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Memmoir 3

When 1 was a little kid in China and a quarrel broke out between two of my
playmates, they would bring the problem to me for settlement. They all knew that I
would be fair. It was taken for granted.
When I was about three years old, in Boston, some big kid got me down and
rubbed mud into my eyes till it was behind the eyeballs and the doctors thought that I
would be blind. Mom said it took a whole week for the mud to ooze out from behind my
eyeballs. And, although I have no recollection of that event, I used to dream that I'm
blind, and I know exactly how to do it. And, because of that event, all through my youth I
was psychotically afraid of bullies. And, needless to say, my eyes were not among the
But when I was a kid in China I played with my older brother's friends and I had
to keep up, so my legs were among the best.
Now when I was in grade school, in San Francisco, there were three bullies in
the school who terrorized the kids except Pat Klung. They treated him with the most
enormous respect because he was the fastest runner in the school.
Well, one day the principal called for foot races in the yard and I was in the same
group as Pat Kiung and I tied him in that race. And for the rest of my grade school
career those three bullies took the dust of my feet. It was hilarious because I was
probably the shyest thing in the school because of what happened when I was three.
Later, when I was in the Boy Scouts, we had a track meet in Kezar Stadium and
they asked me to run the two twenty. But I didn't know how far that was because I
couldn't see the tape at the end of the stadium. So I stayed between the leading runner
and the 'bunch' who were several yards behind. Well when we were about fifty yards
from the tape I saw it, but this other kid was way out in front of me. So I took off after
him, and with all the people in the stands standing on their seats and screaming, I
almost beat him. If the tape had been two feet farther ahead, I'd have won the race to
the great delight of the screamers.
A few years later we had another track meet and I took first place in every event,
high jump, broad jump, shot put, discus, the hundred yard sprint, the two twenty and the
four forty. Then because I wasn't tired enough I ran a half mile.
Several years later my foot was hurt and I thought I'd never walk or run again. I
spent most of the year on crutches, and my consoling thought was that death would get
me out of that. But I became an expert on crutches and took fifteen mile hikes over
Mount Tamalpais with the rest of them.
What I didn't know was that my foot was out of joint, and after ten months on
crutches, I kicked it back in joint and it got well. But I still keep my crutches, 'just in
In February of 1937 my friend, Lou Harrison, took me to a lecture on a Sunday
morning_ By then I was an atheist, a belligerent atheist, because I could see that these
two notions could not arise together, 'Do unto others as you would that they do unto
you,' and I you're not a good boy, it's into Hell for keeps.' And I , a belligerent atheist,
was going to a Sunday lecture at the Century Club in San Francisco. Well, the lecture
was by Swami Ashokananda, and when he opened his mouth I knew that I had made a
mistake. Either there's something underlying this Universe which I hadn't noticed, or this
man's not here. And I could see that he's here.
That began a total change in my life. And in 1944, after I had gotten out of the
Manhattan Project through a double interview with the FBI, he let me into the
monastery. This was before we dropped the atom bomb, and the second interviewer
asked me if I thought that the best thing I could do for my country at the present time
was to join a monastery. 'Yee I said. And he said, "You might be surprised, but many
people feel like that." Of course I was surprised. How would he know? Probably they all
went through him.
But to go back a bit, in 1940, while I was still on crutches and had determined not
to handle money, I had made an appointment to see Swami next morning. That night
we had a terrible rain storm, and in the middle of the night, looking out the window,
thought, "Come hell or high water, I'm walking across this city on crutches in the
morning to see Swami.' Well, in the morning the rain had cleared, and I walked across
the city on °sticks.' But for the next five years I wasn't wet by rain.
Just at that time something happened that would normally have made me very
angry. But I was very cool headed then and asked myself, if I get angry, would it do
that person any good?" The answer was no_ "Would it do me any good?" No. "Would it
do any one else any good?" No. The conclusion went way inside, and for the next five
years there wasn't any thing that any one could have done to make me angry. That was
the same five years through which I wasn't wet by rain.
In the monastery Swami assigned to two of us, Michael Fell and me, the task of
putting science and Vedanta together. And after nearly three years of discussion and
disagreement I wrote a paper on it which Swami wouldn't read because he said he
didn't have enough scientific background. Well Michael put his paper on the stair post
and Swami apparently read it and thought that I, or both of us, had written it. Because
for the next several months every time he saw me he scolded me for some notion that
had never crossed my mind. They were Michael's notions, but I didn't figure out till
much later what had happened. Swami never knew that I had gotten that job done.
