it didn’t work. So this has been a process of me discovering your human side, as far as I’ve been able to.”
When de Ruiter still didn’t say anything, I mentioned that I’d been speaking to Barrie Reeder that morning.
After a pause, he asked, “Barrie who?”
I said the name and mentioned the Bethlehem church, and de Ruiter gave another noncommittal nod. I wasn’t sure why I’d mentioned Reeder and by way of explanation I said that speaking to people who had known him in the past was helping me to understand him better. I turned to Leigh-Anne then and said: “I don’t know if many of these people see John as a human being.”
Leigh-Anne said that they did. I said I didn’t know, and she replied that the people who lived there did. I was skeptical.
“I feel as though all these people are worshipping John,” I said. “So that’s like a prison. That’s what I feel.”
I stared into John’s eyes and there was a pause of maybe thirty seconds or more. Whether or not I was staring at de Ruiter the whole time, I didn’t come away with the slightest clue as to what he was thinking. Finally he said that he couldn’t take too long and that he needed to be “milling about.”
I nodded and told him that I had wanted to let him know, and that if he was interested and wanted to talk to me about it, I wasn’t sure I would be coming back to Edmonton, but there were other ways we could communicate. Leigh-Anne said I could send an email to the college. I suggested leaving my info and if John wanted to contact me, that was probably the best option. There was a pause, after which I said, in a plaintive voice, “I very much want to help, John. I know that probably sounds kind of absurd.”
John looked at me and for the first time he seemed aware that I had actually said something. He said that it didn’t sound absurd, but that for him to be “coming out upfront” and spending time with me was not something that that he normally did. Circumstances would have to be “more extraordinary,” he said. He then added something vague about responding to “all the different things” that came his way. I felt his uncertainty as he fumbled for the right words. I was aware of being gently fobbed, and that our meeting was at an end.
“I wanted to present myself here,” I said, “so you could see me, look me in the eye, and then you would know, what’s the right thing to do. I can’t know what the right thing is for you. I can only know what it is for me; for me it’s to come up and speak to you, tell you straight up what I’m doing: I’m writing a book and I hope to publish it. It’s about you, it’s a sympathetic portrait, but it’s . . . it’s a human portrait.”
There was another pause. De Ruiter’s face remained blank and disinterested. He said that he would probably see me around, back here or in Europe. It was half a question so I told him he probably wouldn’t see me in Europe. I added that I’d be there tonight if he wanted to speak to me, and I’d leave my contact details. After a brief technical exchange about how best to contact him, I touched him lightly on his left arm, thanked him for listening, and said, “Enjoy the night.”
He said, “Bye for now” and they walked away.
In the last instant, as our eyes broke contact, I felt a tiny wave of hostility pass between us. It was so subtle and ephemeral that I couldn’t say at the time if it came from him or me, or both. But in that moment, I fancied that, behind all the civility and politesse of our meeting, two ancient sorcerers had squared off in the temple. There was also something I had become aware of during the meeting, which apparently I had been too awestruck to notice the last time we stood face to face. De Ruiter was an inch or two shorter than me.
Render Unto Caesar
“The hidden function of the sacred has been to get people to sacrifice to it.”
—Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad, The Guru Papers
After the encounter with de Ruiter I ran into Lars, an attractive young man whom I’d met and liked on my last visit (he looks a little like Matthew McConaughey). Lars was on the opposite side of the room to where I’d encountered John, and we stood and chatted for a while. I brought up John, and as I did I saw the royal couple “milling about.” They were coming towards us and it looked as though de Ruiter wanted to speak to Lars. If so, when he saw me he changed his mind, and they both floated by, smiling and nodding. “Speak of the devil” I said to Lars, who seemed a bit disconcerted. I told him I’d been having some doubts since the affidavit and Lars mentioned that he was on the “committee,” a group set up as a “buffer” between de Ruiter and any doubters in the group, so that (according to Lars) John could concentrate on the teachings. The way it worked was that anyone who had questions could present them to a committee member, and they would be brought up at the next committee meeting.
Lars said several times in reference to the affidavit, “They are just allegations.” I countered that, even if they were false, they were still coming from the woman John had chosen to spend ten years of his life with, a fact which raised questions in itself. Lars didn’t agree and seemed uncomfortable with my line of reasoning. After a while, I could see he was looking at me with mild suspicion. When I asked him about Benita’s statement that de Ruiter had claimed he was taking Satan into himself in order to overcome evil, Lars didn’t seem interested. His replies began to make less and less sense to me: he was saying that he didn’t think there was any need to go into “all of that stuff” and yet his reasoning struck me as more emotional than rational. I could see he didn’t want to continue our conversation, so I wandered off at an opportune moment.
