One must learn an inner solitude, where or with whomsoever he may be. He must learn to penetrate things and find God there, to get a strong impression of God firmly fixed on his mind.--Meister Eckhart
My pilgrimage began in earnest around the year this picture above was taken. I am standing in the main temple of Durbar Square in Katmandu, or rather swaying to the rythm of music the film set has generated for the scene. The movie is Hari Ram, Hari Krishna and was directed by Dev Anand, the legendary prototype for all that was to later become Bollywood. The film was such a smash hit that people would surround me in the streets of Delhi a year later, as they would many other hippies, and taunt me with the theme song. There are many ways that poor pilgrims get help on long journeys and becoming an extra in that movie probably saved my life. No shit. Pun intended, as I was rescued from amoebic dysentery through my one month on the set.
It was 1971 and I was restless. Jack Kerouc, Henry Miller, Thoreau and the zen masters of China and Japan had, along with a whole cast of philosophical and artistic characters instilled the dreaded wanderlust in me. There had to be answers to the fundamental questions that plagued me. Nobody was teaching any of these answers to students at the prestigious Aberdeen University, founded so long ago that one wonders if there were actually any people around. Of course since I declined the opportunity to go there I was never to find out the riches this august institution might have provided. But that is a mighty big might.
To get to Katmandu from Aberdeen on a fiscal limit of twenty pounds one needs to have no plan. This is where being a pilgrim began. Of course the destination must be firmly emblazoned on the inner eye's screen but without money there is simply no way to decide where you will be when. The road is thus its own teacher and its own student as we poor pilgrims become the catalysts for an energy older than our kind. It is surely the energy of movement amidst chaos. What happens next on any given day is anybody's guess therefore be prepared for anything all the time.
At eighteen I had my share of Arab truck drivers wanting to make deals for the long haul from Innsbruk to Teheran but I valued my heterosexuality more than the warmth of a cab in the wintry Austrian night. Yugoslavia was a hard master. Grey to the point of Prozac, its bleak landscape matched its socialist citizens whom one would suppose would communalize transport. It was the opposite. Sleeping in railway tunnels not five feet from freight trains taught me about how to handle the cold alone and how not to perfectly fall asleep.
An orange here, a piece of unleavened bread there. Always alone. Moving on with the constant mantra. Istanbul, Erzerum, Tabriz Teheran and Herat. Kandahar, Kabul and Peshawar, Lahore, Amritsar and Delhi. Varanasi and Katmandu - like an endless loop song it kept me going for almost two months but by the time I arrived inside Pakistan, at the border in fact, there were jets of liquid proceeding from a place in my anatomy where it should not have been the case. Thin as a wire but miraculously undaunted I must hereby pay homage to the bravery and the foolishness of youth. To do this without support and without money spending most of every day walking and hitch hiking it now astonishes me to consider where all the faith came from.
It was raw need. I had to get answers. I had to find out what lay behind this pathetic veneer that had been presented as reality by my parents, my teachers and my friends. The menu was all wrong in the societal restaurant. It was not food for humans, it was fodder for sheep. To eat it, worse to digest it would be fatal to my spiritual health. Rather go hungry and wander and wonder. Thus I did on many a day.
To encourage oneself is a sublime art that many a hitchhiker must quickly master. Entire days can go by without significant movement forward and then just as you get that desperately lonely and forlorn feeling that they were all right in warning against this foolishness, a tooothless turbanned Pathan will stop his mule and cart and hand you a carrot or an apple.
I was seriously ill by the time I got to Katmandu with regulat jets of brown sewage emitting from my emaciated body. What next? Katmandu! The destination! Surely I will be cared for there! Ah, the hope of ages surely rings in every pilgrim's heart. It will get better for it must.
The Hog Farm had stopped in Katmandu. Famous as the world's most colourful traveling hippie commune they rode across the planet in psychedelic school buses and fed the poor as they fucked and tripped their way across unknown worlds. Their religion was sex and drugs after all. It was the early days of the hippy movement and we had swung from as far to on side of the moral divide as it was possible to relative to our parents. Nakedness was a virtue now and possession was a sin. They were wonderful hosts as I found them and they told me Anand wanted lots of hip extras. I was instantly employed.
I recovered my strength and headed back down into the steaming plains where I would continue to sleep on pavements and totally immerse myself in the freedom of total insecurity. Et voila a pilgrim of sorts was born. A largely unconscious one for sure but I certainly had what it took to be on the road because I had mastered the art of being my own best company while most kids were wandering how to spend their pocket money in the student union. After three trips to India and back by the time I was twenty I was ready for an even more extreme adventure. Cairo to Capetown beckoned...into the veritable heart of darkness...
Friday, 7 March 2008
So now we make the movie. We are making the movie. The movie is being made.
The old fashioned way to do things was that you first get a plan, you get financing and then you do the project with the security of knowing the money is there. At least in the film business this is generally the case. Film business. Not film art. Did you never think it strange that we pay the same amount at theatres for films whether they are good or bad? That there is a no return policy? That Hollywood budgets are grossly inflated to make people think they are getting a deal?
