If I had better bladder control, I probably wouldn't be writing this.
The literature of spirituality is often a series of meetings with remarkable men and women. Very few spiritual teachers have actually written their own stories. They are more often written by and from the point of view of someone who met them along the way and was so captured by the experience that they felt compelled to write about it.
Thus the problem with so many books about so many spiritual teachers. Many of the teachers were enlightened, but the folks recording their lives and attempting to pass the magic of those lives on to posterity were not. So you get to watch the life of an enlightened being - the fluid dance of infinity - through the inflexible and very finite eyes of someone who has not yet realized their own enlightenment. It's a bitch.
Yet many of these books, if the author's intent was clean, are treasures unto themselves. When we read them, we get to see the side of the author's spiritual teacher that they saw, get to see that vision unfold and grow over time, and thus get to share in the student's self discovery. Often I find that I learn as much from the authors' lives as I do from the lives of the teachers they are describing. This is a good thing, and gives me hope, for I have been assigned a bitch of a task.
My name is Uncle Tantra. I am a spiritual outlaw. That is, I attempt to practice the path of Tantric Buddhism on planet Earth at the cusp of the twentieth-first century. What can I say? I am an incurable optimist.
I should say right at the beginning that I am not a scholarly Buddhist. I am not a scholarly anything. Some would say that I am not even a Buddhist. I am certainly not a member of any long-established Buddhist order, and my travels in the spiritual world have led me not only to the teachings of Buddhism but also through the realms of Taoism, martial arts, Hinduism, business, occultism, sex and relationships, Zen, and travel itself. I am a synthesist, and a lazy one at that. I have a whole wall full of spiritual books, but to be honest I have only partially read many of them. And when I do read these books what I try to do is to not to learn them by rote but to get a feeling for what the particular study is about. If I find in a teaching a feeling that strikes a resonance with me, I attempt to incorporate not the dogma but that feeling into my own personal spiritual path. That's why I am comfortable with describing my path as Tantric Buddhism.
To me, Buddhism is not the trappings that have built up around long-established Asian Buddhist traditions but the inner quest, the active pursuit of enlightenment, and the attempt to live a life worthy of that quest.
Tantra is more difficult to define. Many traditional Tantric practices are highly ritualized and defined, and my path is anything but. The definition of Tantra that I am most comfortable with is that every experience one has in life is a potential spiritual teaching, if you are just weird enough to see it that way.
I know what you're thinking. To most Westerners, the word Tantra means sex. And now you're expecting (or hoping for) a book full of spiritual porno. Sorry. Tantra does not - in my mind at least - connote sex and sexuality, although those paths are certainly a part of Tantra. They are certainly a part of my life as well, but don't get your hopes up. Some of the great Tantric texts spend the whole book without even mentioning sex, or they save all the juicy stuff for the last chapter. For all you know, this may be one of them. Or it may be just filled with sex, lurid purple prose oozing from every page like wax dripping down the long, long, ever-so-long candle that provides the only light in an Amsterdam brothel. I'm not going to tell you right now. You'll just have to dive in and see where it takes you, which if you think about it is a very Tantric Buddhist kinda thing to do.
If you really need to find a title for my philosophy and lifestyle, and you feel that Tantric Buddhism isn't appropriate, rather than trying to invent a long, tortured hyphenate of your own, why don't you just think of me as a Road Tripper? That's how I think of myself. I travel a lot, and try to find in the landscapes I see - both inner and outer - insights and teachings that I can integrate into my personal philosophy.
Along the way, I have worked with a few spiritual teachers. The stories in this book are primarily about one of them, Dr. Frederick Lenz, also known as Rama. I studied with him for fourteen years, and learned a great deal from the gentleman. But please don't feel that my emphasis on him and his teachings is meant to in any way slight the other teachers who have contributed to my spiritual growth. I may write more about them someday, but this particular book is mainly about my time on the road with Rama. And it's all because of my weak bladder.
