When I was in my 20s, I renounced the materialism of the Western world. I got a job on a freighter after obtaining my seaman’s ticket, and worked on the high seas until taking my accumulated pay and debarking for good at the port of Chittagong. I could have lived like a king for a year in Bangladesh but instead I secreted my money on my person and made my way north on foot, depending upon the kindness of strangers for my biryani and llish.
In time, I passed through the hills of Meghalaya (the Scotland of India) and crossed into Assam. I endured rain, sat and watched the one-horned Indian rhinoceros, and eventually progressed into Bhutan. Here, in the deep valleys, as I approached the mighty Himalayas, I began sitting with the Vajrayana monks whom I encountered. Finally, in the company of these monks, I began the long, long tramp to Cona in Tibet, at 14,000 feet, and eventually, as the seasons passed, to Gonggar. I was tempted to apply for membership in the Sakyapa school of Tibetan Buddhism at the Gonggar Dzong or the Gonggar Choede Monastery, but I craved to leave the valleys and trek up into the wild and rocky Himalaya hinterlands, which I did, feet wrapped in burlap. I could feel myself leaving the world behind and approaching true understanding on the edge of the great voids of thin air that fill the spaces between the mountain peaks up there.
I arrived finally in a small and nameless village on the stoney gray flank of a gigantic mountain. A woman, Chomo-Lung-Ma (Godess Mother of the Universe), took me in. There were no monks in the village but she explained by gesture that this was a good thing – that I could best advance my own personal monkhood in solitary fashion.
It developed that she had six children. She kept me busy with chores, which seemed good for a newbie monk. I never figured out where the village’s food came from. The goats would wander off over the flinty slopes; they must have found something to eat somewhere back there because they came back sated. Chomo-Lung-Ma gave me sustenance sufficient to keep me alive and able to work, no more.
When Spring arrived, she gathered the family’s meager belongings and the kids and prodded me out onto the track through the village. It seemed as if we walked for months after that. Walked and walked. In fact, we did walk for months. We walked until we arrived on the ocean shore at the harbor of Beihai in Guangxi province. Chomo-Lung-Ma took my money stash, which had remained intact since my final day on the freighter, and she and I and her children crossed the Pacific and were smuggled ashore south of L.A. We caught a succession of buses north to a furnished bungalow in Canoga Park. Five bedrooms, three baths, red-tile roof, full landscaping. We took up residence as a happy, middle-class married couple. She worked with a gang smuggling Far Eastern drugs; I was in charge of the kids, the pets we acquired, and the Escalade. Two housemaids came in on Tuesdays and Fridays.
I would have done some yard work, but a Mexican crew showed up every Thursday to take care of that.