But times have changed with the advent of digital technology and the internet. Our film, Earth Pilgrims will be released internationally on the internet as a pay per view movie. This has become feasible because of one company. Vividas. Based in Melbourne this relatively new company has cracked the nut of how to upload movies to your nearest server without any buffering.
You can therefore sit at home and for a third of the price of a movie theatre enjoy a full length movie. You can pause the movie but not rewind it. You cannot download it to you hard drive. You can watch it once. The going rate seems to be about five dollars. Figure that half of that goes to Vividas for providing the platform and the cash cart system for purchasing. A new age really is dawning for the independent film maker.
We still need money for staff, for travel for editing for all the fors a movie involves but the philosophy of making this movie has to be different. It is after all by a pilgrim about pilgrims and as we all know pilgrims take what they are offered and go with the flow. Otherwise they are tourists. In our case we must literally take one step at a time. We are, and we are having a really good time doing that. It is after all a spiritual adventure film about the power of synchronicity....
I funded the journey to the UK and Israel personally. Months ago I had thought about using a business friend's acumen to rustle up investors. But investors are not interested in films. They are interested in return on an investment. I promise nothing except that this movie will move you. Go invest in gold futures if you want to make money on war planet Earth. But if you want to invest in the soul, in the spirit of a spiritual adventure then become a pilgrim. Then you will no doubt find out what Satish Kumar and Graham Hancock and Peace Pilgrim all found out too.
First you show up on the road.
Graham always went to the front lines in his research. He was never an armchair commentator on somebody else's theory. In our long ranging discussion at his home last year, before we did this year's interview for the movie, he had told me how many times he had dived on the underwater ruins at Yonaguni island in Okinawa. Hundreds. To write the book Underworld he had had risked his life on many occasions looking for real artifacts to back up his theory. He really traveled that underwater road on great faith.
Satish of course walked from India to Europe without money. He faced countless difficulties. Yet now he has been shaped as a lifelong pilgrim who does not look for investors but rather invites fellow Earth Pilgrims, you and me, into his incredibly prosperous life. Not rich. Prosperous. There is a whole world of difference. I believe that one of the root meanings of prosperity is ' success in prayer' and prayer is a staple for pilgrims.
Wade Davis lived with the tribes he was studying. He drank ayahuasca with them and he listend to their stories. He is a pilgrim with a poet's gift and an anthropologist's no nonsense approach. His teacher had opened up the inner Amazon as no man had before. Richard Evans Shultes had really inculcated Davis with a very special gift. He knew that you cannot really ever understand another unless you walk in his mocassins.
I expand the meaning of prayer here to mean 'communication with unseen realms' so that sitting by a roadside, sweat pouring down one's face and body, aching all over, hungry perhaps and most definitely aware of your own fragility the most obvious unseen realm is your own feelings. That is where the road really starts for a pilgrim. The rest is scenery for the ongoing work of dealing with feelings that have nothing to do with trees and mountains but a hell of a lot to do with the meaning of your life and of your imminent death. How can it not be imminent? Are you so sure you have time? There goes the ego again at its oldest trick. Survival
Gone are the ego supports on that road. The friends. The wives, the lovers, the children, the workmates and all the other personas who make our persona. Here it is just you. Dust on the street. Loud cars or even worse a tunnel with hundreds of vehicles shrieking around the curved walls at you. First a feeling, then a doubt, then a prayer begins. A prayer is an admission of mortality first and foremost. ' I am here but I will not be here.'
Thomas Merton was a tough looking guy who one day jettisoned a cool life as a bit of a university dilettante who was popular with the lassies. In fact because he knocked one up in Europe his grandfather dragged him back to the states to keep him out of trouble. Then one day his prayer started. He realised how totally phoney he was. Pilgrims get that a lot. I am a phoney might be the primeval prayer.
After 27 odd years as a trappist monk, a pilgrim of solitude shall we say, Merton had seen enough and felt enough to know how tenacious is the false self, the ego which no amount of ego can suffice to get rid of. How can a clown remove his makeup on stage and stay in the business?
MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does
not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
Now all you have to do is substitute the words MY LORD GOD for MY REAL SELF, if you are religiously squeamish, to get the picture. The face of Thomas Merton tells anyone with half a wit about character and real people, that there was zero phoniness left in the man. He had faced himself. And he saw what we will all see if we are willing.
A temporary visa on Earth recipient who must move through his own and the world's history not knowing a thing about reality, that is our real face. A clown who mistakes his makeup for himself and spends an inordinate amount of time on the applying of the makeup on a daily basis is what we are really doing.
The pilgrim has been wounded. And being so he has wondered. And that is surely the beginning of all wandering.
We are making a movie. Whether we have money or not, or sponsors or not or breafast or not we are making a movie. We are walking the path that we are filming. And here then, where we are now, Merton's prayer makes total sense.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end
But I know I am here. And I know it is now. And I can see we have a new website for this movie.