In books about spiritual teachers, some of the most fascinating moments can be found in the authors' stories about running into their spiritual teachers inadvertently. Many of these inspiring stories take place in locales that are themselves inspiring - the banks of the Ganges, high passes in the Himalayas, walks beside the Seine. I suspect that the places where these seekers synchronistically ran into that which they were seeking and had a conversation with it says a lot about their overall state of consciousness.
I kept running into my spiritual teacher in public restrooms. Over and over and over, literally dozens of times over the years that I studied with him. Go figure.
The first time was at a rest stop in Southern California, about halfway between San Diego and the Anza-Borrego desert. I had stopped there on the way back from my first desert trip with Rama. That desert trip had been one of the most powerful and transformative experiences of my life. Even though I had been a spiritual seeker for twenty years at that point, on the hike up Carrizo Gorge I had seen phenomena and experienced mindstates that I had previously only read about. I was blown out of my socks and out of my body.
So it was with a fairly tangible sense of emptiness that I pulled into the rest stop at daybreak to empty myself even further. I got out of my car and somehow managed to walk to the public restroom, and was standing at one of the urinals relieving myself when Rama walked in and did the same at the one next to me.
This sounds like a pretty normal event, and it is, but you have to consider that standing next to me was the gentleman I had seen a few hours ago in the desert disappearing and walking several inches above the ground and making the stars move around. Almost certainly as a result of this, I was standing there at the urinal completely blown out of my body and experiencing your classic moment of satori. This did not strike me as your normal, everyday process of taking a leak.
But I figured the only path open to me was to treat it as a normal restroom experience, so I didn't say anything to Rama. I mean, I don't normally have deep and meaningful conversations with the guys I am pissing beside anyway, so why start now? Besides, I figured the guy wanted some privacy…for all I know he might be one of those guys who can't pee if someone is watching him. So I just finished my business and zipped up, turning to walk away. Rama turned and looked at me and must have seen how not-in-my-body I was, because he laughed and said, "Pretty neat, huh?"
All I could think of to say was, "Absofuckinglutely!" You may begin to suspect why my karma was to keep running into him in restrooms. But Rama only laughed again and I left.
This scene played itself out with frightening regularity over the coming years. I would walk into a public restroom and there he would be, and we would have a similar conversation, during which I would invariably embarrass myself thoroughly. There would always be the possibility for one of those great meetings-with-remarkable-men experiences, but instead I would always fumble for just the wrong words and get caught with my pants down. So to speak.
When I have told these bathroom stories to women friends who studied with Rama, some of them have surprised me by asking a particular question. The conversation usually goes something like this:
"So you were actually standing there taking a piss beside Rama?"
"Right at the next urinal, standing right beside him?"
"Well…what's the story? Was he well hung or not?"
To be honest, not every gal who heard these stories has asked this question. To be even more honest, some of them didn't need to ask. But to forestall any undue curious-minds-want-to-know-ness in my readers, I will answer it right now.
I don't have a clue. It never even occurred to me to look.
So. That bit of toilet humor having been taken care of, I will proceed to explain how the fact that I am writing this book has anything to do with my lack of bladder control.
I was late for a seminar with Rama. There was a normal, everyday crisis at work and I had been needed to fix it. So, rather than being a little early for the seminar, which was my normal pattern, I was almost an hour late. I was afraid things had started without me, and so I almost ran through the lobby of the hotel, searching for the right conference room. I found it, and could see the registration tables out front but no one was sitting there so I assumed the meeting had already begun.
I was tempted to rush right in and take a seat in the back, but then my less-than-predictable bladder made its presence known and I decided to take a pee before I went in. One of Rama's security guys was standing outside the door of the restroom, but I hardly noticed him because nature was calling more loudly than his psychic "Don't go in there right now."
