Part 1, chapter seven
During my stay in Darjeeling, before heading south, I had run into a man named Hank, whom I had met only once previously, the night before leaving Canada for India, at a buddy’s place who was holding a going-away party for me. Hank and I were both heading to the subcontinent within the next few days, and mutual friends at the party were trying to convince us to hook-up over there. Neither Hank nor I were moved by this idea however, for neither of us had an itinerary, a plan, nor a desire to have anything out in front of us fixed or related to time or calendars, for the spirit moves not to mankind’s constructs, and neither Hank nor I worried about whether we would be guided to meet up, if such was the spirit’s intention. And indeed, like two needles in a billion-stalk hay stack, we were magnetically drawn to each other on a street in Darjeeling, and have been good buddies ever since.
Things like this ‘coincidental’ meeting happen anywhere, and anytime, but for some reason such convergences seem to occur with greater frequency, and more improbability, in India, where the veil between the whole and the parts is so transparent that at times it may as well not even exist; for the Mother is the matter into and from which all life comes and goes and finds its way without knowing why nor how. And it is only in a place like India, a land of a billion people, where a man can, for example, walk up to another man, in a random building in an bustling mountain village, and ask “Are you Jack Haas’ father?”, and there is a good chance the answer will be yes. It was the same with the meeting between Hank and I, for we were guided to come together, and the matrix of Mother India was the perfect living venue in which such subtle bonds like ours could come together in the chaos of the cosmic stew.
A similar occurrence happened on my first trip to India, when I had decided to include a brief visit to Nepal, so as to partake of the mountain culture, the Diwali Festival of Lights, and a glass or two of the rice beer called chang which I had heard so much about.
I left from Varanasi on a two day bus journey to Katmandu, and, as always, there were delays and unexpected breakdowns, and so, into the second afternoon it was obvious that we would not make our destination until very late in the evening. Although time had ceased to concern me at that point in my travels, I was admittedly anxious to get to Katmandu because, on top of the reasons mentioned above, I was also holding onto a thread of hope that I would meet up with a woman from Canada, whom I had fallen helplessly in love with during the previous year in Vancouver, although no tight bond had grown between us. And so I had left for India, and she for Thailand, and we had agreed to leave a message for the other person at a specific hotel in Katmandu, were either of us to get there on our separate journeys, so that we could attempt to meet up somewhere, if fate was to have it that way.
Well, to be sure, as providence always provides, I was on that tardy bus heaving its way over the broken dirt roads, winding through the mountains, and every once in a while the bus would stop in one of the sparse hamlets along the route, so as to take on more new passengers, all of whom were now forced to ride on the roof, as the bus was already crammed turgid with humanity inside. A few hours before arriving in Katmandu we stopped again, and I got off to release my bladder, and suddenly ran head long into the woman I adored, who a few hours earlier had gotten on top of the very bus I had been on for almost two days now, but I hadn’t noticed because she had been sent up top. And so I had been riding along for the past many hours, anxious to know if I would ever see my heart’s desire again, and she had been riding but a few feet above me all the while, and all you can do when the loving universe works such magic upon you is throw up your arms in bewildered hallelujahs, and …make love.
Things like this happen, to be sure. A similar story comes from a very good friend of mine who was in India alone a few years after that episode of mine, and she was on a bus heading through the plains when she got to talking to another westerner sitting in the seat beside her. It turned out, as they soon realized, that they were both from western Canada, had mutual acquaintances, and, in fact, were cousins who had never before met, though they knew of each other.
Oh, the ties are deep and unbreakable in the magic carpet woven by the invisible weaver who plays each thread into the unimaginable pattern desired at any specific place, at any specific time.
The spirit runs as thick as matter, and is matter, and all the separation and agony of the world are merely patterns in the living design, and the union and joy are but colors in those patterns which are not separated from the carpet, nor weaver, nor wearer, nor loom.
To continue though, having been guided to meet up with Hank in Darjeeling, I decided to join him and a few others on a ten-day reconnaissance trip into the Niora Gorge, a primitive valley in the lesser populated region of northern Bengal.
There were six of us who hiked into the valley from a nearby village, where we followed a river up to its source, and then traversed along a ridge at about three-thousand meters of elevation, walking on ancient yak trails, sleeping in bamboo shepherd’s huts amidst gigantic rhododendron forests, and all the while being flabbergasted by the pristine beauty of one of India’s last unlogged and unpeopled valleys.
It was a tremendous Himalayan adventure, not only because of the wilderness experience in the ancient land, but largely due to the presence and character of Hank himself, a big-bearded Canadian madman who, for the last fifteen years had spent six months every winter doing biological and ethnographic research in the mountains of India and Nepal. He had scoured the lands, journeying by foot, skis, bus, jeep, and elephant, to the most remote reaches of this timeless land, and had some fantastic tales to tell. For example: he claimed to have seen the stuffed remains of a small yeti, somewhere in a little mountain village in western Nepal, and then told how the mountain folk of Nepal know of hundreds of other ‘little creatures’- the likes of which we call gnomes and goblins- and were as certain of these beings as they were of the sun.
