The Blind Man (me)
the Elephant (Everything else and 'me')
"The universe is made of stories, not atoms."
The story of the 'Blind Man and the Elephant', was told by the Buddha.
He had been asked by one of his disciples, how to understand the
many monks and pundits of that time
who were presenting differing views of reality and the path to liberation.
Buddha replied with this story:
A king gathered together several blind men who are then led into a room with an elephant.
Each of them was placed near a different part of the elephant (head, leg, side, ear, trunk, tail and tuft of the tail)
and proceeded to familiarize himself with it.
When the king asked them to describe the elephant, each blind man presented a different description
and they all ended up arguing amongst themselves.
Not one of them really knew the elephant.
I too have inspected the elephant, and I too am blind,
Blinded by my experience
Blinded by my prejudice and 'point of view'
Blinded by the limitations of any consideration of cause and effect
I consider life on an insufficient scale
Focused on either large or small
I am blinded by an inability to see many patterns and happenings
I am blinded by the failure to transcend or be free of what I have already experienced
The dirt of all my past experiences clouds my vision
I am ruined by point of view
The snake is swallowing its tail
I cannot escape from prejudice
Every thing is mixed up
I live in delusion or Maya
(literally-'that which is not')
I see things that are not there and I don't see things that are
I am a man who walks into a dimly lit room
and comes upon a rope that someone has left
lying coiled in the corner
and believes it to be a snake
He runs about and hits his head
becomes troubled and hurt.
He finds other people in a similar state.
Institutions grow up to deal with people suffering like this
Studies are done on suffering and how to help
But it is all based on unreality
this is what is called Maya
I have inspected the elephant and I have read stories about others who have done so as well
Some of the stories I have heard are exquisite
Some are mundane
Some stories seem to agree with what I have felt and seen
Many do not
Some suggest what I sense to be true
Some suggest things I believe are not
While there are many who have had extraordinary experiences
and claim to know what the elephant is
I believe they are only talking about a rarely felt part of the beast
It seems to me that very, very, very, few know
what the Elephant really is
I do believe there is
One who Knows
I have seen and heard many arguments concerning what it's all about
I have learned to recognize many forms of blindness in myself and others
Some are blind and bound in ways that are more gross and obvious
Some of us are restricted in ways refined and subtle
A man can be bound with chains of lead or chains of gold
He is still bound
From the abundance of mistakes I have made
I have come to doubt my own thoughts and feelings
Paradoxically, over time, such 'delusion' has 'improved' my knowledge
Now, I know a littel mor about the tail and the trunk or the leg and the head
Experience is endless
I continue to be blind
What to do?
I am reminded of the old Jewish proverb:
"If you study history you lose an eye. If you don't study history, you lose both eyes"
As I grow older,
I feel both desire and obligation to share my experiences with others
I feel an obligation to retell the stories that have been valuable to me
to tell my own 'tales' of the elephant
Because I have begun to tell stories
because people may attribute some sort of wisdom to me
based on age or experience,
I begin with an 'Apology'
For the 'reasons' offered here
I like to call myself a 'storyteller'
and not a 'teacher'
Here are some stories that I remember
Some have given me insight into how things may be
or how they may work
and some even claim to hint at what the elephant is
I say again
I am a blind man
my story must fall short
I apologize for anything that was not done right or told about in full
or just plain wrong
I cannot describe the thing itself
While I sense that there is something here
some Mystery or Wonder
I don't know what it is
I don't know who I am
I do not know the elephant
My Story. . . . .
"A mirror in the hand of a dead man"
According to my mother, my very first words were, "Read, Read. Go, Go" My first spoken desire was to hear a story. . .
To even know myself, I tell a story. Sometimes, it seems I am a 'person' without existence, except for the stories that I tell others or have myself been told. Without these stories, I seem to live without much memory for most things. I have, as regards the past, been concerned with my lack of memory, which extended even to my own youth. Sometimes, I thought there might have been some trauma or accident that caused me to lose the richly varied memories that seemed so available to all of my friends, but now, I believe that this lack of memory has to do with my own way of being present in life. Now, I realize, I was remembering something else. When I realized this, I no longer regretted the quality of my memory. Like any quality. for any boon, there always comes a corresponding weakness and bane.
I was in love with learning from a very young age. All my life, I have been attracted to knowledge and stories. My parents were wonderful, gracious, humorous, loving humanitarians. They were vegetarians. This was before it became common in America. My Mother seemed to be always at the forefront of health issues. She discovered and taught our family the relationship between what we eat and our health. She loved animals and did not feel it was right to eat them. She made our household vegetarian. She did not trust the Western medical approach to disease and taught me to remove the cause instead of just suppressing the symptoms. She read the books of Herbert Shelton on fasting and Natural Hygiene and Ann Wigmore and passed them on to me. She met them and becames friends with them. When I was young, we went from being vegetarians who don't eat meat, to Natural Hygienists who eat almost all raw foods. My Mother gave up most cooking. I liked being vegetarian for ethical reasons, but, I did not like eating mainly raw foods. For a long time I objected to it. I wished I had a Mother who was a great cook of hot meals and I would enthusiastically take up any offer of dinner from my friends at their house. But, my Mother loved me dearly and I knew it. I often told a Jewish joke to describe that love: "Do you know how you can tell that Jesus was Jewish? Well, he lived at home till he was thirty, he worked in his Fathers profession and his mother thought he was God."
Norman and Marjorie Malakoff
My Father was an idealist and a humorous, disciplined and loving man. It was a rare combination of qualities. He had a hardware store in Washington DC with his brother Leon. He loved mountains, rivers, caves and being in the wilderness. Whenever we could, we went out together into the great outdoors. He would take me hiking or rock climbing or canoeing several times a month. I respected him for his kindness to all beings. I loved to go into 'nature' with him. We were both challenged by wilderness and he was great fun to be around. I respected that I could not get him to give me what I wanted, like I could my Mother.
Like so many Jewish Mothers have been over the centuries, she would give her son almost anything. Sometimes, I would take butter out of the refrigerator and literally 'butter her up', playing, yet pleading for something that I desired. Even though we both knew that this 'buttering' was ridiculous and 'crazy', it still would often 'work' as she laughed and poured out her love upon me. But, if I took advantage of my mother in this way, my Father made sure that did not happen often. If he learned of any of my attempts to get out of some real 'job' or chore, he purposefully obligated me to even more work and placed restrictions on my freedom. I had to cut the lawn, change the storm windows, trim the bushes, rake the leaves, make my bed, wash the dishes, clean the car and many more things to help out around the house. He made sure that I did not slack off in any way. I would complain that other kids did not have to do all this. His reply, always given with a laugh, was, "They should be so lucky". My parents were a natural, 'two man' con. My Mother was always on my side and played the loving supportive role. My Father was the 'heavy' and he came down hard and principled, making sure that I honored the law and the right way to do things. As I grew up and entered adolescence, my Father would take me to learn lessons that were distinctly 'masculine', for a man or a woman. The one I remember most is rock-climbing.
One of the places we would visit on the weekends, were the sheer rock cliffs at Carderock, Maryland on the Potomac River. They stood about 75-100ft high and were used for climbing practice by many in the Washington DC area. Some of the men who went there were professional mountaineers who had climbed in the great peaks in the Himalayas. When I watched these incredibly fit and agile men climb rocks, I would be doubly inspired, as I would place myself in their shoes and imagine the great vistas they had seen, exotic people and distant cultures they had visited.
What I most remember, was learning to rapell off the top of a cliff. Rapelling involved walking backwards off the edge of a cliff using a rope anchored to a tree or rock at the top of the cliff. A person stepped up to the rope at the top of the cliff straddled the rope and passed it around their back and up over their shoulder. Your own grip on the rope was all that kept you from falling to the ground. While most climbers simply, walked off the edge and down the cliff face, the more experienced climbers would leap off the top of the cliff and in two or three long jumps be on the ground. The rope would start zipping around their bodies and through their hands as they kicked back off the face of the cliff. They just leaned out and jumped backwards, directly off the cliff and out into space. Then, by skillful application of pressure on the rope, they would bring themselves rapidly and safely back to the cliff wall, where they would kick out and off into space again. The first time I saw this, I wanted to learn how to do it myself.
Like many things, it was easy to see and imagine, but, it was very difficult to do, especially, the first time. The main thing I had to overcome was the self-preserving, bodily urge to stand up and be in control, instead of lean out and back and surrender.
Every time I started to lean out from the cliff, everything in my being told me 'not to lean back, but, to stand up and bring my feet underneath me'. But, the older men and my Father kept telling me, to "Lean back, perpendicular off the rock face". This went against all my instincts. The first time I tried it, they had me on a extra belay or controlled rope from above, controlled by my Father. As I went over the edge of the cliff, I quickly grew afraid and following my 'gut feelings'- I stood up. drawing my feet underneath me and did not lean out far enough. My feet then quickly slipped as you cannot stand upright on a sheer cliff and this slammed me back into the rock wall, where I smacked my face. The 'smacking' was because I was unable to lift my hands. They had to keep hold of the rope to keep me from falling. Immediately, I saw clearly that I had to do something different. Over time, I learned to do it well and effortlessly.
Looking back, I developed the ability to trust in something that did not feel right. But, I needed to learn to go against my gut feelings. I needed to ignore what I felt and intentionally and skillfully do something else. I suggest that this type of learning and wisdom is the principle of 'masculine' knowledge. It was what I learned from my Father and the world of men. It was not that my Father was not a feeling and loving man. He most definitely was. But, he knew, by experience, 'secret' principles of life, that my Mother never taught me. He had already learned the thing. As a man, he knew that you could not always go with your 'gut'. He knew, that to do so in some circumstances, would bring one into great danger. I first learned this in rock climbing and rapelling. It has stayed with me all my life. It was my Father who taught me, to sometimes go against what I was feeling. For that I am eternally grateful.
My parents pulled off my upbringing with a clearly communicated underlying message that I was loved, respected and honored. I grew up simply happy. As far as I knew, everything was fine at home, giving me the wonderful freedom to throw myself into an enthusiastic exploration of the world around me. I did not worry about food or money or love. I grew up naively thinking that everyone else had the same environment and a similar experience with their own family. I took a happy home life for granted. Later, as I grew older and when I went out into the world and began to meet and see other people and families, I saw just how rare this was.
When I was in junior high school, all the boys were wearing their pants tight and about 4-5 inches above their shoes. I wanted to fit in and begged my parents to buy pants like that for me. My Mother thought that I should be able to buy these new tight clothes, but, my Father would not approve of me buying new pants. Although he had sympathy for what I felt, he would not budge. His reasoning- it was a waste of money. He insisted that I wear his baggy 1940's loose, pleated, long, cuffed pants. I was tall and they 'sort of' fit with a belt that held them tight at the waist. When I wore them, I was teased mercilessly by my peers at school. After a few months of this, a good friend and I decided to steal pants (for me) from the local Macys in Silver Springs, Maryland. We went into the store and I tried on the tight pants. Then I put on my baggy pants that I had come in with, over the tight ones. I was stopped on the way out the door of the store by security and taken back into an office deep within the store. I knew what was going on. I felt terrible. I immediately confessed to stealing the pants and they called my parents instead of the police.
My Mother came to pick me up as my father was at work. She was upset, filled with dissaproval of what I had done, but, she loved me more than she could overcome. She was worried about how I felt. My Father treated me differently. He wasn't worried about what I felt. He was concerned with what I did not feel. To him, that lack of feeling was what allowed me to do what I had done. I remember when he came home that night, he did not speak to me and I was not invited downstairs for dinner. Then, he did not speak to me for almost a week. He just ignored me. It was the very worst 'punishment' I ever had from him. One night, after he came home from work, before dinner was served, I went up to him and apologized for the whole thing. I told him I was sorry for stealing the pants and for going against the clear moral guidelines he had given me. I told him that I would never do that again. He accepted my apology with a nod, smiled at me and said "Lets go to dinner". That evening, he talked to me as if nothing had ever happened.He never referred to the incident, itself again. He had made his point deep inside me and he had let me make it for him. It was all that I needed to 'hear'. My Father knew, that I knew, it was 'wrong' and that there was nothing more to say about it. The 'point' needed to be felt for a while, so that I would suffer fully what it felt like to transgress the moral laws of life. He did not let anything else obscure that feeling.
I used to jokingly refer to my parents as 'Mother Theresa' and 'Mahatma Gandhi'. They were actively involved in political, social and environmental causes. I used to ask my Father 'whether he believed in God'. He told me that it did not matter whether a person believed in God or not. What mattered is what people did. Like Gandhi, who said, 'he did not know any religion apart from human activity'. My parents walked the walk of good and honorable people. As a family, we were all involved in the civil rights movement and later in the civil rights protests and against the Vietnam war. My parents fought the passage of a freeway through our neighborhood. They cared about all people and sought in many ways to help them. It was their religion. As their son, I was proud of them and respected them for their efforts on behalf of the 'greater good for all'. They fought for the rights of every man and woman and they were humanists first and foremost. They recognized the importance of a young person being exposed to the history of ideas and different cultures. They were dissappointed with religious people and institutions, mainly because most of them did not practice what they knnew to be right or what they 'preached'. Both of them saw no need for the 'idea' of God. Their 'idea' of religion was humanism, centered around people and the world and fulfilled by the expressed love of humans towards each other, all beings and all of nature. We did not go to synagogue, instead, they sent me to the Ethical Culture Society in Washington DC on Sundays. There, I heard and read about the great moral heroes of the world and the ideals they fought for. There, the 'religious' actions of all these men and women were considered primarily from a moral and ethical point of view.
My Father would pick up every hitchiker he saw on the road. Even if our car was crowded and the new hitch-hiker looked dirty or unkempt. Even if the guy was a drunk. Even if the car was already full of other hitchikers, which happened on several occasions. When this happened, my Mother (and sometimes the other hitch-hikers) would protest to my Dad. She would say, always quietly in a hushed tone, that 'the man was dirty or looked unkempt', or, the other hitchikers would say that "He doesn't look like a 'good' person and its kind of crowded in here", but, my father would always say, 'The man needs a ride and it is our obligation to give him one'. I have to admit it, most of time, my father was right about the person needing a ride and they usually turned out to be a good and very interesting person.
In spite of herself, my Mother really had the same qualities as my father-a deep rooted tendency to help and serve and heal others. One day, when I had just started hitchiking myself, my Mother was driving me down a road outside of Washington to let me off on my way to somewhere else. She was telling me that she would not pick up hitch-hikers, like my Father, 'as you never knew what kind of people they could be.' We came up to a stop light, where there was a young couple, fresh faced and smiling, standing there, looking at us with their thumbs out. My Mother fell silent and increasingly uncomfortable as she tried to ignore the situation, but then, she finally said, "Well, they look like good people" and she beckoned them to get in, to my great delight.
Although my parents were good people, sometimes the things they did for altruistic reasons, went wrong. People sometimes abused their generosity and even stole from them. Although they were good hearted and well-intentioned, they still suffered. I saw this in their emotions. They were hurt when people tried to take advantage of them and they would hurt each other in their occasional arguments. Their arguments almost always centered around the application of their idealism to everyday life. My Father always wanted to do more and my Mother would always worry about the possible harmful effects of those actions. He was a extrovert and his answer to almost anything was 'Yes, Lets try it'. The exception to that was 'me' when I was growing up. My mother was an introvert and her answer to everything was 'No, lets think about it first'. The exception to that was 'me' as well. My mother saw my father as out of touch with how people really were. He saw her as 'stuck' and unwilling to take a chance and do the right thing. This is not to say that they did not do a lot for others. They did. But, if it was up to my father, alone, they would of done a lot more and if it was up to my mother, we would of been far more conservative. I loved their differences and thought they were great for each other.
Starting in my teens, I began to see and feel the 'dead end' in my parents approach to life. As I grew older, I began to sense this same 'dead end' in all idealism(s), not just theirs. As a young boy, I saw clearly that all idealism would ultimately reach a crisis in some sort of dilemma, a choice between equally untenable alternatives, like 'Sophies Choice', when a Mother is given a choice between sacrificing one of her children to the gas chamber or if she could not choose just one, the sadistic German guard would kill both of them. She was given this 'choice' and told to decide right away. What could she possible do? Clearly, any choice or action would be insufficient and 'wrong'. I believe that my experience of growing up in such a benign, life positive and loving environment, filled with positive idealism, helped me to see this 'dead end' at a relatively young age. (For a story on IDEALISM click here)
Because of this, I did not seek to be a 'better person' than my Mother or a 'better man' than my Father. They were already both 'good' people. I was driven to find out and experience something they did not know or feel. I believed, that based on what they knew and experienced, they were doing the very best a person could do. I wanted to find a way out of these dead ends of idealism. Although this was something I did not understand clearly and which had no shape or form. It became, over time, the fuel of my attraction to the great 'transcendental' religions such as Advaita Vedanta or Buddhism- It was because these wisdom traditions recognized the 'dead ends' of idealism and offered a path beyond both good and bad and right versus wrong, that they seemed to offer a path beyond the dilemma of my youth.
