The Knee of Listening – Chapter 6


The Life and Understanding of Franklin Jones
Copyright 1971 By Franklin Jones All rights reserved

Chapter 6:

The passage to the Guru  

Nina and I left California sometime in the last weeks of June, 1964. My mood was one of intense excitement and expectation. There was no doubt at all in me that I was about to begin the ultimate adventure of my life. I was willing to make any sacrifice and to go any here in the world in order to abandon myself to the sources of our highest good.

The trip itself was a comedy of frustrations. We traveled in an old Chevrolet station wagon that seemed to explode on schedule every hundred miles. It was loaded to the windows with the belongings we felt necessary for life in New York. There were boxes of books, blankets and sleeping bags, various clothing, pots and pans. And three necessary cats.

Up until this time I hadn’t been entirely without teachers. I had learned from many people and environments. Now I was seeking a teacher who could lead me into a whole new cheer of experience and knowledge . I was in pursuit of the Guru, a master of the very Self of the universe. But I had also known a Guru of a certain kind for nearly two years. I had even lived with him. He was my cat, Robert.  

If a man is sensitive to the movements everywhere within and without him, every kind of object or creature becomes a communication. He cannot help but receive the teaching, under any circumstances, if he is a real listener. Indeed, even the most inert objects know the same bliss of unqualified existence that is the root of our own consciousness.

My own way of life had been an absolute devotion to this way of listening, so that I had never before required a Guru to teach me in the formal and traditional manner. In fact I didn’t even know what a “Guru” was until these last days. And even if I had heard of such persons or matters before I would have considered them impossibilities, like Christ.

Thus, my experience throughout life progressed freely and profoundly, always generating new forms of clarity and awakening. As a result, I was fully capable of finding teacher in the most oddball sources, and I could give myself to be taught by such sources just as consciously and even formally as any monastic disciple in the “ashram” of a Swami founded in the ancient Scriptures and rules.

For nearly two years, then, I had been very attentive to my tomcat, Robert. At the end of my year at Stanford I went to say good-bye to two old friends, Cynthia and Vito, with whom I had shared many hours of drug adventure and conversations about art and literature. Their cat had just given up a litter of kittens, and they were making the usual attempt to pawn them off to their friends.

I told them I was going back to New York for the summer and didn’t really know when I would be able to provide a home for a cat. But when I looked at the litter of kittens I saw a little one with huge eyes, a dark one with long hair that sat in deep calm and watched me. I fell in love with him immediately, and Nina and I pleaded with our friends to keep him for us.

The long summer passed as I have told you. And by the time we found our house in the redwood forest the following September we had entirely forgotten that we owned a cat. But one day Cynthia and Vito arrived with Robert. We were absolutely happy to have him, and so grateful and surprised that our friends had kept him for us all that time. I named him Robert purely out of humor. He was such a strong animal presence, with an economy and grace that made our idiot brand of human living seem so unconscious and confused. I gave him a human name just to remind myself of the difference in him .

Robert was quite a large cat now. He had matured beautifully, and all of his instincts were wild. He seemed perfectly placed in himself. We decided that he should have a lady cat for his consort, and so we were happy when some other friends in Big Sur offered the pick of their new litter.

The Big Sur litter contained only a pair of orange tiger cats, both females, with twin markings. We took them both.  And we brought them home to Robert so that he could enjoy his ladies in the wild.

Robert and his ladies always lived completely independent of us. He left food for them, but they came and went at will. Their manner of living was so pure and intelligent, so direct an enjoyment, with such effortless capability for survival, that Nina and I soon became enamored of them. We watched them constantly in the sheer pleasure of seeing life lived as an instinctive perfection. Their solutions to the hour by hour confrontations that humanity tends to by-pass or escape were an example to us of unproblematic existence.

When we left our home the redwoods and moved on to the beach at Tunitas, our cats were just drawing into their maturity. We were wondering if Robert would choose only one of the lady cats for his consort, and if this would create problems with the remaining one. But we were not surprised when both of the lady cats began to swell up in obvious pregnancy.

At the time this seemed to me a perfectly moral solution to Robert’s domestic situation. He seemed to love and tend them both completely and without conflict, so that he appeared to me a master of domestic peace, even a model of sanity and strength to human householders, who always seem unable to solve the problems created by their traditional and conceptual monogamy.