Though it was not Hank’s stories of other beings which were the most entertaining, but those which he related of himself. Like the time he was asked never to return to a certain Buddhist monastery after he was caught ogling a western woman’s breasts, who was sitting near him during a ‘closed-eye’ meditation, at which point the lama became irate and declared that Hank was a pig from the fourth realm of hell.
Another time Hank spoke of beating up bandits who sought to rob him on one of the mountain routes which lay far into the hinter regions, but who failed because Hank was a towering, unbeatable force of a man.
Hank had hundreds of personal yarns and anecdotes from his journeys throughout the mystic land, but one in particular springs to mind for its color and absurdity. Hank narrated how he and a buddy, who had joined him on an expedition into the rarely traveled areas of Uttar Pradesh, stumbled into a hidden cave where they were suddenly in the presence of a naked holy man who was sitting on the bare ground in the lotus position, with one hand held high in the air, and his penis tied in a knot around his massive beard. Note, I did not say his beard tied around his penis, and neither did Hank. It was a unique sight, to be sure, and one which might have caused anyone else on the planet to either kneel down in veneration to the yogi, or instead to leave quietly, out of respect for this sadhu who had most likely been sitting that way for years. Not Hank though. Oh no, he had seen every sort of mystery and inexplicable event known to mankind during his sojourns in the wondrous land, and so he did what he could not avoid doing- which is the one thing that, if ever he were to be called a saint, it would be for this- he burst out laughing. But it wasn’t just a quick giggle at the absurd sight, and then on to more proper behavior. No way. Hank is as unbridled, unquenchable, and unabashed as they come. He was soon into uncontrollable howls, eventually falling to the ground in tears and laughter, and having to roll out of the cave and crawl out of the valley on all fours, as the hilarity possessed and weakened him like a child bursting with painful delight. Apparently his mirth was so contagious that his buddy was also on all fours with him, and unable to halt the stream of tears and hoots of unstoppable glee bursting through him. In fact, the two of them laughed for no less than two hours, at which point they were far away from the cave, where they slowly collected themselves.
Knowing Hank as I know him, and having been shown by him a great number of times that one of the essential ways of making it through the peril, stupidity, and pain of life, is to walk always with a light heart, I can bear witness in absentia to this happening, for Hank is the laughing saint who heals the world of its insanity and troubles with his lunacy and comic way. And though he is a very serious and caring man at times, he has trod upon this anguishing earth for so long, and seen such wonder and horror, that it seems somewhere along the way he walked out of the fires laughing, with sparks dancing in his eyes, and merriment cascading from his jowls, and for that I applaud and cherish him.
It is this foolish wisdom which I find so often sadly lacking within myself. The seriousness and outright weight of this life has often burdened me beyond what was necessary or healthy, so much so that at one time in my life, when I was deep into the muck and gore of existence, and could see no way out, my anima came to me in a dream, with the intent of showing me how to fly. In the dream she began floating upward, at which point she yelled out what I understood perfectly at the time- as one understands things perfectly in dreams- “Everything is light! Everything is light!” And I awoke knowing that the word ‘light’ is a triple entendre, and that the light which dissolves darkness is the same as the lightness which is not heavy, which is the same as the light-heartedness required to rise above the quagmire of struggle and concern. Indeed, I saw quite clearly then that the finished soul rises like a lotus out of the mire, and they rise out …laughing.
And it was this same light- the light with three meanings- that I also knew would, if anything could, dissolve the manifold darkness within me which at times bored, oppressed, and blinded me to the privilege and delight of our blessed existence.
I was shown that the light-beings which we are, are only light enough to fly if we lighten up within. But to this day I have yet to find that essential lightness within myself, or any other, except in that whimsical, beautiful, and foolish wiseman- Hank, the laughing saint of the Himalayas.
Writing all of this down makes me wonder if in fact the world in which we live is already one designed for laughter and joy, and it is only my own misconceptions and false efforts that make it seem out of whack. And perhaps this is why twice in this lifetime God has come to me and unequivocally declared- “There is no problem!”
To be sure, I quickly rejoined that, from where I was standing, there were heaps of problems, though I can’t argue with God, for when finally I entered unwittingly into God-consciousness, years later, during a shamanic journey on the discarnate wings of psychedelic mushrooms, there certainly were no problems, and, if there were …they were hilarious.
There is no problem. The only problem is how to live without a problem. And that is a problem, for, at this point in the evolution of our species, humanity seems determined to cause its own grief, however obvious or obscure.
I have been coming to this notion for a while- that since most of our problems are self-created, true wisdom does not lie in solving problems, but in not causing them. Yet this type of via negativa is a truly subtle art, far too difficult for most base egos to sense or consider as an answer to the self-created conundrums and confusions which plague most lives. It is a true finesse, and one for which I claim no perfection- to live subtly, acceptingly, and consciously enough to cause ourselves, and therefore others, as little grief as possible- for though this may sound simple, it is perhaps the rarest of accomplishments in our strife-ridden world.