Then, because I intended to go to Nepal and India again, I wrote to Raju in Kathmandu, asking if he would like me to bring anything for him. He asked for a camera, so I duly bought one, expecting him to pay me for it when I got there. I got a visa from the Indian High Commission in K.L. ~ what a rigmarole that was! ~ and flew out to Kathmandu in February ’98. There, I took a room in the Snow-Lion Guest House, and passed the camera to Raju, but he didn’t offer to pay me for it, or even ask how much it had cost; my mistake, perhaps; he probably thought I’d brought it as a gift. But I later learned from someone else that he had done this with others, asking them to bring things for him, but not offering to pay. He didn’t offer me a thangka from his shop when I returned to Malaysia later on.

The reason I came to Nepal this time was to follow the steps of the Buddha on His first journey after becoming Enlightened, from Budh-Gaya to Sarnath, but I had heard there were many dacoits ~ bandits or robbers ~ in this area, so decided it would be better to get someone to accompany me as a translator and also to watch my back, as it were; I preferred a Nepalese for this. It wasn’t easy to find someone, but eventually, Raju came up with a trekking-guide to go with me; we negotiated, and I agreed to pay all costs and give him $5 per day, as this is what he asked for. I forget his name, so let’s call him Prabu for the sake of convenience.

We got a bus to the border-crossing at Raxaul, where we spent the night, and the next day, went on to Patna, but there was no direct bus to Gaya from there, so we had to go in stages, getting to Gaya at night. Now, the road from there to Budh-Gaya itself is notorious for night-time hold-ups ~ bus-loads of foreigners have been robbed of everything by armed dacoits along its 15 kms length, and such acts have increased in recent years because more people and a lot of money have been coming in; some people have even been shot in temples there! ~ so we spent the night in a hotel and went on the next morning by taxi.

In Budh-Gaya, I directed the taxi-driver to the Japanese temple, where I’d stayed before, thinking we might get accommodation there, but when I went in and spoke to the monk, he said, “Sorry, it is only for Japanese people.”

“But the sign over your gate says ‘International Buddhist Broth-erhood,” I said.

“Oh, that is only a name,” he said.

“Too right,” I thought. We went next to the Bhutanese temple nearby, but the monk there said, “This room costs this much; that room costs this much.” I said nothing, but walked away thinking, “Just like a hotel.”

I went into the Chinese temple, leaving Prabu outside. When I told the monk there of my plan to walk to Benares, he asked where I would stay until I started, and I said I didn’t know. “You may stay here,” he said.

“But I have a guide outside,” I said.

“That’s alright; he can also stay.” I thanked him and went out to bring Prabu in. We were assigned a room and told the time of lunch. There was enough time to visit the Mahabodhi temple in the meantime, and when we returned and sat down for lunch, there was a strained feeling. Back in our room, a Chinese visitor from Calcutta came to me with a message from the monk: it was alright for me to stay, as I was a monk, but Prabu would have to find somewhere else. I was stunned, and was sure it was a mat-ter of racism, but said, “He is my responsibility, so if he must go, I also don’t want to stay.” I told the man what I thought of racist Buddhists, and we went to stay in a hotel. I knew, from previous visits, that there have been the foundations of an Indian Bud-dhist temple there, but it never got any further because, no sooner was money collected to resume construction, than someone would abscond with it. Because of this, the various other temples in Budh-Gaya won’t allow Indians to stay, as they just don’t trust them. And Nepalese look like Indians.

At the Mahabodhi temple one day, I met two Vietnamese monks who were studying in India; one of them ~ Thich Hanh Thanh ~ gave me his address in Delhi and invited me to stay with him when I got there. I said I would contact him.

One afternoon, I got talking to a Muslim money-changer, who, learning I was from Australia, told me he had met an Australian monk the year before, and when he described him, I knew he was referring to no-one else but Liem Dien. He’d been there making a big show, distributing alms to beggars and being filmed while doing so. And he’d told the man of his intention to walk from Budh-Gaya to Delhi carrying a large Buddhist flag in order to show people along the way that Buddhism was return-ing to the land of its origin. Poor Liem; always wanting to make a show! He was fond of showing people the burns on his body from napalm during the war, and after settling in Australia, had gone to America to try to get compensation from the government for his injuries; he didn’t succeed.

Getting what we’d need for the journey ~ rush-mats, blankets and sturdy bamboo staffs ~ we waited until the weather cleared then set off early one morning. It was my aim to go cross-country, through the villages, as the Buddha would have done, and where life hasn’t changed very much over the centuries; people still till the fields with ox-drawn plows, draw water from wells, and cook over cow-dung fires; most villages still have no electricity, telephones or TV’s; life there is simple.

Falling into an easy gait, we made good time until we came to a large village where the festival of Holi ~ a Hindu Spring Festival ~ was in full-swing; I’d not taken this into account, and we soon had to deal with inebriated revelers who wanted to throw colored powder over us or squirt us with water; we passed through as quickly as we could, and stopped at the other side for tea and a snack. I told Prabu to ask directions (Hindi and Nepali are simi-lar, so he had no problems with this), and he came back report-ing what he’d variously been told: “Don’t go that way; there’s a Muslim village; dangerous.” “There’s a river ahead; you won’t get across.” “You won’t be able to find food along the way.”