One evening I heard Robert and the lady cats hissing and growling in the yard. I went out and found the three of them surrounding a fourth. It was a young gray male who had somehow wandered into Robert’s territory. The three cats stood almost motionless in a circle about the fourth, and their primitive signals continued for what must have been several hours, even while Nina and I passed to sleep.

In the morning all was quiet. Robert and the ladies were lying in various parts of the house asleep. I went outside to enjoy the morning sea, and I came upon the place where they had surrounded the stranger the evening before. I made an awesome discovery. In the center of the circle where they had stood there was a perimeter of gray hairs, and in the center were stains of blood and fragments of the inner parts of the dead animal. The cats had apparently cannibalized the intruder.

I showed the place to Nina, and we were really astonished. But our cats came out gentle in the morning, showing no signs of the sacrifice in signals of guilt or anger or lust. They seemed to us an ancient triangle of righteousness. And their justice confounded all our reasons, so that we could only admire them as beings who seemed to enjoy the free consciousness of higher laws that all humanity had long ago forgot.

But something had occurred in the mutual life of our cats that they were about to solve according to their peculiar laws. The ladies were fully pregnant now, and they had begun to keep a distance from one another. That evening Robert remained in the house with only one of the ladies. The other had disappeared.

For several days we looked everywhere for the second lady cat. But finally we decided that she must have wandered away or been killed somewhere on the highway above. We even supposed that Robert may have chosen the one and banished the other to her own survival. We had no idea that he had only found a way to create his domain in two entirely separate realms.

For a full year Robert remained with his single consort. Her kittens were born and grown. Robert would leave at sunrise and pass over into tie hills, but every evening at sunset I would hear him calling as he descended the rise behind the house. He would return to eat and sleep with us and his lady until the following morning.

We assumed that this was merely the pattern of his wildness, and that he must have spent his days wandering and hunting. His consort always remained behind in the area of the house, and he would often bring her a bird, a rabbit or a mouse to eat. Or she would capture some small animal just at sunset and offer it to him when he returned home.

After a year of this we had settled fully into the cycle of the lives of our cats and never expected to see the other lady cat again. But one day I noticed something a little strange about the lady who remained at home. Her hair seemed somehow furled and matted in an unusual way. At first I only noticed this and simply accepted it as the result of her climbing about in the woods. But the next day I examined her more closely, for she had also acquired some kind of new intensity. Her paws stretched open and she constantly touched my feet, insisting on my attention.

When I picked her up I saw that it could not be Robert’s domestic bride. Her hair was wild and full, and its ends were bleached by weather. Her exposed nose and the pads of her feet were also bleached by water and air and sunlight, and they were all freckled by spots that I knew did not belong to the lady who remained behind. And even the edges of her eyelids were pink and white. Her eyes were wild as only those could be that had lived and survived in wilderness.

It was obviously the long lost lady cat. When Nina came home we looked her over together. And we welcomed Robert in the evening. He preened her and loved her, and we began to understand the intelligence of his way of life. When the two ladies had first become pregnant, Robert must have led one into the wild. And afterwards he divided his time between them, tending one in the wilderness by day and returning to the other at night. Again we marveled at this justice, this untroubled, thoughtful and inexplicably kind order of their survival.

When we awoke the next morning Robert and his wild lady had come bearing gifts. Sitting in the top of a storage basket surrounded by soft cloths were four wide-eyed baby cats, two dark and two orange, with long soft hair. They were four of the most beautiful and fresh creatures I have ever seen. Nina and I laughed joyfully at them. Robert and his lady had also produced miracles in the alchemy of wilderness.

As the days passed we also saw what must have been a further development of Robert’s plan of living. The lady cat who had remained domestic the previous year disappeared, as her sister had done. I think it was their plan to exchange their states of living and carry on the same pattern as before. But we found the lady dead near the highway. She had been struck by a car while moving off into the wild.

It was about this time that Nina and I began to prepare to move to New York. Robert’s children surrounded us in great numbers now. Along with the new four there were at least five others from the domestic lady. And there was another stray that seemed to wander in from nowhere but who was allowed to remain. We named him Sanjuro, because he was such a tough, self-contained rascal, and he handled himself like the samurai depicted by Toshiro Mifune in Japanese movies. We had also acquired a little black female whose manner was irresistible. She was a little stalk of a creature with tall legs, and we knew her as “the fastest cat in the West.” We called her “the Bitty.”

