"'I' is the centerpole on which
we hang the tent of our experience;
- Adi Da
"My thoughts return to those who gave me life and guided me
and now are older or gone.
I would repay the bounty they gave me, but it is as the sky
and cannot be approached."
- Chinese poem
According to my mother, my very first words were, "Read, Read, Go, Go!" My first spoken desire was a request to hear a story . . . I wanted to learn from a very young age and all my life I have followed that desire; attracted to knowledge, stories, and understanding.
To even know myself, I tell a story. Sometimes it seems I am a 'person' without existence, except for the stories I tell others or have myself been told. Without these stories, I lack memory for many things. Often, in regards to my personal past, I was concerned with my lack of memory, a lack of recall 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 I now believe this lack of memory has to do with my own particular way of being present in life. I actually do remember, but what I remember is something 'else.' I remember a subtle yet discernible path, a purpose, quality or rasa (taste) that guides and leads me, even though most of my life I have been unconscious of it; yet when I look back I can see it, like the ball of thread given to Theseus by Ariadne, unspooling behind me in this Minotaurs cave of confusing happenings, marking the way, if only after the fact. As I realized this to be my own inheritance, I no longer regretted the quality of my memory, for like any characteristic, for everybody with any and every gift or boon, there always comes a corresponding weakness and bane. Wherever the blessing is, that is exactly where the curse lies as well. Perhaps I have been cursed with a lack of memory of many details such as names and dates and blessed with a heightened sense of purpose and meaning, the remembrance of something greater; who knows?
My parents were wonderful, gracious, humorous and loving humanitarians. They were ethical vegetarians. This was before being a 'vegetarian' became common in America. My mother was 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 (ethically) 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 of disease instead of just suppressing its symptoms. She read the books of Herbert Shelton on fasting and Natural Hygiene and the writings of Ann Wigmore and she passed them on to me. When I was young we went from being vegetarians who didn't eat meat to Natural Hygienists who eat almost all raw foods. My Mother gave up most cooking although we still had cooked foods on holidays at our relatives and in the cold winter months of Washington DC.
I liked being a vegetarian for ethical reasons, but I did not always like the emphasis on raw foods. For a long time, I objected to it and wished I had a mother who prepared hot meals and I would gladly 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 her love: "Do you know how you can tell Jesus was Jewish? Well, he lived at home till he was thirty, he worked in his Father's profession and his mother thought he was God."
My parents: Marjorie and Norman Malakoff
There is a story in the Jewish tradition about the Lamed Vav Tzadikim, the hidden Tzadikim (a righteous Jew (or Jews) who sincerely care about others and strive to fulfill the Torah's commandments to the best of their ability). It is said there are never less than 36 of them in the world. These good, noble, and humble people justify the life of man in the eyes of God and it is for their sake that God saves the world from destruction. They never know who they are, nor do they know each other and neither does anyone else. I always felt if this was true, then my Father must be one of them.
My father was an idealist and a humorous, disciplined, practical and loving man . . . a rare combination of qualities. He had a hardware store (Mals Hardware) in Washington DC with his brother Leon. He loved mountains, rivers, caves, and being in the wilderness, and whenever we could we ventured into the great outdoors. Several weekends a month he would take me hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, or caving. I loved being with him and spontaneously respected him for his kindness to and care for all beings. I loved to go out into 'nature' with him. We were awed and challenged by wilderness and he was fun to be around. I respected him as my father but could not get him to give me what I wanted like I usually could my Mother.
Like so many Jewish mothers over the centuries, my mother would give me nearly anything I asked for. Sometimes I would take the butter out of the refrigerator and literally 'butter her up,' slathering her arm with butter, playing while pleading for something that I desired; and even though we both knew that this 'buttering up' was silly and 'crazy,' it still would often work as she laughed and simply could not help pouring out her love upon me and granting me what I desired. But with my Father, this technique would never work; if he learned of my attempts to escape some job or chore, he obliged me to even more work and placed additional restrictions on my freedom. I had to cut the lawn, change the storm windows, trim the bushes, rake the leaves, make my bed, clean the house, wash the dishes, clean the car, and on and on. He made sure that I could not and did not slack off in any way. I would complain that other kids did not have to do all these chores and his reply, always given with a knowing laugh, was, 'They should be so lucky.'
My parents were a natural, 'two-man' con. My mother who was almost always on my side played the loving supportive role; my father was the 'heavy' and he came down hard and principled, making sure I honored the 'law' and the right way to do things. As I grew up and entered adolescence, my father furthered his emphasis on law and took me places where I learned lessons that were distinctly 'masculine,' whether man or woman. The one I remember most is rock-climbing.
One of the places we would go on weekends was the sheer rock cliffs at Carderock, Maryland on the Potomac River. They were relatively small and stood only about 75-100ft high, but they 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 the great peaks in the Himalayas. When I watched these incredibly fit, agile, and skillful older men climb rocks, I would be doubly inspired; once by seeing them climb and then again as I would place myself in their shoes and imagine the great mountain vistas they had seen and the exotic people and distant cultures they had visited; I did not know then that I would venture to far-away exotic lands and even live there.
It was at Carderock I learned to rapell off the top of a cliff. Rappelling involved walking backward off the edge of a cliff using a rope anchored to a tree or rock at the top of the cliff to control the descent. One would step up to the rope at the top of the cliff and facing the anchor point of a rock or tree, wrap the rope around their body in a particular way; passing the rope between your legs and then up around the hip across front of your body and then across your chest and over the opposite shoulder; grasping and pulling the rope which hangs down your back towards the front of your body and across your waist would slow or stop you, (today it is sometimes done with a metal adjustable - jumar). Controlling everything themselves (although young boys or girls often also had a belay from a rope tied around their waist held by an adult above), they would walk backward off the top of the cliff. 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 out and off the top of the cliff and in two or three long jumps be on the ground . . . the rope would zip around their bodies and through their hands as they sped out off the face of the cliff while and out into space. Then, by subtly timed and skillful application of pressure on the rope zipping through their hands, they would bring themselves safely back to the cliff wall, where they would kick out and do it again. The first time I saw this, I wanted to learn how to do it myself. Like many things, it was easy to see but very difficult and scary to do the first few times. The main thing I had to overcome was my self-preserving bodily urge to stand up and be in control, instead of letting go of what felt 'right' and leaning back and out.
Rappelling off a cliff
Every time I began to lean out from the cliff, everything in my naturally self-preserving nature told me 'not to lean back off the rock but to stand up and bring my feet underneath me.' But the older men and my Father kept telling me, "Lean back, perpendicular off the rock face." But this went directly against all my instincts. The first time I tried it, they had me on an 'extra' belay or 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,' stood up, bringing my body closer to the wall, while keeping my feet underneath me; as a result, I did not lean out far enough and my feet slipped off the rock face beneath me as you cannot stand upright on a perpendicular sheer cliff. I quickly slammed back into the rock wall, smacking my face because I was unable to lift my hands as they had to keep hold of the rope to keep me from falling. It was clear proof I had to do something different. Eventually, after many attempts and failures, suffering the good-hearted laughter and teasing of older men and boys, I got it.
Looking back, I developed the ability to trust in something that did not 'feel' right. Here, 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 think this type of learning and wisdom is one of the principles of what I call 'masculine' knowledge. I received it especially 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 some 'secret' and masculine principles of life, principles that my Mother never taught me. He had learned this himself as a man, he knew that you could not always go with your 'gut.' He knew, that to do so in certain circumstances, would bring a person into great danger. I first learned this masculine wisdom in rock climbing and rappelling and it stayed with me all my life. The wisdom of when to go against what I was feeling was a gift from my Father and for that, I am eternally grateful.
My parents pulled off my upbringing with the clearly communicated message that I was loved, respected, and honored and I grew up simply happy. As far as I knew everything was fine at home giving me the freedom to throw myself into an enthusiastic exploration of the world around me, which I did. I had no concerns about food or money or love and grew up naively thinking that everyone else had the same circumstances and a more or less similar experience with their own family. I took a happy home life for granted. Later, as I grew older and went out into the world and met and experienced many other people and their families, I found out just how rare this was. But even in my household, it was not all roses . . .
When I was in junior high school, all the boys wore their pants tight, 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 pants, but my father would not give me permission to purchase new ones. Although he had sympathy for what I felt, he simply would not budge; his reasoning . . . it was a waste of money. He insisted I wear his baggy 1940's loose, pleated, cuffed pants. I was tall and the pants 'sort of' fit in a 1940's way with a belt that held them tight at the waist while they ballooned out below. When I wore them, I was teased mercilessly by my peers at school and grew determined to get some tight pants for myself.
After a few months of teasing, a good friend and I decided to steal some pants from the local Macy's in Silver Springs, Maryland. We went into the store and I tried on the tight pants I desired. Then I put the baggy pants that I had come in with, directly over the tight ones. We left separately, but I was stopped on the way out the door of the store by security and taken back into an office deep within the store. They knew what was going on and 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 disapproval of what I had done, but, she loved me more than she could overcome, and even in the midst of all of this she was primarily worried about how I felt. My father treated me differently; he wasn't primarily worried about what I felt. He was concerned with what was right and what I did not seem to feel. To him, it was a lack of feeling-intelligence (my father thought that feeling was the basis of morality) that allowed me to do what I had done, to steal something. I remember when he came home that night; after my mother told him what had happened, he did not speak to me and I was not invited downstairs for dinner. This treatment continued and my father did not speak to me for almost a week. He just ignored me; it was the worst 'punishment' I ever had from him.
Then, one night after he came home from work and before dinner was served, I couldn't take it anymore. 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 always given me. I told him I would never do anything like that again. He studied my face as I said this, accepted my apology with a nod, smiled at me, and said: "Well, let's go to dinner." That evening, he talked to me as if nothing had ever happened. He never referred to the incident. A point had been made deep inside me and he had let me make it myself. It was all that I needed to 'hear.' My Father knew that I knew that I was wrong and there was nothing more to say about it. The point needed to be felt for a while, so I could fully experience what it felt like to transgress the moral laws of life and my father did not let his own feelings about the incident create any reactions in myself that might obscure that personal emotional-moral feeling of being in the wrong.