So I barged into the restroom and there, standing at the sink, was Rama. I said a silent "Oh no…not again" to myself and walked past him to the urinals to do my thing. I finished, and noticed that Rama was still there. Wanting to respect his privacy but not knowing what else to do, I walked to the sink beside him and proceeded to wash my hands. I tried not to look at him, but couldn't help myself.
Rama was primping. That's really the only word for it. He was teasing his modified 'fro hairdo with his fingers, pulling out a curl here, tucking another under there, trying to achieve just the look he wanted. He caught me looking and said, "This is what it takes."
He paused and then continued, "No one quite gets the amount of time it takes to look good up on stage. And I have to do it - look better than anyone else - because what else is going to inspire them to look good themselves?" I agreed silently, tongue-tied as usual.
Rama stopped primping and looked at me in the mirror and said, "You should write a book about all this someday."
This kinda floored me. I knew that by 'all this' he wasn't talking about the primping, but about the whole tamale - him and what it was like to study with him. I had written stories about him before, for the book called The Last Incarnation, and I had tried to do my best on the 'term papers' he assigned to us from time to time, but until now he had never said a word to me about any of them. I said, "I have thought about it, but I have never really known how to do it justice."
He said, "Just start. Start with chapter one and then move on to chapter two. That's what I did when I was writing my books. Write a little bit every day and don't worry about the finished product and at the end of a certain period of time you will have a book."
I must have stammered something about being worried about not doing it right, because he said, "You're a writer. That is your gift. Write it for the new students. They weren't there in the early days. You were. Do it to inspire them, and to inspire people who weren't there at all. If you finish it while I am still alive, I would like to see it before you publish, but if you don't, it's Ok."
Then he made a few last adjustments to his hair, straightened his already impeccable tie, and walked out to do his thing onstage. I just stood there for a while, not knowing what else to do and not knowing whether I had the motor skills to do 'else' if I had known what it was. I was blown out of my socks yet again.
Unlike my first blown-away experience, this one was not altogether pleasant. I had always toyed with the idea writing about Rama, but I had never really taken it seriously. Now I had to, and it was heavy, man. I felt an enormous weight had been laid on my shoulders, and I didn't know if I was strong enough to carry it. That weight has kept me largely silent and unpublished for over a decade.
It took me that long to find a way that I could write about the time I spent with Rama, in a manner that I was comfortable with. I knew that I couldn't do the standard, blissed-out, my-guru-is-perfect-and-cooler-than-your-guru spiritual teacher book. I'm not that kinda guy and he was not that kinda teacher. My experience studying with him was both positive and negative, and I felt that a glossed-over, it-was-all-blissful tale about the Perfect Teacher would be perceived by readers as phony. Because it would have been. A bhakti - someone who follows the path of devotion - I ain't. And if I had tried to fake the devotion I did not feel towards Rama, it wouldn't have expressed to the real feelings I had about him. To tell Rama's story, I felt I had to tell it 'warts and all,' because that is how I loved him - warts and all.
And there was the other issue as well. How do I get myself out of the way enough to do justice to my teacher and the path he presented to the world? Some of the best books I had read about spiritual teachers had accomplished that disappearing act - M's The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna springs to mind, especially the condensed version of the book that he translated into English himself. While I admired this man's egolessness, I knew that it was a quality left out of the list of ingredients when my particular personality was cooked up.
For a while I worked on writing down some of the tales of power that were so common around this Rama guy, but after a while the whole task just became too daunting, so I gave up and put the notion of ever writing a book about him aside. Over the next few years things happened, and I left his study altogether. I still had positive feelings about him, but knew that the current direction life was taking him and his students was not mine, so I walked away. That was a bitch, but I think it worked out. In the time since, I have become much more comfortable being myself than I was sitting in those seminar rooms feeling out of place.
Then he died, and I waited for the impact of that to hit me and reinspire me to take up the book project. But it didn't. All the old reasons why not to write about him were still there. So I never put much serious effort into writing stories about my spiritual experiences for publication. I just wrote them for myself. And of course, being the somewhat ego-centered individual that I am, many of these stories weren't about Rama at all - they were about me. They were about the cool moments that I had experienced while pursuing my own weird pathway to enlightenment.
