NOTE: Even though this web page is a complete site unto itself, if you have just surfed on, it is actually the third and final page in a series called ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT: is it for you and can you do it? This page leads from a young boy going toward the Zen side of things to an encounter years later with a mysterious Shaman known as an Obeah late one night high in the rugged Blue Mountains of Jamaica.
When I was around ten years old or so my father remarried, my mother having died some years earlier. My new mother, or stepmother as the case may be, having noticed a propensity toward art on my part, encouraged my Uncle, a fairly well established artist in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to leave Santa Fe by commissioning him to come to the west coast and tutor me. She set him up in a fully equiped artist's studio and covered all expenses, including models. All he had to do was have me as a protege', develop my budding talents, and arrange for me to have as many art experiences as possible.
My uncle knew and worked side-by-side with Jackson Pollock on the WPA and studied under John Sloan of the "Ashcan School." He also knew Albert Einstein, the two having met in February or March of 1931 in Pasadena, California, while both were visiting the west coast. In later years, because of my uncle's knowledge of peyote and other halluciogens, he was interviewed by Carlos Castaneda, apparently in the process of gathering information for future use in his series of Don Juan books. In 1960 or so Castaneda was an anthropology student at UCLA collecting information and specimens of medicinal type plants used by the Indians in the desert southwest when the two crossed paths. My uncle had field searched thousands and thousands of plants, herbs, and mushrooms, even to having had seven previously undiscovered species named after him. My uncle died many years later after being medi-vacked back to the United States from South America. He had been bio-searching along the upper reaches of the Amazon after visiting Machu Picchu when he broke his leg. He died of complications from that break two years later at age eightyfour.
It was largely because of studying under Sloan that my uncle eventually became an expert in halluciogens in the first place, having followed the east coast artist to the Santa Fe, Taos, New Mexico area in the 1920s in order to continue working with him. When Sloan returned east my uncle remained, developing in the process an unquenchable thirst for the desert southwest occult and shamanism, especially Don Juan type shamanic journeying.
It was under his auspices that at the tender age of ten or so I was first introduced to the desert southwest occult and things shaman. It was also the first time I heard of Leonardo DaVinci.
At the time my older brother loved to build model airplanes and continued to build bigger and better models until eventually he was constructing huge gas engine powered remote control six-foot wingspan B-24 Liberators. He was also the apple of my father's eye. My uncle, noticing the situation, decided I too could impress my dad, only through art.
Under my uncle's guidence and my stepmom's money I researched and studied everything I could find on Leonardo and his flying machines. Then, gathering all the info we put about building our own machine by combining our 1948 ideas with Leonardo's fifteenth century ideas and Otto Lilienthal's 1894 ideas of some four-hundred years later.
My uncle drew a lifesize outline of the craft on the floor of the studio and from that the machine grew into an over fifteen-foot wingspan glider capable of supporting a man like Lilienthal's, or a young boy like myself, in flight. I am not sure what his exact plan for the machine was, but one day without my uncle's knowledge a friend of mine and I hauled it out of the studio and up to the top of the second story apartments across the compound, and hanging on for dear life, launched it.
Initially the flight played out fairly well, picking up wind under the wings and maintaining the same twostory height advantage for some distance. Halfway across busy Arlington Street though, the craft began slowing and losing forward momentum. It began dropping altitude rapidly, eventually crashing into the porch and partway through the front windows of the house across the way. Other than a few bruises and a wrecked machine, nothing was broken, although as it turned out, my dad wasn't nearly as proud of me as intended. I never forgot the thrill of that flight and carried that thrill and Leonardo's dreams into my adulthood.
Except for the Howard Hughes Flying Boat my Zen mentor had not stepped foot inside an airplane of any kind since landing his last biplane, a Sopwith Camel in WWI. He seldom rode in private vehicles and never rode on or in anything that depended on a beast of burden to provide motive power. He did, however, keep the same strong positive feeling about flying from his youth throughout his years, a feeling Maugham reproduced quite well when he wrote:
"I loved flying. I couldn't describe the feeling it gave me, I only knew I felt proud and happy. In the air I felt that I was part of something very great and beautiful. I didn't know what it was all about, I only knew that I wasn't alone any more, but that I belonged. I felt that I was at home with infinitude."
Although I never attempted another similar human-powered flight after that, my mentor loved the story, and I think it was an early key to our initial philosophical bond.
Fast forward now some three decades later, to the year 1978. That year found me 40 years old and living on the island of Jamaica, high in the Blue Mountains above the island's capitol city , Kingston. One day a young girl living in a small village nearby got hit by a car on the mountain road, the vehicle taking off and leaving her laying in a ditch beside the road. The girl's parents, like most of the locals, were poor, and not being able to afford a regular doctor, opted for a less expensive, local solution. That solution included me and another village member making a sling hamock suspended between two poles and carrying her high into the mountains in search of a nearly hermit man of spells called an Obeah.
