Interview II with Niels Holm
Interviewed by DC in the Spring of 2004
[The insect above is the buvu, which is, co-incidentally, the name of the religion that Niels founded. See below. This image added 4/07. At the time of this interview Niels was spelling buvu as buvoo. Religion is so complicated.]
This is Niels Holm’s second interview. See the first Niels Holm Interview. He’s a Danish carpenter and sailor who showed up at Tassajara one day in the fall of 1968 or maybe ‘67 – it’s back in his first interview – who stayed and became pretty close to Shunryu Suzuki. He was Suzuki’s jisha, personal attendant, at Tassajara the last summer that Suzuki was there. After Suzuki died, Niels didn’t stay for long in Zen Center. He was around for a couple of years doing finished carpentry and then he and his wife, Maggie Kress, broke up and Niels ended up in Port Townsend where’s he’s been ever since.
We did this last spring when he came down here for five days with his partner O’Neill. But we talked tonight, 1/12/05, for an hour or so and went over stuff herein that couldn’t be understood on the tape or whatever.
Niels and O’Neill (cool huh?) just got back from two months in Japan, mainly visiting her son and his family in Miyazaki on the island of Kyushu. They liked Miyazaki.
Niels went to Eiheiji, the massive 13th century temple built by Dogen, founder of Soto Zen (sorry for those who these basic factoids insults). He hated it. He rode there on a train next to a woman who spoke good English and whose whole family was just priests and priests wives and she was going for a three day practice and tried to get him in for a night to sit and follow the lay schedule. A monk took him to another monk who had been to the SFZC and Green Gulch and who was terribly rude to Niels, asking him why he came but more like how dare he? Niels said the monk was very angry. He said, "I realized, this is the most uptight place I have ever been. Monks bowing, I bowed back. Then I realized they were not bowing to me, but to a priest. I could see it was not some trip I was interested in."
He Loved Kyoto, walked and biked. Loved it. At Daitokuji he sat in Rikyu’s little tea house which he said was so beautiful and he liked the abbot of that temple which he said was really more like a museum. He didn’t like Ryoanji and the stone and gravel garden so much.
Niels thinks that the Japanese have lost their soul – even more so than Americans. I told him you’ve got to persevere and said when I returned from Japan once I told translator Fred Harriman (who has helped me immensely) that I had had such a great time with my friends and in all the little nooks and crannies of where I’d been. Fred said, "That’s what's great about Japan – the rest is all Velveeta."
And now, the Interview
DC: I guess you want me to ask a question. What I’m thinking about here is going over the things you’ve learned since you left Zen Center, and just where your practice and life have gone, what do you think is important, what do you think is beneficial to yourself and others, that sort of thing.
NH: That’s a big . . . . Can you be –
DC: More specific? Well, start somewhere. Tell us about Buvoo (now buvu - 4/07).
NH: Buvoo was -- well, we used to have these Sunday meetings at my house.
DC: Which has a zendo.
NH: Yes. Many people have practiced there. We were often talking about what is Buddhism. And the whole thing about –
DC: The whole thing about what?
NH: I’m thinking what to say. Now I’m getting recorded.
DC: You’ve got a great voice for recording. So how did this Buvoo start, where did it come from? You founded a religion. You can’t be tongue-tied when you’re the founder of a religion.
NH: I did actually a ceremony. I had this thing I wanted to say. And we had a band. We had the drums and electric guitars and stuff like that. And I realized this is not something I’m very good at. I’m not a good performer in this kind of thing. I thought maybe I’d do something like that but when I come in front of people I don’t know what to say.
DC: That was a public ceremony you had to inaugurate Buvoo?
DC: Where did Buvoo come from? Let’s back-track.
NH: It was a joke. I was interested in Voodoo, and from a book – I forgot – The Divine Horseman, I think the book was. [no - searched for it on Amazon - some other name] She was an artist who went to Haiti to make a movie about Voodoo and she realized she couldn’t just film, she had to understand what it was. She lived there for a few years and became really a practitioner and devotee initiated into Voodoo. She wrote a fantastic wonderful book about it. One thing I got out of it, why I like it, was it showed me a way of looking at life where everything is a curse or a blessing and how as a shaman you turn curses into blessings. You turn it around. And this is basically what Buddhism is about. How you take the – it’s about transformation. You take your meanness and turn it into wisdom. You take your greed and turn it into compassion.
DC: What do you turn into wisdom?
DC: Really? Yeah? Alright. Just forgot.
NH: They usually say hate. When you think of people in America, they always say, when they comment on a project, they say, this is really good for everybody. And looking with Voodoo eyes anything you do selfish is a curse. Anything you do with a selfish interest is a curse. Doesn’t matter what you call it, but that’s what it is. So when you’re trying to sell something to somebody it’s not given freely – blessing is given freely – so I thought this is wonderful. So I went to Haiti and I walked around Haiti and I could see – this was also after contemplating a lot about – for years I contemplated about soul, what is soul. And I found there was no way Buddhists look at soul. At that time Buddhists hadn’t started talking about soul. It was not in the language of Buddhist literature, talking about soul.
DC: Your definition of soul there – when Buddha denied the existence of soul, he was talking about an eternal entity. So when you’re saying soul, now, what do you mean? Do you mean soul in the sense that John Tarrant uses it, Thomas Moore uses it, and what’s his name?
NH: Exactly. It was when I read John Tarrant’s book [The Light Inside the Dark] I was very excited, a Zen Buddhist talking like this. Because when they [Zen Buddhists he's known] denied soul it was like, wow, what is mindfulness, and I feel a lot of that mechanicalness in their practice.
DC: So do you mean by soul do you mean feeling? Heart?
DC: That’s almost like soul music.
NH: Yes. If you look at life from the ego's point of view. Ego's point of view – instead of soul you want respect. Respect is something you have to do in society at the level of power, or for recognition in the social structure. When you have a group of people it’s very hard for them to get that, like the blacks. They were into soul. Do you see what I’m talking about?
DC: Sure. James Hillman, that’s the –
NH: James Hillman.
I had about fifteen years when I didn’t read anything about Buddhism, and I didn’t practice Buddhism, and I didn’t like Buddhism. I was kind of turned off from Buddhism. Then I started being interested in Buddhism again, after fifteen years. That’s about seven years ago now. The teachers like I’ve had since -- actually the people I have met mostly have not been Buddhist. But since I consider myself a Buddhist and I’ve taken the precepts and I look at everything, there is not something that’s not Buddhist, if you know what I mean. Everything is Buddhist, so everybody is a Buddhist. They don’t call themselves Buddhist but someone like Monty Roberts, the horseman, he was a tremendous teacher for me.
DC: His books were.
NH: Yes. I didn’t meet him, but he was a teacher in the sense that he showed me an example of how to be in the world. That was about shame. He was very ashamed about his dad. His dad was a very evil man and shamed him. And he learned from his dad not to be that way. And that’s kind of how he learned with horses not to shame horses and not to break their spirit. This was very interesting because at the time my son was fifteen and I realized how much of a shame I was to him. And from Monty I saw what I had to do. For a whole year I had gone around . . . . really in deep trouble with it. He had taken drugs, and had trouble with the police, and stealing, it was really difficult for him and I didn’t know what to do. And when I saw Monty Roberts – I heard him on the radio one day and it was like, yes, I understood what to do. I had to be honest. I had not to shame him. I had to share my life with him. That was something that was difficult to do, but it was simple, it was clear to me that that’s the way to be. For a while I talked to everybody about shame. I talked to all my friends, people I meet, how was your relation with your dad. Did he shame you, or your mother shame you, or how was it with shame, and it was very interesting. The two people that had been shamed the most, and one of them, his dad shamed him, . . . were both psychiatrists, which I think is very interesting. I found that one psychiatrist that I knew myself in Port Townsend was very much of a shamer. He shamed his wife – it’s interesting how that is. And then I could see in – I look at religious leaders, even Zen masters, shaming the students. And then I asked the students and they say, well, that’s a technique he has, it’s a good way. I say, what is going on here? It’s like – you know Alice Miller? She was a child psychologist, Swiss, that wrote a book. She was tremendous for this country in showing people not to shame kids. "It’s for your own good," it used to be the parents used to say. "I’m sorry to have to do this, it hurts me more than it hurts you, but it’s for your own good." Whack! Whack! They beat them and shamed them like that.
DC: I used to tell Kelly, I’d say, Kelly, I’ve been very bad and I want to punish myself. And the thing that brings me the most grief is to see you in pain, so I’m going to beat you now. Sorry. It was just a little game. Sorry - go on - parents shame kids -
NH: When you say those things to a kid –they know it. It’s interesting. When I talk to people and they tell me how their dad shamed them. I say, do you shame your own kids? They’ll say, no. And sometimes they would see it – yeah, maybe I do. Very interesting. I talked to this guy, a very wonderful guy. He’s a carpenter. I said to him, did your dad shame you. He says, no, never shamed me. Well, you know, he used to call me an idiot all the time. So it suddenly dawned on me. People when you asked them that question they had this – suddenly they see things just like that. When I asked him that question he was – another guy I asked the question, what about your dad, it changed him, just like that, right there. Right after he went back to his dad and talked to his dad. No one had ever said that. It had never been coming up really clear in his mind. You will find that if you ask people about it. There’s tremendous power in that to make people see things. Because it’s an experience nearly everybody had. And there are very few people who don't say it was my mother or my father. But if it wasn’t the mother and father, they’d been shamed someplace – by siblings, or by the school, in some way or another.
DC: Is shame a bad thing then?
NH: To shame somebody is very close to what is evil.
DC: What about to feel ashamed?
NH: To feel shame? To feel shame it points to your soul, and it’s a doorway to your soul. You know when you see this sculpture in Japan in front of the Buddha hall – male and female, one with an open mouth, one with a closed mouth – you know those?
DC: Guardian deities.
NH: Guardian deities. That’s what shame is. It’s a guardian deity.
DC: What’s it guarding?
NH: It’s guarding the sacred, your soul, your truth.
