(18 June 1944 – 29 January 2018)
Shakyamuni (Michael E. Cull) studied Suburban and Regional Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He was drafted for the Vietnam war and served for three years in the Army Medical Service till 1967. After the war he graduated from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in Social work.
He came to see Osho in Pune and took sannyas in the late seventies. During the Rajneeshpuram years (together with Purushottama) and out of Chidvilas Centre in New Jersey (with Patipada, Jayananda, Bodhigarbha, and others) he worked on distributing Osho’s books. This meant travelling around the States to sell the books – a difficult task during those challenging times.
Shakyamuni later moved to Alaska where he lived for 15 years and counselled veterans for the Veterans Administration. He taught courses on sociology and on Vietnam at the Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, and frequently began visiting Hanoi to support and work for the Friendship Village (founded in 1992 by George Mizo, an American veteran of the Vietnam War).
He went to live permanently in Vietnam in 2010. He ran a language school to teach English and also taught at the University of Nha Trang. Soon he discovered that Osho was the best selling author in Buddhist bookstores and came in contact with Mr. Viet who had been translating and publishing Osho’s books since 1997. He also came to know that there were small meditation groups held in Nha Trang where he lived.
In 2013, Pankaja (Brooke) visited Shakyamuni in Vietnam and made the internationally awarded documentary You’re the Enemy, Welcome back! showing how American veterans of the Vietnam war found resolution and healing by coming back to the place their country had devastated, and help heal the legacy of the war. He made contributions to organizations that helped Agent Orange victims and orphans.
In 2014 (on 19th January 2014) he married his partner, Pham Thi Tuyet Lan, the date also an auspicious day in Lan’s Buddhist calendar.
In November 2017 he returned to Massachusetts because of a stomach problem, and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His friend Manus Campbell (see ‘The Long Goodbye’ below) spent nearly two months with him and his wife, Lan, from the day he was diagnosed to the moment he passed on.
There will be a small ceremony on Monday morning at Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery. Lan’s son and daughter with grandson will also be present.
Text thanks to Bhagawati, Purushottama, Manus Campbell, Pankaja – alert thanks to Upchara and Dhanyam
Shakyamuni was a very elegant, kind, intelligent man who was amazingly respectful to everyone. What a heart! One was always amazed at his devotion and creativity.
While we were making the film ‘Welcome Back!’ Shakyamuni and Manus joshed about their shared Irish ancestry, which they hadn’t known about before – and Shakyamuni quoted this wonderful Gaelic saying: “Never give a sword to a man who can’t dance!”
Two veterans, both meditators, taking life – and death, lightly (see video below!).
…and he did not like to be called Shaky!
Manus Campbell is a veteran who lived and worked in Vietnam for eight years helping orphans, poor and disabled with funds for education; he is actively involved in the charity HIVOW (Helping Invisible Victims of War) and has also been interviewed by Pankaja in her film. He moved to USA in summer of 2017 and still supports children’s education. He writes about Shakyamuni:
The Long Goodbye
Michael Cull and I met in 2013 in Nha Trang on the Veterans For Peace tour. We had heard about each other and we were on the same e-mail chain related to VFP. Michael is married to Lan and they started Viet Nam Advanced Education Center eight years ago in Nha Trang. Teaching English and helping many Vietnamese students study abroad. Michael also taught at the University in Nha Trang.
We discovered so many magical things we had in common. We both served in the American War in Viet Nam. Michael jokingly says he was sent to Viet Nam to prevent PTSD as a Psychiatric Social worker. After the war Michael attended St Peter’s College in Jersey City and he was an Anti War activist and working for social change for minorities. One of his friends and his Philosophy teacher was Bill Kiernan who was a friend of mine. At that time we lived two miles from each other. He graduated from University of Wisconsin Milwaukee with a degree in Social work.
We both shared our love for India and a lifetime of spiritual exploration and journeys. We have many friends from different Meditation Centers in India and Massachusetts. He travelled throughout the States sharing the wisdom of Osho through books.
Michael lived in Alaska for fifteen years and counseled Veterans for the Veterans Administration. During this time he began to travel to Viet Nam to support and work for Friendship Village. The Viet Nam Friendship Village is a residential facility located in Hanoi, Viet Nam that provides medical care, physical therapy, education and vocational training to Vietnamese children, young adults and veterans with a range of maladies presumed to be caused by Agent Orange.
Michael worked with the US-Viet Nam society in Hanoi. He was teaching at Alaska Pacific University and teaching a course on Viet Nam. He toured Viet Nam with his students and American Veterans. He sponsored six Vietnamese members of US-Viet Nam society to visit Alaska. Michael also taught sociology in Alaska.
Michael returned to Massachusetts for a stomach problem in November of 2017. When Lan notified me that Michael was here. I drove up to meet them the day he received the news he had pancreatic cancer. I told him I would stay with them and help them. Four days later we moved into a 2 bedroom apartment in Warwick, which was twenty minutes from Providence, VA, where he started chemotherapy for his cancer.
During this process of dealing with Michael’s disease there have been many peaks and valleys. The disease took away his ability to enjoy his food. Solid foods caused pain. Liquid foods were filling but not nourishing. He lost so much weight. The chemo would knock him down for a few days. He was not his body. Michael’s mind and heart were still very strong. He was still able to be Michael. He accepted his fate. We would meet with his other friends, Gus Marsella and Bob Schuessler and Michael Moriarty and he would tell the stories of his amazing life. Michael’s sisters, Kathy and Cecilia, would reminisce with him and laugh with him about his life adventures. We laughed, we cried, we remembered.
