UNIVERSAL DHARMA

So Many Roads ~ SEARCH FOR YOURSELF

We speak of the Here-and-Now and also of the Way, not noticing the inherent contradiction here. A Way always leads somewhere, from A to B or here to there. But there is no way to get to where we already are. We are putting off until the illusory future what can only be found or experienced Now. There is either a Way, or the Here-and-Now, not both.

In early ’77, I felt like making another trip to India, so went up the East Coast again, stopping off in several places along the way. One day, while I was in the temple in Kuala Trengganu, someone named Lao Chang ~ one of the elders of the temple ~ brought someone to see me; he wanted help for his son ~ aged about 21 ~ who, convinced that there was a ghost in his home, refused to stay there, and wandered around the town in a state of disorientation, sleeping wherever he could. I asked the man to bring his son to me if he could, and he returned some time later with the boy, but he was so nervous and unfocused that I couldn’t do anything for him, and he went off. At about 10:30 that night, the father returned and told me his son was in a temple not far from ours, and asked me to go with him. I went, and found the boy fast asleep on the floor, without pillow, blanket or mosquito-net, snoring loudly. I asked for a cup of water and, standing near the boy, concentrated over it, then sprinkled a few drops on his face. Thereupon, he stopped snoring and gave a sigh of relaxation, but didn’t wake up. I went back to my place and early the next day, left K.T. for Kota Bharu.

I continued up the peninsula to Bangkok, where I visited Wat Pleng again, and met Alan, who was still there. He told me that after I’d left in ’74 and he had taken over my alms-round, one day, a lady offered him an envelope containing money, but he told her, in his fluent Thai, that he didn’t accept money. She was visibly offended, and never came out to offer anything again. He could have accepted it, as I’d accepted the food containing meat and fish, and back at the monastery, given it to someone else. He was so strict about the rules that he painted himself into a corner and eventually disrobed. Sadly, years later, when his mother was visiting him, they were both killed in a car-smash.

From Bangkok, I flew to Calcutta, and after some days in the Mahabodhi Society, proceeded down the east coast of India. I turned inland to visit the ruins of Amaravati Stupa, which must have been magnificent in its time. Buddhism was never widespread in South India, but there were several centers where it was well established. I also went to Nagarjunakonda, where the great philosopher-monk, Nagarjuna, was supposed to have had his base. Years ago, it was decided to build a massive dam on the Krishna River here, and some of the ruins of the monastery ~ like the temples of Abu Simbel in Egypt ~ were relocated to higher ground, which became an island in the lake when the dam was completed. The museum on the island contains some fine images of a lovely green stone. I took a boat back and forth.

South of here, Tirupatti, the wealthiest Hindu temple in the world sits atop some hills, and devotees have lavished their wealth here for centuries. Numerous barbers wait to shave people’s heads; their hair then becomes another source of income, as it is turned into wigs and hair-pieces, to be exported all over the world. I waited in line to file into the main shrine, to have darshan of the image in the inner sanctum, but wasn’t inspired.

I hitch-hiked on from there to Puttaparthi, the ashram of Sai Baba, but he was at his other center at Whitefields near Bangalore, so I didn’t see him. And because he was away, few people were there; it was quiet and peaceful, and I enjoyed my brief stay, before going on to the Mahabodhi Society at Bangalore, where I found the head monk arrogant. He was an ex-brahmin by the name of Buddharakkhita (years later, I came to know something of him through the books of his brother-monk, Englishman Sangharakkshita, and by the time I did, of course, I had some idea of the person he referred to so unflatteringly). Whatever, it takes all kinds to make a world, but I had come across such a high proportion of arrogant monks that I’d almost come to expect it. From Bangalore, I went to Tiruvanamalai, where the ashram of a famous Hindu sage, Ramana Maharishi, is located in the shadow of the sacred mountain of Arunachala. After my encounter with Buddharakkita, this was refreshing, because although Ramana had died in 1956, his ashram had been maintained and was run by his disciples, who were friendly and kind, in keeping with the spirit of the place. They gave me a room without question, and provided me three meals a day (and by then, I had lapsed from my one-meal-a-day regimen into the simpler Mahayana pattern).

After the customary three days, I left Tiruvanamalai, and went on to Pondicherry, the old French enclave south of Madras; it still retains its French ambience, and another famous ashram is here ~ that of Sri Aurobindo and his successor, a domineering French woman who’d had herself styled ‘The Mother.’ Immediately repelled by the strong feeling of regimentation, I got no further than the office, and lost no time in returning to Madras.

