(7.1.1942 – 4.7.2017)
Professional photography by Scott Snyder
Chintan remembers Ma Anand Rupa (aka Rupa Cousins):
Rupa had asked me to write something about her for the Osho publications, but I don’t know where to start. The end was on the 4th of July, early in the morning. I’m not sure of the exact time of her birth, sometime on the 7th of January, 1942. She was born into privilege, a Jewish American Princess in New York City. She followed the trajectory of wealth and beauty into dance classes, became a model and then an actress. The life of an off-broadway, or was it on-broadway actress suited her until one day in a dressing room, preparing to go on stage in a fluffy musical, she inquired as to the whereabouts of a male colleague and was informed that he had been killed while delivering aid to a war-torn land. The big bad world entered Bonnie’s world of privilege.
“What the fuck is this life all about?” The trajectory changed dramatically, and with eyes beginning to open she began the agonizing process of looking deeply into things. There followed years of inquiry and involvement in the various social causes of the late 1960s. Not completely content with outer revolutions, she also turned inside and entered the world of yoga and meditation. It wasn’t long before Osho came into her life and she fell deeply and hopelessly in love. That was sometime in the early 70s, probably 1974.
Her life as a sannyasin initially included a trip to India and immersion in the meditations and therapies of Poona One. Returning to New York she became deeply involved in the Ananda Rajneesh Meditation Center, and when it folded, she continued to offer Osho’s meditations. At this time, she was also studying the Alexander Technique and began her own practice. With the demands for a new Osho Center, she sent away for permission to begin a new center. The result was the Satgit Meditation Center and she became the new director (1977-1980).
The reason it is difficult to write about this special being is that there never seemed to be a logic that carried her through her life. She just opened her heart, said yes, and it all sort of flowed. While directing the Satgit Center, she was also involved with the Association of Humanistic Psychology and the International Primal Association. She also studied with Illana Rubenfeld and became a practitioner of a body/mind therapy called Rubenfeld Synergy.
So, who was she during that time? Like a sponge she was absorbing all the workshops and therapies that abounded in New York: EST, the Hawaian Huna Work, Sufi Whirling, workshops on Shamanism, the Kabala, etc., etc. In the course of this development, she was carving out a very special place for herself in this world. There seemed to be no discipline or group that she derided (maybe the neo-nazis). Her great heart always seemed to be expanding to include whoever came into her field of vision. She was comfortable everywhere. She was welcomed everywhere.
Wherever she went, whatever group she was a part of, it was always Osho that she was sharing. She taught his meditations, steered people to his therapists.
In her later life, she left the “madness” of New York City and settled in southern Vermont. She was now a recognized practitioner of the Alexander Technique and Rubenfeld Synergy. She added the teaching of the Sufi way and a spiritual dance called Paneurhythmy to her arsenal of healing modalities. All this was done in her non-linear way, always coming from the heart. She was also, during this time, immersed in various peace processes around the world, travelling to Turkey and Israel among other countries. She worked with groups of Israeli/Palestinians to promote peace and understanding. In her hometown of Brattleboro, Vermont, she hosted a group of teenagers from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and their counterparts of Teens-at-Risk in Vermont.
How do you sum up a life? I can’t do it. When I think of her now, only one day past the time of her death the thing that comes to me is how she died.
She died at home, facing death head-on, unafraid, cheerful right up to the end. Her son was with her, assisting her in the last months of her life. All around her were the hundreds of friends she had made during her time in Vermont. Two days before her death she led a group of women in the Paneurhythmy dance on a sunny hillside. She could not dance herself because she had been confined to a wheelchair for a couple of days. Three weeks before her death she was leading another dance event, this time with the aid of a cane.
I can’t write this. This is the best I can do. Here is the last post that came from her son Sean, the day before she died. I think it sums up her life much better than I could do:
I’m trying to respond personally to each message and I want to apologize if I haven’t gotten to one of yours yet. The outpouring has been truly overwhelming—emotionally and logistically—and because I have to put her well-being (and my sanity 🙂 ) first, I’m forced to move slowly. But I will get there and do know that she is hearing what you write.