I said to him, “The people who told you must have been Hindus; if you’d asked Muslims, they might have said there’s a danger-ous Hindu village up ahead. And if there’s a river, there will be boats. And where there are people, there will be food. Come on.” We passed through the Muslim village without any trouble, and when we got to the river ~ oh yes, there was a river ~ it was very wide, but also very shallow ~ about 20 cms at its deepest ~ so we simply waded across. And food? Well, as we passed through villages, people ran out inviting us to come to their homes and eat! At the end of the day, we accepted one such in-vitation, but soon regretted it, because although I appreciated their hospitality, and the food they served was quite good, the whole village gathered around to watch us eat, and I could see that Prabu was as uncomfortable about this as me. Later, when people drifted away and went home, our host showed us to a room he’d prepared for us, but although we were tired after walking all day, we couldn’t sleep because some guy insisted on accompanying us and playing his transistor-radio ~ oh yes, they had those alright, drat! ~ to/for us! Finally, I had to ask him to leave us alone, otherwise he might have stayed there all night!

Now, the type of sandals I was wearing, without socks, had al-ready caused blisters ~ my old bane ~ on my feet, so starting off the next day was not easy. Also, I had miscalculated, and left it too late, as it was already quite hot in the middle of the day, and Prabu, being a mountain-man, was even less used to it than me, and although he didn’t say so, I could tell he wasn’t very happy. We continued, however, but by the third day, I decided to swing back to the Grand Trunk Road and walk along it. We slept that night in a school-room somewhere, and on the fourth day, set out to walk on. We hadn’t gone far, however, when a truck-driver stopped just ahead of us and asked if we’d like a ride. I looked at Prabu and he at me, and we climbed in. It would have taken us all the way to Benares had we wanted, but I chose to get off at a town called Sasaram, where there is the tomb of a famous ruler ~ Sher Shah ~ that I wanted to see. We took a hotel-room, saw the tomb, and the next day, got another ride to the Ganges. I meant to take a boat over the river instead of crossing the bridge, as there was no bridge at the time of the Buddha, and I imagine He had crossed by boat, too. We sought accommoda-tion in an ashram near the river-bank, and were given room and board. Early the next day, we negotiated with a boat-man to take us across, and at the other side, walked the rest of the way to the Deer Park at Sarnath. Our destination achieved, after some time, we went into Benares to find a hotel.

Now, we didn’t walk all the way as I’d intended, but I did get some feeling of what it might have been like at the time of the Buddha, and later wrote an article called “The Buddha’s First Journey,” which I will copy below. The story of the Last Journey of the Buddha is well-known: how, almost 80, He had said to Ananda, “I am old now, Ananda, and full of years; this body of mine is like a worn-out cart which can only be kept going by constant attention. Three months from now, Ananda, I will enter Parinirvana.” They then set off from Vaishali to Kusinara, where indeed, three months later, He passed away. As far as I know, however, there is no account of His equally-important ~ and maybe moreso ~ First Journey, so I took the liberty of writing an account of it; it is not from the scriptures, but from my own imagination. I wrote it because the scriptures say nothing about this journey of 200 kilometers. It is unquestioningly accepted that He gave His First Sermon to the Five Ascetics in the Deer Park, but what about all the people He must have met along the way ~ did He have nothing to say to them? I imagine He was bursting with joy to share what He had found with others, and His words would have been full of Dharma. A sermon need not be long and wordy, but can be something short, pithy, and to the point. I purposely left out elements of the miraculous that are to be found in the scriptures and which should be understood in the context of that time; people were superstitious and what they didn’t understand they explained in other ways. Here, then, is my story of The Buddha’s First Journey:

“Don’t forget he’s a king’s son, and always lived in luxury be-fore. Maybe we expected more from him than he was capable of. But come, let’s go to him!”

“We’re leaving, Rajaputra”, said the stern-faced spokesman of the Five, Kondanya. “We can stay with you no longer, since you abandoned your search and started to eat again!”

“But I haven’t abandoned my search. That was the wrong way, don’t you see? It brought me nothing but exhaustion, and I al-most died! There has to be a better way, an intelligent way that avoids extremes like that!”

“No! If you had persisted, you would have found that which you sought. We never saw or heard of anyone else who went as far as you. We followed you for years, thinking that if anyone could make the breakthrough, it would be you. All our hopes were pinned on you. And now you’ve let us down. We’ve lost our re-spect for you!”

“And where will you go?”

“What is that to you? We can go wherever we like; it doesn’t matter. But we’ve heard of a park near Varanasi, where many yogis and seekers stay. Perhaps we’ll go there.”

With that, they left Siddhartha in the forest, to carry on his quest alone. But he soon recovered from his disappointment, because, having seen the futility of the way he had been on, he felt confi-dent now of finding the right one.

Some weeks later:

“What peace, what clarity! Everything seems to be different and vibrant, though it’s still the same! It was here ~ all along ~ what I sought, only I did not see it before. I feel light, as if a great bur-den has been put down! Done is what needed to be done. My search is at an end. I am liberated from ignorance and the bonds of desire. I see the past, the way by which I have come. Whoever would have thought it would be like this, and that even the bad things, the suffering, the pain, had parts to play?

“But who will believe me? How to explain to others what I have found? How can words convey it? To try explaining it will only be needlessly troublesome for me. Better stay here in the forest, enjoying the peace and bliss of realization until I die.”

So He thought at first, but as the days passed and His joy con-tinued unabated, He felt that His great discovery should not ~ could not ~ be kept to Himself; He would have to share it with others. “But who would understand? It is so profound, and be-yond the comprehension of people lost in the world of sense-pleasures, seeking happiness and trying to escape pain. Yet, like lotus flowers in a pond ~ some below the surface, some at the surface, some above the surface but not yet open, and oth-ers in full bloom ~ so there are people at different levels. There are those completely lost in ignorance, others with little intelli-gence, and some with greater intelligence, people who are not completely ignorant and blind, with not much dust clouding their vision. The two teachers I spent time with before ~ noble-minded, selfless men ~ who taught me all they could, are no longer alive; the news of their deaths reached me just the other day. And the five who were with me before were deluded and convinced that the only way to Enlightenment was through self-mortification, but they were not stupid. They might understand if I were to explain to them. But would they listen? They aban-doned me before; maybe they would only harden their hearts and turn away again. Then again, they might not; it is possible they might listen and understand. It is worth the risk. I will go.”