All in all there were about a dozen cats around us, living in various degrees of dependence and wildness. As we prepared to leave we gave them to various friends. On the last day we gave two of Robert’s “wild flowers” to Ken Kesey. But we kept Robert and his wild lady and the Bitty.

Thus, on the day we left California, we packed our belongings in the station wagon along with the three cats for the long drive across America. We couldn’t part with these companions. Their way of life had become a necessary vision to us, a sign and at least a memory of the intelligent wilderness that was the example of beauty and sanity by which we ourselves were moved and consoled in California.

Robert himself was nothing less to me than my best friend and mentor. He was more, not less than human to me. I watched him with fascination. I followed him through woods and watched him hunt. I tried to understand his curious avoidance of the sea, and how he could sit on the cliff above the sea, watching the evening sun, and the wind blowing his hairs heroically about his head. The mystery of his pattern of living, his ease and justice the economy of all his means, the untouchable absence of all anxiety, the sudden and adequate power he brought to every circumstance without exceeding the intensity required, all of his ways seemed to me an epitome of the genius of life. And he communicated with me so directly that I was always disarmed. He would call me when he returned in the evening. He would touch me whenever he needed my presence. He would lie with me as if with conscious intention to console me with his living presence. And I loved him as deeply as the universe itself.

I couldn’t leave such friends behind. yet I was aware that my adventure was about to be renewed. I was seeking a teacher for a whole new order of my mind. Hereafter the wilderness could not be the model for my seeking or my healing. In New York the cats would have to live in an environment whose unreality and absence of instinctual intelligence, not to mention the absence of human intelligence, was a critical problem even for human beings. They would have to survive in an artificial enclosure, the hardward of human evolution. There would be no possibility for the hunt, for natural solitude, or for any of the native signs and obstacles of wilderness that my animals had mastered even an aeon ago.

Even as we traveled we realized the dilemma of our cats. Several times the car blew up and we were stranded in the desert. The tires would explode at will, and we had often to remain stranded for hours without food or moving air, in pitiless heat. The cats strained and gagged in the breathless air with dry lungs, so that we were afraid they could not survive.

When we finally arrived in New York I went to my parents to be reconciled. And Nina and I found an apartment in the lower end of Greenwich Village, on Houston Street. It was a dark place with the enclosed odor of a long-degraded humanity that had been confused with refuse, immobility and death. I began to look for my new teacher, and we settled into our new, unnatural order of living.

The cats had to remain contained in the apartment, except for the relative freedom of a rear window, a fire escape, and an adjacent roof that could be reached with a small jump of perhaps two feet. I was afraid for my cats in this environment. We were four stories above the ground, and a slight miscalculation could mean a fall to death. But I considered that it was better for them to enjoy even this little freedom, and I consigned them to the survival power that had been demonstrated in wilderness. After a few weeks I could feel the advancing presence of what I sought. I knew it was perhaps only a matter of days until I would meet my teacher. It was a rainy evening, the fourth of July. I returned from a walk in Washington Square. Firecrackers and a few amateur fireworks tended to draw my attention into distant streets and alleys, and into the sky above. When I came in the door to the building the superin- tendent met me. Robert had fallen from the roof. Since no one was home, he had called the A.S.P.C.A. to take him away. I asked if Robert was dead. He said he wasn’t sure, but he pointed to the fire escapes high above, as if to say: How alive could he be after such a fall?

Nina had been out shopping during that time. I went upstairs and found that she had returned. We called the Animal Shelter, and they told us Robert was dead. We turned away from one another in separate sorrow and wept. It was a grief more profound than any I had ever known. The death of my little dog when I was a boy had taken me by surprise. Then I hadn’t expected death, and when it came I was moved to follow her to the place of continuous life beyond the world. But Robert’s death was no surprise at all. The news of it came to one who bore the knowledge of death, so that when it came there was no movement in me toward any other place. There was only the incomparable sorrow of a broken span of living. There was only the absence of that dear one. His mortality appeared in a world whose livingness I had come to know as far exceeding the image and power of death. But, for all the sphere of living energy that I knew informed the world and was its truth, there remained the fact of this end, this disappearance, this implication of truth within the blissful void.

I recognized that Robert had been my teacher in the wilderness. He had filled my eye and owned a thread of attention in my heart. I knew him and he knew me. Nothing could replace that state of life or console its absence. I treated him in death like a saint. I had him cremated and kept his ashes for some time before I buried them outside my parents’ house. I observed my grief and, kept my mind focused in the hope of new events. I knew that Robert’s passing was the sign of the arrival of my teacher in the human world.