I used to jokingly refer to my parents as 'Mother Theresa' and 'Mahatma Gandhi'. They were always actively involved in political, social and environmental causes. When I asked my Father whether he believed in God, he said it didn't matter to him whether what a person believed in. What mattered is what people did. Like Gandhi, who said 'he did not know any religion apart from human activity,' my parents lived their religion in what they did. They walked the path of good and honorable people and as a family, we were all involved in the civil rights movement and later in the civil rights protests and against the Vietnam war.
On August 28, 1963, as an 11-year-old boy, I went to the Civil Rights, 'March on Washington,' where Martin Luther King gave his famous speech. We lived in the suburbs (Takoma Park, MD) but I was allowed to go downtown on my own. The area around the Washington Monument and the Mall was tremendously crowded and I wandered about all day meeting people who had arrived on airplanes, automobiles, buses, and trains from all over the United States. Over 200,000 people had come to the march! In the evening there was food and good company and I particularly remember the large canvas tents set up on the mall which was called at the time - 'Resurrection City.' I met a group of large, beautiful black women who had come to the march from the southern states who welcomed me into their tent of gospel singing, home-cooked food, and gracious-loving company. I witnessed Martin Luther King's speech 'I have a dream,' and although I did not understand a lot of the references he made from the Bible or grasped as I do today the immense hundreds of years of suffering of black people in the United States, I knew what they wanted was right, it was what we all wanted for ourselves and Martin Luther King's gospel-like speech, the hundreds of thousands of people and the entire event inspired me.
Civil Rights March on Washington, 1963
My parents cared about all people and sought in every way they could to help. It was their religion and they practiced it. Their parent's parents had suffered the pogroms of southern Russia; their own parents' had lived through the great depression; they knew what it was to be poor and oppressed. They successfully fought the passage of a freeway through our neighborhood on the outskirts of Washington D.C. 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 and feelings of every man and woman, as well as animals, nature and the preservation of wilderness; they were lovers first and foremost.
My mother and father thought it important I was exposed to the history of ideas, cultures and religions and we had a large library at our house that took up our den. They had both been disappointed with religious people and institutions, mainly because many of the religious people they knew did not practice what they knew to be right or what they 'preached'. My parents saw no need for the 'idea' of God. They transferred the ideals surrounding Divinity to persons, people, and the world. Their religion was humanism, centered around service and extending out to the whole world. They fulfilled their ideals by expressing their love to each other, to me and all beings, animals, and nature.
In spite of my family having Rabbis on both sides, we did not go to synagogue, instead, they sent me to the Ethical Culture Society in Washington DC on Sundays. There, the fundamental 'religious' actions of men and women were considered primarily from a moral and ethical point of view and every Sunday I heard, read, and discussed the great moral heroes of the world and the ideals they fought for.
My father practiced what he believed in. He would pick up every hitch-hiker he saw on the road; even if our car was crowded and the hitch-hiker looked dirty or unkempt; even if the guy seemed a drunk and the car was already full of other hitch-hikers; something which happened on several occasions. Once, our car was crowded with me, my Mother, and some other hitch-hikers we had already picked up. We all noticed my Dad slowing down to pick up another person and my mother protested. She said, quietly in a hushed tone, Norman, that 'the man is dirty and looks unkempt.' Even the other hitchhikers said, "He doesn't look like a 'good' person and 'it's kind of crowded in here.' But, my father, uninhibited affirmed, 'The man needs a ride and it is our obligation to give him one.' I have to admit that most of the time my father was right about the person needing a ride and they usually turned out to be a good and very interesting person.
Although my parents were good people, sometimes the things they did for altruistic reasons went wrong and people abused their generosity and even stole from them. Although they were well-intentioned, they still suffered. I saw this in their emotions. They were wounded when people tried to take advantage of them and I also noticed they could hurt each other in their occasional arguments. As my teacher, Adi Da later wrote: 'Love is a wound that does not heal.'
My parent's arguments almost always centered around the application of their individual idealisms to everyday life. They both agreed on principle . . . my Father wanted to do more and my Mother, although sympathetic to this goal would always worry about the possible harmful effects of their actions. My father was an extrovert and his answer to almost anything was 'Yes, Let's try it.' The exception to this was 'me' . . . when I was growing up, he would often not let me try something. My mother was an introvert and her first answer to everything was, 'No, let's think about this first,' and the exception to that was 'me' as well . . . where she was usually willing to let me do almost anything (not dangerous), although I had to endure her 'No' phase first. My mother often thought my father to be out of touch with how people really were and blind to the drawbacks in every situation. He often saw her as 'stuck' and unwilling to take a chance and just do the right thing.
This is not to suggest that they did not do a lot for others, they did a tremendous amount. But, if it was up to my father alone, they would have done even more, and if it was up to my mother, we would have been far more conservative. I was more like my father and I often thought of Babe Ruth, the great baseball player. He was the home-run king of baseball, but he also had more strikeouts than any other man. Personally, I swung for the fences. But I loved the differences in my parent's dispositions and clearly recognized their love and respect for each other as well as the 'rightness' of their personal tendencies. I thought they were great for each other as they certainly were for me. As I have grown older I find that both their tendencies have become more distinct, re-creating a sort of marriage of opposites in my own psyche.
Starting in my teens, even in my benign home environment, I began to see and feel the 'dead ends' in my parent's idealistic approach to life . . . and as I grew in years, I sensed a similar 'dead-end' in all idealisms, not just theirs. I saw that every idealism would ultimately reach a crisis in a dilemma, a choice between equally untenable alternatives, like the story of 'Sophies Choice'. The story relates how Sophie, a Mother arrives at a concentration with her two children at night. They had come on a train, packed together in boxcars like cattle. When they step down onto the platform, a Nazi officer notices her and tells her she is beautiful and that he would like to have her in bed. Sophie does not know what to say. The officer walks away and she calls out to him, saying she is Polish, not Jewish. He returns to her and asks if she is Christian. she says 'Yes, I am a Christian.' But he is callous and unfeeling and asks her 'Are you Christian? Then looking at her children he asks, 'Did not Jesus say to allow the little children to come unto him?' The officer is sadistic and plays with her. He then says that because she is a Christian Pole, he will give her a choice; she needs to give one of her children to be taken away and she can keep the other one. The implication is that she has to sacrifice one of her children to be killed. When Sophie says 'I cannot choose!' The sadistic German officer tells her he will then take both of her children. Sophie freezes and the officer calls for guards to take away both of her children. When they start to do so, in a state of terror, she cries out that they should take only her youngest girl; not her boy and as the guards take the screaming girl away, Sophie is frozen in terror, guilt and shame.
Sophie was given a 'choice' and told to decide immediately. What should she of done? What is the use of an ideal? Clearly, any action in such a situation would be horrific and 'wrong.' The dilemma portrayed here is a horrific choice; far beyond anything I had ever faced. Even so, it seemed a perfect, (although extreme), mirror of the 'dead ends' of idealism. Something else, some wisdom, other than 'ideals,' had to be my guiding star.
As I came of age, I had no desire to be a 'more loving person' than my Mother or a 'better man' than my Father. They were already 'good' people. I was sensitive to where and why they felt pain and in my desire to go beyond such pain and gain a world that they had not, was driven to find out and experience something they did not know, feel or even talk about. I wanted to know if there was a way out of the 'dead ends' of contradictory idealism; it was something I did not understand clearly; it seemed amorphous with no clear shape or form. Over time, such dilemmas fueled my attraction to the ancient 'transcendental' teachings of Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism, precisely because these wisdom traditions had also recognized the 'dead ends' of idealism (such as heaven beyond the earth) and claimed to offer a path beyond good and bad, right and wrong and thus it became a path that led out beyond the dilemmas of my youth and the inevitable suffering of a wonderful upbringing.
Napalm a Dog
When I was in the 12th grade at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Springs, Maryland, I was arrested. There was a war going on in Vietnam and the United States seemed to be the cause and instigator of it. The whole idea of this war seemed wrong to me and I could not figure out what it was all about, but nevertheless, or perhaps because I could detect no good purpose, I was disturbed by the terrible violence being done to people and on top of all of that, I could see the real and terrible violence 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 excited at the chance to participate. One of our teachers discussed the upcoming protest in a Social Studies course and asked the class what our thoughts and feelings were on the subject. Struck by the thought and without any forethought, I voiced an idea that would change the course of my life . . . I said, 'In protest of the war I am going to Napalm a dog in front of the school on the International Strike Day.' People love dogs. I loved dogs. I experience dogs as noble, intelligent, emotionally sensitive and helpful friends. I knew that people would get upset about the dog-burning, and that was the point.
I wanted to bring attention to the horrible use of napalm on the people of Vietnam. I felt the harming of so many innocent people was terribly wrong, I felt the Vietnam war was wrong and I wanted to do something to stop it. I believed if I threatened to burn a dog, there would arise a cry from everybody who heard of it and I was right. My words took off like a wildfire in a tinder-dry forest, the voicing of my idea was the spark; it was an idea whose time had come.
As soon as I said it, I upset my 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 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 quickly surrounded 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 'I felt it was an important statement to make against the war'. He told me he was going to suspend me and anybody else involved in the matter from school. He would call my parents and asked me to leave the school with them 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 active in protesting the Vietnam war. My father had refused to pay that portion of his taxes that he had figured would go towards the Vietnam war. The IRS posted a sign on our lawn saying that our property had been seized. My Father put his own sign next to it. The Washington Post photographed the two signs side by side and published it. A few days later the IRS came and took their sign away. Our family was no stranger to protest and the price that was often demanded of those who do.
My parents 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 to live in for themselves and others. They were social activists and I was lucky to have them as my supporters. Over the next few days, in addition to supporting phone calls, we received several threatening calls from unknown sources. A police car was parked 24-hours a day outside our house for our protection. I was unable to contact the kids whom I knew were sympathetic with me as their parents would not allow it and guarded their phones. My Father was as always, relaxed, proud and supportive, my Mother 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 a 24hr round-the-clock police watch at my house, I showed up at my high school. 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 as I 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 policemen through a thickening crowd of people. I was dressed all in black and carrying a placard that read:
“NAPALM A DOG? IT IS BEING DONE TO PEOPLE EVERY DAY!”