Having made up His mind, He set out towards the west, but had not gone far when He met Upaka, a wandering ascetic, who said to Him: “Your appearance, friend, is pleasing, your countenance radiant and clear. You must have found something extraordi-nary. Might I ask who is your teacher and what he teaches?”

“I have no teacher. By my own efforts have I attained Enlight-enment and become a Buddha.”

Upaka was unimpressed, and thought He was boasting ~ a thing not rare in those days. “It may be so,” he said, “It may be so,” and went off on his own way. The Buddha realized it was a mis-take to be so forthright, and decided that different approaches should be used with different people.

Traveling by day until the searing heat made Him seek the shade of a tree, He would resume His journey in the late after-noon, when it was cooler. He slept wherever He happened to be at nightfall ~ usually outside, but sometimes in a village meeting-hall or hut ~ and ate whatever food He was able to obtain along the way. He met many people in the villages and countryside through which He passed, some of whom greeted Him politely and offered Him what food they could spare; but some were rude and either ignored Him completely or rebuked Him for living off others instead of earning his living by His own labor. Some came to Him with problems and tales of sorrow, and He listened sympathetically, saying little; people would leave Him feeling calmer and clearer in mind. Always, when He spoke, He used words and examples suited to His listeners; mostly, because He was traveling in the countryside, He used the language of the peasants and farmers, speaking of the changing seasons, plow-ing, sowing, reaping, seeds and fruit. He spoke of the simple joys of life, and the need to do what is right. Most people who listened to Him were impressed and inspired by the sincerity and warmth of His speech.

“We have seen many wandering ascetics like this, with matted hair and beards, almost naked and carrying only bowl and staff,” said one man to those around him; “But this one is different; he’s so calm and dignified! Can this be the one we’ve heard of ~ the one they call the Sakyamuni ~ he who was a prince but gave up everything to go forth in search of Truth? It is said that our good king, Bimbisara, offered him half the kingdom of Magadha, but he declined, saying that he had already given up one kingdom and was not in search of another. Our king was amazed at his determination, but respected it, and requested the rishi to return when he had found what he was seeking, and share it with him. It must be him. It can be no other. Let us also pay our respects to him, and ask him to speak to us.”

The Buddha consented, happy to share something of what He had found with people eager to learn. Where He saw that people were not interested, however, He kept quiet. “I cannot make people understand,” He thought; “When they are ready, only then will they learn.”

One day, He came upon a party of hunters who, knowing that such yogis were vegetarian, greeted Him with derision. The Buddha remained silent and did not respond. “Come, sadhu, and eat with us what we have caught,” one hunter jeered. An-other restrained his companion, saying: “Each to his choice, brother; each to his choice. This sadhu said nothing to us. Why do you taunt him like this?” Chastened, the first admitted his mistake and apologized to the Buddha, and He, seeing an open-ing, said: “While I lived the family life, I also ate the flesh of ani-mals. But, having gone forth, I abandoned this, and now nothing lives in fear of me. All beings love their lives and none desires pain. I restrain myself from causing pain to even the lowest be-ing. I may still have enemies, but no-one’s enemy am I.”

Often, He saw people at their religious devotions in their homes or at their temples, making offerings and beseeching the gods for help and favors, but He heard no answers. Twice along the way, He chanced upon bodies being cremated, and felt the sor-row of the mourners.

Eventually, He reached the Ganges, which He would have to cross. There were men who earned a living by ferrying people over, but He had no money and could not pay. This did not worry him, however, and He did not ask to be taken across. In-stead, He sat on the bank, quietly contemplating the river flow-ing silently past, thinking of how it began as a tiny stream high up in the snow-clad mountains far away, and merged eventually with the sea, losing its separate identity but not its substance therein. “Life is a process, like this river,” He thought, “never still for a moment, but always changing. Nothing stands still, nothing stays the same; nothing can be grasped, possessed, and called ours. If we understand this, we can help others understand that while living here, we should avoid doing evil as far as possible and do as much good as we can. In this way, we may give life a meaning, so that it doesn’t just flow on purposelessly, like this river, which knows not where it came from, where it is, nor where it is going.”

His musings were interrupted by one of the boatmen. “I know you have no money to pay me with,” he said, “but if you will wait until I have other passengers, I will take you across.” The Bud-dha smiled, inclined His head and said: “You are very kind.”

Soon, other people came, and took places in the boat. The man beckoned to the Buddha, and asked Him to sit near him. Then, with strong arms, and quick, sure strokes of his oars, he launched the craft from the bank, out onto the broad river. The current wasn’t strong, as the rains had yet to come, so he didn’t need to exert himself much. The passengers chatted among them-selves, most returning home from various errands; the boatman knew them all, and spoke to them by name. But the Buddha was clearly someone special, and in mid-stream, he turned to Him and said: “I know you are a homeless one, but may I know where you have just come from, and where you are going?”

Courteously, the Buddha replied: “I came recently from Gaya in Magadha, and am bound for the park known as Isipatana. Per-haps you have heard of this place?”

