A fire in the hotel in Varanasi

November 29, 2006

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Toby Johnson's books:

Toby's books are available as ebooks from smashwords.com, the Apple iBookstore, etc.

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III

Gay Spirituality

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

Gay Perspective

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

Secret Matter

SECRET MATTER, a sci-fi novel with wonderful "aliens" with an Afterword by Mark Jordan

Getting Life

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:  A Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods

The Fourth Quill

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

Two Spirits
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

charmed lives
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers

Myth of the Great Secret

THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

In Search of God


Finding God


Unpublished manuscripts

About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

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  Articles and Excerpts:

Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

Why gay people should NOT Marry

The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage

Toby and Kip Get Married

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

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Gay Consciousness

Why homosexuality is a sin

The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Advice to Future Gay Historians

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

The Gay Succession

Wouldn’t You Like to Be Uranian?

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

Queer men, myths and Reincarnation

Was I (or you) at Stonewall?

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Mysticism of Andrew Harvey

The upsidedown book on MSNBC

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"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

The Nature of Suffering and The Four Quills

You're Not A Wave

Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging

Toby's Experience of Zen

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

What happens at Death?

How many lifetimes in an ego?

Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

What Anatman means

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

A Funny Story: The Rug Salesmen of Istanbul

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

Cutting edge realization

The Myth of the Wanderer

Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss

World Navel

What the Vows Really Mean

Manifesting from the Subtle Realms

The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse

The est Training and Personal Intention

Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven

Drawing a Long Straw: Ketamine at the Mann Ranch

Alan Watts & Multiple Solipsism

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Gay Spirituality

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

The Mann Ranch (& Rich Gabrielson)

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Two Loves

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

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The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

Having a Church to Leave

Harold Cole on Beauty

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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Not lashed to the prayer-post

Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality

The Monastic Schedule: a whimsy

Is It Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process

Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)

Redeem Orlando

Gay Consciousness changing the world by Shokti LoveStar

Alexander Renault interviews Toby Johnson

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Mystical Vision

"The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross & the Dark Night of the Soul."

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

Sex with God

Merging Religion and Sex

Revolution Through Consciousness Change: GSV 2019

God as Metaphor

More Metaphors for God

A non-personal metaphor God

Tonglen in the Radisson Varanasi

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The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey as archetype -- GSV 2016

The  Gay Hero Journey (shortened)

You're On Your Own


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Seeing Differently

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"

Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

Facing the Edge: AIDS as an occasion for spiritual wisdom

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

A Different Take on Leathersex

Seeing Pornography Differently

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The Vision

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

A  Most Remarkable Synchronicity in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

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The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby

Part 2: The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

Part 3: Jesus and the Resurrection

Part 4: A Course in Miracles

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The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

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Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey, and the modern Gay Hero-- a five part presentation on YouTube

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About Alien Abduction

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

Intersections with the movie When We Rise

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

Toby at the California Institute

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

My first Peace March

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Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Mark Thompson

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

The Alamo Business Council

Our friend Tom Nash

Our friend Cliff Douglas

Second March on Washington

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"

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Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter

The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen

War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar

The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre

Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak

A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey

Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes

The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes

Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour

In Walt We Trust by John Marsh

Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary

A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary

Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott

Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou

Internal Landscapes by John Ollom

Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks

Yes by Brad Boney

Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler

Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal

Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson

Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette

The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson

The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire

"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught

Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology

The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons

Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert

The Revotutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker

Out There by Perry Brass

The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh

The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan

It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja

ReCreations, edited by Catherine Lake

Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey by Fenton Johnson

Dating the Greek Gods by Brad Gooch

Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan

The Substance of God by Perry Brass

The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols

10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort

Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe

The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann

Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long

An Interview with Ron Long

Queering Creole Spiritual Traditons by Randy Conner & David Sparks

An Interview with Randy Conner

Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard

Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak

Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan

Rising Up by Joe Perez

Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez

That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang

MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether

Double Cross by David Ranan

The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak

Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry

In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson

The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson

Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray

Spirituality for Our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak

Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society by Robert A. Minor

Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences by Glen O'Brien

Queering Christ by Robert Goss

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage

The Flesh of the Word by Richard A Rosato

Catland by David Garrett Izzo

Tantra for Gay Men by Bruce Anderson

Yoga & the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main

Simple Grace by Malcolm Boyd

Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza

What Does "Queer" Mean Anyway? by Chris Bartlett

Critique of Patriarchal Reasoning by Arthur Evans

Gift of the Soul by Dale Colclasure & David Jensen

Legend of the Raibow Warriors by Steven McFadden

The Liar's Prayer by Gregory Flood

Lovely are the Messengers by Daniel Plasman

The Human Core of Spirituality by Daniel Helminiak

3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Religion and the Human Sciences by Daniel Helminiak

