Ship of 'Ignorants' & One Wise Man
As remembered by Henri
I - The Hunting of the Snark
the autumn of 1967, Ananda Bodhi had asked students who
would be interested in joining him on a pilgrimage to
India (by freighter), to put their names on a list. I
was asked to find a ship for the voyage. A few phone calls
to Europe anchored a freighter of the Ned Lloyd line of
Holland (KNSM) which could carry ten passengers, sailing
from western Europe in late November or early December
twenty-seven students had shown interest. The Teacher
scaled this down to eight, plus himself and Tony Olbrecht
(Sonam), his attendant. To get to Europe, there was only
one remaining transatlantic crossing available since it
was late in the season - the Russian vessel Aleksandr
from Montreal in November to Southampton. Freighters have
unpredictable departure and arrival schedules. Ananda
Bodhi had decided to sail on the Pushkin in order
to arrive early in England and Europe and do some traveling
there. The Atlantic crossing took nine days.
Southampton, we hired three cars. Tony drove one, Ted
Bieler and Irwin Burns the others. It was chilly and damp
in England, and we visited Stonehenge in the rain. Also
Stratford and Canterbury (to see the cathedral). We eventually
wound up that evening in Lyme Regis, a coastal fishing
village in Dorset. By now it was dark, foggy and cold.
Everything was closed, but after some time we found a
small inn and rang the bell. The kitchen was closed, so
no warm meal, although the innkeeper made us tea, served
touring England a bit, I arranged a booking on a Scandinavian
passenger- ferry from Dover to France, which already in
those days had a casino aboard with slot machines. The
Bhikkhu wanted to visit the Paleolithic caves of Lascaux,
so this was our goal. I was the only one in our group
to speak French (also Spanish for that matter), so I had
to function as guide in the leading car with Ananda Bodhi.
He did not approve of driving after sunset, but since
we had to reach Lascaux, we drove on into the evening
and arrived very late at night.
as in Lyme Regis, everything was shut for the night. After
some time and waking half the village, I was able to find
sleeping accommodation for us all, but again all kitchens
were closed. Early next morning I inquired about access
to the Lascaux caves. After some 'oui's, 'non's and 'peut-etre's,
a guide was found who was given permission to take us
on a private tour. Thus on a cool November day, the ten
of us entered this ancient realm and came face to face
with the art of the Paleolithic shaman- artists. Everything
the guide said, I had to translate. He spoke very little
English. However Ananda Bodhi for his part 'knew' the
meaning of these works, and how they were had been created.
Cave Lascaux, France
thing is certain - those who painted these images were
definitely not the 'primitives' we think they were. Witness
the grace and elegance of the animals, rendered with such
confidence and directness of line & form. This is
proof there was a refined mind behind the hand. We visited
three caves over two days, plus a grotto filled with stalactites
and stalagmites. In the grotto, there were no paintings,
but the experience was uplifting in its display of natural
wonder. We learned how it takes centuries for 2 cms. of
stalactite or stalagmite to grow, so we were faced with
a phenomenon, which had taken some million years to form.
The visit to the caves and these natural 'cathedrals'
stayed with me.
Lascaux we drove through the Pyrenees into Spain to view
the cave paintings of Altamira. We stayed in several paradors
(restored monasteries and other historic buildings converted
into hotels). Altogether we made an extensive tour of
Spain, including Barcelona (to see the Gaudi cathedral),
Madrid, Burgos, Seville, Granada - then crossed into Portugal,
to the Algarve and the western shore at Sagres, the point
from where Henry the Navigator sailed.
Portugal we stayed at pousadas, equivalent to the paradors.
Ananda Bodhi taught all the time, on any subject - history,
religion, nature - as the occasion called for. We were
even given a discourse on olives when we drove through
Spanish and Portuguese olive groves.
we went to the tiny nation of Andorra, as all the while
I had been keeping in touch with the Ned Lloyd Line about
the departure date of our sailing. Initially the ship
was going to leave from Rotterdam, Holland but we were
informed this would now be leHavre, France. Already we
had the impression we'd left home long ago, so much was
taught and so much we had seen in England, France, Spain
and Portugal. Yet, the actual purpose of our travels had
not even started.
arrived in leHavre the first week of December. Our ship,
the Giessenkerk, was anchored next to nothing less than
the legendary passenger ship "France". This
colossal ship dwarfed the freighter. We were welcomed
aboard by the Friesian captain and officers, and shown
to our cabins. They were roomy, comfortable and all had
large portholes. The woodwork was mostly oak and mahogany,
to give you an idea of what the cargo ship was like in
was a spacious recreation area, complete with bar and
bar stools. Ananda Bodhi and Tony were given the owners'
cabin. The rest of us paired up in to our own cabins.