“Indeed I have,” said the ferryman. “It is a pleasant place frequented by sadhus and rishis like yourself, and is about two hours’ walk from here, going west.

“I always take sadhus, knowing they have no money. Some are grateful, and others not, feeling it their right to be taken across. Some say they are holy men, and that I can make merit by tak-ing them across. But I never see this merit they talk about, and sometimes feel I’m being cheated. These other people have to pay for my service, which is my way of earning a living and sup-porting my family. I cannot live on nothing.”

”Well said,” replied the Buddha. “You perform a useful service by which you earn an honest living. How else would people cross the river if there were no-one like your good self to take them? There is no bridge or ford. Now, just as you provide a useful service to others, do you benefit from others in any way?”

“Of course I do,” said the ferryman, “We all depend on others for many things. While I am ferrying people across the river, I can’t be working in the fields, and consequently, I get my food from others. And my clothes. And medicine when I or anyone of my family need it. And whatever else I need.”

“Quite true,” said the Buddha. ”You are perceptive. We all de-pend upon others, and it is fortunate for us that different people do different things. If all men were boatmen like yourself, for ex-ample, how would they get their food? If all were farmers and produced food, how would they get their clothes and other ne-cessities? How would they cross the river?

“But life is not merely a matter of exchanging goods and ser-vices; there are other things that people need, things that can’t be bought and sold. We need friends. We need love. We need kindness. Now and then, we need someone to listen to us. We are not complete in ourselves; we need others; everyone does. And just as we like others to be kind to us and help us in various ways, so others like it if we are kind to them. We should not al-ways count the cost, and think of what we can get in return.”

“I understand,” the ferryman said, with tears of joy in his eyes. “What you are saying is that we should feel happy at the time of helping others, without thinking of gaining anything from it; that doing good or right is all the result we need. Thankyou. You have given me something that will help me for many a long day; I am well-paid for taking you across. If ever you need to cross again, please look for me. My home is over there, among those trees. I will be honored to see you and serve you again.”

“May you and yours be well and happy,” said the Buddha as He got out of the boat. “If I pass this way again, I will look for you.” The boatman watched Him with admiration as He made His way up the bank and disappeared from sight. Later, when he got home, his wife could see his eyes shining, and asked him what had happened. He said: “I took a very special person across the river today ~ one of these wandering ascetics we see now and then, with long hair and beard and clad only in rags. But he was different; there was something about him that made me feel good; meeting him has given me hope and a great feeling of self-worth. I have been blessed, and will never forget him.” His wife felt his happiness as if it were her own.

The sun was beginning to set and the Buddha didn’t want to reach the Deer Park in the dark, so in the remaining light, He bathed in a pond covered with lotuses, and selected a tree be-neath which to spend the night. There was a village nearby where He might get some food in the morning.

As was His custom, He sat and reviewed the day just gone, and the people He had met and spoken with. “Each has his or her own story,” He thought; “each sees the world in his own way; each has his hopes, fears and aspirations; each wishes to be happy and avoid suffering. We do not need to suffer as much as we do. If only people would open their minds and hearts and live considering others, the world would be a much better place. I can help people see this, but only if they are ready to see; if they are not ready, or refuse to see, no-one can help them.”

The next morning, after He had been to the houses nearby for alms and had eaten what people there had kindly put into His bowl, He set off for the Deer Park of Isipatana. Upon arriving, He asked two yogis He met if they knew of a group of five others who might be staying there. They told Him that there was such a group in the park, and directed Him to the place they’d chosen as their abode. Thanking them, He followed the way indicated, and saw the five in the distance. They also saw him coming.

“Look who’s coming!” said one of them; “It’s Siddhartha! What can he want? Maybe he’s on his way back to Kapilavastu, to in-herit his kingdom, and is just stopping by to show off!” Another said: “Why should we care? He abandoned his search and re-verted to a life of sense-pleasure. We don’t respect him any-more, remember? That’s why we left him. Look how sleek and well-fed he is! He’s obviously been stuffing himself since we left!” Yet another said: “Ignore him, and if he comes here, well, we can’t stop him, but don’t get up to welcome him!”

As He came closer, however, they were so impressed with His bearing and dignity, that they forgot their resolutions to ignore Him and rose from their seats as one to receive Him. “We re-spected him before,” said one, quietly, “but there’s something different about him now; something has happened! He shines!”

“Welcome, Friend Gotama,” said one, “It is good to see you again. How have you been? How did you know where to find us?” One took His bowl, one took his upper robe, one gave Him water to drink, and another water to wash his face and feet, while the fifth prepared a seat for Him.

“Do you not recall saying, when you left, that you might come here? I took a chance on finding you. But it is inappropriate for you to address me by name or as friend,” said the Buddha. “I am not now as I was then. I have found what I sought. I am now a Buddha”. Remembering His encounter with Upaka, He knew He was taking a risk in saying this, but felt there was no other way.

“But how can that be?” said one of the Five. “You tried every-thing in your search, and went further in your practice than any-one had ever gone, and became known as Sakyamuni as a re-sult. But still you didn’t find it, and now you expect us to believe you when you’ve gone back to a life of sense-pleasure?”

“The ways I tried before were useless,” said the Buddha, “and led nowhere. When I saw they were wrong, I turned from them. But I did not give up my search, and I eat only to sustain my life; I have not gone back to a life of sense-pleasures as you think. I have found a Middle Way that avoids useless extremes.”

“It is hard to believe, and yet there is something about you that was not there before.”

“When we were together earlier,” said the Buddha, “did you ever hear me make such a claim?”

“No; we always knew you as one who spoke only the truth.”

“Come, then, and pay attention. Open are the gates to the Deathless. I will explain to you what I have found.”

