The Man Who Turned on the World
10. The Capital of Kingdom Come
The anti-diluvian DC-9 swam through a sea of milk all the way
from Delhi. It was only just before landing that the clouds cleared
for an instant and I saw the magical city of Kathmandu cradled
by the snowy ranges of the Himalayaa non-euclidian landscape
of terraced paddy fields surrounding a dream form of pagoda-like
temples and golden palaces, rising into view and spinning from
the horizon as the plane circled to land.
I was thirty-eight, on my first visit to Asia with New York left
well behind, carrying a typewriter, some hand-baggage, a few hundred
trips of Californian 'sunshine' acid which a friendly psychiatrist
laid on me, and about $1000 left from a colour video movie I made
about tripping to the moon. It was July 16, 1969, and my pilgrimage
was destined to begin at the precise moment of the Apollo 11 blast-off
for man's first landing on the moon.
At a more ordinary level, it was, I gathered later, absolutely
the wrong time to visit Kathmandu, as the monsoon was imminent;
the air was stifling with humidity and the bumpy taxi ride from
the airport made me sick; and I longed for some air-cooled Manhattan
bar where a couple of iced lagers could revive a sorely tried
spirit. Whatever expectations of romance I had nursed had been
shrivelled in the heat by the time I reached my hotel. I had the
insane urge at this point to drive straight back to the airport
and continue to Bangkok, settle down to a routine English-teaching
job, get rid of my beard and long hair, become super-straight,
like my friends Al Cohen and Richard Alpert, and maybe continue
but as the beauty of the valley began to exercise
its subtle magic through the windows of my room, I just knew that
this was indeed the one place in or out of this world where I
wanted to be. I took a bath, changed into a Tibetan shirt and
Indian dhotia sort of bin cloth you wrap around yourselfsmoked
a couple of chillums of good Afghani dope; and nearly fainted
in dream of dreams.
The view through my window was brilliant with the afternoon sun.
Amazement was the first element of my muted delight at these bright
green paddyfields between myself and the snowcapped ranges still
visible through the shimmering heat; and mystery, of what lay
beyond them, unseenthe distant half-chartered ranges of Tibet,
home of the fable-seeking imagination. The spell of the Himalayas
was upon me. The beauty of my surroundings began to penetrate
a hardened carapace, for these mountains had begun to exercise
a magic thraldom all their own. And now I was part of it. In some
way which I could not rationally explain, I just knew that I was
gazing at the mysterious container of the history of the world,
the magical amphitheatre in which Siva dances with Nataraja. I
was a visitor in the ancient land of gods and abode of rhishis,
tapaswis, sadhakars, saints and philosophers who come to meditate
in glacial deserts to make their beings as pure as the snow which
covers the tops of their sacred mountains and their minds as clear
and transparent as the water of the holy lakes... they offered
their adherents a way of life, a path to happiness:
'In the body as it is in reality are contained all worlds, mountains,
continents and seas, the sun and the other constellations..
. ' says the Pretakalpa of Garuda-Purana. I also
had a sense of what was meant in the passage from the Hindu epic
Ramayana: 'He who but thinks of the Himalayas does greater
things than he who is destined to tarry in Benares'. And, by implication,
he who tarries in Canterbury, Rome, Salt Lake City, Belfast, and
I realised with an immediacy akin if not identical with revelation
that I had travelled halfway across the world to find in Kathmandu
what I sought in vain throughout my wanderings in the West.
There were certain immediate needs, however, like scoring some
local hashish, for which Nepal was rightly famed. And some more
It was still early, and even if it was like a furnace outside,
I decided to venture forth into the maze of dusty streets and
alleyways, all somewhat reminiscent of the imaginary Baghdad of
The Arabian Nights.
The city is not very large and within a matter of minutes I found
myself in the central square. It was like something out of the
Middle Ages, with street vendors sitting by their piles of cloth
and vegetables and boxes of cheap ornamental beads, with enough
activity going on to keep the eye fully occupied. A huge bull
emerged suddenly from the crowd, sedate and reasonable, wandering
with the scores of shoppers, even defecating without so much as
a pause, unnoticed, except, that is, by myself. The houses were
of red brick, all built in a strange pagoda style which eliminated
straight lines, with latticed windows and overhanging balconies,
many with hanging potted plants. There were temples and delicate
stupas, huge sculptured statues, beautifully proportioned
by some anonymous race of master artists. The faces of these deities
seem self-absorbed in contemplation; sharp cheeks and supple chins
in the case of the male gods, and sweetly smiling lips, sensitively
sloping fleshy cheeks with elegant curves in the case of the females.
Some of the faces had been almost worn away through the passage
of time, which gave them a special mystery. Yet each oneand
there were hundredswas strangely complete in itself and fostered
the message of the divine. But what was interesting was to see
how they were still objects of veneration and worship by the people.
There was one in particular that caught my eye, a sculpture of
the god Vishnu, the divine ruler of the Hindu Triad; the
face looked serious, with just the right degree of rectitude and
probity as befitted his position. He had ear ornaments hanging
above his shoulders and had all the traditional attributes or
ayudasthe crown, the necklace, the garland of flowers
and the hip-belts, all exquisitely shaped; the upper garment,
the sacred thread or yajnopavita, and the dhoti
were emphasised with oblique lines through the chisel-marks. In
front was a rounded platform, a stone, for rubbing and making
chandana paste from sandalwood.
It was a glimpse of this Other World, of something that I had
seen and read about but had never had direct experience of before.
Here I could actually feel this something.
I still had to score some hash and get a Tibetan shirt or two
and a dhoti. I also wanted to discard my shoes. I remembered
that someone had told me that Rana's teashop was a good place
to score so along I went. It was up a tiny alley, dustbin dirty
and smelling of cow shit and urine. Outside sat a small boy, a
beggar, and I gave him a handful of rupees before I went inside.
Rana's was an extraordinary place. There was pop music on twin
speakers, very loud, and a few stone-topped tables at which were
gathered a group of perhaps fifteen young Westerners, silent,
smoking chillums, and oblivious. They were dressed in a gay medley
of Indian, Tibetan and Nepalese costumes, bedecked with beads
and beards. One of them looked up, smiled, and handed me a chillum,
which I smoked. The effect was instantaneousI almost passed
out, and had to sit down.
I don't know how long I remained seated at the table, perhaps
an hour, perhaps two. The hash was the strongest I'd ever had
and completely immobilised me. Rana, the dapper young Nepalese
owner of the place, would come over every now and then and ask
if there was anything more I wanted. 'Tea?' or 'Porridge?' I merely
shook my head and continued just sitting in my utter stupor.
Finally, I was able to stand up, and I indicated to Rana that
I'd like to buy some of his hashish. He brought out a simple handheld
set of scales and weighed a tolaabout one-third of an
ouncewhich cost me about four shillings. Then I split.
I was still in somewhat of a daze when I got back to my hotel,
and had to lie down again. It was dark when I awakened. I decided
to undress and go to bed. It was only eight o'clock, but there
was really nothing I could or wanted to do. I was completely stoned.
I awoke at daybreak. The bright yellow sun flooded through my
windows and I felt wonderful. Today would be a good day. And,
as things turned out, it was.
I made a telephone call to the Royal Palace to talk to Narayan
Shrester, private secretary to the Crown Prince, who I had known
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about one year ago. He seemed pleased
to hear that I was in Kathmandu, and said he'd drop by the hotel
to see me.
Narayan dropped by for lunch. He showered me with smiles and greetings
and love. And we had a great reunion, recalling our past meetings
at Harvard and lots of questions about why I had come to Kathmandu.
'Why Kathmandu? Surely there must have been somewhere else?'
was a characteristic question, for I'm sure his own dream fantasies
of paradise cities were directed towards Paris or even San Francisco.
I told him I'd come in order to sort out 'my priorities', to gain
a new amplitude, to enjoy the experience of living in a foreign
country, things like that. I told him that even in the short space
of twenty-four hours I could not only see but actually feel
that indigenous and elusive quality in Nepalese life. It was that
quality, which hitherto I had only been told about but could never
really experience, which indeed has yet to be expressed outside
the occasional rare poem. He thought I should write a book about
Nepal. Then we laughed.
During the lunch I brought up the matters of my visa. I had, I
told him, about $1000, and lots of enthusiasm about starting a
poetry magazine in Kathmandu. I had even got the titleFlow.