We wished we lived in the same town in Viet Nam. We visited each other’s homes and travelled together to Ha Noi to meet Chuck Searcy. As I write this story it’s been 55 days we spent together during this difficult time. We were given this gift of friendship. The time to really find out about each other. We pass through life and we don’t know the intimate struggles one carries. Michael has an amazing memory for events in his life. A fellow Irish storyteller.
One night I walked into his room dancing with my iPad playing a song by Ramsey Lewis, ‘In Crowd’. He got out of bed and danced in his underwear. We danced together as Lan filmed us. We had great fun. We laughed for hours as Lan kept replaying it. He said he wanted to show his loved ones and friends he could still have fun. When we are together we bring a big bag of silly to the table.
I will miss his playfulness, the sparkle in his eye and his smile.
Don’t say goodbye. Say, “See you again, my brother.”
Mark A. Ashwill, PhD, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Capstone Vietnam, writes on his blog:
A life well lived
I received a very sad but not totally unexpected message last night from my friend, Chuck Searcy [also interviewed in Pankaja’s film], informing me and many others that Mike had died at 8:50 EST (8:50 p.m. Viet Nam time) of pancreatic cancer, after slipping into a coma almost four hours earlier. Here’s what Chuck wrote, which best sums up the kind of person Mike was and what many of us will remember about him:
Mike’s gentle spirit, his kindness that gave way to moments of indignation and anger when he saw injustices, and his good humor and contagious laugh will comfort us as warm memories of a good friend, a Viet Nam veteran who gave much back to Viet Nam over the past two decades.
I remember meeting Mike for the first time on a beautiful sunny day in Nha Trang, where he lived and worked. I was wearing a New York Yankees cap, not because I’m a fan but because I needed a hat. A New England guy, Mike was a loyal fan of the Boston Red Sox, archrival and mortal enemy of the Yankees. His first comment after “Hi, great to meet you!” was about my cap. I assured him that it was only to protect my follicly-challenged head from the tropical sun, not a display of team loyalty.
I enjoyed hearing and reading – since most of our contact was via email and Facebook – his comments about important issues of the day and from the past. One of the things we had in common was our love of and respect for Viet Nam. Another one was what Chuck referred to as kindness giving way to moments of indignation and anger when we saw injustices. Mike was a soul mate in that respect. I will miss his passion and honest feedback.
It seems as if many of my US expat friends, few in number, are veterans of the American War in Viet Nam who have returned to Viet Nam to do penance, so to speak. I counted Mike among them.
Life goes on and people like Mike Cull inspire us to be grateful for each and every day and to keep our eyes on the prize of what’s truly important in this exceedingly short journey we call life.
My heartfelt condolences to Lan, Mike’s Vietnamese and US families, and his many friends in Viet Nam, the US, and around the world.
Mark A. Ashwill
Related article from 2010 in Osho News
Osho in Vietnam’s book shops – Thanks to Shakyamuni and Mr. Viet, Osho’s books are best sellers in Vietnam
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So sorry to hear about Shakyamuni. I have little to add to the details of his life. In my knowing him, he really never failed to bring a sense of reality and genuineness – is that a word? Another friend who when thinking about him, left me with a warm feeling and gratitude that he had been in my life. The latest was recently when returning from India and at a loose end, he invited me to Vietnam. Just such openness and support after eons of time. Even on his last trip to the hospital, he was offering to be available to my Vietnam vet brother! Helluva a guy. I’m gonna miss him.
I was afraid to leave Michael the last night he was alive. He was really struggling with pain in his body. Hoping and praying he would still be here in the morning. I finally went to bed. In the morning he was in a coma. At least he was not showing any signs of pain. So I meditated with him. For more than hour. Telling him in my mind it was okay. You are safe. You can leave. Your job is finished. Lan and I are here. Lan got up from the bed and went to the bathroom. I felt a strong feeling inside of me and I looked up at him. I could see he was not breathing. His heart was still and his breath was not to be found.
I had arranged to have Chokyi, a Tibetan nun, do a Prayer service when he died. She had visited him three times before. We talked in the car as I drove her to see Michael. She said some people hang around the body as they are not able to leave. When she saw him she knew. He did not hang around at all. I joked he flew right over my head on his way out. Maybe that’s what I felt. I felt him buzz me. He suffered so much and he was practising going and coming for the last few weeks. So when the light turned green and his wife was gone he did not hesitate. He gave me that special gift. It was his thanks to me for helping him. To be there at that precious moment when he became totally free. He became as free as he was the day he was born. During birth and death he went through the tunnel and loved ones were waiting for him in the light.
When my mom passed she exhaled her last breath on my face after I heard her death rattle in her throat. The night my dad died I was the last one to be with him. He died 30 minutes after I left.
Early in life I was surrounded by the dead and the dying during the war. It was too much for my mind and heart to accept. Death was wrapped in fear for me. Would I survive thirteen months, this day, this minute? Michael taught me another way. He showed me that death can be beautiful. Death is coming for us all. We don’t know when or how. Michael was able to die the way he lived his life. With big love. He loved and touched so many people and he was able to rally from his pain and weakness and talk to an old friend. He would cry. He would fall asleep with phone in his hand after he finished talking. Michael expressed great joy at reconnecting with people from high school and college and later years.
With Michael I was his sherpa carrying his bags to the top of the mountain. They were heavy. His pain, his cancer eating away at his body. Michael would ask John, his hospice nurse, How much more time? When you are born you are naked but life brings the baggage which weighs you down and takes some of your freedom. Your freedom to be you. The top of the mountain was his runway. Waiting for his flight to be called. Everyone has their appointment to depart but the date and time is blank. Right this way, Michael Cull, you are right on,