The area in front of the school was crowded. Hundreds of people had turned out to see the ‘burning of the dog’. As soon as I stepped onto school property, I was arrested, handcuffed, placed in a patrol car and driven to a police station in Silver Spring, where I was charged with inciting a riot (apparently 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. It was in this way, I came to read Siddhartha and by that seeming twist of fate 'awoke' to myself. I had been given the book by a friend of mine; it was the very first book of Hermann Hesse that ever read. I went upstairs into my wood-paneled reading room, lit some candles, and began to read about 7pm; I finished the book after midnight. After it was done, I sat down the book and began to feel into the silence of the night. All of a sudden, it seemed as if the heavens had opened and a tremendous force of energy and light poured down into my head and down my body as the energy of the occasion seemed to lift me up. Then, I had a vision of an old Indian sadhu wearing only what I later learned was a kaupinam. He looked directly at me and smiled and I passed out. When I awoke, I knew something had changed; I stood up, packed a small knapsack, wrote a letter to my parents, telling them I loved them and walked out the door and plunged into the river of Life that was flowing by my feet and was carried quickly away.
Walking down the early morning streets, I was filled with great happiness and 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 around in that early morning hour in their cars but very few waved back. I noticed their lack of response and sensed that people were distracted and depressed by chronic unhappiness. They had forgotten to notice the mystery in which we were all appearing, made overwhelmingly obvious by the vast and infinite sky of stars over our heads. They were neither wondering about it nor wandering within it. they were 'Living lives,' as Thoreau had written, of 'quiet desperation.' To see what became of people made me feel OK about what I was doing. To leave home seemed right and necessary, no one I knew had answers. What else was there to do but wander and explore, to find out on my own whatever was going on?
After 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 other's company on the long ride. I was thrilled, being with an adult, as an 'adult' myself. We talked on many topics in that long drive and about eight hours later, in the late afternoon, he dropped me off at Washington Square in Greenwich Village.
Stepping out of his car was like getting off a boat in a different world. New York City was fascinating, a throbbing shipwreck of cultures. Here 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 seemed full of potential. 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 normals and eccentrics. I was no longer tethered to the anchor of my parents. But 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 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 the boys 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 even though I tried on several occasions to make something happen; but, I was shy around girls, never wanted to force myself upon them, interpreted their shyness as they did not like me and remained a virgin. I was distracted by other adventures and many things. Years later I made up for this in spades.
Based on my own limited experiences, like the rest of my peers, I had great expectations at this stage of my life. It was a time for trying things, for adventure. I had not yet fallen into the cautious practice of irony. Perhaps, I had only expectations, but, I was open to whatever crossed my path. I had no daily responsibilities and the everyday occurrences of life beckoned to me with the seductive sense of the unknown and always the taste of the virgin; everything was for the 'first time.' I found Weisers, an occult, religious bookstore with tall stacks of books that held 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 how to pray constantly. The books were like jewels and I was a prospector for the wisdom they offered.
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, a singing, devotional love of God, and surrender of ego struck a deep chord in me and gave me a taste of India and another life.
Eventually, I had my first girlfriend, a beautiful, tall, sweet and slender black girl who was living with older friends and I gave and received my first deep kiss. It was exciting for both of us 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 sweet and a girl who did not offer what was not taken. She went on to another young man who knew what he wanted. During that time, I remember feeling that people who kissed in public were doing something selfish, shutting themselves off from others, enclosing themselves in a small cocoon of self-centeredness, just those two and no one else. My first deep and passionate kiss showed me how powerful a feeling for a girl could be, how drunk one could get with desire and I was thrilled and disturbed by my intoxication. I saw how much I had in common with people's actions I previously found offensive and how easily I could do what I criticized in others given the chance. After several months in the city, I heard stories about California, the beauty of the West coast, the high Rocky mountains of Colorado and the wide-open deserts of the southwest. 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 began to rise as we drove across Missouri to the vast flat plains of Kansas. We drove on and on for over a day and then gradually, passing through Denver, drove up 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 mountain passes, we descended down onto the western slope of the mountains to the high desert of Colorado and out into canyonlands, past the huge stone out-croppings and the dramatic rock towers and monumental desert of the four corners area. It was a huge country, filled with stark, vast space and emptiness. These were vistas and visions unlike those I had ever seen on the east coast. The American West was imposing 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 felt how that could happen to me as well. I saw that nature did not care about me or anyone else one whit. Nature was infinite, a huge ever-birthing and ever-killing mother who 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 we crossed 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 Bernardino Mountains and looked out towards the west, we saw a bunch of glowing jewels and stars that someone had dumped into a huge bowl; it was the whole Los Angeles basin, glittering and sparkling in the clear night. I had never seen so many lights, such a vast panorama and it seemed to hold so much mystery. What could all these people possibly be doing there? Later, that evening, after we were left off in that huge 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 spent the rest of the night on the beach. Lulled to sleep with the waves, we woke up filled with the sun and quickly took our first swim in the Pacific Ocean. I was thrilled to have reached the end of the continent and joyfully embraced the exhilarating, cool waves of the sea. After days on the road, we were washed and we sat on the beach to dry and watch the day grow light, running the clean white sand through our hands. We were thrilled to be in LA. Later, we spent some time hitchhiking and wandering through the various parts of that city. In Beverly Hills, we found that you could not walk through the neighborhood. To begin with, where we were there were no sidewalks, but mainly, it was actually illegal to walk in that area or at least for us it was. 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 beginning to identify and desire. There were no 'neighborhoods' like those I knew on the East coast. It seemed like a huge suburb and the distances to anywhere were great; you definitely needed a car in this city. I wandered down the Sunset Strip after dark filled with the expectation of some kind of adventure, but 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. Unlike what I later found in San Francisco, there seemed to be a more materialist orientation here. Of course, there was a mood of sensual indulgence that the 1960's freedom of America could provide and it ran through the streets of my generation like rain. Although that intrigued me, I began to notice in LA that much of that water ran into the gutter.
When I first started hitchhiking, whenever I stuck out my thumb, if the car coming was a Volkswagen, unless it was already full of people, 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 they almost always picked me up. It was not until a few years later, there on the Sunset Strip, that I experienced people driving a Volkswagen who were mean spirited, aggressive and selfish, even though they had long hair. That was a wake-up call for me and I realized that long hair meant 'not a whole lot' and what I was looking for had nothing to do with hair styles, clothing styles or any style.Since then, I never put much stock in long hair, short hair or no hair. 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 outer appearances.
After a month, my friend had to go back to Washington DC and I was on my own. By that time we had hitchhiked up to northern California and were exploring Berkeley, Haight Ashbury, and the redwoods. This was the first time I came to California and I was underage. After a few months of hitchhiking up Route 1 to Mendocino, hiking on Mount Tamalpais and Mount Shasta and a lot of ocean and lake swimming in cold water, the winter rains started to set in and I decided to head south to Laguna Beach, a sort of paradisical beach town south of Los Angeles. Unable to get a ride straight through, 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, after confirming I was OK to be out on my own, quickly 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 juvenile lock-up in the city and a day or two later was escorted to the LA airport by a sheriff's officer and put on a non-stop plane headed straight to the East coast.
Over Colorado, something happened to one of our engines on the plane and we set down in Denver. We were told there was to be a layover there and a transfer to another plane and I wound up getting my luggage back. No one knew I was supposed to go straight to Washington DC and I left the airport and hitch-hiked 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 strongly opposed 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 by this and left for the wilderness of the mountains around Aspen.
A few months later I crossed the Rockies and hopped the freight trains from Grand Junction, Colorado out to California again. I arrived in San Francisco and began to explore the Haight-Ashbury district. It was a time filled with the after-taste of the summer of love' and free food and a place to sleep were easily found. There were a lot of young people in the Haight 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. I left for Californian again and was once again stopped for being an underage person in LA without a guardian. They found out 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.' My father was not upset. He was just dead firm and set on having me experience once again, the clear results of my actions. My mother was concerned that I would be hurt or attacked and she wanted to get me out of California 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 approaches were good and necessary.
Since my parents were not sending money right away, I was taken out to a juvenile hall in San Bernardino 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, 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 prison clothes and then taken down a hall to room in a wing where everything was antiseptic, cold and clinical. A counseler entered my room with me and we sat on the bed for a few minutes while he went over the rules and the schedule. As we were talking, a large boy came in and peed on the wall and then left. I didn't know what to think. My counselor said to me "That's John. Pee'in on your wall means he likes you." I was in with the 'crazies' and didn't know what to expect. I was glad that John didn't have any bad feelings about me; who knows what that would involve? I never asked.
There were two things that I remember from my time there: Once, a group of us 'crazies' were 'marching' across one of the fenced-in grass lawns in the prison area and all of a sudden everyone noticed that a gate had been left open. Everyone took off at once and started running for the gate. I didn't run and don't remember much more about that except that it was highly entertaining. The other occurrence was that a nun came in to read to us a few times a week. Usually, she read from the Bible. 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 and what she believed in. It seemed a rare and wonderful opportunity for both of us. I missed her when I left. I lived in this juvenile hall for about a month before my parents finally sent me the money and I returned to Washington.
I returned home to Washington, D.C and within a week or two left to hike in the Appalachian mountains. After nearly a year of traveling the mountains of the United States, I was invited by Bob Hicks, a teacher from my high school to a Gurdjieff-Ouspensky commune in Central America, in the mountainous region of the central plateau of Costa Rica. Unbeknownst to me, Bob had quit his job over my '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 and became the goatherd for their small community, living by myself in a small wooden shack with a corrugated metal roof high up in a lush, remote mountain valley, separate from the rest of the already isolated community below. I would milk the goats daily and carry their milk down to the rest of the community via a jungle path that frequently crossed a small river.