I reminded him that one of the things we had chatted about in
America was the phenomenon of hippies and how I had taken him
around the various colleges and to private homes so that he might
better understand the new life-styles now emerging in America
and in Europemany tied into oriental religions. Narayanwho
has a degree in English from Leeds University had been tutor to
the Crown Prince (now King Bihrendra of Nepal), and I had been
anxious for the Crown Prince to also appreciate that, if these
developments were to continue, new possibilities for religious-minded
Westerners would have to be developed in India and Nepal, the
two Asian countries which had perhaps most to teach. Hippies were
not long-haired layabouts in most instances, but had chosen to
spend some time in the East living with and through the ordinary
people, or in Ashrams or monasteries; they had come to
learn, as seekers, not as tourists with lots of dollars to spend.
And I was one of them.
He said that he'd discuss the matter of my stay with the Crown
Prince, and that I would be hearing from him the next day. He
envisaged no difficulty. As it turned out, I received a year's
visa, extendable at any time should I wish to stay on in Nepal.
It was something I had cause to be very, very grateful for indeed,
as visa formalities can and usually do involve a certain amount
of hassle with the authorities, with something like six weeks
considered to be about the average length of stay permitted at
Narayan had a little Volkswagen and offered to drop me somewhere.
I said I'd like to see one of the museums, so he drove me a mile
or two outside the city to the National Museum near SwayambhuNath,
one of the Holy Buddhist Centres of Nepal. He himself had to get
back to the Palace. He had given up his job as English Lecturer
at Tribhuvan University and was now private secretary to the Crown
Princewhich meant he had to work that much harder!
The exterior of the museum was in the traditional Nepalese style
of architecture and beautifully preserved. And as I walked around
inside, gazing at the sculptured Hindu Gods, the bronze figures
of the Goddess Curga, prayer necklaces of Rudraksa beads,
incense burners shaped as the tree of life, and paintings, I was
glimpsing into a past that was still very much a living present,
for here was a highly developed, sophisticated art tradition that
had reached perfection when Nepal had been the flower of a great
Asian civilisation. I looked at the statue of Vishnu, this one
dating from the fifteenth or sixteenth centuryit was very massive
and majestic, standing completely erect on a bold-relief lotus-flower,
and flanked on either side by his two female consorts. The female
deity at his right hand held a chalara or 'fly-whisk' (I suppose
that even the most powerful of Gods were not totally immune to
the ubiquitous valley mosquito) and a lotus flower. The female
at his left carried a lyre in her hands pressed closely against
the breasts and the belly. But the real beauty was in the faces
and forms of Vishnu's consortstheir slender waists and exceptionally
beautiful and delicate breasts conveyed their profound feminine
At closing time I stepped out once more into a daytime present
'when the mountains were again the mountains; the clouds were
again the clouds'. A car sped by on the tiny road in front of
the museum. I suppose I could have been run over. For what
I was still experiencing was this profound sense of somehow living
the continuation of a glorious past in the presentwhich is
something that no Western museum had ever done for me, being,
for the most part, 'dead' places. I don't think I shall ever again
experience anything more radiant than my visions of that afternoon
in my life. I just knew that I should no longer feel 'alone',
which is to live in my own naked spiritual reserves, that the
body-mind was capable of being filled up again with the light
through the simple process of looking. How easy it all seemed.
I ambled along the road like an old priest, stopping now and again
to observe the view, the bloom of a wild rose, a particularly
wondrous cloud structure. And since I was walking in the direction
of the Buddhist temples of Swayambhu, I decided to proceed into
But first a stop at the chi or teashop. There was a group
of heads sitting on a bench outside, chewing the breeze, smoking
the indigenous chillums, and several more inside, in the cavernous
No one was talking much; it was considered a 'downer'bad formto
use words, but communication was no less intense for all that.
The young Nepalese owner came outside with a mug of thick tea,
dark brown and very sweet, and asked if I'd like anything. I shook
my head. He smiled, and disappeared into the dark interior of
his teashop. The fellow sitting next to me passed me a joint.
His eyes stared at me widely, his mouth still hung open as if
to keep the last word of his sentence in mid-air. Everyone here
believes in all the magic, I thought.
I took a couple of deep tokes. 'Good grass,' I said, handing him
back his huge seven-skin joint.
He looked at me. And I was reminded of a French poem I'd read
'in the depths of a dilated pupil shines the lamp
of the poor'.
As I got up to leave, he asked whether I'd been to the Bakery
Ashram yet, and he pointed to a small passageway between two
buildings. 'Just follow the path and take a left when you get
to the temple. They've got a new sound system.'
Since I was stoned anyway, and since I had nothing particularly
to do, I decided to follow the path to the Ashram.
I heard the electronic music quite clearly through the natural
sound of Buddhist chanting outside the temple, and, following
the path, came suddenly upon a compound garden filled with lots
of young Western heads, all dressed in their dhotis and
Tibetan shirts and Indian silks.
The Ashram comprised two principle buildings, one, a former
factory of the now bankrupt SwayambhNath Bakery concern, and the
other, a long shed. And it was from the shed that the sounds came.
Inside, seated quietly in a circle round a central fireplace,
were about twenty people, mostly male. There were several chillums
being passed around simultaneously. Room was quietly made for
me to join this charmed circle.
The two five-feet Sony speakers made all verbal communication
impossible. It was like sitting on stage with the Stones. The
sound of the music eclipsed all cognitive function. It was like
a river into which you had been plunged. And all you need do was
float, float, F-l-o-a-t.
Hoursmaybe even dayspassed in an instant. Time ceased to
exist for those of us who sat stoned in our mystical ring round
the fire. And it was with this insight that I was born into a
new world. A new form of consciousness had taken over, that we
were somehow all together because in some strange way we had been
brought here. It was as though a gust of wind had come
from another existence, and had plucked us from the streets of
Rome and London and Detroit, and propelled us to this Himalayan
valley; our new myth-mother.
It had grown dark outside, and the people who had been in the
garden, now crowded inside the Ashram. The smell of food
from the far-end, invisible through the haze of wood-smoke and
hashish reminded me that I had not eaten all afternoon. Soon there
were people sitting around with plates on their laps eating rice
and vegetables with chopsticks. I saw a line of people with empty
plates in their hands, so I got up and joined them.
The Ashram provided one sensible meal a day, in the evening
which cost one rupee to anyone who could afford it, otherwise
it was free; tea was a few cents extra.
After we had eaten dinner, the poet Kristof walked across to the
record player and switched it off. He returned to his place in
the circle. There was a hush, a stillness, a sense of expectancy.
Kristof announced that he was going to read a 'love poem', which
he had just finished writing. Everyone looked up smiling when
Kristof finished; he was assuredly one of their verbal magicians.
It was a strange place this salamandrine Ashram of glassy
eyes staring from fiery lake beside the sound of music through
my leafy dreams
but soon the speakers were back on again
at full blast, so I decided to make my way back to the hotel.
It was dark when I stepped outside, and it was with great difficulty
that I found my way down and on to the road again. Swayambhu is
about two miles from the city, and I walked slowly, savouring
the stillness; no sound from anywhere; even the dogs were quiet
as I made my way through the maze of tiny streets and alleyways.
The city was almost deserted, yet it could not have been much
later than ten o'clock. It reminded me of the City of London at
night or downtown New York, after the crowds of office workers
had long since gone, the same sort of eerie stillness.
Back in my hotel room, I smoked a nocturnal chillum and then got
into bed with a manuscript translation of some poems by the Nepalese
master poet, Bhanubhaka Archarya, which Narayan had left with
me. There was an interesting description of Kathmandu a century
or so back which the poet compared with the Celestial City of
Alaka (the god of wealth); he also noted its resemblance to Lhasa,
Lucknow and London. And it was with these images in my
mind that I fell asleep.
I was awakened in the morning by a knock at the door. I stumbled
out of bed and opened the door, expecting to find a cleaning-woman.
But, no, it was a young, handsome man who introduced himself in
perfect English as Madhusudan Thakur from Northern India, a Brahmin,
and former English lecturer at Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu,
and a Sanskrit scholar. He had been given my name by Narayan,
who had suggested we might have much in common.
