For Those Who Love Stories

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Having recently re-joined this forum after a several year absence I'm still at the stage of re-acquainting myself with its various different posts and threads. Since our individual natures will draw each one of us towards a different collection of topics, I noticed that my own first pulled me towards two of the more fascinating and popular threads,.... "Favourite Quotes", and another on "Mystical Poetry".

Nevertheless, as inspiring as so many of these quotes and (often) brief poems were,... to me they seemed mostly to be examples of one type of writing. Essentially they are one or two-liners with a high and quickly-discernable, 'punch value'.

They work particularly well on the internet and in our modern times where very often it seems that, (contrary to expectations), our attention span and patience have somehow been greatly reduced through today's instant, universal. and almost unlimited access to information. Here I think of Charles Dickens works which originally appeared as serialised newspaper stories for readers of the time who possessed what was then considered only fairly basic literacy. Yet now, in 2013,.... the 'complex' vocabulary of these same stories largely makes them accessible only to students preparing for their highest level secondary school exams. As a substitute for our now much-blunted language tool, the preferred means of communicating ideas for many in our current times seems to be the far-more-accessible, 117 character limit of Twitters and Tweets. Progress, eh wot ?

Since I must admit to being a bit of a literary dinosaur, I nevertheless wondered if perhaps there might be others here who have found inspiration and joy in somewhat longer extracts than the two line maximum of most quotes. So, I thought I would start a new thread to see if anyone else was interested in sharing inspiring stories they've come across.To start the ball rolling I've added one of my all-time favourites, an extract from "Songlines", (a collection of travel writings by Bruce Chatwin.)



Bruce Chatwin wrote:

On a ferry back from Manly a little old lady heard me talking.

"You're English, aren't you ?" she said, in an English North Country accent. "I can tell you're English."

"I am."

"So am I !"

She was wearing thick, steel-framed spectacles and a nice felt hat with a wisp of blue net above the brim.

"Are you visiting Sydney ?" I asked her.

"Lord, love, no !" she said, "I've lived here since 1946. I came out to live with my son, but a very strange thing happened. By the time the ship got here, he'd died. Imagine ! I'd given up my home in Doncaster, so I thought I might as well stay ! So I asked my second son to come out and live with me. So he came out…emigrated…and do you know what ?"


"He died. He had a heart attack and died."

"That's terrible," I said.

"I had a third son," she went on. "he was my favourite, but he died in the war. Dunkirk, you know ! He was very brave. I had a letter from his officer. Very brave, he was ! He was on the deck…covered in blazing oil…and he threw himself into the sea. Oooh ! He was a sheet of living flame !"

"But that is terrible !"

"But it's a lovely day," she smiled. "Isn't it a lovely day ?"

It was a bright sunny day with high white clouds and a breeze coming in off the ocean. Some yachts were beating out towards The Heads, and other yachts were running under spinnaker. The old ferry ran before the whitecaps, towards the Opera House and the Bridge.

"And it's so lovely out at Manly !" she said. "I loved to go out to Manly with my son…before he died ! But I haven't been for twenty years !"

"But it's so near," I said.

"But I haven't been out of the house for sixteen. I was blind, love ! My eyes was covered with cataracts, and I couldn't see a thing. The eye surgeon said it was hopeless, so I sat there. Think of it ! Sixteen years in the dark ! Then along comes this nice social worker the other week and says, 'We'd better get those cataracts looked at.' "And look at me now !"

I looked through the spectacles at a pair of twinkling – that is the word for them – twinkling blue eyes,

"They took me to hospital," she said. "And they cut out the cataracts ! And isn't it lovely ? I can see !"

"Yes," I said. "It's wonderful !"

"It's my first timeout alone," she confided. "I didn't tell a soul. I said to myself at breakfast, ' It's a lovely day. I'll take the bus to Circular Quay, and go over on the ferry to Manly…just like we did in the old days." I had a fish lunch. Oh, it was lovely !"

She hunched her shoulders mischievously, and giggled.

"How old would you say I was ?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said. "Let me look at you. I'd say you were eighty."

"No. No. No.," she laughed. "I'm ninety-three… and I can see !






Edited by ThisLife
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Well, for anyone who does love stories, how long would it be until the time came for the inescapable and uplifting experience of adding one of Bill Bryson's priceless anecdotes. To my tastes he is one of the most perceptive observers and uproariously witty chroniclers of this experience of 'life' that we all find ourselves immersed in. The world would be a much sadder place without his wonderful, light-hearted American contribution to 'literature for-the-fun-of-it.' But his own words are by far his own best accolade,.....




. . . . . . . . . . . A Day at Riverview Amusement Park . . . . . . . . . . .

Even the dodgem cars were insanely lively. From a distance the dodgem palace looked like a welder’s yard because of all the sparks raining down from the ceiling, which always threatened to fall in the car with you, enlivening the ride further. The dodgem attendants didn’t just permit head-on crashes, they actively encouraged them. The cars were so souped up that the instant you touched the accelerator, however lightly or tentatively, it would shoot off at such a speed that your head would become just a howling sphere on the end of a whip-like stalk. There was no controlling the cars once they were set in motion. They just flew around wildly, barely in contact with the floor, until they slammed into something solid, giving you the sudden opportunity to examine the steering wheel very closely with your face.

The worst outcome was to be caught in a car that turned out to be temperamental and sluggish or broke down altogether because forty other drivers, many of them small children who had never before had an opportunity to exact revenge on anything larger than a nervous toad, would fly into you with unbridled joy from every possible angle. I once saw a boy in a broken-down car bale out while the ride was still running – this was the one thing you KNEW you were never supposed to do – and stagger dazedly through the heavy traffic for the periphery. As he set foot on the metal floor, over two thousand crackling bluish strands of electricity leaped onto him from every direction, lighting him up like a paper lantern and turning him into a kind of living X–ray. You could see every bone in his body and most of his larger organs. Miraculously he managed to sidestep every car that came hurtling at him – and that was all of them, of course – and collapsed on the stubbly grass outside, where he lay smoking lightly from the top of his head and asked for someone to get word to his mom that he loved her. But apart from a permanent ringing in his ears, he suffered no major damage, though the hands on his Zorro watch were for ever frozen at ten past two.



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I've just finished reading a book that was recommended to me by two different people on a Buddhist internet forum that I sometimes pop into. It was called, "Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung ?", and was written by a Buddhist monk named Ajahn Brahm. He was trained in the Thai forest monk tradition, and is now the abbot of a monastery in Perth, Australia.

Personally, I no longer have much attraction to the Buddhist path but the recommendations of this book were given to me because of its 'human values', rather than for it being simply yet another promotion of religious doctrine. The book comprises 108 anecdotal stories, and I was happy to find that quite a few of them had something worthwhile to say to me. Two or three, in fact, had such a profound effect that it seemed I had no choice,... I had to copy them out and share them here.

When you discover a priceless inspiration, what else could naturally arise than the desire to share it with others ?




Ajahn Brahm wrote:

I arrived early to lead my meditation class in a low security prison. A crim whom I had never seen before was waiting to speak with me. He was a giant of a man with bushy hair and beard and tattooed arms; the scars on his face told me he’d been in many a violent fight. He looked so fearsome that I wondered why he was coming to learn meditation. He wasn’t the type. I was wrong of course.

He told me that something had happened a few days before that had spooked the hell out of him. As he started speaking, I picked up his thick Ulster accent. To give me some background, he told me that he had grown up in the violent streets of Belfast. His first stabbing was when he was seven years old. The school bully had demanded the money he had for his lunch. He said no. The older boy took out a long knife and asked for the money a second time. He thought the bully was bluffing. He said no again. The bully never asked a third time, he just plunged the knife into the seven-year-old’s arm, drew it out, and walked away.

He told me that he ran in shock from the schoolyard, with blood streaming down his arm, to his father’s house close by. His unemployed father took one look at the wound and led his son into their kitchen, but not to dress the wound. The father opened a drawer, took out a big kitchen knife, gave it to his son, and ordered him to go back to school and stab the boy back.

That was how he had been brought up. If he hadn’t grown so big and strong, he would have been long dead.

The jail was a prison farm where short-term prisoners, or long-term prisoners close to release, could be prepared for life outside, some by learning a trade in the farming industry. Furthermore, the produce from the prison farm would supply all the prisons around Perth with inexpensive food, thus keeping down costs. Australian farms grow cows, sheep and pigs, not just wheat and vegetables; so did the prison far. But unlike other farms, the prison farm had its own slaughterhouse, on site.

Every prisoner had to have a job in the prison farm. I was informed by many of the inmates that the most sought-after jobs were in the slaughterhouse. These jobs were especially popular with violent offenders. And the most sought-after job of all, which you had to fight for, was the job of the slaughterer himself. That giant and fearsome Irishman was the slaughterer.

He described the slaughterhouse to me. Super-strong stainless steel railings, wide at the opening, narrowing down to a single channel inside the building, just wide enough for one animal to pass through at a time. Next to the narrow channel, raised on a platform, he would stand with electric gun. Cows, pigs or sheep would be forced into the stainless steel funnel using dogs and cattle prods. He said they would always scream, each in its own way, and try to escape. They could smell death, hear death, feel death. When the animal was alongside his platform, it would be writhing and wriggling and moaning in full voice. Even though his gun could kill a large bull with a single high-voltage charge, the animal would never stand still long enough for him to aim properly. So it was one shot to stun, next shot to kill. One shot to stun, next shot to kill. Animal after animal. Day after day.

The Irishman started to become excited as he moved to the occurrence, only a few days before, that had unsettled him so much. He started to swear. In what followed, he kept repeating, “This is God’s f…ing truth !” He was afraid I wouldn’t believe him.

That day they needed beef for the prisons around Perth. They were slaughtering cows. One shot to stun, next shot to kill. He was well into a normal day’s killing when a cow came up like he had never seen before. This cow was silent. There wasn’t even a whimper. Its head was down as it walked purposely, voluntarily, slowly into position next to the platform. It did not writhe or wriggle or try to escape.

Once in position, the cow lifted her head and stared at her executioner, absolutely still.

The Irishman hadn’t seen anything even close to this before. His mind went numb with confusion. He couldn’t lift his gun; nor could he take his eyes away from the eyes of the cow. The cow was looking right inside him.

He slipped into timeless spaces. He couldn’t tell me how long it took, but as the cow held him in eye contact, he noticed something that shook him even more. Cows have very big eyes. He saw in the left eye of the cow, above the lower eyelid, water begin to gather. The amount of water grew and grew, until it was too much for the eyelid to hold. It began to trickle slowly all the way down her cheek, forming a glistening line of tears. Long-closed doors were opening slowly to his heart. As he looked in disbelief, he saw in the right eye of the cow, above the lower eyelid, more water gathering, growing by the moment, until it too, was more than the eyelid could contain. A second stream of water trickled slowly down her face. And the man broke down.

The cow was crying.

He told me that he threw down his gun, swore to the full extent of his considerable capacity to the prison officers, that they could do whatever they like to him, “but that cow ain’t dying !”

He ended by telling me he was a vegetarian now.

That story was true. Other inmates of the prison farm confirmed it for me. The cow that cried taught one of the most violent of men what it means to care.



Edited by ThisLife
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Thanks for your posting your shared appreciation of that story, Thelerner. You've encouraged me to throw in the second of the stories from Ajahn Brahm's collection which had the strongest, most ''snapping-my-mind-out-of-in-its-habitual -sleepwalk'', effect on me. For my tastes they were both incredibly powerfully written, clearly expressed, and piercingly honest pieces of writing. In my opinion, they are a gift to everyone who has the good fortune to come across them.




Ajahn Brahm wrote:

Grief is what we add on to loss. It is a learned response, specific to some cultures only. It is not universal and it is not unavoidable.

I found this out through my own experience of being immersed for eight years in a pure, Asian Buddhist culture. In those early years in a Buddhist forest monastery in a remote corner of Thailand, Western culture and ideas were totally unknown. My monastery served as the local cremation ground for many surrounding villages. There was a cremation almost weekly. In the hundreds of funerals I witnessed there in the late 1970’s, never once did I see anyone cry. I would speak with the bereaved family in the following days and still there were no signs of grief. I came to know that in northern Thailand in those days, a region steeped in Buddhist teachings for many centuries, death was accepted by all in a way that defied Western theories of grief and loss.

Those years taught me that there is an alternative to grief. Not that grief is wrong only that there is another possibility. Loss of a loved one can be viewed in a second way, a way that avoids the long days of aching grief.

My own father died when I was only sixteen. He was, for me, a great man. He was the one who helped me find the meaning of love with his words, “Whatever you do in your life, Son, the door of my heart will always be open to you.” Even though my love for him was huge, I never cried at his funeral service. Nor have I cried for him since. I have never felt like crying over his premature death. It took me many years to understand my emotions surrounding his death.

I found that understanding through the following story, which I share with you here.


As a young man I enjoyed music, all types of music from rock to classical, jazz to folk. London was a fabulous city in which to grow up in the 1960s and early 1970s, especially when you loved music. I remember being at the very first nervous performance of the local band Led Zeppelin, at a small club in Soho. On another occasion, only a handful of us watched the then-unknown Rod Stewart front a rock group in the upstairs room of a small pub in North London. I have so many precious memories of the music scene in London at that time.

At the end of most concerts I would shout “More ! More !”along with many others. Usually, the band or orchestra would play on for a while, though eventually they had to stop, pack up their gear and go home. And so did I. It seems to my memory that every evening when I walked home from the club, pub, or concert hall, it was always raining. There is a special word to describe the dreary type of rain often met with in London : drizzle. It always seemed to be drizzling, cold and gloomy as I left the concert halls. But even though I knew in my heart that I would probably never get to hear that band again, that they had left my life forever, never once did I feel sad or cry. As I walked out into the cold, damp darkness of the London night, the stirring music still echoed in my mind, “What magnificent music ! What powerful performance !How lucky I was to have been there at the time !” I never felt grief at the end of a great concert.

And that is exactly how I felt about my own father’s death. It was as if a great concert had finally come to an end. It was such a wonderful performance. I was, as it were, shouting loudly, “More ! More !” when it came close to the finale. My dear old dad did struggle hard to keep living a little longer for us. But the moment eventually came when he had to “pack up his gear and go home.” When I walked out of the crematorium at Mortlake at the end of the service into the cold London drizzle – I remember the drizzle clearly – knowing in my heart that I would probably not get to be with him again, that he had left my life forever, I didn’t feel sad, nor did I cry. What I felt in my heart was, “What a magnificent father ! What a powerful inspiration was his life. How lucky I was to have been there at the time. How fortunate I was to have been his son.” As I held my mother’s hand on the long walk into the future, I felt the very same exhilaration as I had often felt at the end of one of the great concerts in my life. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.


Grief is seeing only what has been taken away from you. The celebration of life is recognising all that we were blessed with, and feeling so very grateful.

Thank you, Dad.





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Yesterday, the settling in of torrential winter rains where I live, (and the thought of at least three more wintry months of it), has already got me dreaming of warmer and sunnier climates. And each year when that happens I take it as a sign that it's time to find, dust off, and settle into a comfortable chair with my much-loved hardback copy of Gerald Durrell's "My Family and Other Animals"

For me, ever since I first came across a copy of this book in 1971 lying on the top shelf of an aging VW van that a friend and I bought while touring Europe,.... it has been the most perfect antidote I know of for whatever form of the blues may have temporarily laid me low. It has NEVER failed to set me up with days of laughter and bonhomie with the world.

Today I'll just slide in the first two pages of Durrell's introduction. Not only is his mastery of writing displayed to perfection here,... but he also captures, (as so equally perfectly does the film "Shirley Valentine") this growing, annual desperation to escape the grey and drear of England in winter :




Gerald Durrell wrote:


The Migration

July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky. A sharp, stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey sheets when the wind caught it. Along the Bournemouth sea-front the beach-huts turned blank wooden faces towards a greeny-grey, froth-chained sea that leapt eagerly at the cement bulwark of the shore. The gulls had been tumbled inland over the town, and they now drifted above the house-tops on taut wings, whining peevishly. It was the sort of weather calculated to try anyone's endurance.

Considered as a group my family was not a very prepossessing sight that afternoon, for the weather had brought with it the usual selection of ills to which we were prone. For me, lying on the floor, labelling my collection of shells, it had brought catarrh, pouring it into my skull like cement, so that I was forced to breath stertorously through open mouth. For my brother Leslie, hunched dark and glowering by the fire, it had inflamed the convolutions of his ears so that they bled delicately but persistently. To my sister Margo it had delivered a fresh dappling of acne spots to a face that was already blotched like a red veil. For my mother there was a rich, bubbling cold, and a twinge of rheumatism to season it. Only my eldest brother, Larry, was untouched, but it was sufficient that he was irritated by our failings.

It was Larry, of course, who started it. The rest of us felt too apathetic to think of anything except our own ills, but Larry was designed by Providence to go through life like a small, blond firework, exploding ideas in other people's minds, and then curling up with cat-like unctuousness and refusing to take any blame for the consequences. He had become increasingly irritable as the afternoon wore on. At length, glancing moodily round the room, he decided to attack Mother, as being the obvious cause of the trouble.

«Why do we stand this bloody climate? » he asked suddenly, making a gesture towards the rain-distorted window. «Look at it! And, if it comes to that, look at us.... Margo swollen up like a plate of scarlet porridge... Leslie wandering around with fourteen fathoms of cotton wool in each ear... Gerry sounds as though he's had a cleft palate from birth.... And look at you: you're looking more decrepit and hag-ridden every day. »

Mother peered over the top of a large volume entitled Easy Recipes from Rajputana.

«Indeed I'm not, » she said indignantly.

«You are, » Larry insisted; «you're beginning to look like an Irish
washerwoman... and your family looks like a series of illustrations from a medical encyclopaedia. »

Mother could think of no really crushing reply to this, so she contented herself with a glare before retreating once more behind her book.

«What we need is sunshine, » Larry continued; «don't you agree, Les?... Les... Les! »

Leslie unravelled a large quantity of cotton-wool from one ear.
«What d'you say? » he asked.

«There you are! » said Larry, turning triumphantly to Mother, «it's
become a major operation to hold a conversation with him. I ask you, what a position to be in! One brother can't hear what you say, and the other one can't be understood. Really, it's time something was done. I can't be expected to produce deathless prose in an atmosphere of gloom and eucalyptus. »

«Yes, dear, » said Mother vaguely.

«What we all need, » said Larry, getting into his stride again, «is
sunshine... a country where we can grow. »

«Yes, dear, that would be nice, » agreed Mother, not really listening.

«I had a letter from George this morning – he says Corfu's wonderful. Why don't we pack up and go to Greece? »

«Very well, dear, if you like, » said Mother unguardedly.

Where Larry was concerned she was generally very careful not to commit herself.

«When? » asked Larry, rather surprised at this cooperation.

Mother, perceiving that she had made a tactical error, cautiously lowered Easy Recipes from Rajputana.

«Well, I think it would be a sensible idea if you were to go on ahead, dear, and arrange things. Then you can write and tell me if it's nice, and we all can follow, » she said cleverly.

Larry gave her a withering look.

«You said that when I suggested going to Spain, » he reminded her, «and I sat for two interminable months in Seville, waiting for you to come out, while you did nothing except write me massive letters about drains and drinking water, as though I was the Town Clerk or something. No, if we're going to Greece, let's all go together. »

«You do exaggerate, Larry, » said Mother plaintively; «anyway, I can't go just like that. I have to arrange something about this house. »

«Arrange? Arrange what, for heaven's sake? Sell it. »

«I can't do that, dear, » said Mother, shocked.

«Why not? »

«But I've only just bought it. »

«Sell it while it's still untarnished, then. »

«Don't be ridiculous, dear, » said Mother firmly; «that's quite out of the question. It would be madness. »

So we sold the house and fled from the gloom of the English summer, like a flock of migrating swallows.



Edited by ThisLife
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An extract from Joe Simpson's, (climber and author of "Touching the Void") excellently crafted autobiography of his childhood : "This Game of Ghosts"



In the summer holidays of our last year in Northern Ireland my mother drove Sarah and her school friend and me out to the coast to see the Giant’s Causeway. On our return we noticed a sign advertising a wildlife park near Bushmills.

I don’t know why they allowed us in. The 2CV was a noisy car with an exposed soft roof and Ma’s gear changing left much to be desired. Sarah and Louise chatted in the back while I sat beside Ma in the front clutching two milk bottles. We all remarked on how bored the animals looked. It was a hot, torpid sort of day and even the baboons seemed to prefer sleeping to their main enjoyment of tearing cars to pieces. By the time we reached the last section, the lion area, we had become so bored ourselves that we had opened the two front windows and were laughing at the groups of anaesthetised big cats.

The large male lion nearest to the car lurched to its feet when the two-stroke engine made a sudden screeching sound as Ma changed down into first.

“Ah well, at least that one’s still alive,” Sarah remarked from the back. The lion loped toward the passenger side of the car. We were travelling at about ten miles an hour when I reached outside, unhooked the window catch and let the glass section drop shut.

“I think you’d better speed up, Ma,” I said as the lion increased its speed. “It’s getting a bit close.”

Ma accelerated but forgot to change gear. The engine howled in protest, and the lion broke into a determined canter. She got a quick view of it as it angled in from the side. The car faltered.

“Don’t stall,” Sarah and Louise chorused from the back.

The car was barrelling across the safari park to the distant exit gates, rolling in the peculiar way that 2CVs do, with the engine noise reaching crescendo pitch. Suddenly it felt vulnerable and flimsy, with its thin tinny body and soft roof. Sarah and Louis started screaming when the lion drew level with us. I simply gawped in horror as it galloped alongside. The beast’s huge head was made all the more impressive by its thick dark mane. It drew level with my door and raced along less than a couple of feet from me, fixing me with a baleful stare from merciless golden eyes. I had read enough Wilbur Smith to know that the three hundred pounds of enraged muscle, fangs and claws wasn’t about to listen to reason.

I clutched the milk bottles in both hands, wondering what to do if it sprang on us. It could easily leap on to the roof, in which case I might be able to fend it off with the bottles. Perhaps I should break one ? No, if it came through the roof I would leap out the door. Then it would be so preoccupied with Ma and the girls that I might be able to leg it. I reached for the door handle as Ma, with her foot flat on the floor, headed for the gate.

“They’re shutting the gates !” Sarah howled from the back. “Open the gates, open the gates !” We all screamed at the two men who were hurriedly pulling the high chain link gates closed. The car seemed full of frantically waving arms and screams of anguish.

“Don’t stop, Ma, for God’s sake don’t stop. It’ll have us if we stop.”

Ma crouched over the wheel and aimed the 2CV remorselessly at the gates and the donkey rides and picnic area on the other side. We were going through. Oh my God, we’re going through.

I know now how cats mesmerise their prey with their eyes. Since the lion had drawn level with us I had been staring fixedly into those huge yellow eyes, the maned head completely filling the window of the car. There were flecks of gold in the dark stiff mane and its fangs seemed huge and stained nicotine yellow. I was so transfixed by the stare that I felt as if I had been paralysed, injected with some lethal narcotic that froze every muscle. The lurching ride, the screams and the frantic waving arms seemed to be outside my world. All I had was this beast’s awful demented eyes. I knew with absolute certainty that it would go for me first.

Suddenly a shot rang out, like a car backfiring. The lion flinched and swung away. A zebra-striped Landrover flashed past us. Ma, at top speed in first gear, was not to be distracted. The surprised keepers had barely swung the gates open before we surged through, flashed past a startled group of toddlers on donkeys with a kangaroo lurch as second gear crunched into place, and on out of the park to the main road with the four of us still wailing hysterically.


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The following are two separate stories extracted from, "Nine Lives", a modern-day, factual collection of spiritual biographies by William Dalrymple which he subtitles : "In Search of the Sacred in Modern India". The author is an Englishman who was born and grew up in India during the last years of the British Raj. As a writer he continually finds himself drawn back, both physically and mentally, into exploring the incredible richness of India's age-old history, culture, and religion. The blurb on the inside cover says, "Nine people, nine lives. Each one taking a different religious path, each one an unforgettable story. Exquisite, mesmerising and told with an almost Biblical simplicity, 'Nine Lives' is a modern Indian Canterbury Tales."






As I clambered up the track, I fell into conversation with an ash-smeared and completely naked sadhu of about my own age. I had always assumed that most of the Holy Men I had seen in India were from traditional village backgrounds and were motivated by a blind and simple faith. But as soon as we began talking it became apparent that Ajay Kumar Jha was in fact a far more cosmopolitan figure than I had expected. Ajay and I walked together along the steep ridge of a mountain, with the great birds of prey circling the thermals below us. I had asked him to tell me his story and after some initial hesitation, he agreed.