There were large cats, non-poisonous snakes, armadillos, birds, insects and other wild animals that lived there. The jungle was filled with the sounds of birds and other animals, and at night a sky filled to overflowing with stars which looked 'different' and much closer and crowded from the sky I had grown up under in America. During the day, the all-pervasive bright living green of our valley was sprinkled with bright red, purple and yellow tropical flowers (Costa Rica is called the 'Flower Garden of the World') and I could always hear the rushing river that poured over dark large smooth boulders flowing through the center of the valley. Often, the 5-mile dirt road that led up to our farm would wash out from the rains and had to be repaired and we were cut off for days at a time until it was repaired. We had two, four-wheel-drive vehicles with winches, a Toyota and a Land Rover and they were essential to getting in and out of where we lived on the heavily pot-holed road.
There were two Costa Rican families that lived on the farm. They were good-hearted people and very happy. It was the tradition that in exchange for free rent, the oldest man from each family, Albero and Ernesto, would work for us (the American landowners) several days a week. 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 another area of the jungle by banging on a trash can lid with his machete. These men knew all the animals, plant, herbs, trails and springs as well as the occasional poor traveler 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 floors with open windows. The outside walls of their houses were covered with hundreds of small tin cans nailed all over them. Each of the cans had dirt in them and a profusion of colorful flowers grew out of the dirt turning houses into walls of flowers. 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, 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 loneliness was the 'price' I had to pay for a spiritual life. I had come to believe that renunciation was a necessity for realizing 'God' and I wanted to realize God. Who or what God is or represented . . . of this, I had only ideas like I still do to this day, but for one reason or another, I had set my heart upon it. Looking back, my actual desire was to be completely fulfilled, gratified, enlightened and this seemed to have something to do with 'God' but really, it was all about something that would happen to 'me'; yes, I confess, it was all about ME.
I did not understand that there were two main ways of understanding what spiritual life was about; one was about Salvation of the self or Soul; this philosophy is found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam and most of the religious belief systems in the world. The goal and purpose of Salvation was to get oneself to the supreme place or heaven. But there is another way of understanding spiritual life; this is the path of Liberation, transcendence of 'self' or freedom from self, the very same self or idea of self that seeks salvation. The teaching of Liberation was found very rarely in the great tradition of religion and spirituality; and only as far as I know to this day in the highest teachings of Advaita Vedanta and Mahayana Buddhism. At this early time of my life, I did not understand the difference between Salvation and Liberation; I was just attracted to the 'idea' of God like a junkie to heroin. Looking back, it seemed to be a leftover desire from another lifetime, just like sex, money or power.
At this time I thought I had to be disciplined and a renunciate to attain to the state I idealized. I had picked up these ideas through the many 'spiritual' books I had read and the great number of unspoken assumptions that 'everybody' seemed to have. I drank deeply of the myths of religion and God that circulated through our culture. I lived amongst people who had not experienced much and did not know very much, but, because of their lack of real experience and contact with true Realizers, thought they did and many of them wrote books about it. As an adolescent, I had not yet gained enough experience, seen enough of others' mistakes. nor made enough mistakes of my own. I 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 of twentieth-century American culture, half a world away from the ancient cultures of Liberation that were in India.
I was wandering and sojourning, sleeping in a down sleeping bag, living outside in a tent or underneath a tree, cooking my rice and vegetables and miso on a portable propane stove and drinking ginger tea made from the ginger root I always carried with me. It was often cold in the early mornings and when I awoke before dawn and I was grateful to the sun that warmed my body after a dip in a cold river, pond or ocean, which I almost always did every day. I felt like the ancients who worshipped the Sun of God, the primeval giver of life and resurrection from the cold nights and season of death; I felt their gratitude as I stood in the morning sun and let the rays of light miraculously warm and energize my body; certain that all of creation also felt this way as well.
I lived in Costa Rica for a year after my very brief experience with the Hare Krishna movement in New York City. The Hare Krishna's had been my first 'encounter' with a group of people following an ancient religion of praise, devoted to practicing through mantra, dancing, and celebration. The roots of this Indian devotional practice mingled with lifetimes before this one. Over many years as I grew older, the rose-colored glasses of youthful idealism began to lose their shade and I began to see in my elders not only beauty, wisdom and compassion but also duplicity, deceit, deception, anger, jealousy, fear, and hypocrisy; I experienced it up close and personal. It stood out all the more because most of the people I was surrounded by, had outwardly and formally dedicated themselves to the idea of 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 increasingly in myself, in an effort to escape my adolescent ignorance, I became idealistic like my parents and I wanted to succeed where others had failed.
With my more sophisticated idealism, I became more fixed in adolescence; reactive, naively and acutely aware of dilemmas, paradoxes and desires which actually arose in my own being but seemed to come from outside myself. I saw failure and suffering in others and began to fight against these very same things in myself. I suppressed my worldly desires and attempted to enact an idealized version of myself in the world; I saw myself as religious, what my teacher Adi Da called- 'Narcissus in drag.'
Conundrum Creek, Colorado
After a little more than a year in Costa Rica, I 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, hitch-hike and 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, camp by streams, rivers and lakes and live out of the knapsack I carried on my back.
Japhy Rider (who in real life was the poet, Gary Snyder) was my hero in Kerouac's book- Dharma Bums. Snyder 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 also a practitioner. He applied himself to the Teachings. He sat zazen. He had been impressed with the ancient wisdom enough to want to eat, digest and be it. Even more, he loved women, sexuality, 'mountains and rivers without end', animals, nature and religion. He was raw, rough, refined and cultured. Snyder was my first living taste of a 'religious' person who was also 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 and renounced any and everything. His light shone in a way that most of our society passed over or did not appreciate. My youthful romantic ideals and strongly felt paradoxes of desire for Liberation and Sexuality resonated with what I read about him and I wanted to taste the experiences he had lived. I made it a point to visit the same mountains and roads he had traveled.
I arrived in Aspen, Colorado in the late 60's at the end of summer. There was a Macrobiotic restaurant in town, called, 'Mothers.' I loved their brown rice, a taste I had acquired in another Macrobiotic restaurant in New York City. In Aspen, I met people like myself, who were wandering, not concerned with business and in love with high wilderness mountains. Someone suggested 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 like a good idea and I decided to do it.
I hitch-hiked out of town to the trailhead at Castle Creek road and set out. As I made my way up the creek, the beauty and silence of it rose up all around me, I thought and felt, "This is Paradise." Everywhere nature was outrageously glorious and the mountain valley was filled with aspens, delicate, beautiful and energetic 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 hushed whispers in the winds.
There was a ringing silence in the high mountains and there were green meadows
sprinkled with white, red, yellow and blue flowers.
Rising up steeply on both sides of the creek flowing through the valley were dark gray-black rock falls leading up a long way to brilliant white snow-covered peaks beyond. These high mountains and the fineness of the air and atmosphere exposed me to life on a grander scale than I ever experienced before. It was a party I had always wanted to attend. Inside the grand hall I was intoxicated.
Whenever and wherever I travelled, if possible, I bathed in water twice a day and this included, Conundrum creek. However, these waters were freezing, snow-melt cold and snatched the breath out of my lungs when I immersed myself in them. I would take my clothes off on the bank, laying them out carefully with a towel in front near the creek so I would not get the clothes wet when I came running back from my bath, dripping with cold water to use the towel. I waded out naked to where I thought the water was deepest, and then, standing there in the rushing creek, bracing myself against the rushing waters with my feet going quickly numb, I would hesitate . . . and then plunge myself under the waters, making sure I was not swept away. I discovered there was never a 'right' time to go under the water; I just had to surrender and do it. I learned I could not rely on what I 'felt' was right, that was unreliable in this situation; I had to find a more subtle aspect of my being to gauge my decisions if I wanted to persist in doing something that I knew to be good. Like rappelling off a cliff, I needed to trust and follow the impulse of something far deeper than my feelings.
The water in the Colorado Rockies tasted sweet and thrilled my body when I drank it. The high mountain air was fine, delicate, bracing and inspirational, a joy to inhale. As I hiked up the valley to the hot springs, the trail crossed Conundrum creek several times. I would take off my boots to cross and I had to do so cautiously; my feet always would go numb in the water before I got to the other side. In the late afternoon on the first day, As I tried to wade the creek, 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 was just 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 knew that after the snowfields up above had frozen again during the night, there would be less height, flow, and intensity to the rushing creek below. As I went to sleep that night, I could hear the creek flowing, gurgling and laughing with me. I woke up in the middle of the night to go out and take a piss and looked up at a clear sky; filled to infinity with myriads of stars that seemed very close and even personal in the rarefied air of the mountains. The creek was singing. Everything was brilliant. I was baptized in an immense water- hymned cathedral, roofed with a starry infinity.
The next morning, the creek was lower. I packed up and left my camp and crossed the creek twice that morning, following a steep trail that took me up the ever-narrowing valley to up above tree line. When I finally arrived at the hot springs, there were eight young people, men and women, all naked, sitting and standing around the rough stone pools. I realized I would need to get undressed to go into the waters and 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 naked amongst a group of people that included members of 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 decided to 'casually' take off my clothes as if it was the most natural thing in the world, folding them on top of my boots and realizing right there, through my own 'experience' that this is exactly what everyone else must have gone through before me and the others before them and 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, was that people were not that concerned or knowledgeable of what was going on in my own mind and emotions and 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 was I am afraid of, anyway. I found there was not a lot of depth to resistance, just the reaction of fear that I was prolonging and need not do so any longer. I discovered unless I made it so and continued to make it so, fear was not an obstacle and my emotions were just that, emotions, and they held no great power in and of themselves.
Conundrum Hot Springs
I walked up barefoot and naked to the natural stone springs, nodded to the smiling guys and girls and slid into the water. The pool was perfectly hot and in less than 15 seconds my own body and sexual shame were forgotten; I dissolved blissfully into the naked beauty of the high country of the Rocky mountains, snow-covered peaks and a vast space of causeless happiness.