I apologised for the state of my book-strewn room and invited
Madhu, as he called himself, began to tell me a bit about his
life. He had studied English in Canada for three years, and was
now into translating Nepalese poetry into English. He was also
working on some Sanskrit translations. But what fascinated him
most was the increasing number of young Westerners living in Kathmandu,
and their impact on the cultural life of this city. For Kathmandu
was the 'third eye' of Asia, and the eye that gets in when reality
gets out. It had a special place and played a special role in
Asia. In fact, he had written an article on young Western visitors
for the leading intellectual monthly magazine The Rising Nepal
and wanted me to look over the manuscript. It was entitled 'Kathmandu:
A Coincidence'. Would I like to hear bits of it? Sure, I said
He began to read:
'It happened only the other day by what is called in northeastern
India a Samyoga, fair coincidence. At a public place in Kathmandu,
two elderly gentlemen debated, and I overheard them in spite of
myself. They were discussing whether the large group of young
unkempt visitors from the West now in Kathmandu had any principles
guiding their visit to the East. The gentleman whose tone of voice
caught my attention first was saying "Iniharuko kehi pani
siddhanta chhai na", meaning "These people have no principles
at all, you know''. He seemed to be informing his friend, who,
however, paid little attention to his companion's tone and presented
his view of a whole ideology motivating and guiding these young
people and their venture abroad. They were, he said, on a very
important mission indeed. Life in the West had lost its meaning
for them and they had come out here to seek and find new meanings,
fresh perspectives, among the cultures of the East in art, religion,
philosophy, in traditional, time-honoured ways of living, in forms
of life and manner still untouched by the sick hurry and commercialism
of modern Western civilisation: indeed, they were true seekers.
'A cross-section of the people under discussion sat close by,
blissfully unconscious of the conversation that went on around
them. I sat between them and wondered.
'In fact, I continue to wonder. Personally, my time in the West,
my memories of looks and words after every talk I gave on religious
texts, philosophical questions and so forth, convince me that
the Western youth today is truly seeking.
'The scene in Kathmandu, despite our cynical gentlemen, remains
positive and exciting. Potentially, here is a situation which
is a counterpart of a movement to preserve and promote our ancient
heritage such as the ideal of a new Sanskrit University. The readiness
with which Western youth is willing to accept and undergo, even
though temporarily, extreme physical hardship is simply amazing
if one considers the conditions in which they have grown up. Living
in a world without plumbing and central heating can indeed be
for the group under discussion a "spiritual experience"
in itself. It is hard to believe that the sacrifice this entails
could be motivated simply by the desire for cheap travel around
the world. The passionate interest in religious cultures not their
own is a fact about young people today which should be given immediate
recognition. A new faith is arising and demands, even in its present
rudimentary forms, that we try and understand ourselves in terms
of the traditions in which others have been nourished. The prejudices
aroused by the long hair and beards notwithstanding, it is evident
to those who look and listen that there are a certain number of
genuine Sadhakas, seekers, among these people.
'Even if life in the West has not lost its point for some, one
can see and feel what some of the major political events of the
past few years must have done to the more sensitive and intelligent
youth of the countries involved and responsible for these events.
No one who has observed for himself the mass madness let loose
by alcoholism and sexual licence in Western cities, all part of
the vast and complex money game, can help looking at the psychedelic
movement in a new light.
'I have no wish to saddle our friends with a "philosophy"
not because I think there is no philosophy motivating them, but
because the quest is still very much on. The gains of the last
few years are still in the process of being recorded, the story
is yet to be told. We might indeed be living right in "the
middle of things", to use a Jamesian image, since Kathmandu
promises to become, for some of the characters in the play, the
capital of the new world.'
I was very impressed, and said so. I told Madhu that I thought
we were all on some kind of sort of quest and had found in Kathmandu
the perfect place to start. Kathmandu was a city of refugees,
the new Jerusalem of the Sadhakas, who had come to savour
of the fruits of Paradise.
We ordered dinner in our room, and were now perfectly relaxed
in each other's company. I liked him. He was open and honest and
a man for whom the invisible world was obviously visible.
I told him that I was planning to bring out a poetry magazine,
but needed more material, especially modern Nepalese poetry. I
proposed to include material from the West dealing especially
with the nature of the spiritual quest, including some essays
by myself on the phenomenon LSD. I said it would serve a two-fold
purpose. First, it would introduce Nepalese poetry to Western
readers and second, it would enable Nepalese readers to orient
themselves to the psychology and background of their young visitors.
I had a little money, and since printing was cheap in Kathmandu,
I already had enough to cover costs. Madhu said he'd be very interested
indeed to help in any way, and that he was already working on
the English translations of several poems. And thus began a partnership
that resulted in the publication of Flow One several months
One thing led to another, and before long we had also agreed to
start a centre for both Western and Eastern seekers, especially
those who wanted to learn Sanskrit. Madhu emphasised the importance
of Sanskrit amongst the intellectual artistic circles as well
as in the higher levels of Government and at the Palace. Sanskrit
played the same role here as Latin did in the Catholic Church
in the Middle Ages, it was a sort of lingua franca of any
He said that Narayan would almost certainly be interested in hearing
about such a project, and maybe could even get the Crown Prince
as its patron. Could we draft an outline proposal, since he would
be seeing Narayan for dinner later that evening, and would like
to have him put it before the Crown Prince? The sooner we acted,
the sooner the project could get official sanction. I would also
need permission from the Prime Minister to publish, but he didn't
foresee that there would be any problem.
Madhu went downstairs to make a few telephone calls, and I cleared
the desk and prepared a chillum to facilitate the creative processes.
When Madhu returned, he looked very excited. Yes, Narayan would
like to see the proposal this evening. And he had had some luck.
He had called Balakrishna Sama, the Vice-President of the Royal
Nepalese Academy, who wanted us to come over to his house for
afternoon tea and for a chat. Madhu said that Balakrishna was
one of the truly great poets of Nepal, and certainly of international
stature. The problem was that Balakrishna wrote his poetry in
Nepalese or Sanskrit, though of course his English was perfect.
As a result, he was virtually unknown outside his own country,
a situation Madhu planned to rectify by translating into English
all his work written over the past sixty years.
He brought up a chair to the desk, and we began to formulate the
proposal. Madhu didn't smoke hash himself, but had no objection
if anyone else did. After a couple of chillums and an hour's discussion,
we had agreed upon the main details, and all that now remained
was to write it. We addressed it to His Royal Highness, The Crown
Prince of Nepal.
When we finished, Madhu suggested that we should go round to see
Balakrishna Sama who lived at the other end of town, not far from
the Chinese Embassy. We took a taxi and within ten minutes were
walking up the drive of his house; with Hindu statues in the garden
and a huge Garuda bird painted on the door. I was already
impressed. The house itself was large, half-timbered like a medieval
manor, two or three storeys high, and painted white.
A servant let us in and ushered us into one of the downstairs
living rooms. He said his master would join us in a moment.
The room was like a miniature museum with statues of stone and
bronze of the various Hindu pantheon, paintings and early Nepalese
iconography; books in Nepalese, Sanskrit, English and French,
and, nicely laid out on a silver-topped table, a Victorian tea-service.
We had to wait only a minute or two before the poet entered. He
made a short bow and shook hands with us and apologised for keeping
us waiting. His English, like so many of the cultured Nepalese,
was almost entirely without accent, and he spoke it with feeling,
spontaneously, and without affectation. He was perhaps seventy
years of age, delicate and radiant with health, and had the face
of a man who had obviously lived a life of the mind, very sensitive
and aristocratic, as though his inner and outer worlds matched.
He was dressed in shiny blue silk in the traditional Nepalese
dress, and I felt that I was in the company of an exceptional,
rare person, perhaps even a saint but certainly a wizard of some
He seemed very pleased to see us, especially Madhu, whom he embraced
warmly as he beckoned us to the tea-table. His servant appeared
with a silver tea-pot, and a plate of cakes and toasted scones.
Madhu then started to talk about the Himal Centre project, and
to read him bits of our afternoon's work. Balakrishna was most
attentive and sympathetic and said that he would certainly encourage
a centre such as we had outlined. The only problem he thought
was the financial one. He made a few calculations on a sheet of
paper and said that for the scholarships alone we would need $595,000.
Madhu said that although $500,000 might sound a like a lot of
money, in reality it was not too much if one considered the possibility
of help from some of the larger American Foundations, who were
used to giving away much larger sums for less realistic projects.
I remained silent, though I nodded in agreement with Madhu's analysis.
We then began to discuss the envisaged poetry magazine, Flow,
which Madhu briefly described. Nepal, being a country in which
poetry was highly esteemed, had a lot to offer, and it would make
sense to make available some of the best Nepalese poetry in English,
as well as make available contemporary Western poetry to Nepalese
poetry lovers. Balakrishna then turned to me and asked in his
quiet, pleasant way, what the editorial policy might be and whether
I thought Nepalese poetry was sufficiently good to warrant translation
into an international language like English.
I was pretty stoned and my mind was already soaring into giddy
heights of inspiration. 'Flow is essentially a magazine
of poetry, art and religion, and we should dedicate it to the
man of tomorrow who has understood the burden of his dim past,
synthesised the heritage of his many cultures, solved the crises
of the present age and lives according to his genius!'
Balakrishna smiled broadly, and said that Camus, the French Existentialist,
had probably meant something similar when he had noted somewhere
that 'Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to
I then asked the poet whether he would read some of his poems,
but he demurred, saying his English was not really good enough
to express his meaning, though Madhu could read something if he
Madhu pulled out a fistful of manuscripts from his briefcase.
