Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Staring At The Sun

Had I known just how radically impactful one afternoon at Bo and Sita Lozoff's Human Kindness Foundation was going to be, I'm not sure I would have had the courage to turn up the driveway. But ain't that always the way?

In my very first conversation with Mr. Rogers, standing there on his back porch gazing out on Madaket Bay, he told me that his friend, mystic Bo Lozoff, had just begun a yearlong vow of silence. Nearly five years later, I have spent a full day with the man, and am just now cracking the spine on the book that started it all for Mister Rogers and me, "Deep & Simple." Inside, Bo has written me a short note:

    For Benjamin
    With love and friendship and blessings for your Great Project
    Bo Lozoff

I was verbose at the beginning of our conversation. I tried and tried to wrap language around the most profound mysteries like God, The Divine, and Faith. But by sundown, I was mute. By dusk, Bo's many wisdoms ("pearls" just don't do the depth and breadth of Bo's words justice) simply washed over me, so overwhelmed by deep, simple and profound truths was my "beginning mind." I could scarcely muster an "Aha!" or an "Mmm hmm."

I said to Chris as we packed up at the end of our eight-hour shoot, "I feel like I've been staring at the sun all day long."

Still, a few hours later (it's 5:26 Tuesday morning; Chris and I are waiting on our Richmond flight), I can't wrap words around what happened yesterday. I can barely remember Bo's exact words. He quoted every Great Book, and many great minds, but this morning almost all of his words are lost on me. Like I said, it's like going blind after you stare at the sun. Right now, I'm still blind. I know that I will see again, but right now, there is only bright light.

I remember how it felt, though, walking and talking with this great man (a man whom, along with Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama, Mr. Rogers counted amongst his heroes). It felt like I had stepped off a steep cliff into deep, cool water. I knew I was going to be able to swim just fine, even though I was in way over my head.

Lemme give you some context here. This is a man who's writings contain introductions by the Dalai Llama. This is a man who speaks his truths in synagogues, churches, ashrams and prisons alike. This is a man who lives by three tenants: live simply (wary of material), contribute to the greater good, and practice spirituality. This is a guy who -- through discipline, prayer, study, and fasting -- seeks to shake off the mortal coil: self, family, home, and body in order to touch the divine.

He told me a story just after the sun fell behind the rolling hills of Orange County, North Carolina, about a mortal man visiting angels in Heaven.

"If things are so wonderful up here, why don't you come down there to to earth?" the man asked the angels. "We really need you down there."

The angel pointed through the clouds to a crack in the ground and said, "Do you see that tiny crack down there? The one through which ants can barely pass? We angels can no more pass through the dooway to your human earth than those ants through that crack. Only one has passed before. The rest of us are too big."

"Instead," the angel continued, "You must grow. You must decompress every atom of your being, and then ascend to us."

I told Bo that I was overwhelmed with the depth, breadth and substance of all that he had told me. I told him that I hadn't expected to wrestle with so much so fast. And I told him that the project suddenly felt enormous.

"You don't have to wrestle with it all in one day," he said. "You will sit and be quiet with it all."

"And what's the worst thing that can happen?" he asked as we strode up the gravel road toward our car. "You'll fail. We all fail. There's nothing wrong with failure. It's how we grow."


Catherine said...

This is such a beautiful description of what it is like to be around Bo Lozoff, especially at the Kindness House community. I lived there for years, and of course daily life wasn't always that blindingly blissful, but it was deeply profound to live with a man whose every moment was about surrender and deep kindness.

Katherine said...

Bo Lozoff is my spiritual teacher. He is the embodiment of one of his favorite spiritual teachings: that God exists, that God can be experienced directly and the primary purpose of all of our lives is to experience God directly. Bo's life is about experiencing God directly and inviting others to join him on that Great Adventure. Kindness House was a beautiful experiement in living the Great Adventure of trying to experience God directly.

Becky said...

I was a drowning woman when I read about the lives of service of Sita and Bo Lozoff on the web in '01, and wept at their story. Their extraordinary commitment to the Spiritual path, and the teachings in Bo's books were a Hand of Grace that pulled me from those dark waters, and transformed my life. Now I am blessed to call these deeply spiritual people my friends as well as my spiritual teachers. Ben's experience touches me for its familiarity in my own life. Thanks for sharing your story.

Wizard Bill said...

Sorry you guys...Bo and Sita are not the saints they portray themselves to be. I recommend the recent Independence Weekly article "The Two Faces of Bo Lozoff". My experience was of a man who demanded authority and control, with a fierce temper. Hardly an authoritative spokesman for Neem Karoli Baba.

Catherine said...