The term "Once in a Blue Moon" refers to the time when two full moons occur during one monthly period. The opposite of that, and unnamed to me, is when two new moons occur in a one month period. To most people neither occurence means much, but to the occult, voodoo and such types it can carry some significance. During the year 1978 a two new moon occurence transpired and it just so happened to occur in October, the second of the new moons on, of all things, Halloween night, October 31st, a major convergence of conditions and coincidences. That same night was the same night that Karma and conditions just happened to place me high in the mountians of Jamaica in the presence of the highly revered Obeahman, a Shaman, being a sort of cross between a voodoo witchdoctor, medicine man, root doctor, and "Travels With Don Juan" occult spiritualist. Under the influence of the darkened second new moon and some sort of concoction conjured up by the Obeah, I experienced an interesting if not deepening semi-spirtual transformation, much different, but adding to my earlier Zen experience. After that, for months as the experience ripened into my everyday being, I was much different.
Some things I recall seem as though they just happened, others are blurred and long lost. One thing I remember for sure about that night was, even though I helped carry an injured girl up perilous trails high into the mountains, because I was a whiteman, the Obeah would not let me enter his hut...and at first refused to have anything to do with me. I sat outside in the dark basically just poking the fire with a stick and watching the light flicker amongst the trees. As the night wore on something in the light off my eyes must have caught his attention because I felt him staring at me. Eventually he came over and tipped my chin up looking into my eyes glowing dimmly in the flame-lit darkness. He squated down without changing eye contact and said in his heavy Jamaican patois, "You have felt the breath of the Dark One." "Yes, once," I said, "many years ago," refering to an incident in the military when I literally felt the Shadow of Death brush across my soul. "Why didn't he take you with him," the Obeah asked? "I don't know," I responded, shrugging my shoulders. Then the Obeah said:
"In ancient times far away a young maiden came upon a starving prince sitting beneath a tree. Bringing him gruel, he lived. You see what he sees. There are other things planned for you."
The Obeah poured a warm tea-like broth into two small bowl-shaped cups without handles. He took one and gave me the other, gulping down the liquid while motioning me to do the same.
He asked me what I liked about Jamaica. I told him things like the weather and the people. Then he asked again what I liked about Jamaica. But now I wasn't able to answer. It was like my mind had grown so huge that trying to focus on something as minuscule as a few words to string together into a sentence had become an impossible hardship. As I struggled to form something at least semi-comprehensible the Obeah asked, "What about the old man in a far away place a long time ago that constructed bird-like contraptions in order to fly even as you did as a child?" Da Vinci was the answer, but I couldn't form the words. Finally I told him about the John Crows, the condor-like vultures that glide and soar for hours, riding the thermals, never flapping their wings.
That the Oheah seemed to like. Soon a cool breeze fell across my face even though it came from a direction from across the fire. The Obeahman took a vessel of water and tossed it onto the flames. A huge cloud of steam burst forth followed by a thick cloud of smoke. I jumped back and turned away, stumbling to the ground while covering my face and eyes. Then it got cold, very cold. The breeze began to blow harder and I could no longer feel the ground underneath me. It felt as though I was moving very fast, yet as far as I knew I was still on the ground by the fire. I moved my arm away from my face just barely squinting my eyes open. For an instant I was still in the billowing white smoke, then suddenly I broke through to clean, fresh air. The smoke was no longer smoke, but clouds high in the night sky. I wasn't on the ground, but hundreds of feet in the air, soaring through the night, arms along my side, wind in my face, stars over my head.
With absolutely no effort I was able to swoop down the darkened mountain gullies and high into the air, eventually turning toward Bamboo Lodge where I lived. After crossing over the roof of my house just above the treetops I picked up speed and headed toward the lighted streets and tall buildings of New Kingston. Soon I was even higher in the air over Port Royal, Lime Cay, and the Caribbean. Then somehow the exhilaration began to fade. I turned back toward the mountains as a creeping apprehension seeped into my thoughts. Then nothing.
Around ten the next morning a couple of Jamaican kids found me unconscious in a ravine about a mile from Bamboo Lodge and miles from the Obeah's hut, naked, all scratched up, and in the bushes, as though I had crashed through the trees or something. The kids apparently went to their parents or adults and told them there was a naked whiteman in the gully all beat up. Since I was one of the few whitemen in the area the adults must have assumed it was me and told Benji, the Bamboo Lodge groundskeeper. After discovering for sure who it was, he brought some shoes and clothes and took me home. Everybody in the village area knew what had happened.
As for me, I just wanted to know for sure. A couple of days later when I was able to walk and was much less sore I hiked back up the winding mountain trail to the Obeah's place. When I got to the clearing where his hut should have been, and had been a few nights before, nothing was there. No hut, no fire pit, no nothing. Not only that, to me, it looked as though nothing had ever been there.
It wasn't until I caught Dengue fever months later that I saw the Obeahman again, the interesting outcome of which can be found at the bottom of Consulting Mediums. Returning to the states many months after that, I sought out my Zen-mentor as was usual, only to discover he had passed away during my absence. As near as I was able to discern he died that exact same night and time as the trance-induced flight that befell me under the power of the Obeah.
See also: Do You Think Flying in the Sky Is Magical?
As well as:The Vulture As Totem
Te Shan burnt all his commentaries and books on Zen within hours of his awakening to the truth. Why? Zen master Mu-nan gave Shoju his sacred book on Zen that had been passed down through seven generations of masters. Shoju threw it into the burning coals. Why? TE SHAN
According to the Principle of Impermanence, the existence of living beings is ever-changing. Some are born, some die. The absolute number at any given moment cannot be identified, therefore it is regarded as being numberless. See BODHISATTVA VOWS.