“I have been a sanyasi [wanderer] only for four and a half years,” he said. “Before that I was the sales manager with Kelvinator, a Bombay consumer electricals company. I had done my MBA at Patna University and was considered a high flyer by my employers. But one day I just decided I could not spend the rest of my life marketing fans and fridges. So I just left. I wrote a letter to my boss and to my parents, gave away my belongings to the poor, and took a train to Benares. There I threw away my old suit, rubbed ash on my body and found a monastery.

“Have you ever regretted what you did ?” I asked.

“It was a very sudden decision,” replied Ajay. “But no, I have never regretted it for a moment, even when I have not eaten for several days and am at my most hungry.”

“But how did you adjust to such a change in your life ?” I asked.

“Of course it was very difficult,” he said. “But then everything worthwhile in life takes time. I was used to all the comforts : my father was a politician and a very rich man by the standards of our country. But I never wanted to live a worldly life like him.”

We had now arrived at the top of the ridge and the land fell away steeply on every side. Ajay gestured out over the forests and pastures laid out at our feet, a hundred shades of green framed by the blinding white of the distant snow peaks straight ahead.

“When you walk in the hills your mind becomes clear,” he said. “All your worries disappear. Look ! I carry only a blanket and a water bottle. I have no possessions, so I have no worries.”

He smiled, “Once you learn to restrain your desires,” he said, “anything becomes possible.”






In the midnight shadows of a forest clearing, lit only by a bonfire and a carpet of flickering camphor lights, a large crowd has gathered, silhouetted against the flames. Most have walked many miles through the darkness to get here. They are waiting and watching for the moment when, once a year, the gods come down to earth, and dance.


Behind a shrine, on the edge of the clearing, there is a palm-thatch hut, and this has been commandeered by the ‘theyyam’ troupe as their green room. Inside, the next dancer to go on, a fanged female figure representing the goddess Bhagavati, with a red-painted face, supporting a huge red-gilt, mirrored headdress, is getting ready to summon the deity. The young male dancer who is about to take in the goddess is putting the final touches to his breastplate and adjusting the headdress, so that the facets flash in the flames.


Prostrate on a palm mat amid the discarded clothes, the unused costumes and the half-made headdresses, immobile at the rear of the hut, lies the dark and muscular figure of the man I have come to see. Hari Das, one of the most celebrated and articulate ‘theyyam’ dancers in the area, is naked but for a white ‘lungi’, and he is lying on his back as a young boy applies make-up to his face and body. His torso and upper arms are covered with yellow paint, and his cheeks are smeared with orange turmeric, which gives off a strongly pungent smell. Two black paisleys are painted around his eyes and a pair of mango-shaped patches on his cheeks are daubed with bright, white rice paste. On these, using, using a slim strip of coconut leaf, the make-up boy is skilfully drawing loops and whorls and scorpion-tail trumpet spirals, then finishing the effects with a thin red stripe across his cheek bones.


I sit down on the mud floor beside him, and we chat as the make-up boy begins the slow transformation of Hari Das into the god Vishnu. I ask whether he is nervous, and how the possession comes about : what does it feel like to be taken over by a god ?


“It’s difficult to describe,” says Hari Das. “Before it happens I always get very tense, even though I have been doing this for twenty-six years now. It’s not that I am nervous of the god coming. It’s more the fear that he might refuse to come. It’s the intensity of your devotion that determines the intensity of the possession. If you lose your feeling of devotion, if it even once becomes routine or unthinking, the gods may stop coming.”


He pauses as the make-up boy continues applying face paint from the pigment he is mixing on the strip of banana leaf in his left hand. Hari Das opens his mouth, and the make-up boy carefully applies some rouge to his lips.


“It’s like a blinding light,” he says eventually. “When the drums are playing and your make-up is finished, they hand you a mirror and you look at your face, transformed into that of a god. Then it comes. It’s as if there is a sudden explosion of light. A vista of complete brilliance opens up – it blinds the senses.”


“Are you aware of what is happening ?”


“No,” he replies. “That light stays with you all the way through the performance. You become the deity. You lose all fear. Even your voice changes. The god comes alive and takes over. You are just the vehicle, the medium. In the trance it is God who speaks, and all the acts are the acts of the god – feeling, thinking, speaking. The dancer is an ordinary man, but this being is divine. Only when the headdress is removed does it end.”


“What is it like when you come to from the trance ?” I ask.


“It’s like the incision of a surgeon,” he says, making a cutting gesture with one hand. “Suddenly it’s all over, it’s gone. You don’t have any access to what happened during the possession or the performance. You can’t remember anything that happened in the trance. There is only a sensation of relief, as if you’ve off-loaded something.”

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I have a great affection and admiration for Kurt Vonnegut. Without a doubt I've read more books by him than any other author and, in the process, collected a great many 'gems' of what I take to be his creative genius.

In case there's anyone who isn't familiar with him, Kurt Vonnegut was an American writer who was born in 1922 and died six years ago in 2007. His best known book was "Slaughterhouse Five", … loosely based on his actual wartime experiences as a POW imprisoned in Dresden during the three days it was carpet-bombed by the allies into a flaming holocaust of annihilation.


Many years after the war he was still struggling to write a book about his experiences there and, as part of this process, he went over to visit one of his war-time friends who had been with him throughout that time. The second of the two connected 'life-anecdotes' below eventually formed the introduction to the book which grew out of this meeting. In them the author describes the seminal events of that evening which he spent with Bernard O’Hare and his wife, and their young family. As always, I am completely in awe of the simple perfection of Vonnegut’s style:









I would hate to tell you what this lousy little book cost me in money and anxiety and time. When I got home from the Second World War twenty-three years ago, I thought it would be easy for me to write about the destruction of Dresden, since all I would have to do would be to report what I had seen. And I thought, too, that it would be a masterpiece or at least make me a lot of money, since the subject was so big.


But not many words about Dresden came from my mind then - not enough of them to make a book, anyway. And not many words come now, either, when I have become an old fart with his memories and his Pall Malls, with his sons full grown.


I think of how useless the Dresden part of my memory has been, and yet how tempting Dresden has been to write about, and I am reminded of the famous limerick:


There was a young man from Stamboul,

Who soliloquized thus to his tool:

"You took all my wealth

And you ruined my health,

And now you won't pee, you old fool.”


And I'm reminded, too, of the song that goes:



My name is Yon Yonson,

I work in Wisconsin,

I work in a lumber mill there.

The people I meet when I walk down the street,


They say, "'What's your name?"

And I say,

"My name is Yon Yonson,

I work in Wisconsin . . ."


And so on to infinity.


Over the years, people I've met have often asked me what I'm working on, and I've usually replied that the main thing was a book about Dresden.


I said that to Harrison Starr, the movie-maker, one time, and he raised his eyebrows and inquired, "Is it an anti-war book?"


"Yes," I said. "I guess."


"You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books?"


"No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?"


"I say, 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?’“


What he meant of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too,


And, even if wars didn't keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.






A couple of weeks after I telephoned my old war buddy, Bernard V. O'Hare, I really did go to see him. That must have been in 1964 - whatever the last year was for the New York's Fair. My name is Yon Yonson. There was a young man from Stamboul.


Before arriving my daughters and I had dinner in an Italian place, and then knocked on the front door of the beautiful stone house of Bernard V. O'Hare. I was carrying a bottle of Irish whisky like a dinner bell.


I met his nice wife, Mary, to whom I dedicate this book. Mary O'Hare is a trained nurse, which is a lovely thing for a woman to be. She admitted my two daughters, mixed them with her own two children, and sent them all upstairs to play games and watch television. It was only after the children were gone that I sensed that Mary didn't like me or didn't like something about the night. She was polite but chilly.


"It's a nice cozy house you have here," said, and it really was.


"I have fixed up a place where you can talk and not be bothered," she said.


"Good, I said, and imagined two leather chairs near a fire in a paneled room, where two old soldiers could drink and talk. But she took us into the kitchen. She had put two straight-backed chairs at a kitchen table with a white porcelain top. That table was screaming with reflected light from a two hundred-watt bulb overhead. Mary had prepared an operating room. She put only one glass on it, which was for me. She explained that O'Hare couldn't drink the hard stuff since the war.


So we sat down. O'Hare was embarrassed, but he wouldn't tell me what was wrong. I couldn't imagine what it was about me that could burn Mary up so. I was a family man. I'd been married only once. I wasn't a drunk. I hadn't done her husband any dirt in the war.


She fixed herself a Coca-Cola, made a lot of noise banging the ice-cube tray in the stainless steel sink. Then she went into another part of the house. But she wouldn't sit still. She was moving all over the house, opening and shutting doors, even moving furniture around to work off her anger.


I asked O'Hare what I'd said or done to make her act that way.


"It's all right," he said. "Don't worry about it. It doesn't have anything to do with you." That was kind of him. He was lying. It had everything to do with me.


So we tried to ignore Mary and remember the war. I took a couple of belts of booze I’d brought. We would chuckle or grin sometimes, as though war stories were coming back, but neither of us could remember anything good.


That was it for memories, and Mary was still making noise. She finally came out in the kitchen again for another Coke. She took another tray of ice cubes from the icebox, banged it in the sink, even though there was already plenty of ice out.


Then she turned to me, let me see how angry she was, and that the anger was for me. She had been talking to herself, so what she said was a fragment of a much larger conversation. “You were just babies then !” she said.


“What ?” I said.


“You were just babies in the war – like the ones upstairs !”


I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.


“But you’re not going to write it that way, are you.” This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation.


“I –I don’t know.” I said.


“Well, I know,” she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.


So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn’t want her babies or anybody else’s babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by books and movies.


So held up my right hand and I made her a promise : "Mary," I said, "I don't think this book of mine is ever going to be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honour : there won't be a part for Frank Sinatra or John Wayne.


"I tell you what," I said, "I'll call it The Children's Crusade' "


She was my friend after that.



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Today I thought I would open up a much shorter, more traditional story. When I'm making a choice of which to put in this thread the principle decider for me is that the story should have, for some reason, stuck memorably in my mind for many years. The extract below most certainly fits that description. It's taken from "City of Lingering Splendour", a book by John Blofeld, who was my favourite author for quite a number of years during my Buddhist period. It is an account of the author’s early years spent living in Peking during the 1930s. Blofeld had arrived as a passenger on a tramp cargo ship after completing his degree at Cambridge, and was making his living by teaching English. All his school holiday time he used to travel around and explore China.

The people he met in that pre-war, pre-Communism period were truly extraordinary. There were still many carry-overs from the days of the last emperor. The short, anecdotal story below describes one of his encounters during this period and is taken straight from the book, just the way Blofeld experienced it :

{But first I’ll throw in a bit of biographical background information cobbled together from his obituary and the flyleaves of some of his books … for anyone who may, like myself, be interested in these things.}





Biographical Details :

Mr John Blofeld, who died in Bangkok on June 17, 1987 at the age of 74, was an Englishman who, after his education at Haileybury and Cambridge, spent almost twenty years in China. Speaking many different Chinese dialects and achieving a scholarly level of their written languages, he published authoritative books on Zen and Mahayana Buddhism; mystical and yogic Taoism; the Chinese deity' Kuan Yin; and a well-respected translation of the ancient Chinese classic, I Ching (Book of Change). His interest in the Far East began early, and was a far cry from the surface fascination with things oriental which has, in all ages, been fashionable in some circles.

For Blofeld, many of the happiest years of his life were those spent in pre-war Peking at a time when that city still preserved much of its ancient way of life. He became intimate with all sorts of colourful people,…silk-clad scholars, Buddhist monks, Taoist sages, actors, courtesans, professors, students -- all of whom he describes against a background of fading splendour, with moving descriptions of a city which, in some ways, must have been among the loveliest in the history of the world. His knowledge of the language and mode of life enabled him to achieve a deep understanding of the Chinese people whom he loved and admired, and he subsequently devoted his life to the study of Buddhism and other Eastern traditions.

During his early years in China Blofeld was extremely young and open-minded and his books above all absorb us because they provide vibrant pictures of a graceful wav of life which has perished from the earth. It is as though one familiar with Florence in the days of the Medicis or with Athens just before the conquest by Sparta had lived into the present age and given us eye-witness accounts of the pleasures he enjoyed. His earliest books are, above all, a record of many-coloured pleasures.



John Blofeld wrote:

The party that night was to be given by Professor Lee Wen-Liang, who, as Head of the Foreign Languages Department in the university where I was teaching, was my boss. An Oxford man belonging to a generation largely brought up in the traditional Chinese way of life, he was someone whose friendship I particularly valued because he knew so well how to interpret Chinese behaviour in terms which a 'Westerner like myself could understand.

As the autumn evenings were still warm, Professor Lee had selected a small restaurant in the Pei Hai or North Sea Park, loveliest of all the former imperial pleasure-gardens within the city walls: and second only to Tzu Hsi's Summer Palace some miles out along the road to the Western Hills. If the night were fine and there were no wind, we should be able to sit out and enjoy our dinner close to the margin of the lake.

Soon after dusk, and early enough to have plenty of time, to spare, I made my way through the south gate of the park and strolled across the graceful marble-topped bridge leading to the chorten-crowned island which rises steeply from the lake to a height of several hundred feet. Above me I could see the white chorten, a great bottle-shaped Tibetan-style pagoda, glimmering faintly against the starlit autumn sky; its pale radiance was only just perceptible, yet it drew my gaze like one of those half-seen figures haunting the darkness in lonely places which compel our furtive glances though we would prefer to turn our heads and hurry past. At the foot of the hill stood a tall pailou or triple archway of lacquered wood roofed with coloured tiles, but now its rainbow colours had been swallowed by the darkness; it loomed blackly against a flight of white stone steps from which an intricate network of steep pathways led by devious routes upwards to the chorten's base. Disdaining the steps, I chanced to follow a route that took me among pinnacles and fantastic caverns artfully fashioned from rocks carried there centuries ago from distant provinces to imitate the grotesque rock-formations famed by poets from China's southern regions.

On reaching the top of the hill, I walked slowly round the chorten's base, trying to make out familiar objects now blurred and shadowy beneath the soft starlight. Adjoining the chorten to the south and facing out over the vast black contours of the Forbidden City stood a small temple with outer walls composed of thousands of porcelain tiles, each bearing a figure of the Buddha in bas relief; but these details were disappointingly lost in the darkness, for the moon which was to illumine our banquet had not yet risen; so I walked round to a small tea-house on the north side where, on hot afternoons, the Empress Tzu Hsi and her ladies had been wont to sit gazing over the water while eunuchs plied their jewelled peacock fans. The lake, stretching from the shore of the island almost to the northern boundary of the park, now gleamed oily black except at the margin where golden pools of light reflected the lamps along the .water's edge. At the farther end I could see a bright blur, of illumination coming from the Five Dragon Pavilion. These marvellously graceful buildings jutted into the lake at a point where, in the old days, the lacquered barges used to nose up to a flight of steps to disgorge their precious load of chattering ladies attended by obsequious eunuchs dressed only a little less gorgeously than themselves. While I was picturing the scene, an unknown voice said quietly :

“In her day there was no electricity. The attendants carried lanterns of scarlet gauze.”

I swung round startled. I had been so sure I was alone; the soft, almost feminine voice, emerging unexpectedly from the darkness and seeming like a continuation of my thoughts, was disturbing.

“I beg your pardon ?”

A shadowy figure, his face barely visible above a dark robe which blended indistinguishably with the night, was standing so close to me that I might have touched his hand. Perceiving he had startled me, he apologised and added:

“I saw you gazing across at the pavilions by the landing-stage. They are beautiful, are they not ? But that yellowish light is out of place and garish - like so many things these days.”

“Do you mean to say you were here then ?”

He laughed, or rather tittered, musically, his voice so feminine that, could I have believed it possible in Peking to encounter a woman walking alone in a solitary place at night, I should certainly have taken him for one. (The Manchu-style gowns of men and women were, even when seen in daylight, not greatly dissimilar.)

'Yes, indeed I was here then. You are a foreigner, but you speak Chinese well. Doubtless you have heard of the T'ai Chien?'

“The imperial eunuchs ? Of course. But they vanished long ago.”

'Long as a young man sees things; short enough to one well into the autumn of his life. I was already middle-aged when the Revolution dispersed us. Now I am sixty.'

''Were you with them long ? In the Imperial Household, I mean ?”

“Not long. I was castrated in the seventh year of Kuang Hsu [1882], so I had only twenty-nine years in the Forbidden City. How quickly the time passed !”

“Castrated by your own choice ?”

“Why not ? It seemed a little thing to give up one pleasure for so many. My parents were poor, yet by suffering that small change I could be sure of an easy life in surroundings of beauty and magnificence; I could aspire to intimate companionship with lovely women unmarred by their fear or distrust of me. I could even hope for power and wealth of my own. With good fortune and diligence l might grow more rich and powerful than some of the greatest officials in the empire. How could I foresee the Revolution ? That was indeed a misfortune. I have sacrificed my virility and my hope of begetting children for a dream which, passing fleetingly, stopped short and can never return.”

“And so now you come here sometimes in the darkness to recapture an echo of your dream ? But how do you live ?”

“I manage well. I am a guide - not one of those so-called guides who live by inventing history for foreigners and by making commissions on things they purchase. I have not yet fallen to that. Discriminating Chinese gentlemen arriving from the provinces prefer to obtain their guides through the Palace Eunuchs' Mutual Prosperity Association. Often they have heard my name from their friends and are kind enough to ask specially for my services. I charge highly, for I am able to tell them many things they could scarcely learn from other sources. You must have heard of the Grand Eunuch Li Lien-Ying ? Of course! Well, I was one of his men and among those placed in charge of the Lord of Ten Thousand Years during all the time he lived in confinement after that occasion when he tried to circumvent the Old Buddha [the Dowager Empress].”

After chatting with him longer, I asked if he and his fellow eunuchs were happy in their old age.

“Happy ! How could that be ? We have no wives, no sons to bear us grandsons and sacrifice at our tombs. We manage to live. We are not often hungry. We dare not ask for happiness''

It was time for me to leave the island and hurry round to the other end of the lake where Professor Lee and his friends were expecting me. I parted from my sad companion, having found nothing encouraging to say to someone so irrevocably linked to a vanished epoch. Gradually the melancholy thoughts accompanying me on my walk along the ill-lighted east shore of the lake were dispersed by the rising moon, which gave added light to the cheerful scene awaiting me in front of the restaurant. Some lanterns and a round table had been set out near the water's edge, where the other nine members of the Party were already seated over saucers of melon-seeds and bowls of tea.




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I recognise that each one of us will have different authors who will 'resonate' with us in a way which is unique to ourself. By including the two extracts below I am not trying to suggest that what the quoted author says, (or whatever I may feel about what he says), in any way make this account “the truth” about anything. It’s rather that, for me, the first time I read Wayne Liquorman’s account of the sequence of events in his life which led up to his, so-called, 'awakening’,…. it had a tremendous personal impact.

At the time it was actually a longer, much more detailed transcription of his retelling of this event that I read. However, this shorter version I believe, still captures the exquisite, rare flavour of that experience.

Again, purely for myself, it was completely unlike any other ‘enlightenment story’ I had ever come across. Liquorman was certainly NOT one of those admirable spiritual questers that I had become so familiar with meeting in books during my many years of seeking. Nevertheless, for me his story carried such a force of sincerity that it felt like someone had thrown me a lifeline after I had suddenly and quite unexpectedly found myself washed overboard from my trusted, 'good ship Buddhism,' during a storm.

Since then, following the line of reasoning which Wayne threw me almost six years ago now has very much led me, (philosophically), to a belief in 'the-things-that-I-find-myself-believing-in' today.


The extracts below were taken from two different Question and Answer talks he gave :






{Wayne} : All right, we have some time so I’ll tell you the story. I had virtually no interest in spiritual matters my entire life. I was an alcoholic, and I was a drug-addict from the time I was sixteen till I was thirty five, and that was my basic field of endeavour. (laughter) And that’s not as funny as it sounds. My whole premise in life was that I was the centre of the universe, that I was in charge of my life. I believed it was up to me to make things happen in this world, that I needed to establish my goals, my priorities, my wants, my desires, and then set about getting them ! And if I wasn’t getting what I wanted, I just needed to try harder. Those were the principles I lived by. And it was so incredibly painful to live that way, that the only way I could survive was to drink and use drugs. But it was killing me. I was drinking a fifth of alcohol a day, and doing a gram of cocaine nearly every day. I had been doing that for a number of years, and I was not getting any healthier. I had to drink in the morning to stop the shakes. I had the dry-heaves every morning while brushing my teeth. That was how I was living. And one day I was lying in bed at the end of a four day binge, and this obsession that I had had for so many years went away. "Poof ! Gone ! GONE !!"

And I felt it go. It was really gone ! And I was faced with a bit of an intellectual problem here. (laughter) If, in fact, I was the master of my destiny, what did this to me ? I didn’t do this to me. This happened to me. It was clear that it had happened to me. And I set about finding out what power in the universe, if you will, had done this to me !!

So, I started reading, and I read the Tao Te Ching and Huang Po and Chuang Tzu. I was reading everything I could get my hands on. I took up T’ai Chi and tried various kinds of meditation. I was doing all kinds of spiritual things. Then, after about a year and a half of that, a friend came and said, “There is a guy coming from India, and he’s giving a talk in Hollywood, and they’re only charging a buck. Why don’t we go ? What have we got to lose ?”

If they’d been charging ten bucks, I probably wouldn’t have gone. (laughter) But they were only charging a buck, so I went.

Ramesh got up and stood at the lectern, and he gave this incredibly, mind-bogglingly dry talk. (laughter) It was horrible. He was talking about noumenon and phenomenon, and Consciousness in movement and Consciousness at rest, and I had no background in any of this. I didn’t know Nisargadatta Maharaj from the Easter bunny. I didn’t know any of the biggies. I had never heard of Ramana Maharishi. I didn’t know any of this. And I didn’t follow a word that Ramesh said. Yet there was something about the guy that pricked my interest.… I wasn’t sure what.

I went off on a business trip and when I came back two weeks later, he was giving talks up in Hollywood at Henry Dennison’s house. I went up there, and I sat down in front of him. There were only a few other people in the room, and when he started talking I was just absolutely bowled over ! In that context, in the intimate confines of that living room, I saw a window into the Infinite. There was resonance there that was unmistakable. I fell in love ! No one was more surprised than I that this had happened. I had fallen in love with a retired banker (laughter) from India, who is fortunately a lot less dry in intimate surroundings than he is when he’s lecturing. I mean, it was a whole different atmosphere. And I was hooked. I went back to see him every day. He was there for three months. And I was there twice a day. I was making every possible excuse to be in his presence. I was scheming to get to the house early to ask him some lame questions, just so I could be with him. It was really pitiful. (laughter)

And there was one guy there, who in Ramesh’s presence, had gotten the Understanding. This guy was very close to Ramesh, and he was taking him for drives and meals. And I hated this guy. No lover has ever been more jealous. I would have killed this guy. (laughter)

When Ramesh left Los Angeles, a small group of us were at the airport seeing him off. We were sitting around in the café, and the talk turned to all the tapes that had been made over the three months, and it was suggested that a book should be made. “We’re going to make a book, and we’re going to do this, and transcribe, and print, and publish, and it’s going to be great !”

I’m listening to this, and I’m a businessman, so I say, “You know, you’re talking about starting a business here. You’ve got inventory, you’ve got cash-flow, you’ve got order processing.” And Henry says, “Wayne, have you ever been in the publishing business ?” I said, “No.” And Ramesh turns to me and he says, “Not yet,” (Laughter)

{Q} : Okay. Just to finish your story, your personal story, if I may. For your body-mind mechanism, after some tine with Ramesh, the penny dropped, didn’t it ?

{Wayne} : The penny dropped !

{Q} : And then, um, what would that be like ?

{Wayne} : It’s a good question. The question was, “When the penny DROPPED for me, when I grabbed the brass ring, when I got the WHOLE THING, when I MADE IT to what you ALL WANT, what was it like ?” (loud laughter) Because that’s really the question, isn’t it ? What am I going to GET, when I get this thing. What’s it going to be like ? If I have to put up with all this crap, what am I going to get at the end of it ?

And the fact is, that NOTHING HAPPENS. In my case, there were a variety of experiences when the sense of personal doership fell away but the ultimate Understanding was that nothing happened !