'I think I'd like to read a verse from your most recent poem,
which I have just finished translatingTo Soma, which
was, I believe, inspired by the recent Apollo 11 manned trip to
the moon. But I think I ought to explain for the benefit of Michael
here, that the word Soma in Sanskrit also means "moon"
as it is also associated with the sacred elixir of the gods of
Vedic times. It was the fruit from the mystical tree of knowledge
which, when taken, loosened the "Tongue of the Way"
and in this sense would correspond to the Greek ambrosia, the
elixir of immortality from the stream of Castalia under the Temple
of Diana. '
Madhu stood up, bowed graciously to the poet, who sat silent,
his face grave and serious
'Sweetly, O Soma, do I remember you again today,
Over the last half-century have I been
Drinking you in, drop by drop, unceasing, ecstatic!
Once again, O Soma, I grind your vine,
Grind it with my heart, filter it through my viens,
Mingle it with my vision and my breath,
To fill the amphora of my heart to the brim!
O Soma, soaked am I to the very depths
In the sweet shower of your beams
Drawn deeply by your gravity,
Exhilarated, breathless as I swing
And go steadily gliding, gliding,
I too fly upwards with Apollo Eleven!
It was a long poem followed by a long silence, and we all looked
as if something very special had happened, like the shock following
upon a great discovery.
Impatient or unwilling to remain silent, I finally broke the spell
by saying that it was one of the most incredible poems that I
had ever heard, and that I wanted to put it into the magazine
for the world to read. I also added, by way of a comment, that
I had arrived in Kathmandu on the very same day that Apollo 11
had blasted off for the moon.
Balakrishna then said, looking at me straight in the eyes, though
centred in the middle of my forehead: 'A most auspicious omen
It was time to go, and we stood up, bowed and took our leave.
Madhu danced down the driveway, obviously pleased by our reception.
There were no taxis in sight and I told Madhu that I'd really
prefer to walk back to the hotel, which was fine with him.
The evening breeze made the walk bearable, and I felt very good
indeed. We talked a lot on the way about the magazine, the shape
it should take, who might be able to print it in English, things
like that. But my mind was strangely elsewhere, as if the experience
with Balakrishna Sama had been more than simply meeting a master
poet. I felt very close to the man in some odd, unaccountable
way. Perhaps in him I had at last found my 'guru'?
We soon reached the centre of the city, and taking Madhu back
into my confidence, I asked him whether he could find me a house
to rent, somewhere nice, perhaps on the edge of the city, and
with many rooms. Madhu said he'd look into it immediately. We
said goodbye at Kanti Path, and I cut across the park in the direction
of my hotel.
It was a beautiful evening, cool and pleasant in the evening light,
the mountains still visible as silhouettes in the far distance.
I again experienced that expansion of feeling, a new mental amplitude,
difficult to describe but quite intense. It was my own self reborn
out of the vibrations of this holy city; it was my own self which
warms in the sun, refreshes in the evening breeze, glows in the
stars, and blossoms in the trees.... In the distance I heard the
sound of a temple flute and bell and the song of the cicada as
it sung itself
a-w-a-y. Why grasp so earnestly
after hallucinations and flowers in the air when it was all here,
at one's feet? For as one's sense of reality deepends, which
it does with age, one's need to integrate with the world is very
great indeed. And I felt that at least here, in this Paradise
city, I should make myself yet one more dwelling place.
Back in my hotel room, after a light dinner of rice and vegetables,
contentedly I prepared a chillum, and poured out some fruit wine.
How otherwise shall we take our pleasure here
and if ever
I am asked again 'What for the future?' it will be with a finger
pointed to the moon that I shall reply.
Three months later
The monsoon was over. The air was as clear and fresh as Vichy
water. I had rented the lower two floors of a large house called
'Shangri-La' in Bijuswari, a secluded suburb of Kathmandu close
to Swayambhu. The house belonged to the Nepalese Director of Tourism,
Tirtha Raj Tuladhar, a Buddhist and a man of great personal charm
and sensitivity, who had translated many of King Mahendra's poems
into English. And from my window I had a clear view across the
valley to the distant snow-capped peaks of the high Himalayan
range. The house stood by itself in a narrow lane which was really
a cul-de-sac and was thus unvisited by motorised transport, except
once in the morning and once in the evening when a chauffeur-driven
car came to pick up and deliver the Tourist Director. It was a
haven of stillness, and the only sounds you heard were natural
onesof birds, or animals or passing people. There was a large
meadow extending across the lane; and a large well-kept garden
immediately in front of the house, which seemed forever ablaze
with flowers, especially roses, which the tourist director would
tend for hours at a time, removing by hand, bugs from the petals
and leaves, one at a time, never killing them, but putting them
on a sheet of paper and every now and then blowing them off into
the winds of fate or fortune. A typically Buddhist gesture. An
orchard of pear and apple trees flanked either side of the house
and at the very rear, beyond the back garden was a small stupa
of exquisite design. It was an ideal place to be. This was my
landscape, the one that absorbed me, with joy, into the hot blood
of myths and gods, back into the roots of total being in which,
at times I could truly believe that there was no longer any 'I'
or 'me' but that I was somehow the All.
And in the mornings, with my rooms filled with bright sunlight
and the sound of temple bells opening the well of my ears, I could
feel that inexpressible peace
In brightest sunlight, and yet
Today how beautiful, Mother Nepal.
I was learning that man is born in ignorance of his element, and
must somehow find it, like the cygnet finds the water.
My mornings would usually start early, shortly after daybreak.
I had a small paraffin burner on which I would make my breakfast,
usually a plate of porridge made from water-buffalo milk, and
several cups of tea, followed by a chillum. I usually took this
in the garden. I'd then try to work a little on the magazine manuscripts
before Madhu would arrive, usually at about ten o'clock. It was
an idyllic existence.
Kris, the poet, would usually join us for lunch, and after lunch
we would be joined by five or six other Westerners for some Sanskrit
lessons, which Kris had arranged. He had a degree in Sanskrit
from Oxford, and was a very patient, clever teacher, who used
his skill to get us to learn this amazing language.
But mostly my time was taken up with the manifold problems of
getting the magazine together. We had found three printers and
had decided to parcel the material out as three separate sections,
which we would then assemble into the final magazine. Already
the shape of the magazine was discernible, if in silhouette only,
but the energy was theremy slight paranoia was that with the
unlimited amount of hashish and LSD we had, all this energy would
dissipate before completion, for with psychedelics the impetus
to 'attend to business' is not always present! So it was something
of an effort of will, for I was determined to get the damn thing
published, even if it killed me, which, as it turned out, it very
nearly did through what you would call over-indulgence in drugs
(though other matters played their part, like rising costs and
two of the printers refusing to print or return the manuscripts
entrusted to them).
The least of my difficulties, surprisingly enough, was obtaining
official permission from the Prime Minister to publish the magazine.
I had been told by various people, including the French Ambassador,
that no foreigner had ever received such permission, 'not even
the Americans'. And the British Embassy was equally sure that
I would be refused, though in every other way they were most encouraging.
I needed, of course, someone who had access to the Prime Minister
and who was also a poet. And I found my man in the person of Soorya
Bahadur Singh. He was an extraordinary gentleman in his late thirties,
who worked in the Singha Durba, the parliament building, and who
wrote poetry in English. He came round to see me one day with
a pile of poems about one foot deep, which he wanted me to publish.
Mr. Singh had connections inside the Parliamenthis brother
was private secretary to the King. So I asked him to arrange for
me to see the Prime Minister. This he arranged in a matter of
a few hours for the following day, which didn't leave me much
time to find something suitable to wear. My normal dress was a
Tibetan shirt and dhoti, a piece of coloured Indian cloth wrapped
around my waist, and my shoes had long since been given away to
a Tibetan Buddhist priest, who had wanted them for his Rimpoche
(a High Lama) as a gift.
Accordingly, as soon as Singh told me that I had to be at the
Singha Durba at eleven o'clock the next morning, I went into town
to buy an outfit. I settled for what I was told was a traditional
Nepalese costume for formal occasions. It was made of silver cloth
and the trousers were right up to the knees and opened up at the
top like jodhpurs, together with a long jacket nearly down to
the middle of the thigh. The collar was tied by means of ribbons.
I also got a pair of cheap Indian sandals.
I spent most of the night preparing my brief, and felt able to
answer any questions the Prime Minister might put to me. Mr. Singh
came with a taxi at 10.30 to take me to the Singha Durba. He seemed
to be almost as nervous as I was. I had difficulty getting dressed
in my new Nepalese clothesthe legs were too tight, but I finally
managed to get into them, and off we set.