Only the Good Parts by Daniel Curzon

Four Short Reviews of Books with a Message

Life Interrupted by Michael Parise

Confessions of a Murdered Pope by Lucien Gregoire

The Stargazer's Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging by Ron Pevny

Footprints Through the Desert by Joshua Kauffman

True Religion by J.L. Weinberg

The Mediterranean Universe by John Newmeyer

Everything is God by Jay Michaelson

Reflection by Dennis Merritt

Everywhere Home by Fenton Johnson

Hard Lesson by James Gaston

God vs Gay? by Jay Michaelson

The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path by Jay Michaelson

Roxie & Fred by Richard Alther

Not the Son He Expected by Tim Clausen

The 9 Realities of Stardust by Bruce P. Grether

The Afterlife Revolution by Anne & Whitley Strieber

AIDS Shaman: Queer Spirit Awakening by Shokti Lovestar

Facing the Truth of Your Life by Merle Yost

The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey J Kripal

Secret Body by Jeffrey J Kripal

In Hitler's House by Jonathan Lane

Walking on Glory by Edward Swift

The Paradox of Porn by Don Shewey

Is Heaven for Real? by Lucien Gregoire

In Search of Lost Lives by Michael Goddart

Queer Magic by Tomas Prower

God in Your Body by Jay Michaelson

Science Whispering Spirit by Gary Preuss

Friends of Dorothy by Dee Michel

New by Whitley Strieber

Developing Supersensible Perception by Shelli Renee Joye

Sage Sapien by Johnson Chong

Tarot of the Future by Arthur Rosengarten

Brothers Across Time by Brad Boney

Impresario of Castro Street by Marc Huestis

Deathless by Andrew Ramer

The Pagan Heart of the West, Vol 1 by Randy P. Conner

Practical Tantra by William Schindler

The Flip by Jeffrey J. Kripal

A New World by Whitley Strieber

Bernhard & LightWing by Damien Rowse

The Mountains of Paris by David Oates

Trust Truth by Trudie Barreras

How to be an Excellent Human Being by Bill Meacham

The Deviant's War by Eric Cervini

What Is the Grass by Mark Doty

Sex with God by Suzanne DeWitt Hall

The Sum of All the Pieces by Paul Bradford

All the Time in the World by J. Lee Graham

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson

Toby Johnson's Books on Gay Men's Spiritualities:

Perspective cover
Gay Perspective

Things Our [Homo]sexuality
Tells Us about the
Nature of God and
the Universe

Gay Perspective audiobook
Gay Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Matthew Whitfield. Click here

Spirituality cover
Gay Spirituality

Gay Identity and 
the Transformation of
Human Consciousness

Gay Spirituality   is now available as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by John Sipple. Click here

charmed lives
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

edited by
Toby Johnson
& Steve Berman

secret matter
Secret Matter

Lammy Award Winner for Gay Science Fiction


Getting Life
Getting Life in Perspective

A Fantastical Romance

Life in Perspective audiobook
Getting Life in Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Alex Beckham. Click here 

The Fourth Quill

The Fourth Quill

originally published as PLAGUE

The Fourth Quill is available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland. Click here

Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo

with Walter L. Williams

Two Spirits
audiobookTwo Spirits  is available as an audiobook  narrated by Arthur Raymond. Click here

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III
Finding Your Own True Myth: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Great Secret III

Search of God in the Sexual Underworld
In Search of God  in the Sexual Underworld

Finding God
Finding God In The Sexual Underworld: The Journey Expanded

2020 Revised Version

The Myth of the Great Secret II

The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell.

This was the second edition of this book.

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Toby Johnson's titles are available in other ebook formats from Smashwords.

One of the Strangest Events in my Life

Taj Mahal

In November 2006, Kip and I went on a tour with Gate 1 Travel of Northern India—the "Golden Triangle"— and Nepal. It was a wonderful adventure. India is so different from America. It was thrilling; it was scary; it was disturbing; it was great fun. All these things are true.toby and kip at the taj mahal

We arrived in New Delhi, were shown the sights there, then driven by small motor coach to Jaipur, the "Pink City," then Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Then we got on a train and traveled to Khajuraho to see the Erotic Temple complex. Then we flew to Varanasi, the birthplace of Buddhism, and site of the famous burning ghats along the Ganges where faithful Hindus hope to be cremated after their deaths and their remains and ashes cast into the sacred river.