Later, I was talking to a friend, Niels, in the café, when we were joined by a blonde, muscular guy in his late twenties (at a guess). He spoke to us about being in the Chair recently and how de Ruiter had hinted at his moving to Edmonton. The young man (who lived in New York) didn’t feel “the pull,” however, and he had approached de Ruiter in the café about it later. He told us that de Ruiter had pretty much told him that he had a knowing that the young man was supposed to move to Edmonton. The encounter had left the young man feeling as if he was “screwed” if he didn’t come. He said that de Ruiter had been applying pressure on him and that he found it disturbing. It didn’t seem right or fair to him, for John to do that. I told him that, based on the many accounts I had heard, de Ruiter often applied pressure to get people to move to Edmonton, as well as to prevent them from leaving. Niels agreed with me and we had a three-way conversation, after which I played my “Golden Hands” song for the young man. He was disturbed by it, but also moved. While I was playing, two small blonde girls came and listened, gazing at me with shy smiles. Maybe they were standing in for the von Sass sisters.
If that was the high point of the evening, and possibly the whole trip, the auction was definitely the strangest part. Once all the donated items had been sold off, “human resources” were next. Tree clippers, masseurs, and other local professionals stood on the stage while the crowd bid for them. One person I saw on stage, a tree clipper, was tall and thin and wearing a white suit like my own; with my less than perfect vision, he could have been me. Later, I saw him in the café and for a brief moment I thought he was the actor, Kevin Bacon. It was a disconcerting coincidence, because when I’d seen him on stage I’d had the thought that the whole thing was like a “meat market.” It had also reminded me of ancient Rome, with slaves being auctioned off. I wondered if the gala was really about raising money or if it was a symbolic enactment of the Oasians’ devotion to “Truth”—or to their Emperor.
I talked to an Israeli man afterwards and he admitted that he hadn’t wanted to come to the event. He said the whole thing seemed weird to him. When I agreed, he backpedaled by saying that it wasn’t de Ruiter’s idea, that he just “went along with it.” One person had an idea and then others took it up, he said, and that created “a movement.” His reasoning sounded flimsy to me and I replied that John always had the final say about such things. He responded that John liked these kinds of things because they “undid structures,” by which I suppose he meant they confounded expectations. (He seemed to be implying that the crass commercialism of it appealed to de Ruiter; a bit like Osho with his Rolls Royces, perhaps?) I countered by saying that the gala was actually strengthening structures, because it was extending de Ruiter’s empire. His response was that it was to do with integrating the spiritual with the worldly. It was a fair point, except that few people there seemed to acknowledge how “worldly” the Oasis Empire was. The party line was that it was all for truth, but I already knew that the only way to square that circle was by equating de Ruiter with truth, as his followers did. I wondered if there could be a much deeper integration going on that few of them suspected. Having offered up their belongings and auctioned out their services, the Oasians were throwing everything they had into the truth pot in order to increase de Ruiter’s worldly power, for “truth to be established.” While we were talking, the man’s wife came over and told him to come away from me, referring to me as “that silly man.” She already knew I was not part of the team, because of something I had said to her earlier.
I got a ride back with Kali and we had a pleasant chat on the way. She said she’d been sorry when I was shut down at the Birds of Being forum. “Do you have to be stupid to be John’s follower?” she asked, somewhat indignantly. She told me that, even though some of them had been there for decades, she didn’t know many people in the group who had had any kind of “shift.” She had been there thirteen years and still hadn’t experienced a shift, she said. She seemed to be reaching out, not quite daring to voice her doubts clearly.
By the time I got back it was around midnight and I felt uneasy, as if I had done something wrong, as if I had betrayed de Ruiter in some way. I spoke to my wife and she pointed out that “defying the father” would naturally feel like the wrong thing to do. Although I had been at least outwardly friendly to de Ruiter, there was definitely some unrecognized hostility there. I knew he must have noticed it, because I had. It was as if I had sent a message to him: “I don’t recognize your authority anymore, and right now you’re an obstacle on my path.” It was true, in a way. He had become an obstacle to my individuation. The only way to get past that obstacle had been to face it head on.