A Tribute to Jack van der Meulen

On February 12, 2020, at the end of the annual Longchenpa chant, long-time Kum Nye teacher and beloved Nyingma community member Jack van der Meulen died in Grand Rapids, Michigan, after a debilitating disease. Jack taught at the Nyingma Institute for over 25 years.

“Jack’s kind and gentle spirit shone through everything he did,” wrote former Nyingma Institute Dean Sylvia Gretchen, “Deeply devoted to Nyingma, he offered students at the Institute a reliable path to self-awareness and relaxation through Kum Nye. His legacy endures in their lives and in the lives of all of us who knew him.”

“Jack was a loving, kind, open-hearted being who introduced countless people to the treasures of Kum Nye and the spiritual life,” wrote Kum Nye teacher Peggy Kincaid. Peggy recalled that she first got to know Jack when she began teaching at the Institute, more than two decades before:

As a beginning Kum Nye teacher I attended Jack’s classes wanting to learn and understand how he taught Kum Nye.  When Jack walked into the meditation room he was a striking figure, tall, lanky and back then, with a long ponytail.

Jack had a way of contacting space. That was an important aspect of his teaching and what I most remember learning from him. For new students of Kum Nye who were anxious or unfamiliar with meditation and sitting in stillness, Jack was patient and attentive guiding his students inward.

Barry Schieber, another former Dean of the Nyingma Institute, pointed out that Jack “was dedicated and reliable. Small virtues that often go unnoticed.”

Kum Nye teacher Santosh Philip  began taking Kum Nye classes when Jack started teaching at the Nyingma Institute and had Jack as one of his first teachers:

Clearly Jack was doing something right, since I have practiced Kum Nye ever since then and teach Kum Nye. On the first day I remember asking him: “How did people figure out these exercises and how can you come up with a new one?” At that time he told me that he didn’t know. Many years later, as he was teaching I got an insight about how to make new exercises. It came completely from the way Jack was teaching. I told him that he had shown me. I still go up to the Nyingma Institute thinking he will be there and that I can go to his class. When I teach a workshop, I think he will be teaching with me. Maybe he is.

Jack’s impact on his students emerges clearly in this memory by his student Diana Shapiro:

Jack was and is an irreplaceable teacher and an irreplaceable influence in my life for many years.  I started practicing Sunday Kum Nye back in 2000 so I was fortunate enough to have taken countless classes from him.

Jack was a really important teacher to me.  He taught me how to enjoy my human embodiment.  I can never repay that!  I learned from him that the energetic and sensory experiences of my body are a source of great relaxation, joy and even delight.  He taught me about being gentle with myself.  He taught me how to feel like a water plant, both literally and figuratively, deeply grounded and firm but at the same time flexible and open.

Peggy Kincaid also mentioned that she was able “to spend time with Jack and his wife Candace outside the Nyingma Institute and he was as much a devoted husband as he was Kum Nye teacher.”

Nyingma Institute Kum Nye teacher Abbe Blum recalled Jack’s and Candace’s generosity, their combined care and devotion for the Institute itself—from the meditation room, and the upkeep of the building, to concern for the well-being and progress of students. “Chanting during the 2020 Longchenpa Ceremony with Jack in my heart, I would look at the glass table top that he and Candace had had specially cut for the altar with the great wish that he be blessed and protected by the Nyingma lineage, the Buddha and the Bodhisattvas.”

We along with Peggy Kincaid want to “offer gratitude for his dedication to the Dharma. His was a life well-lived.”

Jack at work in the Nyingma Institute kitchen

Jack “flying” in front of the altar at the Nyingma Institute

Jack with Candace