Passages – A Few Words About Asem

Died – Asem, Abdel Hamed Mohamed Asem El Nashar, Husband of Elisabeth Crouzet

Our Vajra sister, Elisabeth Crouzet, lost her beloved husband, Asem, who died in hospital on Wednesday morning, 22 February 2023, at 4 am. He was an active member in the Dzogchen Community in the early years of the Community, creating the newspaper “The Mirror” after meeting Chögyal Namkhai Norbu in 1986. 

Elisabeth recalls that Asem met Chögyal Namkhai Norbu at a retreat in Greece in December 1986 where he also met Elisabeth. Although Asem had a Muslim upbringing, he was very respectful of others and their beliefs.

In December 1989 Asem came to Merigar and after just a few days presented his idea of creating a newspaper for the Dzogchen Community to Rinpoche. When the layout had been finished and the very first issue of The Mirror was ready for printing, Asem and Elisabeth went to Naples to show Rinpoche and get his approval in order to go ahead. Rinpoche wasn’t able to see them but on the phone he asked if they thought it looked good. Asem replied that it was okay for him and Rinpoche said, “Okay. That’s fine. You can print it!” He had such faith in Asem and all those working with him!

The first issue of The Mirror appeared in March 1990 and for the early issues of The Mirror Asem worked with Raimondo Bultrini, John Shane, Christiana De Falco and many others. In those early years of producing the newspaper, The Mirror was produced in the office next to what is now the Mandala Hall, where Rinpoche was starting to set down and teach the Dance of the Vajra. 

In his later years Asem and Elisabeth lived in the countryside in France. 

A Few Words About Asem by John Shane 

I always found Assem to be a true gentleman in the original sense of the English expression: he was both very gentle and very honorable. 

First issue of The Mirror, March 1, 1990

When Merigar was still in its formative stages and the facilities we take for granted today were not there, he provided an invaluable service to the Community when he brought his considerable talents and experience as a newspaperman to bear on the project of starting to produce – on a remote mountainside in rural Italy – a regular printed newspaper that would carry information about Rinpoche’s activities, transcriptions of his teachings, reports on retreats, and personal stories, that would be mailed out around the world from the local Post Office.

Like many others in the Community, I had skills as a writer which enabled me to serve as one of the original editors, editing and translating Rinpoche’s teachings, and producing my own articles for the paper, but without Asem’s organizational skills and what we can call his ‘diplomatic subtlety’, ‘The Mirror’ newspaper project would never have got off the ground, and, even if it had got started, without him it would not have continued.

There were many obstacles of different types that the project had to overcome, and Asem’s warm and friendly presence, his flexible intelligence, his patience, and his ability to cheerfully persevere when others might have given up made all the difference between the success and failure of what we were trying to do together. 

He was very good at something that Rinpoche was always asking us all to do, but which was present in many of us more rarely than one might have hoped: collaborating. When it was his moment to lead, he led by example. When it was his moment to follow, he followed with good grace.

Asem had behind him in his life a history of considerable professional accomplishments, but he was always modest and never arrogant. 

His wonderful sense of humor that made him such fun both to work with and to hang out with, gave him the ability to joke about everything, including – dare I say it? – himself and his appearance.

All these years later I still remember the way he used to introduce himself to my young daughter Jessie and her English-speaking friends when they came into ‘The Mirror’ office.

He would see the children come to the door, and then he would point to his face and say, in English, ‘I am mouse…!!’ 

The little girls and boys would laugh, and say ‘No..!! You’re not…!! You’re not…!! You’re Asem..!’

But then Asem would point to his face again and wriggle his mustache so that it jumped up and down under his nose, as he called out, ‘Mouse..!! Mouse.!! You see, I am mouse…!! Mouse…!! Mouse-tache….!!’.

As you can imagine, I’m sure, the repetition of this game that he delighted so much in playing would always produce more and more laughter in the room.

Somehow, with his kindness good humor, Asem generated among the early team of ‘The Mirror’ a sense that all the difficult things we were going to have to face to create a newspaper with the very minimal resources and equipment that we had available to us at the time were a game that we would be able to easily and gracefully accomplish – if we only dared to imagine the outcome we wanted to achieve and then gave it our best shot. 

Asem might have joked to the ‘Bambini di Merigar’ in those early days of the Gar that his mouse-tache resembled a mouse, but in the way that he lived he was really more like a friendly lion – fearless and ready to take on any challenge, yes – but also always kind and loving towards all around him.

Signs, it seems to me, if I may be permitted to say so, of both his naturally good nature and of the positive results of his understanding of the teachings that he received from Norbu Rinpoche.

Asem by Raimondo Bultrini, former Director of The Mirror

Special supplement on the occasion of the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, 1990.

At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, Catholic Italy had just begun to experience the flow of migrants from the south and east and, at almost every social level,  people were still wary of those who were different from themselves. Even in the Dzogchen Community it wasn’t usual to meet practitioners of non-Caucasian ethnic groups, obviously not due to deliberate exclusion, but I believe that Asem was the first Arabic speaking Vajra brother to come to Merigar. Born Abdel Hamed Mohamed Asem El Nashar, he had followed his French companion, Elisabeth, who had moved to Italy some time earlier to follow our Teacher and his teachings, and together they continued a spiritual journey that has always found them committed to supporting the sangha in any way possible.

As happened in the rest of Italian society with the difficult but beneficial integration of the newcomers, the contribution of foreigners to the Merigar Dzogchen Community was crucial in establishing what has become, today, a worldwide network in continual interaction, also thanks to the media (today digital), such as The Mirror, social networks and Norbunet messaging. It was at the beginning of this process that Asem’s initiative and creativity helped plant and nurture a seed that has proven to be resistant to the obstacles encountered along the way. Asem directly proposed the creation of The Mirror to Rinpoche and the Master immediately understood its potential as a tool for communication and deepening the teachings and for exchanging the experiences of individuals and the Gars themselves.

Three decades later, even though the details escape me, I can still vividly remember the enthusiasm with which Asem tried to convince us all of the importance of communication, without frontiers, between centers and practitioners. I recall that at that time there was no Internet and the first issues of The Mirror – as was already the case in Italy with the Merigar Letter – had to be sent around the world at a high cost. But that wasn’t the only obstacle. Even if in principle we all agreed with Asem on the need to communicate among us practitioners from many countries, the costs were small compared to the challenge of writing, having others write, the layout, printing and distribution.

If The Mirror, from paper to its digital form, is still alive and read on different continents, much is due to the energy and intelligence of Asem, supported at every step by Elisabeth and other practitioners who then created the complex organizational structure of a newspaper.

My heartfelt condolences go to Elizabeth Crouzet, united in the memory of many happy days and evenings spent together with dear Asem.

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