As for my 'deeply felt' personal memory, my life begins one night alone, in a room in my house on Holly Avenue, in Takoma Park, Maryland, on the outskirts of Washington D.C. It was 1968 and I was 16 years old. We had a beautiful house, built of brick and three stories high, including the basement. It was surrounded by very large Maple Trees. The upstairs area of the house was paneled in Knotty pine which held the space in a warm, rich yellow glow. My parents bedroom was downstairs and I had the upstairs all to myself. I liked to keep the windows open all the time, spring, summer, fall and even on the cold snowy nights of winter. I loved to smell and breathe both the day and the night. As I have already mentioned, I loved books and stories since I was a child. Our home was filled with a wide variety of books. Every night I would take a book, go upstairs after dinner and read. I would light candles and sit on a large cushioned chair and feel into the wonderful space of being alone with my selected books spread out before me on the floor and shelves, each of them offering interesting worldviews of other people, cultures, religions, mountains and valleys.
"How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book.
The book exists for us, perchance, which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones."
During this time, on many occasions, while reading, especially when it grew late, I would have the experience of drifting out of my body. I would float up to the ceiling and look down on my body sitting in the chair below. This disembodied state was strange, enjoyable, pleasant and brief, nothing more. On this night, however, I was reading a special book that set forth what I now believe was to become the archetypal theme of my life: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.
I had read the book in one sitting, beginning at eight in the evening and staying up past one in the morning to finish it. After I finished, I sat quietly and felt the early morning stillness with its enchanting ringing of silence. Then, all of a sudden, the space above my head opened and pictures of India began to pour down over me . . . Visions of the face of a holy man, visions of a cave and foreign peoples, visions of another culture, faint, but nonetheless, distinctly Indian, Hindu. It seemed like my past karma and my future destiny all wrapped up into one. This visionary experience coincided with the beginning of my life as a 'conscious' person, for it was at this moment that I 'woke up' to myself as a separate individual.
I felt great happiness, a happiness which was without cause and cultured by a life far beyond the one I knew. At the same time, I had a 'fore' feeling of my destiny, which was flavored by my youthful appreciation of the story of Siddhartha, This was my story, this was my life. There was a sense of awakening that coincided with a recognition of 'purpose'. It was the awakening of individuality. It was the beginning of my life as a 'story' that 'I' would participate in. It was a story that now made 'sense' in a way that there was no 'sense' before. The verbs of my life and the adjectives had found a noun. I had found a story that remembered 'me'.
Recently, I discovered that Carl Jung, in his biography, mentioned a similar 'awakening' he had at the age of 12.
“I was taking the long road to school from Klein-Hungen, where we lived, to Basel, when suddenly, for a single moment, I had the overwhelming impression of having just emerged from a dense cloud. I knew all at once: Now I am myself! It was as if a wall of mist were at my back, and behind that wall there was not yet an ‘I’. But at this moment I came upon myself! Previously I had existed too, but everything had merely happened to me. Now, I happened to myself. Now I knew: I am myself now: now I exist. Previously I had been willed to do this and that: Now, I willed. This experience seemed to me tremendously important and new."
My Teacher, Adida Samraj, has pointed out, that who or what we identify with, referring to our ego or the so-called 'gross' individual is not a 'reincarnate'. It has a Mother and Father, uncles, aunts, grandparents and a cultural lineage and looks and acts a certain way, but, who we identify with in this life, our ego, is not a reincarnate. Rather, he said, it is only the 'causal' being or the 'deeper personality' that reincarnates. This 'deeper personality' shows itself in tendencies and tastes, in destiny and occurrences that can lie outside the learned inclinations of the personality that can be accounted for in this life. For instance, unlike myself, my parents were not at all interested in Eastern religions, India, meditation or Liberation. They had no impulse to find a spiritual master, one who really knew and had realized what or who God and Life was. My Father often said, "God was irrevelant. What mattered is what people did". To me, somehow, the word-'God' and all that was associated with that word, seemed to matter and be of great importance.
I have come to believe that it is my 'deeper personality' that I woke up to that night. That is what gave me a taste of the larger story I had been living for many lifetimes, as well as the thread of what I was purposed to live in this one. Even though this experience would fade in intensity rather quickly, here and there, over the course of my life, this 'deeper personality has functioned as a guardian angel, a guiding star, a light in the darkness and a compass. It is only over time, looking backwards that I have 'put together' what my deeper personality seems to be, from intuitions and stories, myths and teachings that I have read and heard. I found an 'image' of who I am in such things. How else could one understand such a thing? If we did not know who our parents are, although we would be aware of ourselves, we would not know the 'hidden' roots of our born tendencies and qualities. We would take our qualities as all our own, not the result of genetic inheritance. It is the same with the deeper personality except that the genetic inheritance extends far beyond this lifetime. Like any story or dream, the 'deeper personality' takes hearing, deep study and most of all, much living and experience, to appreciate and understand.
I believe it is the deeper personality that is at the root of the many synchronicities in my life. It seems to be responsible for much of why I went the way I went, met who I met and did what I did. It has given me my deepest ability to evaluate and understand any and everything. When identified only with the world I was born into, the suburban America of the 20th century, I had no full or satisfying sense of what life was about. I did not have a story to make any satisfying sense of what I was experiencing. It is the deeper personality that gives my life 'meaning'.
Finally, as Adida has pointed out, the deeper personality is not something that is necessary to experience. It does not represent anything especially Divine or great. It represents only more of the (limited) mind or psyche, not the transcendence of mind or the awakening to Liberation beyond it. Although the deeper personality is larger and greater and older than the mind and circumstances of this life, it is still, if if one identifies with it or is sensitive to it, limited and limiting, deluded and deluding. It has the same 'problems' that exist when one identifies with the more superficial mind and personality of our everyday life. Still, whatever it was or is, I mark this event as the beginning of my life.
Waking Up and Leaving Home (1968)
With this new experience of 'personality', I was suddenly 'grown up' and now sensed a direction in my life, even if I could not define it clearly. As I came down out of this visionary experience, I felt it time to strike out on my own. I was no longer interested in the wonderful and protected life given to me by my parents. I was done living at home. I wrote a short letter to my Mother and Father, telling them not to worry, thanking them for everything they had done for me and saying that I loved them. I packed a knapsack with a sleeping bag, tent and clothes. Then, I went downstairs and without waking anybody up, left my house quietly. As I went out into the night I looked up into a clear sky bursting with stars. My feeling flooded out amongst them. I was filled with a most wonderful sense of adventure and struck with the realization that there was no end to the universe.
A month before this happened, I had been arrested. I was in the 12th grade at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Springs, Maryland. There was a war going on in Vietnam and the United States seemed to be the cause and propagator of it. The whole idea of this war seemed wrong to me. I could not figure out what it was about, but, I was very disturbed by the terrible violence being done to people. I could see it on TV- Vietnam was the first televised war.
Our student grapevine had brought news of an International Student Strike against the Vietnam war to be held at schools and Universities around the world. I was thrilled at the chance to participate. One of our teachers had discussed the protest in a Social Studies course and had asked the class our thoughts and feelings on the subject. Without any planning, I voiced an idea that would change the course of my life- I said that I was going to Napalm a dog in front of the school on the International Strike Day.
People love dogs. I loved dogs. I experienced dogs as noble, intelligent, emotionally sensitive and helpful friends. I knew that people would get upset about the dog-burning, that was the point.
I was trying to bring attention to the horrible use of napalm on the people of Vietnam. I felt that the harming of so many innocent people was terribly wrong, I felt that the Vietnam war was wrong and that I wanted to do something to stop it. I believed that if I threatened to do this, there would be a hue and cry from everybody who heard of it. I was right. My words took off like a wildfire, the voicing of my idea was the spark. It was an idea whose time had come.
As soon as I said it, there was an immediate uproar in my own classroom and everybody quickly took sides. The long-hair, liberal types, who were not vegetarians, sided with me while the greaser-redneck kids made it clear that my life was seriously in danger if I ever tried anything like that. The liberal, animal loving vegetarians were in a dilemma. They understood the paradox, felt the dilemma and voiced their concern for the dog. The bell sounded, only barely audible over the loud and passionate voices in our classroom.
The next day, the rumor of the dog-burning was all over the school. Before the first class, a group of redneck kids threatened me with bodily harm. I was supported by my closest friends and a loud argument ensued. In the middle of the morning, a message came to my teacher from the principal, asking me to report to his office. When I did so, he asked me if this whole idea of 'burning a dog' was true. I replied that it was. He asked me if 'I knew what I was doing' and I replied that 'I felt it was an important statement to make against the war'. He told me that he was going to suspend me and anybody else involved in the matter from school. He said that he would call my parents and asked me to leave the school immediately.
At home that evening, I basked in the support of my Father and the loving worry of my Jewish Mother, (although she also supported me). As I have said, my parents were very involved with humanitarian causes from civil rights to the environment and had been very involved in protesting the war. For instance, my father had refused to pay that portion of his taxes that he had figured that would go towards the Vietnam war. The IRS had posted a sign on our lawn saying that our property had been seized. My Father then put his own sign next to it. The Washington Post then photographed the two signs side by side and published it. A day later the IRS came and took their sign away. My parents were people who lived the life of those who cared and who acted on their feelings. They did not know whether God existed or not but they did know they wanted to make the world a better place.They were social activists and I was lucky to have them as my supporters. Over the next few days, we received several threatening phone calls from unknown sources. A police car was parked 24hours a day outside our house for our protection. I was unable to contact the kids who I knew were sympathetic with me as their parents would not allow it and guarded the phones. My Father was relaxed, proud and supportive, my Mother only became more and more worried.
By the end of the week, several people had written letters to the Washington Post, protesting the dog burning. Even the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals spoke out. All this was what I had hoped for. On the morning of the International Student Strike Day, in spite of expulsion from school and the 24hr round the clock police watch at my house, I showed up at my high school. I was dressed all in black and carrying a placard that read, “NAPALM A DOG? IT IS BEING DONE TO PEOPLE EVERY DAY!” Many people had turned out to see the ‘burning of the dog’. I had been driven to school by my Mother, followed by two police cars. We stopped a block away and I told her not to worry and stepped out of our car with my sign. As I proceeded to walk towards the school grounds, the way was cleared for me by several police through the thickening crowd of people. As soon as I stepped onto school property, I was immediately arrested, handcuffed, thrown into a patrol car and taken to a police station where I was subsequently charged with inciting a riot (some rowdiness did erupt on the part of others), trespassing and breach of peace. Nothing ever became of the charges and I never went back to high school again. I later learned that my FBI file had started from that time.
Anti-Vietnam War Demonstration
Without school to take up my time, I stayed at home and read voraciously. In this way, I came to read Siddhartha and by that seeming slip of fate 'awoke' to myself. I quickly stood up and plunged into the river of Life that was flowing by. I was carried away quickly.
When I left home that evening and began to walk down the early morning streets, I was filled with a great happiness and an enthusiastic anticipation of what was to come. I had cut loose from everything I knew. I felt utterly free and full of adventure. I waved to the few people driving about in that early morning hour in their cars. Very few waved back. I noticed this lack of response and felt that people were distracted and depressed by unhappiness. They had forgotten to notice the wonder in which we were all appearing, the vast and infinite sky of stars over their heads. How could they feel otherwise? They were not wondering or wandering. It made me feel good about what I was doing. To leave home was right and necessary. No one had any good answers. What else was there to do but wander and explore, to find out on my own whatever it was?
After about an hour of walking in that chill early morning, I got my first ride from a long-haired hippie who was driving all the way to New York City. We were both glad for each others company on the long ride. I was thrilled, being with an adult , as an 'adult' myself. About eight hours later, in the early evening, he dropped me off at Washington Square in Greenwich Village. It was like getting off a boat in a different world. New York City was fascinating. It was a shipwreck of cultures. There was the exuberant abundance of wildly different tribes and peoples. There were hippies on the streets, just like I had seen in magazines and the news. There were kids my age in the parks. 'Things' and 'scenes' were happening. Everything was full of potential. In the midst of it all I could do whatever I wanted, stay out as late as I cared to. I did not even know where I would sleep, but within a few hours had been offered a place to crash. Over the next few days, I hung out on the streets, met people, went to poetry readings, parties, art shows, lectures and met all kinds of eccentrics. I was no longer tethered to the anchor of my parents. These were not calm waters I had entered into. I slept on the sofas and floors of newly found friends, often in incredibly small rooms. I found I could get the leftover bottom rice from the Paradox, a Macrobiotic restaurant. They gave it to me for free when they closed for the evening. Rice and vegetables became the mainstay of my diet. The cooked food was good for me. I was healthy and not worried about anything.
The city was dirty and had many rough edges and hard people. But, my young friends and I were enthused with youth itself and open to whatever would come. Sex was in the air, most of my friends were hunting it, smelling it, talking about it and engaged in it, but, somehow that strong storm which touched almost every young person I knew, blew over me during this time. I tried on several occasions to make something happen, but, I was shy around girls and remained a virgin, distracted by other adventures and things. Many years later I made up for this in spades.
Based on my own limited experiences, like all of my peers, I had very little expectations at this stage of my life. It was a time for trying things, for adventure. I had not yet fallen into irony. Perhaps, I had only expectations, but, I was open to whatever came. I had no daily responsibilities and everyday occurrences of life beckoned to me with the seductive sense of the unknown. I found Weisers, an occult, religious bookstore with its tall stacks of books that held so much recorded tales and wisdom from people beyond my culture, time and experience. The bookstore was like a grand and mysterious church. I would go there in the late morning and spend hours and hours reading stories from the religious traditions of the world, about the God-men, Saints and Siddhas who had experienced these things for themselves. I discovered Rumi, the Conference of the Birds, Hinduism, Yoga, Bhakti, Advaita, Vedanta, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Buddha and Sankara. I read about Edgar Cayce, astrology, The Essene Gospel of Jesus, Saint Seraphim of Russia and prayer. For a few weeks, I chanted daily with the Hare Krishna people. I recognized and loved their music and found their free food extraordinarily delicious. Their bhajans, devotional love of God and surrender of ego struck a deep chord in me and gave me a taste of India and another life.
I had my first girlfriend, a beautiful, tall, slender black girl who was living with older friends and I gave and received my first deep kiss. It was exciting and stirred many things from a life beyond this one. But, I never allowed myself to press for anything more than I was given and she was shy and a girl and did not offer what was not taken. She went on to another young man who knew what he wanted. During that time, I often felt that people who kissed in public were doing something selfish, shutting themselves off from others, enclosing themselves in a small cocoon of selfishness, just those two and no one else. My own first deep and passionate kiss showed me how powerful a feeling for a girl could be, how drunk one could get and I was both thrilled and disturbed by my intoxication. I saw how I had much in common with those I previously found offensive and how easily I could do what I criticized in others. After several months in the city, I began to hear stories about California, the beauty of the West coast, the high Rocky mountains of Colorado and the wide open deserts. As I listened, a great yearning for these places awoke in me. I found another young man who wanted to travel and we left that crowded metropolis and headed west, hitchhiking and train hopping across America.
The first time, we traveled out to California by car. I remember how the countryside changed dramatically once we crossed the Mississippi River and out into Missouri to the vast flat plains of Kansas. We drove on and on for over a day and then began to rise up gradually, passing through Denver and on into the high mountains and snowy passes of Colorado. I looked out at the Rocky mountains, their snow-capped peaks stretching north and south to the horizon as far as the eye could see. Then, cresting the high mountain passes, we descended down onto the western slope of the high desert of Colorado and out into the canyon lands, down past the huge rock outcroppings and dramatic rock monument desert of the the four corners area. This was huge country, filled with stark, vast space and emptiness. These were vistas and visions unlike those ever seen on the east coast. The American West was grand and awe inspiring. We had passed into a scale of nature that dwarfed human beings. It is really always so, after all when we look out into space, we are in the midst of infinity, but here, it seemed as if one could literally 'see' and 'feel' it. I first felt this as a young boy, when my Father took me out into the Appalachian mountains. We went canoeing and rock climbing and I saw animals stalk and kill other animals and would come across half-eaten carcasses and I felt how that could happen to me as well. I saw that nature did not care about me one whit. Nature had no particular interest in any individual. I was awed by that feeling and still am. It seems to hold a bowl of religious truth.
After Utah we passed south through Arizona onto Route 40 and then across the California desert and onto Route 15 as evening fell and the blistering heat of the day cooled off into a pleasantly warm dry night. We had gotten a ride in the back of a pick-up truck and late that night, as we came up over the last pass of the San Benardino Mountains and looked out towards the west, we saw the whole Los Angeles basin, glittering and sparkling in the clear night, looking like someone had dumped a bunch of glowing jewels and stars into a huge bowl. I had never seen so many lights, such a big panorama and it seemed to hold so much mystery. What could all these people possibly be doing there? Later, that evening, when we were left off in that unknown city at night, the first man we met was an old bum. He told us how lucky we were to have each other. "You gotta have somebody to watch your back" , he said. He was the first person who spoke to us in California and his advice was good and still is to this day.
