How the place I call The High Mountain Zendo in California's High Sierras in the United States and it's relationship to my meeting up with a Buddhist monk in the then wide-open city of Chiang Mai --- with the two of us then leaving together, crossing into Laos, Burma, and on into China --- is covered more thoroughly in Doing Hard Time In A Zen Monastery.
For our purposes here however, in a brief unfolding of those events, the monk and I traveled north on foot high into the mountains, basically retracing the steps of the ancient Chamadao, the Tea Horse Road. After days and days of travel we ended up going our separate ways. As he continued on I remained outside the gates of a somewhat ancient dilapidated Zen monastery --- a dilapidated monastery perched precariously high up on the side of some steep Chinese mountain situated somewhere along the southern edge of the Qinghai-Tibet plateau.
With no formal access apparently forthcoming, one day I followed some monks into the fields. When they returned, I returned, entering the monastery right along with them. The following is from the aforementioned Doing Hard Time In A Zen Monastery:
"Although it was quite clear I was not of indigenous stock, and as well, not brought up through their local or regional system however formal or informal, in that I had studied under the Japanese Zen masterYasutani Hakuun Roshi prior to being drafted I had some background as to how to conduct oneself under the conditions afforded by the monastery. Because of such, even though it would seem I had many strikes against me, I fit in somewhat more comfortablely than might be expected. I did not come pounding on the door either, but, in a near Nirodha state, sat silently in what seemed a power beyond my control in the Bhumi-sparsha Mudra pose for weeks on end like a latter day Hui K'o outside the monastery until I became a more or less familiar figure and fixture. After entering the monastery, the mere aspect of being seeped in Zen or Buddhist protocol in what should have been clearly a foreign environment for almost anybody, showed at least I was not a neophyte."
I was pointed to work in the kitchen food preparation area doing clean up and more or less garbage and latrine detail. Soon, as I got some sense of my surroundings, I began sneaking in and sitting in meditation in the main hall with the rest of the monks. Eventually, falling into and following the strict monastery rules and schedule as mandated by tradition over the centuries. Nobody said anything and nobody questioned why I was there. Not even the master. Months went by and I continued to sit in study-practice. Except for the occasional sting of the shiang ban or possibly the brightness of the light or the length or shortness of the shadows caused by the movement from the summer to a winter sun and back, nothing seemed to change.
One day a very old and ancient man came down from the mountains. Because of respect paid him by all and the serenity he seemed to abide in, it was clear the man was Enlightened. Even so, no sooner had I arrived in the meditation hall and he saw me, tall, gaunt, and a westerner, even in the highly subdued light of the stonewalled hall I detected an ever so slight change of expression brush across his face. No sooner had I bowed he turned to walk away, then in a flash he swung back around with his staff swinging hard toward me. As I raised my arm to block the blow just as quickly he lowered the motion of the swing and before I was able to counter the move he had knocked me off my feet. Huge roars of laughter permeated the room. Here was this billion year old man who had easily knocked me to the ground. He extended the end of his staff to pull me up, which I took. He then strode out of the monastery and back into the mountains.
There was something about the old man that would not just let go and it continued to nag at me for the longest time. Months went by. Finally, when the weather turned such that I could, I sought the old man out, visiting him at what was not much more than a stone-pile hut along the edge of a stream. This time when I came before his presence there were no swinging staffs, only a sweeping open-palm hand offering me to join him for tea. Several days went by and during that time not one word passed between us.
One morning during my visit he had me walk down stream quite some distance with him. In the rough rock hewn hillside somewhat above the stream just before it tumbled down into rapids over a rather steep waterfall the Zen man showed me what appeared to be the remains of a fallen-over, onetime rock shelter. I had seen a shelter built in nearly the exact same manner high in the mountains of the Sierras in California some years before.
