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1967 – 1977. Ten Years on the Road. An Outline
In April, 1967, I set off from Sanderstead, Croydon, south of London, to see the world. I started off sitting in the back of a van with my friends, Stan and Margaret, who lived around the corner and were going to Greece for a holiday.
During the 10 years away from Britain, I wrote a letter home every week or so except for one time. During my years as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, I once took a vow for three months for the duration of the rains retreat (pansa) in 1971 that I would not read nor write a word in that period.
I also wrote diaries regularly throughout much of the 10 years. My letters to my parents were rather censored so as not to worry them with the variety of challenges of life on the road. Upon arrival back home in early May, 1977, my mother handed me a couple of shoe boxes of all my letters, which had a rubber band around for each year of the letters. The majority of around 400 letters were written on aerogrammes. I also have at home several diaries.
My mother constantly encouraged me to write a memoir from my recollections, letters and diaries. I kept putting it off. It seemed incongruous to write a book about my past riddled with “I,” “me” and “my” in virtually every sentence. After all, I am a teacher of the emptiness of “I,” “me” and “my.”
I made a promise to my mother that I would work on the book before she died. In 2006, I finally, made a sincere start and completed 60,000 words of the first draft out of anticipated 150,000 words. Interest faded away and other writing projects took priority. I gave my mother a printout of some of these chapters. My mother died peacefully, free from major health issues, a couple of weeks before her 95th birthday in March, 2015. She kept those chapters in the cabinet besides her bed.
The writing projects that took priority included a series of five books of around 60,000 – 65,000 words per book which serve as a commentary on aspects of the Buddha’s teachings to apply to daily life.
Except for the final read through for typos and glitches, all five books were finally completed in the past year.
The Buddha of Love has been published.
The Explicit Buddha (on his teachings for an enlightened life) – available by the end of 2016.
The Political Buddha due to come out in Spring, 2017.
The Buddha in the West (on Dharma in the West) – due out summer, 2017.
The Questioning Buddha due out in late, 2017.
I have now got back to working on the memoir. There are descriptions of experiences that are so clear in the diaries that they could have occurred a week ago. Numerous details come immediately to mind. There are experiences not in the diaries but have been triggered through writing about the past. There are other descriptions which I recall but cannot add much in the way of detail. There are other descriptions of experiences that I simply cannot recall – even though there is some drama in the event.
1967 -1977. Year by Year
1967. Left Sanderstead, Surrey in April, 1967, to travel overland to the East. Van, hitchhiking, walking, coach, bus, rail. France, Germany, Yugoslavia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (arrived in India in October, 1967), Nepal, Sikkim.
1968. Brief visit to Burma, plus northern and southern Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia (arrived in Darwin in the Northern Territories). Hitchhiked from Darwin to Sydney (around 4000 kilometres, 2,500 miles), via Brisbane, then thumbed to Melbourne, Adelaide and took narrow gauge and rather vintage train to Alice Springs from Adelaide (no road then), and then hitchhiked to Darwin. Worked as a news reporter for Northern Territory News in Darwin and ABC radio in Sydney to save money to travel.
1969. Portuguese East Timor, Lombok, Bali, Java, Sumatra by boat, canoe, horseback, walking, hitching rides, local buses, Penang, Thailand and hitched rides to jungles of central Laos with locals and army trucks. Widespread US bombing and civil war.
1970. January. Meeting with Ajahn Buddhadassa in forest in Wat Suanmoke, Chai Ya, southern Thailand. Ordination as a Buddhist novice. Practised in Vipassana (insight meditation) Monastery, formerly named Wat Thao Kot, outside Nakornsrikdhammaraj, 16 hours south on the train from Bangkok. Only Westerner for more than a year. Silence, meditation in four postures. Reading Dharma books strongly discouraged. Took full ordination as a Buddhist monk.
1971. Same Vipassana monastery under the guidance of Ajahn Dhammadharo. Same schedule from 4 am to 22.00 daily with evening Dharma talk from the teacher lasting from 40 minutes to three hours. All eating to finish by 12.17 pm until dawn next day. Regular cremations on an open fire in the middle of the meditation walking circle. Deceased monks, nuns and local villages were carried and laid on the wood then fire lit with matches and paper. Occasional Yatras (walking pilgrimages), in Southern Thailand with teacher, monks and nuns in a single file. Canoe trips on rivers between jungle and rice paddies to teach Dharma in remote regions. Sleeping under trees in fields and forests using a mosquito net hanging from our wooden umbrella hooked over a branch with some rope.
