published in Volume 3, Issue 1 on February 8th, 1996
Yin and yang revolve in endless permutations, and every action contains the seeds of its antithesis. Marty, now Tulku, is neither Marty nor Tulku, for both follow the path of becoming. Only the process of becoming is real, and even this is illusion. Neither Tulku, nor the steam grate outside the building on Park Avenue upon which Tulku squats in the lotus position, have any true substance. Both are manifestations of samsara, the world of phenomena.
When Tulku was Marty Kellerman, a computer technician for the Sperry Rand Company, he lived in a co-op apartment on York Avenue not far from the steam grate upon which he now sits. When Tulku was Marty Kellerman, he pulled down sixty grand a year, minus bonuses and perks, administering the sprawling LAN into which hundreds of PCs, printers, modems and other hardware were plugged and which was itself plugged into the global Internet. When Tulku was Marty Kellerman, he liked having drinks at Manhattan's preferred watering holes, betting on the ponies and trading up to a new Mazda each year. He knew nothing of metaphysics and cared even less. Marty Kellerman was nuts and bolts to the core.
Just the same, Marty's samsaric yang was already evolving into Tulku's nirvanic yin. Marty just didn't know it yet. By the ineluctable laws of dharma, his co-op in the doorman building on York was becoming the steam grate on Park. His Pierre Balmain suits the grimy layers of second-hand clothing he now wore. His wife a divorcee. His computer LAN the all-embracing Vishnu-network of the astral plane. His former life dissolved, as though it had never been. All of this had happened barely two years before, and the moment at which yin and yang began to switch position was the Archimedian point about which all of these cosmic perambulations turned.
The van that departed the Club Med at Vishakapatnam one humid morning was rented as a joke. Marty and his wife Eileen had gone to Club Med for all the usual reasons. But the endless round of eating, racquetball, fucking and watching half-naked women flirt with three-quarters naked men by the pool and at beachside became boring in the extreme. Eileen wanted Marty to attend yoga class with her, and to this he reluctantly gave his assent. It was at yoga class that they met Dan and Dawn, who were agents of Bodhisattvahood, only they didn't suspect it.
"You know, they say there's a holy man up in the hills near here who gives audiences," Dan remarked after yoga class one day. "Dawn and I and another couple were thinking of renting a van from one of the navvies and having a look. Care to come along?"
"I don't know," Marty opined. "I basically just want to catch some rays."
"Come on, Marty. Let's do it," Eileen pressed.
"You wanted to work on your tan this week, honey," Marty countered, hoping she would get the message that he wanted to lose Dan and Dawn, who were obvious flakes.
"Oh, forget the tan," she insisted. "This is much more interesting."
So the following morning, despite a big argument that night, and Dan and Dawn's bowing out at the last minute, they did as Eileen wanted. The other couple, Al and April, were two aging hippies -- who referred to themselves as "newageinarians" -- from San Francisco. They lit up joints and attempted to pass them around. Nobody in the van accepted, except for the driver, who exhaled the smoke in the face of the securely bound chicken which lay beside him.
"This is just fucking great," Marty said. "I'm so glad I came. Thank you Eileen. Thank you a thousand times."
"Don't spoil this, you bastard," she snarled. "For once I'm having a good time. She took the joint from the driver and inhaled some grass, avoiding the wet end as much as possible. "Is it far?" she asked the Indian at the wheel as she gave the joint to April.
"Holy man live in cave up on mountain. Today good day. He comes out of cave on good days."
"How do you know?" Marty asked. "You phone him or something?"
"He is very holy," the driver said with a little laugh.
"What's his name?"
"Holy man is called Rama Om," replied the driver. "You sick, he can cure you. You sad, he make you happy. Whatever you know, he knows also."
"Sounds like my mother," Marty quipped.
"Yes. He is like mother. Like everybody's mother," the driver replied.
After a lengthy journey up winding mountain roads, the van finally came to a stop at the crest of an escarpment overlooking a defile in which a muddy river sluggishly flowed. Not far from a small cave, a figure was seated in the lotus position on the bare ground.
The driver approached first, bowed reverently, and then spoke to the holy man, telling him that foreign devils had come to seek an audience. The driver next presented the holy man with the now moderately stoned chicken, leaving it tied up on the ground. The holy man beckoned to the four other people who had disembarked the van to draw near him.