Then we boarded another plane and flew to Kathmandu, where we got to fly in a small plane--on an airline called Buddha Air--up to Mount Everest. The plane flew along the front range of the Himalayas. After a couple of days in Nepal, we flew back to New Delhi and then back to the United States.

A marvelous trip. More tourism than sacred pilgrimage. Kip joked he'd hoped to experience India like Beatle George Harrison amd come home spiritually transformed. But that isn't really what happened. It was more frightening and disquieting than it was "spiritual"—so much suffering. Beggars everywhere. Children pulling at our clothes trying to sell us trinkets or to give them alms. Everywhere crowds. Everywhere animals and cars and trucks and motorcycles and motorized rickshaws called tuck-tucks. It was overwhelming, though exciting.

Because of my interest in Buddhism which I learned from reading Alan Watts and Joseph Campbell, I was especially looking forward to seeing Varanasi, the city that used to be called Benares, where the Buddha gave his first sermon in Deer Park. And indeed the tour guide took us to Deer Park and we saw--and circumambulated--Buddha's Stupa. We arrived late in the day and the museum and park were closing, so our visit was rushed.

We'd flown into the airport, and so were taken to the hotel first to check in and wash up before starting the tour. The hotel was a new-looking building, very modern, very American, with the international-sounding name Radisson Varanasi.

Radisson hotel

Kip and I were assigned a room with two twin beds on one of the higher floors. We had quite a view out the window—though it was of a dilapidated city. And—which the photos do not show—there were swarms of buzzards flying round and round over the cityscape.city view    hotel view

The room was beautifully appointed, with ancient-looking art on the walls and lovely modern furniture.
hotel room with twin beds  
We were appropriately tired from a long day. And went to bed soon after we got in for the evening.

I was awakened after a little while by the small of smoke. We'd seen the guest across the hall from us had arrived while we were still getting settled and had the door open. He'd been smoking a cigar. I thought that was the source of the smell.
hotel room
But then the smell got stronger. I remember thinking, half-asleep and a little paranoid, that maybe the man had seen that we'd been offended by his cigar and was, in retaliation, blowing his smoke directly under our door.

That didn't make much sense, but why such a strong smoke smell? I lay awake wondering what to do. Kip seemed to be sleeping soundly in the other bed, but I worried that one of us should stay awake just in case…

Finally I woke him to ask if he smelled smoke too. Yes, of course, he did. It was very pronounced. And it wasn't cigar smoke. We called down to the front desk to report. At first they said it was nothing. There'd been no report of a fire in the hotel. We were just imagining it.

Well, it is true that India smells of burning cow dung and marijuana smoke virtually everywhere. But this was so much stronger. We tried to go back to sleep, but I was not satisfied. If there were a fire in the hotel, somebody needed to know. We called down to the front desk and asked them to have somebody come up to the room and smell what we were smelling. Reluctantly, they agreed. And shortly a fellow in a military-looking, security-guard uniform came to the door. He walked in, sniffed around, then said he didn't smell anything unusual.

By that time, the smoke had gotten thick enough that it was billowing in the room. Kip pointed to a little niche with a lamp that stood on the minibar. You could see smoke swirling in the niche. "What's that, then?"

The bellman looked intently and then replied, "That's a lamp." Well, we were getting nowhere. He left, but promised to pay attention in case there really had been smoke somewhere.

Nothing was changing and we couldn't go back to sleep.lobby Somebody had to do something. So we went downstairs in the elevator and to the front desk and asked to speak to the manager. We stood in the lobby (shown in the photo with people in it; in the middle of the night it was empty) and tried to explain what we thought was happening.

The manager was a young Indian man, very polite, but very officious. He assured us there was no fire. No else had reported smelling smoke. And, besides, he said, he only stays at the hotel on certain nights of the week. Tuesday was one of his days. "And since I am here," he said, "there could be no fire. I am here tonight."

That logic wasn't very reassuring, though quoting him has become a joke between Kip and me about how oblivious people can be when they just might be wrong.

We went back to the room and tried to go back to sleep. I found myself caught in this Great Worry and feeling of responsibility—for Kip, certainly, and our lives together, but also for the other guests in the hotel. I tried to rest, but had to keep myself from falling asleep.

I don't remember clearly how all this came down. But I think I finally got up and went back to the lobby by myself to insist that there was smoke in our room. And this time the manager was more forthcoming. He told me that they had installed a new woodburning cookstove in the kitchen and in trying it out had overloaded it. There really had been smoke. And, he said, our room at the end of the hall was next to a stairwell that came up directly from the kitchen. Other people weren't complaining because it was only at the end of one hall.

So problem resolved.

But what was that about?

