Friday, October 28, 2005

Dreaming North & South - Where are the Khrishnas now?

Correspondence to novelist Curtis White: I enjoyed your essay in Context about Middle Mind. [RE]: The Hari Krishnas. You ask: “What ever happened to those guys, anyway?” I ran across Khrishnas quite a lot when my wife was at Chapel Hill and we had to live there for awhile. They have two bases, one in the Blue Mountains between Virginia and North Carolina and one in West Virginia. (Cold Mountain in western North Carolina is considered a vortex – thus the quote from Han Shan, the Taoist monk/poet, at the beginning of the novel of the same name.) The Khrishnas work in places like Circuit City and dress normal except for the funny hair thing. It is interesting that the three big swamis from the 1960s – The Khrishnas, Marharishi Mahesh Yogi and Swami Satchidananda (“the Woodstock guru”) have all settled in the Blues (the Maharishi has a quite big and consistent following business-looking types and a whole lot of land around Eagle, [NC], and Satchidananda’s Yogatown, I think it is called, is near Appomatux, VA – Mia Farrow gave Satchidananda some land in Connecticut and he quickly sold it and bought the place in Virginia. Retired clerks go there.). The Big Deal Buddhists have all settled up here in cold country – Thich Knat Han has a monestary in Woodstock [VT], there is one in Woodstock, NY, where the Karmapa, reigning Tibetan monk next to the Dalai Lama was/is expected to move, and one up here near us in Barnet, [VT], which preceded the Naropa Institute. I started to become a Buddhist in 1967 when I was sent to be a soldier in Thailand, during the Vietnam war and it is interesting how it has bled into Middle Mind since then. Buddhism is intended to quicken the life force, not kill it, but these new people are lame. D. T. Suzuki’s essays, first published in English in a magazine called Eastern Buddhism around 1930, are still useful, I think, as most Middle people in America enter from the same place the Japanese starts – from the Rational Mind. To the Japanese, it is their cultural fate and destiny, but it is a deception and a spiritual prison. Indeed, you can take large chunks from Andre Malraux or Kenneth Burke or a million others Westerners including The Accidental Tourist about finding yourself somehow detached and wanting to get back to the “natural man” and it would seem to come from Suzuki’s earliest English writings (I think much of it did, via Malraux and others after Suzuki came to Columbia in the 1950s). But what is interesting is that although Suzuki says all Buddhism comes from the Hindu (See Introduction to Zen, Grove Press), you do not find this detachment in Hinduism. Maybe it is a product of cold country. I feel detached. Sleeping/dreaming up here in the mountains of New Hampshire is like sleeping/ dreaming in an empty auditorium with endless and overwhelming silence and the chairs all folded up. And it was like that when I grew up up here in Rhode Island. But I didn’t feel like that in Thailand, nor did I feel like that for the ten years we lived by chance in the South. Thais never feel like that nor do most Southern people or Africans unless they want to be on with Terry Gross. But we lived near Cold Mountain. Sleeping/dreaming was like traveling in a vivid paradise; great blue and orange birds landed on electric wires and travelled through the universe in coffee pots – ancient charred black Viking ships filed into slips that were subway stops in Washington, D.C, but filled with water. And you could touch them and the pitch was still fresh. Trees talked and complained like in the Tolkein stories, and always there was the constant chatter of critters, the rustle in the woods and the sounds of running water. Maybe it is that vortex thing. Cheers, Bernie Quigley, Haverhill, [NH]

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