"Fire your stockbroker, Marty," he said to Marty, "he's ripping you off."
"This is a joke, right?"
"No joke," the driver said, shaking his head. "Rama Om knows all. This I tell you before." On the fringes, the chicken squawked halfheartedly, as if in assent.
"Give me the medicines," the holy man next declared, addressing the two aging hippies standing to one side of Marty and Eileen. "I would like to try them."
"What medicines?" asked Al, in the serape.
"The ones which bring sublime visions to the mind."
"You hear that, baby?" exclaimed Al to April. "He knows we brought acid."
"Give him some, Al," his wife urged. "This is really getting incredibly strange."
Al reached into the stash pocket of his serape and held out two gelatin capsules filled with white powder. He placed them in the cupped palm of the holy man's extended hand. Rama Om asked Al if there were any more. Al gave him another two capsules.
"Look, guy," he warned the holy man, his face wearing a pinched, worried look. "You better not do this. We believe you."
Rama Om swallowed the four LSD capsules anyway. For several long minutes, he sat contemplating his audience with a faint smile. Otherwise his expression was completely blank and he did not move a muscle.
"This is interesting, but it is not the genuine bhiksu," Rama Om finally said.
"I don't believe this!" an awed Al exclaimed. "He should be going apeshit by now with all that acid in him!"
"Far out," April asserted boisterously. "Far fuckin' out!"
"Bullshit. It's a setup," grumbled Marty. "These two guys are shills." He meant the two from Frisco. "And the old guy on the ground is a con man."
"Hey, who you fuckin' calling 'shills,' asshole?" Al replied.
"You, dickwad," Marty hollered back.
"Behave yourself, Marty," Eileen warned her husband.
"Okay. We'll see who's an asshole. I wonder if you could tell me the address of my orthopedist?" asked Al of Rama Om.
"You do not have an orthopedist," returned the holy man. "But you have a dentist named Doctor Driller, who recently performed root canal surgery on your left rear bicuspid."
"See, you putz," Al yelled at Marty. "This guy's for real!"
The holy man then turned to Marty, and said, "The vegetable peeler you have lost has fallen behind the dish washer."
"What?" Marty looked stunned. "What did you say?"
"The vegetable peeler you lost last spring," Rama Om repeated placidly. "When you return to your apartment you will now have two."
There was no way this guy could have known about the vegetable peeler, Marty knew. He had forgotten all about it himself until Rama Om had brought it up. It was a little thing that had nagged at him in a major way, like a hangnail. Marty had used the peeler to make his Sunday morning cucumber salads until it had disappeared. Despite turning the apartment upside down he'd never found it. Ultimately he had bought a new one.
Marty felt as though someone had just brained him with a two-by-four. Now suddenly he too knew that Rama Om was everything he had previously not accepted him as being. He knew that Rama Om was for real.
Marty was not at that time aware of what Zen adepts called "the transmission of the lamp," but this is what in fact had occurred. Yin and yang had begun to pivot on the axis of infinity. The veils of illusion had begun to part. Enlightenment glowed through the mists of maya.
It took another six months before Marty became Tulku. Back on the Upper East Side, in familiar surroundings, his experience in India could for a time be dismissed as an unimportant trifle. But ultimately there could be no denying what had taken place.
Marty had received enlightenment. Nothing looked quite the same to him anymore. Not the Upper East Side. Not his job. Not Eileen. Not the ponies. Nothing.
"Marty, it's not normal you meditating in the middle of the living room all day," Eileen would tell him on Saturdays as he practiced the samadhi exercises he had learned at Club Med. "Let's go out for brunch."
Marty stared at the mandala on the floor and did not utter a word in answer to his wife. On occasions such as these Eileen customarily left the house in tears.
Though Marty continued to go through the motions of his obsolete existence, it was nevertheless crumbling all around him. He still rode the Lex to his office every morning, still performed his salaried duties, still returned home at day's end. But these were mechanical functions. The wheel of samsara still turned, though Marty felt its motions inexorably grinding to a halt.
Soon it would stop entirely and begin to turn in the other direction. Soon yang would become yin and samsara transcendence.