We walked down to the beach in Santa Monica and decided to sleep the rest of the night on the beach. We were lulled to sleep with the waves. We woke up filled with the sun and took our first swim in the Pacific Ocean. I was thrilled to have reached the end of the continent and joyfully embraced the enlivening, cool water of the ocean. We sat on the beach to dry and watch the day grow light and ran the clean white sand through our hands. We were excited to be in LA. We spent some time hitchiking and wandering through the various parts of that city. When we went to Beverly Hills, I found that you could not walk through the neighborhoods. To begin with, where we were, in Beverly Hills, there were no sidewalks. In addition, it was actually illegal to walk in that area. Very quickly, I found I did not like LA very much. Like New York City, it was lacking in wide open spaces and silence, qualities I was already beginning to identify and desire. There were no 'neighborhoods' like I knew on the East coast. It seemed like a huge suburb and the distances to anywhere were great. You needed a car to go everywhere. I wandered down the Sunset Strip after dark and it only made me sad. The people were jazzed up, sexed up, doped up and stressed out. The level of emotions I saw felt like high school all over again. I could not find an emotional, intellectual or religious scene I could sympathize with. There was a mood of sensual indulgence that the 1960's freedom of America could provide and it ran through the streets like rain. Although it always intrigued me, I first began to notice in LA, where that water ran into the gutter.
When I first arrived out on the West coast, whenever I hitchiked, if the car coming was a Volkswagen, I knew I had a ride. At that time, VW's were almost always driven by a hippy or a longhair ' type and I also found that they almost always picked me up. It was not until a few years later on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, that I first experienced people driving a Volkswagen who were mean spirited and selfish, even though they had long hair. That was a real wake-up call for me and I realized that long hair meant 'not a whole lot' and what I was looking for and valuing had nothing to do with hair styles or clothing styles or any style. I never put much stock in long hair or short hair or no hair as a statement after that. I learned that those who drove Volkswagens were not necessarily, friendly people and most of all, people were not always what they looked like, at least on the basis of a superficial glance.
After a month, my friend had to go back to Washington DC and I was on my own. We had hitchiked up to northern California and explored Berkeley, Haight Ashbury and the redwoods. This first time I came to California, I was underage and after a few months of hitchiking up Route 1 to Medocino, hiking Mount Tamalpais and Mount Shasta and a lot of ocean and lake swimming, the winter and rains started to set in. I decided to head south to Laguna Beach. Unable to get a ride straight through, when I came to the LA area again, I slept the night on the beaches of Venice, on the coast of LA. I was rousted, early in the morning by the police. When they found out that I was under the age of 18 and had no legal guardians in the state of California, I was arrested and taken to a police station where they called my parents in Washington D.C. My parents said that they would send money for the police to put me on a flight back to the East coast. As a result of this, I was transferred to a minor lock-up in the city and a day or two later was escorted to the LA airport by a sherrif's officer and put on a non-stop plane headed straight to the East coast.
Something happened to one of the engines on the plane over Colorado and it set down in Denver. We were told there was to be a layover there and a transfer to another plane. I wound up getting my luggage back. No one knew I was supposed to go straight to Washington DC and so I ended up leaving the airport hitchiking to Boulder. There, I called my parents and told them what had happened and what I was planning to do- head out to California again. My Father was strongly opposed to the idea and told me clearly, that if I were put in jail again out there, that he would not send me money to bail me out. I was not deterred and left for the wilderness of the mountains around Aspen.
A few months later I hopped the freight trains out to California again. I arrived in San Francisco and began to explore the Haight-Ashbury district. It was a time that still had the aftertaste of the summer of love' and free food and a place to sleep was easily found. There were a lot of young people there and it was exciting to meet, greet, hang out and learn from them. Here and there I was regaled with stories about the beaches of southern California and decided to once again head south for the warm ocean and bikini-clad girls. I liked the idea of easy living at the beach. This time, I was stopped for hitchiking in LA and once again, the police determined that I was a minor, that I had been arrested before and I was taken to the police station and my parents were called again. This time, over the strong objections of my mother, my father told me that he was not going to send money for a ticket right away and that I could stay in jail for a while as he 'thought about what to do'. He was not upset. He was just dead firm and set on having me experience again, the clear results of my actions. My mother was concerned that I would be hurt or attacked. She wanted to get me out of there right away. My fathers reply was 'Nahh, naaah, he'll be allright'. It is thanks to my father that I was not more spoiled than I turned out. As I mentioned before, I could get almost anything from my mother. My father operated from a completely different point of view. Both were good and necessary.
I was taken out to a juvenile hall in San Benardino where I was interviewed in a sort of intake center. After talking to me and hearing about all my strange ideas about the nature of life, the law of karma, God, health food and looking through my knapsack full of brown rice, miso, sesame seeds and raisins and the I Ching, they decided to put me in a cell block especially devoted to youth who were a bit 'crazy'. I remember being given a change of clothes and then taken down a hall to room in a wing where everything was antiseptic, cold and clinical. The counseler entered my room with me and we sat on the bed for a few minutes, while he went over the rules and schedule. As we were talking, a large boy came in and quickly peed on the wall and floor and then left. I didn't know what to think. My counselor said to me "That's John. Peein on the wall means he likes you." I was glad that he didn't have any bad feelings about me. Who knows what that would involve? There were two things that I remember from my time there: Once, a group of us were 'marching' across one of the fenced in grass lawns in the prison area and all of a sudden we saw that someone had left a gate open. Everyone took off at once and started running for the gate. I didn't run and don't remember much more about that. The other incident was that a nun came into to read to us a few times a week. Most of the guys were not interested. But, I loved being able to listen to her and to ask her questions about how and why she became a nun. It was a rare and wonderful opportunity for both of us. I was sad to leave her. I lived in this juvenile hall for about a month before my parents finally sent me the money and I returned to Washington.
I was home again and quickly left to hike in the Appalachians. After about a year of traveling the United States, I eventually found my way to a Gurdjieff-Ouspensky commune in Central America, in the mountains of Costa Rica with Bob Hicks, a teacher from my high school and his family. Unbeknownst to me, he had quit his job over the 'Napalm a Dog' incident and was taking his family to live in a 'religious' community on the central plateau of that beautiful country near the volcano, Irazu. I traveled to Costa Rica with them and became the goatherd for their small community, living by myself in a small wood shack with a corrugated metal roof in a lush remote upper valley, separate from the rest of the already isolated community. I would milk the goats daily and bring their milk and cheese down to the rest of the community via a jungle path that frequently crossed a small river.
There were very large snakes, armadillos and wild animals that lived there. The jungle was filled with the sounds of birds and other animals and at night, the sky was filled to overflowing with stars. The night sky looked 'different' from the one I had grown up with in America. It was literally crowded with stars, in patterns I did not recognize. During the day, the all-pervasive bright living green of our valley was dotted with bright red and yellow tropical flowers and one could always hear the rushing river that poured over dark large smooth boulders flowing through the center of the valley. Often, the 5 mile road that led up to our farm would wash out from the rains and had to be repaired. We had two four wheel drive vehicles, a Toyota and a Land Rover and they were essential to getting in and out of where we lived. There were two Costa Rican families that lived on the farm. They were good hearted people and very happy. Because it seem to be the tradition and in exchange for free rent, the oldest man from each of them, Albero and Ernesto, would work for us (the Americans) almost every day. I loved to work with them and learned much about the jungle from them. One time, I saw Albero literally herd a swarm of bees to a particular area of the jungle by banging on a trash can lid. They knew all the animals and plants and herbs and trails and springs as well as the occasional traveller who would wander up our valley. They used their machetes like we would use our right arms. Their houses, like ours, were very simple, made of wood slats, wood floor with open windows. The outside walls of their houses had hundreds of small tin cans nailed to them. Each of the cans had dirt in them and then flowers growing out of the dirt. The houses looked like beautiful flower gardens. Costa Rica was so fertile that fenceposts which had been driven into the ground to make fences began to sprout and grow again in a matter of days.
The smell of the earth was intoxicating. Every afternoon, like clockwork, a rainstorm swept powerfully up our mountain valley from the lowlands and then, usually after about 15 minutes of torrential downpour, the sky would clear and the sun would come out and then quickly set in a blazing glory of colors. It was a daily, wondrous, magical movie, exciting and romantic. But, in the midst of all this beauty, I was lonely. I thought this loneliness was the 'price' I had to pay for a spiritual life. This was the first time I had actually thought it, but, I had come to believe that renunciation was a necessity for realizing 'God' and I wanted to realize God. Who or what God is. . . concerning this, I had only ideas, like I still do to this day, but, my desire then was to be completely fulfilled, gratified, enlightened and all of this seemed to have something to do with 'God'. It was about something that would happen to 'me'. It was all about ME. I did not understand at that time, that spiritual life was about the transcendence of 'self', surrender of 'self'. I did not understand what I was trying to do, I was doing it all wrong, but, still, I was attracted to the 'idea' of God like a junkie to heroin.
At that time of my life, I thought that I had to be disciplined and a renunciate to attain to the state I had idealized. I had picked up all my ideas through the many 'spiritual' books I had read and the great number of unspoken assumptions 'everybody' seemed to have. I had drunk deeply, even as an adolescent, of the myths of religion and God that circulated through our culture. I had lived amongst people who had not experienced much and did not know very much, but, because of a lack of real experience, thought they did. As an adolescent, I had not yet had enough experience, not seen enough of others mistakes. not made enough mistakes of my own and was profoundly naive. I had not met anyone who 'knew'. I had not even met what I call a 'Great Being' at this time of my life. I was wandering in the wilderness.
I lived in this community for a year. Costa Rica became, (after my very brief experience with the Hare Krishna movement), my first 'confrontation' with a group of people devoted to practicing a 'religious' life. Over time, I saw amongst my elders not only beauty, wisdom and compassion, but also, duplicity, deceit, deception, anger, jealousy, fear and hypocrisy up close and personal. This stood out all the more, because, they had outwardly and formally dedicated themselves to a 'religious' life. Up until that time, I had been a sophomore, part sophos or wisdom and part moron or idiot. Now, in reaction to the faults I saw in others and myself, I became idealistic, like my parents. I wanted to succeed where others had failed. Now, I was a true adolescent, naively and acutely aware of dilemma, paradoxes and desires. I saw failure and suffering in others and began to fight against these very things in myself. I suppressed my desires and tried to present an idealized version of myself to the world.
( For more about what happened in Costa Rica read: Let Me Tell You A Story)
Conundrum Creek, Colorado
After little more than a year in Costa Rica, I left and returned to the United States. When I came back, I once again began to travel. I read Dharma Bums and On the Road, by Jack Kerouac. I was inspired to hop freight trains and hitch-hike, to visit the magical areas of the high mountains above the tree line, the wilderness areas of our country, to wander the highways and mountains of America and to live out of the pack I carried on my back.
Japhy Rider (who was in real life-Gary Snyder) was my hero in Kerouac's books. He was a practitioner and scholar of Buddhism and the Japanese mountain poets. He had gone to the far East and lived at a Zendo in Japan. He was not just a philosopher, but a practitioner. He had applied himself to the Teachings. He sat zazen. He had been impressed with the ancient wisdom enough to want to eat it and become it. Even more, he loved women, sexuality, 'mountains and rivers without end', animals, nature and religion. He was raw and rough, refined and cultured. Snyder was my first taste of someone who was both 'religious' and fully expressive of desire and sexuality. He was not a renunciate in the 'cutting it all away mode'. He was a renunciate in that he embraced life completely, all of it and all the way to the bone. He renounced anything that was short of everything. His light shone in a way that most of our society, for the most part, passed over or did not appreciate. My youthful romantic ideals and strongly felt paradoxes of desire, resonated with what I read about him. I spontaneously sought out to taste the experiences he had lived and made it a point to visit the mountains and roads he had traveled.
I arrived in Aspen, Colorado in the late summer. There was a Macrobiotic restaurant in town, Mothers, and I met there many people like myself, who were free to wander, not concerned with business and in love with the high mountains. Someone suggested that I hike up Conundrum Creek just outside of town, to the beautiful hot springs that sit at an elevation of 11,000ft, well above the tree line. It sounded great and I decided to do it. I hitchiked out of town to the trailhead at Castle Creek road and set out. As I hiked my way up the creek and the beauty and silence of it all rose up around me, I thought and felt, "This is Paradise". Everywhere I looked nature was outrageously glorious. The mountain valley was filled with aspens, delicate, beautiful and hardy ladies, with their whitish bark tinged with slender black streaks. The trees had fine green, two-shaded leaves that rustled melodiously, making a symphony of leaves in the winds.
There was the wonderful ringing silence of the high mountains.
There were green meadows sprinkled with red, yellow and blue flowers.
Rising up steeply on both sides of the creek flowing valley were dark gray black rock falls leading up and up a long way to the brilliant white snow covered peaks beyond.
These high mountains shared life with me on a grander scale that I ever experienced before. It was the party I had always wanted to attend.
Whenever and wherever I travelled, if ever possible, I bathed in water twice a day. Twice a day, I bathed in Conundrum creek. However, this creek was freezing snow-melt cold and took the breath out of my lungs, when I immersed myself in it. I would dip in and get out immediately. The water tasted sweet and thrilled my body when I drank from it. The high mountain air was fine, delicate, bracing and inspirational, a joy to inhale. As I hiked up the valley, the trail crossed Conundrum creek several times. I would have to take off my boots to go across and my feet would go numb almost immediately in the water. As I tried to wade the creek in the late afternoon on the first day, the water was so powerful and swollen from a day of melting snowfields higher up the mountain, that I could not get across safely. It seemed too dangerous and I thought I might be swept downstream if I tried it. I turned back and made camp for the night in a nearby meadow to wait for the next morning. I thought that after the snow had frozen again during the night, there would be less height, flow and intensity to the rushing creek down below. As I went to sleep, I could hear the creek flowing loudly, gurgling and laughing. I woke up in the middle of the night to go out and take a piss. I looked up at the clear sky and it was filled to infinity with myriads of stars that seemed very close and personal in the rarefied air of the mountains. The creek was singing. Everything was brilliant. I was in a immense water- hymned cathedral that had no end.
The next day, the creek was lower. I crossed it twice that morning and then followed the steep trail that took me up the ever narrowing valley and then up above the tree line. When I finally arrived at the hot springs, there were eight young people, men and women, all naked, sitting around the rough stone pools. I realized that I would need to get undressed to go into the waters and that there simply was no other way to do it. If I didn't take off all my clothes, I would draw attention to myself, as everyone else was naked. But, I had never been without any clothes on amongst a group of people that included the opposite sex. I felt a wave of embarrassment sweep over me. Then, as I realized that no one was paying any particular attention to my 'problem' or to the naked state of their own bodies, I began to 'casually' take off my clothes as if it was the most natural thing in the world, folding them on top of my boots, realizing through my own 'experience', that this is exactly what everyone else must had gone through before me and the others before them. It was no big deal. In this small event, I discovered some wisdom for many of the obstacles I would subsequently face in my life- One, is that people were not that concerned or knowledgeable of what was going on in my own mind and emotions. Two, when afraid or embarrassed, I need only observe the fear I was experiencing, notice all the reasons that held me back and then simply do the thing, whatever it is, anyway. I found that there was not a lot of depth to resistance. I had discovered, that unless I made it so and continued to do so, fear was not a obstacle and my emotions were just that, emotions, and held no great power in and of themselves.
Conundrum Hot Springs
I walked up barefoot and naked to the natural stone springs, nodded to all the smiling guys and girls and got in. The water was perfectly hot and in less than 15 seconds my own body was forgotten as I dissolved blissfully into the naked beauty of the high country of the Rocky mountains, snow covered peaks and the vast space of happiness.
Hobos and Sadhus
I loved the life of wandering and knew that I was tasting something very different from the life my parents or their parents had lived, or even a life that of most of the people I knew had tasted. I had become a vagrant, a wanderer, a hitchhiker, a sojourner, someone who loved the wide open deserts, the high country and the remote areas of the world that were still preserved in the national parks of America. It seemed to me that these untouched creeks and rivers, mountains, valleys, lakes and meadows held a great secret blessing, one that I always delighted to partake of. Living this way, with the wilderness as my secret wealth and source of sustenance, I found I needed very little to provide for myself. I had no template for this way of life in America, outside of my reading of Dharma Bums and observing the life of the hobos.They were the only culture I knew of in America, living a life like mine, at least one that I could identify with. Like any culture or group, there are a wide variety of people that make it up and not every one of them is doing the same thing or living the same life. Over time, I found my own 'tradition' amongst the many people who were wandering the country in the 60's. I realized that my fascination for the wandering life was of a more 'ancient' variety. I came to realize that the hobos and hippies reminded me of the wandering 'sadhus' of India. It was the ancient track and taste of the sadhus that I was following.