There was a tremendous feeling of relief at that moment, an experiential feeling that something had just changed. Yet, when the identification shifts to the Total there is no movement,.. and there is no ‘subject-object relationship’ functioning to give an experience. Subject-object experiences only happen through body-mind mechanisms, and what I’m saying is that the body-mind mechanism does not get enlightened.

After the ‘penny drops’ the body-mind mechanism experiences phenomenality directly, according to its nature; according to its genetic, its psychological, and its environmental conditioning. And thus, it reacts according to its nature ‘just as it did before’. What is absent is any sense of personal doership.

{Q} : One person whom I’ve heard is enlightened said that he went through a period where he just kind of kicked back and enjoyed life, which was followed by a time of feeling a lot of fear. I remember you saying some time back that you also went through a certain amount of what seemed to be emotional turmoil just prior to this impersonal event of Awakening. Did you experience any fear ? Can you talk about that ?

{Wayne} : Well, I prefer not to emphasize the ‘event’ because it’s not pertinent to anything. It’s a story, just as the person you mentioned told his story, but there is nothing instructive about the story.

{Q} : I’m just wondering if there’s a pattern.

{Wayne} : That is why I said that there is nothing instructive about the story. You’re not going to determine a cause-effect relationship between these various events. The event of Awakening is an impersonal event. It happens through a body-mind mechanism, and it can happen in all kinds of ways, and there are probably as many stories as there are body-mind mechanisms through which it has happened. But the impulse is always to focus on the experience, in the secret hope that, “Okay, if we can identify what it was that caused the Awakening, then by diligently applying ourselves to duplicating this feat, we can get what we want !”

{Q} : It’s not that,…

{Wayne} : It is that, precisely !

{Q} : I was just wondering if your experiencing that emotional turmoil could have been a precursor…

{Wayne} : And what I am telling you is that whatever comes before,… it is NOT causative.

{Q} : It’s not ? It’s different in each case ?

{Wayne} : Yes

{Q} : Okay,……So if this Enlightenment is purely a matter of Grace, then why should we seek ? Why should we not just give up ?

{Wayne} : Try giving up ! (laughter) You didn’t ask to become a seeker. The seeking started. So you can’t give it up ! It’s the same as having sex with a six hundred pound gorilla,… you’re not done until the gorilla is done. (laughter)






{Q} : When you look at all the millions of searchers, and how few are self-realised,…


{Wayne} : Yes


{Q} : So how did you earn that ?



{Wayne} : Let’s see,… I was a very nice guy. (laughs) I worked very hard. I was very earnest. I was kind and loving to all. You’re not buying this are you ? (laughter)


It’s Grace !


{Q} : It’s Grace ?


{Wayne} : It’s pure Grace,….and the definition of that word which I like best is, “Unmerited favour from God.”


I was a pig for much of my life. (laughs) “Give me more !” Period.


Give me more. I want more. More is not enough. There’s not enough booze. There’s not enough drugs. There’s not enough sex. There’s not enough money. There’s not enough strokes of recognition. There’s not enough ! So I will do whatever I need to do to get more. And so I was not a nice person. I was not helping others. I was not being generous. I was not being kind. I was not being loving. I was out there for me. And that’s incredibly painful. That’s a very horrible way to live. Not one that you would choose if you had a choice. And it’s one that kills many people younger than me.


But for me, for this body-mind mechanism, there was Grace. Go figure. So that’s how I did it. So, if you want to follow my ‘path’ you’d better start drinking. (laughter) You have a lot of catching up to do. You’ve got nineteen years of hard living still to go !



Edited by ThisLife
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This is so funny. A few days ago I wanted to make a topic like "Someone tell me a story now. Doesn't matter what it is, I just need to read a story, right now! MAKE IT UP IF YOU PLEASE! NOW, SOMEONE PLEASE MAKE A STORY FOR ME!" :blink:


So I guess I should write my own story now, to share with you my experiences. I could not be arsed to do it though. So I went up to the second floor of my home instead, only to jump out of the window, landing unto the garbage. Cats fled left and right and a small man came up to ask me what the hell I did that for. So I replied, with a smile "I don't know... Just felt like it." :)


The small man grabbed something from the garbage and moved along as I was staring at him with a smile. I heard police cars rushing around the corner, so I got up and run towards it, with it smile and my eyebrows raised, but before I got there it was too late... With a smile. They were already gone. Now the street was cold and scary and empty! I didn't know what to do, with a smile. I felt like my own home door was locked and I should probably move on, with a smile, to find a sign of life, somewhere. :)


Nowhere I went had any sign of life, however. So I thought, with a smile, "It is time to go to the woods and summon the vampires to come and eat me." :)


So when I got there, with a smile, my cheeks were securely frozen in place. Did I mention you it was winter yet? I should have probably done that... With a smile :)


The news said that no one would survive the coming winter, with a smile. No one... :)


Now that I had experienced the void of vampires I walked to a tree, with a smile. But I never stopped walking, I just kept on going. Even as the tree was pushing against me and forcing me to stand still, I just kept on going, with a smile. My smile was now experiencing allot of pressure. Yet I kept on going, even as my smile enveloped the whole trunk of this massive tree. I felt the tree ripping my face appart, because the pressure of my happy face was becoming too great. Blood started to squirt all over the place. But the squirting stopped when my bones became crushed and my smile crumbled all over the floor. :):):) I was so happy with this. It's like... Now I finally had many smiles! :excl::):):excl::D


This biggest smile was summoned in this ritualistic event. It floated above the city, slowly crushing all humanoids with its smily teeth. The teeth were so smooth, the blood just glided right off and it kept shining white. The survivors called this horrific experience "The Shining" :D


Someone found out that the screams of the victims of The Shining caused the teeth to resonate with it. 4 brave women were called upon to break the reign of The Shining and they succeeded. Their voices were powerful... Until they took an arrow to the knee... :ninja:

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Due to the clinging minutia of day-to-day living I somehow haven't managed to progress very far my with annual re-reading of Gerald Durrell’s, "My Family and Other Animals".

But a few days ago I re-launched myself back into the warm waters of Corfu and have remained blissfully afloat there ever since. Yesterday evening I found myself vicariously in the midst of this wonderful experience extracted below,.... one that was so lovely that I simply had to search out, find, and copy something of its endearing, (and enduring), magic for anyone here who enjoys this kind of experience as much as I do.

Doesn't it just make you want to put down your teacup and immediately stroll briskly off to your favourite travel agent to buy a One-Way boat ticket for Corfu ? :




In the summer, when the moon was full, the family took to bathing at night, for during the day the sun was so fierce that the sea became too hot to be refreshing. As soon as the moon had risen we would make our way down through the trees to the creaking wooden jetty, and clamber into the Sea Cow. With Larry and Peter on one oar, Margo and Leslie on the other, and Roger and myself in the bows to act as look-outs, we would drift down the coast for half a mile or so to where there was a small bay with a lip of white sand and a few carefully arranged boulders, smooth, and still sun-warm, ideal for sitting on. We would anchor the Sea Cow in deep water and then dive over the side to gambol and plunge, and set the moonlight shaking across the waters of the bay. When tired, we swam languidly to the shore and lay on the warm rocks, gazing up into the star-freckled sky. Generally after half an hour or so I would get bored with the conversation, and slip back into the water and swim slowly out across the bay, to lie on my back, cushioned by the warm sea, gazing up at the moon. One night, while I was thus occupied, I discovered that our bay was used by other creatures as well.

Lying spread-eagled in the silky water, gazing into the sky, only moving my hands and feet slightly to keep afloat, I was looking at the Milky Way stretched like a chiffon scarf across the sky and wondering how many stars it contained. I could hear the voices of the others, laughing and talking on the beach, echoing over the water, and by lifting my head I could see their position on the shore by the pulsing lights of their cigarettes. Drifting there, relaxed, and dreamy, I was suddenly startled to hear, quite close to me, a clop and gurgle of water, followed by a long, deep sigh, and a series of gentle ripples rocked me up and down.

Hastily I righted myself and trod water, looking to see how far from the beach I had drifted. To my alarm I found that not only was I some considerable distance from the shore, but from the Sea Cow as well, and I was not at all sure what sort of creature it was swimming around in the dark waters beneath me. I could hear the others laughing on the shore at some joke or other, and I saw someone flip a cigarette-end high into the sky like a red star that curved over and extinguished itself at the rim of the sea.

I was feeling more and more uncomfortable, and I was just about to call for assistance when, some twenty feet away from me, the sea seemed to part with a gentle swish and gurgle, a gleaming back appeared, gave a deep, satisfied sigh, and sank below the surface again. I had hardly time to recognize it as a porpoise before I found I was right in the midst of them.

They rose all around me, sighing luxuriously, their black backs shining as they humped in the moonlight. There must have been about eight of them, and one rose so close that I could have swum forward three strokes and touched his ebony head. Heaving and sighing heavily, they played across the bay, and I swam with them, watching fascinated as they rose to the surface, crumpling the water, breathed deeply, and then dived beneath the surface again, leaving only an expanding hoop of foam to mark the spot.

Presently, as if obeying a signal, they turned and headed out of the bay towards the distant coast of Albania, and I trod water and watched them go, swimming up the white chain of moonlight, backs agleam as they rose and plunged with heavy ecstasy in the water as warm as fresh milk. Behind them they left a trail of great bubbles that rocked and shone briefly like miniature moons before vanishing under the ripples.

After this we often met the porpoises when we went moonlight bathing, and one evening they put on an illuminated show for our benefit, aided by one of the most attractive insects that inhabited the island. We had discovered that in the hot months of the year the sea became full of phosphorescence. When there was moonlight this was not so noticeable - a faint greenish flicker round the bows of the boat, a brief flash as someone dived into the water. We found that the best time for the phosphorescence was when there was no moon at all.

Another illuminated inhabitant of the summer months was the firefly. These slender brown beetles would fly as soon as it got dark, floating through the olive-groves by the score, their tails flashing on and off, giving a light that was greenish-white, not golden-green, as the sea was. Again, however, the fireflies were at their best when there was no bright moonlight to detract from their lights.

Strangely enough, we would never have seen the porpoises, the fireflies, and the phosphorescence acting together if it had not been for Mother's bathing-costume.

For some time Mother had greatly envied us our swimming, both in the daytime and at night, but, as she pointed out when we suggested she join us, she was far too old for that sort of thing. Eventually, however, under constant pressure from us, Mother paid a visit into town and returned to the villa coyly bearing a mysterious parcel. Opening this she astonished us all by holding up an extraordinary shapeless garment of black cloth, covered from top to bottom with hundreds of frills and pleats and tucks.

'Well, what d'you think of it?' Mother asked.

We stared at the odd garment and wondered what it was for.

'What is it?' asked Larry at length.

'It's a bathing-costume, of course,' said Mother. 'What on earth did you think it was?’

'It looks to me like a badly-skinned whale,' said Larry, peering at it closely.

'You can't possibly wear that, Mother,' said Margo, horrified, 'why, it looks as though it was made in nineteen-twenty.'

'What are all those frills and things for?' asked Larry with interest.

'Decoration, of course,' said Mother indignantly.

'What a jolly idea! Don't forget to shake the fish out of them when you come out of the water.'

'Well, I like it, anyway,' Mother said firmly, wrapping the monstrosity up again, 'and I'm going to wear it.'

'You'll have to be careful you don't get waterlogged, with all that cloth around you,' said Leslie seriously.

'Mother, it's awful; you can't wear it,' said Margo. 'Why on earth didn't you get something more up to date?'

'When you get to my age, dear, you can't go around in a two-piece bathing suit. . . you don't have the figure for it.'

'I'd love to know what sort of figure that was designed for,' remarked Larry.

'You really are hopeless, Mother,' said Margo despairingly.

'But I like it... and I'm not asking you to wear it,' Mother pointed out belligerently.

'That's right, you do what you want to do,' agreed Larry; 'don't be put off. It'll probably suit you very well if you can grow another three or four legs to go with it.'

Mother snorted indignantly and swept upstairs to try on her costume. Presently she called to us to come and see the effect, and we all trooped up to the bedroom.

Roger was the first to enter, and on being greeted by this strange apparition clad in its voluminous black costume rippling with frills, he retreated hurriedly through the door, backwards, barking ferociously. It was some time before we could persuade him that it really was Mother, and even then he kept giving her vaguely uncertain looks from the corner of his eye. However, in spite of all opposition, Mother stuck to her tent-like bathing-suit, and in the end we gave up.

In order to celebrate her first entry into the sea we decided to have a moonlight picnic down at the bay, and sent an invitation to Theodore, who was the only stranger that Mother would tolerate on such a great occasion. The day for the great immersion arrived, food and wine were prepared, the boat was cleaned out and filled with cushions, and everything was ready when Theodore turned up. On hearing that we had planned a moonlight picnic and swim he reminded us that on that particular night there was no moon. Everyone blamed everyone else for not having checked on the moon's progress, and the argument went on until dusk. Eventually we decided that we would go on the picnic in spite of everything, since all the arrangements were made, so we staggered down to the boat, loaded down with food, wine, towels, and cigarettes, and set off down the coast.

Theodore and I sat in the bows as look-outs, and the rest took it in turn to row while Mother steered. To begin with, her eyes not having become accustomed to the dark, Mother skilfully steered us in a tight circle, so that after ten minutes' strenuous rowing the jetty suddenly loomed up and we ran into it with a splintering crash. Unnerved by this, Mother went to the opposite extreme and steered out to sea, and we would eventually have made a landfall somewhere on the Albanian coastline if Leslie had not noticed in time.

After this Margo took over the steering, and she did it quite well, except that she would, in a crisis, get flurried and forget that to turn right one had to put the tiller over to the left. The result was that we had to spend ten minutes straining and tugging at the boat which Margo had, in her excitement, steered on to, instead of away from, a rock. Taken all round it was an auspicious start to Mother's first bathe.

Eventually we reached the bay, spread out the rugs on the sand, arranged the food, placed the battalion of wine-bottles in a row in the shallows to keep cool, and the great moment had arrived. Amid much cheering Mother removed her housecoat and stood revealed in all her glory, clad in the bathing-costume which made her look, as Larry pointed out, like a sort of marine Albert Memorial.

Roger behaved very well until he saw Mother wade into the shallow water in a slow and dignified manner. He then got terribly excited. He seemed to be under the impression that the bathing-costume was some sort of sea monster that had enveloped Mother and was now about to carry her out to sea. Barking wildly, he flung himself to the rescue, grabbed -one of the frills dangling so plentifully round the edge of the costume, and tugged with all his strength in order to pull Mother back to safety.

Mother, who had just remarked that she thought the water a little cold, suddenly found herself being pulled backwards. With a squeak of dismay she lost her footing and sat down heavily in two feet of water, while Roger tugged so hard that a large section of the frill gave way. Elated by the fact that the enemy appeared to be disintegrating, Roger, growling encouragement to Mother, set to work to remove the rest of the offending monster from her person.

We writhed on the sand, helpless with laughter, while Mother sat gasping in the shallows, making desperate attempts to regain her feet, beat Roger off, and retain at least a portion of her costume. Unfortunately, owing to the extreme thickness of the material from which the costume was constructed, the air was trapped inside; the effect of the water made it inflate like a balloon, and trying to keep this airship of frills and tucks under control added to Mother's difficulties.

In the end it was Theodore who shooed Roger away and helped Mother to her feet. Eventually, after we had partaken of a glass of wine to celebrate and recover from what Larry referred to as Perseus's rescue of Andromeda, we went in to swim, and Mother sat discreetly in the shallows, while Roger crouched nearby, growling ominously at the costume as it bulged and fluttered round Mother's waist.

The phosphorescence was particularly good that night. By plunging your hand into the water and dragging it along you could draw a wide golden-green ribbon of cold fire across the sea, and when you dived as you hit the surface it seemed as though you had plunged into a frosty furnace of glinting light. When we were tired we waded out of the sea, the water running off our bodies so that we seemed to be on fire, and lay on the sand to eat. Then, as the wine was opened at the end of the meal, as if by arrangement, a few fireflies appeared in the olives behind us - a sort of overture to the show.

First of all there were just two or three green specks, sliding smoothly through the trees, winking regularly. But gradually more and more appeared, until parts of the olive-grove were lit with a weird green glow. Never had we seen so many fireflies congregated in one spot; they flicked through the trees in swarms, they crawled on the grass, the bushes and the olive-trunks, they drifted in swarms over our heads and landed on the rugs, like green embers. Glittering streams of them flew out over the bay, swirling over the water, and then, right on cue, the porpoises appeared, swimming inline into the bay, rocking rhythmically through the water, their backs as if painted with phosphorus.

In the centre of the bay they swam round, diving and rolling, occasionally leaping high in the air and falling back into a conflagration of light. With the fireflies above and the illuminated porpoises below it was a fantastic sight. We could even see the luminous trails beneath the surface where the porpoises swam in fiery patterns across the sandy bottom, and when they leapt high in the air the drops of emerald glowing water flicked from them, and you could not tell if it was phosphorescence or fireflies you were looking at.

For an hour or so we watched this pageant, and then slowly the fireflies drifted back inland and farther down the coast. Then the porpoises lined up and sped out to sea, leaving a flaming path behind them that flickered and glowed, and then died slowly, like a glowing branch laid across the bay.


Edited by ThisLife
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I've just finished re-reading a book an Australian author who came into my life completely unexpectedly. While absorbed in reading a book by one of my favourite Non-Duality writers, (Richard Sylvester), my standard train of linear thinking had suddenly found itself derailed by a curious, three-line quotes that Richard had used as a chapter title :



Relax. Have more tea, walk, whatever.

It won’t make any difference, do what you like ……

If you like, go find someone awake and talk.




I simply had to find a further explanation of those words. Happily, when Riktam Barry’s, "The Telling Stones" arrived from Amazon, it turned out to fulfil every reading-need I was feeling at that time, such that now, (less than a year later), I find myself re-reading it already.

It transpired that this previously unheard of author is an ‘over-sixty’, former Australian hippy who lived the magic of those years to the fullest when they were happening. Now, many years later, he had gathered together a collection of anecdotal stories written about some of the people and experiences he had in the Swingin' Sixties, and interwoven it with up-dated and ongoing descriptions of what he and many of these present day friends are doing now. I'll copy a bit of what it says on the back cover as I don't think the description could be bettered :

"I love this collection of hippie anecdotes, with memories of VW Kombi vans, acid trips, experiences of Transcendental Meditation, and many, many cups of tea, shot through with Non-Dual insight. Riktam's no-nonsense punchy Australian style is a joy to read,....", etc.

The story I've added below is the one that, for some reason, stayed so firmly lodged in my mind that it was the main cause of my deciding to re-read this book. I wanted to have the pleasure of reading once again such an honest account of an experience which is probably similar to one which many of us have had,... but which, for obvious reasons, we rarely talk about.

It's the longest extract I've ever copied out. But I thought it might possibly strike a chord with others here. So many times I've found that it's very often highly enjoyable to offer something of real quality to others.



Driving on an early Saturday morning to a Greek Orthodox Church. An old friend is dead.

I don’t go to funerals much. Much more now that I am older, but still not much. The first problem is what to wear – special occasion clothes are a thing of my childhood. But this one is different, so I bought something. I really loved Athena and she liked things right, so I went and bought a sort of loose trouser and blousy shirt. All white, for some reason. I hate shopping for clothes now. Shop assistants are all children who lie about what you look like and think you are a bit odd.

Athena was a Transcendental Meditation teacher, one of those in the first group ever taught in India by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. I learned it from her in the late Sixties sometime. Unlike the TM movement now, then you got quite amazing after-sales service when you took your fruit, handkerchief and comparatively few dollars to swap for a mantra.

We were a dramatic lot, prone to freaking out, paranoia and the fruits of narcissism – or just being fucked up on bad drugs. The time of day or night irrelevant, I and many others just fronted up to her door more than once in some state of mental disarray, to be made welcome with Greek sweets, short, strong coffee, and a listener without equal. After that, a bed made; then in the morning, breakfast. You can’t respect that enough. So, I suffered the clothes purchasing.

I had known she was dying for some time and decided not to visit. Every time I thought about it I could hear her saying, “So twenty-five years – we never see you. Now I am dying, you come.” I knew there was no proper answer to that, so I stayed away.

So, here I am. At five minutes before the 10am start, I arrive at the church and park my old Ford in some small underground car park at the back. Around the front and at the door is an array of old TM practitioners all in white blousy clothes, and TM teachers in suits. I am made welcome by everyone. We are older, but that’s all. Nothing else seems different. I feel pleased to be recognised and sort of belonging to a group again.

Inside the church the walls are all painted with saints and halos in bright colours. I am enjoying this very much when Al comes to sit next to me. I want to jump up and hug him, but am being funereal.

Al is one of the nicest people in the world. His little beard is gone, but his eyes are still alight. He seems, as always, to be an active member of some church that joyously looks upon everything as if God is about to jump out from behind it and surprise us all. Peter describes him as ‘the only person I know who seems to be just naturally wise.’ Al is a joy. I speak, he answers; and I hear from his voice that he is tremendously shaken. Lots of people love Athena.

I look up as someone goes to the pulpit and looks ready to speak. He starts after realising nobody was going to stop talking until he did. He talks about Athena being born in Egypt and migrating here, about five languages and translating for people in trouble, about social work, much loved by all, and general ‘she sounds nice but I didn’t know her’ funeral priest talk.

At the end he gives the floor to Jeff, an ancient meditator, who gently describes her from the soul outwards. We all love it. Then there is a sort of walk past the coffin, nice photo on top, taken about the time I knew her best, and deep silence in the place as we move slowly along. Al is in front of me in the line, very quiet, a namaste palms together salute – and then out the side door. I do the same, speak my thanks to Athena in Hindi, and with rolling tears, follow Al’s exit. He makes his apologies, invites me to go visit him and leaves. I will, too; I haven’t seen him for ages.

The rest of us move into a nearby outbuilding, where there is a beautiful European feast set out on long tables. So we eat. All sublime as expected. I have a little trouble at funerals changing gear into social mode straight after, and so am awkward for a while with everybody. Maybe I should do what Al did; just go.

Barbara is there, an old lover, talking loudly and with confidence, seemingly successful in the 90’s way. Somehow I don’t believe it, God knows why. I don’t trust her. Everybody is old friend-ish and I am feeling a bit ‘moment before an accident’, all separate and distant.

Then I am stunned with the joy of hearing Carmel laugh in the back of the room. All rich and full; a lovely earthy woman, properly pagan. I stand up and look. Then I remember that she is dead too. Ah, fuckitall.

Looking anyway, I see Kate, Carmel’s twin sister. Looks nothing like her, but laughs exactly the same. Already shaken, now I am thrown completely. I go to see Kate and get a giant ‘pleased to see you hug’ and am asked if I am okay. ”Well, I was just doing alright until I heard you laugh.”

She interrupts me, sounding a bit hurt; “I don’t think Athena would have minded a bit.”

“No, no, I’m sure of that. It’s because you sound like Carmel.” I can feel tears moving down my cheeks again. Kate wipes one and says, “She loved you a lot, man.”

“I know, she told me. I miss her today, you know. Now.”

I knew Carmel loved me. I loved her, too. Petite, and alcoholic, and with little confidence in herself, still she was one of the brave people who always looked me in the eyes and told the truth.

Years ago, not long after I had first met her, she rang me and said to come visit. When I arrived she asked if I would be her lover. Shit, I didn’t know what to say. She went on to explain that, after a while without one, she always got drunk and grabbed the first man who would come home with her. A few very bad mornings and a bit of stalking later, she thought she needed a regular lover, a friend whom she could ring up to go places and sleep with when she felt like it. I said yes, that would be nice, and we went to bed just for fun. For years, according to circumstances, we were friends, companions and lovers.

Somehow we lost touch. Carmel drank. I went to India. When I came back she had moved. Gone. Not in the phone book, her mother not sure, Kate interstate and unfindable. Too hard.

Some years later I was being a social isolate. It was the 31st of December and all around me people were merry-making for New Year’s Eve. I ran into Kate at the city market, we chatted, and she directed me to Carmel hiding in a cottage in the hills.

That afternoon I drove along ever-narrowing roads and tracks, to finally arrive at a fence covered in blackberries and a gap just big enough to squeeze through. Old fruit trees. A tiny white cottage with vines and a little verandah. All a bit run down. I knocked and heard movement behind the door.

