A fire in the hotel in Varanasi

November 29, 2006



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As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.



Toby Johnson's books:

Toby's books are available as ebooks from smashwords.com, the Apple iBookstore, etc.


Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III


Gay Spirituality

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness


Gay Perspective


GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe


Secret Matter


SECRET MATTER, a sci-fi novel with wonderful "aliens" with an Afterword by Mark Jordan


Getting Life

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:  A Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods


The Fourth Quill

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil




Two Spirits
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams



charmed lives
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers


Myth of the Great Secret


THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell


In Search of God


IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: A Mystical Journey


Finding God

FINDING GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD: The Journey Expanded




Unpublished manuscripts


About ordering


Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series


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  Articles and Excerpts:

Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness


Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"


About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996


The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate


A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality


Why gay people should NOT Marry


The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage


Toby and Kip Get Married


Wedding Cake Liberation


Gay Marriage in Texas


What's ironic



Shame on the American People


The "highest form of love"


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Gay Consciousness


Why homosexuality is a sin


The cause of homosexuality


The origins of homophobia


Advice to Future Gay Historians


Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness


What is homosexuality?


What is Gay Spirituality?


My three messages


What Jesus said about Gay Rights


Queering religion


Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men


Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?


The purpose of homosexuality


Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality


What the Bible Says about Homosexuality


Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men



Varieties of Gay Spirituality


Waves of Gay Liberation Activity


The Gay Succession


Wouldn’t You Like to Be Uranian?


The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter


Queer men, myths and Reincarnation


Was I (or you) at Stonewall?


Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium


Easton Mountain Retreat Center


Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism


The Mysticism of Andrew Harvey


The upsidedown book on MSNBC


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Enlightenment


"It's Always About You"



The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara


Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara


The Nature of Suffering and The Four Quills


You're Not A Wave



Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging



Toby's Experience of Zen



What is Enlightenment?



What is reincarnation?


What happens at Death?


How many lifetimes in an ego?



Emptiness & Religious Ideas



Experiencing experiencing experiencing



Going into the Light



Meditations for a Funeral



Meditation Practice



The way to get to heaven



Buddha's father was right



What Anatman means



Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal



The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika



A Funny Story: The Rug Salesmen of Istanbul



Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva



John Boswell was Immanuel Kant



Cutting edge realization



The Myth of the Wanderer



Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss



World Navel



What the Vows Really Mean



Manifesting from the Subtle Realms



The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse


The est Training and Personal Intention



Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven



Drawing a Long Straw: Ketamine at the Mann Ranch


Alan Watts & Multiple Solipsism



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Gay Spirituality


Curious Bodies


What Toby Johnson Believes


The Joseph Campbell Connection


The Mann Ranch (& Rich Gabrielson)


Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy


The Two Loves


The Nature of Religion


What's true about Religion


Being Gay is a Blessing


Drawing Long Straws


Freedom of Religion


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The Gay Agenda


Gay Saintliness


Gay Spiritual Functions



The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.


The Sinfulness of Homosexuality


Proposal for a study of gay nondualism


Priestly Sexuality


Having a Church to Leave


Harold Cole on Beauty


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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption


Not lashed to the prayer-post


Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality


The Monastic Schedule: a whimsy


Is It Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process


Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)


Redeem Orlando


Gay Consciousness changing the world by Shokti LoveStar


Alexander Renault interviews Toby Johnson



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Mystical Vision


"The Evolution of Gay Identity"


"St. John of the Cross & the Dark Night of the Soul."


Avalokiteshvara at the Baths


 Eckhart's Eye


Let Me Tell You a Secret


Religious Articulations of the Secret


The Collective Unconscious


Driving as Spiritual Practice


Meditation


Historicity as Myth


Pilgrimage


No Stealing


Next Step in Evolution


The New Myth


The Moulting of the Holy Ghost


Gaia is a Bodhisattva


Sex with God


Merging Religion and Sex


Revolution Through Consciousness Change: GSV 2019


God as Metaphor


More Metaphors for God


A non-personal metaphor God


Tonglen in the Radisson Varanasi


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The Hero's Journey


The Hero's Journey as archetype -- GSV 2016


The  Gay Hero Journey (shortened)


You're On Your Own


Superheroes


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Seeing Differently


Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil


Allah Hu: "God is present here"


 
Adam and Steve


The Life is in the Blood



Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"


Seeing with Different Eyes


Facing the Edge: AIDS as an occasion for spiritual wisdom


What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?