The sadhus of India are a large and tremendously varied group who have renounced the world and dedicated their life to the relationship to and/or realization of God. They have given up the responsibilities of everyday life, family and marriage. They wander the countryside and cities of India, always traveling, often on their way to some holy site or river. They usually dress in the orange robes of a renunciate or sometimes even go naked (digambara- clad in the sky) and almost always with long uncut hair, carrying only a little 'baba bag' filled with their sum total of worldly possessions. The sadhus rely on the generosity of the people to feed them and the people of India considered it a blessing to give to them. These wandering renunciates take only what they need for the moment or the day and store up no wealth or possessions, trusting in God to provide for them and sharing any surplus they are given with others. I was sympathetic with this style of living and took to it naturally, in a particularly American way.
(Click here- For a story and pictures about sadhus in India)
I was always reading. I read Thoreau and Kerouac. I read about the Russian Holy men, the Staretz. I read about the life of Rumi and Kabir. I thrilled to the stories of Mt Kailash, Kinnaram and Ramana Maharshi. I read the Illiad and the Odyssey, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, Pythagoras and Socrates, the stories of the Greek Gods and about the ways and lives of the American Indians. I read mythology from all over the world. I read about the two World wars and the countless battles that men had gone through. I read the history of the African continent, of Japan, Bali, Egypt, Persia, Greece and Hawaii. I read about health, Herbert Shelton, Paavo Airola, George Oshawa and Ann Wigmore. I read the Sugar Blues by William Dufy and about the Baal Shem Tov and the Hasidic Jewish Masters of Western Europe. I read for hours when hitchhiking, especially if the road was little traveled as I was waiting for a car to come. I read by the campfire at night. I read by flashlight before I went to bed and I read on the freight trains. How could I not read? So many people had lived and adventured before me. I was hungry for their stories. It was thrilling and humbling to hear them. By reading, I came to realize I had experienced very little in my own life and had a correspondingly small idea of who I was, primarily because of the lack of experiences and of great challenges that I had encountered when I compared myself with others. It seemed to me that it took a great challenge to bring out greatness. So far, my life had been a comparatively easy ride. Inspired by the great achievements that others had attained, I drank deeply and thankfully at the springs of their lives.
Man is the only animal that can be instructed by the writings and stories of others. This type of knowledge- learning through reading, is a uniquely human activity. Without knowledge or education, we are necessarily cut off from our roots and condemned to live a superficial life. Even if we have a profound experience, we can only interpret it according to received knowledge, what we are familiar with, what we have been taught, what we know. How could it be otherwise? Bhartrahari, the great Sanskrit grammarian and saint once said, "If we do not have a word for something, then that something does not exist for us". I would say the same for 'stories'- If we do not have a story about something, that something does not exist for us, either.
The 'flip side' of this is also true. When we have a word or a story for something, we tend to use it to interpret all new experience. We become conditoned by that story. In India, baby elephants are tied to a post with a chain. Day in and day out the baby elephant pulls at that chain until one day it just gives up. From then on, that elephant can be tied to a post with a small rope. It has been conditioned. Stories can also condition us that way. Either way, the words and stories that we have heard that make the difference. With people of different backgrounds and study, there are often different stories about the same experience.
I remember being "saved" by 'Jesus freaks' on the beach in Santa Barbara. I had just finished meditating and was watching the sunset. Two young men approached and sat next to me. Then one of them asked, "Would you like to meet Jesus?" I was in a very relaxed, non-sarcastic, open and receptive mood. I said, "Yeah, Sure". They asked me to get down on my knees with them and pray to God. It seemed a very delicate and humble thing for me, something I had never done with anyone before. It seemed so intimate. . . We did so together. In the midst of our prayer I was filled with a most incredible sweetness and light, a liquid nectar seemed to pour down into my body, my arms and hands were spontaneously drawn up above my head. I was drawn up to stand and began to dance and talk in tongues. I was weeping with joy. The two men were strongly affected by my state and began to shout out to Jesus and praise the Lord. This went on for about 5 minutes. After the experience subsided we embraced each other and they told me that I had been filled with the Holy Spirit, touched by Jesus in a very strong and special way. Then they invited me to their church. I declined courteously and with much sharing of good feelings, excused myself from them and went my way.
For me, this type of experience had happened before, not imbued with the particular flavor of the worship of 'Jesus', but, with the overwhelming descent of force and light and coupled with a simultaneous feeling of ascension and happiness. To interpret that experience as justifying a 'Christian interpretation' of the Bible did not make sense or seem right to me. I had read many 'Bibles' and of many different cultures. Many, many people have had similar and profound experiences over thousands of years and in a variety of cultural and religious contexts. I never read about a Hindu prior to the arrival of Christians, ever talking about Jesus. Nor did I ever hear about early Christians speaking about Krishna or Rama or Buddha before they heard the words, names and stories about them. This was not about the Truth of Reality. This was about names and language and stories being used to describe Reality or Truth.
Each one interpreted what had happened to them according to what they had learned and been taught. My Christian friends on the beach did so and I did so as well. I believe the main difference was that I had a much larger body of knowledge and of stories. I had studied the widely varying traditions of Religion in the world. I felt like Akbar, the 16th century Mughal Emperor of India who saw 'Truth' in every religion and encouraged tolerance and understanding amongst the widely varied people of India. He held great debates and conversations with representatives of all the religions in India at his time (Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity). Living in the midst of tremendous differences in religious belief, he had come to the conclusion that no religion held all 'Truth' and he sought some means of understanding the differences. Our time, like rarely before in history, presents a unique occasion for that consideration.
There is a book called the Three Christs of Ypsilanti, written by Milton Rokeach. It tells about a real event that took place in the 1960's when three individuals, who each thought he was Jesus Christ, were placed together in the psychiatric hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan. At first, after being placed in the same room together, each of them accused the others of being imposters. My Teacher, Adida, referred to this event and compared it to the situation in the world today:
"Particularly in the time in which we now live, when the ideas of all the provinces of earth are gathering together for the first time in human history, and all the absolute dogmas find themselves casually associated, to be judged like a crowd of silly Napoleons or mad Christ's in an asylum, the complex mind of Everyman is remembering itself all at once. Therefore we are obliged to discover the Truth again by penetrating the bizarre consciousness of all the races combined as one."
-The Song of the Self Supreme , pg 29
The 'room' described above, gives another context to my experience on the beach; Crowded together, we each had our own interpretation of what had happened. For the born-again Christians, I had been touched by Jesus or God in a powerful occasion of blessing. For myself, I had an 'ascended' experience of blissful energies associated with all the powerful associations I had with the Western tradition of Jesus. . . the obstructions to life and overwhelming energy fell away and I experienced what are called kriyas in the Indian tradition- spontaneously occurring, blissful movements and energies in the body. Because of this diferent understanding or story that I knew and had experienced before, I had a different interpretation of the experience I had on the beach, from the born-again Christians I was with at the time.
Anyone who has deeply studied the religious traditions of the world would recognize both similar principles and differing expressions of these principles in the different traditions and even within the traditions. However, I suggest that we must also allow for a difference in principles, not just in experiences. It is this difference in principle that I would like to consider now-
When Christian Missionaries first came to India, they told the Hindus about Jesus and how he was the Son of God. However, unlike any other culture the Christians had encountered before, the Hindus recognized something they knew in the picture or icon of Jesus and put him up on their altar next to Rama and Krishna or Buddha. Whereas the Christians saw only their unique and special-case experience-Jesus, the Hindus saw another Incarnation of the Divine Principle, or what they call an 'Avatar'. This 'Jesus' was not just a saint or holy man, but a direct incarnation of God. They had seen his type before. They understood the paradox the one and the same equivalence between the God-Man and God. It would be similar to perhaps some Englishman coming across a primitive tribe who worship a particular iron bar that they say has the magical power of moving huge rocks when applied to the base and pushed. The Englishman would tell them, 'This is not a magical bar. This is only a lever that could be made out of a great variety of materials and would do the very same thing'. The Primitive certainly sees something that the Englishman does not. The primitive has only a The Englishman who grasped the principle of the bar would be said to have a more clear and comprehensive perception of Reality.
One who does not learn about other cultures and religions, has only his own culture, experience or expression available for consideration. Without an understanding of the 'Truths' of other cultures and religions, one will tend to condemn all others being false, imposters, deluded, wrong, just like the three Christs in an insane asylum in Michigan. Or, even if there is not another to condemn, a person with a limited knowledge of the world, will tend to narrowly interpret his experiences with meanings that they might not necessarily have.
Actually, this applies to all knowledge. I remember reading a book called Puer Aeternus, by Marie Louise von Franz. It was about the 'Jungian' archetype of the 'Puer Aeternus'-the masculine form of the expression of the principle of eternal youth ("Puer aeternus is Latin for eternal boy. In mythology and Jungian Psychology, it points to the archetype and life of the eternal adolescent. The puer typically leads a ever-changing, provisional life, due to the fear of being caught in a situation from which it might not be possible to escape. He covets independence and freedom, chafes at boundaries and limits, and tends to find any restriction intolerable"-Daryl Sharp, Jung Lexicon). In it, von Franz considers the story of the Little Prince along with references to the story of Peter Pan. She analyzes the author of the Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, as well as his life experiences and how they relate to the characters and the story and especially elaborates how they all serve to exemplify the archetype of the 'Puer Aeternus'.
When I first read this book I felt as if someone actually knew me. I absolutely thought this 'song was about me'. The book was clearly written about me and in exquisite detail! I saw that this Puer archetype expressed the very way that I had lived my life, my relationships and even how I thought, considered and evaluated things. It described distinctly what I desired and held as good and what my challenges were. After I read this book, I saw my life as a recognizable pattern. But, this was not the most striking thing about it. The most powerful thing was the recognition that all that I had considered to be 'me', or 'I', was now seen to be an archetype living itself out! It had its own story line. 'I' had become 'it' and had been unconsciously indentified with it. This had big implications. If it was true, then I had little idea who I really was and wondered if there even was such a thing. If this was true, then I was not living a life according to free will and choices that 'I' made but rather according to the unconscious identification with an archetype and the pattern of its story. How else could so many of the small details of my life, be patterns that are similar to so many others? I had achieved the very definition of ''neurosis'.
My favorite definition of a neurotic is a being who is identified with the mask that they wear on the stage of life. In ancient Greek theater, a mask was worn to identify to the audience, who the particular person or character represented. The theaters were huge and to enable the character to be clearly defined in the back rows, he wore a mask that was much bigger than a typical face. Sometimes, it was three feet in diameter and supported on a pole that was supported by a holder in a belt worn around the actors waist.
Temple of Asklepios/ Epidauros-Greek Theatre
This mask had a tubular hole through which the actor spoke. The tube also served to magnify his voice. This mask was called the persona. The actor spoke or sounded-sonare, through the mask- per. This is the etymological roots of the words- 'person' and 'personality'. The personality is who we are or appear to be on the stage of life. A 'neurotic' is a being who is identified with the mask that he wears on the stage of life. It is not the use or having of the mask, but rather the identification with it that is 'neurosis'. This is because no matter what or who we identify with, whatever our role or mask is, the opposite qualities of the mask tend to be repressed or denied. If we identify with the qualities of the mask, good or bad, then the opposite qualities fall into what Jung called the 'unconscious'. Once these opposite qualities fall into the unconscious, they then become autonomous and they subsequently act out or have their way with us. We no longer have them, they have us. Thus, it is, that repression or denial gives rise to neurosis. Obviously, I had become neurotic with my unconscious identification with the Puer archetype. This was the only way that 'I' could be described so intimately and specifically and be like so many others. And, all the while, I thought I was being myself. I thought I was being radical, but in reality 'I' was being acted out. I clearly needed to re-experience the original meaning of the term- radical.
For a Story on this CLICK HERE
Without learning, without real self-observation, we cannot become 'radical' in the ancient sense, we will fail to connect with our roots (radii), we only become 'far out'- the modern day interpretation of a radical. Without awakening the far ranging depths of our understanding through learning, we are condemned to remain provincial or merely reactive to 'being provincial', as the youth act out, generation after generation. We can see both of these tendencies being expressed in America today in the fundamentalists and those who react to them. Neither can be changed on the basis of argument, because the argument is only emotion, masqeurading as ideas. Only learning, broad education, the recognition of mistakes and the humility that comes from these could provide the real basis on which people and cultures could begin to grow again. And, sometimes, even this will not work.
A collective superficialty of learning has become by default, the 'lingua franca' of our modern day. Our modern western culture is a commonly shared language of cultivated ignorance. We have 'cultivated' ignorance because we have not 'cultivated' wisdom. Our whole culture is poorly educated and modern 'culture' with its advertisments, entertainment, gadgets and superficiality has rushed in to fill the void. Mahatma Gandhi was once asked what he thought of western civilization, he replied, "I think it is a good idea."
We need the great stories of the world. If we read enough of them, they show themselves. They become paradoxical and dilemmatic. Some of them seem to agree with one another. Some are at odds with themselves and with one another. It is apparrent that everything cannot be true. I believe this is the very begining of wisdom.
Riding the Freight Trains and a Night in Jail
After staying for the summer at a commune in the mountains of Colorado up above Boulder, I left with a group of 3 guys and 4 girls for the West coast. We decided to hop the freight trains as we knew it would be very difficult to hitchhike in such a large group of people. We began our trip out of Grand Junction, Colorado, a small city on the western edge of the Rockies. We walked into the freight yards to see if we could find a train to California. I went alone and spoke to the yardman there. He was friendly and very helpful. He told us that to get out to San Francisco, we would have to go through Salt Lake City and then across Nevada, over the Sierras and down to the coast and into the Oakland, California yards. From there, San Francisco was just across the bay. He told us there was a fast, 'hot shot' train, with six heavy 'road engines' that would be pulling out real soon. (Road engines are the heavy locomotives that are used to pull freight on the long distance runs). They would take us to Salt Lake and then the whole train would be broken up. We would have to catch another train from there and he told us to ask around the yards out there for how to proceed further. He pointed our train out to us, gave us a Bible for the salvation of our souls and wished us all well. It seemed like a great beginning.
Riding the freight trains was a fantastic way to travel. We would all sit in the open door of the boxcar, hanging our feet above the ground and watch the countryside fly by or lay out on our mats and sheets of cardboard (what the hobos call 'thousand mile paper') and rest as the train sped along the iron rails. The train always had moving, swaying rhythms going on- rhythms of the wheels on the steel tracks, the clicking and clacking as the wheels passed over the breaks in the tracks and the bouncing of the boxcars with their sliding doors jumbling around as these heavy steel boxes flew along.
It took all day and into the evening to arrive in Salt Lake City. Then, our train was put 'over the hump' and broken up in the yard. To go 'over the hump' meant that a line of boxcars was pushed over an artificial hill in the train yards. As each car went 'over the hump', it was decoupled from the cars it had been attached to and then, as it rolled down the hill on the opposite side of the hump, was 'switched' onto the appropriate track where it was joined up with a new line of cars bound in a new direction. In the late morning, with the help of another yardman we found a new train pulling out. It was a clean, newer, empty boxcar and were soon headed on further towards the coast.
It was a warm sunny day as we pulled out across the salt flats west of Salt Lake. The tracks paralleled the main road for quite a while and we would wave to the people driving their cars and trucks along the interstate. One of us got the novel idea that we take off all our clothes and dance in the open boxcar door in full view of the tourists. Personally, I just loved the idea of seeing the girls naked, forgetting how difficult it had been for me at Conundrum Creek. But, after much daring, teasing and laughing, between and amongst the sexes, we all disrobed and then waved and frolicked in plain view of the Winnebagos, tourists and cowboys, safe on our moving stage. After a while the tracks veered away from the road and without anyone to 'show off' for, we put our clothes back on again. It was a hot summer day and very soon the heat became unbearable in the boxcar. We had to get out of the hot dry air blowing in the open door of the boxcar and scorching the back end of our boxcar. We all moved to the leading end of the car where we lay down on our blankets and cardboard and rocked our way on through the day, sleepy with the heat and drinking all our water before the sun had set. After the sun went down and it became dark, somewhere, out in the middle of Nevada, we felt the train slowing down to stop.
We had become terribly thirsty in the dry hot air. As we looked ahead, out the open door of our slowing boxcar, we saw what looked like a small 'Tastee Freeze', ice cream place by the side of a road about 200yds off through a dark flat field. Me and another guy decided to take all the water bottles for our group and as soon as the train stopped, to make a run for the ice cream place. There, we would fill all our bottles from a hose and hightail it back before the train pulled off again. Just before the train came to a complete halt, we jumped out and took off running.
We hadn't gone 20 yards before the whole area around us lit up with car lights and flood lights, all pointed at us. There were men with guns, silhouetted in front of the lights and cars and the guns were pointed at us. "Stop! Police! Put your hands in the air and kneel down on the ground!", they shouted out. As we began to obey and looked around us at the now highly illuminated scene, we saw the whole train had been surrounded. Many police were coming from the other side of the train and everybody seemed to have guns and lights. They took the whole group of us off the train and after some discussion between them, which we were not privy to, took us into town where they booked us all into jail. We thought that we had been stopped for riding naked outside of Salt Lake, an incident that had occurred many hours before. The police told us it was because they had got word of some escaped convicts riding that train. We didn't believe them.