Our departure however was going to be delayed for another
24-48 hours, which prompted the Teacher to suggest I take
the train to Paris in order to see an exhibition there
by the great master Henri Matisse. At first, I was not
keen on the idea - 'what about if' the Captain decided
to lift anchor earlier? 'What about if' I didn't make
it back in time? All these 'what if' thoughts became alarming.
However, I did go. Enjoyed seeing the works by Matisse,
and returned in time.
following day our ship lifted anchor for our long- anticipated
voyage. Ananda Bodhi had instructed us to bring supplies
such as construction paper, glue, crayons, sketchbooks,
watercolour paints, pads & brushes, scissors, balloons,
playing cards, games like chess, checkers and Monopoly.
Also we ended up with only two records, LP's ("78"'s):
the "Rite of Spring" by Stravinsky, "Afternoon
of a Faun" by Debussy, and "Carmina Burana"
by Carl Orff.
'misunderstanding' had caused the meagre musical selection.
Reading material included "Alice in Wonderland"
by Lewis Carroll which contains "Hunting of the Snark".
This became a very important part of our journey. We discovered
we were going to 'perform' this poem, and would have to
memorize our respective roles. I was to be the Baker.
But that comes later!
first port of call was Genoa, Italy. By then we had all
been introduced to the crew, the cook and officers. We
shared our meals with the officers in the mess which also
contained the recreation area, although we had our own
dining table. Our free time ashore in Genoa was spent
mostly sightseeing and enjoying a seafood feast at a picturesque
restaurant near the harbour.
were advised that our next port of call wouldn't be until
Colombo, Ceylon. No wonder Ananda Bodhi made us bring
along all those arts & crafts supplies. In preparation
for Christmas, the Teacher gave us an assignment to design
a folding greeting card and to make one for each crew
member and for our group. This kept us going for awhile.
The captain and crew were very touched when they were
presented with individual hand-painted cards on Christmas
morning. We sailed by Cape Town on Christmas Day, 1967,
sighting the legendary Table Mountain and, not long afterwards,
food aboard ship was wholesome, tasty and varied. Every
day we played our meagre (but substantial in quality)
selection of records, while in the evening we played chess,
checkers, scrabble, monopoly and - oh yes! - bridge! The
Teacher was a wizard in contract bridge, and woe to those
who were partnered with him. To some a curse, to others
a blessing. In the end, one was given a lesson in bridge
and awareness! amongst other things.
about mindfulness, memory, decision-making, and preventing
doing anything stupid. The game of bridge is a discipline
for awakening! Needless to say, Ananda Bodhi usually won
- sometimes through sheer bluff! In the course of this
eventful voyage, we were all given turns to be the bridge
partner of the Teacher.
now the officers and Captain had heard so much Stravinsky,
Carl Orff and Debussy, that it was enough to drive them
out of the mess room sooner than they would have liked,
at times. And if that was not enough, how about the daily
meditation sessions we had on deck at night, and very
early in the morning? The days were always filled, what
with the three classes given by the Teacher, doing artwork,
crafts or giving our meditation and 'dream' reports.
one time we were in a supervised LSD experience. A few
had negative feedback, but since Ananda Bodhi was present,
nothing nightmarish developed. Once the Bhikkhu and I
were called to the Captain's cabin. Since he was from
Friesland and spoke the language of Holland, he complained
to me that one of the 'girls' in our group had been wandering
about during the night in her nightgown, in the crew's
was too much for our Calvinistic skipper. And while he
was at it, he told us he was very satisfied with the way
we filled in our time and didn't bother the crew or officers.