A Different Take on Leathersex


Seeing Pornography Differently


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The Vision


The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside


A  Most Remarkable Synchronicity in Riverside


The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis


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The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby


Part 2: The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara


Part 3: Jesus and the Resurrection


Part 4: A Course in Miracles


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The Secret of the Clear Light


Understanding the Clear Light


Mobius Strip


Finding Your Tiger Face


How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated


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Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey, and the modern Gay Hero-- a five part presentation on YouTube


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About Alien Abduction


In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke


Karellen was a homosexual


The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance


Intersections with the movie When We Rise


More about Gay Mental Health


Psych Tech Training


Toby at the California Institute


The Rainbow Flag


Ideas for gay mythic stories


My first Peace March


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People


Kip and Toby, Activists


Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.


Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement


About Hay and The New Myth


About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"


About Michael Talbot, gay mystic


About Fr. Bernard Lynch


About Richard Baltzell


About Guy Mannheimer


About David Weyrauch


About Dennis Paddie


About Ask the Fire


About Arthur Evans


About Christopher Larkin


About Mark Thompson


About Sterling Houston


About Michael Stevens


The Alamo Business Council


Our friend Tom Nash


Our friend Cliff Douglas


Second March on Washington


The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"


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Book Reviews



Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook


Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer


The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter


The Gay Disciple by John Henson


Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry


Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr


Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois


Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson


Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low


Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman


The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman


Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor


Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine


The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada


The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook


The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther


The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel


Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak


Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez


Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr


Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman


Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano


The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo


The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar


Occam’s Razor by David Duncan


Grace and Demion by Mel White


Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso


The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery


The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass


Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen


War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar


The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal


Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal


The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre


Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak


A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey


Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes


The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes


Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour


In Walt We Trust by John Marsh


Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary


A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary


Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott


Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou


Internal Landscapes by John Ollom


Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks


Yes by Brad Boney


Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler


Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal


Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson


Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette


The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson


The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire


"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught


Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology


The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons


Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert


The Revotutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker


Out There by Perry Brass


The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh


The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan


It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja


ReCreations, edited by Catherine Lake


Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard


Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey by Fenton Johnson


Dating the Greek Gods by Brad Gooch


Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan


The Substance of God by Perry Brass


The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols


10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort


Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe


The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke


The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann


Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall


Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long

An Interview with Ron Long


Queering Creole Spiritual Traditons by Randy Conner & David Sparks

An Interview with Randy Conner


Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard


Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak


Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan


Rising Up by Joe Perez


Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez


That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco


Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman


Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang


MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether


Double Cross by David Ranan


The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak


Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry


In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson


The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson


Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray


Spirituality for Our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak


Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society by Robert A. Minor


Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences by Glen O'Brien


Queering Christ by Robert Goss


Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage


The Flesh of the Word by Richard A Rosato


Catland by David Garrett Izzo


Tantra for Gay Men by Bruce Anderson


Yoga & the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main


Simple Grace by Malcolm Boyd


Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza


What Does "Queer" Mean Anyway? by Chris Bartlett


Critique of Patriarchal Reasoning by Arthur Evans


Gift of the Soul by Dale Colclasure & David Jensen


Legend of the Raibow Warriors by Steven McFadden


The Liar's Prayer by Gregory Flood


Lovely are the Messengers by Daniel Plasman


The Human Core of Spirituality by Daniel Helminiak


3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke


Religion and the Human Sciences by Daniel Helminiak


Only the Good Parts by Daniel Curzon


Four Short Reviews of Books with a Message


Life Interrupted by Michael Parise


Confessions of a Murdered Pope by Lucien Gregoire


The Stargazer's Embassy by Eleanor Lerman


Conscious Living, Conscious Aging by Ron Pevny


Footprints Through the Desert by Joshua Kauffman


True Religion by J.L. Weinberg


The Mediterranean Universe by John Newmeyer


Everything is God by Jay Michaelson


Reflection by Dennis Merritt


Everywhere Home by Fenton Johnson


Hard Lesson by James Gaston


God vs Gay? by Jay Michaelson


The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path by Jay Michaelson


Roxie & Fred by Richard Alther


Not the Son He Expected by Tim Clausen


The 9 Realities of Stardust by Bruce P. Grether


The Afterlife Revolution by Anne & Whitley Strieber


AIDS Shaman: Queer Spirit Awakening by Shokti Lovestar


Facing the Truth of Your Life by Merle Yost


The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey J Kripal


Secret Body by Jeffrey J Kripal


In Hitler's House by Jonathan Lane


Walking on Glory by Edward Swift


The Paradox of Porn by Don Shewey


Is Heaven for Real? by Lucien Gregoire


In Search of Lost Lives by Michael Goddart


Queer Magic by Tomas Prower


God in Your Body by Jay Michaelson


Science Whispering Spirit by Gary Preuss


Friends of Dorothy by Dee Michel


New by Whitley Strieber


Developing Supersensible Perception by Shelli Renee Joye

Sage Sapien by Johnson Chong


Tarot of the Future by Arthur Rosengarten


Brothers Across Time by Brad Boney


Impresario of Castro Street by Marc Huestis


Deathless by Andrew Ramer


The Pagan Heart of the West, Vol 1 by Randy P. Conner


Practical Tantra by William Schindler


The Flip by Jeffrey J. Kripal


A New World by Whitley Strieber


Bernhard & LightWing by Damien Rowse


The Mountains of Paris by David Oates


Trust Truth by Trudie Barreras


How to be an Excellent Human Being by Bill Meacham


The Deviant's War by Eric Cervini


What Is the Grass by Mark Doty


Sex with God by Suzanne DeWitt Hall


The Sum of All the Pieces by Paul Bradford


All the Time in the World by J. Lee Graham


Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson




Toby Johnson's Books on Gay Men's Spiritualities:




Gay
Perspective cover
Gay Perspective

Things Our [Homo]sexuality
Tells Us about the
Nature of God and
the Universe


Gay Perspective audiobook
Gay Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Matthew Whitfield. Click here







Gay
Spirituality cover
Gay Spirituality

Gay Identity and 
the Transformation of
Human Consciousness



gay-spirituality-audiobook
Gay Spirituality   is now available as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by John Sipple. Click here








charmed lives
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

edited by
Toby Johnson
& Steve Berman







secret matter
Secret Matter

Lammy Award Winner for Gay Science Fiction

updated







Getting Life
Getting Life in Perspective

A Fantastical Romance





Getting
Life in Perspective audiobook
Getting Life in Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Alex Beckham. Click here 






The Fourth Quill

The Fourth Quill

originally published as PLAGUE




johnson-the-fourth-quill-audiobook
The Fourth Quill is available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland. Click here






Two
Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo

with Walter L. Williams




Two Spirits
audiobookTwo Spirits  is available as an audiobook  narrated by Arthur Raymond. Click here






Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III
Finding Your Own True Myth: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Great Secret III








In
Search of God in the Sexual Underworld
In Search of God  in the Sexual Underworld






Finding God
Finding God In The Sexual Underworld: The Journey Expanded

2020 Revised Version










The Myth of the Great Secret II

The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell.

This was the second edition of this book.




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Toby Johnson's titles are available in other ebook formats from Smashwords.



One of the Strangest Events in my Life


Taj Mahal

In November 2006, Kip and I went on a tour with Gate 1 Travel of Northern India—the "Golden Triangle"— and Nepal. It was a wonderful adventure. India is so different from America. It was thrilling; it was scary; it was disturbing; it was great fun. All these things are true.toby and kip at the taj mahal

We arrived in New Delhi, were shown the sights there, then driven by small motor coach to Jaipur, the "Pink City," then Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Then we got on a train and traveled to Khajuraho to see the Erotic Temple complex. Then we fly to Varanasi, the birthplace of Buddhism, and site of the famous burning ghats along the Ganges where faithful Hindus hope to be cremated after their deaths and their remains and ashes cast into the sacred river.