The Singha Durba was an impressive building, huge and in the style
of architecture of the British Raj. The taxi dropped us off at
the main entrance. The entire building seemed to be a labyrinth
of corridors, and we walked rapidly, moving through this maze,
up stairways, down small corridors, along long ones until we stopped
before two huge polished mahogany doors with a sparkling brass
curved doorknob. Mr. Singh knocked, and we entered. This was the
Secretary's office. The secretary was a pleasant young man, who
smiled broadly when he saw me, and said that the Prime Minister
was expecting us. He disappeared for a moment through another
set of huge doors, and then came out and indicated that we were
The Prime Minister sat at a desk at the far end of a palatial
room. He was wearing a white open-necked shirt with the sleeves
rolled up. When he stood up to greet us, I noticed that he was
wearing ordinary Western-style navy blue trousers and a belt.
It was quite a distance from the door to his desk, but already
I sensed a faux pas on my part. The Prime Minister began
to smile as we approached and the smile gradually broadened into
a grin. By the time we reached his desk he was almost uncontrollably
shaking with suppressed laughter.
Of course I didn't know it then, but the costume I had bought
ready-made from one of the tourist shops was from a period around
about 1890as though in the West I had gone to meet an official
dressed up in a Dickensian outfit.
But the broad grin was infectious, and I, too, was laughing when
we shook hands. Tears streamed down the Prime Minister's face
as he took the form that Singh handed him and which he had to
sign before we could officially go ahead with the publication
of Flow. He hardly glanced at it, and signing it with a flourish,
managed to say between giggles, 'I hope you don't write anything
bad about Nepal.'
Mr. Singh then bowed and said that was all and that we now had
permission to print. I said I thought the Prime Minister was an
exceptionally jolly fellow. And Singh merely nodded. He then asked
me whether I'd like a tour of the building, to which I readily
assented. We must have walked three or four miles through the
endless lengths of corridors, and somehow ended up walking along
a subterranean corridor, lit by light coming through tiny iron-barred
windows. Singh said he had to see someone for a moment, and we
went into an incredibly small room that seemed to be littered
everywhereon the shelves, on the floor, on the desks, with
bundles of envelopes. There was a very old man sitting at one
of the desks, who barely glanced up as we entered. 'This is the
censor's office and this is the chief censor. I think I will show
him the Prime Minister's signature on our document, just in case.'
Singh said something to the Censor and gave him the signed piece
of paper. The Censor removed the thin wire spectacles which he
had been using to read the letters, and produced a magnifying
glass, and read the paper Singh had handed him.
He nodded, dug out a stamp from a drawer, and after putting some
ink on to the pad, stamped the document. 'Now it's completely
official. We can publish anything we want.'
I was glad to get out of the building with its associations of
prison and other large institutions, and I welcomed Singh's suggestion
that we should go somewhere and celebrate, which for Singh meant
getting very drunk. I called an American teacher friend and asked
him if he could let me have a bottle of whisky, explaining the
purpose, for it was still not yet noon. No problem. And by mid-afternoon
we were both reeling about the centre of Kathmandu singing songs
and reciting poetry. Finally we got to Rana's teashop, and stumbled
in. All the heads turned as we noisily entered. And on many of
the bearded faces was a look of disapproval. Rana's was a place
for chillums and pop music, not a bar. Singh insisted on having
the music turned off, then climbed on to the top of a table and,
with tears streaming down his face, said that never in his entire
life had he met such a great poet as Michael Hollingshead, and
that it was his wish that everyone in the teashop should stand
up and sing 'God Save the Queen'. A few heads split immediately,
sensing a scene. And Rana just stood there watching, not knowing
quite what to do. Finally, I managed to pull Singh off the table
and out from the teashop into the yard. I then carried him to
a taxi and paid the driver to take him back to the Singha Durba
to sleep it off.
And thus the days passed into weeks and then into months. By now
we had a lot of material ready for the printers. I had also got
a translation of one of the King's poems, which I decided to print
in red. It was called A Self-Portrait
'Like the dark night I am
Whose moon has strayed away;
Like the wild withered tree
That all its leaves has lost.
With rotten, hollowed roots,
Ready I am to fall;
A faded flower I
With none to care for me.
A blind man I who gropes
Fumbling the stark mid-path;
And such a burning fire
That has no warmth to give.
Ever am I in the mid-stream
About to sink beneath the waves;
I am a drowned soul,
Whose shore lies far away.'
It was a very fine poem, and modest, considering that King Mahendra
was the supreme ruler of Nepal, and also recognised as an incarnation
of the Hindu God Vishnu.
I had also had quite a few acid sessions during the time I had
been there was a constant stream of visitors coming to 'Shangri-la'
to score some 'sunshine'. There was quite a bit of acid in the
city, mostly brought in by Californians or some of the bigger
dealers, who would exchange acid for hashish. I believe LSD was
known by the few Nepalese who used it as 'Western hash'.
It was traditional to take LSD at full moon, and people would
congregate at the Bakery Ashram, and drop it in the late
evening so that they could listen to music during the night, followed
by a climb up to the Buddhist temples to join the monks for early
morning service. It was very rare that anyone ever freaked out'
or went berserk, though it could happen. I remember a young Dutch
boy who, when he got to the temple, took off all his clothes and
began running amok, knocking over prayer bowls and trying to climb
up on to the head of a huge bronze Buddha. There was nothing we
could do to quieten him down, and we felt it had all gone a little
too far. The monks, who had been chanting during all of this had
seemingly not paid any attention, that is until the statue began
to sway and it looked as if it would come crashing down. About
six monks suddenly moved across to grab him, and gently they carried
him back to the circle of other monks. They then tied him up and
gagged him and placed him in the centre, and continued their mantras
as if nothing had happened.
But perhaps the thing that disturbed local people the most was
that, on average, one girl a month would flip out on acid and
insist on walking through the centre of the city completely naked.
I think the Nepalese were terribly shocked by this, for often
the girl would be extremely beautiful. I think the syndrome, as
far as one can say anything about human behaviour, is connected
with the notion of total freedom, the freedom to walk naked being
merely a manifestation of this wish. Throwing off your clothes
is an act of liberation. Or so someone once told the young Californian
girl whom I saw briefly just before she was put on the plane to
India, having been found by a policeman wandering naked through
the main street. I think there was also a great fear on the part
of the authorities that one day King Mahendra might see such a
spectacle, and that would create a major incident, for the king
had a habit of cruising the streets at odd hours behind the wheel
of his Ferrari.
In fact, although I was not held directly responsible in the case
of the American girl, it had not escaped the notice of the authorities
that I was somehow involved with the LSD-cult, as they called
it. At first it had seemed innocent enough, merely another religious
group, who used something similar if not identical to hashish,
which had a place in certain forms of Eastern worship. But this
thing about girls taking off their clothes every now and then
had them worried. Consequently, I was approached by one of the
editors of the English language daily, The Rising Nepal,
who asked whether I would write an article for the paper about
what young Westerners were doing in Kathmandu. 'It would help
relations with the public very much indeed; yes, really, very,
very much. Thank you.'
I did so, and called the article 'The Divine Mutants' which was
sufficiently obscure I thought, with still a slight religious
or spiritual bias.
'THE DIVINE MUTANTS
'The term, "hippy", if a recent journalist can be believed
was invented by the media so that ordinary people would have something
to pray for salvation from. If so, and if the phenomenon "hippy"
is the unholy invention if sub-editors and people with mass circulation
magazines to sell, we ought to be able to look at the matter more
objectively and see what myths and legends have sprung up around
this strange creature.
'One thing is certain, however, there is an increasing acceleration
of young people "dropping out" of our Western sort of
society, who prefer to "stand on their own two feet"
rather than have their lives directed from without, by the system
(economic-political-social). This group, variously estimated (Time
magazine) to be between seven and ten million under the age of
twenty-six, has claimed new areas for its own. It has developed
a new life-style or an existential mode of being which, if still
lacking proper articulation, seems nonetheless to be an attraction
for some of the most gifted and sensitive minds of our modern
generation; there is something vital and energetic and intelligent
about what these young people are doing. In the words of their
"High Priest'', Timothy Leary, who also coined their slogan
Turn On (to your own nervous system) Tune in (to
the energy within your own mind) Drop out (of the socioeconomic
system): "The generation born after 1945 is perhaps the wisest
and holiest generation that the human race has ever seen
and, by God, instead of lamenting derogating, and imprisoning
them, we should support them, all turn on with them."
