Not this, not that –– three stories

‘Because of the fish, the fishnet exists, and when the fish is caught, then you may forget the net. Words exist because of their meaning, and if you have understood the meaning, you may forget the words. Where will I find someone who has forgotten the words, so I can speak a word with him..‘

–– Lao Zi 

Mongolië 1922

 Mongolia, 1922

About his long stay in a cave in India I had heard from various quarters, but I still thought the story hard to believe once he sat opposite me.

A lifetime of eating too little results in a deeply creased face over sixty. A lifetime in dry heat gives the pale Englishman the parchment skin of an elderly sahib.

Because of inheritance problems he had to be in London, but because of his daily breakfast - marijuana marinated overnight in clarified butter - he had come no closer than Amsterdam.

His childhood in England had been complicated. In Holland we would associate it with old money. Not that ever a fortune had been robbed together. A distant ancestor did an invention and developed it industrially, something that was still feeding the progeny - albeit in ever greater dilution.

Father had still been able to provide himself with many yachts and young women. Already at an early age his son, from the first marriage, was placed at boarding school. Once the boy got the chance, he fled to India. Perhaps after reading theosophists such as Blavatsky or I-Ching translator Blofeld. He ended up at the doorstep of an older baba who soon referred him to a cave of his own. Meditating and bam-bam bambolaying the young sahib remained in the cave for nine years.

Siddharta Sakyamuni-2 kopie

Legend has it that after fasting and lotus-sitting in the wilderness for seven years the young Siddhartha realized one can’t escape cause and effect by being small and quiet, that loneliness actually moves in a direction opposite to aloneness and strangely enough reinforces the ego.

Gautama buddha

Had nine years not been a bit long for a deadlocked teenager, or was it a form of self-flagellation, or .. what?

'It took Sakyamuni seven years to realize he was on the wrong track,’ I tried to raise the subject.

He looked at me and drily replied: "Some people are smarter.’

I cracked up but wondered whether this was a remnant of British humour or that he had actually managed to reduce his ego in those ten years…


Sakyamuni Buddha lived from 450 to 370 B.C. for about 80 years.


‘What is this one for…?’ Pointing at a small buddha, customers expect to hear key words like happiness or strength or consolation.

‘The hand touches the ground to indicate that enlightenment on earth is possible,’ I say, trying to keep it simple, ‘you could regard that as consolation.’

After all, shopkeeper stands for selling.

But often it doesn’t work for people or it's not evident enough to serve as a present. The same image has to help one person resign to a disease and provide someone else with a long and happy life. 

Buddha outlines

Grass! kopie

It is hard to imagine, but until the seventies buddhist statues were mainly to be seen in museums. The following decades the buddha statue rapidly became commonplace - from homely interiors to cemeteries. This was due to the depopulation of the churches, it was said.

As if the suffering christ figure was massively exchanged for a self-contained buddha figurine.

Timothy Leary

Undoubtedly it had more to do with the individualism that emerged at the same time and that lends itself perfectly for projection: the serene, upright seated figure seemed cool, calm and collected - and a bit mysterious because in general people had no notion of Buddhism.

thanka kopie

They still don’t, but in those days a buddha statue went perfectly well with ‘stoned out of our heads’ and ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ - or with today’s beach yup with sleek hair in bun, tight body in airy cotton and mentally total loss thanks to XTC (each period its own drug).

Western buddha

In contrast to all the head and road trippers and superstitious fortune hunters, what do serious seekers see in it? What does a buddha statue without buddhism represent in the West?


On other levels, individualism is reflected in social compulsion for self-development, self-determination, being able to act autonomously, to create an independent position in the world, in short, everyone the CEO of his own Me Ltd and lonely at the top.

— Larson

More than honey

The beekeeper in More than Honey knew better: 

‘If you separate a bee from the swarm, it doesn’t get information anymore and will soon die.’

If individualism raises one question it is: who am I? Is it the noise in the head that makes one individual? If a buddha statue radiates anything it is: tranquility and contemplation.