Carmel opened it. She had lost weight, thin with jeans and T-shirt. Still nice-looking, but a little haunted. She was glad to see me, and we had tea, no milk. No fridge, you see, and not liking to see people much she didn’t use the supermarket unless she had to.

There wasn’t much food. I invited myself to eat and went to shop for the stuff. Carmel hadn’t planned anything for New Year, so this was okay with her. I asked if was okay, too. “Why not ?” she thought out loud, grinning; “it’s New Year’s Eve.”

I spent extra for a bottle of nice Shiraz, cigarettes too; then I cooked. We drank and laughed a lot, filled in the gaps, and then went to bed. It was all lovely. Next morning, after we ate toast and drank coffee, I left. When I went back a few weeks later she wasn’t there. That was the last time I saw her.

I say to Kate, “I was in Tasmania teaching when she died. I didn’t know until I got back months later. I went to the cemetery, just a little brass plate in the ground in among dozens of others. I stood on top of it, trying to get close. Not warm. Nothing growing.”

I am crying again.

Kate was there when Carmel died of pneumonia on the floor of their shared flat. She said not to bring the ambulance; she just wanted to go home. So Kate didn’t and Carmel went.

Twins. I reckon they have rights with each other.

Kate is looking at me cry, comes close for a big hug, then we cry together a little.

She says, “Hey man, we are getting old. People we love are dying.”


Edited by ThisLife
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What attracted me so much about Riktam Barry’s story yesterday was the self-evident honesty and sincerity in his recounting of it. For me at least, it added a subtle but unmistakeable flavour that elevated his words far above the apparent simple ordinariness of the events described.

Actually, it’s been the search for that ‘flavour’ of honesty that has underlain much of the searching for answers in my own life. Yet, strangely, I am well aware that I have most certainly NOT led a particularly honest life myself. Perhaps for many of us, it’s the things we deeply regret and feel that we lack which become the qualities, possessions or status that we either admire most in others, or pour much of our energies into trying to attain.

For myself, and probably most of the people drawn to this forum,… the search for spiritual answers has been of great importance to us – often being one of the principle motivators of our life. Yet paradoxically, (and I’m sure that I am not alone in experiencing this), even though every one of the religions, philosophies or practices that we end up following,…. though EVERY single one of them without exception claims that it has access to truth and can lead us there if we have the faith, energy and dedication to follow,…. so often these self-proclaimed “organisations of virtue” suddenly get exposed as merely yet another collection of masquerading, flawed human beings exploiting others for money, power, or sexual favours.

The recent world-wide scandal and cover-up of all the years of child abuse by Catholic priests, is an obvious case in point.

Yet even more 'philosophically refined’ religions can end up in this same mundane and unforeseen cesspit. The Tibetan Buddhist organisation that I was part of for 18 years was so riddled with sexual scandals by senior monks and nuns, that it beggars belief. (Though of course, every case which came to light was IMMEDIATELY swept out of sight and never spoken of again). It wasn’t even necessary to put up a ‘Business as Usual’ sign in the window for so much as a single day.

This immediate cover-up and silence certainly does allow many followers to keep their faith. But personally, I think that since this experience is so widespread in virtually all religions, (particularly our Western culture's numerous 'attempted adoptions' of more ancient Eastern belief systems), that if we keep suppressing our awareness of these kind of unpleasant and unwished-for experiences, not only are we leaving ourselves open to major future disillusionment, but we also risk missing out on some very helpful insights.

The four extracts below are each stories about this most forbidden of topics,… religious scandal. They are each based on actual, personally-experienced events in the spiritual pathways of different seekers like ourselves. The first two are by Richard Sylvester, (a writer on Non-Duality, taken from his book, "I Hope You Die Soon"), and the second two by Hugh Milne who was the personal bodyguard to Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh,…. (the guru at the heart of one of the biggest religious scandals of our modern times). Both the latter were taken from Hugh's superbly honest and well-written book, “Bhagwan -- The God Who Failed".

Below these four extracts I’ve included interview links with each of the two writers for anyone who may find some interest in either of these accounts. Personally, I find that 'watching' a person talk is a far more accurate way to pick up a subtle quality like honesty, than is simply reading their words in a book or on a computer monitor.



{1} Richard Sylvester wrote :

“Guru Raj was short, plump and charismatic with dark soft eyes. He wore smart Indian clothes and a shawl embroidered with gold thread. His name meant The Teacher Who Is the King of Bliss. To his devotees he was not just a guru. He was the avatar of this age. He had been Krishna, Buddha and Jesus. At least four other teachers claimed to be the one and only avatar at this time but his devotees scoffed at them. They knew theirs was the one.

Then the shit hit the fan.

The guru, it appeared, had seduced three different women, all high up in his organisation, by telling each of them, “I am the reborn Jesus and you are the reborn Mary Magdalene. Two thousand years ago we were lovers. Now it is time for us to be lovers again.” As a line for the seduction of the credulous it is hard to beat. Each woman in turn had believed him and followed him to his bed.

One day the three Mary Magdalenes discovered that each of them was not unique. The game was up. They felt seduced, traduced and scorned. Outraged, they decided to expose everything. A hasty meeting was urgently convened. Phones rang and devotees were summoned.

The three Marys had been covering up many others of the guru’s peccadilloes, hiding them from his public, sweeping empty whisky bottles under the mat. Now it was open season and all the bony skeletons tumbled out of the cupboard with a rattle that would have wakened even the dimmest of chelas.

The guru had been indulging in prodigious bouts of drinking. He sometimes consumed a whole bottle of whisky before going on stage to address his devotees. Another bottle might be downed later in the evening. The inner circle of devotees had been busy keeping him supplied, hiding the evidence, smuggling out the empty bottles from the retreat centre. On at least one occasion he had to be helped onto the stage and onto his red velvet throne by an acolyte on each side propping him up to hide his stagger.

Perhaps his remarkable ability to weave impromptu a coherent tapestry of spiritual ideas while pickled in scotch was evidence of his divine status. The avatar of the single malt. The alcoholic godhead.

Guru Raj had occasionally given out spiritual names, but only to particularly special devotees. These names, he said, were arrived at in deepest meditation when he tuned in to the most refined spiritual essence of the person and emerged with the name whose vibration exactly suited their unique dharma. Then someone noticed that these names were the names of the houses that the guru passed in an Indian quarter of Cape Town as he drove from his house to his office each day.

He had been enormously profligate with money, spending lavishly on himself.

There were even accusations that he had been seen beating his wife and her daughter.

Why had his acolytes kept all this to themselves ? By the time they had realised what they had got themselves into, they were too far steeped in blood to draw back. They had given up careers, lovers, families, friends and homes to follow this man. They had devoted oceans of energy to what they believed was the divine plan.

In this way the guru gave at least some of his devoted followers the gift of inoculation against gurus for ever.

There is a place for charismatic charlatans. They can remind us not to take this seriously. In this story more may be learned from a charlatan than from a saint.”

There are hundreds of these stories. And there are hundreds of practices and many of them tend to produce real phenomena. Guru Raj’s practices produced astonishing phenomena. But that has nothing to do with liberation.

If these practices didn’t produce phenomena they wouldn’t be so seductive. In using the word ‘seductive’ I’m not implying that there’s anything wrong with them. Of course there isn’t. I very much enjoyed following my whisky guru for a few years. It was delightful.



{2} Richard Sylvester wrote :

Setting out on a spiritual search is a very sensible thing for a person to do. When everything else has failed us, why not try that ? The car, the house and the job didn't make us happy, the soulmate didn't make us happy, God didn't make us happy. Even healing our 'inner child' didn't make us happy.

I could go on listing for the whole evening the things that we accumulate to try to finally make ourselves happy, but I will stop there.

When all else has failed and we still feel separate, we still feel that something is missing, it is intelligent to start searching spiritually. It can also be very exciting and colourful to change our name to something exotic like Devananda and put on orange robes, shave our head and eat alfalfa sprouts rather than go on being Jim Brown with a suit and a mullet eating hamburgers.

But nevertheless, after ten or twenty years of spiritual searching we may well still feel separate and inadequate. I would even suggest that spiritual searching fuels our sense of inadequacy. The very fact that we are on a spiritual path indicates that we feel inadequate as we are right now. And if we are on a path looking for liberation, (whatever we think liberation might be), we cannot possibly notice that everything is already liberation right here, right now. If we are looking for liberation over there, we can't see that it is already right here.

The awful reality is that we will never find liberation either over there or right here,... because 'WE' will never find liberation.

We could say that 'WE' are the problem. But there is even a problem in saying, "We are the problem" because it sets us thinking that we must do something about ourself. This feeds our sense of inadequacy once more.

We start to think, "I haven't meditated for long enough", or, "I haven't cleared my chakras sufficiently", or, "I haven't shown enough dedication to the guru - perhaps I have held back just one little bank account from him", or, "I haven't spent enough time in countries without toilets - I haven't had enough diarrhoea in the Himalayas."

We feel, "It must be my fault. There has to be something wrong with me, because I can't find liberation." Yet the awful joke is that there is not only nothing for me to find,... but there is also no "me" to find it.

That is why sometimes, when the person disappears and this is simply seen for what it is, as 'already liberation',.... there can often be so much laughter. It can be seen as such a joke that we were always looking for this, yet this was always what we were.

For some people this creates despair as they contemplate the ruins of their spiritual life and begin to wish that they hadn't sold their house and given the proceeds to their guru. But often it causes laughter, or at least a quiet smile, because it is such a joke that what I was searching for was always closer to me than I am to myself.

There is no "I". There is no "self". When this is seen, it is suddenly realised that all the incomprehensible philosophical sayings such as "I am that", "There is only oneness", and "Everything is unconditional love", are not philosophical sayings at all. They are simply descriptions of what is seen in the natural state of being when the person isn't there getting in the way any more.



{3} Hugh Milne wrote:

I continued to meditate, and on several occasions reached that true bliss and abundant joy which comes from a deep meditative state. This meditative space was incomparably beautiful, and worth anything to experience. Those who dismiss ‘evil cults’ have no idea at all how rapturous this state can be, and how no pleasure can begin to compare with it. Most people who have spent any time in a religious cult will have tasted this bliss. And it keeps them coming back for more. Whenever I touched this deep sense of peace I knew I could have no greater happiness, and during my time at Poona it began to happen more and more often.



{4} Hugh Milne wrote:

In the ‘energy darshans’ the noise and vibration would sometimes approach the threshold of pain, and the flashing lights and tribal rhythms would induce a trance-like state. These sessions had an electrifying effect on me. When Bhagwan called me as the subject for one of the first ‘energy darshans’, he sat me down opposite a medium who was directly in front of his feet. Then, after the lights had gone out and the music reached its tribal crescendo, he touched the point on my forehead known as ‘the third eye’. I felt a new energy flowing through me like molten honey. It rose in intensity until it felt as though I was caught in a long dark tunnel with an express train rushing towards me. Then it dissolved into peace, light, and the scary but exciting promise of the unknown. As that train of his energy passed into my being, some kind of internal fuse blew, and I floated blissfully in a sea of nectar, quite unaware of my surroundings. I heard Bhagwan calling, as if from a great distance : “Shiva, come back, you have to take the photos now.”

I remember thinking : how could he be serious ? How could I take pictures in this state ? He repeated his directive, and as I stumbled to my feet Krishna Barti handed me the Nikon. If this was his energy, I wanted more of it.

Many people have asked me how a sensible, independent person could be mesmerised by someone like Bhagwan. The answer, as many sannyasis would agree, is that once you have been affected by his energy and experienced the sensation of being touched by it, you knew that there was nothing like it, no bliss to compare with it. Once you had experienced it, you had to go back for more, to try and regain that feeling of harmony and being at one with the universe. It is similar to a drug-induced high, except that there is no artificial chemical at work. Bhagwan’s touch could be just as addictive as the strongest drug.




(1) INTERVIEW LINK WITH : Richard Sylvester



(2) INTERVIEW LINK WITH : Hugh Milne (Bhagwan's Bodyguard)


Edited by ThisLife
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As an example of an occupation which is a very mixed set of blessings, before retiring I used to make my living by teaching secondary-school-aged children in the state system. One of the advantages of getting older is that one now has a wider panorama of events to look back on, and, in so doing,…. unforeseen patterns often begin to emerge. The one I frequently find myself thinking about is the widespread and dramatic decrease in the number of our youngest generation who are able to unlock the treasure chest of enjoyment which can be found in written stories. For me, (probably because of the pre-television age I grew up in), books have always acted like an entrance-way into exciting worlds of adventure,… stepping through the back of a wardrobe into the magic of Narnia. Now, many of the young people that I taught seem so completely dazzled by all the glitz of our current age's technological gadgetry that they've hastily carted the dusty old ‘Narnia wardrobe’ off to the council tip. Cheerfully, many people across an increasingly wide age range seem eager to fill every available moment of leisure time in their life with the latest iPhones, X Boxes, or whatever. To all outward appearance, this ever-expanding catalogue of gadgetry,.... is without end.

Anyway, like a dinosaur mired and sinking in the mud I manage to find pleasure in my doomed flailing about by posting on this thread some of the best stories that I've personally come across during my life so far. (Just in case there are other dinosaurs out there who also enjoy reading from this same, rapidly-disappearing language.)

Clearly, it’s a pretty questionable activity for anyone to spend hours of their ‘precious human rebirth’ doing. But for me, many of these stories are like rare and beautiful flowers. The times that I’ve asked myself, “What is the ‘purpose’ of a flower ?”, the answer that always comes to me is,… “Simply to be enjoyed for its beauty.” Trying to follow that noble ideal, today I’ve brought a high mountain bouquet of Tibetan life stories to this forum.


The set of stories I’m going to drop in here now are from an absolute gem of a book I came across unexpectedly in an airport bookstore when it was first published eight years ago. It’s called “Tibetan Voices ; A Traditional Memoir”. It is a coffee table book of world class photos accompanied by a collection of stories gathered together by an author who, (like myself at the time), was absolutely smitten by Tibet, its people, its culture, its heroic-yet-tragic plight, and its preciously preserved religion.


Brian Harris woke up one day to the realisation that forty years had gone by since the Chinese had invaded and set about systematically dismembering the magic that then was Tibet. Even though there were still people alive who had been living in that pre-invasion, mountain-ringed Shangri-la,…. they were rapidly disappearing forever as the grim reaper continued taking his inevitable toll. So, for several years Harris travelled the world interviewing Tibetans who had lived their lives in that country before China brutally smashed forever that isolated, fragile, inspirationally-precious island of one nation striving to live out the purest of Buddha's ideals.


Afterwards, our writer/preserver gathered all these rare and precious stories together and made them available to the world in his lovely book.


In order to share these rapidly-disappearing ‘flowers’ with anyone who has had sufficient patience to wade this far through such a swamp of verbiage, clearly a drastic winnowing process had to be done. What I’ve done is taken nine personal favourites from Harrison’s collection of fifty stories, and divided them into three groups of three. I’ll intersperse the resultant three separate postings with other writers’ stories over the following few days, just to avoid dulling the palate with too much of a good thing all at one go.


First though, I’ll add a condensed extract from the author's Introduction,… then let the first three stories speak for themselves :




Introduction by Brian Harris :

Tibet symbolizes for many the archetypal holy land that we all seek. Until recently, Tibet was, in a sense, just such a living icon and the Diaspora of its people and traditions an auspicious blessing to the world. Tibetan society revolved around a profound metaphysical and cosmological axis. It was a civilization deeply rooted in a sacred worldview. Providentially, Tibet was cloistered high up in the Himalaya Mountains and for the most part was unaffected by modern ideological and technological developments.

During the early years of this century the storytellers within this book were living in a land that had little in common with the world outside its borders and that, (up until the occupation of Tibet by the Chinese army in 1959), was a continuation of that of their ancestors. Seventy years ago, few Tibetans suspected - although some prophesied - that they might be the last generation in their country's ancient history.

Tibetan Voices: A Traditional Memoir” is a portrait of these last years, or rather a sketch, since the memoirs and photographs published here are but glimpses of what was once a varied and complex society. Tibet was not a land largely populated by the meek and holy, by people purified of all human frailties and follies. Our storytellers were exceptionally candid when narrating their memories and I feel that their stories can help us to maintain a balanced perspective through acknowledging the more down – to - earth aspects of many Tibetans’ everyday life and human character.

Clearly a return to old Tibet is impossible, regardless of future developments, but it is both my hope and my belief that the principles and qualities which were the foundation of Tibet's Buddhist civilization can, at any time and place, be reclaimed.








The Potala is such a huge place it was easy for visitors and newcomers to become lost. I remember, as a young student, how we were teased by the older students in the first few weeks after our arrival there. They’d say, "Now you have been here a month, tell us how many rooms there are in the Potala Palace." At the time we didn't know, so when the order students said, "There are 1, 2, 3, 4 rooms,” we didn’t understand. "Figure it out," they’d say. What they meant was that there were 1,234 rooms ! Eventually I knew exactly how many windows and steps there were in those parts of the Potala that we were permitted to enter. We came to know the number of steps on each staircase from the courtyard to the big gong, and from the gong to the foot of the palace, because of a game we used to play. We would race all the way down the many stairs, then immediately back up to see who could come first. During the daytime this was easy, but at night it was very difficult because we couldn't see anything. We had to remember the exact number of steps or else we'd fall. So, as I ran up the steps in the dark, I’d repeat to myself,' 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2,3, 4,” counting each of them off.

I entered the Potala as a student in 1942 and after completing six years of study I continued to live and work there as a government clerk. Our school was on the palace's eastern side, across the courtyard from the Dalai Lama's residence. In the winter most of the Potala was very cold since the lower parts of the palace had small windows and walls of stone that were five feet thick. But our school and the part of the Potala where we lived had wide windows - without glass, of course - which let in more sun. In the winter there was no need for heating because we wore heavy clothes. In our classroom we sat in rows on long, rolled-up cushions and, from time to time, our seating positions were rotated so that each could have a turn near the windows. Although we all enjoyed the warmth of the sun, the elderly and those with poor health were particularly advised by the doctors to spend more time by a window.

Not far from our school was a public toilet with about eight long, narrow holes cut into the floor. The waste dropped all the way down to the base of the Potala, at least six stories below-so dark you couldn't see down. At certain times of the year farmers would arrive to take it away for their fields. The ashes from our section of the Potala were put down these holes as well, by sweepers especially assigned to the toilets. This toilet room had a number of windows and it was quite windy in wintertime. We'd squat there, often two students on one hole, with scarves wrapped around our faces and ears, passing waste and talking. When we washed our bodies in the winter, we did that together as well. We'd heat up some water and take turns pouring it over each other. Some people, even old men, would use only cold water to bathe, saying that afterwards they felt warmer.

One of the fondest memories of my life in the Potala are of the many birds who shared our lives. There used to be many pigeons there, until the Chinese army forced people to kill them in 1959. There was also a big owl with a huge head like a cat who lived in the palace, calling "OooOooOoo" throughout the night. But above all there were the large ravens; they would gather together in assembly, almost like human beings, to talk and play and, like us, to compete in different kinds of sports! We played with them a lot. We'd shape small disks from tsampa dough and toss them up in the air for the ravens to catch and eat. Both the students and the ravens liked this sport very much and we all became experts at playing it. Our raven friends would come to our windows at certain times of the day to be fed. Though they didn't let us actually touch them, we could get very close and they would take food from our fingers. Most of the monks and students had a raven friend. Ravens have a great sense of humour, as I learned from one particular resident. He told me that one day a raven brought him a necklace of turquoise and coral and put it on his window ledge !

Also living with us in the Potala was a type of orange duck. These ducks made their nests on the lower front windows. The babies would drop down onto the ground from the window so that their parents could take them to the water behind the Potala. It was the duty of the sweepers to protect these birds - particularly the young babies - from the hawks that soared all around. Carrying a long stick to ward off danger; the sweepers walked alongside the ducklings while the parents followed behind or flew above, calling “anh, anh, anh.”

Residents of the Potala were permitted to keep pets, including Lhasa Apso dogs and sometimes a cat. Even students could have an animal, though only if their sponsor permitted it in his living quarters. As in the rest of Tibet, each night all the dogs would be set loose to run free. But at the Potala they didn’t bark very much; they seemed to sense, “I should keep quiet here." The Potala was a very quiet place, especially at night, and we could hear the barking of the dogs and all the other noises that came up from the village of Shol at the base of the palace. We heard everything very clearly - the sounds of people praying, as well as their fights and arguments, and, behind it all, the Lhasa River rushing along. From parts of the Potala we could even see what was happening down there. In the winter, people often sat on the rooftops and played a game of dice called sho. We heard and saw people singing and dancing, and sometimes we even listened to conversations about lovemaking. One person might say to the other “Now let’s go and sleep together,” or someone would try to get his or her partner to hurry up so they’d have more time to enjoy each other.

As we', as the constant sound of the wind blowing through and around the Potala, there was the tinkle of thousands of bells that hung everywhere as decorations, mixed in with the distant clang of horse and cow bells from the streets below. Initially it was disturbing, this tinkling twenty-four hours a day, but over time we became used to it. Then there were the sounds of rituals being performed and the sweepers saying prayers-"Om Mani Padme Hum, Om Mani Padme Hum." And there were the students - we could even be heard down in Shol village ! At four o'clock in the morning and again at nine in the evening we'd gather and chant loudly. The villagers said they enjoyed listening to us, and that our chanting had a very pleasing melody.

There were big gongs at the Potala, and every evening at seven o'clock a gong would sound. This meant that anybody who wanted to leave the palace should set off, and anyone who wanted to enter should come in. After ten minutes the gong would sound a second time, and then we'd have to hurry ! After a further ten minutes the gong would be struck a third time and immediately all doors would be closed. Nobody could enter or leave until the next morning! Women never stayed inside the Potala at night, though in the daytime they carried water, food, and various supplies to the apartments. Of course, women would visit and come to the palace on pilgrimage, but officials who were married had a duty to stay alone in the Potala. They could visit their families in Shol and elsewhere, but wives could not live in the palace. Even the Dalai Lama's family lived outside the Potala.

Beggars came to the Potala as pilgrims whenever they wanted. If we saw a visiting beggar who asked quietly, "Please give something," then we might give alms, but public begging was not allowed. Anybody could come to the Potala on pilgrimage from ten o'clock in the morning until four or five o'clock in the afternoon. There were no guards. It was the sweepers and managers of the different sections of the Potala who were responsible for making sure people didn't go into areas closed to the public. lf a person was found straying, then a sweeper would approach him and quietly say, "Did you lose your way? Please, not that way. This way, I'll help you," and he would guide them along. Each entrance to the Potala had a gatekeeper who opened and closed the gate and who answered people's questions. Each gatekeeper lived in a small room right beside the gate and would sit on a cushion outside his little shelter, saying prayers or turning a large mani prayer wheel.

Occasionally local farmers arrived with whatever fresh produce they might have that month. Never speaking loudly or hurrying, they would walk around selling their goods, perhaps saying quietly, "Fresh radish, fresh radish." Since the Potala did not have any shops, we either acquired what we wanted from these sellers or went down to the village to buy our daily needs. I remember we always eagerly awaited the broom vendors, who sold really beautiful brooms made from grass. Sellers didn't come often, but when they did perhaps two would arrive together, each with small things for sale, never anything too big. They would always know just where to go to sell their wares quietly.








For many generations my family’s job was to protect crops from all forms of destruction by natural forces. My father came to me when I was twenty-two years old and told me that he was entering a meditation retreat in the mountains and that it was now my duty to take over his role. I was worried when I first attempted to control the weather and was afraid that all the crops would be destroyed, but after two or three years I came to trust my vocation.

I practiced at a monastery where there were eight other nagpas, shamans who performed rituals. We were supported by the Tibetan government with money and food, and each of us was designated a “controller of weather" and given an official government stamp. At the start of each planting year we held many retreats in which prayers and rituals were performed to Vajrakilaya. Afterwards, all around the areas to be protected, wooden phurbas, or ritual thunderbolt daggers, were placed in the ground. The area for which I was responsible was large, and it took many, many days to put these daggers in the ground. During this process all the farmers would participate by performing ritual ceremonies. Since we took great care to fulfill all the requirements, we were successful each year in protecting the crops.

As a weather controller I had responsibilities throughout the year. Much of my time was spent in a three-story red house; this was a special building, constructed solely for my use by the people of our region. The red house was built in the very centre of the fields I was to protect; from there l could see any clouds approaching. It is well known that, through the study of cloud movements, it is possible to determine the kind of weather that is approaching; what is not well known, and what I cannot reveal, are those skills and practices through which clouds can be moved away.