1972. Same as above, plus visits for dialogue with Ajahn Buddhadassa, to explore emptiness, non-clinging, arising and dissolving of “I” and “my.” The Ajahn’s monastery was around five hours north on the local train used by villagers. My mother flew from England to see me for two weeks. She did not approve of me being bare footed all the time. It was a rule of our monastery for the feet to have bare contact with the earth. Monks in other Thai monasteries wore flip-flops.
1973. Moved to a cave in the hills of Ko Pha Ngan, an island, about two hours in a boat from Suratthani on the east coast of Thailand. Never saw a Westerner on the island. Suddhinand and Renaud paid a short visit. Cave overlooked the coconut trees with clear view to the blue sea. One elderly monk lived in a hut nearby. He called our area, Wat Khao Tham (the Monastery with a Cave) though it was fenceless. Spent end of year with Ajahn Buddhadassa in the forest with regular exchanges on the depths of the Dharma. Ajahn Dhammadharo and Ajahn Buddhadassa encouraged me to teach the Dharma to Westerners.
1974, 1975 to June 1976. Returned to India. Meetings, satsangs, attending talks, joining programmes, and courses. Listened to various spiritual teachers: Krishnamurti, Suddhochaitanya, Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Bhagwan Rajneesh (Osho), Ananda Mai Ma, Dalai Lama, Geshe Rabten, Goenka, Mother Theresa, Swami Dayananda, Swami Chinmayananda, Swami Parthasarthi, Maurice Friedman, John Coleman, Swami Prabhupat (founder of Hari Krishna movement), Divine Family and various gurus, yogis, sadhus and Sanskrit pundits.
1974, 1975 to June 1976. Stayed in ashrams and retreat centres in India from days to weeks. Buddhist, Hindu and Christian. Rishikesh, Bodh Gaya, Varanasi, Dharamsala, Chennai, Pondicherry, Auroville, Brindavan, Ramakrishna Mission, Maha Bodhi Society, Christian Bible Centre in Mussoorie, Ramana Maharshi Ashram, Gandhi Ashram, Jesuit Theological College, Poona. Practised yoga, explored Advaita, practised Mahayana (mantra/visualisations/prostrations) and studied Buddhist texts in the Library in McLeod Ganj. Attended Khumba Mela, (major Hindu religious festival) with around 10 million pilgrims at Hardwar in the lower Himalayas, besides the River Ganga. Took the ’holy dip’ with thousands of sadhus on the opening day. Visit to Sri Lanka to meet Bhikkhu Nanaponika, Bhikkhu Bodhi and spend some time in Kandubodha Meditation Centre, Nilambe Meditation Centre, Forest Hermitage and Kandy.
1974, 1975 to June 1976. Studied in English, the translation of ancient and contemporary spiritual texts, sometimes with mentors: Bhavagad Gita Upanishads, Yoga Texts, Patanjali Sutta, Tantric texts, Islamic texts, Koran, Mahayana texts, Nagarjuna, Sankhara, Ramana Maharishi’s Who am I? Krishnamurti, I am That, The Bible. Gave more than 100 Dharma talks (two per day) at Elysium House, McLeod Ganj. Gave first Insight Meditation retreat (10 days) in October 1974 (see photo on home page of www.meditation.org website) at Elysium House. Gave retreats in Goa and Manali in the Kulu Valley of the Himalayas. Spent five months in Dalhousie from June to October 1975 – offering 10 day retreats at the start of each month to around 50 – 60 practitioners and teaching meditators on personal retreat for the rest of the month. Gave in December,1975, first of 40 years of the annual retreats in the Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya, place of the Buddha’s enlightenment.
June 1976 to May 1977: Returned to Thailand. Disrobed as a Buddhist monk in Bangkok. Flew to Melbourne, Australia. Met with my sister, Judy and her young family. Gave retreats with Christina in The Channon, NSW, Queensland and elsewhere. Supported by friends in the Dhammananda Community, The Channon and friends who started Bodhi Farm, a community with a radical spiritual vision of inner work and action for social/environmental change. Flew back to India, onto Thailand, Hong Kong and a Zen Monastery in the forest in the very south of Korea. Flew eastwards to San Francisco to stay with Dharma friends and then onto New York and finally back to London and Sanderstead, Surrey.
It took 10 years and 10 days to complete one full circle of the Earth.