From the remains of the onetime shelter I could tell that the one in the Sierras replicated almost down to the last stone the shelter I stood before --- it was as though the same person had built both of them from the same design. If such was the case, at the moment I stood before the ruins, I did not know which one came first, although I knew the shelter in the Sierras had seemed much more recent and was still intact. A strange non-weather related cold-like chill came over me as I crouched down and looked inside, gently poking the ground beyond the rocks with a stick. The feeling was broken by the Zen man putting his hand on my shoulder followed by a gesture as though he wanted to show me something else. He walked over to a close by tree and pointed to markings carved into the trunk. I could barely make out three letters and just below them four numbers, which appeared to be the date of a year, 1926. The letters were the exact same letters as the initials of my mentor.(see)
Going to the ancient Zen man's dwelling from the monastery was a hard and arduous several day trek, as was the return, most of it through rugged and steep very high altitude territory. A good portion of the trail followed along side a series of streams that may or may not have been the same one, that was sometimes rushing and other times placid depending on the steepness or flatness of the terrain. When I questioned the ancient man of Zen how, despite appearing chronologically quite old, he had the ability to transverse such awful terrain through all kinds of sometimes unbearable weather, he told me, "I travel my way, you travel your's."(see)
While returning from his abode, on the second day out, high along the down slope edges of the Himalayas and miles away from any civilization or where people should be, I was startled coming across a lone person kneeling beside a stream scooping water into a bucket. The person was an exquisitely beautiful and somewhat mysterious young western woman, a Caucasian, who, after having gone to Europe first, more specifically Paris, had been traveling throughout India, Ceylon, Nepal, etc., alone and on her own for five years or more.
She was an American from South Carolina who left the U.S. as a teenager and was now around age 26 or so. Telling her I was from the monastery she said she had stayed a couple of days at a village months back many miles down the mountain trail but wasn't aware of any monastery. She had seen what looked like ruins of what may have been a monastery at one time but didn't seem habited from the distance she saw it. Wanting to stay away from any religious context or involvement she said she kept her distance. So too, she had not seen the Zen man, although she said she had been left a variety of small things on occasion, but didn't know from who.
We spent that whole day and that night together, parting the next day. How long she was going to stay and continue doing what she was doing she wouldn't say, although she seemed to think it wouldn't be long before she moved on, primarily because how harsh the conditions were. She did seem like she would not be willing to endure another winter there, at least that high up in the mountains. She seemed thoroughly interested in the fact that I had arrived in the general location by coming up through Thailand, Laos and Burma and indicated that might be a return prospect for her. She wasn't clear on any passports or visas or if any of them were valid. I think, like me, nobody knew she was there. We parted company that morning and I never saw her again. Her name was Hope Savage. See:
THE CODE MAKER, THE ZEN MAKER
SHANGRI-LA, SHAMBHALA, GYANGANJ, BUDDHISM AND ZEN
To clarify, the so-called High Mountain Zendo I speak of, is not a structure as much as a place. My Mentor used it for years and I sort of have followed through. It is actually a natural space, like a small cave that has a handmade pile or rocks forming a "C" shaped wall that protects the inside area from the prevailing winds and allows for a small fire for warmth and cooking. There is a log with a piece of canvas that can be put over the entrance and dropped to the ground if need be as well as it can get quite cold in the altitude and the winds quite strong. The Zendo is not on any major trail so it is seldom if ever stumbled upon --- although I have returned from long absences and found that it had been used.
A very good friend of mine is a conservation biologist with a PhD emphasis in endangered species. In so saying she has many friends and knows people that have close ties to and specialize in Condors. In that the High Mountain Zendo I refer to is located in the habitat range of the Condors in the Sierras and when she knows I am there she has some of the people she knows check in on my overall well being from time to time --- water, nourishment, still alive, no broken legs, that sort of thing. They also know the Condors and I have a good mutual relationship with the Condors visiting me from time to time. The people who keep track of such things like me keep track of the Condors numbers (each Condor has a wing tag number) and their comings and goings --- which for me is spotty at best.
With winter coming on it was suggested I relocate out of the area, which I do anyway. If any of you have read The Letter attributed to one Jijimuge you may recall the two of us came across each other at Manzinar as I was coming down from the mountain just as winter was coming on. It is Jijimuge who is responsible for Awakening 101 being on the web. He asked me who my teacher was and in discussion I mentioned that I had study-practiced at one time under the virtually unknown, fully Awakened "American Zen master" Alfred Pulyan and that he taught through mail order. Jijimuge suggested I do the same, only using the internet.