All the guys were put in one cell in the jail and all the girls in another part of the jail. We had not been given any food but there was plenty of water in the cell, coming from a small sink with push-buttons for handles. We used it to drink and then one of the buttons stuck in the 'on' position. This caused a constant rush of water which splashed out a little onto the floor. We tried to make the stuck button come out by pushing and hitting hard on both buttons, but, after a few tries, the second one stuck as well and now there was a lot of water splashing out onto the floor. We called out for our jailers to help us, but, they just shouted back at us to 'Shut up and get some sleep." We gave up soon after that, got up onto our bunks and tried to get some sleep.
Very soon, the sink would not drain and it filled up and began to overflow. Water began pouring down over the edge of the sink-basin onto the floor. Again we shouted to our jailers and again we were told to "Shut and go to sleep." Then, to complete this comedy of non-functioning plumbing, we noticed that the drains in our cell were not working either. A few hours later, after the water had begun to flow out of our cell, down the hallway and out into the outer room where the guard was, we heard a loud shout of 'Jesus Christ!', a door being opened and our guard came sploshing towards us through the water, pissed off and angry, cursing all the way.
When he realized that we had been shouting at him and telling him about this for hours, he started laughing and moved us all out of that cell and into another dry one. In the morning they brought in a big box of eggs and fried potatoes, toast and coffee and after giving us some time to eat, let us go, saying that we had to hitchhike out of town. We spent over 4 hours waiting for a ride and even built up a little pile of things that people had thrown at us, before we all got a ride in a horse trailer. It took us to Winnemucca, Nevada where we again hopped a freight train that took us on to California.
Many years later, when driving across the Nevada desert with my girlfriend in a truck with a broken taillight. I was stopped by a Nevada State policeman who gave me a warning for the defective light. While he was checking us out, we talked and I mentioned my previous experience in Battle Mountain. He laughed and told me that he had been there that night and remembered the whole event vividly. I asked him what was the real reason the train had been stopped. He said that they really were looking for convicts who were riding the rails and that they had found them a few nights later.
Eventually, we got to the west coast. The state of California was the promised land to me. I loved the wide open spaces, the great and diverse natural beauty of the geography, the deserts and oceans, redwoods and mountains. I loved how the mountains came down to the sea at Big Sur and the Japanese garden pristine beauty of the high Sierras. Whenever I could, I slept outside of the cities in parks, on mountains and on the beaches. I had a big nice fitting knapsack, a good tent and an excellent down sleeping bag and pad. I bought my simple food in Health food stores and carried my own supplies. I had a small butane stove for cooking brown rice, miso and vegetables. I felt I was living as Thoreau once wrote, '. . .with the license of a higher order of being'.
Staying in the City
Once, when traveling north into Oregon, I spent several nights in a Christian Homeless Shelter in Portland, amongst the hobos, bums and vagrants. To spend the night in warm room when it was raining in the Northwest and when one had been living outside, was a great treat. The 'price' for it all was a Christian service and an hour of being preached to.
The sermon included singing and testimonies from young ladies from a suburban church group, (to hold the men's attention), young businessmen (how the Lord helps them in business and could help you too), and reformed Hobos (who now had it together in a once was lost now I'm found sort of way). Often the men in the room could not hold back their sarcasm at the tales of the holier than thou self satisfied people. Once, when a man was telling the story of his own conversion, he repeatedly used the phrase, "He touched me", referring of course to Jesus. For the rest of that evening, the cries and laughter of a room of vagrants resounded to sudden outbursts of "He touched me", referring in this case to the next seated person. There was so much good hearted laughter in the room that even some of the people up in front of the room who were preaching seemed to be holding back their laughter. After the sermon and some singing, they served dinner.
Almost every night I was there, the dinners served at the Mission were left over hamburgers (from some fast food place) and a watery "supposed" split-pea soup which the bums called "water bewitched". Because I was a vegetarian, I would announce from my table that I would trade a hamburger for anybody's buns or bread. I was immediately taken up on my offer by an incredulous bunch of guys who all thought I was crazy. Being vegetarian was not well known amongst this crowd and no one understood such a thing or thought it was in any way 'healthy'.
On every table there was butter of various colors. . . blue, red, orange, everything except yellow. I never found out the reason for this, I always thought that it was because the Salvation Army or or whoever it was serving the meal, didn't want us to take too much butter, and, I must say, red butter is rather unappetizing.
After dinner, we all went upstairs where we got undressed, put our clothes in a basket, which we then gave to a locker room man at a window, who in turn gave us an elastic band with a number of our basket affixed. He also gave us a set of pajamas and a towel. Then we all took hot showers, which was another great treat. Then we threw our wet towels in a pile, put on the well washed pajamas and went into the sleeping hall. This was a huge room like a small basketball court, with triple-decker bunk-beds all over and this is where we would sleep. The unlucky men among us would get the top bunk . . . 'Unlucky', because every time someone on the lower two beds coughed or rolled over the topmost bunk shook like heck and you could be thrown out of the bed. This was a very real cause of anxiety as the people sleeping in that hall weren't very good sleepers and mostly everyone had been smoking cigarettes all day. I always took the top bunk out of respect for these men being my elders and as I thought I could handle it better than most of them.
At 4:30 am. in the morning we were awakened, and amidst the tremendous hacking and coughing of a roomful of elderly smokers without a chance at a cigarette until they got outside, we went and retrieved our clothes. It was scenes like this that convinced me to not take up smoking at an early age. Then we all went out on the streets until 5;30am, when breakfast was served several blocks away at the Blanchet House of Hospitality. It was usually raining in the morning, and we all lined up around the block, standing under the eaves of buildings with our back sides dry and the rain wetting our front sides. It was wet and the cold seemed to penetrate our clothing. I remember the sad state of emotional hopelessness that seemed to flood the water running streets at that hour.The sky was so bleak and wet and without distinction. Everybodys gaze was down, lost in thought and dull dread. But, I was young and amused with it, I had places to go to. Looking back, I remember the faces of those older men who stood cold and damp without a home or someone to care for them. These were men who did not seem to be on a great adventure. They were down and out.
Blanchet House of Hospitality
Eventually, we were allowed in for a good meal of steaming hot oatmeal with all the cookies you wanted, the guy handing out the cookies saying,"Take all you want boys. Stuff your pockets!" The men usually didn't take much as they didn't like sugar and cookies, having had too much of both. With them, everyone was starved for protein.
After breakfast we went out onto the streets to look for work. A lot of the men worked in the fields on the large farms that surrounded the area. Buses would pick people up downtown in the early morning and take them out to the fields for a day of work, driving everybody back in at the end of the day. I went out on several days and remember picking cucumbers, bent over all day, filling and then taking our bags to the large 4 x 4 wooden boxes about 4ft square and about 3ft high.
They were set out in the fields covered with a rack of doweled slats that would prevent any cucumbers bigger than a certain size from going into the box, when a bag was emptied out on top. There was a guy whose only job was to rake the discarded cucumbers off the slats and out onto the ground where they built up in mounds and were trampled on. Most of the crop we picked was wasted in this way. But, I heard, that all crops were not the same. Some paid more than others. This was difficult work and even i became tired of it. It is very easy to forget the difficult labor performed by field workers every day. The general consensus amongst the men was that fruits like apple and pears paid the best and offered the best living conditions. For these, you had to leave the city and take to the road. As I talked to the elderly men, they all praised the life of a migrant fruit picker. I decided to find out what they were talking about.
Following the Fruit Harvests
Not wanting to stay at the Salvation Army, or work in the flat bottom lands around the large cities and pick cucumbers, lettuce or tomatoes and not desiring some 9 to 5 job in the city, I followed the fruit harvests up the West coast. Over the course of several years I would begin the year with Avocados in Southern California and go on to Pears and Apples in the late summer and fall. I usually began in Fallbrook, a small town known for its avocados in southern California. The men I worked with were mostly Mexican and I found it amusing and ironic that they almost to a man, hated the taste of avocados. It was hot work and not very enjoyable in the flat orchards of endless trees. There were no great vistas and the mood was strangely depressing.
As the year progressed into the late spring, I picked stone fruit, cherries, peaches, apricots and fruit and more fruit as the days grew longer and hotter into summer. Then slowly, almost imperceptibly, it seemed the weather began to cool off at night and then even the days began to grow colder as the sun rode lower in the sky and the fall season progressed. I moved always north. I passed through the inland valleys of California, Oregon, Washington and even on up into the Okanagan Valley of Southern Canada. As the fall began, apples and pears were the fruit of the northern valleys of Oregon and Washington. I lived out in the fields and orchards, in 'pickers cabins', small, one room simply built sheds with hard beds and a wood stove, provided to migrant laborers by the owners of the orchards. They were set into the orchards and remote from the road. All day, from early morning to dusk, we went up and down the three-legged picking ladders in trees full of fruit, placing the harvest in our pickers canvas bags and pouring the fruits out like jewels into large wooden boxes placed in the orchards. We had long poles about 12 feet long with a small canvas bag at the end. Above the bag was clipper operated by a string that ran down the pole and was tied off near the end. When there was high hanging fruit, too high to reach off a ladder, we would extend up our poles and clip the fruit into the bag.
We could see the slopes and snow covered peaks of the volcanic mountains like Mt. St Helens or Mt. Rainier. The volcanic peaks were like intrusions of dinosaurs into a modern day city. They were volcano's! They caused me to reflect on how small and insignificant our moment in time was, how temporary our loves and relationships and how grand the events that had once swept across a land now full of orchards and trees.
(The bags are open on the bottom and are only 'hooked up' to close them.
When the picker wants to empty his bag he unhooks the bottom and the apples spill out)
Because my friend Bobby and I were amongst the youngest of the fruit pickers, we were often given the most difficult of the trees, those on steeper hillsides or those which did not have so much low hanging fruits. We didn't care. We were having fun. We had plenty of energy and we saw that by taking the more difficult trees we helped out the older pickers, some of whom were doing this with their families, giving to them the low-hanging fruit. We were outside in fresh air all day, basking in sunshine, looking at beautiful snow covered mountains and we made our own dinner at night of rice and vegetables in our cabin. We read books after dinner and discussed what we read as we sat out on the steps in front of our cabin and then as it got colder we moved inside in front of a fire where our conversations got deeper and more immediate as the air got chilly and dark. We slept well on cheap beds and woke up early, refreshed. We made what I thought was good money, about $50 per large box and we always filled at least two a day. We had no bills or credit cards, no mortgages or rents, no dependents, no car, no insurance. We were adrift on a marvelous sea of life.
At the end of the picking season, we hitchhiked and hopped freight trains to southern California to winter in Laguna Beach. It was a delightful place and the people there seemed mostly soft and charming. It was an indulgent climate and we would lay on the beaches all day, watch beautiful young girls in their bikini swimsuits, meet people, travelers and residents, talk and cook and sleep on the more remote beaches noth of town at night. I would read book after book and the heat of the sun and southern warmth felt balancing after the chill fall air of the north country orchards.
It felt so wonderful to lay out in the sun on the warm white sands and then to body surf for hours in the sparkling ocean. I was stunned at the abundance of beautiful blonde-haired girls. I luxuriated in the noticing of so much female flesh and the easy air of sensuality I felt all around me in these southern climes. Although I was highly desirous of what the girls seemed to offer and would of easily of gone off on another path in life, had any one of these charming girls ever chosen me for her lover, such was not to be at this time. I was 'allowed' by fate my idealistic orientation to something 'else' and instead of settling down in Santa Barbara or Laguna Beach to a life of very attractive pleasurizing, I went off to hike and camp in the high country wilderness areas of our national parks, spending time alone and living off of rice and vegetables, thinking I was into 'spiritual' life.
(For more Read: Babushka -My Traveling Companion)
Let Me Tell you a Story
I camped along the Big Sur coast, living close to the ocean, always setting my tent where a river would pour into the sea. In this way, I always had water to bathe in as well as to drink. I meditated, prayed, fasted and adventured, soaking up the magical scenery, dipping twice daily in the ocean. I would twice a week hitchhike 20 miles north up to the Safeway in Carmel and go through their dumpster, reveling in the amazing harvest of food to be had for free. If a certain date had come up, the food was thrown away. I found plenty of vegetables and fruit with only small blemishes as well as cheese or yogurts that had expired only that day. I would fill my knapsack and several other bags with the food and return to my campsite down the coast like a conquering king where I would share my bounty with others.
Tassajara Zen Center
With my friend Bobby, I hiked back to the Tassajara Zen Center from Big Sur. It was a beautiful, hard walk, up steep mountains and down, through the Ventana wilderness, a hike that took us several days. After we cleared the first coastal range, we hiked into forests of huge redwoods. The trail would come around the side of the mountain and begin a traverse, running back along the side of the mountain, cutting sideways on the very steep hillside. As we looked out level from the trail, we saw huge trees towering above us, their tops soaring up to the sky. Then, as we looked down over the outside edge of the trail, we could see the trunks of those very same trees extending far down into a canyon to the ground. I had never before seen such huge living things. We saw almost no one and the area was a real 'wilderness'. I had never been so far away from everything. At night, we felt small, unprotected and vulnerable in our very remote campsites set by quiet streams. It seemed we had left civilization behind.
Finally, we began to approach the Tassajara hot springs and the collection of buildings that form the Zen Center there. As we came down a small canyon trail, late in the afternoon, we saw about 10 Buddhist monks, all in black flowing robes, coming out of their meditation caves along the cliffs above a creek and smiling broadly at us. It seemed like an ancient dream and I felt a little awed at the romantic vision of it all. Then their dog started barking at us and one of them yelled at him to “Shut the fuck up”. His shout broke the intoxicating reverie of my romantic vision and restored me to balance, simultaneously giving me a deeper and more realistic faith in both Buddhism and Buddhist religious practitioners. With this 'shout of reality', I saw and felt in the monks a genuine expression of life and religion, an expression which did not try to put on any airs or false pretenses. I liked that. Their Buddhism seemed to be a religion based on reality, not idealism.
When we arrived in Tassajara, we met Suzuki Roshi. A woman monk, who seemed to be in in charge of 'managing' the Zen center had met us as we walked in and told us that we could not use the hot springs. Just then, the Roshi walked up and asked us how we had come to be there. He was a very bright, happy and serious man. When we told him we had come up Pine Ridge and hiked over from the coast, he seemed very pleased with this and told us we were welcome to use the baths, thus, by implication, instructing the woman monk to allow us to do so. We gratefully soaked our weary bodies in those beautiful hot springs, rare true treasures of exquisite healing, surrounded by miles and miles of wilderness.
Sierra Backcountry (up above treeline)
I would often walk deep into the high wilderness country, above tree line, wandering amongst the pristine clear lakes of the Sierra back country, knowing that it would take me about 3 or 4 days to miss the food and company of the lower elevations. Then, when I finally had enough of the isolation, I would want to end it immediately, but, of course, it would take me another 3-4 days to hike out. I had to deal with myself and my desires for company and distraction during that 3-4 day hike out. I had to slow down and 'take it', there was no other way. It was a good practice for me and always brought me up against myself. Usually, I was strong and determined for the first few days of hiking in solitude and then some strong force would seem to grab me. I would slowly become restless, particularly in the early evenings by the fire alone and I found my thoughts and intentions turning from the vast, impersonal wilderness to the attractions of people, conversations and the complex cities, filled with opportunities to sate my vague desires.
Once, deep in the back country, as I crossed a river and ascended the bank on the other side, I came across a strange scene in which a small snake had wrapped itself around a bird several times and had its fangs sunk into the breast of the bird. One of the wings of the bird was free and every once in a while the bird would struggle strongly, trying to escape. Every time the bird did this, they would both thrash around on the ground. I watched the scene for quite a while and then felt a compassion for the bird. I took a stick and began to unwind the tail of the snake from around the bird as they both watched me with their eyes. All of a sudden the snake released its fangs from the breast of the bird and struck out at me. At the same time the bird flew off. I wondered for a long time if I had done the 'right' thing. I noticed again that my idealism had reached a dead end in paradox: Certainly the snake deserved his meal. Certainly the bird deserved his life.
(I wrote a story about this years later: Set Me as a Seal Upon thy Heart)
During this time, I had my first real girlfriend, Kris, one with who I both lived and 'slept'. We lived in a yellow school bus by a small lake on a three-thousand acre maple sugar farm in north central Pennsylvania. I would bathe in the lake every day, even plunging through the thin ice where the creek fed the lake in the middle of winter. We cut wood all year and prepared everything for the maple sugar run in the spring when, in a burst of great activity we worked round the clock collecting and boiling maple sap and making maple sugar. We had a white German shepherd named Shiva. The dog was mostly a vegetarian as we thought that it might be good for him. He craved meat however and would often chase the deer that roamed the property. One day I was working on the road that bordered a large field doing rock work. Shiva was with me and he saw a deer and took off running. I yelled at him loudly but he was in passionate pursuit and did not heed me at all. They took off across the meadow and I thought that was the last of them I would see for a while. About 5 minutes later, I saw the deer with Shiva in hot pursuit running down through the forest on the edge of the field directly towards me. I stood up and watched as the deer ran directly towards me nearly touching me. Immediately afterwards, came Shiva flata out running and I tackled him roughly. I used that rare moment to harshly make my point that he was a 'bad dog' to be chasing the deer as far as I was concerned and he was not to do that again. Amazingly, he never did. I think it took that exact event to make the point to Shiva that chasing deer was not something for him to do. I sometimes wonder if that deer knew what he was doing? If he had not run directly towards me, I never would of been able to tackle the dog. Our living on the farm was a great adventure and a fulfillment of my fantasy of living off the land.