Over time the buddha figure in the west acquired - regardless of its millennia-old origins - an existential symbolism of its own. The non-sorrowful aloneness of buddha or atman (breathing) was intuitively understood and felt like a respite.

Gated community

The Dutch dictionary Van Dale explains aloneness as: ‘loneliness, he cannot bear to be alone.’


The Great Dictionary of the Dutch Language is not a philosophical guide, but it seems to be strongly based on Queen Wilhelmina's cliché incarnate: ‘Lonely but not alone.’

Eenzaam maar niet alleen

‘Whichever road you travel,’ he summed up life before walking out of the door, into the autumn, ‘you walk and stand alone.’ It sounded a little inflated but such observations can be expected in a shop with buddha statues.

Our conversation was about how loneliness and aloneness are totally different concepts. Only the last, aloneness, seemed ‘ultimate’ and ‘inevitable’ to him.

Nodding in agreement, I watched him disappear ..

Boeddha beeld rikshaw

From antique and recently carved items from eastern cultures to the mass-produced versions by symbol designers employed by Marks & Spencer or Macy’s, the above is exactly what a buddha statue has come to symbolize in the west: aloneness.

boeddha head

‘Being alone is not the outcome of denial, of self-enclosure. Aloneness is not an end product of the mind. You cannot wish to be alone.’

‘Aloneness is indivisible and loneliness is separation. That which is alone is pliable and so enduring. Only the alone can commune with that which is causeless, the immeasurable.’

Book of death script-3

Under warm showers and blankets during winter the concept gently persisted in puzzling me. Is being alone essentially not about dying alone - or rather the perception of it?

Book of death Leonard Cohen

Mortal agony is not about death but about dying. The 'dying texts' for example in the fourteenth century Tibetan Book of the Dead try to closely guide that fear, but were eventually written by living persons. How enveloped with fear dying is, may be evidenced by how priests worldwide prolong the process up to forty days - with all the entailing 'mandatory' rituals for the survivors to pay.

Book of death script-2

vogel met lijk

Myanmar / Burma, 2012

Today reanimation seems to have become part of the ritual. But why should a third party, as a sort of electrifying magician, rush forward as a sort of electrifying magician and by his manipulation oblige the victim to cross that feared tunnel yet another time at a later date?

Some years ago a militant, elderly customer took one of her breasts from under the counter.  Do Not Reanimate!!! had been tattooed on it in her own handwriting. Large - and grand. Below it a number had been added, maybe referring to some sort of testamentary stipulation.

"Never, never ever!" she cried with a raspy voice.


Ais took a step back and cautiously suggested: "But .. the electrical devices they use .. don’t they go right through your clothes ... ?’

‘My dear boy, what else can I do?!’ She threw her arms in the air. ‘A medallion with the same text hovers here somewhere as well.’

‘All emotion is pain,’ Siddharta told his audience.

‘Only when I laugh, it hurts.’

Only when I laugh - Takashi murakami

Takashi Marukami

No meditative human being can escape the tragedy of existence (nor do the others, but they pause in pleasures); the shore with its swamp of melancholy remains deceptive and soggy for all.

‘Loneliness, with its fear and ache, is isolation, the inevitable action of the self. This process of isolation, whether expansive or narrow, is productive of confusion, conflict and sorrow. Isolation can never give birth to aloneness; the one has to cease for the other to be.’

himal ais steve tent opzetten

 Khumbu, 81

At thirty I still thought going back was an option – without ever specifying back. Not blending in, not joining in would describe it, but away was actually the key word.

Away from engaging, starting up, settling down, securing, committing, attaching... I did not realize that freedom is of a totally different order of magnitude than freedom from.

It's got to be me

Without too much pain of life thirty-one came, thirty-two passed... wasn’t thirty-three the mystical turning point when other lone wolves were struck by some mental lightning..?

Village square or cave - ain’t there anything in between?

As a shopkeeper one could easily live to be a hundred...