"I'm leaving you, Marty," Eileen told him one day, over the phone, while he was at work. She was calling from her lawyer's office, she said.
"The bridge flows. The water does not," Marty told her and promptly hung up.
He returned home to an empty apartment. All the furniture had been taken away by Iraqi immigrants from the Nice Jewish Boy with a Van company and even the carpet had been stripped from the floor. Marty smiled. In the midst of turmoil he was at peace. See how it all dissolves, he thought. Eileen was a cosmic catalyst, an embodiment of the shiva principle, helping along the dissolution of the old Marty into his new dharma body. On the bare floor lay the only thing she had left him. His mandala.
Marty sat on the floor facing the mandala and tucked his legs under him. He rested his hands on his knees and began to perform his breath control exercises. He stared at the mandala until it opened up and his consciousness entered its sacred portals. There, he saw a vision of himself squatting atop the steam grate of a building on Park Avenue, and he knew the name he was destined to take.
The following day Marty went into his boss' office to tell him he was quitting. Marty bowed respectfully and apologized for not giving the company two weeks' notice, but his dharma compelled him to act immediately. Marty left the office and went to his bank where he transferred all the money in the joint account he still retained with his wife over to Eileen.
He was now penniless. Technically, he could still occupy his apartment for another sixty days because the month's rent had been paid and the month's security was still in force, but he did not want to remain chained to the cosmic wheel a moment longer than was necessary. Tulku had no possessions. No connections to the world of illusion held Tulku in thrall. Tulku needed only Tulku and the enduring light within.
By that afternoon, Tulku had found the steam grate outside the Lincoln Building that he had seen in his prophetic vision while meditating before the mandala. Below the grating, immense pipes carried waste steam from the fifty story skyscraper's boiler room up to street level where it could vent into the air in warm, humid clouds of stale-smelling vapor. Tulku was now without food, without shelter, with nothing except the clothes on his back.
But Tulku did not care. Though it was late autumn and the nights were growing chilly, the steam would suffice to warm his body. If Tibetan holy men trekked the frozen Himalayan wastes with only the flimsiest robes for protection, Tulku could survive on his steam grate on Park Avenue. All that mattered was that he had severed himself from the wheel of samsara. Whether he lived or died was beside the point. All consequences would flow from his act of casting off his chains. Events would begin to shape themselves.
Autumn became winter. Tulku sometimes augmented the warming power of the steam that rose from beneath the grate with a large cardboard box scrounged from trash awaiting pickup on the curbside. Otherwise, his daily regimen seldom varied.
He sat in deep meditation, never looking at passersby, never speaking unless addressed. When asked to move on by the doormen of adjacent buildings, Tulku moved on, but inevitably returned to his steam grate. Though he never begged for alms, passersby frequently threw coins into his lap. With these donations, Tulku bought what little food he required to sustain his life in nearby coffee shops and delicatessens, where he also relieved what meager bodily wastes his virtuous life produced.
During these times, Tulku sometimes chanced to glance at himself in the bathroom mirrors, or glimpsed his reflection in the plate glass windows of the neighborhood shops. The reflections were of an enlightened being wholly different from the mundane terrestrial dross that had once been Marty Kellerman.
This new being's hair grew long and matted, and an equally long, thick beard covered his face. The frame upon which the crazy quilt assortment of ragged clothes hung was gaunt to the point of emaciation. Yet Tulku moved with a slow, graceful gait that the ever-hurrying Marty had never displayed.
No other homeless people ever tried to usurp Tulku's position on the steam grate. Some revered him as a saint, others feared him as a sorcerer, but all left him in peace. When Tulku reassumed his position atop the grate and commenced his meditations, the bliss he experienced radiated from him from avenue to avenue and from block to block.
Time passed, and it was again early fall. Tulku had spent another round of seasons atop his grate, and had ascended to yet a higher plane of enlightenment. To the residents of the neighborhood Tulku had by now become a legend. Dogs, leashed and stray alike, would stop to lick his hands. Young girls and little boys would bestrew his steam grate with flowers. Stories circulated about how the wizened homeless man squatting atop a steam grate would spontaneously divulge extraordinary things about people whom he had never before met, accurately foretelling their futures and revealing long-buried secrets from their pasts.
