Morality is a sticky subject

That Time I Had a Fight With a Tibetan Monk

Buddhist teaching comes in all forms

Frank T Bird
9 min readFeb 10, 2022

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(Wikicommons)

Ed returned to his teacher and confessed everything in a ceremony that Buddhists call Sojong.

Before I left Nepal, he told me Buddhists don’t believe in absolute morality.

He likened the human situation to a hand that has mistakenly conceptualised independence from the rest of the body — working autonomously for its own needs, stealing nutrients and vital fluids for itself to the detriment of the ecosystem.

Kathmandu, Nepal, New Years Eve 2008

Ed, or ‘Tenzin’ as he was known, had become a monk at nineteen.

After growing up as a surfer in California, he accompanied his mother on a trip to Nepal at sixteen. While there, to his mother’s surprise, he asked the Abbott of a large monastery if he could become ordained.

The Abbott told him to come back in three years.

And he did.

Quite a few Western people end up ordaining as monks in the Tibetan tradition. But Ed was the real deal.

He could speak Nepali and Tibetan better than any local — and it was the locals who told me that.

Ed also demonstrated that clairvoyance is a genuine thing. He displayed it openly with me, constantly referring to my thoughts as if I were saying them aloud.

This one, crazy New Year, Ed and I were standing on the roof of a building. We had a device that was a spotlight and a megaphone in one, and we were shining it into the faces of innocent passers-by, saying things like,

‘Halt, Hands up’

To someone meandering peacefully through the pitch-black Kathmandu streets, it would have been a shock.

Ed told me he had never been to a casino. Since he was ordained at the age of nineteen, he never got the chance — so, that was the plan for the evening.

View from my room in Kathmandu (Image: Frank T Bird)

After a day of monk activities, he came for his regular visit to the Buddhist centre that I was staying at.

We began at my friend Steve’s place, where we ate two pieces of toast spread with potent cannabis butter.

Despite Steve’s insistence that we only ate one each, we double dosed. Then, after drinking and talking crap for a bit, Ed took off his monk robes and put on a shirt, jeans, sneakers and a baseball cap.

It felt like we were in some movie called ‘Undercover Monk’.

We went to a casino called ‘The Yak and Yeti’.

The glimmering lights and madness felt like an Indian version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Just as we were entering, the weed butter started to take hold.

At the Yak and Yeti, everything was free.

The alcohol was free. The cigarettes were free. The food was free. The only thing that wasn’t free was gambling. The place was filled with rich Brahmins who sneaked over the border to gamble since it was illegal in India.

We played a little blackjack and got bored, so we ended up sitting at a bar eating biriyani, smoking cigarettes and downing beer continuously.

Before we left, we bought several ‘gold’ Red Bull cans, which we drank in the taxi. Ed wanted to eat, so we went to a dingy Tibetan restaurant behind a filthy curtain and ordered Mapo Tofu and Manchurian.

An enormous vat of golden liquid sat bubbling on the counter.

There were many pickled creatures in the liquid — scorpions, spiders, snakes, and frogs.

We asked the owner what it was, and she said something in Tibetan. Ed said it was snake wine, but apparently, it was magical. Without hesitation, we ordered two shots of the liquid. It tasted like thrush.

Kathmandu was in the middle of a power strike between the workers and the Maoist government, and there were electricity cuts for sixteen hours each day, including nighttime. So, armed with a tiny torch, we wandered through the darkness of the back streets.

Everything was pitch black except for thousands of glowing eyes belonging to the massive dog population.

We walked in between them all, careful not to trigger a single bark. One bark could result in the entire dog population of the valley barking continuously for several hours. You shouldn’t go to Kathmandu if you don’t like dogs. There are more dogs there than people.

Luminous mandalas, patterns, algebraic equations, and often highly lucid hallucinations came out of the darkness. We were tripping hard on strong Nepali hash, red bull, alcohol and snake wine.

Some of my dog friends waiting for me. L to R — Big Fella, Frank, Momo, Blackie (Photo: Frank T Bird)

Once back at the centre, we put on a Nic Cage film called ‘Bringing Out the Dead’ , and we drank whisky by candlelight.

‘Have you ever been in a fight?’ Ed asked.

I told him that growing up in the North of England, I had been in my fair share of physical conflicts but had never felt an urge to hurt people but rather subdue them.

‘Dude’, he continued, ‘I was a ballet dancer in California through my teen years’

We laughed as I pictured him in a tutu.

‘I’ve never been in a fight’, he said. ‘Let’s fight.’

At first, I thought he was joking.

I can’t fight you. You’re’ a Monk. First of all, I don’t want to hurt you, but I also don’t want to go to hell for beating up a monk.’