To people who wish to visit, as well as those who would like to offer her spiritual or body healing work, I ask that you please be patient. We have limited time and I have to pay attention to her energy levels. We also have hospice workers who are coming to help me in the physical care of her, which takes time, and they are coming almost daily. We cannot have anymore visits this weekend, between the ones scheduled yesterday and today on top of our plans for tomorrow, it’s just become too much. I ask that people please wait until during next week to request times and please understand that if I have to say no it’s not because mom or I do not want you here—we want to see everyone!—but because mom is growing weaker and weaker and doesn’t have the energy for it.
And thank you all for all you’ve given and are giving to her. I know it’s in return for what she’s given out herself, but that only proves her right. In this weird world we live in, it’s amazing to say that she’s got it bang on. As I said to her earlier, she’s won the game of life by earning so much love. It is the one thing you can take with you. That there may be the biggest lesson I’ve learned. She’s still teaching. 🙂
Rupa contributed the following article to our magazine in 2011: Rupa on Peter Deunov and Paneurhythmy
You can leave a message / tribute / anecdote using our contact form (please add ‘Rupa’ in the subject field)
I am writing to request this be published along with the article entitled, ‘Rupa’, which stands as an obituary for my mother, Rupa Cousins. The piece in question was written by a man whose ten-year relationship with my mother ended in the 1980s and who has only had sporadic contact with her in the decades since. While I have no doubt that the intent of the article was noble, the content is blinkered about my mother’s past and reflects more of the writer’s fantasy of who she was prior to his meeting her than her reality, and it is important that this record be set straight.
My mother was never the privileged Jewish American Princess that she was made out to be, nor was there any sort of magical conversion that made her the spiritual seeker and healer that she absolutely was and, though it is true that the loss of her friend was a catalyst that forced her to question her desire to continue her career as an actress, these aspects of her have been present throughout her life and are a reflection of her passion for truth and love not some sort of mythical rebirth.
My mother was born in 1942 to a woman who herself had quit school at the age of 14 to help support her lower middle class family, which is hardly the start to a tale of privilege. At the age of two, my grandfather left my grandmother, who then raised my mother singlehandedly while running a successful business in lingerie and, while she was successful, she was never rich or idle, and my mother had to endure many moves about New York State as my grandmother sought the best places to raise her daughter. If my mother went to some good schools and had opportunities others did not, it was not due to any privilege other than that of a strong and controlling mother who shaped her own life to give my mom access to a life she herself never had.
After my mother graduated Syracuse University, with a degree in Drama, she went to work trying to carve out a career for herself in acting, which meant taking whatever odd job she could to feed herself and leave time for auditions. During this time, she did some modeling for my grandmother’s company, sold cigarettes at a kiosk in a busy office building in downtown NYC–hardly a privileged pastime—as well as doing temporary office work (she even answered fan mail for the Beatles as a temp immediately following their US explosion). She also had some minor success acting, touring as a member of the original cast of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead as an understudy for Ophelia and a member of the Players group. She soon met the man who was to be my father, an unfaithful alcoholic who made getting by harder rather than easier. My own birth was planned during the one year it looked like they would both “make it” on the New York stage, a dream that fell apart almost immediately. The two made ends meet as best they could working in Off and Off Off Broadway productions and doing summer stock outside of the city. My father also tended bar. Once again I’m forced to ask where the privilege was?
When I was two, in 1972, my mother moved to Florida, where she went both to start walking the spiritual path that she would follow for the rest of her life and to escape my father, whose infidelity and emotional abuse had become physical assaults. There, she worked as a yoga instructor at a small fashion college and did everything she could, as a single mother with no aid from my father at all, to give me a good life. It was in Florida where my mother became one of the pioneering American disciples of Rajneesh and where she met the man who would prove to be the love of her life, as well as the one who helped start her on the path of a Healer by introducing her to the Alexander Technique. This led to a return to NYC, where she entered into formal study of the practice and where she helped start the Rajneesh Center.