There was, for example, the heart specialist who had scoffed when Tulku had told him he had three weeks to live, but died exactly three weeks later, struck by a crosstown bus in front of Tulku's steam grate. There was the Lotto pool of doormen which accurately played the winning number Tulku had given them. There was the blind woman who could suddenly see, after accidentally striking Tulku with her cane, the mugger who beheld God when attempting to steal Tulku's meager alms, and countless other stories of a similar sort. Some, including beat cops, cab drivers, and other reputable witnesses, even claimed to have seen Tulku levitate above his gridiron perch, amid a pungent cloud of rising steam.
One of the new arrivals to the neighborhood, a young stockbroker named Adam North, had also heard these stories, although he disbelieved them and scoffed at those who gave them credence. His wife, Beth, had told him about the holy man of Park Avenue and said that she had personally witnessed the snow melting around him due to some strange, inner energy which his person gave off. Adam, a graduate of Princeton University, who held a Masters degree in Business Administration, was a dollar-and-cents man and ridiculed such superstitious tales as nonsensical hogwash.
Besides, he had more important things to think about, such as how to keep his six-figure-a-year job with Merrill Lynch. Responsible for handling the investments of some of the firm's most high-profile clients, he was a sleek greyhound running the financial fast-track. There was no going back for Adam. In his world you were either moving forward or falling behind, and those who fell behind were toast.
Adam had, of course, passed Tulku's steam grate every day on his way to and from the Lex, and frequently on weekends when he went down to buy the paper and bagels and lox for breakfast. Often he even passed Tulku's flower-strewn grate in the company of his wife.
But on all those occasions, Adam had deliberately not looked Tulku's way. He shut the squatting mendicant from his mind, just as he expelled all the city's other homeless beggars from his thoughts. Adam didn't believe in giving charity to these parasites. On the contrary, his attitude was that they should be taken somewhere en masse and put out of their misery. This so-called "guru" was no different from the others. He was just a whacko with mental problems. Why should Adam make anything special of him?
Just the same, on one cold winter evening when Adam had drunk a little too much with some clients after work, he reached into his pocket on a whim as he passed the steam grate and tossed a handful of change into Tulku's lap. Tulku did not, as usual, so much as glance up to acknowledge the gift, and Adam, with a little snort of drunken laughter, prepared to hurry upstairs to his duplex condo.
"Thank you, Adam," Tulku said before his benefactor had a chance to take his first step, and the remark stopped Adam cold in his tracks.
"How did you know my name?" he asked Tulku. "My wife told you, right? Or you overheard it on the street."
Tulku was now uncharacteristically looking up at Adam, and Adam's first thought was that his eyes were beautiful. They were two large, round pools, within whose limpid depths a great wisdom seemed to stir.
"Why do you hate me, Adam?" Tulku asked in a soft voice. "Is it because you fear what you will become?"
"Hey, I don't hate you, and I certainly don't fear you," Adam retorted with a show of contempt that surprised him. "And I sure as hell won't ever become you."
"Do not grieve for your brother Edward. He forgives you," Tulku said.
Adam gave Tulku a long, steely stare. He opened his mouth to say something, but Tulku had already turned his face to the sidewalk and had sunk into deep meditation. Adam hurried home through the biting wind, thinking to himself that there was no possible way that the guy could have known about Eddie.
Twenty-one years before, Adam's kid brother had drowned in a lake near Allentown, Pennsylvania, the town where he had grown up. Nobody knew that he had been responsible for Eddie's death. It had been an accident and he had never told anybody about it. Not his wife, not his parents, not the cops, though they'd tried every trick in the book to get it out of him. Yet somehow, the homeless guy had known all about what happened, just as though he'd been able to read Adam's thoughts.
That night, Adam continued the drinking he had begun at the bar near his office, and his wife had begun to be more concerned than she usually was on such occasions.
"You're white as a sheet," Beth remarked with trepidation. "What's wrong, honey?"
"Nothing," Adam told her. "Leave me alone."
When she persisted, he went into the bathroom and locked himself inside, sitting on the toilet seat with the neck of the bottle gripped tightly in his hand.
The following day, Adam stood in front of the holy man. Tulku looked up, his face a tabula rasa.
