Richard Rose | Franklin Merrell-Wolff | Douglas Harding
Richard Rose was born in Benwood, West Virginia, on March 14, 1917. He was the third of four boys in an Irish Catholic family and was born under circumstances that may have set his life's direction.
While pregnant with Richard, his mother was treated disrespectfully by a drunk one day as she walked home from church with her two little boys. The older of the boys told his father about it, and the father acted. He got the six-shooter he'd brought back from his adventures in the American west before he was married and went to find the man. When he found him, he pointed the pistol at the man and gave him the option of apologizing to his wife or dying. The man refused to apologize out of disbelief or shock, Rose later speculated and his father shot him between the eyes.
His father was tried and convicted of murder. His pregnant mother traveled to the West Virginia capitol to ask the governor to pardon her husband and ensconced herself on the steps of the governor's office until such a pardon was granted which it was.
Richard was a religious child and was happy to comply with his mother's wishes to have a priest in the family. At twelve he entered a Capuchin pre-seminary near Pittsburgh, delighted to be able to get close to the people he thought were on personal terms with the God he wanted to find. He was a boy, though, who questioned and could not be content with accepting answers based on blind belief. He became disillusioned and spent much of his spare time in the attic of the seminary reading books on religion and Church history that the students weren't supposed to read. That was where he came across the story of the Albigensian Crusade and developed his abiding respect for those heretics whose convictions led to their persecution by the Church. He was in and out of the seminary a couple times, leaving for good at age 17.
This was during the depths of the depression of the 1930s. His parents had sold property in town and moved to a farm where they thought they could at least grow enough food for the family to survive. His father had a thriving plumbing supply business before being imprisoned, but afterward he wasn't motivated or able to work, so the family had little income. Richard put himself through a couple years of college, studying the hard sciences, which he looked to for keys to the universe. He survived for long periods on milk and candy bars. Once again he became disillusioned, realizing that the Truth he sought was never going to be found in knowledge that it was something that one had to become.
He left school and took jobs around the country, working as a lab technician on projects such as the development of streptomycin in a Denver lab and of the atomic submarine at Babcock and Wilcox in Ohio, and as a quality control metallurgist at an airplane engine plant in Baltimore. He said he never stayed on a job for more than a year, not wanting to get into a rut, which eventually became a liability when a prospective employer saw the length of his resume. He turned his life into a "living laboratory," practicing yoga, vegetarianism, celibacy and anything else that appealed to his intuition. He also spent months of solitude back on the family farm. He said that he had dialed bliss during this seven-year period, but he eventually realized he was aging and had nothing to show for his lifetime quest of God.
What probably ended the period of bliss was the death of his older brother James, who was serving in the Merchant Marine on a vessel that was torpedoed by a German submarine. Rose had a strong bond with this older brother (as described in the poem simply titled "James" in Rose's Carillon), who was generous and fatalistic. He'd taken the most dangerous job on the ship, working in the boiler room on the night shift typical of his lifelong concern and sacrifice for others. His death shocked Rose to the core, seeing in comparison the gigantic egotism of his own spiritual quest.
Rose had endured a great ego-shock at age 16, when a girl he thought angelic turned out to be far from that. His reaction was that it wasn't worth living if his prized intuition could be so faulty, and he took a dose of strychnine that was strong enough to kill a horse according to the family doctor. His constitution was amazingly strong, though, and he pulled through with the memory of another shock: he didn't find angels waiting to take him to heaven but instead had a vision of himself in a grave with his body rotting.
At 30, in 1947, Rose had another ego-blow of recognizing his faulty intuition, this time concerning a women he was thinking of marrying. That shock may be what triggered the profound realization that occurred soon afterward, which answered all his questions. The approach to it was traumatic for him, a death experience. He said in a public talk decades later that he didn't find God, as he expected, but found that he was God no, that's not right either, he said; he found that he is God, and that any of the listeners who pursued the trip to the end of the road would find the same thing. About six months after the experience, a description of it came to him in blank verse, which he wrote down in one sitting. He titled it "The Three Books of the Absolute."
During the years of his search, Rose ran into so many hucksters and self-deluded teachers that he made a vow to himself if he ever found anything, he would help others. In retrospect, he thought that commitment was instrumental in his becoming a teacher, since the realization of our essential nature brings with it the realization that life is a dream, and there's no desire to affect the dream. Although he was always seeking out other searchers and working with them at their level of interest, he didn't find any students who were interested in pursuing what he considered the apotheosis of spiritual work, self-definition, until a window opened in the early 1970s. For the next quarter century he devoted his life to public talks, writing, and making himself available for answering questions. He also made the family farm, whose shares he had purchased from his brothers after his parents died, available as a place where searchers could meet, spend time in solitude, and even live on.
In the mid-1990s, Rose began showing signs of Alzheimer's disease. A poem he wrote many years earlier, "I Will Take Leave of You," may have predicted the mode of his departure. It begins with the lines: I will take leave of you / Not by distinct farewell / But vaguely / As one entering vagueness.... Richard Rose died on July 6, 2005. The August 2005 TAT Forum is a memorial edition.