It was only much later that I put that experience together with what I knew to be a meditative practice and ritual among Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhists called Tonglen. It was something I'd run across and practiced myself off and on a little out of my fascination with the myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara who takes upon himself the suffering of the world in order to transform it by his insight that ego doesn't really exist.

Here's a description of performing tonglen

    Imagine the sorrows and sufferings of the world as dark smoke, perhaps like smoke from incense, or fumes from a blown out candle. Imagine the smoke filling the room. Breathe in the smoke. Relax and be aware of your breath, and be aware of breathing in the black smoke, so that the mental space inside your body becomes dark and choked with the smoke. Keep breathing it in till the inside of the space in your body is as dark as night.

Then visualize a lightning flash – the lightning bolt of enlightenment:  vajra.


The vajra scepter is the stylized solidification of a lightning bolt. Tibetans thought when lightning struck the ground it congealed into a diamond. So the vajra is both lightning bolt and diamond – both images of enlightened mind.

  In the bright flash of the lightning--cutting through the darkness and cutting through time to illuminate an eternal moment--let yourself visualize the smoke and darkness changing to bright colorful lights, like flowers in spring or like the flashing of sunlight off the surface of water, shimmering and beautiful, warm and relaxing.

    Breathe in the smoke and darkness of human sorrow and suffering in the transitoriness of time, let it be transformed in the lightning bolt striking into your heart and congealing into a diamond, and let it become joy for life and bliss in the eternity of consciousness transcending individuality.

    Breathe in smoke, breathe out joy. That's what a bodhisattva does, using skillful means to say just the right thing or make the right gesture to soothe suffering, "participating joyfully in the sorrows of the world."

Well, what better place on Earth to experience tonglen than in Varanasi, India? And I wasn't doing it; it was being done unto me. Some "power" so much bigger than my little ego was reminding me of how little my ego is by doing it to me.

I didn't realize how that crazy experience with the overly-confident and officious hotel manager and the overloaded new cookstove was a dramatization of the tonglen ritual till years later. I've wondered what it means that it took me so long. And did I do it correctly? Did I get the lesson? I'm not sure.

Varansi ghats

In the morning, we joked with the other people on the tour about our experience. One other couple had noticed the smoke, but hadn't said anything. At least, it was real. We'd gotten up very early to go to the Ganges to watch the sunrise. And were taken out into the pitch dark city by bus to near the burning/burial ghats.

We had brought with us a small portion of the ashes of our friend Cliff Douglas who'd died some 10 years before, and scattered them in the sacred water as the sun was rising.

cliff's ashesThere were vendors selling candles in folded palm leaves to float on the water. We bought one of those, and from a little boat our tour guide had arranged for us, we placed the candle on the river and then Kip poured out the ashes.

cliff's ashesAs we watched, the sun rose on the other side of the river.

It was magical bringing our friend's ashes to the Holy Ganges.

dawn over the Ganges River

I have wondered what that smoke in the hotel room meant in my life. Was there a "message" from the universe in that? Was it acceptance—or rejection—of my intentions to be responsible?

I'd just turned 61 the August before that November trip to India. I have to say I think I started aging soon after we returned. I began to experience the benign prostate hypertrophy which is so common in men as we outlive the reproductive years.

The "Four Signs" that called Prince Gautama to leave the palace and seek Buddhahood were the sight of an old man, a sick man, a dead body, and a monk. Maybe that's what's in the smoke of tonglen: the reality of age, disease, and death.

What choice do we have but to accept this gracefully, as the reality we're in, and to breathe deeply, transforming the smoke—but then alerting the authorities?

Read Toby's suggestion for funeral practices that embody the Tonglen imagery.

Read an excerpt from The Fourth Quill about the nature of suffering:
The Closet of Horrors

In Volume 13 of his collected works Jung quotes a letter from one of his patients which he says articulates the essential lesson—that seems to express the Bodhisattva attitude we must strive to adopt.

    “Out of evil, much good has come to me. By keeping quiet, repressing nothing, remaining attentive, and by accepting reality – taking things as they are, and not as I wanted them to be – by doing all this, unusual knowledge has come to me, and unusual powers as well, such as I could never have imagined before. I always thought that when we accepted things they overpowered us in some way or other. This turns out not to be true at all, and it is only by accepting them that one can assume an attitude towards them.

    "So now I intend to play the game of life, being receptive to whatever comes to me, good and bad, sun and shadow forever alternating, and, in this way, also accepting my own nature with its positive and negative sides. Thus everything becomes more alive to me. What a fool I was! How I tried to force everything to go according to way I thought it ought to."

   — Carl Jung, Alchemical Studies, p 47

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness. 

Johnson's book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

His  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They remain in print.

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual qualities of gay male consciousness.

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