I would enter the red house just before the seeds began to appear on the plant and I would stay there, throughout the harvest, until the fields had been completely cleared of the crops. Though my residence was a form of retreat, I had a servant who saw to my needs and I received many visitors. At times there were requests to protect regions outside my area and I was able to comply with these requests also without leaving. On occasion, people would come to make incense offerings. People also came and asked me to do divinations - especially in the event of sickness, when they would want to know which doctor to visit. In fact, until the Chinese arrived, I was kept very busy.

I stopped hailstorms for twenty-two years, until I was forty-four, and on no occasion did hail fall on those fields for which I was responsible. There are nagpas who possess the skills necessary to bring rain, but my practice only permits me to stop hailstorms. In fact we never needed rainmakers in our region because the rains always came on time. I escaped the Chinese military when they invaded Tibet, only to learn later that my father had been caught and had died in prison. The crops remained safe for one year, but then the red house was completely destroyed by the invading armies. In the following year, hailstones fell throughout our region and the crops were completely destroyed.






There were several highly realized lamas in each generation of the Tromge family, and my mother, Dawa Drolma, was the most famous in hers. She was one of Tibet's five great wisdom dakinis - female emanations who spontaneously benefit other sentient beings by their activities.

It had been prophesied that she would be born as an emanation of the longevity deity White Tara, an incarnation of Tibet’s most revered female practitioner and the spiritual companion of Padmasambhava, the master who propagated Buddhist teachings in Tibet in the eighth century. Dawa Drolma was also a delog, one who has crossed the threshold of death and traveled in realms of existence beyond those visible to humans and returned to tell about it.

One day, when my mother was about sixteen, the goddess Tara appeared to her, not in a luminous vision but in person. Tara told my mother that she would soon fall ill and die, but if she followed certain instructions explicitly, she would be able to revivify her dead body and benefit others by teaching about her experience.

Soon after, Dawa Drolma had a series of bad dreams about three demonic sisters who were robbing all beings of their vitality. With black lariats and silk banners they tried to ensnare Dawa Drolma around the waist, but the deity White Tara prevented them from doing so by surrounding her with a protection circle. Eventually, however, the menace in the dreams was so strong that Dawa Drolma knew it foretold her imminent death. She went to her uncle, the great Tromge Trungpa Rinpoche, and with his help made the necessary arrangements for her death, just as Tara had instructed. Then she became extremely sick and died, despite the efforts of the many doctors who were summoned to care for her.

Exactly as she had stipulated prior to her death, Dawa Drolma’s corpse was washed in consecrated saffron water and dressed in new clothes. The corpse was carefully laid out in a room and left without a morsel of food or a drop of water. The door was draped in blue cloth, padlocked, and sealed with the sign of the wrathful fire scorpion. A man dressed in blue stood guard outside. All the local people were warned to refrain from ordinary chatter, and they were instructed to recite prayers and mantras. For the next five days and nights Tromge Trungpa, along with several other lamas and monks, did prayers and ceremonies in the adjacent room. At the completion of this vigil, Tromge Trungpa entered the room where the corpse lay, cold and pale just as he had left it, and he recited powerful long-life prayers to summon Dawa Drolma’s mind stream back into her body. In the account she dictated several days after her return, she described her re-entry into her body:

“When the consciousness re-entered my physical body, I sneezed violently and experienced total disorientation. An instant later, I was in a state of faith and joy at the visions of the pure realm, and horror at the karmic visions of hell. I felt as though I were waking up from sleep. Uncle Trungpa was standing in front of me, holding a longevity arrow and looking at me with concern in his bloodshot eyes. I was unable to say a word, as though I were a bit shy. Everyone was crying and excited, and saying things such as, "Wasn't it difficult?" "You must be hungry!" "You must be thirsty!" They were almost pouring food and drink over my head. Although I protested, saying, "l feel absolutely no discomfort due to hunger or thirst," they didn't believe me. Everyone was saying, “Eat ! Drink !" They all felt joy as immeasurable as a she-camel who has found her lost calf. We all partook of a feast to celebrate.”

During her five-day journey as a delog, my mother’s consciousness, unhindered by the constraints of a physical body, traveled freely through all the realms of mind, from the hell realms with their ceaseless, unbearable suffering to the most exalted pure lands of the wisdom beings. For the rest of her life, whenever my mother taught, she drew from her experience as a delog. Her descriptions of the misery of the other realms were very vivid, and tears came to her eyes as she spoke. “No matter how difficult your life is in this human realm,” she would say, “there is no comparison between the difficulties here and those in other realms.”

No one doubted that she spoke from direct experience, and her credibility was enhanced by the messages she brought to people from their deceased relatives.


Edited by ThisLife
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This morning I’m still feeling the base notes of that low level, (but ever-present) nostalgia for the vibrant spiritual life of Asia. Probably anyone who has spent time living there, will know what I mean. I haven’t been back there for almost thirty years now, but that soft call has never left me. I imagine it will be with me for as long as my mind endures.

But as a temporary antidote to wall-to-wall grey skies and the dreary rain which has been falling since sunrise, I’ll switch locations in Asia from the icy, frozen plateau of Tibet to those much warmer climes further to the south-east. The following account is one of Ajahn Brahm's stories from his time as a forest monk in Thailand.

Perhaps it stayed with me because I actually happened to have been travelling in Thailand at the same time as this drama was unfolding. But I'm not politically inclined and was over there simply as a hedonistic hippy exploring South East Asia. I just took everything for granted the way it was, and didn't have access to any of Ajahn Brahm's inner information.

Nevertheless, I think this is truly quite an extraordinary 'real-life' story which deserves to be far more widely known. (It's from his book, "Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung ?")




Ajahn Brahm wrote:


When we realise that there is nowhere else to go, usually the most fruitful alternative is to face the problem rather than running away. The majority of our problems have solutions that we can't see when we're running in the other direction. As the people of our world come to live ever closer to each other, we have to find solutions to our problems. There's no place to run away to. We simply cannot afford major conflicts anymore.

In the mid-to-late 1970s I had personal experience of how a national government found such a solution to a major crisis, one that threatened the very existence of their democracy.

South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia fell to the Communists within a few days of each other in 1975.The "Domino Theory" current at that time among the Western powers, predicted that Thailand would soon fall next. I was a young monk in northeast Thailand during that period. The monastery in which I mostly lived was twice as close to Hanoi as it was to Bangkok. We were told to register with our embassies and evacuation plans were prepared. Most Western governments were to be surprised that Thailand didn't fall.

Ajahn Chah was quite famous by then and many top Thai generals and senior members of the national government would travel to his monastery for advice and inspiration. I had become fluent in Thai, and some Lao, and so gained an insider’s understanding of the seriousness of the situation. The military and the government were not as concerned with the Red armies outside their border as they were with the Communist activists and sympathizers within their own nation.

Many brilliant Thai university students had fled to the jungles in northeast Thailand to support an internal, Thai, Communist guerrilla force. Their weaponry was supplied from beyond Thailand's borders, as was their training' But the villages in the "pink" parts of the region gladly supplied their food and other requirements. They had local support. They were an ominous threat.

The Thai military and government found the solution in a three-part strategy.

{1} Restraint :

The military did not attack the Communist bases, though every soldier knew where they were. When I was living the life of a wandering monk in 1979-8o, seeking out the mountains and jungles to meditate in solitude, I would run into the army patrols and they would give me advice. They would point to one mountain and tell me not to go there - that was where the communists were. Then they would point to another mountain and tell me that was a good place to meditate, there were no Communists there. I had to heed their advice. That year the Communists had caught some wandering monks meditating in the jungle and killed them - after torturing them, I was told.

{2} Forgiveness :

Throughout this dangerous period, there was an unconditional amnesty in place. Whenever one of the Communist insurgents wanted to abandon his cause, he could simply give up his weapon and return to his village or university. He would probably experience surveillance, but no punishments were imposed. I reached one village in Kow Wong district a few months after the Communists had ambushed and killed a large jeep full of Thai soldiers outside their village. The young men of the village were mostly sympathetic to the Communist soldiers, but not actively fighting. They told me they were threatened and harassed, but allowed to go free.

{3} Solving the Root-Problem :

During these years, I saw new roads being built and old roads being paved in the region. Villagers could now take their produce to town to sell. The king of Thailand personally supervised, and paid for, the construction of many hundreds of small reservoirs with connected irrigation schemes, allowing the poor farmers of the northeast to grow a second crop of rice each year. Electricity reached the remotest of hamlets and with it came a school and a clinic. The poorest region in Thailand was being cared for by the government in Bangkok, and the villagers were becoming relatively prosperous.

A Thai government soldier on patrol in the jungle told me once: "We don't need to shoot the Communists. They are fellow Thais. When I meet them coming down from the mountains or going to the village for supplies, and we all know who they are, I just show them my new wristwatch, or let them listen to a Thai song on my new radio - then they give up being a Communist."

That was his experience, and that of his fellow soldiers.

The Thai Communists began their insurgency so angry with their government that they were ready to give their young lives. But restraint on the part of the government helped to prevent their anger being made worse. Forgiveness, through an amnesty, gave them a safe and honourable way out. Solving the problem, through development, made the poor villagers prosperous. The villagers saw no need to support the Communists anymore: they were content with the government they already had. And the Communists themselves began to doubt what they were doing, living with such hardships in the jungle-covered mountains.

One by one they gave up their guns and returned to their family, their village, or their university. By the early 198os, there were hardly any insurgents left, so then the generals of the jungle army, the leaders of the Communists, also gave themselves up. I remember seeing a feature article in the Bangkok Post of a sharp entrepreneur who was taking Thai tourists into the jungle to visit the now abandoned caves from where the Communists once threatened their nation.

What happened to those leaders of the insurgency ? Could the same unconditional offer of amnesty be applied to them? Not quite. They were neither punished, nor exiled. Instead, they were offered important positions of responsibility in the Thai government service, in recognition of their leadership qualities, capacity for hard work, and concern for their people! What a brilliant gesture. Why waste the resource of such courageous and committed young men?

This is a true story as I heard it from the soldiers and villagers of northeast Thailand at the time. It is what I saw with my own eyes. Sadly, it has hardly been reported elsewhere.

At the time of writing this book, two of those former Communist leaders were serving their country as ministers in the Thai National Government.


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These stories are truly treasures!

I am enjoying them tremendously.

Thank you so much for taking the time to put them here for us!



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As fascinating, evocative and life-changing as Asia was for many of us, the trouble was,... you just can’t stay there. It’s like a visit to an exotic wildlife sanctuary. Enjoyable though it may be, eventually we all had to pack up and go back to wherever ‘home’ was.


Since that’s the way “Reality” seems to be scripted for most of us, this morning I’ll throw in a story which reminds me that the ordinary isn’t necessarily the boring and mundane. Those epithets come purely from the mind of the person who first experiences them inwardly, then tries to pin them on the outside world around, in an effort to convince others.


The story below at first struck me as highly unlikely to be anything more than a cute, kitschy tale of niceness. But, it was so highly recommended by friends and Amazon reviews that I bit the bullet, bought the book,…. and then surprisingly, opened myself to a very different experience of ‘joy in living’ than I’ve personally ever known. It was a hoot !


Briefly, the snippet extracted from the book below, humorously answered questions I’ve long mildly wondered about myself regarding people who leave all their money to animal charities. I don’t think this is by any stretch a uniquely British phenomenon, but perhaps the particular one they visit, does exemplify a certain 'queerness' about the English.


Anyway, before launching into it I’ll add a short autobiographical paragraph about the author, then two reviews which give a generalised background description of the book, ( “Are We Nearly There Yet ?” ), as a whole.





The author, Ben Hatch was born in London and grew up there, in Manchester and also in Buckinghamshire, where he lived in a windmill that meant he was called Windy Miller at school for years, though he's not been scarred by this experience at all. He now lives in Brighton with his tiny wife Dinah, and two children, in a normal house. He likes cheese and is balding although he disguises this fact by spiking his hair to a great height to distract people he wishes to impress.





"They were bored, broke, burned out and turning 40, so when Ben and Dinah saw the advert looking for a husband and wife team with young kids to write a guidebook about family travel around Britain, they jumped at the chance, ignoring friends’ warnings : “One of you will come back chopped up in a bin bag in the roof box.”


This is the story of a family's 8,000 miles round Britain in a Vauxhall Astra. With naïve visions of staring moodily across Coniston Water and savouring Cornish pasties, they embark on a mad-cap five-month trip with daughter Phoebe, four, and son Charlie, two, embracing the freedom of the open road with a spirit of discovery and an industrial supply of baby wipes."







Ben Hatch writes :



'It is not just the number of donkeys, I tell Dinah. ‘Although there are more donkeys here than anywhere else in the world. It’s the presentation. You wait. You’re going to love this.’


The sanctuary, a couple of miles past Sidford, the next town along from Sidmouth, is home to all manner of donkeys. In the fields surrounding the main block there are donkeys with eye patches, limping donkeys, moulting donkeys. There are donkeys that are perfectly all right. There are donkeys who look all right but aren't all right. There are mentally scarred donkeys, happy donkeys, sad donkeys, worried donkeys. There are donkeys that don't give a damn, donkeys that do. Donkeys with damaged tails, donkeys with poorly ears. There are donkeys that have seen too much. Donkeys that have not seen enough.


I lead us through the fields of donkeys into a barn that has on its inside wall pictures of each resident donkey. The wall is like the galleries you get in reception areas of small businesses showing photos of their employees. Except, as well as their picture and name, there's also a brief biography of each donkey listing salient facts about their lives and, for instance their ability to smell polo mints through coat pockets. Also, entertainingly, you're told who they hang out with at the sanctuary, ("Nelly is big mates with Daisy and Teddy - they are quite a little clique.") Dinah starts to chuckle. Phoebe stands on the bottom rung of a fence to stroke the wiry back of Clara T.


'See what I mean. You get to know the donkeys. To understand the donkeys.'


She moves on to Fred Morgan. "Fred Morgan has settled in nicely with the other donkeys since his arrival in 2005, although he still doesn't like his ears being touched. Jenny Collins, meanwhile, came in 2007 and always enjoys a mince pie on Christmas Day".


In the Haycroft restaurant afterwards, while the kids eat flapjacks, a debate ensues about the mindset of benefactors who leave everything to donkeys. It's inspired by the board outside the restaurant listing their names. There are dozens catalogued in the sorts of columns you get dedicated to the fallen on war memorials: Enids, Bettys and Maudes are honoured for leaving their life savings to donkeys they've often never seen. It's a sad fact more people donate to the donkey sanctuary than to the local RNLI.


'Do you think they're mad?' I ask Dinah.


'Of course they are’.


'All the Maudes and Bettys. All of them are mad’.


'You wouldn't do that,' says Dinah.


'No, I wouldn't.'


'And nor would I because it's verging on criminal.’


'I agree.'


'They've got more money than sense. I mean, how many people are employed here? Look around you, Ben.'


She swivels around, staring into the courtyard.


'They're painting doors that don’t need painting, they’re cleaning up the donkey shit before it hits the ground. It's bonkers.'


'It is and it isn’t.'


'OK, explain, Mr Enigmatic.'


'You just don't understand the donkey.'




'I understand the donkey.'


'You understand donkeys?'


'I do.'


'And what don't I understand about donkeys?'


'Their nature.'


'And that explains your point how?'


'There is something poignant about a donkey.'




'Something hangdog that appeals to our sympathy.'


'Give me an example.'


'Donkeys barely lift their heads. Unlike horses. Horses are cocky. Donkeys always look meekly at the ground. Have you ever been looked in the eye by a donkey? No. Because they wouldn’t dare. A donkey is what Mary rode to Bethlehem on. They’re so meek, they've become symbols of meekness. When a footballer is considered unskilled you call him a donkey. And when they bray the noise seems to come less from aggression like the mule and more from a deep pit of self-pity.'


'You should work on the sales team. The Maudes would love you.'


'Old people recognise this feeling from being overlooked themselves in post office queues. They have communality with donkeys.'


And this is why old people disinherit relatives and leave their cash to Eeyores?’




'What a load of shit!’


'Have you got a better explanation?’


'They're bonkers.'


We leave the restaurant and wander around a few fields before popping into the visitor centre, a glorified gift shop, were you can buy almost everything you'd need to conduct a dinner party with donkey sanctuary merchandise including place mats, plates, bowls, candles, mugs, tea towels and salt and pepper pots. We buy Phoebe a story by Elisabeth D. Svendsen called The Story of Eeyore, The Naughtiest Donkey in the Sanctuary that Dinah reads to the kids in the car. Based on a true story, it’s about a naughty donkey that came to the sanctuary and upset a fire bucket and nipped a farrier before escaping into a paddock it wasn’t supposed to be in. It isn’t exactly The Shawsbank Redemption but it keeps the peace on the drive back to Sidmouth.




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By Portia Nelson






I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

I am lost.... I am hopeless.

It isn't my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.




I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I’m in the same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.




I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it is there.

I still fall in... it’s a habit.

My eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.




I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.




I walk down another street.












By Margery Williams Bianco,





"Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'


Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.


Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'


Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'


It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."



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Perhaps the entry below is more than a trifle too long. (I can’t help but notice that they do seem to be ‘awful growing'). But perhaps an explanation of the story behind it will act as a spoonful of honey to make the medicine go down.


By chance, a few months ago, I bumped into the son of a friend of mine whom I’d last seen when he was still a child but who has since become a young man in his twenties who seems to be always off in some exotic corner of the world hot on the trail of rather exciting-sounding adventures. He generously offered to help me with a large, woodland-clearing bonfire that I had set out to do. While we worked together throughout that day several times we found ourselves enthusiastically discussing some of the ‘great books’ we had each read. Findlay mentioned that personally, one of his all-time-favourite authors was J.D. Salinger, and in particular, the short story I’ve added below.

Other than his widely famous “Catcher in the Rye”, I had never read anything else by that author. But out of curiosity, I felt that I simply had to explore my young friend’s enthusiasm. Tantalisingly, the story he so glowingly recommended had the marvellously evocative title, "For Esme - With Love and Squalor"


I was most pleasantly,…’ blown away’.


See what you think :







J.D. Salinger wrote:


JUST RECENTLY, by air mail, I received an invitation to a wedding that will take place in England on April 18th. It happens to be a wedding I'd give a lot to be able to get to, and when the invitation first arrived, I thought it might just be possible for me to make the trip abroad, by plane, expenses be hanged. However, I've since discussed the matter rather extensively with my wife, a breathtakingly level-headed girl, and we've decided against it--for one thing, I'd completely forgotten that my mother-in-law is looking forward to spending the last two weeks in April with us. I really don't get to see Mother Grencher terribly often, and she's not getting any younger. She's fifty-eight. (As she'd be the first to admit.)


All the same, though, wherever I happen to be I don't think I'm the type that doesn't even lift a finger to prevent a wedding from flatting. Accordingly, I've gone ahead and jotted down a few revealing notes on the bride as I knew her almost six years ago. If my notes should cause the groom, whom I haven't met, an uneasy moment or two, so much the better. Nobody's aiming to please, here. More, really, to edify, to instruct.


In April of 1944, I was among some sixty American enlisted men who took a rather specialized pre-Invasion training course, directed by British Intelligence, in Devon, England. And as I look back, it seems to me that we were fairly unique, the sixty of us, in that there wasn't one good mixer in the bunch. We were all essentially letter-writing types, and when we spoke to each other out of the line of duty, it was usually to ask somebody if he had any ink he wasn't using. When we weren't writing letters or attending classes, each of us went pretty much his own way. Mine usually led me, on clear days, in scenic circles around the countryside. Rainy days, I generally sat in a dry place and read a book, often just an axe length away from a ping-pong table.


The training course lasted three weeks, ending on a Saturday, a very rainy one. At seven that last night, our whole group was scheduled to entrain for London, where, as rumour had it, we were to be assigned to infantry and airborne divisions mustered for the D Day landings. By three in the afternoon, I'd packed all my belongings into my barrack bag, including a canvas gas-mask container full of books I'd brought over from the Other Side. (The gas mask itself I'd slipped through a porthole of the Mauritania some weeks earlier, fully aware that if the enemy ever did use gas I'd never get the damn thing on in time.) I remember standing at an end window of our Quonset but for a very long time, looking out at the slanting, dreary rain, my trigger finger itching imperceptibly, if at all. I could hear behind my back the uncomradely scratching of many fountain pens on many sheets of V-mail paper. Abruptly, with nothing special in mind, I came away from the window and put on my raincoat, cashmere muffler, galoshes, woollen gloves, and overseas cap (the last of which, I'm still told, I wore at an angle all my own--slightly down over both ears). Then, after synchronizing my wristwatch with the clock in the latrine, I walked down the long, wet cobblestone hill into town. I ignored the flashes of lightning all around me. They either had your number on them or they didn't.


In the centre of town, which was probably the wettest part of town, I stopped in front of a church to read the bulletin board, mostly because the featured numerals, white on black, had caught my attention but partly because, after three years in the Army, I'd become addicted to reading bulletin boards. At three-fifteen, the board stated, there would be children's-choir practice. I looked at my wristwatch, then back at the board. A sheet of paper was tacked up, listing the names of the children expected to attend practice. I stood in the rain and read all the names, then entered the church.


A dozen or so adults were among the pews, several of them bearing pairs of small-size rubbers, soles up, in their laps. I passed along and sat down in the front row. On the rostrum, seated in three compact rows of auditorium chairs, were about twenty children, mostly girls, ranging in age from about seven to thirteen. At the moment, their choir coach, an enormous woman in tweeds, was advising them to open their mouths wider when they sang. Had anyone, she asked, ever heard of a little dickybird that dared to sing his charming song without first opening his little beak wide, wide, wide? Apparently nobody ever had. She was given a steady, opaque look. She went on to say that she wanted all her children to absorb the meaning of the words they sang, not just mouth them, like silly-billy parrots. She then blew a note on her pitch-pipe, and the children, like so many underage weightlifters, raised their hymnbooks.


They sang without instrumental accompaniment--or, more accurately in their case, without any interference. Their voices were melodious and unsentimental, almost to the point where a somewhat more denominational man than myself might, without straining, have experienced levitation. A couple of the very youngest children dragged the tempo a trifle, but in a way that only the composer's mother could have found fault with. I had never heard the hymn, but I kept hoping it was one with a dozen or more verses. Listening, I scanned all the children's faces but watched one in particular, that of the child nearest me, on the end seat in the first row. She was about thirteen, with straight ash-blond hair of ear-lobe length, an exquisite forehead, and blasé eyes that, I thought, might very possibly have counted the house. Her voice was distinctly separate from the other children's voices, and not just because she was seated nearest me. It had the best upper register, the sweetest-sounding, the surest, and it automatically led the way. The young lady, however, seemed slightly bored with her own singing ability, or perhaps just with the time and place; twice, between verses, I saw her yawn. It was a ladylike yawn, a closed-mouth yawn, but you couldn't miss it; her nostril wings gave her away.


The instant the hymn ended, the choir coach began to give her lengthy opinion of people who can't keep their feet still and their lips sealed tight during the minister's sermon. I gathered that the singing part of the rehearsal was over, and before the coach's dissonant speaking voice could entirely break the spell the children's singing had cast, I got up and left the church.


It was raining even harder. I walked down the street and looked through the window of the Red Cross recreation room, but soldiers were standing two and three deep at the coffee counter, and, even through the glass, I could hear ping-pong balls bouncing in another room. I crossed the street and entered a civilian tearoom, which was empty except for a middle-aged waitress, who looked as if she would have preferred a customer with a dry raincoat. I used a coat tree as delicately as possible, and then sat down at a table and ordered tea and cinnamon toast. It was the first time all day that I'd spoken to anyone. I then looked through all my pockets, including my raincoat, and finally found a couple of stale letters to reread, one from my wife, telling me how the service at Schrafft's Eighty-eighth Street had fallen off, and one from my mother-in-law, asking me to please send her some cashmere yarn first chance I got away from "camp."


While I was still on my first cup of tea, the young lady I had been watching and listening to in the choir came into the tearoom. Her hair was soaking wet, and the rims of both ears were showing. She was with a very small boy, unmistakably her brother, whose cap she removed by lifting it off his head with two fingers, as if it were a laboratory specimen. Bringing up the rear was an efficient-looking woman in a limp felt hat--presumably their governess. The choir member, taking off her coat as she walked across the floor, made the table selection--a good one, from my point of view, as it was just eight or ten feet directly in front of me. She and the governess sat down. The small boy, who was about five, wasn't ready to sit down yet. He slid out of and discarded his reefer; then, with the deadpan expression of a born heller, he methodically went about annoying his governess by pushing in and pulling out his chair several times, watching her face. The governess, keeping her voice down, gave him two or three orders to sit down and, in effect, stop the monkey business, but it was only when his sister spoke to him that he came around and applied the small of his back to his chair seat. He immediately picked up his napkin and put it on his head. His sister removed it, opened it, and spread it out on his lap.


