Spirit Grooves Blogs

Published on July 21, 2014

It was in the late 1950s that I really began to pick up on Buddhism, and it was Zen Buddhism at that. And it all seemed so foreign. Well, not as foreign as the garish colors and style of the various Hindu religions and deities, which are almost other-worldly, but foreign enough for me. It is hard to believe that what I felt as foreign was only half-a-world away. Americans were so cloistered in the 1950s.

Thanks to the Japanese Zen flavor and the obsessive neatness of the little Zen gardens, paper screens, and teak floors, Buddhism appeared a little less foreign, actually in many ways quite appealing. It is probably just as well that I didn't confront the rich colors and brocades of Tibetan Buddhism early-on. That would come later, and was never a real problem. My Catholic upbringing had all the vestments, rich colors, and foreign language (church Latin) as anything the Tibetans could share. Well, maybe the fierce Tibetan dharma protectors were something a little new, but Catholic visions of Purgatory and Hell were scary enough.

What did take me a very long time to accept were the portrayals of Tibetan saints and gurus as actual people. Catholics never did that. We had paintings and statues of saints, but higher teachers, much less the Son of God, were never portrayed as real persons. So photos of real-life gurus and babas were indeed foreign as can be.

Suddenly I was looking at all these pictures of Hindu holy men and Tibetan lamas. There they were, sitting on what looked to me like thrones, as kings would. Some were even called "Dharma Kings." Now that WAS foreign to me, for sure. I instinctively reacted negatively. I didn't want to look at these pictures, much less try to pronounce all those unfamiliar foreign names. I would look at a word like "Avalokiteshvara" and not even attempt to pronounce it. To me it was just, you know, 'that" word again. All of this was a bridge too far, at least at first.

Americans seem to have a built-in approach-avoidance reaction to anyone sitting on a throne, political or religious. I know I did. And the whole idea of "The Guru," someone with spiritual power, was, again: foreign to me. I actually had trouble physically looking at these photos, but I got over it, yet it took time.

Actually, all it really took to clinch the deal was meeting these Tibetans in person. They were so welcoming and accepting, as in: accepting me just as I am, and that was a new experience for me. I was used to being kind of held at arm's length. We Americans are so critical, often judging by the cover without even reading the book. I tended to focus on the person, and not who was "in there" behind that person, the sentient being. That is just how I was brought up. Back then I had zero concept of what the Buddhas call "Buddha Nature," something all sentient beings share in common.

Your personality (or mine) was essentially a closed door through which I dared not venture, a living mine field of personal faults that obscured any real being you might be inside all that. It was as if we were all "untouchable" to one another, veiled by our obvious faults and blemishes. Touching one another deeply, reaching beyond our personality, meant possibly getting the cooties that those personalities often so plainly displayed. This was a real problem that took years for me to negotiate. And how that worked out for me will probably rankle some of you, but here it is.

Lacking the experience of sharing my essence with anyone outside myself, all I could see of you was your outer shell, the defects of your personality, and I didn't want to contact that, lest it somehow might infect me. I sure did not want to become what I clearly saw as faults in you. They were a warning sign to me not to do whatever you did to deserve them. Therefore, I kept everyone literally at arm's length from me – a vicious Catch-22.

I am probably getting too psychological here, but I want to paint a real picture of just how it was in the late 1950s here in America, before the advent of LSD in our culture. And I was not alone in being the "boy in the bubble." Many felt the same way, I am sure. Society at that time was narrow to claustrophobic; at least I felt that way.

And yes, as mentioned above, it took LSD to pop that bubble, break the embryonic membrane, and allow our ingrained dualism to begin to dissolve fluidly. And it wasn't just me. It was my entire generation, and despite how it might look, this is what turned the 1950s into the 1960s and "The Sixties" – acid.

Not everyone took LSD, but most everyone in that generation was affected by those of us who did, because with the advent of acid we began to change our own societal mind and that is your mind too.

I know. Some of you don't like me to bring up acid because we are beyond that now (and it is dangerous), but in truth it was LSD that broke down the barrier between myself and others, between subject and object. It was on LSD that my generation first realized that what we saw with our eyes out there in the world was very much like a movie screen, colored by what we projected from in here, by our prejudice, biases, and overly conservative views. And I am not the Lone Ranger. The Sixties has testified to what I am sharing here. This is established fact, not some fiction peculiar to me.

Well, I have gone on here long enough. I started out telling you how foreign the Asian philosophies were to me, at least in appearance. But I ended up telling you what made all of that less "foreign," and that what finally broke down my generation's subject-object duality, was not gradual change, but the onset of LSD in the minds of those of us raised in the 1950s. It is what caused the 1960s to become what it is known as today, as far as I know. And it was an avalanche.

[Photo taken around the yard, after the rain.]