That's very sad. Very sad.
Soon after that I was shifted to the Vedanta Center in Sacramento and, after nine
years, because someone couldn't find me one day on our seven acre plot, I was asked
to leave. That was in 1967 just after Jocelyn Bell had discovered neutron stars, and
astronomy had suddenly become interesting. Before that neutron stars had remained a
theoretical model for which we had no observational evidence. It was only after Jocelyn
Bell's discovery that talk of black holes became popular, and astronomy came out of the
At the Sacramento Center, before planting trees and things, Swami had us test
the soil for drainage. We drilled holes in the soil in quite a number of places, three or
four feet deep, and filled them with water_ Since it took about a week for the water to
drain out, Swami had us rent a concrete mixer to prepare potting soil. Then we dug out
the soil, two to four feet deep over the planting areas, and piled it in hills around the
'back forty' and what I called our 'corporation yard.' Then we imported many tons of
crushed granite sand, many tons of redwood sawdust, and many tons of rice hulls and
laid them out in parallel hills. Then, with the help of the concrete mixer and some of our
own soil, we mixed potting soil and spread it around by the acre.
Needless to say, this took many months, and the little girl next door asked me,
"When ya gonna finish, miwion thirty?"
Since that area near Sacramento is very flat, the only 'hills' for the neighborhood
kids to play on were our long pile of crushed granite sand and our long pile of rice hulls.
They could dive from the sand pile into the rice hulls and disappear feet and all. So it
was a lovely place to hide when they played 'tag.'
One night, when one of the monks was mixing soil, he ran the loader into the soil
pile and a little boy, playing there, barely escaped. Swami stopped all work at night and
ruled the kids off the premises.
Since the work at Sacramento was very heavy, Swami left us one night each
week to rest_ There was no class that night. Well the kids next door knew what night
that was and came with a formal petition, "Can we play tag on the piles?" They got hold
of one of the monks, and he got hold of me, and, lacking the heart to say no, we played
tag in the 'back forty.' We were running and yelling in the moon light and diving in the
rice hulls, and one of the other monks whom we called 'House Mother' came out with a
dim flash light and caught us. We found ourselves in deep trouble, and the other monk
left for Southern California.
I wasn't asked to leave till some time later when one of the brothers couldn't find
me on our seven acre plot and reported me missing when Mrs. Vitt, her two kids and I
were weeding between the sidewalk and the front wall.
In Sacramento we hired earth moving equipment to dig out our original soil,
which was largely 'hard pan,' and pile it in those hills around the 'back forty.' And those
great big Laterneau Westinghouse scrapers couldn't cut through the hard pan. So I
went in front with an English spading fork, and once, when I thrust my foot down, I
missed the spading fork and broke the semi lunar cartilage in my right knee. That put
me again on crutches. But on my crutches I could easily out walk Swami
Shradhananda, and it was very funny.
Now those big scrapers were partly electrical, and if they broke down electrically,
those big bruisers who ran them couldn't fix them_ One of the monks, Shanta Chaitanya,
who was an electrical engineer, had to fix them. And that was also very funny.
There was only a fence between our property at Sacramento and the Arden Hills
Swimming and Tennis Club to the south. That's where some of the famous Olympic
swimmers were trained. One day, when I was working on our south wall, I was looking
down on those swimming pools and I saw two kids swimming back and forth 'butterfly.'
That was Mark Spitz and John Ferris when they were ten years old. l was forty five but I
had never seen anyone swim butterfly. I learned it from them, and before I left
Sacramento I could swim a mile butterfly. By then John Ferris was older and said, "No
one swims a mile butterfly."

When I was in high school in San Francisco there was a group of us, close
friends, who formed a club. There were my older brother and I who were born in China;
there were two Jewish boys, a Japanese boy and his sister, and a Chinese girl. We
were all having dinner in Chinatown when we banded together to form a club. We called
it Beta Pi, for Bridge the Pacific! I've never forgotten. I'm at it still.
I wrote a song back then called Hymn to the Pacific.
Great Ocean ring our songs to them who sing along the sea,
And echo back their songs to us till every T sing 'we:
Roll out thy peace on every strand, and strengthen joy in every land,
And bind us all by thy great hand till every man be free.
We stole the red napkins from the restaurant that night and signed our names all
over them. I apologize now for all of us. That was more than seventy years ago, but I
have never forgotten that night and what we said. 'I hear it still. I always will.' Bridge the