Hobos and Sadhus
I loved the life of wandering and knew 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, wanderer, hitchhiker, sojourner, someone who loved the wide-open deserts, high country and remote areas of the world still preserved from the doings of man in the national parks of America. It seemed to me these untouched creeks and rivers, mountains, valleys, lakes and meadows held a secret blessing, one that I delighted to discover. Living this way with the wilderness as my wealth and nature my 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.These were the only cultures I knew of in America who were living a life remotely like mine and like any culture or group, even amongst members of the same group there was a wide variety of people that made it up and not every one of them was doing the same thing or living the same life for the same reasons.
There is a story about this:
One day a man was walking through the English countryside and he came upon three men working with stones. After watching them for a while he went up to the first man and asked him, "What is it you are doing?" The laborer replied, "I am placing one rock on top of another." The traveler watched a while longer and then went up the second man, "What is it you are doing?" This man replied, "I am building a wall." The traveler watched him work for a while and approached the third man and asked him, "What is it you are doing?" This man replied, "I am building a cathedral."
Over time, I discovered my 'cathedral' amongst the many who were wandering the country in the 60's. I found that my fascination for the wandering life was of a more 'ancient' variety. The hobos and hippies reminded me of the wandering 'sadhus' of India as I found following their ancient tracks, tirthas and dhunis, savoring the rasa of the sadhus.
The sadhus of India are a large and widely varied group who have renounced the world and dedicated their life to a relationship to and/or realization of God. They have given up the responsibilities of everyday life, family and marriage. They wander the countryside, roadways, mountains and cities of India, always traveling, often on their way to some temple, holy site or river. They usually dress in the orange robes of a renunciate or even go naked (digambara - clad with 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 and obligation to give to them (although less and less these days). 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.
In Yosemite, upper valley, near McCabe Lakes
(It is out of focus but the only picture I have of this time.
It was taken by some people I met and they sent it to me via mail about a year later)
I am hiking in my underwear, living for weeks at a time in the backcountry
I was always reading. I read Hermann Hesse, Thoreau and Kerouac. I read about the Russian Holy men, the Staretz. I read about the life of Rumi and Kabir, Rama and Krishna. 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 mythologies from all over the world. I read about the two world wars and the countless fights and battles men had gone through. I read the history of the African continent, of Japan, Bali, Egypt, Persia, Greece and Hawaii. I read about alternative systems of health, Herbert Shelton, Paavo Airola, George Oshawa and Ann Wigmore. I read the Sugar Blues by William Dufy and the teachings and life of the Baal Shem Tov and the Hasidic Jewish Masters of Western Europe and the Sikh saints. I read for hours when hitchhiking, especially if the road was little traveled while I waited for a car to come. I read by the campfire at night. I read by flashlight or candle 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 and I was hungry to hear their stories. It was thrilling and humbling to absorb them; for by reading, I came to know I had experienced very little in my own life and had a correspondingly small idea of who I was, primarily because of the paucity of mistakes I had made and the lack of great challenges I had encountered; I felt this especially when I compared myself with others. It seemed it took a tremendous challenge to bring out the greatness in an individual and so far, my life had been a comparatively easy ride.
Inspired by the experiences others had, 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 cut off from our roots and condemned to live a superficial life. Even if we have a profound experience, we will only interpret it according to 'learned 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 it is the same with 'stories'- If we do not have a story about something, that something does not exist for us, either; and even more, if we only have a poor story, our experience is twisted and demeaned.
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 a new experience and sometimes what we have learned is not sufficient to interpret our experience. Either way, the words and stories that we have heard make a big difference and, with people of different backgrounds and fields of study, there are a wide variety of different stories about the same experience. this is why education is so important.
The Dalai Lama was asked whether he was worried about the Panchen Lama who was kidnapped by the Chinese in 1995 at the young age of 6. The interviewer asked the Dalai Lama if he was afraid that they would hurt the Panchen Lama physically. The Dalia Lama replied, "No. But I am afraid that they will bring him up stupid."
Saved by Jesus
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. They were quiet for a while and 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, powerful and humble thing for me, something I had never done with anyone before; it was very intimate . . . we proceeded to do so together.
In the midst of their prayer which I repeated, I was filled with incredible sweetness and light, liquid nectar seemed to pour down and through my body, my arms and hands were spontaneously drawn up above my head as my body stood upright, I began to dance and talk in tongues. I was weeping with joy. The two men were strongly affected 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 I had been filled with the Holy Spirit and touched by Jesus in a very strong and special way. They invited me to their church where I could share my baptism. I declined courteously and with the sharing of good feelings all around, excused myself from them and went my way.
For me, this type of experience had happened before, not imbued with the particular flavor of 'Jesus', but an overwhelming descent of force and light, coupled with a simultaneous feeling of ascension and great happiness. To interpret the experience as 'Jesus' or justifying a 'Christian interpretation' of the Bible did not make sense or seem right to me. I had read many 'Bibles' of many different cultures. I learned that many, many people have had similar and more profound experiences over thousands of years in a variety of cultural and religious contexts. I never read about a Hindu, prior to the arrival of Christians, 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 these other personages. These experiences we had just had were not about Truth or Reality; they were only experiences that we understood using the various names, language and stories we had learned and we used these names and experiences in an attempt to describe Reality or Truth, something which could not be limited by the mind and experiences of man.
Everyone interprets their experiences and lives according to what they have learned. My Christian friends on the beach did this and I did so as well. Perhaps the main difference between us was that I had a larger body of knowledge, had studied the widely varying traditions of religion in the world and I knew there were religions and Godmen long before Jesus. There were other human beings who were called the 'son of God' or incarnations of God. There were other virgin births of Godmen described in many other traditions. There had been miracles long before Jesus turned water into wine or walked on water. I sympathized with Akbar, the 16th century Mughal Emperor of India who saw 'Truth' in every religion and encouraged tolerance and understanding amongst the people of his realm. He had come to the conclusion that no religion held all 'Truth' and he sought some means of understanding the differences. He held great debates and conversations with representatives of all the religions in India at his time (Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity). In 1575 he built a grand hall, the Iqbat Khana, especially for this purpose.
Ibādat Khāna (House of Worship)
Aqbar would sit above in the middle of the room and representatives of different religions would sit around him on the elevated platform
Our own time, like rarely before in history, presents a unique occasion for similar consideration.
There is a book called the Three Christs of Ypsilanti, written by the psychologist, Milton Rokeach. It relates a real event that took place in 1959 when three individuals, who each thought he was Jesus Christ, were placed together in the same room of a psychiatric hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan. When they found themselves in the same room together, each accused the other two of being imposters. Rokeach wrote a book about what happened.
My Teacher, AdiDa, spoke of 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, was the 'stage' for my experience on the beach; When brought together in this room of a common experience, we each had our own interpretation of what had just 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 the powerful associations I had with praying together in the Western tradition of Jesus. The usual obstructions to my experience fell away and overwhelming energy coursed through my body. I experienced what are called kriyas in the Indian tradition- spontaneously occurring, blissful movements and energies in the body that always uncurl, open out and release, instead of curl in and contract, this was the basis of my arms and hands being drawn up into the air and speaking in tongues. As a result of my study of different religions, I had a different understanding of what had occurred, because I had experienced similar phenomena before, I had a radically different interpretation from my two companions of what I had gone through on the beach. I recognized and at the same time was free from the Jesus-centered interpretation of the born-again Christians I prayed with.
Most who had comprehensively studied the religious traditions of the world and who have some experiential familiarity with esoteric practices would recognize the different expressions of similar principles, dramatized in various religious traditions and even within individual traditions. However, I suggest we must also recognize a difference in principles amongst the religions of the world, not just in the experience of their devotees or practitioners and it is this difference in principle I would like to consider now:
When Christian missionaries first came to India, they told the Hindu people stories about Jesus and how he was the Son of God. But, unlike any previous culture, the Christians had encountered before, the Hindus recognized a principle in the picture, icons, and stories of Jesus and they gladly put him up on their altar next to Rama and Krishna or Buddha. Where the Christians saw only a unique and special-case experience – Jesus, the Hindus saw another Incarnation of the Divine, a Godman (there had been many) or what they call an 'Avatar.' Jesus was not a saint or holy man to them, not just someone who had realized the Divine, but Jesus was a direct Incarnation of God. They had seen his type before. The Hindu's understood the paradoxical, one and the same equivalence between the God-Man and God.
I am reminded of a story I heard from Buckminster Fuller: An Englishman is walking through the jungle and comes 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 down upon. With the bar, one man can move what it would take twenty men without the bar. The Englishman tells 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 Primitives 'see' something that the Englishman does not . . . magic. The Englishman has grasped the principle of the bar; I think most westerners would say they have a more scientific, clear and comprehensive perception of Reality; the primitives see 'magic.' In this case, it was the Christians who saw the magic of Jesus but failed to recognize the principle of the God-Man.
One who has not studied the wisdom of other cultures and religions has only his own culture, experience and learning available for understanding what he experiences. Without learning the 'Truths' of other cultures and religions, a person will tend to condemn them as being false, imposters, deluded, wrong, just like the three Christs did to each other in an insane asylum in Ypsilanti, Michigan. This phenomenon lies so deep in the nature of man that even if there is not another person or religion or point of view to condemn, a person will make one. There is a story about this:
"A Jew is shipwrecked on a desert island. Ten years later, a passing ship notices his campfire and stops to rescue him. When the captain comes ashore, the castaway thanks him profusely and the captain asks to be given a tour of the little island. The Jewish man shows off the weapons he made for hunting, the fire pit where he cooks his food, the synagogue he built for praying in, the hammock where he sleeps. On their way back to the ship, the captain notices a second synagogue. “I don’t understand,” the captain asks; “why did you need two synagogues?” “Oh,” says the Jew, “The synagogue I showed you before I worship in every day. This second synagogue, you'd never catch me dead in there.”
This principle, (that all men will spontaneously split the world into what is good and what is bad, what is desirable and what is undesirable, what is right and what is wrong), applies to all knowledge. This type of action is founded in our unconscious identification with a point of view and with one or another story, or as Carl Jung called it, archetypal God or Goddess. For instance, I have my own tendency to identify with the archetype of the Puer Eternus.