Over these years, I tasted a vanishing slice of America. I moved amongst migrant laborers and hobos, hippie, students, religious idealists, practical back to the landers, meditators and druggies. I noticed that it did not matter so much what a person did or how they dressed or looked. Amongst all of them, I found both 'good' and 'bad' in people and things. The 'thing' I learned to evaluate in people was subtle.
(For more about this period listen to: Train out of Cicero)
I turned 18 in January 1970 and became eligible for the draft. The Vietnam War was in full swing. I did not register, naively and idealistically believing that “If they gave a war and no one came, there would be no war”. It was a simple calculus that seemed to work when I multiplied it out. Later that year, I was stopped for hitchhiking with my girlfriend in upper New York State and taken into a police station. She looked young and they contacted her parents to make sure she was of an age to be without a guardian. There just happened to be an FBI agent in the station. He asked me, “Where is your draft card?” I told him that I had registered, but had lost my card. Since there were many draft dodgers fleeing to Canada at that time, he decided to investigate, but, due to what I remember as a 'computer malfunction', he was unable to confirm or deny my story at that time.
We were let go and soon after that, the FBI agent must of found out that the draft board had no record of my name, that I had been involved with the antiwar movement, that I had been arrested for the ‘napalm a dog’ incident, had friends amongst the Weather Underground (a violent anti-war movement), and because I was at the Canadian border, was highly suspect as a draft dodger. Agents were sent to apprehend me and knocked at the doors of my parents and several of my relatives and friends. They never found me. However, after this run-in with the law and from then on, I needed to avoid the police. I rode the freight trains when I would travel around the US and spent even more time in the high mountains of California and Colorado, delighting in nature. My mountain sojourns gave me a wonderful taste of wilderness along with the realization that nature, although overwhelmingly beautiful and possessed of 'wisdom', did not care about me at all. That included 'me' in particular as well as any other individual form of life. I found this humbling secret to be refreshing. Meanwhile, the FBI continued to pursue me over the next few years.
As I drifted down the river of idealism, I matured and entered my 20’s, I became more and more discouraged with politics as a way of remaking the world. I had met many people who had wonderful and noble political ideas, beliefs and causes, but, they were unhappy and not at peace in themselves and sometimes even emotionally aggressive or violent. Some of the more 'famous' among of them had stayed at my house in Takoma Park when I lived there with my parents. I noticed how they acted when they were not 'on stage'. I often thought that if these famous 'peaceful' people were left on an island to fend for themselves, after a while they would be at war with each other over something or other. I thought that politics was not radical enough of an approach. People had to change in their very being. They had to be what they sought to bring about in the world. Guiding my own life with this thinking, I sought to change the individual instead of 'the world' and I sought to do so beginning with myself.
Up until this point, I had long hair and lived the life of what I conceived of as a renunciate- free of most of the obligations of our society. I never really hung out in the hippy scene, but, I shared much of their idealism. I took life as it came to me, not trying to make it happen. I felt that desire for things and the obligations of full-time jobs and committed relationships seemed to lead most people into a complex morass of everyday life- a morass in which most of the people I saw around me were suffering. I noticed that if it did not seem like suffering at any particular moment, you only needed to 'give it or them a while'. It was the fate and way of everyone. I knew very few older people who I saw or felt could be called 'happy' or truly wise.
One day, I ran into an older German man in Santa Barbara. His name was Walter Koch. He had been one of the earliest devotees of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and he took an interest in me. I had come to the Transcendental Meditation Center in Isla Vista California with a friend of mine. The German man was an well-off and sophisticated and very intelligent businessman, wearing a suit and tie. I was wearing overalls, a white shirt and hiking boots.
“What are you doing with your life?” he asked.
“I am just going with the river, wherever it takes me”, I replied.
“You need not only float down the river." he replied. "You need not hit every rock and rapid on the way. You can take the rudder on the boat of your life and steer.”
It struck me like a thunderbolt from heaven. He was right. There was another way of living and considering this life. His answer was a turning point for me and I saw very clearly that I should and could take a greater responsibility for my life and adventures. It was the awakening of my will and a recognition of the need to apply it. These few words of this man changed the direction of my life.
A Deeper Understanding of 'Renunciation'
He went on to tell me about Transcendental Meditation and gave me Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita. I read it and before I had finished the first chapter, it became the second book to change my life (after Siddhartha). In the introduction to his commentary, Maharishi pointed out that the 'renunciation' spoken of in the Bhagavad-Gita and many other Indian scriptures, was the description of a person who had realized God, not a prescription of the way to do so. Although Maharishi was a formal renunciate and he recognized renunciation as a valid lifestyle, he said that the lifestyle of a monk was just a 'lifestyle' and that it was not a necessary one to realize God. Maharishi wrote of how the path to God had been closed for centuries to those who were not monks based on the confusion of a description of Realization with a prescription for certain lifestyle, that of a renunciate. A great wrong was done by this and an improper interpretation of the the message of the Bhagavad-Gita (as well as other great Teachers and Teachings) has been the result. Even amongst those who attempted the path of renunciation, Maharishi said that most were still putting the cart before the horse, imitating the state of renunciation by giving up the world to find God. True renunciation was the result of God-Realization not its cause. However dramatic, the lifestyle of renunciation does not cause God-realization. This was very big news to me. All my life I had struggled with what I thought was 'renunciation', trying to give it up, lay it down and let it go. I had failed in all of it. I was strongly drawn to Maharishi to be with him and to imbibe more of his radical wisdom.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Maharishi pointed out that a man or woman who had realized God was spontaneously a true renunciate. He made the analogy of a poor person losing a thousand dollars. How difficult that would be for him, how disturbing to his life. Then, Maharishi contrasted that poor mans' experience to a person who had a billion dollars. The billionaire would be almost unaffected by the same experience. What suffering would come to him by the loss of thousand dollars? In the terms of the analogy, the billionaire was spontaneously a renunciate-whether he gained or lost a thousand dollars. Just so, a man who had realized the Divine, the ultimate source and fullness of happiness( in this analogy the 'billion dollars') was unaffected by the gains and losses of the world. Renunciation was the result of Realization, not the cause. Maharishi claimed to offer a way to attain realization in this lifetime. My German friend said that I could meet, learn and sit at the feet of his great teacher.
( For more about Maharishi, renunciation and the 'cart before the horse': Let Me Tell You A Story)
This seemed to be the path I had been seeking. I began TM and with regular meditation and yoga asana my life became more healthy and balanced. After only a few months, I decided I wanted to become a teacher of Transcendental Meditation. The teacher training course that year was being held in Majorca, Spain and to go there, I needed a passport. That meant I had to register for the draft. To do that would probably get me arrested by the FBI and I would have to go to jail. I decided to register and pass through whatever I had to endure. I was called in to an FBI office and found out that they would not press charges- The draft board in my area where I was supposed to have registered had been broken into and the records burned. Even so, I still had to pass thorough one more hurdle. For anyone to go to a Teacher training course, he had to complete a preeparatory course held in the United States. the course for that year had already been held and it seemd I had to wait another year to go. I was so on fire with the desire to go that I got the number of Jerry Jarvis who was one of Maharishis main assistants at the time. Jerry was in Europe with Maharishi and I called him right away. Jerry gave me the party line about the prepartory course and I told him of my great desire to be with Maharishi and my love for his interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita and how I wanted nothing more in my life than to come and be with him. Jerry told me to call back in a few days. This repeated itself over the course of a week until finally Jerry gave me his OK.
My way was free and I went on to spend 8 months in Europe, with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I was tremendously excited to go to Europe. When I arrived in Calle Antenna, Mallorca. I was overflowing with my desire to see Maharishi. I was practicing the meditation he taught, reading his books and hearing about him from others. After checking in, we were told we would see him that very first evening in the small ballroom of a hotel right on the ocean. I was given a room in another hotel about a half mile from there. After most people had settled into their rooms, they all went to dinner, but, I meditated in my room, thrilled with what was about to occur, I was going to see Maharishi! I planned to arrive just before the appointed time at the hall.
I set out to walk the half mile along the deserted road between my hotel and the one in which we were to see Maharishi. The night was dark and the strange sweet smells of another country filled the air. I could hear the ocean very faintly in the distance. The sky was poured out with stars and the road was shrouded in darkness, broken only by a streetlight every hundred yards or so. There were no trees or bushes along the way. I could see a long way down the road as it rose and fell like waves on the ocean stretching off into the distance. Several hundred yards away I saw a small group of people walking towards me as they passed under a light and descended down into a dip in the road. I kept walking and as I approached a rise on the road where a streetlight stood, I saw coming from the other direction a group of men, many of them dressed in robes. In an instant, I knew it was Maharishi. I stopped and spontaneously brought my hands up to my chest in the Indian greeting of Namaskar. The group was about 20 feet away. As they approached the top of the hill, Maharishi noticed me and stopped. He brought up his hands in namaskar to me as the group surrounded him on either side. At that moment I felt a huge descent of nectar-like energy that literally brought me to my knees as I continued to gaze at him. Then, Maharishi walked towards me, at the same time that a car came from the direction of his hotel, its lights illuminating the scene. As he came to where I kneeled, he uttered the words 'Jai Guru Dev' and patted me on the head. The car pulled up and he got into it. As I followed him with my eyes, I was crying with joy. He smiled at me out the window, namaskar'ed again and the car drove off. I was filled with happiness.
That night I heard him speak for the first time and I fell in love with him. I remember the way he came into the room, moving very very slowly accepting the gift of a flower from each of us, looking us each in the eyes, always saying Jai Guru Dev, Glory to the Divine Guru. The way he moved, the way he spoke, the way he sat in meditation before he spoke to us, the way he took a flower from the many that had been given to him and held and gestured with it while he spoke with us. The way that flower would open in his hands by the end of every evening. His wisdom of the religious path of ancient India, a wisdom that he embodied. That feeling continued over the six months I spent there in Mallorca, sitting with him daily every evening while he meditated with us, spoke to us about the ancient tradition of the Vedas and answered our questions every evening.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
During that time we engaged in what was called 'rounding' or the alternation of meditation, yoga and pranayama for 12-15 hours a day. The initial part of this time was in Mallorca, Spain and the last several months took place in Fiuggi Fonte, Italy. Through Maharishi, I was exposed to the most ancient way of religious practice, that of living and meditating in the company a Guru. I believed Maharishi to be a Realizer, one who knew and had experienced what the scriptures talked about. He had been an intimate devotee and disciple of the great Sankaracharya of Jyotir Math, Brahmananda Saraswati. Maharishi had learned everything at the feet of his Master and according to that same living tradition. Maharishi was sharing with us experientially and philosophically the ancient Vedic culture of India.
During most of my time on the course, I spent the days in silence or mouna and had several classical experiences of a yogic variety. None of them changed my life, but, they did give me a subtle, or perhaps not so subtle, ego of accomplishment and pride. One night I told Maharishi about my oft-had experience of being the witness to may thoughts, feelings and actions. This state was described in several yogic texts and I seemed to be duplicating it in my own daily experience. Maharishi asked me several questions about this 'experience'. He asked me if this was my constant experience. I replied that on the meditation course it seemed to be nearly constant. He then asked me if I lost consciousness in deep sleep. I replied that I did lose consciousness of this 'seeming' witness state in deep sleep. Maharishi then proceeded to explain what I was experiencing; He said that the true state of the witness, is a state of consciousness that underlies the other three states of waking, dream and deep sleep and that when someone has attained to 'witness consciousness', truly, he does not lose that witness in waking, dreaming or deep sleep. What I was experiencing was the 'fixing' or identification of the attention on a subtle level of the mind that only seemed to be the witness, but was not. Although this experience showed some purification of the mind and attention, it was not that state of consciousness known as the 'witness'.
Throughout the course, people would stand up in the evening sessions and would tell of some more or less dramatic 'yogic' experience they were having in meditation. Every time, Maharishi would point out how consciousness was not an experience and that no matter what experience one would have, it was merely some form of 'unstressing', the elimination from the body of some impurity or tension. Every time we would see somebody else go through this experience in front of our small group, we could clearly see how that person had been enamored of and subsequently 'bought' his or her experience. It all seemed so obvious, until it happened to us. Then, we would find our self up in front of the room sharing with Maharishi what was certainly something special. This experiential and intellectual participation in 'ascended' or more subtle experiences gave us a good foundation for the teaching of meditation when others would have similar 'experiences'.
When I returned to the United States, I began to give lectures to the public on TM and to initiate people into the practice. During the 1970’s, I presented TM to both the Army and the Strategic Air Command. I had asked Maharishi how I should speak about 'God' or the Divine when speaking to people in the armed services. Maharishi replied that, "We need not use these words. What is important is the 'experience' of the Divine, the 'experience' of God, not the words or descriptions we could give to it". Maharishi was suggesting that teaching Transcendental Meditation would give people a way to experience God for themselves. As I traveled around the country giving talks, it was eye-opening for me to address the armed services, the specific organizations that dealt with war. I had come to oppose war except in extreme circumstances, after all I had been kicked out of school for threatening to napalm a dog in protest of the war in Vietnam, but, I never felt animosity towards soldiers or servicemen. In every place I visited, all on invitation, my experience was one of being welcomed and I found common feeling and gracious humanity alive wherever I went. It was a great joy to help people irregardless of what they believed or what they did and I found the lives the people who flew these atomic bombers fascinating and different.
Once, after giving a presentation on TM at Loring Air Force Base in Aroostook County Maine, I was talking privately with one of the SAC airmen who was thinking of starting meditation. He told me that he did not believe in Transcendental Meditation and therefore, he did not see how it could work. I replied that he did not have to believe that the sun would rise, but that had nothing to do with whether it did or not. The laws of nature do not need our belief to function and TM was based on the laws of nature. He was inititiated that weekend and had a very strong and good experience. I would repeatedly find that those who were the most outer directed and doubtful that meditation would ever work for them, had the most striking and powerful first-time experiences when they began meditation. I believe it was due to the contrast between their 'normal' state of mind and the one they experienced with TM when their mind for the first time ceased to be outwardly directed and turned within.
43 day fast on Water (1973)
During my time with Maharishi in Europe, I became sick with Nephritis- kidney disease. Along with this, I developed every vitamin deficiency in the book. After many tests and consultations, the western medical doctors who were working at the course, told me I had serious nephritis and would need to have my kidneys removed, after which I would need to go on dialysis and wait for a kidney transplant. I was terribly disturbed by their diagnosis. Here I was at a meditation course with a great Rishi, attempting to be 'free' and commune with the Divine and my body was sick and pulling me down. Not only was I sick, but it looked to the doctors as if I would be seriously damaged and affected by all of this for the rest of my life. This seemed to be the opposite of any sort of 'grace'.
Day by day, I became sicker and sicker. I would wake up in the morning and be tired. One night, I had a dream in which a beautiful woman appeared to me and said, "You are not hungry. Do not eat". Confused about what to do, after all, I did have every vitamin deficiency in the book, I went to Maharishi and asked him how to proceed. I gained an audience with him very late in the evening. After talking about my experiences and the nature of the sickness, Maharishi asked me, "What would your Mother say to do?" I replied that she would encourage me to fast. My Mother was a Natural Hygienic practitioner and a follower of Dr Herbert Shelton. Maharishi suggested I follow my Mothers advice.
The teacher training course was about to move en masse to Fiuggi Fonte, Italy and everybody had been reducing the length of their meditation for the trip. Maharishi had repeatedly told us all that it was very important not to come out of 14 hours a day of meditation to 2 hours a day over the period of just a few days. He said it was important to come down slowly, no more than an hour a day, over several weeks. He told us that the deep state of relaxation and meditation we had been engaging had stirred up a lot of 'unstressing' both physiological and psychological and to come down to quickly could be a shock to our system. Soon after the time I spoke to Maharishi about my health, everyone on the course began to move out of Mallorca to fly to Italy. Two days after everyone had left our hotel and gone to Italy, I went to the airport and flew to England where my Mother had given me the name of a Natural Hygienic doctor, Keki Sidwha. She had not contacted him yet, (I did not tell her that I was leaving the meditation course) but said that he was a well-known Natural Hygienic doctor in Europe and could possibly supervise a fast for me. I flew to Heathrow airport and after passing through customs, went to a phone booth where I hoped to find the doctor's number to call him and ask if I could come to his place and fast. I made my way to the phone booth with many pauses to sit down and rest. I was very weak from several days of fasting as well the flight and being sick.