Throughout all of this, my mother received occasional help from my grandmother, who wanted to give even more, but mom, wishing to retain the freedom to follow her paths, usually refused. Again hardly the work of a Jewish American Princess but more that of a powerful soul seeking understanding where most of the traditional cultural norms refuse to look with the expenditure of her own, great, inner strength.
In 1982, along with the writer of the piece in question, my mother and I moved to New Hampshire, though she continued to spend four days a week in the city trying to maintain the clientele she’d successfully built up. While ultimately this move led to her finding her spiritual home in Southern Vermont, it was financially devastating to her as she was never able to build a practice to rival what she had in New York, but she stayed and she struggled, even after the dissolution of their relationship, primarily to give me a safe and consistent place to grow up. It was during this time that many of the scandals that would eventually rock the world of the sannyasins occurred—including an offer to move to Antelope, OR and take on a position of power in the hierarchy built around Rajneesh, with the caveat that she abandon me to go live there—and, while my mother would never officially walk away from the group, these reaffirmed in her the desire to follow her own path, rejecting the idea of a true leader as anything but people to study with, and taking from their lessons what she needed to further her own beliefs.
This desire was made manifest after the passing of my grandmother, who left mom just enough money to purchase the small house in East Dummerston, Vermont that she lived in for the remainder of her years, a wonderful gift as this enabled mom to focus entirely on her healing and spiritual work with far less worry. From that point on, my mother rarely made enough to go above the poverty level but she was well aware that her true richness would be found in the community of friends, family, and fellow seekers that she was surrounded with for the rest of her life.
In Vermont, my mother expanded her healing work by studying Rubenfeld Synergy, an alternative form of psychotherapy that mom, always her own person, blended with aspects of the Alexander Technique and yoga and the countless other forms of work she’d practiced over the years. This led to her helping to form APOV, a society for the alternative psychotherapists of Vermont that fought for their rights to be recognized by the State.
She also continued her spiritual quest, becoming a member of a Sufi order and a whirling dervish who was frequently asked to turn at important spiritual events, taking on the practice of Paneurhythmy, which she both studied and taught, returning to her roots with the Jewish community of Southern Vermont, and continuing to explore the work of Osho and other great minds in order to expand her own diverse philosophy.
She was also a longstanding member of the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Initiative, a group made up of clergy and laic persons of many faiths who continue to strive to bring peace and unity to people of all faiths, most recently successfully working to have Brattleboro deemed a sanctuary city in the light of the hate stemming from the Trump administration. She became active in the discussions surrounding the Israeli occupation of Palestine–strongly in favor of Israeli recognition of Palestine and against the atrocities being performed in the name of Judaism–and is recognized as a passionate leader in that movement. She also became an active peace builder, traveling to war torn countries to work in peace camps, trying to help heal the rifts caused by war. Through this she made numerous friends and allies around the world, many leaders in peace building in their own nations, all who came to call my mother their sister or, even, their mother. If this is the work of a privileged person, we should all be so gifted.
My mother died on July Fourth, 2017 following a two-year battle with stomach cancer, still passionate about all of these subjects, and still actively leading in many of them. Not thirty-six hours before she passed, she attended, with help, a Paneurhythmy ceremony on the grounds of the Manitou Project, where she was to be buried, and narrated the steps of the dances for a recording to be used in a documentary on the group. As we left that morning, my mother turned to her dear friend and helper, Heather, and said that she hoped that there would be no more rituals or dances for her. She was done and had followed her twin paths of healing and spirituality as far as she could while still in this life. She died not long after on her terms, and complete.