Convinced, the Five sat, listening attentively as He spoke about Suffering, the Cause of Suffering, the End of Suffering, and the Way to the End of Suffering. His voice carried authority, wisdom and compassion. And, as He spoke, the light of understanding appeared on the face of Kondanya, and the Buddha saw it and said: “Kondanya has understood! Kondanya has understood!”

Thus was the Buddha’s message proclaimed. He uttered His ‘Lion’s Roar,’ which has not ceased to reverberate until now.

During the next few days, while speaking to them again, they all became enlightened and free from ignorance. And with these Five as the nucleus, the Buddha started His Order of Monks that until today, we call the Sangha, or more specifically, the Bhikkhu Sangha. It is the oldest continuous organization in the world.

What Siddhartha achieved was not for Himself alone, but for countless others. The impact the Buddha made on the world cannot be measured.

In Benares, I showed Prabu around a little, and even managed to get inside the Golden Temple dedicated to Shiva, which is off-limits to non-Hindus. Knowing that Hindus regard the Buddha as an avatar of Vishnu, I used this to persuade the police at the gate to let me in. Of course, there is nothing secret inside, but lots of ritual and ceremony whereby the faithful are fleeced. Prabu was a Hindu, so I told him to buy some flowers to offer. As we were leaving, however, a priest followed me demanding money, but since I’d not asked for any puja or prayers, I refused. “Give me money. I am a priest,” he persisted. I replied, “That’s your problem.” They are so avaricious!

In the bazaar, I suddenly got the feeling to call mum and ask how she was, so went into an IDD station to dial up. Sheila an-swered the phone and said, “Mum’s gone to England.”

“What, again?”

“Yes, she suddenly decided to go and stay with Glen for the rest of her life, and instructed me to sell all her stuff again.”

Well, I was surprised, but what could I do? I wrote to her in Eng-land saying that her decision was maybe best, as Glen would take good care of her. I forget what else I said in that letter but was later to rue it.

It was at this time, too, that I thought about going to the US again; “Why not? I can go to hell and come out again.”

I paid Prabu and saw him off on a bus back to the border. I then caught a bus back to Budh-Gaya to pick up a bag I’d left at the Vietnamese temple, and went on to Calcutta by train. My previ-ous perception of this city as the end of the world was about to change. I stayed in a hotel near Chowringee, and had a great time visiting places I’d never taken the trouble to visit before, places like the museum, with its wonderful collection of Buddhist artifacts, the Victoria Memorial, which was designed to rival the Taj Mahal (it didn’t succeed, although it is rather stupendous), the Park Street Cemetery, with it’s poignant ex-pat British grave-stones, the site of the Black Hole, and other memorable places. Walking along one day, a whore came up beside me and said, “Hello, darling; how are you?” It sounded so funny, and I had to laugh, but I’m sure her story was not amusing.

Taking a train down the east coast, I stopped at Guntur, to visit the ruins of Amaravati stupa again. During the twenty years since the first time I was here, however, many houses and other buildings had sprung up around, and it took me some time to find it. I circumambulated the stupa and sat for a while meditat-ing before returning to Guntur to catch a train to Nasik, many hours to the north-west. There, I visited a group of Buddhist caves known as Pandulena which, like other caves in this re-gion, had been carved from the solid rock about 2000 years ago; they are situated in a hillside overlooking the town. Again, I felt good here, as I did whenever I’d visited other caves. Some hours south of there, near the small town of Shivneri, there are more caves, and having heard of them, I just had to visit; it was well-worth the effort needed to get there. I’m sure there are lots more caves that have not yet come to light. I could easily be convinced that I’d lived as a monk in such caves long ago. Here it was that the feeling, “Look what they’ve done to my India!” welled-up from inside me. And again, later on, I told someone that I was more Indian than him, as he had only been born there, and over that he’d had no choice at all, and if he could choose, he would probably leave and go somewhere else, as so many Indians have done. I, on the other hand, chose to come to India, again and again, when I didn’t have to. He didn’t disagree.

Being so near, I couldn’t leave the area without visiting Ajanta again. And there I met a French guy who was traveling around by motor-bike; he told me it was his 19th time in India. His name was Francois, and we had lots to talk about, and when I men-tioned my time in Goa and meeting Hussaid El Jabri, he said he knew him well, and that he also came to India frequently; he gave me the name of the hotel in Delhi where Hussaid usually stayed. He himself was heading for Almora in the mountains, and told me where to find him if I got there; I assured him I would, as it was on my itinerary, too.

Then, one of the stall-holders ~ Bhagwan by name ~ took me by motorbike to a place in the mountains where geodes are found, and I walked over the rocky soil trying to find some myself; he showed me how to weigh them in my hand, a light stone indicat-ing it might be hollow; I got several that way. I was also shown how they were split open: a sharp tap with a hammer on a stra-tegic spot resulted in a clean break, but slightly off, the stone would shatter; the proportion of shattered stones was much higher than clean breaks. At the Caves again, I stocked up on my ‘thunder-eggs’ and sent them off by post to Malaysia.