In any case, one of the Condor watching folk knew someone that lived in the Mount Charleston area of Nevada and made arrangements for me to winter there as the winters are far less harsh than the Sierras. It worked out sort of OK. A little more populated than I find pleasant. The interesting thing for me was that on the mountain range facing the rising sun you can see the Las Vegas strip quite clearly in the distance both during the day and at night as it really isn't that far away. I strarted exploring along the range and found quite a nice spot some hiking distance south behind and high in the rocks above a western town kind of place called Old Nevada. I would go down to the town every now and then to get water, pick-up a few light supplies and watch the tourists. One day while I was there a Special Education class of several students was visiting the area. Old Nevada has a kind of zoo that is free and the staff had taken the students to see the animals. One of the students was in a wheelchair and had been wheeled up close to a pen that had a couple of wolves in it. After a few minutes the staff and the rest of the students continued on leaving the young man in the wheelchair alone in front of the pen. When all of the staff and students had been by the pen the wolves kept their distance. However, the young man in the wheelchair who had been left back did not seem to be aware of the wolves in a classical sense. Whatever the wolves sensed or didn't sense they were willing to come very close to the fence after the rest of the students left. When I walked up the wolves came right up to the fence. Later I returned to my retreat in the rocks above Old Nevada and that night the wolves got out of their pen somehow and came up into the rocks to where I was. The next day it was discovered the wolves were gone and trackers went hunting for them. They came across me meditating with the wolves sunning themselves in the same general area and someone recalled me being around the pen the day before with the young man in the wheelchair. The accusation was that I had let them out somehow, which wasn't the case at all. However, I found it most expedient to make myself scarce, which I did, traveling in Europe for six weeks-plus instead and leaving the Condors and wolves behind. Along the way, Stonehenge, Pompeii, Acropolis, Running of the Bulls, the villa of British author and playwright William Somerset Maugham, Da Vinci's birthplace, statue of David and a friend in Cannes.
On one of the days I was in Old Nevada I called a friend who lived in Las Vegas named Phyllis Davis asking if she could catch up with me. A few days later, as arranged, Davis met me at Old Nevada, the two of us spending the whole day together and then the next, me going into Vegas with her for the night. During conversation I told her I would be going to Europe for the summer and sometime after that I had full intentions of completing my vow to spend a full 12 weeks at the Mahasi Meditation Center in Rangoon. She knew that for Hurricane Rita with the Red Cross I had been deployed to and helped reopen a previously evacuated Katrina shelter in Deweyville, Texas and from there had gone down to her hometown, the then completely evacuated city of Port Arthur searching for stragglers, food, and fuel. When Gustav and Ike hit the summer of 2008 she figured, and did so correctly, that I would once again be deployed. It was from that bit of information and without too many summers left, even though she was outside the loop and I actually forgot I mentioned I was going to Rangoon, she showed up at the meditation center just a day or two before I completed my 12 weeks. Her showing up led the two of us straight to Chiang Mai and the jungles of Thailand. See:
Although on other occasions I have done or visited some or all of the places above at one time or the other, for me, on this trip, one of the most important things I wanted to do was to visit the German World War I and II submarine memorial called the U-Boot-Ehrenmal Möltenort (Möltenort U-Boat Memorial) located in the seaside resort of Heikendor just off the Baltic Sea. My interest is because along with hundreds of other German names that appear on the metal plates dedicated to submariners who died in the line of duty serving on U-boats --- a man I met, a former German submariner who strangely enough had been living in Mexico since just before the end of World War II and whose hand I shook --- and was quite obviously alive and well --- has his name and birthdate on the plate that commemorates the fallen crew members of the U-196, the U-boat he served on and said to have been sunk in the Sunda Strait off Jakarta in 1944. See:
GERMAN WORLD WAR I AND II SUBMARINE MEMORIAL, HEIKENDOR, GERMANY, THE BALTIC SEA
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THE STRANGE ODYSSEY OF THE GERMAN U-BOAT U-196
In a previous paragraph I mention that during my travels I had, among other places, an intention of visiting Pompeii, of which for the record, I did. In that the main text circulates around what I call my high mountain Zendo and the Zendo is in part not much more than a cave, in that I visited Pompeii and Pompeii is within easy striking distance of a cave of great renown, located in the ancient town complex of Cumae not far from Naples, and of which the cave I speak of I have an avid interest in, after visiting Pompeii, I went there.