Then we boarded another plane and flew to Kathmandu, where we got to fly in a small plane--on an airline called Buddha Air--up to Mount Everest. The plane flew along the front range of the Himalayas. After a couple of days in Nepal, we flew back to New Delhi and then back to the United States.

A marvelous trip. More tourism than sacred pilgrimage. Kip joked he'd hoped to experience India like Beatle George Harrison amd come home spiritually transformed. But that isn't really what happened. It was more frightening and disquieting than it was "spiritual"—so much suffering. Beggars everywhere. Children pulling at our clothes trying to sell us trinkets or to give them alms. Everywhere crowds. Everywhere animals and cars and trucks and motorcycles and motorized rickshaws called tuck-tucks. It was overwhelming, though exciting.

Because of my interest in Buddhism which I learned from reading Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell, I was especially looking forward to seeing Varanasi, the city that used to be called Benares, where the Buddha gave his first sermon in Deer Park. And indeed the tour guide took us to Deer Park and we saw--and circumambulated--Buddha's Stupa. We arrived late in the day and the museum and park were closing, so our visit was rushed.

We'd flown into the airport, and so were taken to the hotel first to check in and wash up before starting the tour. The hotel was a new-looking building, very modern, very American, with the international-sounding name Radisson Varanasi.

Radisson hotel

Kip and I were assigned a room with two twin beds on one of the higher floors. We had quite a view out the window—though it was of a dilapidated city. And—which the photos do not show—there were swarms of buzzards flying round and round over the cityscape.city view    hotel view








The room was beautifully appointed, with ancient looking art on the walls and lovely modern furniture.
hotel room with twin beds  
We were appropriately tired from a long day. And went to bed soon after we got in for the evening.

I was awakened after a little while by the small of smoke. We'd seen the guest across the hall from us had arrived while we were still getting settled and had the door open. He'd been smoking a cigar. I thought that was the source of the smell.
hotel room
But then the smell got stronger. I remember thinking, half-asleepo and a little paranoid, that maybe the man had seen that we'd been offended by his cigar and was, in retaliation, blowing his smoke directly under our door.

That didn't make much sense, but why such a strong smoke smell? I lay awake wondering what to do. Kip seemed to be sleeping soundly in the other bed, but I worried that one of us should stay awake just in case…

Finally I woke him to ask if he smelled smoke too. Yes, of course, he did. It was very pronounced. And it wasn't cigar smoke. We called down to the front desk to report. At first they said it was nothing. There'd been no report of a fire in the hotel. We were just imagining it.

Well, it is true that India smells of burning cow dung and marijuana smoke virtually everywhere. But this was so much stronger. We tried to go back to sleep, but I was not satisfied. If there were a fire in the hotel, somebody needed to know. We called down to the front desk and asked them to have somebody come up to the room and smell what we were smelling. Reluctantly, they agreed. And shortly a fellow in a military-looking, security-guard uniform came to the door. He walked in, sniffed around, then said he didn't smell anything unusual.

By that time, the smoke had gotten thick enough that it was billowing in the room. Kip pointed to a little niche with a lamp that stood on the minibar. You could see smoke swirling in the niche. "What's that, then?"

The bellman looked intently and then replied, "That's a lamp." Well, we were getting nowhere. He left, but promised to pay attention in case there really had been smoke somewhere.

Nothing was changing and we couldn't go back to sleep.lobby Somebody had to do something. So we went downstairs in the elevator and to the front desk and asked to speak to the manager. We stood in the lobby (shown in the photo with people in it; in the middle of the night it was empty) and tried to explain what we thought was happening.

The manager was a young Indian man, very polite, but very officious. He assured us there was no fire. No else had reported smelling smoke. And, besides, he said, he only stays at the hotel on certain nights of the week. Tuesday was one of his days. "And since I am here," he said, "there could be no fire. I am here tonight."

That logic wasn't very reassuring, though quoting him has become a joke between Kip and me about how oblivious people can be when they just might be wrong.

We went back to the room and tried to go back to sleep. I found myself caught in this Great Worry and feeling of responsibility—for Kip, certainly, and our lives together, but also for the other guests in the hotel. I tried to rest, but had to keep myself from falling asleep.