About the time their tea was brought, the choir member caught me staring over at her party. She stared back at me, with those house-counting eyes of hers, then, abruptly, gave me a small, qualified smile. It was oddly radiant, as certain small, qualified smiles sometimes are. I smiled back, much less radiantly, keeping my upper lip down over a coal-black G.I. temporary filling showing between two of my front teeth. The next thing I knew, the young lady was standing, with enviable poise, beside my table. She was wearing a tartan dress--a Campbell tartan, I believe. It seemed to me to be a wonderful dress for a very young girl to be wearing on a rainy, rainy day. "I thought Americans despised tea," she said.


It wasn't the observation of a smart aleck but that of a truth-lover or a statistics-lover. I replied that some of us never drank anything but tea. I asked her if she'd care to join me.


"Thank you," she said. "Perhaps for just a fraction of a moment."


I got up and drew a chair for her, the one opposite me, and she sat down on the forward quarter of it, keeping her spine easily and beautifully straight. I went back--almost hurried back--to my own chair, more than willing to hold up my end of a conversation. When I was seated, I couldn't think of anything to say, though. I smiled again, still keeping my coal-black filling under concealment. I remarked that it was certainly a terrible day out.


"Yes; quite," said my guest, in the clear, unmistakable voice of a small-talk detester. She placed her fingers flat on the table edge, like someone at a séance, then, almost instantly, closed her hands--her nails were bitten down to the quick. She was wearing a wristwatch, a military-looking one that looked rather like a navigator's chronograph. Its face was much too large for her slender wrist. "You were at choir practice," she said matter-of-factly. "I saw you."


I said I certainly had been, and that I had heard her voice singing separately from the others. I said I thought she had a very fine voice.


She nodded. "I know. I'm going to be a professional singer."


"Really? Opera?"


"Heavens, no. I'm going to sing jazz on the radio and make heaps of money. Then, when I'm thirty, I shall retire and live on a ranch in Ohio." She touched the top of her soaking-wet head with the flat of her hand. "Do you know Ohio?" she asked.


I said I'd been through it on the train a few times but that I didn't really know it. I offered her a piece of cinnamon toast.


"No, thank you," she said. "I eat like a bird, actually."


I bit into a piece of toast myself, and commented that there's some mighty rough country around Ohio.


"I know. An American I met told me. You're the eleventh American I've met."


Her governess was now urgently signalling her to return to her own table--in effect, to stop bothering the man. My guest, however, calmly moved her chair an inch or two so that her back broke all possible further communication with the home table. "You go to that secret Intelligence school on the hill, don't you?" she inquired coolly.


As security-minded as the next one, I replied that I was visiting Devonshire for my health.


"Really," she said, "I wasn't quite born yesterday, you know."


I said I'd bet she hadn't been, at that. I drank my tea for a moment. I was getting a trifle posture-conscious and I sat up somewhat straighter in my seat.


"You seem quite intelligent for an American," my guest mused.


I told her that was a pretty snobbish thing to say, if you thought about it at all, and that I hoped it was unworthy of her.


She blushed-automatically conferring on me the social poise I'd been missing. "Well. Most of the Americans I've seen act like animals. They're forever punching one another about, and insulting everyone, and--You know what one of them did?"


I shook my head.


"One of them threw an empty whiskey bottle through my aunt's window. Fortunately, the window was open. But does that sound very intelligent to you?"


It didn't especially, but I didn't say so. I said that many soldiers, all over the world, were a long way from home, and that few of them had had many real advantages in life. I said I'd thought that most people could figure that out for themselves.


"Possibly," said my guest, without conviction. She raised her hand to her wet head again, picked at a few limp filaments of blond hair, trying to cover her exposed ear rims. "My hair is soaking wet," she said. "I look a fright." She looked over at me. "I have quite wavy hair when it's dry."


"I can see that, I can see you have."


"Not actually curly, but quite wavy," she said. "Are you married?"


I said I was.


She nodded. "Are you very deeply in love with your wife? Or am I being too personal?"


I said that when she was, I'd speak up.


She put her hands and wrists farther forward on the table, and I remember wanting to do something about that enormous-faced wristwatch she was wearing--perhaps suggest that she try wearing it around her waist.


"Usually, I'm not terribly gregarious," she said, and looked over at me to see if I knew the meaning of the word. I didn't give her a sign, though, one way or the other. "I purely came over because I thought you looked extremely lonely. You have an extremely sensitive face."


I said she was right, that I had been feeling lonely, and that I was very glad she'd come over.


"I'm training myself to be more compassionate. My aunt says I'm a terribly cold person," she said and felt the top of her head again. "I live with my aunt. She's an extremely kind person. Since the death of my mother, she's done everything within her power to make Charles and me feel adjusted."


"I'm glad."


"Mother was an extremely intelligent person. Quite sensuous, in many ways." She looked at me with a kind of fresh acuteness. "Do you find me terribly cold?"


I told her absolutely not--very much to the contrary, in fact. I told her my name and asked for hers.


She hesitated. "My first name is Esme. I don't think I shall tell you my full name, for the moment. I have a title and you may just be impressed by titles. Americans are, you know."


I said I didn't think I would be, but that it might be a good idea, at that, to hold on to the title for a while.


Just then, I felt someone's warm breath on the back of my neck. I turned around and just missed brushing noses with Esme's small brother. Ignoring me, he addressed his sister in a piercing treble: "Miss Megley said you must come and finish your tea!" His message delivered, he retired to the chair between his sister and me, on my right. I regarded him with high interest. He was looking very splendid in brown Shetland shorts, a navy-blue jersey, white shirt, and striped necktie. He gazed back at me with immense green eyes. "Why do people in films kiss sideways?" he demanded.


"Sideways?" I said. It was a problem that had baffled me in my childhood. I said I guessed it was because actors' noses are too big for kissing anyone head on.


"His name is Charles," Esme said. "He's extremely brilliant for his age."


"He certainly has green eyes. Haven't you, Charles?"


Charles gave me the fishy look my question deserved, then wriggled downward and forward in his chair till all of his body was under the table except his head, which he left, wrestler's-bridge style, on the chair seat. "They're orange," he said in a strained voice, addressing the ceiling. He picked up a comer of the tablecloth and put it over his handsome, deadpan little face.


"Sometimes he's brilliant and sometimes he's not," Esme said. "Charles, do sit up!"


Charles stayed right where he was. He seemed to be holding his breath.


"He misses our father very much. He was s-l-a-i-n in North Africa."


I expressed regret to hear it.


Esme nodded. "Father adored him." She bit reflectively at the cuticle of her thumb. "He looks very much like my mother--Charles, I mean. I look exactly like my father." She went on biting at her cuticle. "My mother was quite a passionate woman. She was an extrovert. Father was an introvert. They were quite well mated, though, in a superficial way. To be quite candid, Father really needed more of an intellectual companion than Mother was. He was an extremely gifted genius."


I waited, receptively, for further information, but none came. I looked down at Charles, who was now resting the side of his face on his chair seat. When he saw that I was looking at him, he closed his eyes, sleepily, angelically, then stuck out his tongue--an appendage of startling length--and gave out what in my country would have been a glorious tribute to a myopic baseball umpire. It fairly shook the tearoom.


"Stop that," Esme said, clearly unshaken. "He saw an American do it in a fish-and-chips queue, and now he does it whenever he's bored. Just stop it, now, or I shall send you directly to Miss Megley."


Charles opened his enormous eyes, as sign that he'd heard his sister's threat, but otherwise didn't look especially alerted. He closed his eyes again, and continued to rest the side of his face on the chair seat.


I mentioned that maybe he ought to save it--meaning the Bronx cheer--till he started using his title regularly. That is, if he had a title, too.


Esme gave me a long, faintly clinical look. "You have a dry sense of humour, haven't you?" she said--wistfully. "Father said I have no sense of humour at all. He said I was unequipped to meet life because I have no sense of humour."


Watching her, I lit a cigarette and said I didn't think a sense of humour was of any use in a real pinch.


"Father said it was."


This was a statement of faith, not a contradiction, and I quickly switched horses. I nodded and said her father had probably taken the long view, while I was taking the short (whatever that meant).


"Charles misses him exceedingly," Esme said, after a moment. "He was an exceedingly lovable man. He was extremely handsome, too. Not that one's appearance matters greatly, but he was. He had terribly penetrating eyes, for a man who was intrinsically kind."


I nodded. I said I imagined her father had had quite an extraordinary vocabulary


"Oh, yes; quite," said Esme. "He was an archivist--amateur, of course."


At that point, I felt an importunate tap, almost a punch, on my upper arm, from Charles' direction. I turned to him. He was sitting in a fairly normal position in his chair now, except that he had one knee tucked under him. "What did one wall say to the other wall?" he asked shrilly. "It's a riddle!"


I rolled my eyes reflectively ceilingward and repeated the question aloud. Then I looked at Charles with a stumped expression and said I gave up.


"Meet you at the corner!" came the punch line, at top volume.


It went over biggest with Charles himself. It struck him as unbearably funny. In fact, Esme had to come around and pound him on the back, as if treating him for a coughing spell. "Now, stop that," she said. She went back to her own seat. "He tells that same riddle to everyone he meets and has a fit every single time. Usually he drools when he laughs. Now, just stop, please."


"It's one of the best riddles I've heard, though," I said, watching Charles, who was very gradually coming out of it. In response to this compliment, he sank considerably lower in his chair and again masked his face up to the eyes with a corner of the tablecloth. He then looked at me with his exposed eyes, which were full of slowly subsiding mirth and the pride of someone who knows a really good riddle or two.


"May I inquire how you were employed before entering the Army?" Esme asked me.


I said I hadn't been employed at all, that I'd only been out of college a year but that I like to think of myself as a professional short-story writer.


She nodded politely. "Published?" she asked.


It was a familiar but always touchy question, and one that I didn't answer just one, two, three. I started to explain how most editors in America were a bunch—


"My father wrote beautifully," Esme interrupted. "I'm saving a number of his letters for posterity."


I said that sounded like a very good idea. I happened to be looking at her enormous-faced, chronographic-looking wristwatch again. I asked if it had belonged to her father.


She looked down at her wrist solemnly. "Yes, it did," she said. "He gave it to me just before Charles and I were evacuated." Self-consciously, she took her hands off the table, saying, "Purely as a memento, of course." She guided the conversation in a different direction. "I'd be extremely flattered if you'd write a story exclusively for me sometime. I'm an avid reader."


I told her I certainly would, if I could. I said that I wasn't terribly prolific.


"It doesn't have to be terribly prolific! Just so that it isn't childish and silly." She reflected. "I prefer stories about squalor."


"About what?" I said, leaning forward.


"Squalor. I'm extremely interested in squalor."


I was about to press her for more details, but I felt Charles pinching me, hard, on my arm. I turned to him, wincing slightly. He was standing right next to me. "What did one wall say to the other wall?" he asked, not unfamiliarly.


"You asked him that," Esme said. "Now, stop it."


Ignoring his sister, and stepping up on one of my feet, Charles repeated the key question. I noticed that his necktie knot wasn't adjusted properly. I slid it up into place, then, looking him straight in the eye, suggested, "Meetcha at the corner?"


The instant I'd said it, I wished I hadn't. Charles' mouth fell open. I felt as if I'd struck it open. He stepped down off my foot and, with white-hot dignity, walked over to his own table, without looking back.


"He's furious," Esme said. "He has a violent temper. My mother had a propensity to spoil him. My father was the only one who didn't spoil him."


I kept looking over at Charles, who had sat down and started to drink his tea, using both hands on the cup. I hoped he'd turn around, but he didn't.


Esme stood up. 'Il faut que je parte aussi," she said, with a sigh. "Do you know French?"


I got up from my own chair, with mixed feelings of regret and confusion. Esme and I shook hands; her hand, as I'd suspected, was a nervous hand, damp at the palm. I told her, in English, how very much I'd enjoyed her company.


She nodded. "I thought you might," she said. "I'm quite communicative for my age." She gave her hair another experimental touch. "I'm dreadfully sorry about my hair," she said. "I've probably been hideous to look at."


"Not at all! As a matter of fact, I think a lot of the wave is coming back already."


She quickly touched her hair again. "Do you think you'll be coming here again in the immediate future?" she asked. "We come here every Saturday, after choir practice."


I answered that I'd like nothing better but that, unfortunately, I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to make it again.


"In other words, you can't discuss troop movements," said Esme. She made no move to leave the vicinity of the table. In fact, she crossed one foot over the other and, looking down, aligned the toes of her shoes. It was a pretty little execution, for she was wearing white socks and her ankles and feet were lovely. She looked up at me abruptly. "Would you like me to write to you?" she asked, with a certain amount of colour in her face. "I write extremely articulate letters for a person my--"


"I'd love it." I took out pencil and paper and wrote down my name, rank, serial number, and A.P.O. number.


"I shall write to you first," she said, accepting it, "so that you don't feel compromised in any way." She put the address into a pocket of her dress. "Goodbye," she said, and walked back to her table.


I ordered another pot of tea and sat watching the two of them till they, and the harassed Miss Megley, got up to leave. Charles led the way out, limping tragically, like a man with one leg several, inches shorter than the other. He didn't look over at me. Miss Megley went next, then Esme, who waved to me. I waved back, half getting up from my chair. It was a strangely emotional moment for me.


Less than a minute later, Esme came back into the tearoom, dragging Charles behind her by the sleeve of his reefer. "Charles would like to kiss you goodbye," she said.


I immediately put down my cup, and said that was very nice, but was she sure?


"Yes," she said, a trifle grimly. She let go Charles' sleeve and gave him a rather vigorous push in my direction. He came forward, his face livid, and gave me a loud, wet smacker just below the right ear. Following this ordeal, he started to make a beeline for the door and a less sentimental way of life, but 1 caught the half belt at the back of his reefer, held on to it, and asked him, "What did one wall say to the other wall?"


His face lit up. "Meet you at the corner!" he shrieked, and raced out of the room, possibly in hysterics.


Esme was standing with crossed ankles again. "You're quite sure you won't forget to write that story for me?" she asked. "It doesn't have to be exclusively for me. It can--"


I said there was absolutely no chance that I'd forget. I told her that I'd never written a story for anybody, but that it seemed like exactly the right time to get down to it.


She nodded. "Make it extremely squalid and moving," she suggested. "Are you at all acquainted with squalor?"


I said not exactly but that I was getting better acquainted with it, in one form or another, all the time, and that I'd do my best to come up to her specifications. We shook hands.


"Isn't it a pity that we didn't meet under less extenuating circumstances?"


I said it was, I said it certainly was.


"Goodbye," Esme said. "I hope you return from the war with all your faculties intact."


I thanked her, and said a few other words, and then watched her leave the tearoom. She left it slowly, reflectively, testing the ends of her hair for dryness.




This is the squalid, or moving, part of the story, and the scene changes. The people change, too. I'm still around, but from here on in, for reasons I'm not at liberty to disclose, I've disguised myself so cunningly that even the cleverest reader will fail to recognize me.


It was about ten-thirty at night in Gaufurt, Bavaria, several weeks after V-E Day. Staff Sergeant X was in his room on the second floor of the civilian home in which he and nine other American soldiers had been quartered, even before the armistice. He was seated on a folding wooden chair at a small, messy-looking writing table, with a paperback overseas novel open before him, which he was having great trouble reading. The trouble lay with him, not the novel. Although the men who lived on the first floor usually had first grab at the books sent each month by Special Services, X usually seemed to be left with the book he might have selected himself. But he was a young man who had not come through the war with all his faculties intact, and for more than an hour he had been triple-reading paragraphs, and now he was doing it to the sentences. He suddenly closed the book, without marking his place. With his hand, he shielded his eyes for a moment against the harsh, watty glare from the naked bulb over the table.


He took a cigarette from a pack on the table and lit it with fingers that bumped gently and incessantly against one another. He sat back a trifle in his chair and smoked without any sense of taste. He had been chain-smoking for weeks. His gums bled at the slightest pressure of the tip of his tongue, and he seldom stopped experimenting; it was a little game he played, sometimes by the hour. He sat for a moment smoking and experimenting. Then, abruptly, familiarly, and, as usual, with no warning, he thought he felt his mind dislodge itself and teeter, like insecure luggage on an overhead rack. He quickly did what he had been doing for weeks to set things right: he pressed his hands hard against his temples. He held on tight for a moment. His hair needed cutting, and it was dirty. He had washed it three or four times during his two weeks' stay at the hospital in Frankfort on the Main, but it had got dirty again on the long, dusty jeep ride back to Gaufurt. Corporal Z, who had called for him at the hospital, still drove a jeep combat-style, with the windshield down on the hood, armistice or no armistice. There were thousands of new troops in Germany. By driving with his windshield down, combat-style, Corporal Z hoped to show that he was not one of them, that not by a long shot was he some new son of a bitch in the E.T.O.


When he let go of his head, X began to stare at the surface of the writing table, which was a catchall for at least two dozen unopened letters and at least five or six unopened packages, all addressed to him. He reached behind the debris and picked out a book that stood against the wall. It was a book by Goebbels, entitled "Die Zeit Ohne Beispiel." It belonged to the thirty-eight-year-old, unmarried daughter of the family that, up to a few weeks earlier, had been living in the house. She had been a low official in the Nazi Party, but high enough, by Army Regulations standards, to fall into an automatic-arrest category. X himself had arrested her. Now, for the third time since he had returned from the hospital that day, he opened the woman's book and read the brief inscription on the flyleaf. Written in ink, in German, in a small, hopelessly sincere handwriting, were the words "Dear God, life is hell." Nothing led up to or away from it. Alone on the page, and in the sickly stillness of the room, the words appeared to have the stature of an incontestable, even classic indictment. X stared at the page for several minutes, trying, against heavy odds, not to be taken in. Then, with far more zeal than he had done anything in weeks, he picked up a pencil stub and wrote down under the inscription, in English, "Fathers and teachers, I ponder 'What is hell?' I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love." He started to write Dostoevsky’s name under the inscription, but saw--with fright that ran through his whole body--that what he had written was almost entirely illegible. He shut the book.


He quickly picked up something else from the table, a letter from his older brother in Albany. It had been on his table even before he had checked into the hospital. He opened the envelope, loosely resolved to read the letter straight through, but read only the top half of the first page. He stopped after the words "Now that the g.d. war is over and you probably have a lot of time over there, how about sending the kids a couple of bayonets or swastikas . . ." After he'd torn it up, he looked down at the pieces as they lay in the wastebasket. He saw that he had overlooked an enclosed snapshot. He could make out somebody's feet standing on a lawn somewhere.


He put his arms on the table and rested his head on them. He ached from head to foot, all zones of pain seemingly interdependent. He was rather like a Christmas tree whose lights, wired in series, must all go out if even one bulb is defective.



The door banged open, without having been rapped on. X raised his head, turned it, and saw Corporal Z standing in the door. Corporal Z had been X's jeep partner and constant companion from D Day straight through five campaigns of the war. He lived on the first floor and he usually came up to see X when he had a few rumours or gripes to unload. He was a huge, photogenic young man of twenty-four. During the war, a national magazine had photographed him in Hurtgen Forest; he had posed, more than just obligingly, with a Thanksgiving turkey in each hand. "Ya writin' letters?" he asked X. "It's spooky in here, for Chrissake." He preferred always to enter a room that had the overhead light on.


X turned around in his chair and asked him to come in, and to be careful not to step on the dog.


"The what?"


"Alvin. He's right under your feet, Clay. How 'bout turning on the goddam light?"


Clay found the overhead-light switch, flicked it on, then stepped across the puny, servant's-size room and sat down on the edge of the bed, facing his host. His brick-red hair, just combed, was dripping with the amount of water he required for satisfactory grooming. A comb with a fountain-pen clip protruded, familiarly, from the right-hand pocket of his olive-drab shirt. Over the left-hand pocket he was wearing the Combat Infantrymen's Badge (which, technically, he wasn't authorized to wear), the European Theatre ribbon, with five bronze battle stars in it (instead of a lone silver one, which was the equivalent of five bronze ones), and the pre-Pearl Harbour service ribbon. He sighed heavily and said, "Christ almighty." It meant nothing; it was Army. He took a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket, tapped one out, then put away the pack and rebuttoned the pocket flap. Smoking, he looked vacuously around the room. His look finally settled on the radio. "Hey," he said. "They got this terrific show comin' on the radio in a coupla minutes. Bob Hope, and everybody."


X, opening a fresh pack of cigarettes, said he had just turned the radio off.


Undarkened, Clay watched X trying to get a cigarette lit. "Jesus," he said, with spectator's enthusiasm, "you oughta see your goddam hands. Boy, have you got the shakes. Ya know that?"


X got his cigarette lit, nodded, and said Clay had a real eye for detail.


"No kidding, hey. I goddam near fainted when I saw you at the hospital. You looked like a goddam corpse. How much weight ya lose? How many pounds? Ya know?"


"I don't know. How was your mail when I was gone? You heard from Loretta?"


Loretta was Clay's girl. They intended to get married at their earliest convenience. She wrote to him fairly regularly, from a paradise of triple exclamation points and inaccurate observations. All through the war, Clay had read all Loretta's letters aloud to X, however intimate they were--in fact, the more intimate, the better. It was his custom, after each reading, to ask X to plot out or pad out the letter of reply, or to insert a few impressive words in French or German.


"Yeah, I had a letter from her yesterday. Down in my room. Show it to ya later," Clay said, listlessly. He sat up straight on the edge of the bed, held his breath, and issued a long, resonant belch. Looking just semi-pleased with the achievement, he relaxed again. "Her goddam brother's gettin' outa the Navy on account of his hip," he said. "He's got this hip, the bastard." He sat up again and tried for another belch, but with below-par results. A jot of alertness came into his face. "Hey. Before I forget. We gotta get up at five tomorrow and drive to Hamburg or someplace. Pick up Eisenhower jackets for the whole detachment."


X, regarding him hostilely, stated that he didn't want an Eisenhower jacket.


Clay looked surprised, almost a trifle hurt. "Oh, they're good! They look good. How come?"


"No reason. Why do we have to get up at five? The war's over, for God's sake."


"I don't know--we gotta get back before lunch. They got some new forms in we gotta fill out before lunch.... I asked Bulling how come we couldn't fill 'em out tonight--he's got the goddam forms right on his desk. He don't want to open the envelopes yet, the son of a bitch."


The two sat quiet for a moment, hating Bulling.


Clay suddenly looked at X with new-higher-interest than before. "Hey," he said. "Did you know the goddam side of your face is jumping all over the place?"


X said he knew all about it, and covered his tic with his hand.


Clay stared at him for a moment, then said, rather vividly, as if he were the bearer of exceptionally good news, "I wrote Loretta you had a nervous breakdown."




"Yeah. She's interested as hell in all that stuff. She's majoring in psychology." Clay stretched himself out on the bed, shoes included. "You know what she said? She says nobody gets a nervous breakdown just from the war and all. She says you probably were unstable like, your whole goddam life."


X bridged his hands over his eyes--the light over the bed seemed to be blinding him--and said that Loretta's insight into things was always a joy.


Clay glanced over at him. "Listen, ya bastard," he said. "She knows a goddam sight more psychology than you do."


"Do you think you can bring yourself to take your stinking feet off my bed?" X asked.


Clay left his feet where they were for a few don't-tell-me-where-to-put-my-feet seconds, then swung them around to the floor and sat up. "I'm goin' downstairs anyway. They got the radio on in Walker's room." He didn't get up from the bed, though. "Hey. I was just tellin' that new son of a bitch, Bernstein, downstairs. Remember that time I and you drove into Valognes, and we got shelled for about two goddam hours, and that goddam cat I shot that jumped up on the hood of the jeep when we were layin' in that hole? Remember?"


"Yes--don't start that business with that cat again, Clay, God damn it. I don't want to hear about it."


"No, all I mean is I wrote Loretta about it. She and the whole psychology class discussed it. In class and all. The goddam professor and everybody."


"That's fine. I don't want to hear about it, Clay."


"No, you know the reason I took a pot shot at it, Loretta says? She says I was temporarily insane. No kidding. From the shelling and all."