DC: Guarding it from what?
NH: Exposure. Uncovering.
DC: When you shame people, do you stop them from experiencing it?
DC: But you speak about shame sometimes as being a good thing.
NH: Yes it is. It’s a good thing when you’re willing – the willingness to experience it is a good thing. That’s the bodhisattva vow. The willingness to experience shame is the Bodhisattva vow. The unwillingness to experience shame will lead you to evil.
DC: In what way?
NH: It’s like scapegoating. It’s blaming. It’s all the life-alienating things
that you do to avoid feeling shame. Feeling shame is the same as being conscious of who you are. To admit who you are. When you see who you are, that’s like going through the doorway. And in the doorway you have these deities. So when you see that – you’ve talked to me about it yourself – that when you feel ashamed of yourself you could see the mind. You see your mind. You become conscious of your mind, who you are, what you are. This is like being aware. Awareness is your true nature. So what keeps you from being aware? Something keeps you from being aware. What is it that keeps us from being aware?
NH: Ignorance and hate and greed and attachment. Those things. But I think that they are – how do I say this – if you are willing to feel shame, there’s nothing that is a hindrance. The unwillingness to feel -- there’s an unwillingness to be aware. Otherwise you would just naturally be aware. But there’s something that keeps us, some sense of protection, something that we want to protect, we want to protect some sense of self. We cling to some sense, that’s clinging to self. You’re clinging to some sense of self, right? That’s what I mean. That clinging manifests itself in an unwillingness to feel shame. If you’re willing to feel shame, then you’re naturally aware. Does that make sense to you?
NH: When you feel shame, be glad. I say that to myself when I feel – when I have been out doing something that is shameful. Sometimes it takes me two days, or maybe it takes a week, or maybe ten years, before I will look at it, it’s so shameful. Now, if you’re really willing to feel shame it wouldn’t take so long. And if you’re truly willing, truly practicing willing, you will be ashamed before you come to it. That avenue, that opening to yourself and who you are, is so open that you never feel shame because you have nothing to be ashamed of. There would be no reason to be ashamed because you already are open there.
DC: And you don’t have something to protect.
NH: Yeah, there’s nothing to protect.
DC: You know who really had the least resistance to feeling shame was Suzuki Roshi. I’ve seen him a number of times, say start off a lecture by apologizing for having gotten angry and say I’m ashamed of myself, or apologize to people for something. Or very quickly at the snap of a finger he could say, oh, I see, I was wrong.
NH: Yeah. That was the greatest teaching he gave us. He was so willing to feel shame. So he just let it go. That’s letting go. When you feel it, you let go. It’s when you don’t want to feel it that you stop. So when people say, oh, shame is very bad, the feeling they gave away. They make scapegoat. When you see people that have been really evil like the Nazis or something they’re always into scapegoating. Blaming, scapegoating, criticizing. They do always life alienating things. They say how things are. They name things. They do all this stuff to protect themselves. They don’t take responsibility. This taking responsibility is to feel shame.
DC: Sounds like some politicians I know of. How does Voodoo deal with shame?
NH: Interesting for me. I don’t really understand Voodoo very much, I don’t practice any Voodoo, it’s just the book. But one of the things that I like about being interested in Voodoo is because as a white American this is simply looking at our cultural shadow. If you know from Jungian psychology about shadow, to accept your shadow. And this is about dealing with shame. Shame is for . . . see your shadow, you accept your shadow. And that is pulling light in there. So as a culture we’re coming out of the slave trade and having slaves. And Haitian Voodoo was a religion that set them free from slave owners. It was the unifying force that made the Haitian people be able to throw off the French. Did you know that? There was a second revolution. . . . America was the first colonial revolution. Haiti was the second.
DC: We didn’t recognize them for 65 years.
NH: They scared the shit out of us. In America if a slave practiced Voodoo he was punished, sometimes executed. So we have this real fear of Voodoo because the blacks wouldn’t do what we thought they should do. The fear of Voodoo is very strong in us. So when there’s something that’s a fear it has a lot of power. We turned that religion into something monstrous. But actually it’s a very beautiful religion. It’s a shamanic religion. Like other shamanic religions.
DC: How many people are into Voodoo? And Voodoo has nothing written, right?
NH: It's an oral tradition and completely anarchistic in the sense that they have no center. Every Voodooist could set up shop, and if people like him, they like him.
DC: And is Voodoo in Africa?
NH: Yeah, that’s where it comes from, West Africa, with the slaves. It manifests itself in different cultures. In French it was – you know French Catholicism. In Spanish places it was different. It’s in the language and art.
DC: Are there non-blacks who practice Voodoo?
NH: Mostly blacks. Or mulattos.
DC: There’s a lot of Voodoo in Brazil. Cuba.
NH: I’m sure there is a lot of Voodoo now in America. There was Voodoo in the America underground.. And I think all black culture is actually the expression of Voodoo. Simply black soul is black culture.
DC: And is black American music Voodoo?
NH: Yes I think so. And there is in the black slaves that practiced Voodoo in America, but it was very suppressed so it was underground.
DC: So gospel, soul, rhythm and blues, Rasta and rap music are maybe all related in some way to voodoo. Cool.
Where did you say Roosevelt was having those American soldiers destroy
all the Voodoo drums?
NH: The Marines have invaded Haiti two times. They actually went in and destroyed drums and stuff. And go in and destroy Voodoo temples. Called hogans. They would go in and destroy and smash the drums. This is a religion of passion.
DC: Hogans? That’s what Navaho homes are called.
NH: I don’t remember the names now, all the different names.
DC: You actually went to Haiti.
NH: I went to Haiti right after Clinton had sent troops down there. Not American military, but UN military in Haiti at the time when I was there.
DC: You didn’t get much from that, I think - as I remember from what you said when you came back. They weren’t prepared for visitors. No hotels and restaurants for tourists. And then there was the language barrier.
NH: But I got a feeling for the Haitians. I really liked the Haitian people. And I had one sailing experience. I went to an island off the coast. You could see the island but it was pretty far away. It was incredible. It was a sailing ship that had one mast and one sail and there was like 300 people in it, so it was a really big boat. And they are packed in. And we’re coming out on the ocean, pretty strong wind, and we were sailing, and the whole boat was going . . . . I was sitting in between the legs of a woman and we were completely – I mean it was like – I was packed in with this. . . I just liked them. And they started singing these songs. It could have been a thousand years ago. The boat was totally primitive. There was not even steel in the boat. It was a sailboat with an enormous sail. It was like something ancient. And the feeling of it, wow. A tremendous experience. I was the only white man. Wherever I went I was the only white man. There were no whites at all. And there were no tourists.
DC: But you couldn’t find any Voodoo –
NH: Yeah. Of course I can. There’s not much to tell. I saw the compounds and I went in . I did some [/ but the guy was just putting on a little show to get some money out of me. He was trying to get as much money as he could. That was just what he did. I didn’t blame him. I couldn’t speak. I didn’t understand the language. I just got the feeling. I saw the painting. I like the way they have their altars and I like the feeling and I like the Haitian art. One place I came in they were having – I was hitchhiking and stopping in a town, and they were doing a Voodoo ceremony with big drums and drinking and stuff like that. I went in there. It’s a little bit scary. We have all the prejudice and fear of blacks and black culture. I definitely felt some fear. But I really liked the Voodoo people.
DC: I want to get the story about your founding the Church of Buvoo.
NH: Church of Buvoo. I founded it with – it was mostly this friend and me, his name is Steve Gillard. I met Steve at a men’s group I started going to. . . While I was in that men’s group I started talking a lot about shame. It was something they never talked about. It was a very intellectual group. I came there and I started talking about shame and . . stirred up the group. Steve was very much like I was a few years before. Lost. What to do? Then I told him about not shaming his son and blah blah. It really changed his life. He stopped shaming his son and all kinds of different things happening. In some way he became like a student or something to me. Or he wanted to practice with me or something. He started sitting, and we started talking about this stuff. He was a lawyer. This thing about Buvoo was kind of a joke but he was very much interested in making this religion. He had himself been part of a cult, a Christian cult. He did that ten years when he was younger. we just talked about him and thought it was a fun idea or something like that. It was somewhat about theater, and art. We were being artists. There was somewhat a theatrical quality to it. So he was very much interested. He himself really wanted to be a Buvoo priest and he has writer’s block, he wants to be a writer instead of being a lawyer. He doesn’t like to be a lawyer. So he was kind of looking for something. To me it was just a joke. I liked to do it. I mean I still like Buvoo, I love it. That’s my religion.
DC: I like this idea of ones religion being a joke. How did you go about starting a religion?
NH: Steve was a lawyer so he wrote it up and so he said what should we call it and this and that. I don’t remember what he said. We have to have this language and we send it to the IRS and we got the certificates. And we paid some money and then we were a religion.
I like to ask people what they think it is that makes a religion official and usually they don’t know. There's one organization that authorizes, that says you're an official religion. In America it’s the IRS. Yeah, that’s funny. . . . . because it’s about business, it’s about how you manage the money.
DC: What sort of authority – what are you limited by when you do this religion. What can you do in the religion? What sort of titles?
NH: You can do any titles you want. You can give yourself any titles. And my religion was kind of funny like Zen Center. I had all the power.
DC: Zen Center’s not like that any more. The abbot used to have more power. It was a corporations sole - s-o-l-e, not soul.
NH: But I had all the power. Whatever I said that’s what it would be. If I said so, you’re a priest. If they wanted to be a priest, they’re a priest. Right like that.
DC: And you could make someone a high priest, someone a higher priest. What was the highest priest.
NH: Yeah. You can use any language. And this is how it is in America. I didn’t know that. People think, oh he’s not a real priest, but you can call yourself anything you want. And they do that. In the churches. They call each other whatever they want to call themselves. It’s not something some god tells you. That’s just something you call yourself if you want to. You give yourself the titles that you like.
DC: O’Neill [Niels' partner] said that the church doesn’t exist any more. She said she was the treasurer.