In the weeks that preceded the event of my meeting with my teacher I had informed myself with every kind of study. I had passed from the remarkable news that life was expanded beyond mortal phenomena. It was no longer a matter of proving such things to be true. I was certain enough of them on the basis of experience and reliable communication that I did not pursue phenomena themselves. I had increased my knowledge of such things to include a new viewpoint, a more inclusive philosophy along the lines proposed by mystical and spiritual literature. My reading encompassed the literate works of Christian saints and the classical writings of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, Hinduism, Vedanta and yoga. I was acquainted with the works of Ramana Maharshi, Krishnamurti, Sri Ramakrishna, and Sri Aurobindo. I felt particularly drawn to these more oriental teachers, whose path was liberation and fulfilment of a dramatic and miraculous kind, free of the dogmatic and ritualistic limitations of symbolic and traditional religion. I felt that the importance of Christ was not his image and the motivations of his following, but the very nature of his freedom and power as a fundamental gift of all beings.

I was attendant mainly to the yogic paths and to the truth proposed alike in Vedanta and Buddhism. The ways of discrimination and practice proposed by Vedanta and Buddhism, even Zen Buddhism, seemed to me unavailable or artificial. They seemed to require a path apart from the constant and usual action. But the one truth of the Self, the non dual Reality, the unqualified Divine that included all things, seemed to me the highest expression of my own experience, whether in the “bright” of my childhood or in the peculiar revelations of my youth in college and in California. Thus, I was moved to seek a teacher, a guide who could lead me into the full consciousness of this primary truth, with all its capabilities and joy. And such a teacher would rightly, it seemed to me then, be adept in the yogic processes and in the functions of higher consciousness that seemed to me the practical way of enjoying what was symbolically represented in the cool Scriptures of Vedanta and Buddhism. Curiously enough, my reading then as always had seemed to be dictated by the laws of my own necessity. What is given me to read is always appropriate and immediately consequential to the manner of my present development.

Thus, as the day of my meeting with my teacher approached, I began to read works that dealt with the peculiar yoga of the “Kundalini Shakti.” I read such works as The Serpent Power by Sir John Woodroffe, and I found in them keys to many of my own experiences. The descriptions of the various “chakras” or spiritual and creative centers in the body, and the details of experiences generated in each stage of spiritual ascent brought a clarity of order to the progress of many of my own seemingly arbitrary states.

I saw that what I called the “bright” was a fundamental spiritual consciousness in which the whole “chakra body” was awake and open to the intuitive faculties of energy and light. And my experience in college appeared as a sudden awakening of the Shakti, the basic and conscious energy that manifests and leads back to the highest source of consciousness, the Self, or Siva that is eternally calm.

I knew that my own path of life and the meaning of all life was in this process of Siva-Shakti, the endless unfolding and return of consciousness, energy and experience, and its consistent foundation in the pure infinity of unqualified, transcendent being. Thus, I began to expect a teacher who would lead me further into a more conscious, natural and regulated revelation of this same process.

I had read the work of Paramahansa Yogananda as we drove across country. I found in him a curiously sane and beautiful example of the kind of life and experience I needed to touch as my own. But I knew that I required a teacher who was presently alive to guide me through my peculiar problems of seeking.

I was only uncertain of the precise direction of such seeking. The fundamental spiritual path as it is proposed in the various literature’s seemed to divide at a certain point. The typical motive of the Oriental teachings was in the direction of an absolute liberation from all forms of experience and life consciousness. Such teaching is typical of Vedanta and Buddhism, in the classical works of Zen masters and such modern saints or Avatars as Ramakrishna and Maharshi.

On the other hand, the teachings of Christianity, of Western occultism, and of such Eastern saints as Sri Aurobindo indicated a path whose goal was in life or at least not radically opposed to life. They drew on the ultimate perception of all the Scriptures which variously state that this is “God’s plan and creation,” “this is That,” “Nirvana and samsara are the same,” “there is only one, without a second.” They proposed a sacrificial existence of surrender and reception wherein life is moved toward a perfect vision or evolution. I found even in the mind of the iconoclast, Krishnamurti, a sense of life that is not divorced from the process of existence. And, though I desired greatly the incomparable peace of highest knowledge, I tended to sympathize with this latter path of realization and creativity whose purposes are a Divine Life rather than a pure separation into absoluteness.

