Among White Clouds


Late night is a haven for many of us, pottering about till the early hours and doing unnecessary things or reading. Perhaps we like the silence, the lack of pressure, the contemplative feeling of the night. There is that stillness and emptiness when another side of your life stirs, becalmed in lamplight or darkness, all activity pared away, at rest in the motiveless, purposeless here and now. Sometimes you might sit in a chair doing nothing – a kind of meditation, I suppose, looking and searching into the silence as though for understanding; but there seems nothing much there, only consciousness and livingness, and no apparent “self” at all, no verdict or conclusion. The limitations of understanding seem like huge, high walls that cannot be breached – only time’s thunderbolts and God’s Grace will widen our knowing.

On a path, though, that advocates God-surrender, why should we entertain the idea that self-examination might unearth a wholly satisfying “self”? It has certainly failed to do so till now. Self-enquiry, too, might topple God and Guru from their central place in our hearts and our meditations, and this inner scrutiny may be unhelpful. Peering like Narcissus into the pool of our own reflections seems a little pointless when our “seeing” is so limited and the Self remains so unblossomed.

Today I awoke at 2:30 a.m., fully alert. Sleep was impossible, so I watched “Among White Clouds,” a film about Buddhist Masters living in remote mountains in China and seriously seeking enlightenment. Predictably, when it was finished I wanted to find a faraway cottage out in the wilderness, renounce the world totally and plunge headlong into lengthy bouts of meditation. I also had the feeling that enlightenment experiences are not so far away, not so remote but quite close, and that if we were to do as they do – choosing seclusion, an absolute focus on meditation practice and self-mastery – then those achievements could certainly be won in this lifetime.

Afterwards, too, I felt strongly the great and different gifts that Guru has given us on this path: a deepening love of God; an inner peacefulness that is strong and solid; the renunciation of our personal wishes for this life; detachment from the endless enchantments of the world; a sense of dedication and self-offering; the widening canvas of spiritual knowledge; the shift from self-effort alone to surrender and God-reliance; the polestar light of our Guru leading us back home; the immense role of the Master’s grace. Of this last gift I hear Guru again saying, as he often did: “You just work hard for me, for the Supreme – I will take care of your God-realisation.”

After “White Clouds” I watch Guru meditating before the camera in his hotel room. It is on his last Christmas Trip, 2006-2007, the footage taken in Turkey and Bulgaria and Thailand in the early morning hours and in the last year of Guru’s earth-life. He seems remote and tired and only partly in this world. With the understanding of hindsight, it is apparent that Guru is not to be with us for too long.

Despite this pathos and sadness, I always feel drawn to this particular video as though Guru is telling us something, and I like to watch and look through several of these meditations together as though something very important can be found here.

How remarkable is this footage – a spiritual Master of unfathomable height meditating there with us, captured on camera for all time in the still night, waiting patiently at the furthermost limits of our understanding and inviting us further.

I feel he is also saying goodbye, imprinting himself onto our hearts and minds and memories, offering himself to us in a last powerful farewell. There is a privacy here, as though he is meditating upon you, inviting you to meditate with him in person. Just you and Guru looking at each other, the golden strands of hearts and souls embracing in this intense personal encounter. But offering something more, too, which I have yet to really understand.