NH: We had a breakdown. There were three people in the church and we broke down.
DC: Buddha said that’s all you need for a sangha.
NH: That’s what I thought. I thought – but O’Neill what she saw, she didn’t know we had put her on as a treasurer. You have to have the supreme leader. But then you have to have somebody to take care of the money. And someone who is second in command or something like that. You have to have the Director – I don’t remember – you have to have three people to make an organization.
DC: She told me she disbanded it.
NH: She didn’t want to be treasurer. I didn’t care – I got the certificate that you are a religion and I hang it on my wall. It’s not any good any more.
DC: I thought there was something she had to pay, or something you were supposed to pay to the IRS.
NH: Yeah you’re supposed to pay a little bit. A fee or something.
DC: She said she didn’t pay the fee so now you’re not a recognized religion anymore.
NH: She didn’t want to sign to send it in.
One other thing, when I come and I teach or do something, so people say well what are you? I do not ever say that I am Zen. Because I can’t call myself a Zen teacher, I’m not part of that tradition where you have to have a Zen teacher tell you that you’re okay or something. I can’t point to that and I don’t want to. And I don’t want to say anything like this is Zen or something, because then you just sit and argue. So I say, this is just Buvoo. I take responsibility. This is Buvoo, this is the Buvoo religion.
DC: Explain why Voodoo is complete.
NH: It’s not complete at all. It’s like a painting –
DC: Something about female and Voodoo is the male - that thing. I forget.
NH: Oh. Buddhism is a very – many times people have this idea of spiritual life, high spiritual peaks, right? This is like a male trip up in the mountains so to speak. So Voodoo is very much the female. One thing I loved about the Voodoo religion was it was not – in Haiti there are just as many or more female practitioners and priest as men. It doesn’t have any putting down of women like Buddhism does. The tradition of Buddhism is anti-female and Voodoo doesn’t have that. I like that. I think that was one of the things I liked about it was it was very close to the earth, to emotions. So I feel very much that in Buddhism it needs a really strong cultural gutsy thing. In Japan, those cultures, Zen married up with Shinto. So when Zen came here, we don't have Shinto. Do we have something that looked like Shinto? Well I don’t know. There are the people into the Celtic tradition. And this is fine. There are some who make it an intellectual thing and they make it up and stuff. But Voodoo is real, man. That’s black. That's gospel music.
DC: Oh boy you’re going to get the Celtic people down on you. What do you know about that?
NH: I don’t know. What I’m saying is –
DC: Yeah, and as America, the western part of Buddhism, it didn’t import any of the magic. They kept the magic back in Asia.
NH: Yeah because they married it off with the Bon tradition [in Tibet], which is culture, which is a cultural tradition. We are like a scientific kind of culture and we need very much to be grounded in some way, or connected to some grounding culture. That’s why I like tango. I like to have some cultural ties that tie us down. Because this American Zen, all clean and with all this formal shit – it’s not fun for me now.
DC: We’re a culture that killed off Bon long ago. Our shamans.
NH: Yes I know. So we need to be helped in that way. I was talking before about that guy Martin Prechtel. This is a shaman. And we have a shaman tradition in our artists. Our artists are magicians. Our poets. And so we need to connect to that part. That’s the female part I’m talking about. We need to connect to that. And we need to connect to the ground. Much more ground, and the black women. They’re very much ground for America as a culture. Black women, that’s the Voo. And Bu is more like the man. When I was telling this to – we were talking about Bu like this. I said that to O’Neill’s son who lives in Japan, he said, "Man they’ll love that in Japan. The Japanese they don’t like Zen. They’ll love this. They’ll love Buvoo. They’ll understand what you’re talking about cause they like this stuff."
DC: Japanese don’t like Zen in general. It’s a funeral service, memorial services. All of Buddhism is that to them.
NH: And lots of it comes from that whole Samurai warriors tradition.
DC: Yeah. In talking about major influences on you in recent years. Sort of in the same time you got interested in Buddhism again, you say, but your teachers here haven’t really been Buddhist. It’s been tango, and Monty Roberts, and you like Victor Frankl, the Jungians. And you like Non-violent Communication. What’s the name of the person who does that?
NH: Marshall Rosenberg. NVC. On our way back to Port Townsend we’re going to take a class with him.
DC: You’re interested in studying non-violent communication?
NH: Yeah. Because I’m a retired carpenter and I started teaching in a collage. And I’m interested in – and I started a kind of like a counselor, being a counselor. That’s what I want to do now. I like to be a counselor in the style of NVC. Actually NVC is what in Buddhism is called the practice of loving kindness. Compassionate listening. Why I like it so much is because I don’t particularly think of myself as a compassionate person, compassionate listener. But it gives me hope that it’s something I can actually practice and learn. And when I do practice it, it feels real wonderful. And there are certain things you can do. Like learning tango. If you are rough, you can practice not to be rough. When you’re leading, you can practice not to push them around, if that’s your tendency. So you look at your tendencies, and you choose not to do it. But you have to acknowledge, first of all.
DC: How long have you been doing tango?
NH: Four years. But I didn’t do it for a couple years. I’m not that good at it. I got kind of caught – and not as a practice. I wanted to show off. I love to show off. Me and O’Neill, we’ll go into small places like bars and stuff and we’ll be the only ones dancing. I love when people stand and watch, cause they couldn’t figure out what kind of dance it was. I like that. You just show off. I’m a real show off.
DC: You do swing tango too.
NH: Yes. Swango. That’s something you just make up.
DC: So is tango just dancing, or a practice, or what?
NH: Well it’s dancing. It’s like in Zen you use different art forms, right. Basically I think that art and religion is the same thing. It’s two sides of the same coin. Spiritual is different. But any spiritual practice you still have to have some kind of artistic practice with it. Maybe you don’t. Maybe there’s pure spiritual practice, I don’t know. Maybe you can be complete spirit. But soul, the expression of soul, you express that in two ways - soul religion and soul art. That’s my understanding. That’s how soul is expressed. Soul is what sees the beauty, goodness, and wholeness. That which in you sees that. The ego cannot see it. The ego cannot see goodness, cannot see wholeness, and cannot see beauty. The ego sees strategies to get security and power. And sometimes if you are identifying with the ego you think that those things make you happy. They are only in the way.
DC: So what is the practice of tango.
NH: It is simply what is called mindfulness. It’s very much like kinhin, walking meditation. It’s a meditation. You also meditate with somebody else. You meditate, you practice the precepts, you practice how to be kind, you practice sexuality, sexual creativity in a sense. How you can transform sexual activity into cultural form. Like you do that for example in singing. Music is like that Sexual energy – transforms is not the right – what’s the word – but you know what I mean. You learn how to relate with your heart. How to care and how to be true. And in some way we think, we talked about the shame. You have to be willing to be open and exposed. It’s very scary in a sense to go dance.
DC: You got me interested in it.
NH: Yeah. It’s how to care.
DC: I’m just such a bad dancer. But now you’ve sort of framed it in more like a practice. You also said it’s a good way to meet women. That made me very interested.
NH: It’s a fantastic way of meeting women. There is no better way. There’s always more women than men. Women love tango more than men do. When you go a tango place there’s three-quarters women.
DC: Maybe they need me then.
NH: And they are very beautiful, sexual women, David.
DC: Oh yeah, sure. Let’s move on then to talk about truths.
NH: That’s the thing where you do not lie. That’s in a precept. Do not lie. All the practices come out of precepts, right? Like AA. What’s that? You don’t drink. AA. This was a major thing for me to understand. See, this is America’s institution. AA and this non-violent communication. They are not Buddhist. But they are more Buddhist than Buddhism. AA is a wonderful organization so far as I’m concerned for being Buddhist. Not to drink. And to help people with their understanding, their suffering over addictions.
DC: Actually AA isn’t against drinking. They’re against abusing alcohol. Especially trying to identify if you have a particular problem called alcoholism.
NH: And so when you see, when you realize that you are an alcoholic, then you go to AA. I used to say that when you realize that you’re really a liar. You’re lying to yourself. (what?) When I stopped this Sunday morning meeting we were doing, I dis-invited everybody, and then slowly one woman –
DC: What’s that? A Sunday morning get-together – (kind of like) a Zen group. You have zazen, and then people come upstairs and you’d sit around and talk.
NH: Yes. And because it became just an intellectual thing about Buddhism and I didn’t want to do it any more. And so I just dis-invited everybody. One woman came back and she said, look, you were talking about this thing, about radical honesty and that practice. And that was something I really started with O’Neill. We did talking practice. In Zen centers they actually discourage talking. And I saw it in Aiken Roshi. He said one practice that is very bad is if the students talk together about their practice. Because they talk about the teacher or something, what he said and stuff. I think that’s kind of strange.
DC: It could sound like a control trip.
NH: Yes, sounds very controlling. And I don’t like that. I think it is very dishonest. I don’t believe that. I believe it’s very good when people talk about their practice to each other, and they share honestly with each other. That’s what I would recommend, and that the teacher does so too. As a teacher he takes part in it. And that he has nothing to hide. What does he have to hide? I can’t imagine Buddha going around hiding. So to me Buddha is open mind. It’s not hiding, it’s not controlling, it’s being honest. Totally honest. Buddha means totally honest. There’s nothing to hide in my mind. So I don’t believe in any lies, or any cover of any kind.
DC: So now how many people do you have meeting on Sunday talking about that?
NH: Actually we are only four. One woman was there that went away. She didn’t want to come back. It’s very scary for people. Unless they want to do it, they don’t want to do it.
DC: Sounds reasonable, even incontrovertible.
NH: Then we made a decision this is what we want, but I’m telling you, if they make that decision, and have a problem in your life, and you’ve made that decision to do it, if you are not doing it, the others get really onto you. I didn’t feel a lot of pressure and I wanted to sit and maybe bullshit a little bit. And this guy he come here Sunday morning and he didn’t want that. He wanted to get into honesty – and he was very hard on me. He felt that I was slacking off and I appreciated it. I appreciated what he said.