"How did you know about Eddie?" he asked.
"Do not fear this knowledge," Tulku replied. "He does not blame you. I do not care."
"I asked you how you know," Adam pressed.
"I do not know how I know," Tulku answered with a guilelessness that could not be disbelieved. "I just know."
"Okay," Adam said with a nod. "Tell me some more, then."
Tulku did. He told Adam about things Adam had not only told no one else about, but did not even realize he himself knew. Adam was dumbfounded, and he hurried away again, unable to accept what his eyes and ears revealed to him. When he told Beth about the conversation later on, she was amazed. She was even more amazed to hear Adam announce his intention to have the holy man come up to the apartment as a guest.
If you would like me to go with you, I will," Tulku said when Adam put the question to him on the cold, darkened street sometime later that evening. Rising from his steam grate, he followed Adam along the street.
Upstairs, Tulku sat in the Norths' living room and meditated, showing the Norths how to do the basic yoga postures and breathing exercises he had himself learned a lifetime before, while vacationing at Club Med.
Adam's invitations to Tulku became more frequent as he and Beth became more involved in yoga meditation exercises. Adam began growing a beard, and eating macrobiotic foods. His after-work drinking stopped and his interest in money and how to manipulate it began to be replaced by concerns of a more spiritual nature. For his part, Tulku began to become a fixture at the North household, often staying overnight at their behest. Meanwhile, flowers continued to strew his steam grate and alms were left at its side, even when he was no longer there.
Early one morning, Adam rose from the crosslegged meditation posture that he, Beth and Tulku had assumed on the living room carpet to leave for work. After he was gone, Beth spoke candidly to Tulku.
"I've been meaning to tell you about something," she said to him. "But I don't know how exactly."
"Speak," he said to her. "Just say it."
"I want to have sex with you," Beth told him.
Tulku looked at Beth without registering any emotion.
"If you would like me to have sex with you," he told her, "then I will have sex with you."
Afterward, Beth told Tulku that she had felt herself levitate when she climaxed. It was definitely a religious experience, she went on. She didn't feel dirtied by it or anything. She didn't even feel like she had cheated on Adam or anything either. In fact, she felt as if it somehow bound them all together even more closely now.
How did Tulku feel about it, she wondered? Did he feel the same way?
Tulku just looked at her.
"The buffalo down the hill," is all he said in reply.
Several days later, as they sat in the Norths' living room, Adam came to Tulku with a request of his own.
"I believe your steam grate is a holy place," he told Tulku. "I would like to sit there."
"If you would like to sit on my steam grate," Tulku told him, "then sit on my steam grate."
Adam's hair and beard had grown into a long, thick mass of tangled curls by now, and with the layers of clothing he wore to keep out the November chill, he looked enough like Tulku to be his fraternal twin. With his head bowed in meditation, none of the passersby on the street had any inkling that Tulku was in fact up in the Norths' bedroom having sex with Adam's wife Beth, or that Beth's climaxes were of consistently cosmic proportions.
The following morning was a Saturday, and Beth awoke to find Tulku meditating in the lotus position on his side of the spacious, queen-sized bed. She pecked him on the cheek, and informed him that she had just had a visionary inspiration.
"Share it," Tulku told her.
"I was thinking you should cut your hair and shave off your beard," she explained to Tulku. "You would look much cuter that way."
"If that is what you would like to do, then cut my hair and shave my beard," he informed Beth.
A little while later, Tulku was shown his image in the mirror that Beth held out in front of him. She had cut his hair and shaved his beard, just as she had seen in her vision.
"You know, you look a lot like Adam this way," she remarked. "Even a little better. In fact, you could be his brother. It's just amazing."
Later that morning, Tulku, wearing a quilted goose-down parka and tailored jeans was sent down to Gristede's to buy bagels and lox and then to the candy store to fetch the Sunday newspapers. On his way to the store, he passed the steam grate where Adam sat meditating.
Peeling open one of the parka's Velcro pockets and reaching inside, Tulku came up with a handful of loose change which he tossed to Adam, and knew that yin and yang had once again completed another permutation of their eternal mystic dance. Adam, who had become Tulku, did not look up, and Tulku, now Adam, hurried to the store, his mind on Beth's shopping list.