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The cave in Cumae was said to be the habitat or at least the suspected or traditional location-staying-place of the Cumaean Sibyl, an infamous oracle.
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
THE CIA IN TIBET AND THE HIMALAYAS
ON THE RAZOR'S
Ni (without) + rodha (prison, confine, obstacle, wall, impediment): without impediment, free of confinement
The Sanskrit word NIRODHA described usually as cessation. Actually it carries with it a more deeper meaning. In the index of the Visuddi Magga, for example, there are over twenty-five references that need to be read in context in order to cull out a fuller more concise meaning. Briefly, like Deep Samadhi, it is a very, very high degree non-meditative meditative state. During Nirodha there is no time sequence whether a couple hours pass or many, many days, as the immediate moment preceding and immediately following seem as though in rapid succession, start and finish compressed wafer thin. During, heartbeat and metabolism continue to slow and practically cease, sometimes continuing below the threshold of perception at a residual level. Previously stored body energy that would typically be consumed in a couple of hours if not replenished can last days with very little need for renewal. The Visuddhi Magga cites several instances where villagers came across a bhikshu in such a state and built a funeral pyre for him, even to the point of lighting it. During low-level residual states the body temperature drops well below the 98.6 degree point. If suddenly jarred to consciousness body metabolism is slower to regain it's normal temperature, and in turn, that is recorded by the quicker to return cognitive senses as "being cold."(source)
Thousands of people observed the great Indian holy man Swami Trailanga floating on the Ganges for days on end, sitting on top of the water or remaining hidden for long periods under the waves. A common sight at Manikarnika Ghat was the Swami's motionless body on the blistering stone slabs, wholly exposed to the merciless Indian sun.
Whether the great master was above water or under it, and whether or not his body challenged the fierce solar rays, Trailanga sought to teach men that human life need not depend on oxygen or on certain conditions and precautions.
The following is in regards the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi. Ramana was Awakened to the Absolute following what has been called his First Death Experience at age 17. To wit:
"Now my body is dead. They will carry this body, motionless, to the cremation ground and burn it. But do I really die with this body? Am I merely this body? My body is now motionless. But still I know my name. I remember my parents, uncles, brothers, friends and all others. It means that I have a knowledge of my individuality. If so, the "I" in me is not merely my body; it is a deathless spirit."
Thus, as in a flash, a new realization came to Venkataramana. Usually a man wins God realization by performing tapas for years and years, without food and sleep; he subjects the body to great suffering. But Venkataramana won the highest knowledge without all these. The Fear of Death left him. Venkataramana became the Sri Ramana Maharshi.
Most people take it from there that he was thus then a fully Enlightened being and that was it, moving to the caves of the holy hill Arunachala then to his ashram in later years, eventually becoming the sage he came to be known by all. However, what most people don't realize is that some fifteen years following that initial death experience, in 1912 at age 32, Ramana had a little known and little talked about Second Death Experience. That second death experience, even though Ramana was known and admired as a fully Enlightened being, did however, even though fully Enlightened --- and this may seem an oxymoron --- modifiy his long standing approach to obscurity and life. Ramana's second death experience seemingly opened the door for or an embracing of family and outsiders that previously had not manifested itself in Ramana's previous outward actions.
MAP AND HISTORY OF THE RAMANA ASHRAM
SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
RECOUNTING A YOUNG BOY'S NEARLY INSTANT TRANSFORMATION INTO THE ABSOLUTE DURING HIS ONLY DARSHAN WITH THE MAHARSHI
When my mentor was a young man traveling in Europe in search for an "answer" he ran into a Benedictine monk by the name of Father Ensheim. The Father suggested he go to India, specifically a monastery in Hemis and search down what he called the Hemis Manuscripts, which inturn might open the door towards some of the answers he was seeking. The website on Father Ensheim offers the following quote:
"My mentor told me he had arrived in India a year after his future teacher to be, Sri Ramana, had been accosted by ruffians in his ashram. That incident has been dated at June 26, 1924, which would make his arrival in India somewhere just before or during the summer of 1925."