This problem of direction, which has always been one of the most fundamental in my progress, was motivated in me as I sought for my teacher. And it was to form the basis for my first real questions when I met him.

When we arrived in New York I began to search for this teacher with peculiar certainty. I didn’t so much seek for him by effort as watch and listen for him according to certain signs that I had learned. The vision was clear to me that I would find him in an oriental art store. So Nina and I went about the practical matters of founding a household and a living, while I watched for him.  

The move to New York was a shock to us both in many ways. Our country life of wilderness was past. Robert’s death signified many things, the passage from an old order to a new. I awaited a new teacher and a new way of life. And the city life of humanity also stood in contrast to the wilderness and natural rule by which Nina and I had always lived. The material and mortal philosophies had died in me, and the transition in the wilderness, the exploitation of instinctual, animal and passionate laws seemed inappropriate, not only to the great city, but also to the new order of spiritual life to which we were inclined.

I was quite confused by all of this. The new way of life seemed to require a kind of purity and enforced morality that was unknown to me or my cats. I began to doubt my way of life. The kind of self exploitation by which I lived and wrote began to seem immoral. Perhaps it only created obstacles to the attainment of what I would now possess.

I thought perhaps I should leave Nina. After all, the way of spiritual life was largely taken by celibates and highly disciplined saints. I became overwhelmed with my lack of discipline. I had rarely worked for a living in my life. I had never really supported myself or anyone else. I was a libertine, a drinker, a drug user, a passionate madman All of these emotions turned in me. It became September. On the Sunday afternoon of the Labor Day weekend my parents were driving us back to New York. We had been spending the weekend with them on Long Island. We were driving down Seventh Avenue in Greenwich Village, just a few blocks from our apartment on Houston Street. As we passed down the relatively deserted streets, I saw a small store on the west side of the street. There was a large sign above with the name “Rudi” and several written characters that looked like Chinese calligraphy. The window of the store was full of oriental sculpture and painting. As I looked at it I became instantly certain that this was the place where I would find a teacher.

After my parents left us at home, Nina and I walked back to the store. It was only a small store, and it was unceremoniously filled and even cluttered with thousands of pieces of sculpture from all over the Orient. There was a huge Buddha seated on a lotus in the window. Standing in the rear of the store was a colossal wooden Bodhisattva, perhaps fifteen or twenty feet tall, holding a lotus in its hand and a crystal jewel in its forehead. Everywhere were standing Buddhas, dancing saints, and portraits of ferocious and sublime deities.

There was an aura of feeling and of light surrounding the store, as if all of these sublime entities had gathered to generate a center of force for any who were ready to recognize it. I told Nina that this was certainly the place I had envisioned and, as we left, I planned to return the next day, during business hours.

The next day we returned in the early morning. The door to the shop was always held open. We walked in casually, concealing a great expectation. But there was no one in the store who looked like a teacher. There was only a little round Jewish lady, the epitome of every shopkeeper I could imagine. We pretended to be mainly interested in art, especially looking for a small Buddha to stand in a place of meditation. The woman showed us many objects in the fifty dollar price range. I was careful to observe her for any signs of an impractical spiritual nature! But she was all business, and I had the feeling that I was really being sold. The whole quality of the place was no different from a meat market or a 5 -and-10.

Finally, we decided to purchase a small, antique, Japanese figure, a standing Buddha about twelve inches high. The woman assured us it would be a very powerful object for meditation. We passed to the rear of the store, where she wrapped the object in newspaper and stuffed it in a paper bag! We watched this with holy amazement, and then my eyes turned to a pair of photographs on the wall.

The photographs appeared to be of two different saints. Both of them were naked except for a small loin cloth. One was an enormously fat man with the appearance of awesome strength. And the other was a more moderately proportioned man with a melancholy expression, as if his mind were tuned to some distant place that was his real home. Both of them had short hair and light beards that seemed to indicate they had been totally shaven within the past few weeks. And there was an undeniable, obvious sense of power and presence generated by both men.

As I studied these pictures I became fascinated, and my heart began to pound with excitement. I asked the woman about the pictures. She said they were her son’s teachers. Her son was a spiritual teacher, she said, and he was the owner of the store. I asked how I could meet her son, and I was told that he was away for a long weekend in the country, but he would return the next day.

We left the store quite hurriedly. Our business was over. But as we got into the street I began to jump and run us down the block. I had found my teacher!I had found the Guru!  

Chapter 7
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