But could we possibly stop playing that strange music
for awhile? Also why did we sit cross-legged on deck,
morning and evenings?
was never revealed to him that we were fledgling Buddhists
with a lama. This became apparent, however, when prior
to the full moon, the Bhikkhu told the guys to shave their
heads. All complied, except yours truly. We were to come
into tropical waters, and I anticipated a burned scalp
if we went bald. Not only did I rebel against that, but
I was also absent for the full moon celebration which
included fasting after midday.
as it may seem, this was the first time the cook had prepared
an Indonesian meal! Ananda Bodhi had requested this before,
and now was the moment. Great was the surprise and disappointment
of Captain and cook alike to discover all his passengers
were absent and sitting out on the deck under the stars
and full moon, in the middle of the Indian Ocean! That
morning we ceremonially cast overboard a "Durga"
or Kali image we had created, made of cardboard and inflated
balloons, all part of a ritual to mark the full moon.
Some crew had noticed this weird action, so the day did
not begin well for them and our stoic Captain.
a total collapse of cordial relations, I sat in with the
officers and crew for the Indonesian dinner. I did join
the group later, but with all my Leo mane still intact,
and a stomach of delicious Indonesian food. I was not
exactly the 'welcome' lost son of the tribe! The Bhikkhu
ignored me completely. Even when I mentioned the Chef
had kept some Indonesian food for the group for the next
day lunch. Little did I know that our 'fast' would continue
into the next day until dinnertime.
were thoroughly briefed and schooled on gemstones since
we would be going to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where seventy
percent of the world's diversity of gems are found at
the river beds of Ratnapura.
Ruby from Ratnapura
discourses were eclectic, always full of surprises and
enriching. Now, many years later, I call these the 'honey
nectar' or 'spiritual banquet' moments. Covering all those
days at sea is not my intent, none of us kept a diary.
All the talks were oral teachings, and none of us took
of the men got his head scorched by the sun. He'd been
sitting on deck, freshly bald-headed, in the sun, and
had a bad burn. Ananda Bodhi had told the men to cover
their heads with a cloth or towel while exposed to the
hot sun in the Indian Ocean. Myself, I still had all my
hair. I never did go bald on that trip. Although now,
while writing this memoir some thirty-four years later,
nature and age take care of that slowly without the need
of razors or scissors.
Year came and went at sea. Now we all began in earnest
to learn our roles for the upcoming Hunting of the
Snark experience, for which we used the whole ship!
As mentioned earlier, I was the Baker. In the end, after
lots of rehearsing, we pulled it off; even Ananda Bodhi
was pleased with the result, and that says something!
creative ideas of the Teacher seemed endless. On one occasion,
after dinner, the officers were gone and we were instructed
to look for a precious item Ananda Bodhi had hidden. So
this time, not the Snark or Boojum, but something 'real'.
Now, if you visualize the object was hidden in the large
mess room, with all the tables, chairs, the bar and supplies,
cupboards, armoires, and more
we were in for some
search and hunt!
of us literally combed all over the place. The Bhikkhu
only kept saying, "No", "Warmer",
"Lukewarm", "No, cold again", to all
of us. Finally the treasure was discovered, and believe
it or not, it was yours truly who found the object. But
this only was some hours after we started! Myself, I began
a systematic search all along the ledge of the walls,
moving my fingers along until 'bingo!', I touched something.
"Hot!" the Bhikkhu said, and in my fingers I
held a pendant, a tiny bronze Buddharupa. I still have
it to this day.
we did encounter many flying fish, seabirds, dolphins,
a few whales, spectacular sunsets and magnificent clear
starry nights. Constellations were pointed out and elaborated
upon by Ananda Bodhi on many occasions. For the week prior
to arriving in Colombo we were on a half-day fast - no
more meals after the Noon hour. Plus we had 8-hour meditation
sessions. During that time we also crossed the Equator,
with the traditional Neptune ceremony for "Pollywogs".
then our supply of water had run low, prompting the Captain
to issue the following request: "Due to a shortage
of water on board ship we kindly ask you to shower with
a friend until further notice. Thank you." The lettuce
was now treated with a disinfectant, but the pantry still
had apples from Europe. We were also keeping some apples
aside. Ananda Bodhi told us they would be very much appreciated
in Ceylon. We were now entering briefly the waters where
the Indian Ocean and the Laccadive Sea meet before reaching
Colombo. A surprise lay awaiting us - the Captain announced
there was a strike at the docks of Colombo!
- Part II