In those ambivalent years - doubt is good! - Martin Buber’s story (here quoted from memory) went straight to my heart:

In a small village a farmer dreams of seeing the world. Over the years his dream turns into passion and one day he cannot help but give in to it. One early morning, leaving wife and children behind, father walks away from the village.


With a firm step he keeps going till evening falls. He finds a haystack for the night. Before going to sleep, he puts his boots in the right direction for the next day.


From a distance a boy watches how elaborately the farmer plants his boots into the ground. The kid creeps closer and sneakily points the boots into the opposite direction.

Just kidding.

Once awake the farmer resolutely takes to the road. Before long he notices how familiar the surroundings seem.

As if he's been there before, in another lifetime or so. In the afternoon he passes a village that has a lot in common with his own village. He approaches it and eventually halts for a house that could easily have been his own. Just like the desperate woman and the children tugging at his trousers.


The farmer takes a few steps back and says: ‘You all take me for someone else.’ They get into an argument. The neighbours interfere, the beginning of a riot.

Finally they fetch the mayor. He listens to the farmer’s story and pronounces: ‘If this man left home yesterday to explore the world, he can not be the father of this family.’

Then he turns to the farmer: ‘But since the master of the house is gone, wouldn’t you be willing to take on his role until he returns?’

The farmer can imagine that a man can have good reasons to leave home. He agrees, he moves in with the family and assumes the role of the father. And since the master of the house never returns, he continues living there until the end of his life.

As every human being, a father bears responsibility. For family, neighbourhood and fellow man. But there also is something like a responsible human being.

Alone - but not lonely.

Buber describes the alienation that occurs when aloneness is separated from the collective by a dream, a belief, an ideal or selfishness.

Father is there and at the same time father is not there.


 Pheriche, Khumbu, '76

In the early seventies some cave dwellings in the Himalayas were still occupied. Tibet remained inaccessible to trekkers, unceremoniously the Chinese army shot them from their mountain. However, on the Nepalese side of the world's highest mountain range, you could still find them: hermits who in the fifties or sixties turned their backs on society - and literally no longer looked in the mirror either.

Himalaya cave

The small huts and caves lied scattered against the mountain ridge above the monastery in the valley. The higher up, the more the residence consisted of a cave with a few boards in front.

stupa ghompa himal sneeuw

Along the path, notches had been made in the ridge: small balconies where hermits had a view of the vast landscape. Mostly they closed their eyes there to meditate in the nude on inner fire.

Perhaps focusing is a better description, which is just about the opposite of meditation.

Alexandra David Neel-3

In her books the Parisian opera singer Alexandra David-Neel described how she practiced this inner-fire yoga in the snow during her journey through Tibet in 1924. Upon her return few believed her.


Li Gotami Lama A. Govinda-3

Until the German Ernst Lohar Hoffman, alias Anagarika Govinda, on his trip during World War II, inquired on the spot and noted to his surprise that Alexandra had indeed been sitting in the snow for long periods of time - though he politely does not mention whether she squatted there nakedly.

himalaya - versie 3

Thangboje ‘76

steve ton himalaya - versie 2

Some caves had a hatch at the entrance where offerings could be received from pilgrims who sought blessings from the holy men, or food deliveries by monks from the monastery at the base who know that their hermits would otherwise pine away.

Undoubtedly the cave-dweller saw or heard us clambering the mountain long before our arrival: cheerful trekkers, gasping for air. If you have nothing to do all day, apart from meditation, you do want to know who is taking the trouble to look you up, or so it seemed to me.

So I searched for lookouts and secret peepholes. I couldn’t imagine their curiosity had left them … maybe the visitor is bringing along some sweets…

himalaya hermit kluisternaar - versie 2

himalaya grot cave - versie 2-2

Only after two or three encounters with hermits did it dawn on me that prolonged isolation makes a man shy, that weeklong silences cannot just simply be broken, that light distrust arises because each visit suddenly stirs feelings and memories.

‘Aloneness is not an end product of the mind. You cannot wish to be alone. Such a wish is merely an escape from the pain of not being able to commune.’


