A Tribute to Louis van Loon 1935 – 2024

by | Print Articles, Spiritual Living, Winter 2024

Founder of The Buddhist Retreat Centre, Ixopo KZN, South Africa

“From you I learnt words beneath the Bodhi Tree. A – Z resonant in simplicity as you spun the Dharma Wheel anatman bardo mudita zazen whirled off your tongue. Your rondavel heart, lined with thatched volumes, still speaks to us in a ‘last words’ book.  I read of a dying mystic, when brought his favourite layered ‘last wish’ cake. Novices leaned in to listen to wise whispered words that recall our Cake the Buddha Ate – my, but this cake is delicious. Your intention presence poise, nowhere everywhere, rakes the zen garden, barefoots the labyrinth, circles the Stupa and the dam.”

Excerpt: Man in a Mist Swirl by Dorian Haarhoff


“Louis was a great character and to spend time with him was to be infused with some of his spirit. It became obvious that he was an adventurer, a great inquirer and a pioneer, someone who would follow inspired hunches with persistence and effort.

Sure it made him stubborn at times, but it was also a mark of that spirit that moves in all of us. For most of us it just lights up from time to time, but in Louis it seemed to be a steady flame. I suppose at some time or another most of us kind of get knocked off our feet by near-death experiences or by the death of a beloved other or breakdown of some kind.

And some get moved by this towards a greater sense of purpose, but not that many had the resolution to follow it through for decades. So from Louis’ severe illness to having a vision of a rain-swept hill, to actually purchasing 300 acres of derelict farmland in KwaZulu-Natal and to subsequently putting in years of work and financial and emotional effort and commitment to convert it into the gem we see today.

It takes faith, steadied by resolve backed up by sheer energy and made agile by that inquiring dancing flame. Most of us from time to time have been moved by the wish to help and provide for the wealth of others, but not so many are ready or capable of taking on the responsibility and risk of establishing a centre, especially one that created itself as Buddhist in a country of which the religious expression at that time was that of the Dutch Reformed Church.

That’s the way it is with people of spirit. Challenge brightens and feeds them. So today – and every day – let’s inhale some of that spirit. Louis was also an elder, by which I don’t mean an old person, I mean someone who’s prepared to take on the responsibility of being a custodian of a way, of a tradition, of a lineage.

So as an elder, he naturally attuned to the ancient ways of truth that inspired him as he travelled throughout Buddhist Asia. He also sensed the first thing to do when establishing a place in a new country was to consecrate it.

It’s kind of like putting the flag of the tradition down. Hence the stupa was the first thing – the first creation – and for that he invited Lama Govinda, here from India, to select the site that would link it to the ancient Buddhist tradition.

When you look at it, the stupa is, could be Sri Lankan, could be Indian, it could be Thai, possibly Chinese, maybe Tibetan. It’s all of those, but it’s also South African. You look around the Buddhist Retreat Centre, that’s the same collage of impressions that you get.

You see Japanese Zen garden. You see Tibetan tankers, you see Chinese scroll paintings, you see Thai Buddha images, you see Indian artefacts – and it’s all wrapped up in an architecture that’s strongly based upon indigenous Zulu, rondavels and thatch roofs, but with twists that give it more light coming in, the long windows that descend to the ground.

So it’s all kind of blended together. And that’s the way an elder works, inhabiting the place in the way of things and the great way of things. By keeping the tradition expressively alive, having their own personal angle, placing it in a modern contemporary context.

So it is invigorated by local current initiative and that’s the mark of the spirit. As an elder, Louis also knew not to claim it as a personal possession, to let the inspiration move through him and then, when it was time to pass it on, to not hang on, pass it on – which he did very cleanly and directly and with little fuss.

So that’s what we have. Can we continue in that sense of clarity, effectiveness, relationship to what’s gone before, what’s authentic and what works and fits that contemporary situation? That’s the ongoing responsibility that we carry.

So thanks Louis, thanks for the opportunity, thanks for the example, thanks for the spirit. Travel well.  I hope today you have a memorable and wonderful time, plenty of memories, laughter, anecdotes and tears as a spirit of what makes us beautiful, moves through and shakes us out of ourselves into something ineffable. Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu. Be well, be well, may all be well.

Ajahn Sucitto, a Buddhist monk in the Thai Forest Tradition of Ajahn Chah, a highly respected teacher who runs retreats across the globe.

“As Louis ‘you dearest man’ steps back into the ‘metta mist’. I/we offer him our gratitude, our respect and our love. And I honour him with a deep bow.” Stephen Coan.