DC: So you do that on Sundays. How often do you have zazen?
NH: Every day, twice a day.
DC: Every day? Seven days a week?
NH: No, five days. Mondays through Fridays.
DC: But then Sunday morning also.
NH: Yeah. There is not that many people. But you know, now little by little, the zendo is starting to be – it’s a very small zendo. Nine seats.
DC: That’s a limit on the size of your group.
NH: Yeah. When I did this with the college there were ten students and two sat in chairs and it was completely full. And I went out and sat and talked. It was interesting. I never talked before in my life. What I did was – you started sitting, first you’re sitting ten minutes, and every week a little bit more. They never sat before. Those people came they never sat before. After ten weeks we’ll sit forty minutes. I asked O’Neill the first time I went down, I said that I have no idea what to do. I had never done it. I didn’t know what to do. So she said to sit a little bit and ask what they want. Why did they come? So the first time I asked everybody why they came. And we sat a little bit. The other times I said, we’ll sit, then we’ll go off and talk about it, and I asked each person what their experience was and everyone was very forthcoming. It became a little church or something. Very interesting. And they were very pleased, and thought it was such a great experience.
DC: How many times did you meet?
NH: Ten. Now I’m signed up for the spring semester. Three classes. I got $300, for ten classes. To me I don’t care about the money. I’m not doing it for money. I’m doing it to give to life. Whatever I can give. The college advertises. And they set the students up. We never talked about money or anything like that. It’s just they gave me a check. Just magic. I get money for this thing. People come and I’m doing this thing and it’s like wow this is real wonderful. So I’m planning to do it more. I’m retired, I have enough income from my property, I don’t need to do anything else. I like to do it. I like to care for people. I feel really I’m doing what Suzuki Roshi was doing and what he taught me to do. I’m at the age he was in when I met him. It’s like I never did try to teach before, but now I am. It’s just very simple. I just talk to people about their problems. They come up and do zazen. And that’s it.
DC: So you’re emphasizing talking about what’s true, not hiding things in your practice there. Did you feel there was a shortness of that in Zen practice that you’ve experienced? Do you think it wasn’t aimed enough at the truth?
NH: Truth, I don’t know. What the hell is truth, I don’t know. Truth practice, telling truth, it’s not like – what’s that mean? Radical honesty is –
DC: Alright, let’s say, do you think that Zen practice –
NH: It’s about . . . I think that in the old Buddhist practice they had the precepts. The precepts for me is simply what Buddhism is about. Precepts. That’s what it is. The precepts is life enrichment, life elevating. The precepts is expressed in a negative way: you don’t do that. But you can also express it in positives. Suzuki Roshi talked about precepts all the time. It’s very strange when I start talking to people like the old Zen students, it’s like they don’t get it. They’ll think that you sit zazen to get someplace else. I don’t know. To me, precepts are the most important part. That’s what make you Buddhist. You take the precepts. That’s how you become Buddhist, right? You take the precepts. So the precepts are not telling lies. That’s very important – how do you practice that?
DC: You’re saying that the precepts emphasize interpersonal relationships.
NH: Yeah, the last five do completely. That’s what it’s about. One of them that was very important for me was not to shame. Which is don’t put yourself up and put people down. Because I recognized that this is what I do. I have learned to do that. This is very important for me. Always it is in my personality to put people down so I can feel good about myself. That’s something I learned. My whole culture taught me that. So to take that precept means that you’ve become aware that that’s what you’re doing. So that was one of the things when I practiced with – I had one teacher, Ken McLeod. I studied with him and his book Wake Up To Your Life. One of the things was he has this – he’s the kind of teacher like Pema Chodron – they have very similar things they’re saying. There was this writer that made a book called 59 Slogans. One of the slogans was put all blame into one. Drive all blame into one. And I realized this is very strong for me because I blame all the time. Anything is wrong I look around for someone to blame. It’s automatic for me.
DC: Yeah. I know any time anything is broken I always immediately blame Clay. I say, something’s broken, Clay, it has to be your fault.
NH: I’m like that. Did I tell you that thing about my foot that gets smashed? I practiced that for a while. And one day I come again to the shop and I’m moving a table and this steel thing fall down and smash my toe. It’s very painful. And right there, as soon as I feel that pain, and I see what happened, who put that there!? And I thought, that son of a bitch, I know who it is. I’m going to go out and smash him, I’m going to go yell at him. And then I thought, drive all blame into one. Right there.
DC: Drive all blame into one, why don’t you just drive all blame into him?
NH: That’s what I wanted to do, but when you say that slogan, see that slogan is designed to cut with. It cuts you right there.
DC: How does it cut it if it keeps the blame and says drive it into one?
NH: The blame is to drive into one. That one is the reactive pattern that makes the blame. The energy for blaming. You drive it into the energy of blaming, you drive it back into itself. So what happens when you do that, what happened was that I felt the pain. This is to take you away from awareness.
DC: You mean the blame is to take you away from awareness.
NH: Yes. Awareness of pain. You don’t want to feel pain. That’s why you blame. And you know what? I became happy, just like that. I was happy because I could feel that pain, it’s nothing, compared to the evil karma of going to yell at him. It really works. It frees my life. It makes you free. To totally feel pain makes you free. Feel pain, you’re willing to feel the pain. It’s like shame, willing to feel shame. You don’t create evil karma. If you’re not willing to feel shame you create evil karma.
DC: What does evil mean to you?
NH: Evil means if you blame somebody. Evil means scapegoating.
DC: It means more than that, doesn’t it?
NH: It’s hurting, it’s harming life. Evil is just harming life. What’s harming? It’s when you scapegoat. When you blame somebody, and I go out and yell at him, and I make him hurt for my hurt.
DC: But you didn’t do that.
NH: I didn’t do that.
DC: This time. Very good.
NH: Because of that slogan . . . so that’s very important, to have these kinds of slogans as a help. I made the slogan up myself. When you feel shame, be glad.
DC: When you feel ashamed, be glad.
NH: Yeah. Because you’re feeling it.
DC: Suzuki Roshi used to say – it used to bother me a little – when you feel good about your practice I’m not so happy about it. But when you feel bad about your practice, then I like it more. Something like that. Now I can understand that in a way I don’t have any problem with, but back then --
NH: It was difficult for you to accept.
DC: Yeah. Pride is the sin of the monk. You get to be full of yourself – I understand, I know, this and that. But when you’re humble – that’s all he means when he says feel bad about yourself – when you’re humble, or have some shame, you realize that you’re falling short in your practice or you’re awareness. You can be more aware.
NH: So then – one of the things that I do, I feel very proud that I feel ashamed.
DC: I just put a note on – I think it’s in the Paul Shippee interview – somebody asked Suzuki Roshi oh I feel pride at sitting zazen, I’ve been feeling pride about my zazen, my practice, is that okay? And he said, yeah that’s no problem, until you become a teacher. But it was an answer for the moment. What teachers are you impressed with these days outside of McLeod. What’s his teaching called? Is he out of the Vipassana tradition or Tibetan?
NH: Tibetan. His teacher was Kalu Rimpoche.
DC: And you really like NCV, and you love tango,
NH: Vipassana. I like Vipassana. I like the American Vipassana teachers, I like all of them. Some more than others. I like Sylvia Boorstein.
DC: What do you like about her?
NH: I don’t know. I just swing with it.
DC: Do you feel they’re being honest? Do you feel they’re not on a control and power trip? Do you feel they’re not playing a game? Do you feel they’re not pretending?
NH: Yeah. I took a one day’s thing with – what was his name? – I forgot, but he came from Portland, Portland Vipassana Center. I really liked him a lot. He was also eclectic. He was very much into Rumi and poetry and he drummed and recited poetry with a drum. He was into everyone holding hands. And then he says, now, when you let go of the hand, feel slowly, letting go.
DC: When you said that I thought, it sure sounds like Charlotte Selver.
NH: And Suzuki Roshi did the practice with her and said this is my teaching.
DC: She finally died at 102 or something. I have a little interview with her.
NH: I liked him better than her. Because she was too (Danish word) selvesesfut (?). It means – maybe it means selfish in some ways.
DC: Too precious?
NH: Yeah, too precious. And this teacher, he didn’t have a quality of that at all. It was really nice. We went out and had dinner later on. I liked him a lot. I was very surprised. This is really how I imagined Buvoo even. Like Buddhism, like American Buddhism. He wasn’t imitating some Oriental stuff. It was just about being aware. And sharing time together and practicing awareness. I used to think they were dry, but he wasn’t at all. I know that Jack Kornfield is not, from what I hear about him.
DC: We tend to make judgments on different teachers, people, practices and everything based on very little information and we carry these prejudices. And then we have some experience of it, we read, we meet the people, we go through a workshop, and then we go oh that’s not what I thought at all. I have that happen to me all the time, all day long. It’s the tendency to believe what we think.
I’m trying to nudge out of you some of the things you’ve said in the past, or something new you’re going to say now, about what do you think the strengths of Suzuki Roshi’s teaching was, and what do you think the weaknesses were. You say you came to Zen Center in ’67 and came into Tassajara, probably it’s on your first interview, from Esalen all drunk and everything.
NH: Not from Esalen.
DC: You’d been in Esalen the day before or something, that was my memory. And you just stayed. You were there five years. You were pretty out of it when you came in which was not normal for you. You never were a person that got real drunk or anything.
NH: I went in there because I had bought some wine and I was hitchhiking in with some hippie. I was stoned and I was drunk, and I was really not used to being stoned.
DC: You’ve never been a doper. Richard Baker picked up on you right away, that you were a potential Zen candidate and he asked you to be a priest right away when you first met. Like the second day. He suggested that you stay and become a priest.
NH: I don’t remember that. I used to be friends with him in the beginning. When I went to San Francisco I used to stay in his house. There weren’t many students that had that. I used to make fun of him. He liked that. I was like – you had that role with him often yourself.
DC: He has a very playful side that many people don’t realize.