But around the time of the Fall Equinox, 1998, someone made me an offer I couldn't refuse. A group of young people had put together a website, on which some of Rama's students were writing their recollections of their time with the man. I didn't know any of these folks, but I liked their intent. It felt clean, a desire to share with the world and with the community of other Rama students some of the inspiration and benefits they had gained from their study with the gentleman. I wrote a few essays and poems for the website, and even contributed a couple of stories anonymously.
But then the webmistress wrote me in email and suggested that I write for them regularly, anonymously if I wanted to. I initially said no, but she kept bugging me, and eventually I gave in. I created a persona named Uncle Tantra, and wrote for the website a series of stories told from the warped point of view of a cranky old fart who lived alone in the desert and who had once studied with Rama. In other words, a truly fictional character, having nothing to do with my real life. Yeah, right.
And I discovered that I was having fun writing them. The webmistress' offer had lent me free rein to write about anything I wanted, without having to worry about whether it really did justice to Dr. Frederick Lenz or to his teaching. Whereas I could never get past the need to do a perfect job with my little tales of power, Uncle Tantra could write about whatever the fuck he wanted, just for the fun of it.
I have been writing such stories for some time now, whenever and wherever the inspiration struck me to do so. And finally, over the period surrounding the Summer Solstice, 1999, I was in the process of writing one of them when it suddenly struck me that in Uncle Tantra I had finally found my voice, and that I could turn the stories that 'he' had written into the book that Rama once asked me to write.
Many of those stories are in the pages of this book, slightly edited to make them more accessible to a general audience. I have supplemented them with new stories written specifically for the book and with a few older pieces written during the time I studied with Rama. The former were written at different times and in very different locations - in the desert, in sidewalk cafes, in airports, sitting at the bars of brothels, in museums and art galleries. The latter stories - the ones from the past - I have left unedited, because I believe that to do so preserves something of the mindstate I was in when I wrote them, and that is part of the magic of the spiritual journey. Most were written in one sitting, except for one or two that were like pulling my own teeth to finish.
The stories are not about Rama per se. Other, more talented and less egocentric writers will create those books. These are just the stories of a normal, everyday seeker who was fortunate enough to have had some remarkable experiences in the aura of a remarkable teacher. Don't expect revelations or gossip from an insider or member of the 'inner circle.' I wasn't that great a student, and had very few personal interactions with the man. And many of them were in public restrooms. So the stories are mine, but if he was the excellent teacher I believe he was, his teaching should somehow reveal itself in these stories about my life. Because he helped shape that life, and I am grateful to him for his skill and craftsmanship.
The stories are also not in any particular order, except my own. If you are one of those people who can only appreciate a story when it is told in a linear, chronological fashion, return this book right now to the store you bought it from and get your money back. These stories are just a series of vignettes, random glimpses into a seemingly random life, told in the order they are told, not in the order they happened.
I hope you enjoy them, but if you don't you will have to forgive me if I am not overly concerned. I am not trying to convince you of anything or sell you anything. I have nothing to sell except this book. I don't teach classes in meditation any more and doubt I will ever do so. I am not trying to set up a series of seminars or become the next New Age guru. I'm just trying to tell some stories, as honestly and as simply as I can.
They're kinda like the stories your crazy old uncle used to tell on the rare occasions when he would come to visit. You never quite knew whether the wild tales he told about the wonderful places he traveled to and the weird experiences he had there were true or not. But you didn't really care, because they were great stories and you were a kid and filled with wonder and they inspired you and uplifted you and made you dream of having your own adventures someday.
If my stories inspire you, cool. Use them to help you find your own path to that which inspires you even more. If they don't, cool. Hopefully a few of them will at least make you laugh. Think of them as just so much toilet humor.