I remember reading a book called Puer Aeternus, by Marie Louise von Franz. It was a psychological study of the tale of, The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint–Exupery, and a consideration of the 'Jungian' archetype of the 'Puer Aeternus,' the masculine form and expression of the archetype of eternal youth ("Puer aeternus is Latin for 'eternal boy'). In mythology and particularly in Jungian Psychology, Puer Eternus points to the archetype and life-pattern 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 the book, von Franz considers the story of the Little Prince along with references to the story of Peter Pan. She also analyzes the author of the Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery as well as his life experiences, how they relate to the characters in the story and elaborates how they all exemplify the archetype of the 'Puer Aeternus'.
When I first read this book I felt as if someone deeply knew me; the book seemed to be about me, clearly written in exquisite detail! I could not help but see the Puer archetype expressed the way I lived my life, the dynamics of my relationships and how I thought, considered and evaluated things. It described what I desired, held as good and where my challenges lay, for everything casts a shadow and in the shadow of any and every particular archetype we identify with, our shadow lies. For instance, it would be the old man archetype for a puer and vice versa. These archetypal patterns, dynamics, and stories, when they are made conscious and brought to life, become part of us, along with their shadow side. If they are not made conscious, they have us instead of us having them and they live themselves through us unconsciously.
After reading Puer Aeternus, I saw my life fitting into a recognizable pattern. But, this was not the most striking thing about it. The most powerful thing was the recognition that all that I considered to be 'me', or 'I,' was seen to be an archetypal pattern or story living itself out! In other words, it was both me and not me. It had its own storyline. 'I' had become 'it' as 'I' had been unconsciously identified 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 as 'I.' If this was true, then I was not living life as I thought, according to free will and choices that 'I' made but rather according to an unconscious identification with an archetype and it was the pattern of its story was living me. 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'. (Read- 'The Nadi Readers' for more on this)
My favorite definition of a neurotic, is: 'a being 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 any particular person or character on the stage represented. The theaters were huge (below left) and to enable the character to be clearly defined by those in the back rows, the actor wore a mask (below right) much bigger than a typical face. Sometimes, it was three feet in diameter and supported on a pole that was itself supported by a cup-like holder fixed into a belt worn around the actor's waist.
Theater/Temple of Asklepios/ Epidauros
Greek Theatre Mask
This mask had a tubular hole as a mouth, through which the actor spoke. The tube was often made out of brass and served to magnify his voice. This mask was called the persona. The actor spoke or sounded –sonare, through, –per, the mask. 'Persona' is the etymological root of the words – 'person' and 'personality.' The 'personality' is who we are or whom we appear to be on the stage of life. A 'neurotic' is a being who is identified with who he appears to be or 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 or whomever our role or mask is, to 'pull off' this particular role, the opposite qualities of the mask need to be repressed or denied. If 'I' identify with the qualities of the mask, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, smart or dumb, then its opposite qualities fall into what Carl Jung called the 'unconscious'. Once these qualities fall into the unconscious, they are no longer in touch with the ego and they become autonomous and control our life as if by fate, demanding to be brought to consciousness. Carl Jung thought that the teleology or purpose of dreams was to make the unconscious, conscious.
This was a major difference between Jung and Freud in terms of how they viewed life and understood and practiced dream interpretation. Freud interpreted dreams in the light of his belief that it was sexual neurosis that drove the psyche and dreams were unconscious, repressed sexual desires that sought to become conscious through the dream.
While Jung also acknowledged that sexual drives do express themselves in dreams, he thought that every dream is not an expression of some type of sexual content. According to Jung, all things that are lost to consciousness or repressed, have an inherent drive to become conscious and for Jung, many of these forces or archetypes lie outside of the dynamic of our personal unconscious and have nothing to do with our experiences in this life; this is what led Jung to discover the transpersonal or collective unconscious. Repressed or lost aspects of our being, must eventually come to consciousness and express themselves; and if they have been forcibly repressed or denied ('De Nile don't only flow in Egypt') they act out and they have their way with us. We no longer have them, they have us and this is how repression or denial gives rise to the broadest meaning of neurosis.
Obviously, I had become neurotic, this was obvious in my unconscious identification with the Puer archetype. How else could 'I' be described so intimately and specifically and yet be living a pattern like so many others. And, while I thought I was being myself and thought like many adolescents, I was radical, in reality 'I' had assumed an archetypal role and a heretofore unconscious role. I needed to return to my roots and the original meaning of the term- 'radical.'
Without learning and self-observation, I do not think we cannot become 'radical' in the ancient sense. We may become 'far out,' but this modern interpretation of the meaning of the word -'radical' lends itself more to a 'freak' or an extreme actor rather than a person who clings to the root of reality. Without awakening to the depths of our understanding, we are condemned to remain provincial (or in a state of being reactive to 'being provincial'), fixed in a childish or adolescent disposition, and this is how and why youth and adults act out, generation after generation.
We see these tendencies being expressed in America today; in fundamentalists who uphold one or another tradition and those (primarily the young) who react to them. Neither can be changed on the basis of argument, because it is not a rational 'argument' they are holding; it is really an emotional state, masquerading as ideas and philosophy. People must be touched emotionally, and what is needed as preparation for this conversion is learning to the point of paradox, education to the point of dilemma, the recognition of mistakes and our humble inability to accomplish whatever we want. We need to awaken to the reality of the unconscious patterns that drive us and the humility that comes from such recognition (Father, forgive them for they know not what they do). All of these together could provide the real basis on which people and cultures could begin to grow again, though sometimes even this is not enough.
A collective superficiality of learning has become by default, the 'lingua franca' of our modern day. Our western culture has nurtured a shared language of cultivated ignorance; we have 'cultivated' ignorance by default; because we have not 'cultivated' wisdom. In a culture that is poorly educated, advertisements, entertainment, gadgets and superficiality rush 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 an education in the great wisdom traditions of the world. If we study them and when we consider them all together, they reveal themselves not as 'true' ideas and ideals only, but as paradoxical and filled with dilemmas. Some traditions will agree with one another, others will be at odds with themselves as well as with others. Our mind will be baffled by learning and we will become sensitive to conflicting emotions and feelings that move beneath our rational thinking. It is apparent to anyone who observes the world that everything that is claimed as 'Truth,' cannot be true and realizing this is the very beginning of wisdom; not wisdom itself in the atheistic triumph of adolescence, or the born-again enthusiasm of awakened feelings, but rather the mere beginning of awakening to the need for wisdom, not knowledge, and love, but doubt; it is simply necessary to go through the process . . .
Riding the Freight Trains and a Night in Jail
I spent a summer at a commune of young people in the mountains of Colorado above Boulder. I remember one day everyone took some kind of drug made of morning-glory seeds and a number of people went off looking for their shoes. This was amusing but not attractive to me and I yearned for something else. I was not looking to escape reality, I was looking to participate with and in it. I kept hearing about the west coast and how beautiful nature was there and 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 as such a large group of people. After getting an initial car ride over the passes of the Rocky mountains, we began our trip west out of Grand Junction, Colorado, a small city on the western edge of the Rockies.
We walked into the freight yards there to see if we could find a train to California. Leaving the group behind, I went alone and spoke to the yardman there. He was friendly and helpful. He told us that to get 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. From there, San Francisco was just across the bay. He said there was a fast, 'hot shot' train with six heavy 'road engines' that would be pulling out real soon. ('Road engines' are the largest locomotives that are used to pull freight on the long-distance runs). They would take us to Salt Lake and there the whole train would be broken up. We would have to catch another train from there and he told us to ask around in the yards out there for how to proceed further. He pointed our train out to us, gave me a Bible for the salvation of my soul and wished us all well. It seemed like a great beginning.
Riding freight trains was a fantastic way to travel. We would sit in the open door of the boxcar hanging our feet in the air above the ground and watch the countryside fly by, or we could layout on our mats and sheets of cardboard (what the hobos call 'thousand-mile paper') and rest as the train rocked and rolled along the iron rails. The train always had moving, swaying rhythms going on; the rhythms of the wheels turning on the steel tracks, clicking and clacking as they rolled over the breaks in the tracks, and as we flew along at speed the empty boxcars bounced around, the sliding doors jumbling around as the heavy steel boxes flew along the rails.
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 for California. It was a clean, new, empty boxcar and we were soon headed on further towards the coast of California.
The day was warm and sunny as we pulled out, heading across the salt flats west of Salt Lake. The tracks paralleled the main road for quite a while and we waved to the people driving their cars and trucks along the interstate. Someone 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 loved the idea of seeing the girls naked, selfishly 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 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 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, so we moved to the leading end of the car where we lay down on our 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 and 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 out the open door of our slowing boxcar, we saw what looked like a small 'Tastee Freeze,' an ice cream place by the side of a road about 200yds off through a dark flat field. Myself and another guy decided to take all the water bottles of our group and as soon as the train stopped, to make a run for the ice cream place. We hoped to fill all our bottles from a spigot 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 and floodlights and they were all pointed at us. There were men with guns, silhouetted in front of the lights 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 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, loaded us into police cars and drove us into town where they booked us all into jail. We thought we had been stopped for riding naked outside of Salt Lake, an incident that had occurred that morning but 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 onto the floor. We tried to make the stuck button come out of the sink by pushing and hitting hard on both buttons, but, after a few tries, the second one stuck as well and now there was a jet of water that hit the walls of the sink and splashed out onto the floor. We called for our jailers to help, but they had gone down a hall and were now behind closed doors. They 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.
The sink could not drain as fast as the incoming water 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 backing up as well. A few hours later, after the water began to flow out of our cell and down the hallway, it eventually made its way out under the door and into the outer room where the guards were. Like a loud explosion, we heard a shout of 'Jesus Christ!', a door being opened and our guard sploshing down the hall 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 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 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 a 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 Oakland and the west coast. The state of California was the 'promised land' to me. I rejoiced at the wide-open spaces, the great and diverse natural beauty of the geography, the deserts, 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 the cities in parks, in the mountains and on the beaches. I had a big nice fitting knapsack, a good tent with rainfly, 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. What more did I need? I was living as Thoreau once wrote,
'. . . with the license of a higher order of being'.