Ed launched himself up and nearly fell off the balcony. He stripped off his clothes until he was naked. Then, he put up his fists in a Kung Fu style that he had seen on TV.

‘I wouldn’t be so confident about beating me up’ he said. ‘I have iron fists’.

‘Besides, I want to know what it’s like. Come on, Dude..please.’

‘I’ll fight you,’ I said, ‘but I’m not fighting you naked’.

‘Come on, Mate’, he grinned. ‘I’ll get some vegetable oil from downstairs’.

I downed the rest of my whiskey, stood up and stripped off my clothes.

OK,’ I said, ‘but, no vegetable oil.’

I presented my best Bruce Lee pose and checked myself out in the glass door

Despite my pubic hair having outgrown my penis in length, I looked fit and ripped from lots of Tibetan Yoga, prostrations and the constant diarrhea one becomes accustomed to in Kathmandu.

I knew I could take the monk despite him having over four inches in height on me. I had the benefit of experience. And I knew that he would come at me hard since we had the Red Bull and the snake wine running through our veins.

We circled each other in the dimly lit meditation hall.

The candles lit up the golden Buddha at one end. It was as close to a real-life Mortal Kombat scenario as I have ever been.

Ed did a few token limbering up movements and then swung round to face me.

‘Ding, ding’, he said, referencing the end of Rocky III, which we had watched a few days earlier — possibly a cause for the unfolding of this event.

For at least a minute, we danced around each other, none wanting to hit the other. Then, like a deer seeing headlights at the last minute, I saw his fist coming out of the darkness in slow motion. I spontaneously threw up a forearm and felt his fist crash hard into my elbow. He yelled out such an incredible scream that I felt instant guilt, regret and concern for his wellbeing.

The problem was that the snake wine had given my arms the power to operate independently, and I both saw and felt my arm flying in from the right toward his face. My fist hit him flat in the chin with a crack, and he fell back onto the ground. I stood with my hands on my head.

‘You alright, Mate?’ I had barely gotten the word Mate out when the crazy monk came at me with all of his might.

He tackled me around the middle, and we both fell uncontrollably across the room, crashing into the wooden table, which contained about seventy objects, including many glass bottles.

Game on

Some good news! (Image: Frank T Bird)

Kathmandu, Nepal, New Years Day 2008

I felt like Celine Dion was yodling through a megaphone in my head, and I just lay there, limp, like a fucking dead squirrel in the winter.

Hangovers are accompanied by guilt as one gets older. A wannabe doctor told me that guilt is linked to the liver which is why you feel guilty, often for no reason, when you are hungover. I want to say that guilt is objectless in 63% of the situations. If there is a significant amount of alcohol involved, there is an excellent chance that guilt is well justified in the other 37% of cases.

This was one of those times.

I woke up to the usual pungent curry smell and the blaring of Hindi radio from the street below.

I finally made it to my feet and opened the door to the meditation hall from my bedroom.

At one end, the Buddha was still sitting peacefully on his lotus but the entire floor was covered in broken glass, alcohol bottles, broken tables and chairs — paintings were hanging off the walls, and there was a hole in one particular wall.

All of the windows were wide open, and in one corner of the room was a Buddhist Monk lying on the floor, naked and covered in blood. His lip was swollen to twice its normal size, and his face was covered in red marks and young bruises.

As I stood there trying to comprehend what I was looking at, the key turned in the front door, and my heart dropped out of my arsehole.

View from Asura Cave, Pharping, Nepal 2008 (Image: Frank T Bird)

The door swung open, and in came the head monk and several guests ready for the 7 am Hatha Yoga session.

I looked at him. He looked at me. Then he looked around.

He looked back at me with wide eyes — then I looked at the bleeding monk. Then he looked at the bleeding monk.

I would have been shocked if my brain wasn’t numb. Perhaps I experienced enlightenment at that moment, but I was still too drunk to know.

The head monk looked at me again. Then he just burst out laughing. He laughed harder than I have ever seen anyone laugh. He ushered the disappointed guests back out of the front door.

The bleeding monk looked up at me –

‘Dude,’ he said in an American surfer accent. He stood up and made his way to the sink.

Sticking his head under a tap, he French kissed the faucet, sucking the water out of the tap like some deranged child suckling its mother’s cold, steely breast. I stared at his beautiful, naked, holy form and wondered if I would ever be as enlightened as him.

‘Happy New Year,’ I said, grinning for a moment and then reeling in pain.

He turned around and flashed a big grin back at me.

‘So, breakfast?’ he said.

After twelve years as a Tibetan Monk, Ed moved back to California, where he is studying theatre.

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Frank T Bird

What am I supposed to tell you what I've done n that? What's the point? We'll all be dead soon, you badger fanciers. franktbird.substack.com