Bo & Sita do not portray themselves as saints, altho other people often talk about them in those ways. They are of course human and therefore imperfect. But the article you referenced is full of the most outrageous distortions. I lived at Kindness House for 7 years. Bo yelled sometimes, within the context of creating a loving and supportive place for many excons to transition from prison. He never got violent, never threatened anyone, never kicked anyone out in a way that risked sending him back to prison. He was the best friend a lot of these people ever had, and now a few of them are complaining that he wasn't perfect. 2 of the 4 excons mentioned in the article have acknowledged that they lied to that reporter. This includes the female excon quoted in the article as having been "touched." She has said to several credible people, back then and more recently, that "nothing sexual happened" between her and Bo.
Wizard Bill, I really am sorry if you were disappointed or hurt in any way. That article has hurt Bo more than you can possibly imagine, and that damage is already done. Please don't push for more hurt to come out of this. Kindness House is closed. There are still tens of thousands of prisoners counting on the foundation Bo created. We're a small group who really hope to be able to keep serving prisoners in our quiet way: sending them books and notes of encouragement that they can let go of anger and live in Love.
Bo isn't here, and won't be for at least another few months, but if anyone wants to discuss any of this directly with us, we are ready and willing to listen, and we're easy to find at humankindness.org

Wizard Bill said...

Sorry Catherine, but your statement doesn't correspond to my experience. I'm a friend of one of the women on whom the article was based, and she stands by her statements, no retractions, no lies. I have pages of profanity written by Bo to me in my diary, so my experience of his temper is not hearsay. I was a yogi before being in prison from '91 to '96 on an LSD charge, and distributed HKF books etc. during that time to generally uninterested inmates. When I got out and visited Kindness House I saw what was going on, and didn't want more years of incarceration and taking orders. Maybe others like that. With an open discussion, people can have a more informed choice when dealing with any future involvement with Bo and Sita.
Here are some of my comments on the Indy Weekly article;

Bo did what so many others have done, typical of primate social order right back to the baboons; the head male desexualizes the subordinate males and thus has access to the women. Oddly enough, primate females tend to like this and make it possible with their compliance, perhaps due to the preference for dominant male genes. (This process need not go all the way to physical sex to be in operation.)

Bo insisted on being the boss-man of a cult, and my dissent was met with long and extremely profane tirades. He presumed to teach about anger to people for whom anger control is a life-and-death issue, while himself having a profound rage problem. I shudder to think how he would fare as a prisoner himself.

Bo didn't really want volunteers; he wanted devotees, which actually translated in this context as slaves, who would not have any voice in the community and in general would leave when they tired of this treatment. I have met people as far away as New Mexico (at the Neem Karoli Baba temple) who have had this experience with Kindness House. There are some people who want to be dominated, and like the sense of simplicity and security that comes from giving up control to someone eager to take it. There is no shortage of such pathological dominators to take up the job. (Bo told me he didn't want anybody at Kindness House who had a "problem with authority", when of course the problem was his; somebody has to be in charge of everything, but it doesn't need to be Stalin.)

Catherine said...

I'm sorry Bo yelled at you. No matter what your disagreement, a more moderate director of a program you were visiting would have simply asked you to leave. A more moderate man also never would have opened such a program: one that welcomed people with all kinds of criminal backgrounds, to stay for free for as long as they wanted to, with no security systems (not even locks on the doors) and with himself and his wife available 24/7 on site. No one was recruited to come or pressured to stay. It was an experiment in living together to learn a lifestyle of spiritual practice, service, and unselfishness, and people were told before they came that it would be hard work, physically and emotionally. It closed in 2006. In 12 years, Kindness House had awe-inspiring successes and big failures. I apologize for the failures. I am grateful for the successes. And I know Bo's heart. He is a deeply unselfish man.

Although I am willing to continue the conversation if someone contacts me directly, I'm signing off of this blog, and wishing Wizard Bill and everyone else deep peace and love.

Lauren said...

The strength of the heart that Bo possesses is sometimes feared by those of lesser heart.

Wizard Bill said...

Somehow I don't feel either afraid of Bo, nor do I feel like my heart is somehow "lesser". I hardly feel that letting him dominate me would make me a better yogi, although that's what he demands. Perhaps if I were more of an alpha male women would reward me with blow jobs like they do with Bo, but I'd rather be who I am.

Lauren said...


You are no wizard. The Catherine has the bigger heart, gee, you missed that!

Imagine. Another angry convict. Contact me, and we will deal with your comments. I am tired of your tirade, and need for an audience.

Wizard Bill said...

Dear Lauren,
Sorry if you feel offended. I'm not an angry convict; actually you don't know anything about me. If you'd like to find out who I am, please visit my website, billrobinsonmusic dot com. And the only audience I'd like is for my music. Nothing would please me more with regard to the Bo drama than for him to follow his own teachings (or rather, the teachings he has read and borrowed but not embodied); take responsibility, apologize, see those of us who hold up mirrors to him as his true friends and manifestations of the guru, and see lust, anger, attachment and greed as roads to hell...but instead he strikes back, and has asked his followers to do the same. His followers won't listen to dissent, and instead attack the credibility and spirituality of those who point out the problems. So these messages are instead a warning to those who might fall into the Bo orbit that they should keep their eyes open. Bo and Sita are not talented enough to be another Rev. and Mrs. Moon, but they have given it a good college try.