I once read about a study on the brain development of a wild cat and a domestic cat. They were of the same species and sex. At birth, the scientists determined the weight of their brains. In search of food the wild cat daily took risks and its brain constantly received stimuli. The domestic cat stayed indoors and got its regular food supply. After a year the wild cat’s brain proved to still have its full weight, but the domestic cat’s brain turned out to have shriveled to a walnut.

Drop in water


A customer friend from the US is so deeply submerged in thoughts that I ask how she's doing. She sighs and starts to tell.

‘I was down at the Fleemarket, in one of the coffee shops. An elderly man and I were the only real adults between all these weed vapourizing youngsters. He asked what I did, I explained that I fly to London every year  for overtone chanting meditations. He did not ask what it meant but smiled: ‘Aren’t we all searching?’

Turned out he had been on the road for most of his life. Monasteries in Europe, kibbutz in Israel, ashrams in India.

I mentioned Tibet since it has been at the top of my list forever. He’d travelled there as well.

He travelled in the years that you could still move around fairly freely, visiting the monasteries that remained in spite of Mao.

Hermit Dwellings Himalaya

Kailash, Tibet, ‘07

He talked about the landscape, the people, the cities and then he suddenly stopped. Clearly something happened to him over there, I kept quiet.

Maybe it was just odd, he continued, it had never happened to him before. Somewhere on the plateau, in the middle of nowhere, he was attacked by a group of young men in broad daylight.

When they realized that there was little to be had, they got angry and mean. While he lay on the ground, the kicks got so hard that he suddenly realized: shit, this is it, I'm not gonna make it.

The strange thing was that despite all the violence and pain he nevertheless remained aware of the surroundings behind the bunch of sadists. According to him, there is a strange silence on plateaus of that height: ‘Anything that makes noise, is very present.’

As he lay dying in pain on the ground, he heard a bird chirping.

‘In retrospect, you sometimes don’t understand your own brain,’ he said, ‘nevertheless, at that moment I thought: if these are my last minutes, let me just listen to that bird.’

She paused, staring away sadly and mumbled: ’For me it was such an eye-opener... though it was such a sad, sad tale ... so damn alone.’

Talent for comforting I do not have. During the somewhat awkward silence, I even had to think of something else, of zen monks who during deep meditation get unexpectedly hit with the stick.

Tat Twam Asi You are that-3

‘Perhaps this was the experience he had been looking for all those years,’ I tried.

She looked at me, aghast.

Perhaps the individual makes so much noise in the head to find out what It is not - identifying through negation.

It is as man described already three thousand years ago: The self is not this, not that - and that all is you.

But obviously there is noise and noise - hopefully all the above belonged to the second category.

Anyway, forget the net, as long as the fish has been caught.

Japans scherm

Japaness folding screen

'The birds were settling down for the night, and a large pond was beginning to reflect the stars. Nature was not communicative that evening. The trees were aloof; they had withdrawn into their silence and darkness. A few chattering villagers passed by on their bicycles, and once again there was deep silence and that peace which comes when all things are alone.

This aloneness is not aching, fearsome loneliness. It is the aloneness of being; it is uncorrupted, rich, complete. That tamarind tree has no existence other than being itself. So is the aloneness.

Being alone is not the outcome of denial, of self-enclosure. Aloneness is the purgation of all motives, of all pursuits of desire, of all ends. Aloneness is not an end product of the mind. You cannot wish to be alone. Such a wish is merely an escape from the pain of not being able to commune.

Loneliness, with its fear and ache, is isolation, the inevitable action of the self. This process of isolation, whether expansive or narrow, is productive of confusion, conflict and sorrow. Isolation can never give birth to aloneness; the one has to cease for the other to be.

Aloneness is indivisible and loneliness is separation. That which is alone is pliable and so enduring. Only the alone can commune with that which is causeless, the immeasurable.'


- J. Krishnamurti


 Mongolia, 1922



Chryst dorje big copy-2 kopie


tAll photographs and texts © Kashba, Ais Loupatty & Ton Lankreijer. Webdesign: William Loupatty.