Staying in the City
Once, when traveling in Oregon, I spent several nights in a Christian Homeless Shelter in Portland, amongst the hobos, bums, and vagrants. To spend the night in a warm room when it was raining in the Northwest and when I had been living outside for months, was a great treat. The 'price' for it all was a Christian service and an hour of being preached to. I bought it.
The sermon included singing and testimonies of young ladies from a suburban church group, (that held 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 who stood up in the front of the room and preached to them. 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 person seated next to them. There was so much good-hearted laughter in the room that even some of the people in front of the room who were preaching seemed to be holding back their mirth. After the sermon and some singing, they served dinner.
The dinners served were leftover hamburgers (donated I believe 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 seat at the 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 it was because the Salvation Army or whomever it was providing 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 gave to a locker-room man at a window, who in turn gave us an elastic band with a number of our basket affixed that we put around our wrists. He also gave us a set of pajamas and a towel. Then we all took hot showers, which was another great treat, 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 great acoustics, which was unfortunate. The unlucky among us would get the top bunk . . . I say, '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 older men 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 5:30 am when breakfast was served several blocks away at the Blanchet House of Hospitality. It was usually drearily raining in the morning, and we all lined up around the block, standing under the eaves of buildings with our backsides dry and the rain wetting our front sides. It was wet and the cold seemed to penetrate our clothing.
A sad state of stunned hopelessness seemed to call out from the water running down the streets at that hour. The sky was grey, bleak, wet and without distinction. Everybody's gaze turned downwards, lost in thought and dulled by dread. But, I was young and still amused by it, I had places to go. Now, 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 any great adventure. They were down and out and it was a valuable vision of life for me to see, as it tempered my youthful/naive idealism.
Blanchet House of Hospitality
Eventually, we were allowed in for a good meal of steaming hot oatmeal with all the cookies we 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. All these men were out for protein, not sugar.
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 hired by the farmers would pick people up downtown in the early morning and carry them out to the fields for a day of work, driving everybody back in at the end of the day. I went out for several days and remember picking cucumbers, bent over all day, the men spread out on the vast fields, filling and then hauling our bags to large 4' x 4' square wooden boxes about 3ft high.
The boxes were set out in the fields covered with a grill of doweled slats placed on top 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 standing at the box whose only job was to rake the too large 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. As we worked there was conversation and I heard that all crops were not the same. Some paid more than others. Picking cucumbers was difficult work and I soon became tired of it.
It is easy to forget the difficult labor performed by field workers every day. Presently, most of these crops are picked by Mexican migrants or maybe they have developed a machine to do it all. At that time, the general consensus amongst the men was that fruits like apple and pears paid the best and offered the best living conditions. But for these you had to leave the city and take to the road. As I listened to the elderly men who had spent years on the road, 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 bottomlands around the large cities and pick cucumbers, lettuce or tomatoes and not desiring a 9 to 5 job in the city, I decided to follow the fruit harvests up the West coast. Over the course of several years, I developed a rhythm - 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 started in Fallbrook, a small town known for its avocados in southern California, inland from the coast north of San Diego. The men I worked with were mostly Mexican and I found it amusing and ironic that almost every one of them hated the taste of avocados. It was hot work and not very enjoyable in those flat orchards of endless trees. There were no great vistas to look at and for me, the mood was strangely depressing.
As the year progressed into the late spring, we picked stone fruit: cherries, peaches and apricots. Always, it was fruit and more fruit as the days grew longer and hotter and the season moved 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. Moving continually north, I passed through the inland valleys of California, Oregon, Washington and on up into the Okanagan Valley of Southern Canada. As the fall began, apples and pears were the fruits of the northern valleys of Oregon, Washington and Canada. 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 deep in the orchards and remote from the road. All day, from early morning to dusk, we went up and down three-legged picking ladders on hills covered with trees full of fruit, placing the harvest in our canvas bags which was made like an open tube with the bottom held up by two clips to keep the fruit in. Then, when the bags were full, we climbed down the ladders with our heavy bags and poured the fruits out like so many jewels into large wooden boxes placed in the orchards. We were given long poles about 12 feet long with a small canvas bag at the end. Above the bag was a clipper operated by a string that ran down the pole and was tied off near the handle. When there was high hanging fruit, too high to reach off a ladder, we would lift up our poles, position the clipper and clip the stem of the fruit which then fell into the bag.
We would look out at the slopes and the snow covered peaks of volcanic mountains like Mt. St Helens and Mt. Rainier. These volcanos seemed like intrusions of dinosaurs into a modern day city . . . after all, they were volcanos! They caused me to reflect on how small and insignificant was our moment in time, how temporary were our loves and relationships and how large the events that had once swept across this land, now full of orchards and trees.
The bags are open on the bottom and are 'hooked up' to close them.
When a 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 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, vegetables and miso in our cabin. We read books after dinner and discussed what we read with each other as we sat out on the steps in front of our cabin. Then as it got colder we moved inside in front of a fire where our conversations got deeper and more immediate as the chilly dark air surrounded us. 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. Laguna 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 both travelers and residents and talk and cook and sleep on the more remote beaches north of town at night. I 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 was delicious to lay out in the sun on the warm white sands and to body surf for hours in the sparkling ocean. I was stunned at the abundance of beautiful blonde-haired girls and luxuriated in the seeing 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 to follow my idealistic orientation to something 'else' and instead of settling down in Santa Barbara or Laguna Beach to a life of very attractive pleasuring in the company of a consort, 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, naively thinking I was practicing 'spiritual' life.
Every time I would begin to venture down the Big Sur coast, the whole wonder and beauty of the area would shine like a beautiful vision of God knows where; life was crowded with miracles and I would go down into the canyons to where the dense scrub of bushes grew along the river bottom and would find a small and private beach and camp along the Big Sur coast, close to the ocean, always setting my tent where a river would pour into the sea, always having water to bathe in as well as to drink. I would bathe in the ocean, then wash off the salt in the river, meditate and then cook dinner and then off to sleep, looking out the mosquito net at the head of my tent with the sky above me filled with a nectarous bowl of stars
I, prayed, fasted and adventured, soaking up the magical scenery, dipping twice daily in the ocean. Twice a week I would 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 appeared on a package, the food was thrown away. I found plenty of vegetables and fruit with only small blemishes as well as cheese and yogurts that had expired only that day. I would fill my knapsack and several other bags with food and return to my campsite down the coast like a conquering hero 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 steep 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. No one passed us on the trail for days, it 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; 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, 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 the message of Buddhism, 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, a woman monk who seemed to be in charge of 'managing' the Zen center, met us when we walked in and quickly informed us that we could not use the hot springs. But just then, Suzuki 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; by implication, instructing the woman monk to allow us to do so. She pointed out the way to the baths to us and we gratefully soaked our weary bodies in those rejuvenating hot springs, rare treasures of exquisite healing, surrounded by miles and miles of wilderness.
Suzuki Roshi at Tassajara
“The ground you trip over is the same ground on which you stand.”
– Suzuki Roshi
Man crossing Conundrum Creek, Aspen
- Alamy photo
Over the years, I would walk deep into the high wilderness country, above the tree line, wandering amongst the pristine clear lakes of the Sierra backcountry, 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 quickly, 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 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 of desire 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, girls, conversations and the complex noise of cities, filled with opportunities to sate my vague desires.
Once, deep in the backcountry, 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 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.
During this time, I had my first girlfriend, Kris. 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 would 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 and nearly touched me. Immediately afterward came Shiva and I tackled him roughly. I used that rare moment to forcefully 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 it 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 have 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. As I moved amongst migrant laborers, hobos, hippie, students, religious idealists, practical back to the landers, meditators and druggies. I noticed 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 things I learned to evaluate in people grew increasingly subtle.
Registering for the Draft and Running from the FBI
I turned 18 in 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 could be no war.” It was a simple calculus that seemed to work when I multiplied it out. I continued to travel the country and one day 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 out 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 a 'computer malfunction,' he was unable to confirm or deny my story at that time. We talked, I lied and he liked me and we were let go.
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, that I 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 traveling and spent 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', didn't care about me about all. That included 'me' in particular as well as any individual form of life. I found this humbling secret to be more and more obvious and even refreshing. Meanwhile, the FBI continued to pursue me over the next few years.
The Bhagavad-Gita and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
As 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 most were unhappy, not at peace in themselves and sometimes even emotionally aggressive or violent. Some of the more 'famous' among of them had stayed at our 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 realized that politics was not radical enough of an approach. People had to change something 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 thought I should try to change the individual instead of 'the world' and I needed 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 labyrinth 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 a while'. It seemed to be 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 a well-off, sophisticated and very intelligent businessman, wearing a suit and tie. I was wearing my usual - overalls, a white shirt and hiking boots.
“What are you doing with your life?” he asked.
“I am going with the river, wherever it takes me.” I answered.
“You need not merely float down the river," he said. "You need not hit every rock and rapid on the way. You can take the rudder on the boat of your life and steer.”
This struck me like a thunderbolt from heaven. His words pierced the 'going with the flow' attitude of my adolescence. 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. His few words changed the direction of my life.
A Deeper Understanding of 'Renunciation'
Walter 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 (there are different interpretations), 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 had been the intimate disciple of Brahmananda Saraswati, the Sankaracharya of Jyotir Math who was himself a lifelong renunciate, and because both of them recognized renunciation as a valid lifestyle, Maharishi said that the lifestyle of a monk was just a 'lifestyle' and that it was not necessary 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 a certain lifestyle, that of a renunciate. A great wrong was done by this 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 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, and some renunciates in India have been very 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. As far as making me free, I had failed in all of it. As a result of hearing this, I was strongly drawn to Maharishi to be with him and to drink at the source of his radical wisdom.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Maharishi said that a man or woman who had realized God was spontaneously a true renunciate. He gave 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 man's experience to a person who had a billion dollars. The billionaire would be nearly unaffected by the same experience; what loss is it to him of a thousand dollars? What suffering would come to him by the loss of thousand dollars? In terms of the analogy, the billionaire is spontaneously a renunciate (relative to money) – whether he gained or lost a thousand dollars. Just so, a man who has realized the Divine, the ultimate source and fullness of happiness (in this analogy the 'billion dollars') is unaffected by the 'smal' gains and losses of the world. Again, renunciation was the result of Realization, not the cause of it. Maharishi claimed to offer a way to attain realization in this lifetime. My German friend, Walter Koch, said that I could meet, learn and sit at the feet of this great teacher.