Just as I had parked my bags and was about to enter the phone box, a man approached me and said, "Are you allright? Can I help you?" I told him I was just looking for a number for a doctor in England. I was sick and was hoping to see him. "Perhaps I can help you" , he replied. "Who are you looking for?" I gave him the name of Dr. Sidwha. As soon as I gave the name the man exclaimed, "O Keki (his full name was Keki Sidwha), you've come to fast!"
I was amazed. "How do you know him?", I asked.
"I have a vegetarian rest home in the same town, Frinton on Sea. Come with me", he said. "I can take you across town and then we will take a train to Keki's place". We got a taxi and drove across London. On the way, as the taxi slowed while we passed through town, I saw a 'metaphysical' bookstore and asked him if we could pull over and stop so that I could purchase a book for what I felt might be a long ordeal. He agreed and I went in. There I quickly found a book that I would read throughout my fast. It was the full version of The Gospel of Sri Ramkrishna by Mahendranath Gupta or M. It was a fortuitous choice. The story of Sri Ramkrishna and his devotees was a most wonderful companion for my long period of fasting.
After taking the taxi across London to the train station, we then took a train out to the east coast of England near the channel. We arrived at what looked like a small stone castle. It was Dr Sidwha's fasting institute called 'Shalimar'. He later told me that the name, 'Shalimar', meant 'Garden of Love'. and it was named after the famous gardens created for the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan in Lahore of which the emperor is said to have exclaimed upon viewing them for the first time, "If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this".
Dr. Keki Sidwha
When I arrived in England, it was February. The weather was chilly and cloudy with sunny days sprinkled here and there. For a little more than a month, I lay on my bed under a pile of blankets, meditated, slept, read and looked out the window at beautiful fields of grass that extended to the Channel. Around the 38th day of the fast, I began to have large swellings of my mastoid glands which lie towards the back of the jaw and under the ears. As they grew larger an larger, Dr. Sidwha became concerned. There was a possibility they could burst and crossing the blood brain barrier, could prove fatal. I was now the 40th day of the fast. He called my parents, told them my situation was 'serious' and for them to come to England immediately. He then called in two local Medical doctors to give me their advice. They both told me that I was in danger of dying and I should come to the local hospital immediately for care. I thought back about the dream in which I told Maharishi that a beautiful woman had told me to fast. I remembered Maharishi's blessing on the fast. I remembered all the grace that had attended me on this particular adventure and I shook my head 'no', I would not take the advice of these doctors. They shook their heads in disgust, as if I was a drowning man refusing their outstretched hand. They got up and left my room, closing the door behind them.
As soon as the door closed, the mastoid glands burst and began to drain inside my mouth. This was a very good sign and it continued for several days. On the night of the 43rd day, I had a dream of an apricot tree, standing in a high mountain green grass valley. The tree was covered with beautiful, orange, golden apricots. I woke up from the dream and was hungry. I pulled the cord by my bed which rang Dr Sidwha and he came rushing in. I told him that I was hungry. He was overjoyed and relieved to see the fast had completed itself- hunger had returned. He went out to make some fresh juice for me. He had his daughter bring it in to me and I drank it. The cells of my body seemed to rejoice. I looked out my window and there were daffodils coming up all over the green meadow. It was spring. After breaking the fast I went on seven days of vegetable and fruit juices.
I quickly recovered what became a radiant state of health. I experienced a complete healing of my illness as well as a constant sense of happiness in both body and mind. For a brief while I was clairaudient and clairvoyant. I was in such a balanced and radiant state that I thought I had attained some sort of 'spiritual' state. It took me about a month for the intensity of my experience and felt sense of radiance to fade and I realized I had mistaken a physical state of extreme pleasure for a 'spiritual' state of being. Chastened by my realization, I returned to the meditation course in Italy and several months later became a Teacher of TM.
Teaching Transcendental Meditation
I began teaching Transcendental Meditation upon my return to the United States. I gave several talks in the Washington DC area and realized that I liked giving out the gift of meditation to other people and I was good speaking in public. Before every talk I would meditate and my concerns about public speaking would dissolve. Once I began, it was very enjoyable and I especially liked when people asked questions. One day I was asked to give a presentation on TM at Fort Meade Maryland. It was to be given to the US Army. The talk went over well and I was glad to be of service in this way. I enjoyed teaching TM in the large cities of the Mid-Atlantic but I wanted to bring it to areas of the US where it had never been presented before. I decided to go to Maine. I gave several talks at the University of Maine in Bangor. One night, on the first night of the introductory talk, about a hundred people attended. At the end of that first night presentation, I asked all those who wanted to begin meditation to come to a preparatory lecture to be held on Friday evening. That night, the hall was filled again and I concluded the talk by saying, 'Thank you all for coming this evening. I now would like to speak to only those who want to actually begin meditation this weekend. So, for all those who want to be initiated tomorrow, please stay. For all those who wish to continue suffering, thank you again for coming'. Everyone knew that I was joking and was seriously, not serious. There was a silence in the room as everyone waited for those who did not wish to stay to get up and leave. No one moved. I repeated my request that only those who wished to begin meditation tomorrow morning should stay as I needed to speak with them privately. Again there was silence in the room. Then, in the back, a guy spoke up and said, "It looks like we are all staying!" Everyone laughed and it was true. It was the largest group of people that I had ever taught.
Later, I moved up to Aroostook County in northern Maine to give a lecture on TM at the Loring Strategic Air Command Base. These were the guys who flew the B-52 Atomic bombers. It was interesting how I, a draft resister, wound up first at the Army Base at Fort Meade Maryland and now at a branch of the Air Force. After I had given the talk, I remember one guy came up to me and said, "I think I am going to try this thing. It has been strongly recommended to me by my commanding officer. But, I don't believe in it so I don't see how it could every work for me". I told him that, 'Your belief one way or the other makes no difference whatsoever. Whether you believed the sun was going to rise or not didn't make one whit of difference as to whether it did or not. Similarly, this meditation is not based on belief'.
When he showed up for the initiation carrying his fruit and flowers, I could see he was very uncomfortable. He went through the short ceremony that I performed and received his mantra. Very quickly, I could tell that he had become very still and his breathing had gotten very subtle. After a few minutes, when I brought him out of his first meditation, he was in awe of what he had just experienced. Over time I found this was a common experience amongst people who did not believe it was going to work. They came in with very low expectations as well as a lifelong habit of being directed outwardly with their thinking mind. The low expectations allowed them to be innocent and using the technique of TM, they almost always, went into a very deep state of rest and well being. Their lifelong habit of being outwardly directed provided a dramatic contrast in the quality of their experience and they often became the most impressed with the meditation.
Going Back to School
Over the next several years I continued to teach meditation and returned several times a year to Europe to be with Maharishi. During a winter Teachers course on the cloudy, wet coast of Oostende, Belgium, I asked Maharishi what I should do with my life. At that time in my life, I wanted to become a monk and devote my life to religious practice. Maharishi told me that I was already 'udhvaretas', that my energy already flowed upwards and that it was not for me to become a monk at this time. He told me to get a degree in Vedic Studies and then come back to see him. I decided to attend the excellent Religious studies department at the University of California Santa Barbara, primarily because a man by the name of Raimundo Panikar taught there and the department was very strong in Indian/Sanskrit studies.
Scholarship with Buckminster Fuller (1976)
Since I had not graduated high school, I needed to attend community college to transfer into UC Santa Barbara. There I met a wonderful teacher, Mervin Lane. He was a wonderful and wild teacher. On the first day of class he walked in and asked everyone to write one page on why they were there, putting our names at the top of the page. Then, he left the room. About a half hour later he came back and had us all pass in what we had written. He then sat in the front of the room and began to read the papers. Some he would read and put down on the desk. Some he would read and then abruptly tell the person who had written the paper that this class was not for him and he suggested that they leave. After he had asked a few people to leave, I spoke up and objected to what he was doing. I said that whatever the people had written they had a right and an interest in being in the class. Instead of being angry with me, he relished the fact that I was bold enought to get into it with him and we argued our positions in front of the class. In the end, everyone stayed and Mervin and I became close friends.
He introduced me to Buckminster Fuller. In 1976 I wrote a paper in his class on the ‘History of Industrialization’ and he submitted it to a organization that awarded me a one-month scholarship to be with Buckminster Fuller at the World Game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the summer.
Fuller was a most brilliant and original thinker, poet, and inventor. He did many different things in his life and made a great point out of claiming to be a 'comprehensivist' as opposed to a specialist. I, too, identified with this quality. He thought that the increasing trend of education towards specialization was creating a world of people out of touch with actual principles of how the world worked. He thought that specialization was making people and societies stupid and the world a mess. Unlike the back to the land ideal that flourished in the 60's, Fuller held that technology, by accomplishing so much more and using so much less raw materials, would allow many more people to live better lives. Of course it could also be used for great destruction and ruin. He wrote a book called "Utopia or Oblivion" on just this idea. Fuller held that in the early part of the 20th century and for the first time in history, there was enough food and resources for living. And, we had the technology to distribute this abundance around the world; All this, he said, was because of technology. Prior to this time there was not enough to go around and this led to the control of weaker cultures by the more aggressive, armed and (therefore) stronger ones. The reasoning behind their aggression was that there was not enough to go around and it was either 'us' or 'them' and therefore it better be 'us'.
Fuller said that for hundreds of years the great powers of the world had based their operating philosophies on the Malthusian doctrine. Malthus was an English economist who lived at the beginning of the 19th century. This was the age when the sun never set on the English empire, they were literally, all around the world. Because of the unique vantage point provided by being a highly informed Englishman and taking in economic data from all around the world for the first time in history, Malthus saw important and troubling numbers relevant to population and food supply. Malthus saw and wrote that "while population increases in an geometric ratio, food supply increases in an arithmetical ratio". In simpler terms, as the population of the world increased, there would not be enough to go around. It was, either 'us or them'. Fuller said that the great civilizations of the world responded to this 'fact' in different ways. For instance, the English sought through imperialism to dominate the world and its raw materials and goods. In Russia, Karl Marx reacted another way to the long history of the bourgeoisie and the upper classes exploiting and taking from the workers and the proletariat. Marx proposed to do away with the exploitive class structure and replace it with socialism. Marx thought that what there was of limited goods and food should be equally and judiciously distributed. However, according to Fuller, they were both wrong. Like the English and the Western countries, Marx had based his theory on Malthus' information- that there was not enough to go around. Fuller held that this part of the Malthusian doctrine was wrong.
Fuller said that Malthus' theory that did not take into account the effect of technology and industrialization. Industrialization had changed the way the world worked. It enabled man to accomplish much more than ever before in history, using less and less material. Take for example the first computer. It filled a whole room. That room filling computer had less computing power than a modern day laptop. Or, consider the millions of tons of cable that were laid in the transatlantic crossing and are now replaced by a ten pound satellite and wireless communication. Industrialization moves increasingly in the direction of what Fuller called ephemeralization- something less and less material or permanent. Because the world was doing so much more with so much less raw material and energy, for the first time in history there was more than enough to go around. Malthus was wrong in his theory and Marx has based his system on that faulty theory. The implications of this were huge. It greatly changed the way I considered the world and I wrote my paper on its powerful implications.
Fullers radical thinking caused me to pay closer attention to him and through the mentoring and tutoring of Merv Lane. With the access to Fuller's company in a scholarship, to take part in the World Game to be held at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. It was a one month seminar to be led by Fuller on how to make the world work.
During this one month seminar, I was fortuitously invited attend a small private dinner with Fuller and just a few other people. It was the night of July 4, 1976, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While the nations first capital (Philadelphia) and people all over the United States loudly celebrated their bicentennial in the streets, our small group of six people drank in the gift of ancient wisdom from this amazing and brilliant man.
That night, Bucky spoke to us of the world of sailing and the world as seen by a man at sea. Indeed, much of Fullers terminology, the very words he used and the principles they represented, came from the nautical world. He had spent much time sailing as a younger man off the coast of Maine and had been in the navy during WWII. Think of the famous term he coined- 'Spaceship Earth'. He came to this idea because he thought of man as a sailor and the earth as a ship. The sea is a world where everything is in motion. Fuller pointed out that we do not live in a static world, a world in motion is the reality of life and the nautical world and concepts were born of this realization. Along the lines of this nautical metaphor, he pointed out that a ship is a closed and limited environment, not an unlimited one. He told us how important it was to grasp and understand this:
He said that many years ago he had spoken to a group of architects in New York City. He asked the assembled group if any of them knew how much the huge, many storied stone, steel and glass building they were sitting in weighed. None of them had any idea. Fuller found this to be a major oversight and a serious lack of knowledge on their part. How could they maximize the potential that could come from building materials and structures if they were not thinking 'ecologically', and they were not thinking ecologically if they did not know what the building weighed. How could they build a structure in accord with the operating principles of life, of spaceship earth if they had no thorough concept of their environment?
Fuller, who had captained many a boat, said that 'On a ship, one always had to know how much weight was to be carried. It was important to know this if the ship was to be able to perform well on the water. It was this 'closed' or limited environment, (similar to the nature of the world as a space-ship), that gave rise to the very concept of 'ecology'. The word 'ecos' comes from the Greek word for house or home. Ecology', he said, 'begins with the recognition of the 'household', the closed or limited environment of the world. It is born of the realization that you cannot just dump your trash or waste into a river or an ocean and that it will just be washed away. Living on this planet, we are on a ship, a closed environment, and absolutely everything needs to be recycled- there is no where else to put it. We need to know how much things 'weigh' and how they 'work'.
Fuller spoke about 'cybernetics' which he defined as the 'science of self-regulating or self-steering mechanisms'. (Think of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the 'cyborg' or the self regulating organism. Think of 'cyberspace' as self regulating space). Bucky pointed out that the word, cybernos, comes from the Greek word for the 'helmsman', of a boat. Then as we waited for our main course to be served, Bucky made a startling statement, "A drunk cybernos makes less mistakes than a sober cybernos". I asked him how that could be . . . I didn't want to be in a boat or a car driven or steered by a drunk. He nodded his head in agreement. I felt completely lost but I knew he was setting me up for the punchline. Then, he made his point, "Unless you make a mistake, you do not correct your course. Because a drunk does not make so many mistakes, he does less correction of his course and so his course is mis-taken, he weaves his way down the road, or he hits something with deadly results. A sober man is constantly correcting his many little mistakes, even imperceptibly, before they get big and his course is thereby true"
Fuller spoke of 'synergetics', what he called the behavior of a whole system not predicated on the behavior of its parts. He told us of chrome-nickel steel and how its strength is over 50% greater than the sum of the strength of its component metals, nickel and chrome if you added them together. He spoke of gravity and how there was nothing in all the stuff of the universe that would predict that one thing would be mutually attracted to another thing. Gravity is a 'synergistic' phenomenon.
Fuller spoke of the principle of 'precession'. He told us how precession is the relationship that occurs between objects that are in motion. 'Imagine a top', he said. 'When it is set spinning, if you push it, it will go at right angles to the direction of your push. The 'top' is the same as the earth which is spinning around the sun. Both the sun and earth are mutually attracted to each other. The suns greater mass and gravitational attraction would pull the earth directly into itself, but since the earth is spinning, like a top, it goes in a grand elliptical circle at right angles around the sun'.
Fuller said that his realization of the importance of precession was one the greatest insights of his life. He said that the principle of precession is how life 'works'. He gave another example: "The honeybee goes to a flower in pursuit of honey. The bee only wants the honey, but at right angles to the intention or drive of the bee, flowers are pollinated. The honeybee is not concerned with pollinating flowers." Bucky proposed that 'life happens at right angles or in a precessional manner to the 180 degree straight ahead intentions of the bee' (or any living being). He went on to point out that it was exactly the same with a human seeking money or sex or pleasure or power. Life happens at right angles to our straight ahead desires. By recognition of this, he said, we can begin to design our lives to look for the precessional aspects of our actions. By doing so, we take into account the principle of precession and thus gain the advantage of working with the very 'nature' of nature. Fuller pointed out that it is only a human being that can recognize the precessional aspects of his actions on such a large scale. All other animals do not.
I do not remember all of what happened that night, but I do remember that Bucky spoke of the word 'trimtab', what it was and what it represented. Like anything he sppoke of, it was an necessary link in the chain of his consideration and had much of value. It needed to be understood by mankind. Fuller told us how a large boat like the Queen Mary has a very large, many tonned rudder at the the very back end of the ship. At the back end of that very large rudder is a very small rudder. When the captain wants to turn the huge main rudder in one direction, he turns the small rudder in the opposite direction. This creates a difference of water pressure or lower pressure vacuum on one side of the large rudder and the main rudder can now be moved with almost no effort; It is literally 'drawn' in that direction. This little rudder is called the 'trimtab'.