North, then, to Delhi. At first, I stayed in a hotel in Paharganj, an area popular with back-packers, near New Delhi railway-station, but there was a water-shortage in the capital, and it was hard to shower in the hotel. Recalling Hanh Thanh’s invitation to stay with him, I called and arranged to go over. He welcomed me and I stayed with him some days and left one of my bags there when I set off for Amritsar. There, I got a bus to the one-and-only crossing-point between India and Pakistan, Wagah. With the Pakistan-visa I’d obtained in Kathmandu in my passport, I waited for it to open, then began the process of leaving India and entering Pakistan, with all the red-tape it involved; it’s a wonder my passport didn’t disintegrate from all the handling! Eventually, I was over, and on a bus to Lahore, where I checked into a cheapie and set out to explore. The day was half-gone, so I didn’t go far, but got my bearings ready for the next day, when I went first to the Shalimar Gardens, laid out in the traditional Mughal geometrical style by Shah Jehan in 1642, and quite well-cared for, even if not in its former glory. At the Raj-era museum, among many Buddhist exhibits discovered and brought there by the British, is the famous Gandhara-period image of Sakyamuni fasting; I was enthralled, gazing at it for several minutes; the de-tails carved in stone are fantastic.

Then there was the huge fort built by Emperor Akbar in the 16th century, and the tomb of his son, Jehangir, both of which I enjoyed visiting over two days. And thrice in the same day, I was pleasantly surprised when, traveling around the city by crowded buses, people got up and offered me their seats! This had never happened to me even once in India during all my times there! It boded well for the rest of my trip in Pakistan. I felt good.

The journey north from Lahore to Peshawar by comfortable bus ~ better than in India ~ took about 6 hours, along the excellent highway built by the Americans to facilitate transport of war-materiel to the Afghan mujahideen in their struggle against the occupying Soviets in the ‘80’s. Peshawar is in the heart of tribal-territory, where the law of Pakistan doesn’t really hold; it wasn’t rare to see fierce-looking characters walking around with semi-automatic weapons; tangle with them, and you’re finished. But as I had observed years before, if you walk without fear, minding your own business and not acting strangely, you should be al-right. Desert- or tribal-people are not as sophisticated as city-people, but more instinctive; like dogs, they can tell if you’re afraid, and that will not be in your own interest. As elsewhere, I wandered around, going to more-or-less anywhere I wanted, making friends with people in the bazaar, where someone obvi-ously felt so at ease with me that he invited me to watch a porno-movie with him, but I declined. They’re clearly selective about things of Western culture that they admire or despise.

With the needed permit to go up the Khyber Pass, and an armed policeman-escort in my taxi, I rode up that historical road to stand looking into Afghanistan from the top. Halfway up a ruined stupa stands in mute reminder that not only armed invaders passed this way, and that this was a Buddhist area 2000 years ago. I hired another taxi to take me to the beautiful Swat Valley, crossing the mighty Indus River and the Malakand Pass on the way, and visiting several ancient ruined stupas; according to one of the Chinese pilgrim-monks who passed this way in the 5th century, there were thousands of monasteries here.

Back over the pass, I visited Takht-i-Bahi, a large monastery-complex on a hillside. One of the chowkidars (watchmen) there tried to sell me a small image; finds from such places are for sale illegally. Even so, I was heartened that the government of Muslim Pakistan should be doing something to preserve these ancient places, when the fanatical Taliban in Afghanistan were soon to demonstrate its misguided beliefs by destroying the great Buddha-images of Bamiyan, and any other Buddhist arti-facts they could get their hands on.

I enjoyed Peshawar so much that I was reluctant to leave, but my visa was limited, and I had other places to go. I moved on to Rawalpindi, just south of the capital, Islamabad. Now, ‘Pindi was what the British called a ‘cantonment’ ~ a permanent military en-campment, such as they needed to maintain some kind of order in the NWFP ~ North-West Frontier Province ~ known as such until now. I went there in order to visit the ruins of Taxila, and was in for another treat. About 35 kms from Islamabad, Taxila is one of the subcontinent's most important archaeological sites, with the remains of three great cities and dozens of monasteries dating from 400 BC to 600 AD. Alexander the Great visited there in 326 BC. It was the principal university town of Gandhara, a kingdom of the north from the 6th century BC to the 11th century AD. I spent a day wandering around there, not half long enough, but enough to get a long-lasting impression of it, and the wish to go again sometime. Unlike Nalanda, which was destroyed dur-ing the waves of Muslim invasion, Taxila was destroyed much earlier by marauders known as the White Huns, who originated in Mongolia; they stormed through the passes into India in the 5th century; Taxila ~ and Gandhara in general ~ never recovered from their depredations.

I returned to Lahore for two more days, then crossed the border and went to Amritsar, intending to stay and have a better look around than I’d done in 1970, but it was such a hassle finding a hotel that I got on a bus to Jammu, the winter-capital of Kashmir. Next morning, I bought a ticket to Srinagar, and while waiting for the bus to move, was approached by someone asking if I wanted to stay on a house-boat when I got there. I did, but told him I would find one for myself, thanks. His sharp eyes had seen my name on the ticket, however, and he must have called ahead. As we were nearing Srinagar after a tiring trip of 14 hours, the bus stopped on an unlit stretch of road, and someone got in with a flashlight, came to where I was sitting, and asked if I were the person on the paper he showed me.

Before I realized what was going on, he’d taken my bags off the bus and into a waiting car, and I followed. It could easily have been a kidnapping, such as had happened to four other West-erners several years before, one of whom was beheaded, one escaped, and I forget what happened to the others ~ maybe still missing. (Although there was a lull in the fighting when I went, there were still many militants around). I was lucky, as these were house-boat agents, and on the way into the city, I negoti-ated about the price of the house-boat, and was surprised at how low it was ~ just like a budget-hotel; tourism had fallen, so they were happy to get a customer. At the lakeside, there was a shikara ~ sampan ~ waiting to take me to the boat. I relaxed when we pulled up at the steps, climbed aboard, and saw the luxurious interior ~ fully carpeted and with carved walnut furniture. It had four bedrooms, each with bathroom and toilet, but none of them occupied. Now, during the time of the Raj, the rulers of Kashmir ~ which was never part of the Raj ~ barred foreigners from buying and owning land there, so some enter-prising Brits got around this by building house-boats on the lake. There are now hundreds of them, self-contained and capacious.