'Yet for those so identified by Leary, the "dropping out"
foreshadows social developments which are bound to take place
in Western society as a whole, for as automation increases and
when only a small percentage of the people will do most of the
work, leisure will be the problem or, rather, too much leisure,
for the old ethic of work and salvation cannot survive in a society
where perhaps only five per cent of the top executive and administration
do all of the work-indeed, within the foreseeable future, the
big reward in life will be to be allowed to work.
'Meanwhile, we are living in a strange confusing period of transition
from one life-style to another quite different one. From the philosopher's
point of view, I think, we are seeing a change in the nature of
Western man due to a shift of emphasis away from a theological
revelation to an ontologist mysticism, that is, authority of a
Divine Person to the more individually "free" belief
in absolute Nature. In either approach to God, we are reminded
that we are summoned to a deeper spiritual awareness, far beyond
the level of subject-object. One of the attractions of Central
Asia for some of the young seekers is that the religions here
see man's unity with God in an ontological and natural principle
in which all beings are metaphysically one. Here there
is unity in Absolute Being (Atman) or in the Void (Sunyata).
'It is one way that still remains for Western man to save himself
from becoming Reality's dupe, that is, the slave of some external
control (which we see as an inevitable result of television, which
keeps millions of minds literally imprisoned by invisible lines
of pull and force, and soon there will be more sophisticated hardware,
such as 3-D holography, where images will literally appear to
be actually present within you inside your living-room.
If you want to see an elephant, plug in the tape marked
"elephant"and one will appear, hovering in your drawing-room
and safe too. And it won't leave any mess to have to clear up afterwards. For
such people, the cinematic world of labour-saving devices and
the good health that goes with it is probably the best place to
be.) "A lifetime of freedom! Why, no man alive could stand
it; it would turn his life on earth into a complete hell",
says Bernard Shaw. And for the older, conservative members of
society this is a fair observation. Freedom is too difficult for
most people to bear, and for those who have lived a lifetime of
conformity and spiritual neglect, freedom is impossible, that
is, short of mystical revelation. The young man or woman is aware
that as the political inhumanity of this century increases (with
a corresponding erosion of certain liberal and humanist values)
so too will the illegality of our various legal actions that seek
to keep bodies of men pressing down on other bodies of men, and
all for so little reason. Society, to such a young educated thinking
person seems to be growing infertile, devoid of a living culture,
no longer productive of any personal form, abstract, lifeless
in the face of machine-made interpretations about the self, the
world, and the other people in it. No wonder, then, if modern
man sees himself as nothing but a cipher on the face of a moral
and spiritual void. And as the knowledge of his own disorientation
cannot be handled quantitatively, he turns more and more to his
brave world of machines. And through the power of his machines
he acts out the uncomprehended tragedy of his inner disruption.
He is therefore cut off from any reality except that of his own
processes, which he cannot understand, and his machines, which
he can understand, but which cannot provide answers or even directions
which would enable him to regain the former lost paradise of close
contact with nature and the world of living things, including
himself. As the Ancient Chinese sage, Shuang Tzu, discovered some
2500 years ago, dependence even on a simple kind of machine causes
man to become uncertain of his own inner impulses, and he may
even forget how to master his own world. Naturally, the advance
of science and technology during the past 150 years is irreversible,
and modern man now has come to terms with himself in his new situation.
Yet he cannot do so, it seems to many modern thinkers, if he builds
an irrational and unscientific faith on the absolute and final
objectivity of a scientific knowledge of nature. For the
study of man is also concerned with the core of the unknowable
at the heart of man which cannot by its nature become the subject
of finite analysis like a plant or animal species but is an area
of human experience accessible through the intervention of a sacrament,
which is whatever it is that helps make God present in man. (A
sacrament is something that engenders in those who use it certain
spiritual resonances which defy exact analysis and cannot be accurately
described to one who does not experience authentically in himself.)
'And perhaps the start of any process of the personality towards
independence, self-direction, and control must start with question
and the search for an answer; with the question which again and
again implies a calling in question the destruction of accepted
ideas and stereotyped world-pictures and rote-learning and imprintsin
a word, revolution; the question that both cost Socrates his life
and made it of such value.
'So perhaps we ought to look more kindly on the youthful pioneers
who see our future world as one in which there is none but one,
and each person owns nothing but the whole. And the phenomenon
of so many young people who think this way is all the more significant
if you take Kathmandu as an allegory of the possibility of conformity,
not merely of one young growing person to one particular communal
place or social development, but of a whole generation to a complete,
if at times imperfect, greater society.'
The editor seemed very pleased with the article and asked whether
I'd like to write more for them. I then wrote a series on Tantra
called 'Old Art in the Hands of New Artists (Notes on the relevance
of Tantra to Modern Western Art Movement)' which they wanted to
serialise over twelve issues.
Tantra, in fact, had interested me a lot during my stay in the
East, and I had consulted both Lhasa-trained Buddhist tantrikas
as well as Hindu masters. There was also a Western Hindu monk
called Bhagawan Dass, from California, who practised Tibetan Tantra
vitally and who had a lot to tell me about its left-handed aspect.
It was also Bhagawan Dass who first took Richard Alpert to his
guru in India, Neem Karolli Baba. Richard was converted into orthodox
Hinduism and given the name Baba Ram Dass, or 'servant
of God'. He claims to be able to maintain a 'forty per cent hashish
high' without the use of drugs or sex, which is admirable.
My talks with both Bhagawan Dass and Baba Ram Das confirmed that
their guru had used LSD: in fact, the first time he did so was
when Bhagawan introduced him to Ram Dass. The story of what happened
is now part of LSD lore, but is worth repeating, even so. The
guru asked about LSD, and Ram Dass said that it did something
equivalent to what he had read about in the writings of the mystics,
both Eastern and Western. The guru asked Richard, as he then was,
if he had any. Richard said he had six 'whitelightning' pills
left, and that they were very powerful indeed. The guru asked
Richard to give them to him. And promptly swallowed them. Richard
sat silent watching for any sign. An hour passed. Finally, Richard
asked the Baba what effects he was experiencing. 'None', exclaimed
the guru. And Richard was immediately impressed and declared his
allegiance to the guru, and gave him his Land Rover.
There was very little interest in LSD amongst the Nepalese, however,
with one notable exception, Rama Prasad Manandhar, who had been
the Nepalese Ambassador in London for seven years (he had once
entertained Queen Elizabeth to dinner at his London Embassy).
Rama Prasad was a tantrika, a poet, and a philosopher, a man of
wide learning and culture, who lived in one of the oldest and
most beautiful houses in the city.
He came round to visit me one day, and a friendship sprang up.
One thing led to another and finally he asked me one day whether
he could try some LSD. We arranged a session at 'Shangri-la',
and I told him the strength or dosage, and he selected a dose
of about 300 gamma, which was quite a lot for a first trip.
The session was very quiet, meditative, and serious. Rama Prasad
did not talk very much. I remained totally silent. About midway
through the session, Rama Prasad complained about being indoors,
and said that he would like to go into the garden. We walked into
the garden together. It was a beautiful afternoon of bright sunlight,
and everything looked absolutely radiant and perfect. Rama walked
over to one of the roses upon which a gorgeous butterfly had just
alighted. And exclaimed: 'We must try to expand the "moment"
into infinite duration!' He asked for a pen and paper and then
wrote a poem, which I reproduce exactly as he wrote it and as
I published it later in Flow One. It is called The Moment
and The One-Ment.
'THE MOMENT' and 'THE ONE-MENT'
Rama Prasad Manandhar
At the crest of Time I stood:
On one side, as far as eye could reach
In the dim-most stretch of history
Was the Past
A never-ending chain of events.
On the other side,
Looking towards things yet to come.
Yet to become,
Creatures waiting to be born,
Deeds waiting to be done,
History waiting to be made,
Actions and reactions,
Causations and fruitions,
Was the Future
A never-ceasing chain of events.
In between, I stood:
At the summit of Time,
At the MOMENT
When the obverse and the reverse,
The depths of the Past
And the obtrusions of the Future
Were perfectly united in the Moment
The Moment which knew no dimensions,
But which contained all the dimensions
Of the Past as of the Future.
The Butterfly had just scarcely alighted
On the tip of the rose-petal,
The rose a-bloom at the topmost zenith of its glory,
Just the fraction of a second before it would show
The very first sign of wiltingall too soon;
In the perch of the butterfly
There was still the heat of the coming,
Also already apparent was the rush of the going away;
But at the Moment,
For a Moment,
The coming and the going stood transfixed in the hush of the stillness.
In the kiss of the lovers
At the climax of the touch,
There lay implicit the fulfilments of the Past
And the expectancies of the Future
Inextricably built together
Into the one undivided jointure
In the present Moment.