I write all this because I feel that it is owed to the followers of Osho, people she cared deeply for and whose ranks she never completely left, can know the full extent of the loss we are experiencing with my mother’s death. She was not, and never claimed, to be a perfect being, she had many regrets, most of which were about how far her paths took her away from me, her son, and the pain that created in my life, as well as her inability to find intimate love for herself following a mostly abusive path of relationships. But she was never the privileged brat she was made out to be in this piece by Chintan and she never once stepped away from her belief that “if you give love, you will receive love back.” My mother gave love in spades, and received it back in the form of a community of friends and co-seekers so rich and dense with people that her funeral welcomed over two hundred persons despite the short notice of only a day and a half of its timing. At that funeral, prayers and chants representing Islam, Sufism, Judaism, and mystical Christianity were sung for her, and us all, once again reaffirming mom’s dedication and love for the diversity of spirituality.
I hope that you will publish this letter along with the article entitled, ‘Rupa’. The piece as it stands, even if written with the best of intentions and with some beautiful truths of its own intact, is incredibly painful for those of us, particularly family, who love my mother and understand her gestalt better than how she was represented. My mother’s past was very much a part of the making of my mother’s future and it deserves to be understood for that and not written off crassly as the “life of privilege” it most certainly was not. My mother was a wise but complex woman and your readers, and posterity, deserves to understand this.
Rupa Cousins passed on the Fourth of July, 2017 in her home in East Dummerston, Vermont. She was born Bonnie Joyce Gottlieb on January 7th, 1942, in New York City, and, following the split of her parents, was called Bonnie Cousins from the age of two. Her mother was Sydney Cousins, who raised her alone while running a successful business in lingerie.
Rupa’s first love was acting, and she received her BA in Drama from Syracuse University, where she starred as Juliette in a campus production of the Shakespeare play. She spent most of the 1960s appearing in Off Broadway productions while supporting herself working retail and occasional modeling jobs. She married in 1967 but that relationship ended in 1972, when she moved to Florida to escape her abusive husband, taking her two-year old son, Sean.
In Florida, Rupa felt she found her real callings, to the paths of spirituality and healing, which she initially followed through the work of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and the Alexander Technique, respectively. Her study of both brought her back to NYC in 1976, where she was instrumental in starting a meditation center in the name of Rajneesh, as well as in obtaining her license to practice the Technique.
In 1982, she moved part-time to West Chesterfield, New Hampshire, which would be the start of love for the Southern Vermont, NH, and Western Massachusetts areas that would last the rest of her life. In 1987, she bought the house on Canoe Brook Road in East Dummerston.
In Rupa’s thirty years in that house, she would continue to travel the two paths of her life widely. Stepping away from Rajneesh (though never discounting the teachings), she found further spiritual inspiration through work as a Sufi and a Dervish, a renewed interest in her native religion of Judaism, the exploration of the mystical dance, Paneurythymy, and in work with the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Initiative. In healing, she added to her work as an Alexander Technician by studying and practicing the Rubenfeld Synergy, an alternative form of psychotherapy. She was instrumental in starting such local organizations as APOV, the Associated Psychotherapists of Vermont, and Healing Tools. She also became a serious and respected peace worker, spending time locally and abroad working to bring healing to peoples torn asunder by war and hate, and she spent much time fighting for the recognition of Palestine in the name of her own Judaism.
Rupa passed in her home from complications of stomach cancer with her son by her side and a community of people helping make her last days as beautiful as they could. Her final words to her him were “If you give love, love will be given back to you.”
Rupa is survived by her son, Sean Hennessey, and a legacy of love that has touched many.
In lieu of flowers, the family encourages tax-deductible gifts to The Manitou Project—Community with Nature, to further its green burial and wheelchair trail initiatives, and other programs that integrate spiritual and practical applications of ecological awareness and personal fulfillment on 224 acres of conserved woodlands in Williamsville. Send checks to Manitou at PO Box 161, Williamsville, VT 05362.
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