I don't remember clearly how all this came down. But I think I finally got up and went back to the lobby by myself to insist that there was smoke in our room. And this time the manager was more forthcoming. He told me that they had installed a new woodburning cookstove in the kitchen and in trying it out had overloaded it. There really had been smoke. And, he said, our room at the end of the hall was next to a stairwell that came up directly from the kitchen. Other people weren't complaining because it was only at the end of one hall.

So problem resolved.

But what was that about?

It was only much later that I put that experience together with what I knew to be a meditative practice and ritual among Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhists called Tonglen. It was something I'd run across and practiced myself off and on a little out of my fascination with the myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who takes upon himself the suffering of the world in order to transform it by his insight that ego doesn't really exist.

Here's a description of performing tonglen

    Imagine the sorrows and sufferings of the world as dark smoke, perhaps like smoke from incense, or fumes from a blown out candle. Imagine the smoke filling the room. Breathe in the smoke. Relax and be aware of your breath, and be aware of breathing in the black smoke, so that the mental space inside your body becomes dark and choked with the smoke. Keep breathing it in till the inside of the space in your body is as dark as night.

Then visualize a lightning flash – the lightning bolt of enlightenment:  vajra.

vajra

The vajra scepter is the stylized solidification of a lightning bolt. Tibetans thought when lightning struck the ground it congealed into a diamond. So the vajra is both lightning bolt and diamond – both images of enlightened mind.


  In the bright flash of the lightning--cutting through the darkness and cutting through time to illuminate an eternal moment--let yourself visualize the smoke and darkness changing to bright colorful lights, like flowers in spring or like the flashing of sunlight off the surface of water, shimmering and beautiful, warm and relaxing.

    Breathe in the smoke and darkness of human sorrow and suffering in the transitoriness of time, let it be transformed in the lightning bolt striking into your heart and congealing into a diamond, and let it become joy for life and bliss in the eternity of consciousness transcending individuality.

    Breathe in smoke, breathe out joy. That's what a bodhisattva does, using skillful means to say just the right thing or make the right gesture to soothe suffering, "participating joyfully in the sorrows of the world."

Well, what better place on Earth to experience tonglen than in Varansi, India? And I wasn't doing it; it was being done unto me. Some "power" so much bigger than my little ego was reminding me of how little my ego is by doing it to me.

I didn't realize how that crazy experience with the overly-confident and officious hotel manager and the overloaded new cookstove was a dramatization of the tonglen ritual till years later. I've wondered what it means that it took me so long. And did I do it correctly? Did I get the lesson? I'm not sure.

Varansi ghats

In the morning, we joked with the other people on the tour about our experience. One other couple had noticed the smoke, but hadn't said anything. At least, it was real. We'd gotten up very early to go to the Ganges to watch the sunrise. And were taken out into the pitch dark city by bus to near the burning/burial ghats.

We had brought with us a small portion of the ashes of our friend Cliff Douglas who'd died some 10 years before, and scattered them in the sacred water as the sun was rising.

cliff's ashesThere were vendors selling candles in folded palm leaves to float on the water. We bought one of those, and from a little boat our tour guide had arranged for us, we placed the candle on the river and then Kip poured out the ashes.

cliff's ashesAs we watched the sun rose on the other side of the river.

It was magical bringing our friend's ashes to the Holy Ganges.




dawn over the Ganges River


I have wondered what that smoke in the hotel room meant in my life. Was there a "message" from the universe in that? Was it acceptance—or rejection—of my intentions to be responsible?

I'd just turned 61 the August before that November trip to India. I have to say I think I started aging soon after we returned. I began to experience the benign prostate hypertrophy which is so common in men as we outlive the reproductive years.

The "Four Signs" that called Prince Gautama to leave the palace and seek Buddahood were the sight of an old man, a sick man, a dead body, and a monk. Maybe that's what's in the smoke of tonglen: the reality of age, disease, and death.

What choice do we have but to accept this gracefully, as the reality we're on, and to breathe deeply, transforming the smoke—but then alerting the authorities?




Read an excerpt from The Fourth Quill about the nature of suffering:
The Closet of Horrors




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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness. 

Johnson's book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

His  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They remain in print.

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual qualities of gay male consciousness.

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