The deep-mouthed bay of the hound
As it barked he the garden
At the Moment,
Oh! How exquisite it was!
As if the whole of the world s past history
Had been but a preparation for that perfect sound.
The Present Moment
How beautiful, how sublime, how full!
Full with the blending of all the joys of the Past and the Future
How ugly, how horrid, how full!
Full with all the sorrows beaten, fused together
Like an unsplit hair,
Like the yang and the yin,
The positive and the negative,
The sweetness and the sourness,
Like salt in the sea-water,
Like the meaning to the word,
Like Gouri to Shiva
This is more than full:
This is the Perfect, the Absolute.
God without diffuseness,
God, the All-Knowing, the All-Enjoying,
Reality without name and form,
Beyond duration and beyond occupation,
The Real Permanent:
The Real Truth,
The Real Strength,
The Real BlissTHE 'ONE-MENT'.
It was shortly after the Ambassador's session that Rama Prasad
came round to see me about arranging a meeting with the celebrated
Buddhist monk and saint, His HolinessGyalwa Karmapa, who was
visiting Kathmandu and staying with the monks at SwayambhNath.
Rama knew Karmapa quite well, and had even entertained him once
at a reception in his town house. I was naturally very interested
in having an audience with Karmapa, for I had heard and read much
about him. He was the head of the Kagyudpa Order of Tibetan Mahayana
Buddhism, and recognised as the sixteenth Karmapa incarnation.
The audience was arranged for dawn on the following morning, and
Rama Prasad said he'd pick me up at my house in his car.
I stayed up all that night, preparing myself for the temple meeting,
and performing chillum and acid Sadhana. When Rama Prasad collected
me, I was very stoned indeed, and could hardly find my way out
of the garden into the Mercedes. Then we sped off into the blackness
and reached the top of Swayambhu just as the first light of dawn
appeared through the gaps between the surrounding mountains. It
was a glorious sight. And I felt a very special sense of reverence;
there was a holiness about the place, more intense than I had
ever experienced there before; my head and heart were open to
We were taken up some stairs to the top floor and shown into an
antechamber where a monk tied a piece of orange cloth around my
neck. He then indicated that I should follow him, and he led me
from the chamber into a huge sal brilliant with tankas,
and murals, and statues. At the far end, seated on a throne, sat
Karmapa; and next to him, seated on a cushion in the full lotus
position, was Rama Prasad.
I approached Karmapa slowly, my eyes to the floor, with short
bows every few steps. When I reached the throne, I looked up and
saw a beam of bright light issuing from the centre of his silver
crown or it may have been a beam of sunlight catching a reflection
through the lattice-work windows. But the effect was quite startling.
It really could seem that he was emitting light from his 'third
eye' in the centre of his forehead. I recovered from this startling
hallucination, sufficiently anyhow to hand him the white silk
scarf I had brought as a present. Karmapa then spoke to me through
an interpreter: 'According to the tradition since the Buddha,
it has been customary to preserve the record of gifts, as a token
of one's inner sense of benevolence. This is so that it may serve
as a historical record of the Dharma too. Your name will
therefore be added to the names of people contributing to this
I was then asked to say anything I wished to Karmapa.
What I wished to say was for the future: to see many of the Lamas
and families of the esoteric Dharma move to the West. And,
how this work could be furthered by the lamas opening a dialogue
with the Chiefs and Elders of the North American Indian Tribe
called the Hopi whose villages I had once visited in Arizona.
The lands of the North American Indians stretch from parts of
Canada down to the Mexican border and comprise some of the most
beautiful countryside in the world, parts of which are remarkably
similar to Tibet, particularly in Colorado and New Mexico. But
these lands are now under siege again, for, as the indigenous
Indian population is encouraged to leave the reservations and
accept an alien white culturewhich is happening in the case
of the young Indians at a truly frightening ratethese holy
lands will be taken over in a few years by the U.S. Government,
and then by the builders. Yet potentially they could provide a
sort of 'spiritual backbone' for a future, more spiritualized
Karmapa remained silent throughout all this. When I had finished,
he beckoned me closer and, as I bent my head, his hands touched
the centre of my head, and suddenly, unaccountably, like a bolt,
I experienced Samadhi one of the most extraordinary moments
of consciousness of which man is capable. And I felt utterly and
completely cleansed, as though the divine thunderbolt had gone
through me like a million volt charge. It was a feeling that was
to remain with me for quite some days.
The memory of this great Initiation persists. I believe that on
that special morning when I met Karmapa my life was changed and
in ways that I am only now beginning to understand, which I have
yet to assimilate, and, in time, express outwardly and through
my being. For if ever there were a living god, Karmapa is it:
of this I am utterly convinced.
Ninety-five per cent of all Buddhists, from Ladakh to NEFA (North
Assam) belong to the Kargyudpa esoteric sect, of which
Karmapa is the spiritual leader.
Like all the other Karmapa incarnations, His Holiness is famous
for his erudite scholarship, integrity of character, and excellence
in yogic practices. The embodiment of compassion, in human form,
Karmapa cares for and loves all human beings, and takes pains
for their spiritual salvation.
He is equally well-honoured and followed by Kings, Lamas and laymen,
in Tibet, China, Mongolia, India, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, as also
throughout south-east Asia, Japan, Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Canada,
Great Britain, U.S.A., Sweden, Denmark, Spain, etc., etc.
And daily now Karmapa prays for the world
'May all spiritual
leaders enjoy long lives and prosperity. May the Singha
multiply and fulfill their duties. May the blessings of the Dharma
liberate all departed souls. In the world may sickness, poverty,
wars and all evil influences be cut at the root and destroyed.
May all things of the Kali Yuga (Black Age) be dispersed.'
Finally, of course, the first number of Flow appeared,
minus about half the material, which two of the printers had kept
after I refused to pay increased printing costs, which I considered
to be very unfair.
And the dedication read:
TO HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS
THE CROWN PRINCE OF NEPAL
AND HER ROYAL HIGHNESS
ON THE OCCASION OF THEIR MARRIAGE
FEBRUARY 27, 1970
The days drifted lazily. I had made a number of friends in Kathmandu,
both Nepali and Western, and would often spend pleasant afternoons
walking around the city, occasionally venturing forth to BoudhiNath,
a small Tibetan settlement just outside Kathmandu, with a characteristic
huge stupa or temple in the centre of the village, with
three large eyes painted on the top, which were visible from afarone
of the silent sentinels of Kathmandu Valley. It was a colourful
placethe old Tibetan women slowly circumnavigating the temple,
spinning the eternal prayer-wheels, the men hanging around in
change shops, a few Easterners buying Tibetan ornaments and clothes
in the inevitable string of tourist shops. One of the large houses
around the stupa belonged to the Chini Lama, and, having
heard that the stupa had been recently struck by lightning, I
decided to pay him a visit one afternoon, for the Chini Lama was
like the unofficial mayor of BoudhiNath and the guardian of the
stupa, which he generously endowed.
According to local gossip the Chini Lama had been doing a good
trade moving tankas, Tibetan rugs, and hashish and the
lightning thunderbolt had struck the stupa as art obvious
warning from above.
The Lama received me hospitably with the traditional salt-and-butter
tea, brought in by a lovely girl. As we sat and talked, I was
impressed by his incredible outfit, which included orange-red
robes in various silks, a fur hat, from underneath which his smiling
eyes looked at me with a penetrating curiosity. I finally asked
him about the lightning matter, whereupon he told me that it was
indeed an auspicious omen as he had found a Garuda egg
embedded in the stupa just afterwards. I beheld in my stoned
mind's eye a vision of a mythical bird, for the Garuda
is a familiar creature to the readers of Hindu mythology, not
unlike the phoenix in appearance, whose wings are made of gold
studded with diamonds; so I suggested that I could arrange for
an incubator to be sent out to the stupa, if there were
any real possibility of hatching such an unusual bird as the Garuda.
The Chini Lama looked at me wistfully for what seemed like a long
time and finally said: 'I am afraid it is too late. I have already
sold the egg to a Hong Kong businessman. The shell is famed throughout
China as a great aphrodisiac. '
We parted on the best of terms and he suggested that I visit the
monastery of Ogmin Chang Chub Choling, established by a former
Miami beauty Queen, Princess Zinaide de Rachevski, who had been
ordained into the Tantric Buddhist Order by His Holiness, the
Dalai Lama, who had also shaved off her head of hair; and it was
rumoured she was the first incarnation of Madame Blavatski
It was a two-mile walk from the village, and I made the ascent
of the hill with some difficulty; the path was fairly steep and
narrow and I had to avoid occasional flocks of descending goats
and the occasional water-buffalo led by tiny Nepalese children.