I slept well, and the next day, over breakfast of naan, butter and tea included in my rent, the owner’s son persuaded me to sign-up for several tours, showing me his record-book of others who had paid much more than what he was charging me. The owner himself then accompanied me around, first, on a shikara-ride over the lake to the Shalimar Gardens and then back through the floating-gardens where flowers and vegetables are grown on islands of weed dredged from the lake; then through the old town to visit mosques and papier-mache factories where I saw the artisans at work. He also escorted me to outlying places. Everything was alright until I saw a sign outside a tourist-office giving the rates for the tours I’d signed up for, and I understood why the old man had insisted on taking me everywhere instead of letting me find my own way around: the difference in prices was staggering! I used some pretext to shake off my ‘minder’ and went to the tourist-office to complain; there, I met someone who knew my boat-owner, and told me that this was his usual scam. He advised me to pack my stuff and check out, telling the owner that I wanted a refund, and that if he refused, I would go to the police. I did this, and after an initial refusal, they gave me back a reasonable amount, and I moved to a hotel. But, thinking to prevent these cheats doing it to other travelers, I lodged a written detailed complaint at the tourist-office; they thanked me and assured me they would take action.

It was so lovely there and cool while India to the south was hot. I remained in Srinagar another week, waiting for the pass be-tween there and Ladakh to open, so I could go; in the meantime, I visited Gulmarg, a famous alpine place to the north. As the days passed, however, it became clear that the snows on the pass were not going to melt for me, and I was unable to get a place on a plane in, so I returned by the way I had come in, to Jammu, and was in time to catch the night-train to Delhi.

I stayed with Hanh Thanh for a few more days, and made an ef-fort to visit the site of the Coronation-durbar of Emperor-King George V in 1911 (I’d tried to find it before but failed). It is in a surprisingly out-of-the-way place on the edge of Delhi. Here it was that the most fantastic pageant had unfolded, choreo-graphed down to the smallest detail (both British and Indians loving the theatrical). All India’s maharajas were there, dressed like peacocks and resplendent in jewels on their caparisoned elephants and with uniformed retinues, each trying to outdo the others, cannons fired in their honor according to their rank, twenty-one being the highest. This spectacle had been designed to awe the Raj’s subjects. The culmination was the announce-ment of a well-kept secret: that a new city would be built at Delhi, and the capital shifted from Calcutta. The British must have known about the legend that whoever set up a new city here on the ruins of so many others before them would not last long; they would have done well to consider this carefully, as it came to pass less than forty years later.

Old statues of Queen Victoria and her successors, along with the various viceroys, had unceremoniously been brought from around the city and dumped here, bedecked now by creepers instead of garlands; an obelisk with steps leading up to it on all sides stands on the actual coronation-spot. The whole place ~ like other Raj-era places I’d visited ~ had a melancholy air about it (or was it just my imagination?).

Near Connaught Place one day, I met the same Sikh fortune-teller I’d met there years before; this was his pitch, but he didn’t recognize me, and said exactly the same thing he’d said before: “You are very lucky, you know.”

“Yes, I know,” I replied, playing him along and wobbling my head.

“Do you know why you are lucky?” he then asked.

“Yes, I know,” I said. “I’m lucky because I can come to India and leave whenever I like; I don’t have to stay here. If I had to stay here, it would be terrible!” I told him he was a cheater, saying the same thing to everyone in order to catch them. Bystanders hearing this laughed, as they knew it was true.

I went to the hotel Francois had told me of, and inquired about Hussaid, but no-one there remembered him, and though they showed me their register, and I checked back several years, I did not find his name there.

I went to Almora, stopping off in Nainital for two days on the way; like Almora, this is a popular holiday-resort for Delhi-ites, being much cooler than the capital during the summer. Almora, to my disappointment, was very dusty, even though it is at quite an altitude. I found Francois, and spent some time with him, tell-ing him of my futile search for Hussaid. After a few days in the hills, I returned to Delhi, to finally discover the location of Barhut Stupa (I had long been looking for it); I knew it was somewhere in Madhya Pradesh, but now knew exactly where. Thanking Hanh Thanh for his hospitality, I got a train to Allahabad. It was a hot and stuffy ride through the night. From Allahabad, I had first to get to Satna, so bought a ticket and waited on the plat-form for the train that was supposed to arrive at 11 o’clock.

It didn’t come until one o’clock; but it wasn’t just two hours late; it was twenty-six hours late! This was the train that should have arrived at eleven o’clock the day before; where it had been all this time, I had no idea, but it was crowded, and I didn’t have a reservation, as I wasn’t going very far. I had to force my way into the carriage, and squeeze onto the edge of someone’s seat. Some of the ceiling-fans weren’t working, it was dirty and smelly, and I was sitting there feeling miserable, waiting for the train to move. When it finally did, it went so slowly, and kept stopping for whatever reason I didn’t know; the wind was blowing through the open windows like the air from a blast-furnace, and I was sweat-ing like mad and silently cursing, hating this journey, when sud-denly, I remembered some magic words: ‘Boleh Tahan’. This is a Malay expression, and means, literally, ‘Can Stand’ or ‘Can Bear’. Upon this, everything seemed to change. I looked at the folks around me, and they were also sweating, and when you see Indians sweating, it means it is very hot. Usually, it’s just me, and everyone around me looks cool and I feel like a fool, but when everyone is in the same condition, you don’t feel so bad. I said to myself: “I have no right to complain. No-one made me come here; I chose to come, and paid to do so, and anytime I want, I can leave. These people have no such choice; they must stay here.” This was followed by an insight: It doesn’t have to be nice, and I don’t have to like it. If we make it a condition about everything we experience that it has to be nice and we must like it, we will suffer so much! Thinking like this, I began to enjoy the rest of the five-hour journey, and started to smile, and when I started to smile, other people did, too, and became friendly towards me.