The 'yellow' is the trimtab at the back of the rudder
Bucky said the trimtab and the principle it represented, is a demonstration of the power of the individual to change the direction of the 'ship of state', doing what government and corporations cannot, by applying design science, by doing the 'right' intelligent action, by using the principle of the 'trimtab'. Fuller pointed out how the action of the trimtab can even be applied when the bulk of a huge ship has already passed, even when it seems to late to do anything. He said that this gave him hope that the direction of the world could still be changed by the intelligent actions of individuals. Fuller died in 1983, shortly after his wife, Ann. The epitaph carved on his tombstone says: "Call Me Trimtab"
Fuller was a seminal font of ideas and principles. He left me with much more wonder at life than when I first met him. I did not understand much of his mathematical musings and my own interest with him focused mainly on his principles, philosophy, poetry and dramatic life history. He was a bold and ballsy individual. He did not represent any traditional religious path but I found him to be a deeply religious man with a personally 'invested' scientific vocabulary. He had thrown himself into life as an experiment. Out of his complete submission to what is, born of many deep failures, unique revelation and grace had come to him. To me, he was one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. After I came back to Santa Barbara, I shared my experiences with him in a series of public lectures.
BA with honors from University of California Santa Barbara/ Religious Studies (1978-1982)
At UCSB, I studied with Raimundo Panikar, a great Vedic scholar, Catholic priest and real 'philosopher' in the original sense of the term- a lover of wisdom. Because of my interest and expressed passion for the Vedic tradition, I became friends with Pannikar and he invited me to participate in his exciting graduate courses. We studied Indian Hermeneutics, Bhartrahari, Heidegger and the philosophy of language. He was a wonderful teacher. Like Fuller, Pannikar was passionate and engaged with ideas and their application in everyday life and living. Knowledge meant something to him, it was important to the very quality of a persons life, not just for their job or financial future. With Pannikar, there was something at stake with learning. He considered knowledge and learning as part of a religious life.
I graduated with a BA at the top of the Religious Studies department and, was awarded scholarships to the graduate schools of Harvard, Chicago and the University of Hawaii in Religious Studies. I visited each school and met with the professors in the relevant departments. I was decidedly un-impressed with each the various teachers as none of them seemed to be 'practitioners' of the religious traditions they were teaching, none of them had sought out a true Guru or 'realizer' and lived a religious life of practice with them and none of them seemed to have any realization or religious experience to speak of in their own life. Nor did they seem really interested in getting any experience. The aspiration of their life did not yearn for direct experience. Their knowledge seemed to be all in their own heads, it had not come down into their their bodies or their lives. There was not anything wrong with being a scholar, just as there was nothing wrong with becoming a car mechanic. But, there was something different about the field in which I was interested. I was not intestested in it as a scholar only. I did not want to read the books just to compare and contrast them with other books (although I did and do so), I was desirous of understanding them also by experience, my own experience and firsthand. I knew even then that only a great being, only one who had realized what the scriptures said and had become them, could properly interpret or teach them to others, at least at the level on which I wanted to learn.
I had more sympathy with the great Sufi, Abdul Latif:
Why call yourself a scholar, O Mullah?
(Mullah is a person educated in Islamic Scripture)
You are lost in words
You keep on speaking nonsense,
And only worship yourself
Despite seeing God everywhere with your own eyes
You consider only the dirt
We Sufis have taken the flesh from the holy Scriptures
While you dogs are fighting with each other
Tearing each other apart
For the privilege of gnawing at bones
-Shah Abdul Latif
Deeply feeling all of this, I decided not to go into what I felt was a sterile ‘ivory tower of learning’ and 'consider only dirt'. Instead, I decided to go down into the 'body' and 'out' into the world, to work with my hands in some sort of physical craft. I decided to 'get dirty'.
I was reminded of this weighty necessity in a quote from Carl Jung:
To work with my hands was not something that I had been attracted to in my life. In fact, it was the opposite of what I had aspired to up to then and the opposite of what I seemed to be gifted in.That was exactly why I chose it. It was only many years later that I found out that doing what you are not attracted to, has precedence in the Tantric paths.
"To build character, do something for no other reason than its difficulty"
At the time, I thought working with my hands would bring 'balance' to my life. Through 'grace', I got work in a cabinet shop in Santa Barbara and a few months later, found a job doing architectural woodworking for Gene Hackman, the actor, at his estate in Montecito. I had been asked if I could build a spiral staircase on a deck in back of his house. I said that I could, even though I had never done such a thing, but, I knew or felt that I could find someone who knew how to do it and he or she could tell me. Although the stairway was greatly overbuilt, I built it well. It was the beginning of many years of designing and building. A skill that has served me well in the world allowing me to make money and support myself and others.
Over time, I found more and more high-end exotic woodworking jobs and eventually developed a full-fledged company-Malakoff and Associates, an Architectural Woodworking Firm that employed 14 people in Sausalito, Ca. We designed and built the interiors of the houses and boats of the very rich and famous, including a Gothic Cathedral- The Cathedral of the Madeline in Salt Lake City, for the Catholic Church
Tabernacle at Cathedral of the Madeleine/ Salt Lake City
To view pictures of Woodworking
Several of my creations were featured in Fine Woodworking Magazine. We did exquisite work and had lots of it. Nonetheless, I found the necessity to always deal with money and difficult clients very stressful and disturbing. It had been another thing altogether when only I was involved. Now I had the feeling and responsibility for the lives of others, and, their actions also affected me. I could not just walk away when somebody else made a mistake. I was responsible for all of it. There were legal contracts, liens to make, clients to pacify and meetings with accountants.
As we became larger and more successful, I found myself in cash-flow problems that reached a crisis when a very rich client, who I still do not know if he was 'crazy' or criminal, did not pay us the last $65K for a large library we had done to perfection. I could not manage my sucessful company with that kind of 'hit'. I had to go bankrupt. It was one of the most difficult times of my life. I was unable to honor many commitments and had the unsettling experience that most of the people around me did not care what the explanation or cause was, they only wanted their money.
Many people acted extremely selfishly. I had gone to all our creditors and told them that if they would hold off on their demand for immediate payments and not shut down the lines of credit they had extended, that our company could pull itself out of this hole. We had lots of work and an excellent reputation. But, word of our difficulty was out, indeed, I had put it out myself, by naively sharing with others what our situation was.
Everyone was worried that they would be last in line, after the other guy, and thus they might not be paid at all. So, all our creditors came at our company for their money in full, filing for judgments in courts. In the end, the bankruptcy courts hashed it all out and no one got anything. I had to close the business in the midst of what for years had seemed a fantastic 'success'.
Although I had eaten what I thought was very good diet and had been mostly a vegetarian for most of my life, I had, in 2001, what seemed to be a heart attack. I was taken to the hospital where they could not find the 'cause' of the heart attack or what to do about it. The doctors suggested a variety of tests including one in which they would thread something into my heart from my groin to take a look around. This did not seem like a very good idea to me and I declined their suggestions and went home to rest. I had seen too many people fall into the hands of the western medical practitioners and it very, very rarely came out for the good.
A friend of mine asked me if I had been to an Ayurvedic doctor. 'After all', she said, 'You have studied the Vedic tradition'. Indeed, Vedic medicine or Ayurveda was an aspect of that ancient tradition, but, it was an aspect that I had never explored.
Subsequently, I went to an Ayurvedic doctor who diagnosed my condition as excessive 'Pitta' or too much of the fire element and asked me to change my diet considerably. The main things that I ate on a regular basis were said to be the direct and specific causes of my 'dis' eased state. Within a month, the dietary changes and herbs I took made a huge and successful difference. My heart 'problem' as well as many other symptoms I thought were un-related, went away. I became fascinated with Ayurveda and wanted to help others apply its beautiful, rational and effective wisdom in their own lives. I felt I had found a way to understand and 'manipulate' somewhat the law of karma as it applied to health and disease.
Ayurveda Degree Kalidas Sanskrit University - Nagpur India (2002-2004)
So, I went back into Vedic studies with a focus on the Indian Medical tradition. In 2002 I began a course of study in Ayurveda and subsequently went to Nagpur, in the state of Maharashtra, India where I received a degree in the subject from Kalidas Sanskrit University, the very first Ayurvedic degree program from an Indian University, presented specifically for Western students. I studied under Dr. Sunil Joshi, a living legend in the field. He was an inspiring and inspired teacher with a passion for teaching.
It was not until I had finished the course, received my degree and started to practice, that I realized I was following in the footsteps of my parents. They had always said that their 'religion' was helping other people and making the world a better place for all. Practiing Ayurveda was not only a 'job' that I could do. It was a continuation of a family tradition. Sometimes people said that they could not come and see me as they could not afford to do so. I always told them to 'pay what they could', I would still see them. I never turned anyone away for not having enough money. I would never do so. I felt like someone who had a lifeboat on the Titanic. How could I turn anyone away? I was not doing it just to make money.
I was pleased to read that one of the great teachers of Ayurveda in the classical world, Sushruta, had written:
“He who regards kindness to humanity as the supreme religion and treats his patients accordingly, best succeeds in achieving the goals of life and obtains the greatest happiness.”
Dr. Sunil Joshi
After receiving my degree, I traveled around India for three months. I went to Benaras and lived on the Ganges from one full moon to another. I found the ancient cremation grounds of Manikarnika Ghat, the most attractive part of the city. They were ancient and powerful. They were serious and 'grave'. It was a previously untasted aspect of what we call life that was served here. The cremation grounds at Manikarnika Ghat are located in the heart of the city, not on its outskirts. This is because to die in Benaras was to be liberated and millions of people for thousands of years have come her to do just that. Manikarnika ghat is unique amongst all the 'smashans' or cremation grounds because of this.
Part of every day and night that I spent in Benaras, I went to the cremation grounds. To see so many human bodies burning day after day was the perfect antidote to my western cultural exposure to Disneyland and Hollywood. It gave me a clear and balancing vision of death as a part of life. It is something rarely experienced in the West. Death is hidden here and the psyche is deluded by the lack of its experience. In the west we see so few actual signs of old age and death that we can live our whole lives as if they did not and do not exist.
The cremation grounds sobered me and brought me to ground. Because I was there every day, over time, I met and became friends with one of the 'doms', the caste that carries out the cremations. I was invited to eat at his 'house' in Benaras and I learned much about the cremation rituals and what was going on around me. Although I had observed the cremation grounds every day, without someone pointing out to me all the events and rituals of what was happening, I would of passed over much of it. I was given the opportunity to photograph right in the cremation grounds for one day and the pictures offer an intimate vision of the burning grounds of Manikarnika ghat.
Peter in India
(To read more about Benaras and see Pictures)
(To see Pictures Only of the Manikarnika Ghat- Cremation Grounds)
Benaras is the oldest city in the world and full of everything, every taste and all the pairs of opposites in abundance. It was a city that seemed like a living myth, overflowing with stories and history. There was not a place in the old part of the city, that one could not find a temple of some sort.
(To view Slide show/ Movie on Benaras)
Being in India was like traveling back to the origin of our world, not just in time and ages, but to the source of every thing and idea that we live amongst today, even in the West. In philosophy and religion, in architecture and science, in astronomy and astrology, in medicine and yoga, if you follow the roots, they all go deep, deep, down into the Vedic culture of India.
Tsunami, Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu, India (2004)
In the winter of 2004, I was living on the coast of Tamil Nadu on the southeast coast of India in a town called Mamallapuram.
On the 26th of December, the day of the full moon, early in the morning, I felt a strong and distant earthquake, larger and longer than I have ever felt before. A few hours later, a tidal surge of 15ft came in, killing thousands of people up and down the coast where I was living.
Most of the fishermen and their families lived directly on the ocean.
Their houses were destroyed, their boats swept out to sea, their young and oldest among them killed.
(For Story and Pictures: Tsunami)
(For Pictures Only of The Tsunami in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu)
I was staying on the second floor of a stone beachfront cottage and had a first hand view and experience of the whole thing.
I escaped only by ‘luck’ or ‘fate’
Tsunami on the way out-Tamil Nadu, India
To read more about Fate or luck: (Tragedy, Fate and Nemesis) or another story: (Character and Fate)
There is an old saying in India:
The bird of Wisdom has two wings
One is the wing of understanding
and the other is the wing of experience
A bird cannot fly with just one wing
it just goes round and round
in circles on the ground
If one has had an experience
but does not have a true understanding or story
of what that experience is
that bird will not fly
if one has an 'understanding' or story
but has not yet had the experience
that bird will not fly either
Looked at in this way
all my life
I have been trying to fly
When I look back at the range of experiences I tasted, now I am gald that I did not pursue a narrow field of study.
I had always been interested in being a doctor. What kind of doctor? Every kind. There was no kind of helping or healing that felt should be excluded.
I unknowingly followed the advice of Carl Jung, who spoke of an ancient advice put forth in many cultures.
I always wanted to understand what is going on and why. I wanted to taste everything. How else could I know about it?
It was in this way that I discoverd the stories that I needed to tell
"Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn
next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better
advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar's gown, bid
farewell to his study, and wander with human heart through the
world. There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals,
in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-halls, in the salons
of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, socialist meetings, churches,
revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and
hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body,
he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot
thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a
real knowledge of the human soul."
-- Carl Jung
Recently, I founded a business making organic Ghee- ANCIENT ORGANICS.
Since my return to the US, I have been a consultant in Ayurveda, sharing with others in consultations and talks the wisdom of that ancient tradition. I have given talks on Ayurveda to a variety of groups including Yoga Teacher Training courses. The practice of Ayurveda has been well served by my study and experience in other fields:
“A person who studies only one branch of learning cannot arrive at Truth. Therefore, physicians should strive to learn as many related sciences as possible.”-Sushruta
I have made several short movies which I have shown publicly, including a documentary on the Indian medieval Saint- Kabir
(To view Documentary/ MOVIE: KABIR)
I have also continued to do exotic woodworking.
As I grow older, I want to give back the gifts I have been given. I want to pass something on that tells of my own journey along the path. I want to tell of things I have seen and stories I have heard- not just stories that entertain, although I see nothing wrong with that, but, stories that make a real difference in the long term nature of a persons life. I want to help others avoid some of the dead ends I have been down and to put forth, at the very least, some good questions that others may use to inquire of life. I want to leave something of value for others.
When was in my teens, I went hiking up on Mount Washington in the White Mountain of New Hampshire. It is the highest peak in the Northeastern, United States. I had gone up with my camp group and we all had been warned of the erratic weather the mountain was famed for. We had left early in the morning and as we went further and further up, soon we passed above tree line and were walking along the rock scree. Then, all of a sudden, the weather changed and a fog came in. It was impossible to see any path amongst the rocks. The only thing we had to rely upon were the rock cairns or piles that had been left by others to show the way. If it was not for those markers, we would of lost our way.
I want to leave some rock cairns of the way I have passed. I want to leave some descriptions of what I have seen for others, so that when the clouds come in, they will have a guide as well. Before the Europeans arrived, Mount Washington was known as Agiocochook, or "Home of the Great Spirit". I want to leave some record of my passing here.
When I wrote this, I was living on a beautiful parcel of land in Bolinas, California where you can hear and see the Pacific ocean and a large lagoon that fills and empties every day with the tides. The San Andreas fault runs right down the very center of the lagoon. When I think about it, I am reminded that that fault will slip one day. It is not a case of 'if', it is a case of 'when'. When it does 'slip', it will probably cause terrible death and destruction. It reminds me of life and death and how temporary everything is already. I too will 'slip' out of this life. Everyone I know will 'slip' and everything will and is slipping away.
In front of my house there is a large meadow of green grass surrounded by a forest of trees. I can see the green soft rolling hills of the coastal mountains as they go down to the ocean and the white clouds drifting on their shoulders. There is the moon and its cycles which I notice dramatically out here where there are very few lights. I can feel the subtle difference in nature as the moon waxes and wanes. It is so obvious how most of the calendars in the world were based on the lunar cycle. It makes much more feeling sense out of time. Then, of course there is the sun, without which there would be nothing, and, the many, many other stars I can see at night. Many beings and communities of animals and insects and birds live here. There are deer and their young fawns, owl, white herons and hawks, lizards, bobcat and a great, great deal of silence.
The view outside my door- the Bolinas lagoon(San Andreas Fault) and the ocean
When I go out at night to stand and listen
there is still no end to the universe
I see and feel a greater sympathy with both death and life
I am more of a failure than ever before
I am thankful for this accomplishment
I have experienced
great wonder and disappointment at how the world is turning out
I have seen
how difficult it is to control or understand even my own destiny
much less the destiny of the world around me
I still look to
from which I can guide the boat of my life
I know how hard it is, in difficult circumstances
to hold to a proper course
even when I have found it
I have also found how easy and magical it can be.
I have noticed
how true change happens when we are not looking
we notice it after the fact
So much of my life has been serendipity
I am amazed at the vast amount of effects or causes
beyond my comprehension or control
as well as the control of anyone
This seems to increase my faith
that something is working out
I have a sense that a vast story is being told
or a dream being dreamed
and the mystery is 'Divine'
I do not know for sure
I feel the pain of vulnerability to everything
I take pleasure in that
I see that life will ultimately result in death
I marvel at how deluded we all seem to be
as if the bell never tolls for us
I am not utterly defeated
I still have hope for defeat
I have gotten older
'the least expected thing to happen to a person'
I have been graced with experience and stories
I have had the blessing of many wonderful beings
I am filled with gratitude
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