There, I was coolly received by the incumbent monk of the Mahabodhi Society, another officious person who expressed his disapproval of my dress, which was half-and-half ~ the pants and tunic being ‘Mahayana’ and the over-robe Theravada ~ and asked why I needed two ordinations; he couldn’t understand my desire to be categorized as neither. After this, though, I met someone who was totally different: an old monk sitting quietly by. Unaware of who he was ~ I hadn’t been introduced to him, and the pompous monk had left him on his own ~ proceeded to have a wonderful discussion with him, at his feet, in complete agreement with everything he said. This communion went on for several hours, and the next morning, I looked for him again, but he’d already left, and I’d not gotten his name or address; all I knew about him was that he was setting up a meditation-centre for Westerners outside Colombo. I resolved to try to find him when I got there soon afterwards.

I moved to the headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar, just outside Madras, a lovely place of calm and quiet with a river on one side, and the beach on another. After becoming a member of the Society, I got a room there and availed myself of the marvelous library. There, too, I met an old Englishman named Dick Balfour-Clarke who said that as a young man, he’d been hired to tutor the young J. Krishnamurti, and had seen him writing the little book of wisdom, “At the Feet of the Master,” which K. later denied having written. Who to believe?

After a week in Adyar, I took a train to Rameshwaram so as to catch the ferry to Sri Lanka for the second time, but of course, I spent a while in the town before doing so, redolent as it was with fond memories of things that had changed my life.

There were several other Westerners on the ferry, one of whom looked so familiar that eventually, I asked where he was from, and when he said, “Austria,” I knew he was none other than my old friend Erwin; our paths had crossed for the fourth time in ten years! Of course, he had changed, as had I. His wife was with him and they were going to Sri Lanka to photograph and document the ancient frescoes in some of the cave-temples there. Other than this, he told me little else about himself; our conversation was somewhat strained, and I never saw him again.

From Talimannar, I got a train to Colombo, and on the way, someone was caught stealing from a bag, and many people savagely set upon him and beat him up. In Colombo, I went to Deepananda’s monastery, Gangaram. I’d not informed anyone of my coming, but was received anyway and assigned a room. (By this time, I’d reverted to Theravada robes for the sake of convenience in this Theravadin stronghold). Deepananda was engaged in teaching German somewhere, as he was fluent in that language, and I seldom saw him, and when I did, the friendliness he’d shown in Malacca wasn’t there. Anyway, I was able to meet Ven. Ananda in another monastery, who I’d known earlier in Singapore, and he was pleased to see me again if Deepananda wasn’t.

I mentioned to the deputy-abbot of Gangaram about the old monk I’d met in Madras, and asked if he knew anyone of that description. “Yes,” he said, “it must be Venerable Balangoda Anandamaiteya, and his center is on the outside of town.” He told me how to get there, and I resolved to go there the next day. But the next day I felt unwell, so stayed in my room. In the afternoon, however, someone knocked on my door and said: “Do you want to see Ven. Anandamaitreya?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Then come,” he said, “he’s in the office.” Imagine my surprise and joy! When I paid my respects, he said, “I don’t know why I came here today, as I’d no intention of doing so when I left my place this morning, but my attendant said, ‘Why don’t we go to Gangaram?’ and I agreed, so here we are!” It was so good to see him again, and he invited me to visit him at his center, which I soon did, and found him living very simply in a room so full of books there was hardly space for him in it, let alone me as well. I forget how long I spent with him that time, but before leaving, I asked him to accept me as a student. He said nothing, but took a sheet of paper and wrote: “Search for Yourself”. I never saw him again. When he died in 1998, at the age of 104, he was accorded a state-funeral as the most highly-respected monk of his time. I consider myself very fortunate to have met him, even before I knew anything about him; his rank and position meant little to me; it was who he was that mattered!

I felt more at ease in Sri Lanka than in Thailand, and intended to spend quite some time there, as there was no visa-problem, but this wasn’t to be. I got a letter from my mother, saying that Stuart, Sheila’s son, had become hooked on drugs, and asked me to come home, as I was the only one ~ she thought ~ who could help him. I agreed to go, but was later to wish I hadn’t. I went first to Singapore and one evening, while I was strolling up and down in front of the temple, an Indian woman and her teenaged daughter came up to me and asked where to find a certain Thai monk who stayed there and who was well-known for fortune-telling, palmistry, and so on. I directed her to his quarters and continued my stroll. A few minutes later, she came back and said: “He’s sick and cannot help me. Can you help?”

“What’s the matter?” I said. She then told me that her husband had gone off with a young woman, and she ~ the wife ~ thought that she must have charmed him away from her (the vanity of the thought!), and wanted him back.