X threaded his fingers, once, through his dirty hair, then shielded his eyes against the light again. "You weren't insane. You were simply doing your duty. You killed that pussycat in as manly a way as anybody could've under the circumstances."


Clay looked at him suspiciously. "What the hell are you talkin' about?"


"That cat was a spy. You had to take a pot shot at it. It was a very clever German midget dressed up in a cheap fur coat. So there was absolutely nothing brutal, or cruel, or dirty, or even--"


"God damn it!" Clay said, his lips thinned. "Can't you ever be sincere?"


X suddenly felt sick, and he swung around in his chair and grabbed the wastebasket--just in time.


When he had straightened up and turned toward his guest again, he found him standing, embarrassed, halfway between the bed and the door. X started to apologize, but changed his mind and reached for his cigarettes.


"C'mon down and listen to Hope on the radio, hey," Clay said, keeping his distance but trying to be friendly over it. "It'll do ya good. I mean it."


"You go ahead, Clay. . . . I'll look at my stamp collection."


"Yeah? You got a stamp collection? I didn't know you--"


"I'm only kidding."


Clay took a couple of slow steps toward the door. "I may drive over to Ehstadt later," he said. "They got a dance. It'll probably last till around two. Wanna go?"


"No, thanks. . . . I may practice a few steps in the room."


"O.K. G'night! Take it easy, now, for Chrissake." The door slammed shut, then instantly opened again. "Hey. O.K. if I leave a letter to Loretta under your door? I got some German stuff in it. Willya fix it up for me?"


"Yes. Leave me alone now, God damn it."


"Sure," said Clay. "You know what my mother wrote me? She wrote me she's glad you and I were together and all the whole war. In the same jeep and all. She says my letters are a helluva lot more intelligent since we been goin' around together."


X looked up and over at him, and said, with great effort, "Thanks. Tell her thanks for me."


"I will. G'night!" The door slammed shut, this time for good.



X sat looking at the door for a long while, then turned his chair around toward the writing table and picked up his portable typewriter from the floor. He made space for it on the messy table surface, pushing aside the collapsed pile of unopened letters and packages. He thought if he wrote a letter to an old friend of his in New York there might be some quick, however slight, therapy in it for him. But he couldn't insert his notepaper into the roller properly, his fingers were shaking so violently now. He put his hands down at his sides for a minute, then tried again, but finally crumpled the notepaper in his hand.


He was aware that he ought to get the wastebasket out of the room, but instead of doing anything about it, he put his arms on the typewriter and rested his head again, closing his eyes.


A few throbbing minutes later, when he opened his eyes, he found himself squinting at a small, unopened package wrapped in green paper. It had probably slipped off the pile when he had made space for the typewriter. He saw that it had been readdressed several times. He could make out, on just one side of the package, at least three of his old A.P.O. numbers.


He opened the package without any interest, without even looking at the return address. He opened it by burning the string with a lighted match. He was more interested in watching a string burn all the way down than in opening the package, but he opened it, finally.


Inside the box, a note, written in ink, lay on top of a small object wrapped in tissue paper. He picked out the note and read it.



17, ----ROAD,




JUNE 7, 1944





I hope you will forgive me for having taken 38 days to begin our correspondence but, I have been extremely busy as my aunt has undergone streptococcus of the throat and nearly perished and I have been justifiably saddled with one responsibility after another. However I have thought of you frequently and of the extremely pleasant afternoon we spent in each other's company on April 30, 1944 between 3:45 and 4:15 P.M. in case it slipped your mind.


We are all tremendously excited and overawed about D Day and only hope that it will bring about the swift termination of the war and a method of existence that is ridiculous to say the least. Charles and I are both quite concerned about you; we hope you were not among those who made the first initial assault upon the Cotentin Peninsula. Were you? Please reply as speedily as possible. My warmest regards to your wife.



Sincerely yours,




P.S. I am taking the liberty of enclosing my wristwatch which you may keep in your possession for the duration of the conflict. I did not observe whether you were wearing one during our brief association, but this one is extremely water-proof and shockproof as well as having many other virtues among which one can tell at what velocity one is walking if one wishes. I am quite certain that you will use it to greater advantage in these difficult days than I ever can and that you will accept it as a lucky talisman.


Charles, whom I am teaching to read and write and whom I am finding an extremely intelligent novice, wishes to add a few words. Please write as soon as you have the time and inclination.







It was a long time before X could set the note aside, let alone lift Esme's father's wristwatch out of the box. When he did finally lift it out, he saw that its crystal had been broken in transit. He wondered if the watch was otherwise undamaged, but he hadn't the courage to wind it and find out. He just sat with it in his hand for another long period. Then, suddenly, almost ecstatically, he felt sleepy.


You take a really sleepy man, Esme, and he always stands a chance of again becoming a man with all his fac-with all his f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact.





Edited by ThisLife

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It feels like an appropriate time to re-connect with the philosophical roots which underlie this forum,.... Taoism. I've already introduced the author of this extract, John Blofeld, in the introduction to a previous story. This account he wrote after one of his wanderings in the 1930s during his school's term holidays. It is taken from his book, "Taoism The Road to Immortality".

As an aside, my initial attraction to Buddhism was due to a six month period I spent living in a Tibetan community in the Western Himalayas. Even now I don't think I've ever encountered another nationality for whom I've had such a profound respect and appreciation for the deep-seated kindness with which they seemed to treat everybody they met. Up until my meeting with them I had always thought that religion and philosophy were simply ideals that people talked about. Within the confines of my very limited experience I had just never considered that there might actually be people who lived what they talked.

After my funds dried up in India I eventually ended up here in England and within a few years I had found a Tibetan Buddhist group where I thought I might be able to develop those same qualities myself. But us Westerners seem to carry our own karma, regardless of which bath of Eastern spirituality we immerse ourself in. Though this Western offshoot didn't work for me personally, nevertheless I've always been eternally grateful for my good fortune in having been able to spent time with the 'real thing', living inside that Tibetan community.

As for Taoism, its roots and virtually its entire lifespan was in China, and moreover, in an ancient Chinese society that was utterly destroyed by Mao Tse Tung's Communist revolution in the 1940s and 50s. So, there's no going back there for anyone, ever again. The place and the society which created it, no longer exists. Perhaps rare accounts like these, by one of the very few Westerners who had the good fortune to experience life in a remote Taoist hermitage, are as close as we can ever get to the real thing.




The Taoists I had the good fortune to encounter were not over-superstitious. They included men both simple and urbane with a partly mystical partly humanistic philosophy. Though I do not remember hearing any of them deny the existence of gods and spirits, I did not find them unduly concerned with rituals. Like Buddhists, they understood that spiritual development lies with oneself, that neither gods nor sacraments help or hinder in the gradual refining or coarsening of man's essential being. Given the likelihood of enjoying a lifespan of from sixty to seventy or more years, they set out to achieve within that space of time an inner development capable of negating the effects of man's departure from the ways of nature and enabling them to eradicate evil propensities - acquisitiveness, passion, inordinate desire - which lead to selfishness and callousness if not to deceit and downright cruelty. They longed to refine their spirits. What does it matter if their concept of the goal was in some cases naive ? Doubtless that concept became more elevated as cultivation of the Way proceeded. To me they proved charming companions who added to the joy of spending a few days or weeks in superb natural surroundings. They provided me with opportunities to glimpse facets of a venerable civilisation which they alone among the educated Chinese of my generation had preserved more or less intact. Besides an engaging kindness, simplicity and candour, they had an enchanting gaiety. The sound of their laughter echoed through courts where, had they been within the precincts of a Western monastery, joy would have been swallowed up in a sanctimonious hush. One of the great secrets of their charm was their philosophy of 'not too much of anything', which taught them to combine spiritual aspiration with warm humanity.

Their manner of life can be most satisfactorily conveyed by an account of a visit paid to one of the hermitages on Hua Shan; for, at the time, the ways of Taoists still had some novelty for me, so my senses were unusually alert to the impressions that came crowding in. To make the description more representative of the hermitages as a whole, I have woven into the narrative some details and characters encountered during subsequent visits to other holy mountains. The ex-general and ex-banker, both of whom belong to this category, may seem unusual and perhaps they were, but retired men of the world were by no means rarities in the smaller and more exclusive communities.

In the winter of 1935 I happened to be in the neighbourhood of Hua Shan and decided to explore it. A northern Chinese winter is not the best of times for such expeditions; ice lay upon the precipitous paths, glazing the flights of steps hewn from living rock, and a cutting wind howled about the exposed upper slopes. Here and there clumps of trees stood close to the shrines of deities or fox-fairies, most of them looking as forlorn and in need of warm shelter as myself; otherwise the slopes were bare, having been denuded of their forests by generations of fuel gatherers from the teeming plains below. I never did succeed in reaching the temple that crowned the peak of what must be one of the most spectacular precipices in the world; as dusk approached, a chill mist blotted out the path and I sought refuge in a modest wayside hermitage, feeling hungry and miserably cold. All I could see of the place was a cluster of grey moss-encrusted roofs peeping above the high surrounding wall, also grey but showing less signs of poverty and neglect than many of the other hermitages. The ponderous lacquered leaves of the moon-gate were closed and unyielding. The young man I had met in the fields below and engaged as a guide, only to find that he had never set foot on the mountain in a life passed within a few bow-shots of its foot, suggested knocking as loudly as we could. So we pounded our fists against the smooth lacquer and shouted at the tops of our voices, but there came back no answering voice. It was bitterly cold and, if no one heard us, darkness might fall before we had found refuge elsewhere. Dismally our voices echoed among the rocks.

Knuckles sore, arms aching, thoughts close to despair, we were about to give up when a voice, muffled by the thickness of the gate, cried: "Pu yao chi. An-men pu shih lung-tzu!" How comforting that sound, for all that we were being scolded for supposing the inmates deaf ! Now a heavy leaf creaked open, but beyond the lintel stood a sturdy old greybeard, cudgel in hand, who yelled: Honest men dont come calling at this hour of an evening !

Suddenly the old fellows grim expression changed to one of vast astonishment. Old Father Heaven ! A foreign dev -, er, er, a foreign guest ! Now he was all smiles and bows, pumping his clasped hands up and down in generous welcome, his eyes alight with smiling apology, his face aglow with human warmth. Taking the bag from my so-called guide and inviting him to go and sit by the kitchen fire, he led me across a modest courtyard to a room which appeared to be his own for, though no one was there, it was heated by , glowing brazier and rather stuffy. Motioning me to a couch, hurried out and soon returned with a basin of hot water, soap and face-towel. Next he set about brewing tea and soon we were facing each other across the brazier chatting like long separated friends. Like many denizens of isolated places, he seemed glad of new company and brimming over with talk. Within an hour, besides having learned something about their little community of five recluses and two serving lads scarcely in their teens, I had come to know most of the salient facts of his life.

The son of an impoverished ironmonger, he had had scarcely three years of schooling before being compelled to pad the streets of his native Sian vainly hoping to find someone in need of a barely literate clerk. In despair he had entered the service of a city priest who made-such a poor living by divination and selecting sites for houses and tombs in the light of the science of feng-shui; that he could afford to pay no wages, only to meet the bare cost of the boys keep. Happily he had no objection to letting his new assistant make whatever use he liked of the books left behind by a more scholarly predecessor and gradually the latter became enthralled by works , setting forth all .aspects of cultivating the Way. Two or three years passed; then the youth set off for the mountains and, after wandering for several more years, settled on Mount Hua. At the time of our meeting, he had been doyen of the tiny community in that hermitage for at least a couple of decades.

Your honourable abode must be lovely in summer, I remarked, but are you never weary of it ? Does time never lie heavily on your hands ?

No, no, no! he answered vehemently, his old face lighting up with mirth. You talk as though this were a mansion crowded with noisy womenfolk with never a thought in their heads beyond buying clothes, dining off bird's nest and shark's fin, and playing mahjong for heavy stakes. That sort of thing, I have heard, makes many a man wish life were shorter. Here we have no time to be bored and, of course, you can have no idea of the beauty of this place. Winter is lovely on the whole. Had you come a day or two earlier, you would have seen the sky from this level as an inverted bowl of flawless turquoise. On most days, in the clear light of morning the peak rises like an island from a sea of mist that blots out all the world below. Bleak though it is today, if the fog lifts before tomorrow morning, you may feel embarrassed to find yourself floating above the clouds in what must surely be the court of the Jade Emperor, without having changed your workaday clothes in his honour, let alone your mortal skin! On clear nights both in winter and summer the moon is enormous. As for the stars, you can almost brush them with your hand. If you like plenty of company, come in spring or autumn when, on festival days, the path to the summit is so thick with pilgrims that it looks like a writhing serpent. Some bring flutes and jars of wine to pay honour to our mountain deity. Ah, you prefer peace and quiet ? Then come back in summer when the lower slopes are so densely carpeted with flowers that you might suppose someone had brought a giant Mongolian carpet to make a collar for our mountain god, from which his craggy neck rises not a hundred feet below where we are here. Behind our hermitage there is a pool fed by a hidden spring where the water is deep and crystal clear, the silence so awe-inspiring that you are afraid to dive lest the splash disturb the local genie. They say he is a dragon, by the way, but I cannot be sure of that, for no one is known to have encountered him since - when was it ? - shortly before the fall of the Ming dynasty, I believe. Even so, he might graciously manifest himself to you, a distinguished foreign guest.'

How lovely you make it sound, Your Immortality. You seem to have no worries in this holy place. I suppose offerings made by the pilgrims are sufficient for all your needs ?

I would not wish to depend on them, he replied. Ours is a small hermitage and we seldom have people coming to pass the night here, except during the great festivals when the temple at the peak and larger hermitages are filled to overflowing; but we prefer not to have too many visitors, though we should be sorry indeed to have none, for we enjoy, the conversation of widely travelled and learned guests like yourself, if I may presume to say so. Without offerings we could manage. Our needs are simple and two of our colleagues were once well off; though they abandoned their wealth when they left the world, you may be sure their families would help us if we were ever in dire need. For the most part we live off the proceeds of medicinal plants gathered on the mountainside. For example, we have . . . He mentioned a dozen or more names of plants that meant nothing to me, adding that there was a steady demand for them from Chinese physicians and medicine shops. Though most varieties brought in no more than half a silver yuan (little more than three pence) per basketful, that sum was enough in those days, to feed a community of seven for a couple of days or so.

But how do you pass your time in winter when it is windy and cold like today ?

Ah well, it is true that fog or heavy snowfalls sometimes isolate us for days at a time - but you see how snug we are. There is charcoal enough to last us. We have our books, our good tea, a mouthful or two of wine with evening rice to keep out the cold. Is all that not enough, do you think ? Though we have two boys to help, household chores keep us on the move-a good deal, especially in the mornings after we have warmed ourselves with hot tea and some vigorous tai chi ch'uan exercises. There is much to read and we have many books that repay rereading many, many times. We are fond of music, too, and have preserved some flute melodies so ancient that they may not have been heard elsewhere for centuries as far as we know.

Do you write, Immortality, or paint, perhaps ?

Blushing endearingly, the old man murmured No, no in a tone that surely meant yes. You cannot expect - well, you could say I like the fragrance of fine ink and the sha-shasha of a writing brush over paper made in the old way on this very mountain from barks and leaves that give it a pleasantly rough texture. My "writing" scarcely amounts to more than that, but two of my colleagues write fine verses. As to painting, ha-ha-ha of course not. That is, I do sometimes just try my hand at it, brushing crude landscapes with wavy strokes for mountains, mere dots and blobs to indicate clumps of trees or shadowed rocks. People? Animals ? How could an illiterate old creature like me dare ? Well, a long narrow blob perhaps with a suggestion of white upturned faces to suggest a line of pilgrims gazing up at the peak. Eh ? No, no, you cannot wish to see such trifles' - but he was already on his feet, a delighted expression giving something like youthful charm to his old face, and within a few minutes he had brought over quite a pile of unmounted ink paintings.

I knew little enough of Chinese art in those days, but it seemed to me that some of his paintings were really beautiful. Mostly they were impressions of mountain vistas seen at different times of the year, Each with a couplet or four-line poem of his own composition in running grass-characters brushed on a corner of the page, relevant of course to the scene depicted. It may not have been great art, but it was certainly attractive. Years later I came to realise how lucky such recluses were to have escaped the kind of education available in government-run schools. Instead of having their minds corrupted by the usual second-hand versions of materialist ideas imported from the West, they had for their only models the masterly poems) essays and paintings in traditional style that one would expect to find in monastic libraries which had gradually been built up over the centuries. No wonder recluses who so often came from illiterate or barely literate families had, at least in some cases, accomplishments superior to those of a good many university students of the period!

Having expressed my admiration of his poems and paintings in glowing terms worthy of the occasion, I asked how he managed to find time amidst his manifold pursuits for self-cultivation.

Where is the conflict, young sir? All we do is part of cultivation. As to formal yogas and meditations, we perform them mostly during the first hour or two of the day and also late at night. We make no rules, so there are none to break and cause self-dissatisfaction. The secret is to sense when actions are timely and in accord with the Way or otherwise. It is a matter of learning to - to - how shall I say ? Of, of- ah, now I have it - of learning how to be !

Have you no worries, no anxieties at all ?

Young sir, you must be joking! We are humans. Ills happen. But we have learnt that calamities pass like all things. When we are sick or short of money to buy necessities, we naturally feel anxious; but, when this has happened many times, one learns to accept the bad with the good, to see them as they are - a part of being and not to be dispensed with without damage to the whole.

When you are sick, Immortality ? It is hard to imagine an immortal with a cough or hiccups ! I should have thought

He chuckled heartily. Worse than that, young sir' Immortals not only break wind or belch like other people, they die ! Can it ever have been otherwise ? Becoming immortal has little to do with physical changes, like the greying of a once glossy black beard; it means coming to know something, realising something - an experience that can happen in a flash! Ah, how precious is that knowledge! When it first strikes you, you want to sing and dance, or you nearly die of laughing ! For suddenly you recognise that nothing in the world can ever hurt you. Though thunder roar and torrents boil, though serpents hiss and arrows rain - you meet them laughing ! You see your body as a flower born to bloom, to give forth fragrance, to wither and die. Who would care for a peony that stayed as it was For a lifetime, for a thousand or ten thousand years? A mere cabbage would be worthier of attention. It is well that things die when worn out, and no loss at all, for life is immortal and never grows with the birth of things or diminishes with their death. A worn-out object is discarded, life having ample materials to supply the loss. Now do you see ? You cannot die, because you have never lived. Life cannot die because it has no beginning or end. Becoming an immortal just means ceasing to identify yourself with shadows and recognising that the only "you" is everlasting life. Ah, what nonsense I am talking; theyll be waiting for us to join them at evening rice' Come''

In those days my Chinese was less fluent than it afterwards became, so I cannot be sure I have reported the substance of his memorable words correctly, the more so as forty years have passed since then. Yet what he said was at once so striking and so simple that I am sure I am sure I got the hang of it and that not too much has been lost in the retelling. For the first time in my life I realised that a man may have-no-faith in personal survival and yet recognise that, in losing himself' he loses nothing. I saw that, to a man ii his blissful state of mind, the loss of his spectacles would seem a greater inconvenience than merely dying ! He had used the Chinese equivalent of 'want to sing and dance' with reference to a sudden perception of death's real nature ! There was in him an abundance of joy not to be accounted for by anything within my understanding at that time; and it may be that this belated report of his conversation is more true to the spirit of his words than anything I could have written down on the spot. To see his smile was to sense his invulnerable serenity and I wonder now if the famed immortals of old attained to anything higher. Is there anything more, anywhere further to go than the direct intuitive perception that life holds no terrors, that death - like Cinderella's fairy godmother - holds out to us a new and shining garment' that the 'red slayer' never slays because there is no one to slay and no such thing as slaying ? Clearly the old gentleman had long ago reached a point at which the word 'I' had no more than a convenient functional meaning like the word 'home' in a game of Ludo. Yet far from passing his days in a trancelike state waiting for death's liberation, far from being lethargic and withdrawn, as though his present life were of no importance, he was keenly alert, sipping his tea with evident enjoyment, revelling in the brazier's warmth, but also quick to see to practical matters as when the charcoal embers needed stirring. Though clearly a holy-man in the best sense, he had not a touch of the solemnity we in the West are apt to associate with the saintly. The strongest lines in his face were those that come from ready smiles and laughter. Even his little weakness, an innocent vanity in having made himself into something of a scholar and a painter, was lovable. His qualities, I was to discover, were typical of cultivators of the Way.

Evening rice, shared with the five recluses and with the two little boys who, having served us, sat at table and gobbled lion's shares, was a delightful meal. Though so very much junior to my five hosts, I was literally dragged into the seat of honour opposite the door. The food consisted mostly of vegetables and bean curd, but with slivers of ham and dried fish to give them flavour. Instead of rice, we had piping hot millet dumplings - coarse fare and cheap but tasty. From a pewter jug kept standing in hot water a delicious yellowish wine was poured into cups with about half the capacity of an egg-cup. Everyone drank several cupfuls, just enough to add to our conviviality.

It appeared that they had no abbot, but my friend was treated with special deference, probably because, though far below some of the others in social standing and scholarship and rather younger than at least one of them, he had long been the doyen of their community. Of the others, the Miraculous Moss Recluse, an octogenarian, had once been a farmer, but had sold his plot of land to buy food for his family during a famine. The Cloud Mother Recluse, a burly and rather handsome black-bearded man in his middle forties, had run away from home to enter a hermitage as serving boy while still in his teens. The Fragrant Sesame Recluse, now sixtyish, described himself as a poor soldierman, but turned out to be an ex-general risen from the ranks in the army of Marshal Wu Pei-fu. Finally, the Tranquil Wisdom Recluse, a pot-bellied, jolly fellow also in his sixties, had until about ten years previously been a silk merchant in Chengtu, but had tired of the quarrels among his ladies and, renouncing his wealth (except for a sum of money spent on restoring the hermitage and adding to its amenities), had joined the community on an impulse born of a two-day stay there during the festival of the Pole Star Deity. Naturally, not all these details were forthcoming at dinner and I owe most of them to the Moon Rabbit Recluse, their doyen; even so, they were cheerfully unreticent and most willing to answer whatever questions I chose to ask. (Had only one, rather than two, of the five once been a man of substance and standing, the proportion would have been more typical of such communities in general.)

Despite spiritually unpromising backgrounds, all were now devoted followers of the Way and could properly be described as adepts. Living in a place so remote from ordinary life and spending many hours a day in study or in contemplation with the mind turned in upon itself, they had been weaned from the world of dust and were as full of gaiety and laughter as a party of undergraduates, with some- thing of an undergraduate's fondness for prankish humour. For over twenty years, three of the five had been living together in what, until the ex-silk merchant's arrival, had been a ruinous hermitage. The former general had been with them only for a year or so, having 'left the world' in his native Kiangsu province after the defeat of the scholarly Marshal Wu during the civil wars of the 1920s. The two little boys were the sons of local farmers who had welcomed the opportunity of placing them in service with people able to make scholars of them. None of the five recluses had received much of an education in the modern sense, the general having risen from the ranks and the silk merchant having inherited his fathers business while still a high-school student. The lifelong Taoist had left the world as an illiterate teenager; my friend and the 8o-year-old had neither of them completed their primary education. Now, all except the ex-general were scholars in the traditional sense, and even he had discovered a flair for witty extempore doggerel. This was a common state of affairs not often taken into account by the critics of Taoism, who seem to be under the misapprehension that to be without a high school or university education was a grave disadvantage; that may be so generally, but not in circumstances such as these. Ignorant no doubt of matters outside their chosen field, the inmates were often erudite in the subjects that mattered for cultivation of the Way. All were steeped in the words of Lao and Chuang, in those of sages like Wei Po-yang and Ko Hung, and in the poems and essays of lovers of mountain solitudes. Their conversation, even when light and jovial, betrayed such learning. Their manners and attitudes were more redolent of what the Chinese mean by a background 'perfumed by books' than those of modern university students.