My mentor left Europe by ship for India, disembarking in Bombay and leaving that night by third-class train to Benares. He operated in and around the general Benares area for something close to six months. From Benares he went to the northern Indian capital of Jaipur, Rajasthan. From that point he disappears from what has been formally written about him, not showing up again until late in the year, 1928.
For all practical purposes, physically, the lamasery of Hemis is just a short jump from Jaipur. Travel-wise, especially in the time period we are talking about here is another story. In that he arrived in Bombay in the summer of 1925 then spent six months in the Benares area followed by a trip and short stay in Jaipur, timewise, it makes his arrival at the Hemis monastery sometime approaching the dead of winter, 1925. Why he chose to go to Hemis in the dead of winter is not known, but the trip would not have been easy. After wintering at the monastery with perhaps some lingering into the early spring, that is the spring of 1926, he began his trek toward the Qinghai-Tibet plateau, holing up somewhere along the way for a year --- possibly at the same monastery I stayed, but most certainly the rock shelter shown me by the Zen man. Then, during the spring or early summer of 1927, he crossed over the mountains into China, then on to Japan, the Philippines and eventually back to India, ending up at the temple in Madura sometime around the fall of 1928.
The odd part of it all is the number of people that question the fact that my mentor was actually hiking on his own and somehow made it to Madura sometime in the fall of 1928 after crossing over the Himalayas into China, then on to Japan, the Philippines and eventually back to India. Most people pooh-poo the idea as though it couldn't be done --- especially in the time frame so presented. However, Thomas J. Campbell writes in The Jesuits, 1534-1921: a history of the Society of Jesus from its foundation to the present time, the following regarding a Catholic priest in 1661 of all things:
"In 1661 Father Johann Gruber, one of Schall's assistants in Pekin, reached Thibet on his way to Europe. He could not go by sea, for the Dutch were blockading Macao, so he made up his mind to go over- land by way of India and Thibet. With him was Father d'Orville, a Belgian. After reaching Sunning-fu, on the confines of Kuantsu, they crossed Kukonor and Kalmuk Tatary to the Holy City of Lhasa in Thibet, but did not remain there. They then climbed the Himalayas and from Nepal journeyed over the Ganges plateau to Patna and Agra. At the latter city d'Orville died, he was replaced by Father Roth, and the two missionaries tramped across Asia to Europe. Gruber had been two hundred and four- teen days on the road."(source)
The good father walked the whole distance across two continents from Peking through to Lhasa and on to Europe in 214 days.
PREMONITION TO THE PEACE CORPS:
Even though the Zen-man and I were not able to communicate verbally in the standard way because neither of us had command of each other's languages, he as a man of Zen --- as were my leanings --- for all practical purposes had established a fairly good working relationship of understanding between us. However, not operating at his level, for me there remained many more unanswered questions than answered ones.
In the mountains generally it was out-and-out cold, but in the rarified higher elevation where we were it was even more so. Even so, considering the usual outside nighttime temperature drop, with the tiny almost candle-like fire in his stone hut, it was typically bearable.
The day before I was to leave we spent a good part of the daylight hours scrounging around for burnable material. To me the amount we gathered seemed much more than would otherwise be necessary, but what I found even more odd was that we left nearly half or more of what we collected neatly stacked at the long abandoned stone hut he had shown me a few days before.
After returning to his hut and leaving the rest of the material we gathered, we put a little food, a few utensils and tea in a shoulder bag then went back to the abandoned hut before sundown for reasons to me unclear. After arrival we ate, then in the declining if not all but gone sunlight he searched around and found what at one time appeared to have been a fire pit. Following his lead the two of us put together a fairly good sized, considering what his fires were usually like, almost pyre-like pile of combustibles. With the sunlight gone and total darkness having fully encroached on us by the time we finished the Zen-man lit the fire.