When she said this, I heard alarm-bells ringing and thought: “Be careful; this is not your thing!” But I could see she was genuinely upset, so I said: “What I can and will do for you, if you like, is go with you to your home and bless it”.

“Oh, would you?” she said, “I’d like that so much.”

With someone to accompany me, we went down the road to find a taxi. On the way, she told me she was a devotee of Sai Baba. “Oh,” I replied, “I was at his place in India just a few weeks ago, but he was away at the time, so I didn’t get to see him.”

Really!?” she said, “Before I came here just now, I was in touch with him, mind-to-mind, and he told me to come to this temple where I would meet a monk who would go with me to my home and explain everything to me. I’d heard of the Thai monk, and thought it would be him, not a European!”

Upon arrival, she showed me her shrine-room with pictures of Sai Baba, and all over the walls, ceiling and floor, was ash ~ vibhuti ~ the materialization of which Sai Baba is famous for; it was as if someone had taken handsful of wet ash from a dead campfire and thrown it around. “I don’t know where it came from or how,” she said. “One day there wasn’t any, and then it was all over, just as you see it.” She then told me about her husband ~ who was her second husband, and much younger than she ~ how he was very lazy and never worked and lived off her. When she wouldn’t give him money, he took her things, and sold them.

I thought: “Why is she worrying and wanting him back? She’s better off without him” But I didn’t voice my thoughts; instead, I asked her for a photo of him that I might take back with me and meditate over. She gave me one, I blessed the house, and went back to the temple, where I meditated over the photo and tried to tune-in to the person thereof.

The next day, I was in downtown Singapore for something or other, about to cross Orchard Road, and found myself standing next to the man in the photo! I thought, “Should I say something to him?” but decided not to.

Back in the temple, I called her, but she said: “I can’t talk to you now; would you call me later?” When I did, she explained: “I could not talk to you before as my husband was here; he had come to collect his things and told me that he wouldn’t be staying with me anymore but would visit me from time to time. And when you called before,” she said, “he asked me who it was, and I told him it was a European monk I’d met. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘does he wear glasses and look like ... ?’ ‘Yes’, I said, ‘how do you know?’ ‘Oh, I saw him on the street.’ ”

A few days later, when I was passing, I went to see her again, and she said: “After you came the first time, I contacted Baba again, and he told me: ‘Yes, that’s the monk I meant.’”

This time, I told her, indirectly, “Look, better let this fellow go; he’s not worth bothering about”.

Does this mean Sai Baba knew me, even though I’d never even seen him before? I can’t say. It does seem beyond doubt, however, that he has powers most of us would consider ‘miraculous’ but which have been spoken of for thousands of years. India is a special country in this way; strange things go on there. Can we say it is all a hoax just because we do not understand the principles behind it, or do not even know of the possibility of such powers? That would be to display our ignorance and dogmatism, would it not? There is just too much evidence and too many reliable witnesses for us to take such a stand. All we can say, if we don’t know, is simply that: “I don’t know; maybe”.

Although not a follower of Sai Baba, I won’t knock or decry him, as his teachings are eclectic and broad; also, he’s given many people a sense of direction in life they didn’t have before; surely, he is to be commended for this, not denounced, as someone once requested me to do. Knowing I was quite close to some of Sai Baba’s devotees, and thinking they might listen to me, this person wanted me to denounce him as a charlatan and ‘magician’ who was not worth consideration. I refused to do this on the grounds just given: that he has helped lots of people find a sense of purpose in life when they were otherwise lost.

Back in Oz, it was six weeks before Sheila and Frank ~ whose son I’d come to try to help, at the request of my manipulative mother ~ bothered to come to see me at Moonta, and as it turned out, there never was an opportunity to help their silly son, nor did I ever find out what kind of drugs he’d been on, or how my mother got her information that he was injecting.

I made contact with Tim and Jill again, and they came to visit me, bringing with them some new friends, Pete and Maggie, who told me of someone they’d met ~ George Gatenby, an Anglican minister who had turned to Buddhism, and who, upon hearing of me, invited me to stay with him in his house beside the church he administered. I accepted, and spent several weeks with George, whose birthday, down to the year, happened to be the same as mine. He had lost his faith in Christianity, but continued to perform his church duties for some years to come. While staying with him, I came to know of a church-run organization helping newly-arrived Vietnamese boat-people, and became somewhat involved with them.

Before long, I parted company with George Gatenby, who was a snob, and went back to Moonta. I spent that summer working around the place, and then decided to return to Asia.

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