A Tribute to Rob Nairn
30 Aug 1939 – 30 Sept 2023
Last week I attended Rob Nairn’s memorial at the Cape Town Kagyu Buddhist centre. Author of Tranquil Mind; Diamond Mind; Living, Dreaming, Dying and founder of Mindfulness Africa and Mindfulness Association UK, Rob, our beloved friend and meditation teacher passed away, leaving a huge legacy of work and gratitude behind.
People flew in or were connected via live stream from around the world for this celebration of his life. Charlie Morley, a lucid dreaming teacher who came from London was a key speaker. He said,
“I owe this man everything. He was my Dumbledore. He was my first Buddhist teacher, my first lucid dreaming teacher. He was the one who first suggested I should teach lucid dreaming. He taught me about conscious dying. He showed me the power of the hypnopompic state. And, he introduced me to my guru Lama Yeshe Rinpoche. I owe this man everything and I love him with my entire heart.”
This deep love and appreciation of Rob is shared by the thousands whose lives he has touched. I met Rob in Nieu Bethesda where he lived and ran a dharma retreat centre, in the mid ’80s. He taught me everything I know about mindfulness, meditation and mind training. It was Rob’s insight training that enabled me to become present with my thoughts. In his words, ‘being aware of what is happening while it’s happening’, helped transform crippling anxiety I had suffered since childhood. I too owe him an enormous debt. He led me to the dharma and my guru Choje Akong Tulku Rinpoche, pictured above with Rob and affectionately known as The African Lama.
In the account of Rob’s life written by Trish Swift, Rob met Akong Rinpoche when he went to study a postgraduate certificate in criminology at Edinburgh university in 1968 following his law degree. Rob ‘caught a bus and, failing to find a lift, had to walk five or six hours carrying a heavy suitcase’ to Samye Ling – the first Tibetan Buddhist Centre in the West, established by Akong Rinpoche and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Rinpoche’s connection with Rob and the invitation to come to Nieu Bethesda led to Kagyu Dharma centres being opened in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Randburg, Grahamstown, Harare, the Congo; thousands of people being trained in mindfulness and taking refuge in the Kagyu lineage; the establishment of numerous charitable institutions serving the needy under Rokpa Trust and much more. Akong Rinpoche said, “without Rob there would be no dharma in Africa.”
In Charlie’s words: “It’s sometimes said that the guru is even more important than the Buddha because it’s the guru who connects you with the Buddha. What about the person who connects you with the guru? Surely that person is also incredibly important and Rob was that person for so many thousands of us. He connected us to the guru. Rob was the gateway, the bridge. Rob was the path that led us to the dharma.”
Rob was an incredibly brilliant teacher – always lucid and crystal clear. Kind, humorous, loving and enormous fun, he taught us while working on his own path too. He completed the four-year solitary traditional retreat without fuss and simply continued to serve.
Charlie elaborates: “It was the balance of Rob’s humanity and flashes of awakened clarity that made him so good at what he did. Rob was an embodiment of the teachings in action, still happening… He was more inspiring than if he had been a full enlightened master because it was relatable. And through that inspiration, he led us to those enlightened masters, to that profound Vajrayana path, to kindness and joy and for that we owe him everything.”
It is incredible to consider how much benefit one single person can create in a single lifetime. Rob Nairn may be gone, but the ripples of his memory and good work will last forever.
Above Photo Courtesy Lindi te Water