This seemed to be the path I had been seeking. I began TM and with regular meditation, pranayama and yoga asanas, my life became even 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.
Sure enough, I came to an FBI office, told them I had not registered for the draft and found out that they would not press charges . . . the draft board in the small city where I had said I had registered had been broken into and the records burned. Even so, I still had to pass one more hurdle. For anyone to go to a Teacher training course, he had to complete a preparatory course held in the United States. Since the course for that year had already been held, it seemed I had to wait another year to go. I was on fire with the desire to go and I obtained the number of Jerry Jarvis, who was one of Maharishi's 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 preparatory course and I told him of my great desire to be with Maharishi, my great appreciation of 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 several times over the course of a week until finally, Jerry told me he would make it happen and gave me the OK.
Teacher of Transcendental Meditation (1972)
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 and when I arrived in Calle Antenna, Mallorca. I was overflowing in my desire to see him. I was practicing the meditation he taught, reading his books and hearing about him and his Guru 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 a hotel about a half mile from there. Most people settled into their rooms and then went out to the main hotel for dinner, but, I fasted, meditating 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 Mallorca 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 streetlights 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 streetlight and descended down into a dip in the road and passed from my view. 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.
That night I heard him speak for the first time and 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 every one of us, looking us each in the eyes, always smiling, always saying, 'Jai Guru Dev,' - 'Glory to the Divine Guru,' a reference to his own teacher. 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 Vedic tradition and the religious paths of ancient India, was wisdom that he embodied. These feelings continued over the six months I spent there in Mallorca, sitting with him daily every evening while he meditated with us, spoke to us late into the night about the ancient tradition of the Vedas and answered our questions.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Swami Brahmananda Saraswati
During the course, I engaged in what was called 'rounding' or the alternation of meditation, yoga and pranayama for 12-15 hours a day. The initial part of our 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 of a Guru. I believed Maharishi to be a Realizer, one who knew and experienced what the scriptures talked about. He had been an intimate devotee and disciple of the great Sankaracharya of Jyotir Math, Brahmananda Saraswati and Maharishi had learned everything at the feet of his Master. Now, in that time-honored way, 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 evening I told Maharishi about my experience of being the witness to my 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. He asked if this was my 'constant experience.' I replied that on the meditation course it seemed to be constant. He then asked me if I lost consciousness in deep sleep. I replied that I did lose consciousness of the '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.' He then said that I was experiencing 'was the 'fixing' of attention on and the identification with a subtle level of the mind and attention 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 experiential and that no matter what experience one might 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 group, we would clearly see how that person had become enamored of and subsequently 'bought' his or her experience. It all seemed so obvious, until 'it' happened to one of us. Then, one evening, full of blind enthusiasm, we would find ourselves up in front of the room telling Maharishi what we were sure was certainly something truly special. This experiential and intellectual participation in 'ascended' or more subtle experiences gave us a good foundation for the teaching of meditation when others might have similar 'experiences,' and we needed to remind them to come back to the mantra, for we were not to be oriented towards any particular experience but the transcendence of all experience. This needs some further clarification:
The Vedic Tradition vocalized the Seven States of Consciousness according to Maharishi. There were the well-known first three: 1) waking 2) dreaming and 3) sleeping; then 4) Transcendental Consciousness (Turiya) or consciousness without an object, is a state only attained in meditation but not along with waking, dreaming or sleeping. Through the repeated experience of Transcendental Consciousness, (This was the practice of TM) Then there arises 5) Cosmic Consciousness (nirvikalpa samadhi) or the 'witness state' of consciousness which permanently remains along with the ever-changing states of waking dreaming and deep sleep (this was Maharishi's inquiry regarding what was going on with me that I mentioned above). Then there may arise 6) God Consciousness, where based on the establishment of Nirvikalpa Samadhi or Cosmic Consciousness there arises a profound sense of God through the culturing of the heart in which life is now experienced as Divine in nature. There is a poem by Hafiz about this:
I Do not
Want to step so quickly
Over a beautiful line on God’s palm
As I move through the earth’s
I do not want to touch any object in this world
Without my eyes testifying to the truth
That everything is
Something has happened to my understanding of existence
That now makes my heart always full of wonder
I do not
Want to step so quickly
Over this sacred place on God’s body
That is right beneath your
As I Dance with
But this (I have heard) is not the final or ultimate state of Consciousness. There is still the duality of the seer (witness-Purusha) and the seen (Prakriti) and as the Bṛhadaraṇyaka Upaniṣad says, "dvitiyad vai bhayam bhavati", 'Wherever there is another (duality) fear exists.
Here, Maharishi taught that the ultimate and True nature of Reality or God is ONE (Advaita), not two. This realization only happens on the basis of Adhikarbheda or the qualification of the aspirant, in this case - established Cosmic Consciousness. Now, the heart is cultured by the profound state of devotion based and this extreme Bhakti or Devotion ultimately erases all differences between the devotee and the objectified world as God. This is the Seventh State of Consciousness - Unity
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 1970s, I gave the first talks on TM to both the Army and the Strategic Air Command, the people who flew our nuclear bombers. I asked Maharishi how I should speak about 'God' or the Divine when speaking to people in the armed services and 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 army base or SAC center 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 regardless of what they believed or what they did and I found the lives of the people who flew the 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 initiated 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. They were innocent because of their lack of belief and therefore the nature of their minds to go to a greater field of happiness took over.
Maharishi had said that there were different theories of the nature of the mind and therefore different practices of how to deal with that nature. The most prevalent theory of mind in the Indian tradition is that the mind is like a monkey. It goes here and there, rarely still for very long. Therefore, the approach to the mind needed discipline and control, to concentrate the mind via willpower, repetition and discipline. But, Maharishi went on, there is another way of looking at the mind; that is to consider the mind as a honeybee. The honeybee flits from flower to flower, but when it finds honey it settles down. It is the nature of the honeybee to settle down when it finds honey. Maharishi had been taught and his teaching was that the mind is like a honeybee, when it finds the 'honey' of subtler and subtler states of consciousness, it settles down as well, not through any force or will, but based on its own nature. This certainly accorded with the experience of many of the people I initiated into TM.
43 day fast on Water (1973)
During my time in Europe with Maharishi , I became sick with Nephritis, a type of 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 this 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." I was confused about what to do; after all, I did have every vitamin deficiency in the book. So I went to Maharishi and asked him how I should proceed. I gained an audience with him very late in the evening. After briefly telling him my experiences, the diagnosis of the course doctors 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' or purification, both physiological and psychological, and to reduce our meditation and yoga too quickly could be a shock to our system.
Soon after the time I spoke to Maharishi about my health, the course was moved to Mallorca and everyone prepared to fly to Italy. Two days after everyone had left our hotel and flown to Italy, I went to the airport in Mallorca 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 and did not want her to worry) but she said that he was a well-known Natural Hygienic doctor in Europe and could possibly supervise a fast for me. I flew into Heathrow airport and after passing through customs, found 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 a phone booth with many pauses to sit down and rest as I was very weak from being sick and several days of fasting as well as the flight.
Just as I put down my bags and was about to enter the phone box, a man who had been watching me in the airport approached and said, "Are you alright? Can I help you?" I told him I was 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 said 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 across London. On the way, as the taxi slowed going through town, I saw a 'metaphysical' bookstore and asked him if we could pull over so I could purchase a book for what I felt might be a long ordeal. He agreed and I went in. 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 work with his devotees was the most wonderful companion for my long period of fasting. Little did I know how this book and the characters and teachings in it, would play a major role in my life many years later.
After taking the taxi across London to the train station, we then boarded a train out to the east coast of England near the channel. We finally 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 in Kashmir, begun by Jehangir and completed by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan, 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 all the way to the English 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 and larger, Dr. Sidwha became concerned. There was a possibility they could burst and as these glands crossed the blood-brain barrier, it could prove fatal. The situation grew increasingly worse and on the 40th day of the fast, he called my parents in America, told them my situation was 'serious' and for them to come to England immediately. Then, to understandably 'cover himself,' he called in two local Medical doctors to give me their advice. After examining me, they said 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 follow the advice of these doctors. They shook their heads in disgust, as if I was a drowning man refusing their outstretched hands, then they got up and left my room, closing the door behind them.
As soon as the door closed, the bolt clicking behind them, the mastoid glands burst and began to drain blackish pus 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 and had his young daughter bring it to me. As I drank it, the cells of my body rejoiced; I looked out my window and there were daffodils coming up all over the green meadow. It was spring. After breaking the fast, it was not appropriate to eat solid foods right away and I continued another seven days of vegetable and fruit juices.
I quickly recovered a radiant state of health. I had 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 became sattvically deluded and 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. I realized I had mistaken a physical state of sattvic pleasure (purity) 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 sharing the gift of meditation with 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 it when people asked questions; the answers seemed to be given to me. 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 initiated.
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 ever work for me". I told him, 'Your belief one way or the other makes no difference whatsoever. Whether you believe 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 first needed to attend community college to transfer into UC Santa Barbara. There I met a wonderful teacher, Mervin Lane. He was a wonderful, wild teacher. On the first day of class, he walked in 5 minutes late, sat at his desk for a minute and then 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 again in 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 suggested that they leave. This disturbed several of the girls. After he had asked a few people to leave, I stood 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 enough 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 the World Game organization that awarded me a one-month scholarship to be with Buckminster Fuller at the World Game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania during the summer.