Autobiography of An Alcoholic Yogi

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My brother and I just played in the field all day with stones and pieces of wood, coming back home when my mother shouted from the window that our food was ready. I would sit a little way up the rock and pretend that I was giving initiations.

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When I was very small my best friend was a boy who could not speak. Every day we would play together. He and I liked to play games involving rituals. Near our house was a large rock with mantras carved into it. I would sit a little way up the rock and pretend that I was giving initiations, while the other boys had to try to take them. Actually, think I am still playing like that now. We also pretended to do pujas. Some boys would imitate the sound of cymbals, while others would be the benefactors. We would mix earth and water on small flat stones and the benefactors would serve this as food to the other boys.

Because there were some rumors going around about my past life and because I had a strong wish to become a monk, when I was three or four years old my mother sent me to one of my uncles, a monk in the local Thami monastery, to learn the alphabet. I was very small and alone. My mother would then scold me and send me back to the monastery. I escaped to my home quite a number of times. Because of this, my mother sent me with another uncle to Rolwaling, in a much more secluded part of Solu Khumbu.

I was carried there on top of the luggage. There is no way I could escape from Rolwaling to my home because you have to cross very steep and very dangerous snow mountains for two days. Sometimes when people were crossing the steep snow slopes, there would be an avalanche and all the people would disappear.

I had a sneaky mind, so because I wanted to go home I told my mother that she must write to say that I should come back home. I gave the letter to someone who was traveling to Thami, but a funny thing happened. He had carried it in his leather shoes, and he must have dropped it when he stopped along the way to shake the snow out of his shoes. With my uncle teacher I went back and forth between Thami and Rolwaling three or four times. He carried me on his back and gave me food, which he had prepared before we left home.

As we walked he passed the cooked meat and other food back to me. Only once was there an avalanche, a small one. They were singing songs when they came up to collect their things. There was a very dangerous mountain with water running down it and rocks, huge and small, constantly falling. The huge rocks would come down wooroodoo!

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    The Sherpas make about thirteen different foods from potatoes, which is their main food, and one of the things they make is very strong alcohol. In Solu Khumbu it is the custom that most of the people, including many of the monks, drink alcohol, though there are some who do not drink.

    So everybody would drink some alcohol, then generate heat by rubbing their hands together. They were then able to carry their huge loads across, usually two or three square butter tins, plus their food and blanket and things to sell. Just hoping that it would be all right, they crossed, climbing up through the water and rocks to the top. We went back and forth several times, and somehow no rocks fell while we were crossing.

    However, every time we were resting and drinking after reaching the top of the mountain on the other side, the rocks would come down woorooroo! All the way across everybody recited whatever mantras they knew.

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    Of course, as soon as everybody reached the other side, where there was no danger, all the prayers stopped. I lived for seven years in Rolwaling. Rolwaling Valley has a river running through it and mountains all around. On one side of the river was a monastery, with a gompa surrounded by other houses in which lived my uncle, then a fully ordained monk, and other married lamas, practitioners who did a lot of retreat but were not monks. There was also a large stupa on some flat ground with a road running through the middle of it.

    On the other side of the river was a very nice grassy place where Western trekkers used to camp. In the summertime and in the autumn, tourists would come to Rolwaling—not all the time, just sometimes. Once or twice I went there to see them. The bridge crossing the river to that spot was just two tree trunks tied together. My teacher told me not to go, but I think I pushed him; somehow I really wanted to go to give the Westerners the potatoes. So, my teacher put some potatoes in a brass container used for eating rice or drinking chang, the local beer, and off I went, alone.

    I walked onto the bridge. The river was quite wide and when I reached the middle of it, in my view the bridge tilted, and I fell into the water. My head came up, then went down again. According to what my teacher told me later, at first I was facing upriver, along by then later down river. I was carried along by the river, with my head coming up from time to time.

    All the time I was closer and closer to danger, to where river was very, very deep. One time when my head came up, I saw my teacher running towards the river from the monastery, which was quite far away. There was some flat ground, then a huge mountain with the monastery a little way up it. I saw my teacher running down the mountain to the flat ground, holding up the simple cloth pants he was wearing. This is going to end. There was no fear. If death came now it would be difficult for me, but at that time my mind was completely comfortable. I was about to reach very deep water where it would have been very difficult for my teacher to catch me, when he finally grabbed me and pulled me out.

    I was dripping wet.

    I later heard from some people who were watching that one of the Western tourists came with his camera and was taking pictures as I was being carried along by the water. Lay people would ask us to read these as a puja, so my teacher would read all day long. Sometimes I went outside to go to the toilet and would spend a lot of time out there, just hanging around. After seven years, when I was about ten, I went to Tibet with my two uncles.

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    The reason for our journey was to visit another of my uncles, who was living at Pagri, a major trading center. I have an idea that the journey took us six months, walking every day.