Arriving in Satna, I found a hotel, but the walls had absorbed the heat during the day, and radiated it back in the night, and even with the fan full-on over my bed, it was impossible to sleep. The only way I could get some sleep was by lying on the bathroom-floor with a bucket of water beside me, and every now and then dowsing myself from it! Of course, I didn’t sleep much, but it was better than nothing. This was another first; I’d never done any-thing like that before, and hope I never have to do it again. The outside temperature at that time was almost 50 Celcius!

The next day, I asked some auto-rickshaw drivers about Barhut Stupa, but none of them had even heard of it. Finally, I met someone who knew, and he directed a driver how to get there, so off we went, using back roads through small villages, until we got there, but it was disappointing, as almost nothing remained; I’d seen the best parts of it in Calcutta Museum. But at least I’d made it, having wanted to go there for years. I returned to Satna and Allahabad, staying long enough to get a reservation in an air-conditioned carriage to Gorakhpur (I’d never traveled in such a carriage before, but decided to splurge); my long and interest-ing trip in India was almost at an end.

Arriving in Gorakhpur early the next morning, I immediately got a bus to the border, and was back in Nepal again. I reached Pokhara that evening, and took it easy for a while. Then, rested and refreshed, I returned to Kathmandu.

I don’t have to tell anyone about this, and I’m not trying to show off, but I want to ‘confess’ here something I did that has both-ered me since. In doing so, it might be useful in helping some others avoid doing the same kind of thing.

While waiting to fly back to Malaysia, I went to a second-hand book-shop. In keeping with the custom, I haggled about the price of a book, and got it for Rs300, instead of the marked-price of Rs400, the understanding at such shops being that one may get a 50% refund later. Some days later, having read the book, I went to return it, expecting to recover Rs150, but there was a different assistant in the shop. When he opened the book and saw Rs400 written there, he asked if that was what I had paid for it. I regret to say I replied “Yes,” just one word. He therefore gave me back Rs200, when I should actually, according to our agreement, have received only 150. I walked out thinking, “Well, he made Rs100 profit anyway, and didn’t really lose on me.” Yes, he made a clear profit and didn’t lose. It was I who lost. I caused suffering to no-one but myself; I was stupid! Thinking I’d gained Rs50 (about US$0.80), I really lost much more, and wish I could rewind the tape and undo what I did; it has bothered me, and I’m ashamed of it. Telling of this incident, most people un-derstood and agreed with me, but one woman was aghast, and said: “But you are a monk! How could you do such a thing?!”

“Yes, I am a monk,” I replied, “but that doesn’t prevent me from doing wrong. And I told this story to illustrate to you how this side of Enlightenment, we are subject to doing wrong. Moreover, I want even my weaknesses ~ not to mention my strong points ~ to be a source of strength to others. It is my gift to you, but if you regard it that way, you will benefit nothing from it!”

I’m not in the habit of doing such things; I try to practice what I preach. The very fact that I said try, however, means that I don’t always succeed, which is why I wrote an article in one of my books called “DON’T FOLLOW ME.” I’m aware of my limitations, and don’t want others to get involved with them, as they have enough of their own to deal with. But I do feel it helps to know that we are all in the same boat, and not in a position to point fingers at others and feel superior. If we are weak, it is from weakness that strength comes. I don’t want to boast of my suc-cesses, but I have had some; indeed, if I had had nothing but failures, I would not be here now talking of it. I’m confessing my lapses, not boasting of my successes.

We often expect too much of others, and often too much of our-selves; consequently, we become faint-hearted. This does not mean, however, that we shouldn’t have ideals to aim for, but that we should accept the likelihood of failure, and not be too disap-pointed when it happens. It may be seen as an opportunity for further striving and eventual success, instead of an excuse for giving way to self-pity and despair. We should be capable of in-trospection and self-criticism, but objectively and fairly, without exaggeration, self-debasement or self-flagellation.

If only someone had explained to me when I was young the kind of things that I now explain to others, I might have understood and saved myself so much time and trouble! But it’s not too late to atone for things that I now regret, and I can try to turn my mis-takes and stupidity around, and make something positive of them. Perhaps some others can learn from my experience, and if they do, then my mistakes will not have been in vain.

Following the Way is often an uphill battle, as we must face and come to grips with our mental defilements. Most people don’t even want to know of this and prefer to live carelessly, wasting what Tibetans term our precious human rebirth and sliding back-wards. But although it often is difficult, something in our mental make-up is on our side and helps us on our journey upwards; we call it our Conscience, or inner voice. It makes us feel un-comfortable at times, but is in our own interests.

Because we have set out upon the Way does not mean that we are incapable of doing wrong; we’ve only just begun, so of course we can do wrong, like people who know nothing of the Way. The difference between us is that we cannot forget; our wrong-doing bothers us and won’t let us live in peace. We either feel remorse and try to correct our mistakes, or confess them to someone else, and in this way, put them behind us and try to see it as part of our learning-process. It may be taken as an in-dication of our progress in Dharma: that we can do wrong, but not feel good about it.

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