The hill levelled out and soon I was inside the gates of the monastery.
The Abbess was sitting on the lawn in a circle of beautiful girls
with the occasional male sadhu seated quietly within their
I sat down next to Zina, as she liked to be known by old friends
(we had known each other briefly in New York, in the mid-sixties,
during her time there as a stunning East Side socialite), and
she told me many interesting things about the training people
received at the monastery, the essence of transmission being telepathy
or more exactly darshana kind of 'flash' or vibration
that is transmitted in the guru-gela relationship.
One of the resident Lamas, who had received his training in Lhasa,
now spoke a little English, and during the course of the conversation
I asked him about the Chinese invasion into Tibet. The Lama gave
me a curious answer: From one point of view the invasion had been
an historical tragedy, certainly for the Tibetan people who were
now scattered as refugees throughout the Indian continent. Yet
from another vantage point, the 'cosmic' one, this was all somehow
necessary in order to spread the dharma and make of this
planet earth a Heaven for all living creatures. 'The seven seals
of silence were broken and a new epoch would come.'
Now my time in this tiny Himalayan Kingdom had come to an end.
I had lived in Kathmandu for one year and had seen and experienced
many new things, and much had been given, more, indeed, than I
could ever hope to repay. But some inner restlessness was calling
me back to the West, and I decided to follow its prompting. Thus
it was on one sun-drenched morning in August that I boarded the
tiny DC-9 to Calcutta and thence by connecting jet to London,
arriving back in the metropolis the next day as though in a foreign
city, lost, and not a little sad for what I saw
. What had
I really learned in my decade of bizarre psychedelic trips? That
it takes a great deal of acid to produce even a little elevation
of consciousness? That there are times we can know more than we
can tell? That reality must still count for something? That
it is impossible to become what one is never not? That the future
lies in a Tantric vision of cosmic sexuality combined with a cult
of ecstasy? That we can make of the planet earth a Holy Land
yet? Or is it with a finger pointed to the moon that I should
reply? But one thing is certain: that there is no need to mean
by a 'culture of humanity' anything more than the liberation of
the higher faculties. Whoever has any experience in this matter
will know how right Cato was when he said:
'Never is he
more active than when he does nothing, never is he less alone
than when he is by himself.'
What at last is left for the psychedelic theorist? Must he honour
the extreme doctrine of individualism and concede that, after
the elimination of radical evil and the provision of material
abundance, people must be left alone, simply to be and do what
Our mind craves dreams, those magical realms, for ever present
between somewhere and nowhere, which beguile us with a thraldom
all their own and help keep our sense of wonder alive. And if
the new 'matter-of-factness' encroaches on our brain to no other
end than to make of our life a thing and not, as it longs to be,
an instrument of self-transcendence, we feel distressed by our
inability to dream as once we did; and all delight is gone, our
life somehow diminished, which is the cause of most of the angst
in the self-the knowledge that what is most human in our life
is being determined not by our 'true' needs, which are divined
from the centre of our being, opening like the petals of the lotus
and are beyond thought, beyond intellect, 'beyond striving', but
are on the contrary, determined entirely by external forces, through
no choice of ours.
We are at once the victims and the beneficiaries of modern technological
advances. Reality is now the new myth-making substance. We are
manipulated by man-made dreams which develop artificial wants:
frozen and tasteless foods, bland, homogenised lives; cliché-ridden
beliefs and standardised rituals; conspicuous consumption; the
'pooled self-esteem' our Western forms of nationalism make possible;
mechanical gadgets; devotion to science and the 'preality-principle';
and the abandonment of any religious revelation, so that even
our religious leaders and intellectuals do not use words like
'spiritual' and 'idealistic' at all freely, for they are themselves
quite happy with their material comforts and the labour-saving
world of gadgets and good health that goes with them, and would
consider those who preached that the happiness people want should
be sought for in any kind of nirvana, mystic ecstasy, theoria,
transcendence, as certainly other-worldly.
What the spread of technological culture has done is to push the
boundaries of the literal miracle, the 'other-world', the magical
far outside the range of ordinary everyday human happiness. Miracles,
our politicians tell us, do not originate in some supernatural
religious state but must be realised in this world and have their
basis in the familiar facts of technological progress, in communication,
education, transportation, public health, etc., etc. But those
who have found a source of happiness in a life of the spirit are
of the opinion that there has been a retrogression in our aim
for a true culture of humanity. While we are busily pouring ever-increasing
intellectual efforts into improving our means, we have forgotten
the ends they are intended to achieve. Do we really know what
This question is more likely to be answered in the Alternative
literature of protest, the theme of vagabondage, and the exploration
of individual human consciousness via drugs, Zen Buddhism, Yoga,
esotericism, Buddha, the Hermetic arts, alchemy, visionary experience,
Tantra, hesychast methods, hypostatic union of Christ and
man, and all the charismas of the spirit. Those who affirm that
the real truth and source of all human joy and happiness lies
wholly 'within' must try, with whatever means they can get, to
break the hold of that view of life which has replaced the potentialities
of the human mind with the perspective of its mechanical extensions,
the extensions of transportation and social planning and mass
conditioning which are now turning on the body and strangling
it as the serpents did at Laocoon.
Modern society is growing infertile, devoid of a living culture,
no longer productive of any personal form, an abstract, lifeless,
cinematic world of machine-made interpretations about the self.
It is not surprising therefore if we tell ourselves that all revelatory
experience is foolishness, so much so that man sees himself increasingly
as nothing but an 'energy slave' or a cipher on the face of a
moral and spiritual void. And as the knowledge of his own disorientation
cannot be handled within the framework of so-called normality,
he turns more and more to his brave world of machines. And through
the power of his machines he acts out the uncomprehended tragedy
of man's inner disruption. Yet it was the Ancient Chinese Sage,
Huang Tzu, who proposed some 2500 years ago that dependence even
on a simple kind of machine causes man to become uncertain of
his own inner impulses; and further, the result may lead him to
forget how to master his own world.
So we have learned instead how to master our machines, because
machines do not serve us unless we service them, but in the process
we have had to adjust our human organization to our equipment.
We tend to get what the machine can best give us rather than what
is most desirable.
For the rest
I have tried to write this book as an inwardly
conceived and inwardly coherent work of fiction that isn't exactly
fiction, and only those who read it as a novel will discover its
real meaning. I hope that those who are prepared to read the book
in this spirit will catch a glimpse, not so much of a utopia possible
in theory, but rather of an attitude of mind capable of attainment
in practice, in which all problems of modern technological existence
will appear to be solved, that irreconcilable contradictions will
pass away, and a newer and fuller significance of individual human
existence will be revealed. In this connection, I can do no better
than to refer the reader to Aldous Huxley's last novel, Island
(1962), which is a very imaginative effort to protect a way of
life based in nature, that is lived organically as a flowing growing
According to his brother, Sir Julian Huxley, Aldous took LSD eleven
times, gaining thereby 'new extensions of his perception of beauty
and transcendence'. Huxley believed that from LSD the individual
could achieve what the poet Cowper called 'a closer walk with
For myself, I believe I have investigated the phenomenon LSDthese
words!as much towards this same spiritual end as my intelligence
and faculties permitted me to go. And perhaps the long, arduous,
oppressive decade I passed through came to benefit at least one
And how do I now think of LSD et al.?as certain truths
about the nature of my inner self came to be manifest in my conscious
mind, my interest in psychedelics began to wane proportionately,
so that today I do not believe that LSD can help me towards self-realisation.
It had never been more than preliminary, one may say, a pretext
to me to explore inwardness and unfamiliar mental states for whatever
they might reveal. But LSD has nothing more to give me. And I
am therefore determined to return to the world, and in time, to
integrate myself with it. In relation to any religious beliefs
I now hold, I am a confessed Franciscan, though I freely admit
that I have a very long way to go before I shall be able to express
this outwardlywith my entire beingthe love Saint Francis
of Assisi showed was for all living creatures, and in respect
to love of this kind, I must to this extent be regarded as clumsy.
Yet in Saint Francis evolved Love of the very highest order for
his delicate and feminine sensibility offered Love a unique possibility
of manifestation. And thus, in the light of this knowledge, I
can no longer take my psychedelic trips seriously. I know that
many readers, and by no means the worst among them, would disapprove
of such measures as taking LSD; one should be strong enough, they
say, to exist by faith without the aid of drugs. Yes! One should
be, but what if one is too weak?
And the impulse which now drives me back into the world is precisely
the same as that which drives so many into monasteries or to keep
the offices of prayerthe desire for self-realisation.
St. Mary at the Cross, Glasshampton, Worcester.
DRCNet Library |