There was this other lifetime, in another revolutionary time, when the planets Pluto and Uranus conjuncted, and were opposed by the asteroid Chiron. Now we stand in the moment of the critical hard-angle progression of that momentous conjunction that swept over the world from '66-'68. My generation 'came of age' in that other lifetime, stepped into so-called 'adulthood', with the smell of revolution in the air everywhere. We all know it wasn't meant to produce 'answers' or the new paradigm, rather to force a questioning of everything, on the personal and collective levels including all of human history, who and what we are as sentient beings, and what the hell are we really supposed to be doing - as opposed to what we had been told in that regard.
I don't have any idea of numbers, but some of us definitely knew what we were in for since early childhood. We all had our personal brands of traumatization in the '50s and tried to mentally survive as we could, trying to not be noticed too much while exploring the landscape and possibilities of creativity and spontaneity. By around '64 we started getting the whiff of high strangeness approaching. Well, we all know how it went down, the thrilling delirium, the horror, the internal and external journeys, the heavy tolls of the quests, battles and retreats. And now we stand in a place where we still "don't know", but feel the resonance from that other time and have no uncertainty about the immanent consequences of how we lived our lifetimes arriving here and now. So, I'm taking a final look back at how my own personal path unfolded, even without any idea of the meaningfulness of the exercise, only, I guess, to honor some of the many beings who graced my existence on this Earth this time around.
In '66 the first classical Indian music records became available in the States, and I heard and got my hands on a few of them. Of major interest to me were the recordings of Dhrupad artists, lineage masters of the oldest living musical art-form surviving in India, the singers, veena players, and drummers. Actually, I listened to ragas on my first acid trip, which was fortunate. But the dhrupad stuff was what triggered off the deepest memories, what urged my consciousness to expand a thousand-fold. I would later come to understand that this was a kind of powerful medicine designed for this purpose, based on the most precise exposition of natural tones and scales and rhythm knowledge derived from the ancient Nada-yogi sages' deep spiritual exploration of the nature of our world and its vibratory matrix.
Then there was the first Be-in/Gathering of the Tribes in L.A. (April, '67), a massive acid test. Music and drumming from all over the world acoustically filled the air, and we wandered from culture to culture in astonishment from sunrise to sunset. What happened to me was that I was unable to get the drum languages to stop playing in my head for about a week. It was half ecstatic and half crazy-making because I didn't have the keys to understand....but I knew it was there somewhere, and it was somehow important.
A short time later the biggest 'star' Indian musician in the western world walked into my place of work (the 'underground' Free Press) wanting to advertise the opening of the first school of Indian music in america. I signed up for drum classes the next day. I obtained a set of tabla from the master, late Ustad Allah Rakha Khansahib, and began to cluelessly muddle through several months. One day there was a demonstration of dhrupad singing by the masters and the mridang/pakhawaj was brought out and played. That was the end, the turning point for me. Afterward I went up and begged the masters to direct me to a teacher in India, telling them I needed to go soon since I had a choice facing me: Vietnam or jail. The next week I was handed a name and address of a person in Varanasi.
That person was the mridang-master as well as the head priest of the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, most famous Hanuman place, founded by the author of the Ramcharitmanas (Hindi Ramayana), Goswami Tulsi Das (and containing the original manuscript) - my first guru, Pandit Amarnath Mishra ("Mahantji"). It took me over a year to get to Varanasi, via Canada - hitchhiking the entire Trans-Canada Hwy to Newfoundland, flying to Scotland, then hitchhiking to Mashad, Iran and taking busses and trains the remaining distance. I arrived at the Afghan border on New Years Eve '68-'69. Before this, the only 'foreign' travel I'd done was a few miles south of Tijuana, Mexico. An absolute time-travel experience, gradually leaving the West and entering the increasing strangeness of the East. Again, the perfect way to travel - staying on the earth (mostly). I should mention that my sincere belief at the time was that the planet-raping masters of death were very soon going to destroy the Earth and all life, and that I desperately wanted to see if there existed anything real left anywhere before we all experienced atomization at their hands.
We 'hippies' were, almost without exception, greeted with open arms and exquisite hospitality everywhere along the eastern journey BTW, in contrast to dodging stones and beer cans and curses in the West.
I arrived at my destination and immediately recognized a few things: that I somehow felt very comfortable and familiar with Varanasi along the Ganges River, and also that Mahantji was a giant of a true human being on all levels. Of the highest level Brahmin caste, he was also a profound bhakta musician, the supreme traditional wrestling guru of the province, a master of both inner and outer spiritual practices, including ritual puja, and one of the most revered persons in Varanasi. He was also the simplest, most humble, fun-loving, disciplined teachers one could ever wish for. I treasured every minute in his presence, and even his yelling out instructions to me from his balcony two floors up. He, and his Brahmin posse would question me for hours about why we were there, why we left our famously materialistic homelands, what we see and think, what was going on in the West, and many more subjects. I had very few answers, but tried my best to just be openly honest, begin to learn Hindi language slowly, and do the practice of beginning to get the precisely correct sounds demanded. At that time I only saw and met 5 or 6 foreigners who were either studying music or Tibetan language. We were a small clan at that point. Mahantji was retiring from his 20 years of priestly duties and getting back into the music he loved. At first there was only one other student, my guru-bhai Srikant, a young Brahmin boy, and we gradually became friends. There were two takes on us by the Indians: we were either Brahmins or Harijans (untouchables), but no one was quite sure which.
It was both idyllic and horrific in those days, doing my drum practice on the balcony of the master's music room over the Ganga while dolphins breached and played below me, even rubbing against us as we took our daily river bath; and in our innocence seeing the awful poverty, disease, inhumane treatment of animals (except for cows), and the terribly misplaced envy of the Indians toward what they imagined we were possessed of. Since all the milk-sweet alchemists, the 'dudh-wallahs'/cow-stewards, were wrestlers, students of my guru, I was deemed one of their guru-bhais (brother), generously gifted and protected by these gentlemen and their families. We were daily fed by the famous "Chai Baba" of Assi Ghat, Kanailal, whose tiny shop under monkey-filled trees became the gathering place for all the studying and traveling foreigners for years following. We all had horrible harassment from the psychopathically corrupt immigration authorities throughout our time there too, and it was a major topic of conversation, as well as the major mind-disturbance of our studies. But, overall, and though at the time I didn't know the extent of it, I was living under extraordinary divine grace, most especially for the dear friends and connections made then that would last my whole life. And our guruji, Mahantji, was the perfect master, though there was much of his saintly qualities that I would only later learn, and much that I would never know. His influence on me was great, and showed me an entirely new standard of human being, a monster musician who took me in off the street and taught me like a son.
By late May Varanasi was stiflingly hot, and we had to go somewhere to the mountains for a couple months. I was advised by a very wise american sadhu to go to Kathmandu. It was auspicious advice of the highest order. In Kathmandu I would have the 'dumb luck' of having the 'teacher' appear who would crack the world and thoroughly destroy that person I had been up till that time and begin a 30-year trial and tribulation to integrate the meaning of what was going to take place in his presence.
This is not the end of the story with Mahantji, merely how it all began with the serious music engagement at age 22 for me. This will be continued with Kathmandu leelas and the return to Varanasi.....