It was their custom to rise at dawn, summer and winter, there being no clock or watch within the walls. Breakfasting in their cells on tea and millet gruel with scones or fried twists of dough, they usually remained in seclusion for the greater part of the morning, each performing such meditations, yogas or studies as seemed best to him, except on the days appointed for visits to their current teacher, an elderly recluse who resided further up the mountain. The stocky Cloud Mother Recluse, being younger than the others, had taken on the tasks of overseeing the serving boys, attending to the housekeeping and to the tiny patch of garden. He could be said to run things, to the small extent that running was needed, and could count on help from his elderly colleagues, of whom all but one were capable of carrying and lifting, etc., when necessary. Several of them took it in turns to go down the mountain or even travel to the provincial capital, Si-an, when such journeys were needed for stocking up supplies or selling the herbs they had gathered. Lunch was a communal meal, eaten with a good appetite and plenty of conviviality. Weather permitting, the afternoons were spent out of doors, either in the garden and tending the shrubs in the courtyard, or going further afield in search of herbs, or just walking about in what, during most of the year, must have seemed like fairyland. Besides their yogic exercises, they practised t'ai chi ch'uan under the general's expert guidance; and the two boys received instruction in wrestling and swordsmanship from him. Around sunset, they returned to their rooms and continued the serious cultivation practised in the mornings. Some passed much of the night in meditation. When pilgrims came for the festivals, these pursuits were interrupted and various rituals performed, which the old gentlemen enjoyed because it gave them opportunities to indulge in stately dance movements and show off their expertise with flutes, hu ch'in viols, and all kinds of percussion instruments.

When the weather was inclement, they had amusements for whiling away the afternoons. Besides painting, calligraphy, composing poems and reading, they enjoyed preparing charms for the pilgrims (an additional source of income), employing the picturesque magic scripts which are so suggestive of nature's flow, of the passing of one thing into another. Also, the ex-general had grown very fond of the kind of chess known as wei ch'i, an exceedingly ancient game played with white and black stones, one hundred and sixty or more on each side. Popular among military and naval men in China and Japan, as well as among scholars, its 361-square board may be regarded as a battlefield, whether for a contest between two armies or between the opposing creative and destructive forces of nature. (It is said that in the cloud realms of immortals this game is played with the lives of human beings for stakes, each white gain saving a life, each black gain costing one.) Wei chi is Taoistic in character, for the skilful player learns to build up his strength wherever his opponent is weakest, thus emulating the action of water. Finding no worthy opponent among his colleagues, the general used to visit other hermitages in search of good players; for often the recluses would exchange visits and pass an afternoon sipping tea and nibbling melon seeds in hermitages at a comfortable distance from their own.

Summer pastimes included visits further afield, picnicking at various beauty spots, swimming in the clear mountain streams and pools, holding contests in extempore verse making at places specially noted for views of the rising or setting sun, the full moon and so on. Some of the neighbouring communities included skilled gardeners expert in helping nature to excel herself, although, as if to redress the balance, one of their pursuits was as artificial as could well be imagined, for they loved to train shrubs to resemble birds and animals, including dragons, unicorns and phoenixes. There were also experts in the growing of dwarf trees and I have seen cedars or pines less than a foot in height which showed signs of being between fifty and a hundred years old. In most hermitages could be found miniature landscape gardens complete with mountains, pools, caves, trees and little houses and men, each garden rising from an oblong earthenware container about two foot long and one foot wide, or even smaller.

When it was time for me to say farewell, collect my worthless 'guide' and go down the mountain back to Si-an and thence to Peking, the Moon Rabbit Recluse begged me to return one day. You must come in spring or autumn for one of our festivals, since you are fond of the sound of flutes by moonlight. You will hear some ancient melodies sacred to just one day of the year. In summer there are the wild flowers I spoke of and a pool so clear that you can peer down at a miniature forest of waving plants growing deeper down than a man can dive. Who knows but that its genie, the dragon I mentioned, will not emerge to make the acquaintance of a distinguished young foreign gentleman ? At least you will see fish darting in and out of the "forest" like tigers stalking their prey. If you insist on coming again in winter, choose the First Moon (February); it will be even colder than now, your teeth will chatter, but imagine how splendid this great mountain looks when everything is blanketed by snow ! That will inspire you to write poems filled with the spirit of the Way. The sky will be blue as sapphire, the sun red as persimmon. Seeing its light shining upon a universe of dazzling snow, you will understand what is meant by the "glistening void". Contemplating such a sight, you may well win suddenly to full attainment and thenceforth laugh your way through life, never having further cause for tears !



I hope my picture of those honourable immortals is worthy of them. Men of shy elusive wisdom, too simple to hold their own in scholarly debate, they had intuitive perception of a world of tranquil, joyous beauty far beyond my, in some ways more sophisticated, understanding. Nothing extraordinary was likely to happen in their company; there was none of the atmosphere of awesome and perhaps dark mysteries that one senses in temples where the folk religion predominates, no talk of conjuring up or subduing demons, nothing exciting or dramatic, nothing that can easily be caught in words. Apart from the beauty of the mountain scenery (which on that occasion was lost in mist) and a manner of life belonging to an ancient world then rapidly vanishing, there were no marvels. And yet such a hermitage was a place of miracles - miracles unspectacular but profound and light-bestowing. Outwardly jovial and relaxed, often engaged in pursuits that seemed irrelevant to mighty spiritual endeavour, the recluses lived and had their being perpetually on holy ground (by which I do not mean merely that they inhabited a holy mountain). Some no doubt were close to or had already attained true immortality; they had passed safely beyond the realm of passions and desires; but such was their modesty that a traveller who came upon them knowing nothing of their inner life might have enjoyed their hospitality and returned to the plains below unaware of having done more than pass a day or two in the company of cheerful and amusing old men ! It would not have occurred to them to speak, even to one another, of having attained anything at all. If one asked them such questions as whether they felt they still had far to go before reaching the end of the Way, their answers might lead one to suppose them idle creatures, pleasantly touched with madness. They would be sure to burst out laughing and protest that they had not thought of going anywhere at all, or do something unconventional such as mooing like a cow or dancing a few steps to indicate the folly of the question. They loved to refer to themselves as idlers or wanderers 'loafing about the world' and their eyes would twinkle if they found someone gullible enough to take them seriously.

As soon as one had an inkling of what cultivating the Way implies, it became easier to decide what lay behind their smiling disclaimers. The atmosphere in temples or hermitages where no real cultivation was taking place was very different; there, recluses stood on their dignity and one sometimes felt as though watching a charade. With men of true attainment, their sincerity could never be in doubt. Even if one knew too little of their language to be able to converse with them, their presence was sufficient to communicate feelings of tranquil joy and an incredible stillness. When one practised meditation in their company, results could be achieved of a very different order from those normally obtained. In their vicinity, sorrows and anxiety fell away and serenity spilled forth.

Beyond this, there is a dramatic means of identifying those rare beings who have reached the very highest attainment. During a conversation with such a being on some serious subject, an opportunity may occur to look, without making one's intention obvious, straight into his eyes, or, in special circumstances, he may himself choose to confer a revelation (as, on one unforgettable occasion, happened to me). In either case, it is as though for an ecstatic moment a curtain has been twitched aside revealing unimaginable immensities; for the space of a single flash of thought, one shares the vastness of a sage's inner vision! The bliss is indescribable, but not to be endured for more than a fraction of a second, its intensity being too great to be borne by ordinary mortals. Either he, knowing what is occurring, will lower his eyes, or one must tear away one's own. The fruit of such a momentous encounter is of inestimable worth, for never again will one's conviction of the reality of the supreme apotheosis waver.

I cannot say whether any of the five recluses just described would have been able to provide such evidence of the highest possible attainment. Knowing nothing of such things at the time, I did not think to look for it; but I do remember feeling a lovely stillness in their presence, which was all the more remarkable in that I had not learnt to expect anything of the kind.

Extraordinary signs of being far advanced along the Way are not peculiar to Taoists. I have occasionally met Chinese Buddhist monks and Tibetan lamas whose Presence in itself communicates joy and stillness. Indeed, at the higher levels of yogic accomplishment or spiritual insight, great differences among devotees of different faiths are not to be expected. An accomplished mystic attains the same experiential insight into Reality, whatever path he follows. The one notable difference between Taoists and Buddhists, apart from their views on the subject of reincarnation, is that the latter tend to put more stress in their teaching on compassion, which together with wisdom forms the very core of Buddhist practice. At one time I used to think that this difference pointed to a defect in the teaching and practice of Taoism - now I am not so sure. From the earliest times, Taoists have been chary about speaking of the need for such virtues as benevolence, filial piety, righteousness, compassion; for, as Lao-tzu says: 'Cease this talk of benevolence and righteousness and the people will be benevolent and kind.' He goes on to point out that making much of these virtues is a sure sign of their absence. Why stress what should be as common as the air we breathe ? A follower of the Way is by definition a stranger to anger, cupidity and selfishness. Aware that individuality is but a shadow, a delusion born of ignorance, he sees that 'I' and 'other' have no place in the seamless Tao, that causing harm to others is the very negation of wu wei and of the pure selflessness needed for attainment. At most one could say that the Taoist attitude to compassion is more negative than the Buddhist, and even this may be an assumption based on no more than a difference in the way of putting things.

Writing this last chapter has caused me pain from which an accomplished Taoist would doubtless be immune. It is sad to recall that, even though the ancient hermitages still stand amidst the mountains, no smoke now rises above their roofs. Nothing remains but poems and memories, unless now and then some wayfarer surreptitiously thrusts a stick of lighted incense among the cold ashes in a tripod standing before a crumbling shrine. How gladly I would brave the coldest wind, the icy mountain paths and snowdrifts piled before the lacquer gates for the pleasure of once more sipping tea with an immortal, gazing upon his wise old face and hearing his merry laughter ! It is good that I reached China in time to see many lingering traces of the beauty that, even in those days, was fast vanishing. The other day I came across a poem written by Li Po in the depths of his mountain solitude. Drunk with wine and beauty, he cries: "I am three with the moon and my shadow!"

In the China of today, living alone and cultivating stillness is a sheer impossibility. It is probably a crime to wish to do so !


Edited by ThisLife
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I think that all of us alive today in this technological bonanza age, are amongst the most fortunate beings in mankind’s history from the perspective of ‘ease of access to information.’ Any of us can, in the space of a few minutes, (without stirring from the comfort of our padded, tilting, and swivelling computer chairs), be reading,… a pdf.copy of an original, several thousand year old Chinese Taoist text,… an account of a 1930’s visit to one of the last genuine Taoist hermitages like John Blofeld’s,…. or listening to a live webcast of teachings being given at one of the many weird and wonderful centres around the world of our 21st century’s ‘Transmuted Taoism’. My own personal favourites from amongst all today's modern ‘soap box orators of Tao’ are the American, Wayne Liquorman, and the Englishman, Richard Sylvester.

But when the devil gets into me and I experience one of my periodic cravings for something outrageous and rude, it’s always the devilishly-named ‘Mr Liquorman’, that I reach for first. To illustrate what I mean, below I’ve added two extracts taken from Wayne's book, "Acceptance of What Is". For me, his quirky,… (often bordering on the obscene, actually), anecdotes illustrate what for me is one of the most delightful qualities that I personally feel one can hope to be fortunate enough to come across in our spiritual quest, - a sincere teacher who has genuinely experienced what he is teaching,...AND YET,... who has an absolute killer of a sense of humour !

(But he is a bit 'off-colour', aka ‘Non PC’. So, if you feel at all prudish about these things,....Please Read No Further ! )






This path of ‘jnana’, this path of knowledge, requires a transcendence of the mind; and that can only happen when the mind is utterly, thoroughly, ‘completely’ exhausted. After you have sought every ‘possible’ avenue into which you might enquire and ‘know’,… after you have thought again and again that you’ve GOT IT, only to find it slip through your fingers like jello; only then can there be some kind of surrender, some kind of ‘acceptance’ of the fact that the mind will not get you there. And it isn’t enough just to pay lip service to the fact that, “ The mind isn’t gonna help; the mind isn’t gonna know it” – That, too, has now just become something the mind KNOWS ! (Loud laughter) That is now the ‘new truth' that you’re holding sacred !

It gets subtler and subtler. That which you think you ‘know’, gets subtler and subtler. It’s really a process very much like a dog chasing its tail. Your mind is set in motion seeking itself, trying to catch itself. And if you have a mind that is strong, that has a lot of intellect behind it, you can get spinning VERY fast ! And you can ‘catch up ! ’ You can (laughter) ‘gain', on yourself ! And the faster you get spinning, the closer you gain on yourself,... then perhaps, if there is Grace,… you will disappear up your own ass !

This basically describes the path of ‘jnana’. I don’t know what ‘veda’ or ‘sutra’ it’s in, but it is essentially what we’ve set out to do here :

(1) to enquire deeply, to look at that which is asking the questions

(2) to look at that which is seeking, and

(3) to find out if there is any substance there.







{Wayne} : The essence of these teachings I sometimes express by quoting my guru, Ramesh. He would often say, "All there is, is Consciousness. Consciousness, is all there is."


{ Q} : How do we know that?

{A} : That is a 'pointer' in this teaching and not something which can be experientially known. What is being pointed at as happening is what Wei Wu Wei calls ‘apperception’, which is a knowing without a knower – or being. Some call it impersonal witnessing. These are just different ways of pointing to the absence of the involved “me.”

However, the point is that that absence of the involved “me” is merely the absence of something that has been laid on top of “What Is”. An overlay.

{Q} : Well,… who says so?

{A} : I’m saying so. But it is not the truth. Okay? It’s just a pointer; a teaching tool. Mine. My tool.

{Q} : So Advaita is like any other religion, then,… some believe it, and some don’t ?

{A} : It is often turned into a religion by believers, despite some teachers’ efforts to the contrary.

{Q} : Yes. If you believe in something, that turns it into a religion.

{A} : That’s right. Taking something as an a priori truth – “It is, because I believe it.” – for many people is the basis for their religion. What we’re doing here, theoretically and hopefully, is not building another philosophy and not building another religion, but rather pointing unceasingly to “What Is.” And every time the mind attempts to build a philosophical or religious structure on this “What Is,” we kick it down.

Any statement, from the most vociferous to the most benign, can be turned into a truth, worshipped and then built into a philosophy or religion. Anything. That is not my intention, and whenever I see it happening here, I try to bring it down,... because it’s not what we’re about.

{Q} : But you are convinced that there is Oneness.

{A} : No. I am not convinced there is a Oneness at all. There is no conviction,… there is no belief,… there is no truth that I have - that I am expounding to you here. None. Everything that I say is just a pointer, not a truth.

{Q} : But don’t you believe that pointer?

{A} : No. You don’t believe a hammer. It’s a hammer ! Do you believe a hammer? I’m saying this is a hammer and this is a screwdriver. I use this hammer to do this with and I use the screwdriver to do that with. Do I believe the hammer? No. There’s nothing to believe. It’s just a fucking hammer !

{Q} : Okay.

{A} : Didn’t Ramana Maharishi say that, “It’s just a fucking hammer”? [Laughter]




Edited by ThisLife
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"Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'


Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.


Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.'

Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?'


It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."


That's making me cry.



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I've suddenly realised that Christmas time is fast approaching. Very soon all our London relations will be arriving and all the socialising and celebrations will quickly put paid to any communication here for quite some time. Before then, however, I will undoubtedly have finished my wonderful sunny sojourn in Corfu where I've been living over the last few weeks inside the pages of "My Family and Other Animals". Unfortunately, as the visible end of the book rapidly approaches, it seems like this will probably be my last chance to share some of the simple 'pleasures of living' that filled Gerald Durrell's magical childhood. I didn't want to leave 2013 on a spiritual story such as the one I added above. All of us have widely differing experiences and thoughts about what this invisible thing called "spirituality" actually is, (Or even, ‘IF’ there is such a thing at all).

But there simply can’t be anyone who doesn’t love the simple, unadulterated release of shared laughter. Fortunately for us, alongside its unimaginable sufferings, life also seems to produce an inexhaustible supply of quirky and outrageous bubblings.

Choosing an extract from literature's catalogue of the latter, (since it IS Christmas time, after all), last night I finished reading the heart-warming anecdote below. I found myself laughing so often throughout this passage that afterwards I thought it would make a wonderful pre-Christmas addition to the Tao Bums Chat Room as a kind of ‘spirit-lifter’ to top up the reader’s energies for this fast-approaching, annual onslaught of relatives. My yesterday’s reading suddenly seemed a charming serendipity. Shelter from the storm.





Gerald Durrell wrote :

SPRING had arrived and the island was sparkling with flowers. Lambs with flapping tails gambolled under the olives, crushing the yellow crocuses under their tiny hooves. Baby donkeys with bulbous and uncertain legs munched among the asphodels. The ponds and streams and ditches were tangled in chains of spotted toads' spawn, the tortoises were heaving aside their winter bedclothes of leaves and earth, and the first butterflies, winter-faded and frayed, were flitting wanly among the flowers.

In the crisp, heady weather the family spent most of its time on the veranda, eating, sleeping, reading, or just simply arguing. It was here, once a week, that we used to congregate to read our mail which Spiro had brought out to us. The bulk of it consisted of gun catalogues for Leslie, fashion magazines for Margo, and animal journals for myself. Larry's post generally contained books and interminable letters from authors, artists, and musicians, about authors, artists, and musicians. Mother's contained a wedge of mail from various relatives, sprinkled with a few seed catalogues. As we browsed we would frequently pass remarks to one another, or read bits aloud. This was not done with any motive of sociability (for no other member of the family would listen, anyway), but merely because we seemed unable to extract the full flavour of our letters and magazines unless they were shared. Occasionally, however, an item of news would be sufficiently startling to rivet the family's attention on it, and this happened one day in spring when the sky was like blue glass, and we sat in the dappled shade of the vine, devouring our mail.

'Oh, this is nice Look... organdie with puffed sleeves ... I think I would prefer it in velvet, though ... or maybe a brocade top with a flared skirt. Now, that's nice... it would look good with long white gloves and one of those sort of summery hats, wouldn't it?’

A pause, the faint sound of Lugaretzia moaning in the dining-room, mingled with the rustle of paper. Roger yawned loudly, followed in succession by Puke and Widdle.

'God! What a beauty!. . . Just look at her . . . telescopic sight, bolt action.. .. What a beaut! Um ... a hundred and fifty . . . not really expensive, I suppose. . . . Now this is good value.... Let's see ... double-barrelled ... choke.... Yes ... I suppose one really needs something a bit heavier for ducks.'

Roger scratched his ears in turn, twisting his head on one side, a look of bliss on his face, groaning gently with pleasure. Widdle lay down and closed his eyes. Puke vainly tried to catch a fly, his jaws clopping as he snapped at it.

'Ah! Antoine's had a poem accepted at last I Real talent there, if he can only dig down to it. Varlaine's starting a printing press in a stable. . . . Pah!... limited editions of his own works. Oh, God, George Bullock's trying his hand at portraits ... portraits, I ask you I He couldn't paint a candlestick. Good book here you should read, Mother: The Elizabethan Dramatists ... a wonderful piece of work . . . some fine stuff in it.... “

Roger worked his way over his hind-quarters in search of a flea, using his front teeth like a pair of hair-clippers, snuffling noisily to himself. Widdle twitched his legs and tail minutely, his ginger eyebrows going up and down in astonishment at his own dream. Puke lay down and pretended to be asleep, keeping an eye cocked for the fly to settle.

'Aunt Mabel's moved to Sussex. . . . She says Henry's passed all his exams and is going into a bank ... at least, I think it's a bank... her writing really is awful, in spite of that expensive education she's always boasting about.... Uncle Stephen's broken his leg, poor old dear . . . and done something to his bladder? . . . Oh, no, I see . . . really this writing ... he broke his leg falling off a ladder. . . . You'd think he'd have more sense than to go up a ladder at his age ... ridiculous.... Tom's married... one of the Garnet girls'

Mother always left until the last a fat letter, addressed in large, firm, well-rounded handwriting, which was the monthly instalment from Great-aunt Hermione. Her letters invariably created an indignant uproar among the family, so we all put aside our mail and concentrated when Mother, with a sigh of resignation, unfurled the twenty odd pages, settled herself comfortably and began to read.

'She says that the doctors don't hold out much hope for her,' observed Mother.

'They haven't held out any hope for her for the last forty years and she's still as strong as an ox,' said Larry.

'She says she always thought it a little peculiar of us, rushing off to Greece like that, but they've just had a bad winter and she thinks that perhaps it was wise of us to choose such a salubrious climate.'

'Salubrious! What a word to use!'

'Oh, heavens!... oh, no... oh, Lord!...'

'What's the matter?'

'She says she wants to come and stay... the doctors have advised a warm climate!'

'No, I refuse! I couldn't bear it,' shouted Larry, leaping to his feet; 'it's bad enough being shown Lugaretzia's gums every morning, without having Great-aunt Hermione dying by inches all over the place. You'll have to put her off, Mother . . . tell her there's no room.'

'But I can't, dear; I told her in the last letter what a big villa we had.'

'She's probably forgotten,' said Leslie hopefully.

'She hasn't. She mentions it here . . . where is it? ... oh, yes, here you are: "As you now seem able to afford such an extensive establishment, I am sure, Louie dear, that you would not begrudge a small corner to an old woman who has not much longer to live." There you are! What on earth can we do?’

'Write and tell her we've got an epidemic of smallpox raging out here, and send her a photograph of Margo's acne,' suggested Larry.

'Don't be silly, dear. Besides, I told her how healthy it is here.'

'Really, Mother, you are impossible!' exclaimed Larry angrily. 'I was looking forward to a nice quiet summer's work, with just a few select friends, and now we're going to be invaded by that evil old camel, smelling of mothballs and singing hymns in the lavatory.'

'Really, dear, you do exaggerate. And I don't know why you have to bring lavatories into it - I've never heard her sing hymns anywhere.'

'She does nothing else but sing hymns ... "Lead, Kindly Light", while everyone queues on the landing.'

'Well, anyway, we've got to think of a good excuse. I can't write and tell her we don't want her because she sings hymns.'

'Why not?'

'Don't be unreasonable, dear; after all, she is a relation.'

'What on earth's that got to do with it? Why should we have to fawn all over the old hag because she's a relation, when the really sensible thing to do would be to burn her at the stake.'

'She's not as bad as that,* protested Mother half-heartedly.

'My dear Mother, of all the foul relatives with which we are cluttered, she is definitely the worst. Why you keep in touch with her I cannot, for the life of me, imagine.'

'Well, I've got to answer her letters, haven't I?’

‘Why? Just write "Gone Away" across them and send them back.'

'I couldn't do that, dear; they'd recognize my handwriting,' said Mother vaguely; 'besides, I've opened this now.'

'Can't one of us write and say you're ill?' suggested Margo.

'Yes, we'll say the doctors have given up hope,' said Leslie.

‘I’ll write the letter,' said Larry with relish. I'll get one of those lovely black-edged envelopes... that will add an air of verisimilitude to the whole thing.'

'You'll do nothing of the sort,' said Mother firmly. 'If you did that she'd come straight out to nurse me. You know what she is.'

'Why keep in touch with them; that's what I want to know,' asked Larry despairingly. 'What satisfaction does it give you? They're all either fossilized or mental.'

'Indeed, they're not mental,' said Mother indignantly.

'Nonsense, Mother. . . . Look at Aunt Bertha, keeping flocks of imaginary cats ... and there's Great Uncle Patrick, who wanders about nude and tells complete strangers how he killed whales with a pen-knife .... They're 'bats.'

'Well, they're queer; but they're all very old, and so they're bound to be. But they're not mental,’ explained Mother; adding candidly, 'Anyway, not enough to be put away.'

'Well, if we're going to be invaded by relations, there's only one thing to do,' said Larry resignedly.

'What's that?' inquired Mother, peering over her spectacles expectantly.

'We must move, of course.'

‘Move? Move where?' asked Mother, bewildered.

'Move to a smaller villa. Then you can write to all these zombies and tell them we haven't any room.'

'But don't be stupid, Larry. We can't keep moving. We moved here in order to cope with your friends.'

'Well, now we'll have to move to cope with the relations.'

'But we can't keep rushing to and fro about the island ... people will think we've gone mad.'

'They'll think we're even madder if that old harpy turns up. Honestly, Mother, I couldn't stand it if she came. I should probably borrow one of Leslie's guns and blow a hole in her corsets.'

'Larry! I do wish you wouldn't say things like that in front of Gerry.'

'I'm just warning you.'

There was a pause, while Mother polished her spectacles feverishly.

'But it seems so ... so... eccentric to keep changing villas like that, dear,' she said at last.

'There's nothing eccentric about it,' said Larry, surprised; 'it's a perfectly logical thing to do.'

'Of course it is,' agreed Leslie; 'it's a sort of self-defence, anyway.'

'Do be sensible, Mother,' said Margo; 'after all, a change is as good as a feast.'

So, bearing that novel proverb in mind, we moved.


Edited by ThisLife

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