We sat in meditation facing each other across the fire on an east-west axis with me facing east toward what would eventually be the location of the rising sun. At some point into our meditation, and non-Siddhi related, there was somehow a coalescing of our mind processes forming a single mental entity where we both able to understand each other's thoughts.
In the thoughts he was willing to share he revealed he had spent many, many years as a young man on the other side of time in Gyanganj, but one day he passed through the monastery portals to the outside world and when he did, he became an old man. Before the full abilities of the thought exchange phenomenon faded into oblivion I brought up, considering his age, about the arduous trip back and forth through the mountains to and from the monastery for example, and how, even for me in my somewhat comparable youth and the physical condition that accompanies it, how difficult it was. What I garnered as a response was that I travel my way and he travels his way.
The next morning the Zen-man was gone. So too, neither was he to be found when I returned to his hut, although I did find a rolled up piece of cloth tied to the strap of my shoulder bag. Marked on the cloth, most likely done so from the burnt end of a wooden stick, were four Chinese cuneiform characters, one in each corner and, filling most of the center, the outline of some sort of a shape I didn't recognize.
When the four Chinese characters were deciphered they turned out to mean nothing more than colors: red, yellow, green and black. The outlined shape in the center remained a mystery and meant nothing to anybody who saw it. The mystery however, was solved on its own some 15 years later, a period of time that found me living in the Caribbean island country of Jamaica after having joined the Peace Corps, and was solved almost on the first day I arrived for what turned out to be a two year stay. So too was answered, before I left the island, my comment regarding how arduous the trip back and forth through the mountains was and his response that I travel my way and he travels his way.
The first part was answered right after leaving the airport to the train station. Almost immediately I saw a giant map of Jamaica and instantly I recognized the shape of the island as being the exact same shape the Zen-man drew on the cloth some 15 years before, an island or place he probably never saw or heard of in his life. Secondly, on my train ride through the cities and hinterland I saw all over, again and again the dominant colors of red, yellow, green and black in the graffiti adopted from the country of Africa and used by the Rastafarians in the graffiti that was plastered all over on almost every available open space. Those two eye-openers along with my experience high in the mountains with a Jamaican man of spells called an Obeah led to the meaning behind how the Zen-man traveled those so many years earlier as found in the following:
THE WANDERLING'S JOURNEY
PEACE CORPS ZEN
"The Cumaean Sibyl wrote her prophecies on leaves, which she then placed at the mouth of her cave. If no one came to collect them, they were scattered by winds and never read. Written in complex, often enigmatic verses, these 'Sibylline Leaves' were sometimes bound into books. It was said that the Sibyl herself brought nine volumes of these prophecies to Tarquin II of Rome, offering them to him at an outrageous price. He scoffed, and she immediately burned three volumes, offering the remaining six at the same high price. Again-rather less casually--he refused. Again she burned three volumes, again asking the original price. This time the king's curiosity was high, his resistance low, and he purchased the Sibylline prophecies."
The above quote, found at a link further down, is said to be accurate. However, how the Sibyl came to have those powers of prophecies is another thing, and rather than them just flowing naturally, they have become seeped in legend, so presented briefly as follows:
The Sibyl of Cumae is said to have been granted her powers from the sun god Apollo. Apollo offered her anything if she would spend a single night with him. She asked for as many years of life as grains of sand she could squeeze into her hand. Apollo gave her request, but she refused his advances. She was cursed with the fulfillment of her wish, eternal life without eternal youth.
She shriveled into a frail undying body, so small she could fit into a jar and hung from a tree. She needed no food or drink because she could neither starve nor die of thirst. And there she hung. Children were said to stand beneath her urn and asked what she wished, to which she would faintly reply, "I wish to die."
Thus then, taken form the above, in a sense, relegates her abilities into a need for a belief in Apollo, something few people in today's world have.
THE CUMAEAN SIBYL
THE BEST OF THE MAUGHAM BIOGRAPHIES:
SPIRITUAL GUIDES, GURUS, AND TEACHERS INFLUENTIAL IN THE RAZOR'S EDGE: