The long search
I am a 52 year old male of predominately Scottish (Gaelic) descent. I was born in Orillia, Ontario, which is about 35 km from where I now live. My parents were non-church goers. My father was orphaned at an early age and was raised by his aunt and uncle who were staunch Jehovah’s Witnesses. This upbringing turned my father off of religion for good.
I inherited a defective gene which has played havoc with my ability to hear and to see. I have a severe hearing loss and I am legally blind with just 5 degrees of peripheral vision — this disease is called Usher Syndrome. I have a slightly younger sister who has the same symptoms but to a much lesser degree. She is the owner of a successful health food business, has three kids, drives a car, and has no interest in religion.
I don’t know exactly how my interest in spiritual matters all began, but I do remember being interested in hatha yoga in Grade 7 and being inspired by Krishnamurti and Thoreau in my high school years. The idea of living in a cabin in the woods the way that Thoreau did had a strong appeal for me and still does. While in high school, my art teacher took a bunch of us out on a field trip to paint landscape watercolours, and this opened up my eyes to the beauty of nature which led to my attending art college in Toronto after high school. Through art, I felt like I was communing with Mother Nature who was my constant source of inspiration and ecstatic joy. I had also developed a keen interest in hiking and camping from being involved with the Boy Scouts. All these led me to the adventures of journeying with a sketchbook. I went away alone on many trips, whether by bus, hitch-hiking, cycling, or on foot. In addition to art, I was also developing my interest in learning to play the piano and the classical guitar.
In September, 1970, I was with a group of my partying friends in a Chinese restaurant when I was introduced to someone named Ted, who later turned out to be a Buddhist whose teacher was Ananda Bodhi Bhikkhu. He was invited back to the house and he and I got into a discussion about spiritual matters. He introduced me to Ouspensky’s “In Search of the Miraculous” which he later loaned to me. I found the book interesting, but strangely of all the books I have ever read, this was the only book my father had forbidden me to read even though he had never seen it before. In May 1971, I wanted to find my own place to live and first went to Newfoundland for a month to look but came back disappointed. I then immediately went off on a cycling trip that took me out to British Columbia in search of a place to fulfill my dream of living in a cabin and pursuing my interest in art, music, and nature. I just didn’t seem ready to settle down and only wanted to continue on searching. I returned home by train but due to my long curly hair I received a cold reception from my parents and ended up staying in Toronto where I made my first feeble attempts at meditating cross-legged.
In early 1972, I boarded with my friend Ted, his wife (also a Buddhist), and his son. They had a nice little bookcase full of spiritual books and I remember taking quite an interest in “Tibet’s Great Yogi, Milarepa” and being fascinated by a small painting of a bodhisattva on the wall which I think they brought back from India. Ted was also an artist and there were interesting visitors that came around. I continued on with my art and guitar practice but by then I was experiencing a mystical dimension (the 4th dimension?) with the music and that got me looking more into the mind. In May, I flew to London and began a long odyssey on foot lasting 16 months with various stays that took me up the backbone of England and into Scotland where I spent most of the time. I had heard that there was a Buddhist monastery in Scotland and desired to find out where it was and go there. I was led to the Divine Light Mission (Hindu) in Dundee where I met a nice Scottish couple who ran the mission. They identified the monastery for me which was Samye-Ling located in the Borders. I liked the couple and they let me stay with them. I would meditate with them and the group but I simply could not bring myself to commit to the mission. In early winter, I again continued on foot into the central highlands camping out in the cold and staying in unheated hostels. I was living like Milarepa, and once my tent was torn and nearly blew away in a heavy gale. I remember in Glencoe feeling that I was truly on a spiritual journey and there was no need to hurry to get to a destination. In March 1973, I finally arrived at Samye-Ling and was received by Akong Rinpoche who taught me meditation during my month-long stay there. I then continued on foot, camping out, and meditating in lonely places. I had found the way of the Buddha.