NH: Yes he does. Yes I liked him a lot. I had problems when he became the abbot. Before that he was a great older brother to me. He had that feeling, he was an older brother. For me I couldn’t relate to him as a teacher, the way he wanted me to.
DC: When Dick became Baker Roshi and Suzuki Roshi died is when Godfather I came out. Totally parallel. When Michael Corleone became the Godfather it was sort of like the ones who would kiss his hand – they had to kiss his hand, he was the godfather now and the door was closed to – I’m not sure who the door was closed to, it might have been making a different point, but I saw it as that those who didn’t kiss the hand the door was closed to – or that a new hierarchy was being formed and there’s nothing you can do about it. And people who felt sort of like peers, or at least more of an uncle relationship with Dick at the time – a lot of them went on to study with Trungpa or elsewhere. I think that’s a normal thing to happen in an organization during a time of change like that.
NH: I didn’t feel any bitterness toward him. I didn’t have problems with that. I just realized I didn’t want to do that. I was mad to Maggie then, I don’t know. I spent a lot of time – I don’t know.
DC: Starting your wood shop.
NH: Starting a wood shop, being married, doing this and that. I had some years when I was trying to prove myself sexually. I had so many affairs and girlfriends. Then I did the whole Trungpa thing. Went to boulder and then got into being a hermit. I was a hermit up in Alaska. I sailed up there by myself. Then I went to Port Townsend and started a zendo in Port Townsend.
DC: You started and stopped it, you stopped it and started again several times.
NH: I started the zendo and then I moved it. I had it running and we used to have this guy from Seattle – a Japanese priest would come over, and then we had sesshin, and we’d be walking kinhin down the street and stuff like that. I didn’t like him very much. I didn’t feel connected to him.
DC: You tell me you’ve seen Zen teachers shaming people.
NH: Yeah. Not Suzuki Roshi. I don’t remember Suzuki Roshi shaming students.
DC: No not at all, my god. But his teacher really shamed him, to say the least. It was like his teaching.
NH: That was the same when you think of Monty Roberts. Monty Roberts’ father shamed him so bad. When he was a little kid he had a kind of insight that he was not going to be like his dad.
DC: He saw how his father trained horses – I’m not going to do that.
NH: And his father killed a man while his son looked at it.
DC: Yeah, a black guy. What was that about?
NH: His father was a policeman during the war. And this man had done something – he hadn’t even done anything very bad, but his father just did it out of evilness. He punished him, just beat him up, to show his power.
DC: And he beat him up so bad he died.
NH: Yes. And he watched it as a little kid. Also he watched his dad breaking horses, and he decided that he would find some other way to be with horses. And one day he showed his dad, when he was about ten, he showed, look dad, I found a way with this unbroken horse, I found a way to be friends with him. And he showed him how he could do certain things with this horse. How to communicate.
DC: Out of the way he moved.
NH: And his dad said, I’ll show you. He beat it so bad he had to be taken to the hospital. I’ll show you not to trust this horse. It’s so sick. His dad was an evil man.
DC: Isn’t this interesting. Out of this evil – it’s like the old Chinese story that Suzuki Roshi and Katagiri Roshi told about how heaven and hell is the same place. People with the little mouths sitting around the table, and the long chopsticks, and they can’t get the food into the mouths – that’s hell. Heaven’s the same place except they’re feeding each other. Or in the wonderful movie Jacob’s Ladder where the message is that heaven and hell is the same place, it’s just what you make of it. So he took an upbringing that he could have complained about and been victimized all his life, and turned it into something good.
NH: Yes. That’s why I like Victor Frankl.
DC: Who wrote Man’s Search for Meaning.
NH: Yes. Out of a million people, what the Nazis did turned them into Buddhas, maybe one or two. I don’t know.
DC: And you remember Nazis.
NH: No I don’t remember Nazis.
DC: You told me many years ago you said you remember when you were very small –
NH: I was lying.
DC: Well this is what you said - you remember the Nazis coming into your house to buy beer from your father.
NH: Not Nazis. German soldiers.
DC: Oh, well, German soldiers coming in – people here don’t know the difference - and you said it was like a dark cloud descending over the house.
NH: How do you think the American soldiers are received in Baghdad now? They’re not Republicans, are they, just because Bush sent them over there. They’re just soldiers. Same thing with them. But when they come into some place in Iraq, just go buy some beer, or get something from somebody, everybody would be like this – they would be scared, all these soldiers, and they wouldn’t want them to come into their house.
DC: You have expressed some reservations about shortcoming of Suzuki Roshi as a teacher. He just did what he could. I can’t remember what it is right now.
NH: Well me neither. I don’t think there’s any shortcoming in his teaching. But I think that maybe we misunderstand it, students misunderstand it.
DC: Well I wouldn’t say he was a perfect teacher.
NH: He was just himself, that was what he was.
DC: He didn’t teach us to sit around and reflect on him and what he said. So it really doesn’t matter what his shortcomings were. What matters is what our shortcomings are.
NH: That’s right. I’m not dwelling on that at all. There’s one guy that practiced with me, Mike O’Connor, and he studied with Sasaki. That’s the only Zen teacher he had known, Sasaki Roshi. He loved Suzuki Roshi’s book because he’s a poet and he loves the language. He loves that book. It’s his bible. And he always said, oh, I’m so happy that I know you because you practiced with Suzuki Roshi. But I don’t say anything, just oh yeah, that’s nice.
DC: I did a book signing in Port Townsend and I counted seven old Suzuki Roshi students in the room. Seven people who at least had been there for some time.
NH: Interesting. I dreamt about Suzuki Roshi one night. I had a dream that he was sitting there with Dan Welch and me. Dan and Suzuki Roshi were talking. They were so quiet I strained to hear what they were saying, I couldn’t hear what it was. So I said, wow, it was like some part of me – and it was in my old house in Denmark where I grew up. That’s also how I related, because I was the youngest kid. And I was never part of – I was outside the family. I always felt outside the family. And I didn’t really feel I was a student of Suzuki Roshi. I felt like all the others would become ordained, and I didn’t become ordained. So I felt like an outsider. And in the dream it was clearly like that. So they went in – Dan and Suzuki Roshi went in and Peter was there and they were fixing up some beds, and they were doing the springs, and they were doing some work like that. I go into the room that used to be my room, but I would always be thrown out when my brother was back from America. I can’t remember any more of the dream but it went on for a little while. And it was clear to me it was some basic psychological make-up of my character. Of being a little boy and being on the outside, not really being appreciated, being liked, but not being a real part of this thing. When I think of myself at Zen Center I think, wow, I see myself – why didn’t I become one of the priests or something.
DC: Are you sorry?
NH: No, not anymore. But I was for many years. I felt a failure. That was part of my thing.
DC: Failure is one of the common denominators I find in interviewing Suzuki Roshi’s students. I think it’s a common feeling of people in general. So when I feel like a failure or something like that I feel good. But I even felt good about it before I realized everybody else did. In a sense, because our success in life and our failure is intertwined. We don’t have one without the other. And what we want to succeed at is usually trivial. We think we’re failures but I think we succeed in important ways we hadn’t intended.
From this point on there is an audio of Niels talking - that's over half way through that interview and the audio is still 1:14:25 long. I didn't tend to keep the tapes and never intended to post or use them after they were transcribed - which was a mistake I think now - but found this one. - dc
NH: The sense of self as a failure – like I said the last four years, when this woman rejected me, then I really failed, completely. I let myself go down and feel it completely. Being a complete failure, and I went to hell with that, and felt I’m one-eighth of an inch tall, and there I was being nothing, worthless. I didn’t want this feeling my whole life – this thing about feeling shame, just feeling, through and through and through. All my life I tried not to feel that. And then, just accept and feel it, just accept yourself as a total fuck-up, a total failure, and just cry and grieve it. Grieve that feeling. And then when you express it and you tell somebody, they love you. I listened to that when I met O’Neill and we took a vow to be truthful to each other as a practice. We didn’t start with that book, that was something after awhile.
DC: You’ve always been into honesty.
NH: Yeah. But I have always been a kind of – anyway – when I practiced that with O’Neill and we would sit and we would talk. We talked for one year. We talked every day for ten hours. Unbelievable but we did. And sometimes fifteen hours a day. We just talked. We start talking with the coffee – like we do today – on and on and on.
DC: We started the day with John Tarrant bringing us lox and bagels and cream cheese and you made coffee.
NH: And we would go over the same things. And I would talk about Julia, how she was, and the whole thing, and how much pain I felt. And she said, you were never stuck completely, but you were like a fucking iceberg moving this slow. O’Neill said to me I could see now that you were not stuck and I always could feel you moving, but it was very very slow. And I felt like I was stuck in a tunnel. It was about her (the previous woman) and it expressed itself in her, but that was that thing about being a failure. The sense of self as a failure in love. That failure. Failure in every way you can think of comes down to this feeling. Maybe you said today and I think maybe my mother didn’t want me from before I was born, it was written in cement. Even so, I was much loved as a kid by my parents and stuff, but there was a feeling my mother didn’t want me, because she told me that many times.
DC: Oh my god have mercy!
NH: In some way she said – I know how old she was and she was very tired – she was 42 when I was born – and she had had five kids and two abortions and she was sick, she had a tumor.
DC: You’re an example of one of the talented people who would have been aborted if it were an easy option.
NH: Yes. She would say I wish you had been a girl. You were such a wild kid. I was a wild kid. There were a lot of things in my family that were – my family is very suppressed, you don’t say anything about anything. It’s excavation. Emotions and troubles – keep it down. Don’t grieve. Very Nordic. You get a certain energy to work, to be alcoholics. There are a lot of alcoholic Danes and a lot of workaholic Danes. They have a lot of energy to be right and to be good. Germans. Look at it. It’s Germanic. So zazen is good, but zazen by itself, I don’t believe that.
DC: Only zazen, just sit, and all your problems will be solved. That approach has had a lot of currency, but –
NH: Suzuki Roshi said that, but I don’t know – but that’s a very bad teaching. I don’t believe that at all. And then . . . people ought not to talk. Fuck that. That’s bullshit. That’s idiotic teaching. But there was such a prejudice in the Japanese against being open. They could not be honest. It’s impossible. They can’t talk about things so they have this elaborate ceremony – that moon ceremony where they all stand and sing and stuff, what’s that called? -- yeah, confessional thing, it’s idiotic.
DC: Wesak. You mean because it’s a formality. That’s the oldest Buddhist ceremony. I think the monks had to go around and find another monk to talk to and to tell them what precepts they’d broken. And then they’d get together and chant. It’s not so bad. It’s good.
NH: They did that every two weeks and sit down and do what I’m doing in my zendo. That’s what I think. My idea is that we sit and do group therapy. I think Buddhism is just psychology. And Buddha was just a therapist, he was a counselor. A teacher is a counselor. So you can give up your idea of self. You could hang up. To stuff it and to be formal, I don’t believe in that. When you dance tango you’re not stuffing it, you practice the form of tango as a way of becoming aware. When you do that in mindful practice, in loving kindness practice, you become aware. That’s Ken McLeod. His whole teaching of Buddhism, all Buddhism is coming into awareness. The practice of awareness. That’s all. Nothing else. Any obstruction to awareness is – how do you say that – he says it comes down to paying attention. Through paying attention you cultivate awareness. That’s all there is.
DC: You were talking about your and O’Neill’s practice.
NH: That practice of talking, where we share, and it is confession. The confessional thing, and where we practice counseling each other. Sara W. remember her? She used to live in Palo Alto. She was a good friend of mine. She influenced me a lot. She was a very loving, kind person. She really showed me how to be kind. She very much wanted to marry me or be with me. I don’t know why I couldn’t do that. She was wonderful. She practiced something that a guy from Seattle started, called co-counseling. She was in the inner circle of that movement. I remember that she taught me certain things about co-counseling. That’s what I said to O’Neill when I met her. Let’s practice this thing called co-counseling. Let’s counsel each other. Cause I needed counseling, but I did not want to go to professional. It’s like going to a prostitute or something. That’s what I think. A form of prostitution. You pay them money. And O’Neill is actually – she has a counselor’s degree and stuff like that. So we started doing that with each other. Like I said, we did it for many hours every day for a year. We’re still doing it. It’s a tremendous practice to do with somebody that you are with.
DC: Would you tell me again the story of O’Neill’s experience.
NH: One day, it was about three months after I met her – one day I could tell that she needed to go to hell. I had been in hell. What I mean with that is to actually feel all the bad feelings that you can feel about yourself. To become conscious that you have all those bad feelings in you. All the put-downs, all the stuff that you have learned to put yourself down with.
DC: And that you don’t realize, you’re not aware of.
NH: You’re not aware because you’ve kept them away. It’s what you call shame, it’s feeling that shame about yourself. I could see that she needed to go there, that she was ready to go. I can just see she’s standing on a cliff and I just push her off with just a slight push, and she falls down through all these different levels. It went on for five hours. She went through this tremendous self-exploration. She knows how to do it in this really dramatic, crying kind of style that I don’t really know. She falls apart, psychically falls apart, have a nervous breakdown or something. I don’t know what you call that. It was like a complete break-up of her personality. All the different ways she said this is who I am, and she’d let go of that, and underneath was another identity, until she came down – and she says eight months old – and she was like pre-verbal. She was just sobbing and crying like a little baby.
DC: She over a period of five hours she descended –
NH: She descended through all those layers.
DC: And the earliest she got was eight months.
NH: That’s what she says, I don’t know. That was a very interesting experience and I thought, yeah, this is kind of shamanic work.
DC: Yeah, but also, when she was there talking about it, she said when she got to the bottom, she said it was a golden –
NH: Yeah, she said a golden net, she said this is the net of Indra, this is all beings hanging onto each other, and there’s no place to fall, and that she felt completely relieved, and safe, and that she did belong in the universe, and that it did belong to life. It was a form of enlightenment experience. She was just so happy afterwards, and in such a beautiful way. Completely at ease and at peace. I’ve become more and more at ease myself. I’m letting go of being a failure. This thing of hating myself, and feeling I should be different, and all that stuff. It’s tormenting yourself. Then you can start to see that, and you can help other people with the same thing. It takes a long time to get rid of it, or to let go of that. Self criticism, or clinging to self, really. I can see the times I’ve been mean it’s come out of that. It’s a meanness. People that are mean are mean to themselves. Meanness is meanness to self really. This is what I learned in this NVC language – it’s the same language. When you learn to talk that language – they call it giraffe language. Instead of jackal language. Critical language. Instead you learn to talk for what people need for their feelings. Sometimes they take on giraffe ears and jackal ears. They do a lot of role playing.
DC: So the jackal is the negative, not negative, but harmful, or hurtful?
NH: The jackal is the way we have learned to speak, like blaming, criticizing, all the life hindrances. It’s just an idea. Usually I would try to pick anything apart. There’s something a little bit philosophically I could probably attack it. I don’t give a shit. I want to learn that language. Because when that woman I took the workshop with talked to me – I’m going to a class now and we practice it. I think it’s very wonderful. And one of these people is specializing in Buddhist groups.
There’s a person in NVC who’s teaching Buddhist groups how to communicate non-violently. And communicating non-violently is communicating without putting other people down and harming them.
You know who likes it very much is the Vipassana people. They really like this. The instructor that I had one workshop with from Portland. I forget names.
DC: Niels, tell us about your experience in India.
NH: When I was nineteen years old I had a bad love affair so I had to leave Denmark. I was so confused and I suffered so much and I couldn’t stand it in Denmark. Everything was so – I felt like, I don’t know. It was either go in mental hospital or get out of the country. So I decided to get out of the country. My first trip was to Brussels where I was in a commune of – have you ever heard of Abbe Pierre and his organization, Emmaus. He was like a French Gandhi. He was like homeless – he helped homeless people. I lived in his community. There were gangsters and murderers, drug addicts, war criminals, outcasts – any kind of person that didn’t fit into society. There was one young idealist foreigner which was me. I was the only young idealistic person there. And I came from Denmark. It was really an experience for me to be there. After awhile I decided to go traveling so I ended up in Spain and Morocco. I came back to Denmark and I tried to live in Denmark and I saw that girl I was in love with, it didn’t work out. Then I decided to go as far away from Denmark as I could. I felt a big need to experience something completely different so I set off for India. It was in the fall or late summer of 1961. I had twenty dollars. It took me down into Yugoslavia where I ran out of money. It was the greatest time I had walking every day. I walked. There were no cars to hitchhike with. I just walked every day. I stole from fields and stuff. One day I stole a chicken. I cooked and ate it. I slept outside every night. It was a wonderful time in my life. It was really beautiful there. I went right through Kosovo. That’s where I walked, where they had all the fighting, right there. I could see the tension in that place. There were a lot of police. I made it down to Greece. I lived in a little town and had six different jobs. When I walked around Athens I looked at a map and decided I want to go to this town because it looks good on the map. I’m going down there and be a fisherman. This cop picked me up and said what are you doing. I said I’m going to such-and-such town. He kind of arrested me but he couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak English much either. I thought he was arresting me but he took me up to this office and sat me in this chair and gave me a cup of coffee. This is a strange way to be arrested. I didn’t know what he was going to do. He said, follow this man. There was a policeman in a full uniform and I had to follow him. They had my passport. They took me to a restaurant and gave me a full dinner. Then he took me up to a room and gave me a room to sleep in. The next day, he said follow this man, and I said this is great and I follow him. He stopped a big truck and he said you have to take this man down to this town. That’s how I got to that town. There was only one fishing boat in the town. I said I want a job in the fishing boat and I got the job. So I was there and had different jobs. I had a job repairing the street. There was this guy had been to America and he liked to talk English. I would sneak in and get coffee from him. Then there was a Russian, and I don’t know why he liked me, he’d give me vodka. And I was always sneaking out and doing this shit. That’s how I was at that time. Now I’m not like that any more. I was there for a few months and then I decided to go to India. I came up to northern Greece and it was Christmas time. I remember being invited in for Christmas. . . . Turkey was very hard on me because I didn’t have any money. It was very cold and I nearly froze to death. One experience I had, I had this room in Turkey, the cheapest room you could get, in Ankara. I had to get a visa for Iran. I slept in a bed with five other men. The sheets stank so bad I had to sleep like this (pulling the sheet down). That was horrible. It wasn’t so bad, it was an experience. I just thought of everything as experiences. So I come to Iran and I went through Iran, and Pakistan, and I was up in Swat Valley you know now they’re trying to find Bin Laden – Swat Valley. The Pakistani police don’t go up there. They’re tribal people. They’re the meanest people I’d ever met. That’s where I smoked dope, the only place I smoked dope. I was so paranoid. That’s why I don’t like to smoke dope I think. I learned to smoke hashish. These people are very paranoid. I met this Dutch guy. He wanted me to build a hospital for him. We went way in the mountains to a leper colony. Very interesting experiences. I didn’t really understand what was going on around me because I couldn’t speak the language and smoking this dope and stuff. Very paranoid people and I was very paranoid. It was really strange. Then with all the Muslims, I did not feel good in any Muslim country I’ve been in. I don’t like Muslim countries.
DC: You went through Iran to get to this place.
NH: Yes I went through the whole part of Iran. The Ayatollah Khomeini’s town is called Kum, it’s a holy town. I was there. I remember when I tried to go into the mosque, I tried to go in from one side because I wanted to see everything. They said, no, I couldn’t go in there. So I tried the other side. I tried all sides. Then I got arrested and this policeman took me away. But this policeman was a Shah man. He was not one of the religious people. He spoke English and I spoke to him. I remember talking to him and putting down the Shah, I thought he was a goddam dictator and stuff like that. He just said, cool it, man. He would say this kind of thing to me. I was so stupid. I did the most stupid things you could ever imagine. But I never got into trouble. Anyway, he was kind. He gave me a little bit of money. I didn’t have money.
When I came to India after Pakistan. I came in through Punjab.
DC: I haven’t been in there, but from what I hear that’s a great part of India. The Sikhs are there. They’re supposed to be really good people.
NH: Yeah. I stayed at Sikh places all the time throughout India. I was always at Sikh temples. They’re very easy to get along with.
DC: Yeah, I never realized it. I’d see them here and I’d have no idea what they were.
NH: The Sikhs have a kind of universal religion. It was half Muslim and half Hindu. They were like guerillas who hung out in the forest.
DC: I hear that the Punjab they don’t have the suppression of women that’s common to both Islam and Hinduism.
NH: The Sikh don’t. Sikh women are more like – they’re considered India’s Jews. They’re the most educated people, and they’re the most liberated, and they are more civilized, something like that. They’re the taxi drivers and small businesses and stuff like that. So that’s how I come in and I come to New Delhi. And in New Delhi I realized – I was sitting on a square in New Delhi. I still had my sleeping bag and all my stuff with me and I realized the freedom of certain people, what you call sadhus. And I thought, shit I’m going to do like them. So right there to some homeless, or whatever you want to call some Indians, they don’t have much – I gave all my stuff, my sleeping bag, my boots, everything I gave away. Everything I had I gave away.
DC: Your boots? Your underwear?
NH: Yes. Everything.
DC: What do you mean? You got naked?
NH: Yes. Except the loincloth. I had the loincloth and one sheet. That’s all I had. And from there on I went and hitchhiked up to Hardwar, one of the four holy sites – and on the Ganges. And Rishikesh became famous later because the Beatles went there. But I was there before. But I never found any teachers. Except I did practice with some people. I had a guy down in Mysore that I walked with. He was Tibetan. We could not say one word to each other. He was like a shaman or something. We walked together for five days. Toward where the Tibetans are. Him and me walked together.
DC: In ’61 the Tibetans were – they were in Dharamsala by then.
NH: They were also there in Mysore, in a refugee camp. Mysore is in the middle of India. I just went through India, hitchhiking, sometimes I would jump on a train. When I wanted to get off I just got off. I didn’t even care which way the train went. I didn’t have any plans, I didn’t have any money, I was totally free. It was an experiment in freedom. I’d go into different temples. One time I walked right into the jungle. It took me five days before I got out. That was very wonderful.
DC: You were in the jungle five days. And what did you eat?
NH: There were villages in there. It is like stone age people. I lived there. It was very interesting. They had never seen anybody like me.
DC: You said women would scream.
NH: Yeah. Run away. It was really funny. I loved it. I’d go in and sit with the old men. I’d just go down and sit on my heels and stuff. I learned to sit like this. I can sit like this for hours.
DC: I know. They do it (squatting) all over the world. That’s a real shortcoming, that we can’t squat. I can remember in Mexico driving by a place, and there are guys sitting there, squatting with their butts hanging in the air a few inches off the ground, and I’d think wow that’s pretty good. And I’d come by two hours later and they’re in the same place.
NH: Yeah. They can sit like this all day. I can sit like this for hours too. I learned that in India. It’s just something we’ve never done. I can do that. It’s like sitting zazen or something, right?
DC: I think it’s really good for your body and your back. Not to need chairs.
NH: I had this one experience. I was kind of a tormented young man, like so many young men are. But I was also very kind – when I was up in Rishikesh I met this Dane. I was naked and I met this Dane who was traveling around, and he was writing a book about India. When I came home and wanted to tell my mother about India – my mother never really understood that I had been there. It was like there was something I was interested in or something like that. Out of kindness she buys a book for me about India. I read the book. One chapter was about me. It blew her mind. She just couldn’t get it. She could not understand. This guy I met – you know I lied to him. I had told him that I was an artist, which is not true.
DC: You are too. You’re a great artist. I should put some of your paintings on here. Maybe you weren’t then, but, as Hillman said, the lies people tell reveal as much as the truth. Here it’s a dream wrapped in a fib.
NH: I had to say something, I guess. If you’re naked you have to come up with something to make you more interesting. He told me about Zen, because he had been to Japan. He talked about koans. I remember something he said – if there is a goose in a bottle, how do you get it out. I remember him asking me that question. I said, I don’t know. I still don’t remember how you get a goose out if he’s in a bottle.
DC: You got me. I don’t think it’s right for somebody to put a goose in a bottle to begin with. I’d just break the bottle as carefully as I could – maybe try a glass cutter. And anyone who said that wasn’t the right answer I’d tell to cram it till the goose was free.
NH: So I didn’t like Zen from then on. What do you want to know about my travels in India?
DC: Whatever is interesting.
NH: It was interesting because every day all I have to get is food, every day. And a place to sleep. So I would sleep in the most crazy places many times. For example, in New Delhi they have this observation place where you observe stars and stuff.
DC: I’ve been there.
NH: Have you been to the big stairs where you go up? I slept up there. That’s where I slept. Three or four stories up. If you roll three or four times you’re dead. I used to sleep up there. To get away from all the noise and stuff.
NH: Yeah, I’ve climbed up that. And there’s another place like that not far away – maybe Jaipur in Rajasthan. You used to beg.
NH: Yes, I begged every day.
DC: How would you beg? What did you do? Would you sit?
NH: The worst problem I had in India was overeating. People would feed me too much. They would take me in and force feed me.
DC: There’s the goose again. You were pate. And back then India was said to have much less food per capita. And less pollution and almost no cars.
NH: My god, I was in this village and they all wanted to give me food.
DC: Would you like sit under a tree and wait for people to come by?
NH: Sometimes I did. I did all kinds of things. Because every day I just had to get food, and this is very easy to get. So I would play games. Because there were no Danes and I was always afraid to be judged by all the Danes, but I wasn’t afraid to be judged by Indians. One of the things I wanted to get away from Denmark for was all that judgment, and being shamed all the time. And in India I had that freedom. I could play any game I want. Sometimes I pretended to be blind, just for fun. What I became in India was a holy man. And since I have light skin I have this certain attraction to me. They didn’t know where I was from, they couldn’t understand what I was. So they thought I was very special cause they’d never seen a white man like that.
DC: They’d only been freed from England for fifteen years. Wasn’t it ’46? So you’d go some places where they weren’t used to seeing white people?
NH: Well I was in a little village, they don’t go out to little villages. Why would the British go out to a little village? There’s nothing there. Except stone tools. They might have one axe and a bicycle in one village. The rest was stone, and wood. Wooden plow. A little bit of metal here and there, but mostly it was clay pots and stuff. I loved it. It could have been 5000 years ago in many places. It could have been in Babylon. It was really beautiful. It was a real experience. And the people didn’t go anyplace. They just stayed in the village, they’d never been any place else. It was like magic sometimes. All the animals, the buffaloes and the geese. I loved it. I was just walking through from village to village. It was really amazing.
DC: You did that for nine months, and then what happened?
NH: Not nine months. I was there six months. Then I went to Ceylon. I was a Buddhist monk there, for just a few days, because I couldn’t stand it. I masturbated 20 times a day.
DC: That’s pretty hard to do.
NH: Well I did as much as I could. My dick was completely raw. Because I was bored. I didn’t have any instruction. They gave me – now, practice this practice of mindfulness. I didn’t know what to do. I was raking leaves, but this was boring, just go around raking. I didn’t know how to practice at all. Actually, this is a very famous place now. It was on an island. There was a German guy there. I wanted to talk to him but he was always in zazen, and I would go up, hey man -- . I did different things. I was a fisherman there. I was fishing with a British guy. We used to fish for shark. He told me to sit and watch over the nets with a rifle. He said, if some of those Indians comes, just shoot them. They come and steal the nets. We were out and sea. If the Indians or Ceylonese people comes and try to steal, shoot them. I’m not going to shoot anybody. He was an asshole, but I was hanging out with him. I was just staying at his place, and every day I would go out for food. I’d swim out and get lobsters. Dive down and get lobsters. I was just there for a little while.
DC: Then you were there with a Danish architect, in Ceylon?
NH: In Colombo. Colombo is the main city. I was there for awhile. At that time I decided to go to Australia but I didn’t have any money. I didn’t know how to get over there. I was kind of tired of traveling around, I had enough. It had been nearly a year. I went out to the port. There was this Danish boat. I came up dressed like an Indian, with a loincloth. I walked up to these Danish sailors and talked to them in Danish. They looked at me – what the hell are you doing? So I said, hey can I get a job here? So they said you can’t get a job looking like that, so they gave me some clothes. I talked to the captain and got a job just like that. I was working in the engine room. I came down to the same town where I had come in pretending I was really holy. Two weeks later I come in as a Danish sailor – drunk and yelling and screaming, "Where are the women?!" That’s the split in my personality, if you see that.
DC: Was that the first time you worked as a sailor?
NH: Yeah. That was the first time. From there I sailed up the coast of India, Pakistan, and on to the Gulf. I was in Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Omar, Iran. In Iran I jumped ship in a town they called Kul – I forgot the name. It was right there where they had the Persian war. It destroyed that place – the war between Iran and Iraq. It was right there on the coast where the big river comes out. My ship’s name was Niels Mask. I was lying on a taxi boat, and Niels Mask sailing out. Good-bye, Niels. And I went up and talked to the police and customs and I got sent home to Denmark. One thing I experienced there, a very interesting experience on that boat. The sailors had been to Bangkok. They loved Bangkok. And they hated the Persian gulf. The asshole of the world so far as sailors are concerned. There’s no place they hate as much as the Persian Gulf. And they don’t like India either, or Ceylon. Muslim countries they don’t like. No women, no whisky. That is the worst shit. And they don’t like India because of beggars and this and that. When I came on board the ship looking like an Indian – they liked me, I was Danish – it was not so bad in Ceylon, Ceylon was kind of in between. They don’t hate Ceylon, but they don’t like it particularly. But India, we were going up the coast of India. It was one of those small boats that go to many ports. They started freaking out that I was different than them. Danish sailors. Denmark doesn’t have racial things, and they are very good people. But underneath, they’re rednecks. In Denmark they want to be liberals but underneath they’re very racist. It doesn’t take much to make them into Nazis. On that boat they hated the Indians and people that are different than whites and different thinking people. They don’t agree with the welfare state in Denmark. Here I was in this boat. And I liked the Indians better than I liked them. And did I become a scapegoat. I was a scapegoat on that boat, and man, I was lonely. They didn’t like me. They would sit and just put me down the whole time. I didn’t like it there aboard that ship.
DC: That’s why you jumped ship.
NH: Well that was one thing. I didn’t like it there on board that ship. You know how hot it was in an engine room? 145-150 degrees. The air coming in was 120. Cool air from the deck was 120 degrees. So anyway that was something else. That was kind of the interesting part of it.
DC: You went back to Denmark.
NH: I flew back to Denmark. Then I was bumming around in Denmark and then I was a conscientious objector for two years.
DC: What did you do as a conscientious objector?
NH: I was in a camp to start out with. Then I worked in a museum. I lived in an abandoned factory in my home town. I had a really good time. As a conscientious objector I had a good time. Lasting friends, I still have those friends. That was really good. Interesting people. Different kind of Danes. They were the objectors. After that I was just flaking around, I didn’t know what to do. At that time I became interested in Zen. I read Alan Watts. And Taoism and stuff like that. There was not much to read in Danish. But there was one book – The Way of Zen. Zen Buddhism. Alan Watts. I read that. It was translated into Danish. That really influenced me a lot. It was a really big book for me. That’s when I made the decision to go to Japan and study Zen. My way is not straight, really. I tried to do this and that. I was a fisherman. I started fishing. I was up in Faroe Island fishing. The people there are like a tribe of Vikings. I fished from the west coast of Denmark.
DC: I remember you telling me that some days you’d fill the deck of the boat with fish and spend all day killing them by hitting them on the head and you said that after a while it got to you, that you felt guilty about it. And you said that you thought that other fishermen felt some sort of guilt too.
NH: I had times in zazen when the millions of fish I’ve killed have swum in through me. One fish on a pole is one thing, but millions in those killing machines take a toll.
And I did this and I did that. Then I was up in Norway. I had the idea I should be a farmer in Norway. A highlander farmer. I went up there. After awhile I got bored with it. I go down to the city and I see Seamen Needed. I go in and I signed up. Fifteen minutes later I was on my way to Germany in an airplane. Just like that. I got on a boat and we went to Africa. I sailed down the coast. I’ve been in every country in Africa on the coast. The west coast. It was very interesting. That was a Norwegian freighter. It had stuff from Europe to Africa. I had a very interesting experience on that boat. I had a very interesting role. I was the lowest person on the boat, what you call a yeoman. I wasn’t so young, I was twenty something. Yeomen usually would be like seventeen or something. I had a role which was very interesting, because I had been around in a certain way. I got this role as a boson You know what a boson is? Boson is the one between officers and the crew. And the boson – first I became very good friends with him. But then he was very jealous of me and he was fifty years old. He was jealous because I was reading books and stuff. I was more literary. You know I’m not a very literary person, but at that time I was more literary than this man. I read a lot. That was a competition. He was very jealous of me. There was a power game. I can’t explain it. And I became somebody who could talk to everybody. I could talk to the captain, and I could tell the captain off. And no one can do that, but I could. I could argue with him. I would just tell him what I saw. And he liked it. Not an advisor, but I could talk to him about how to be with blacks for example. And I would blow everybody’s mind the way I did with black people. One time I would go out and sit and eat with them. All these black people would come on board. All the Norwegians hated them, and I liked them. It was not like on the Danish ship where I became the scapegoat. Here I became like a hero. And I would be with these black people. I would sit and eat with them out on the deck. They had this big bowl, and they would sit and eat like this (demonstrates) . And they’re squatting to eat like this, with their hands, out of the same bowl. And I would sit and eat with them. And they loved me. They liked that. That’s not common for them to have white people hang out with them like that. The white sailors don’t like black people.
DC: When you were in Africa weren’t there always people trying to steal from the boat?
NH: Oh man, they steal like hell. They stole. I used to go down underneath and I was supposed to watch and I helped them steal. I didn’t care. That’s how I was at that time. I don’t know how I would be now. I don’t want to help people steal now, but at that time I thought it was fun because that’s what I was.
DC: I remember your saying that in Africa, all the men were thieves – and all the women were whores.
NH: That’s how it looked to me. When you’re a sailor in Africa it looked that way.
DC: Moving along here, what happened next.
NH: Then we went back to Europe and then we went to Brazil. I was in Brazil too. I finished that traveling around and one day I sat in Denmark getting drunk. I mentioned to a guy I said, look, let’s go to Iceland. Go fishing. Get a job, go fishing, in Iceland. It’s really interesting up there.
DC: Before you leave there I just want to say one thing I remember you saying to me about Africa, or being a sailor around the world, is that you could tell a lot about the culture by the prostitutes. You said that Catholic countries the prostitutes loved you, and in Protestant countries the prostitutes hated you.
NH: That was what I thought.
DC: Go on to Iceland now.
NH: I don’t have much to say about that.
DC: I’ll tell you one thing you told me about Iceland. You told me that they posted the names of people that had venereal disease on the courthouse steps.
NH: Not me, I never said that. Someone else told you that. I didn’t know that. But I think that’s a pretty good idea.
DC: I’ve always heard they were very promiscuous there.
NH: That’s probably true. They’re very free, very individualistic people. They basically have a Viking culture. And the women are very strong. In Viking culture, women are very strong. It was Christianity that brought this thing about women not being strong. In the Celtic religion also women were very strong. Anyway, the Icelandics became Christian much later than other countries. They still have a very strong culture, it’s different. They’re not really Europeans, they’re real Nordic. So from Iceland I came to America. I came to New York first. The plane stopped in New York but was going to Montreal. All the money I had I used on the plane. I didn’t have any money, not even ten cents for a phone call. I begged ten cents for a phone call at the airport, I got my brother. He was living in New York. He came over to the airport, I had two hours. But I had to go on and it was 1967 and there was this world fair in Montreal. I came into the world fair and I had absolutely no money. My brother gave me a check and I couldn’t cash it any place. Who wanted a check from New York? I had no money. So I went over on a Danish ship. I said can I do some work here for some money. The sailors said look we are on are way out to the world fair and we want to go see the exhibition. Come along, they said. They were drunk like hell. They made so much trouble that we all got arrested and thrown in jail. I talked them out of it. I said, I’ll take care of them. I was not drunk. The police were so grateful to me they gave me ten dollars. I went over to the American embassy and got a visa. I gave them ten dollars, they gave me a visa. Next day I was hitchhiking to America. Just like that.
DC: What route did you hitchhike?
NH: I don’t know. Montreal down. Pink Cadillac convertible with a drug dealer. He took me all the way to New York. In New York I visited my brother. My brother had been transferred to New Orleans, and I drove with his wife and little daughter, she was two years old, Eva. I drove with them down through the south to New Orleans with all their stuff. We slept in motels on the way. I was in New Orleans and I fished there for a little while. They cheated me out of the money. The fishermen cheated me so I didn’t get any money. So I hitchhiked, I didn’t have any money, I hitchhiked to California. I came to a place called Solvang, a little Danish town. I was a dishwasher there. I lived there for a while, I saved up $300. I hitched up north. I want to go to San Francisco, I could go to Japan and study Zen. On my way, in a town called Morro Bay, I go in and I’m sitting in a boat. I go down to the harbor and I’m sitting in a boat, and there was this beautiful girl. I loved her. She had green eyes, I fell in love with her. She told me about Suzuki Roshi and Zen Center. And she told me about Tassajara. You should go there, it’s a beautiful place. And that girl was so beautiful I just loved her. So I decided to go to Tassajara. And in that boat there was two sailors who say they are sailing off to Monterey. So I said, I know how to sail. Got a job sailing with them. You know sitting and steering and doing the whole sail trip. I sailed up to Monterey from Morro Bay. Then I hitchhiked from Monterey to Tassajara.
DC: You didn’t go to Esalen?
NH: No. That’s how I got to Tassajara. That’s a good story isn’t it.
DC: Yeah, I was glad to – yeah that’s pretty neat. We’ve got another ten minutes left if you have anything else to say.
NH: I don’t know if I have anything else to say. What do you want to talk about?
DC: You name it.
NH: My experience in India. When I first talked to you what interested you was when I was playing holy man and hanging out with sadhus and being holy man. I could see when people – they always looked for things in holy men in India. I kind of learned to play a certain kind of game. They’ll come and they’ll pray to me and stuff. At one point I was in a village and they wanted to check out how holy I was or something like that. They took me to this psychic. It was really magical, it was such a beautiful temple. I have no idea what the hell it was but it was a very beautiful temple. And there was this bull and a cow and they were fucking in the temple. It was magical. You know how beautiful those cows are. I couldn’t believe it, it was a really amazing experience. I’m coming into this guy and he goes into a trance. It was very mysterious to me, I didn’t know what was going on. He talks to these people and asked them things and I didn’t know what they were saying. Later on in that village they treated me like some kind of deity, or like some kind of star, like Adi Da or something. It was really interesting, but it gets really boring fast.
DC: So you escaped.
NH: Yeah. I ran away. In the middle of the night. To have that experience when someone thinks that you are holy, that treats you like a holy man. I think everyone should have that experience. Basically that’s an experience that little children could have – that they should be treated like they’re holy – they are holy, little children. And I think you should treat them like that. They have that in India. They treat each other like that. They have some of that feeling. You’re holy, they say to each other.
DC: It’s like namaste. Hindus say that.
NH: Yeah, namaste. I love that. They relate to the soul. We don’t do that in the west. It’s a very hard practice to get into. There it’s very natural. That was a very good teaching they had, I think. Now I don’t want to say any more.
DC: Okay, good.
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