Bob Smith was born in
By the time Bob Smith got his BA in English from Wayne State in “Detroit, then went to the Writer's Workshop in Ames, Iowa, he'd been involved in the Civil Rights movement, and his appetite to experience a more - if we can dissolve the patina on the word-'holistic' way of life, had been whetted by the best literature of that complaint. ‘The
So he set off to Europe, just about a half-step ahead of droves of other young Americans also jumping the reeling if not sinking ship of the, perhaps, fatally flawed American Dream. After an unexceptional year on the continent breathing in its world weariness, weight of history, and rich cultural claustrophobia he, skeptical idealism in tow, hied himself to the Promise Land, After a couple year on kibbutzim in the Galilee and the Negev, he ended up squatting on the then—undeveloped beach of Eilat, on the southern reach of Israel. The local gendarmes, in their wisdom, burnt out the 'beatnikim', and, on a trumped up charge, threw him in jail briefly and beat him up. When he got out, he still had some sore love for the land (he had seriously considered permanently settling at the
At this time he came into the possession of a slim, dog-cared paperback called The Way of the Compassionate Buddha. His ordeal with the Israeli police and the desertion of his Danish girlfriend at the same time no doubt made him a more sensitive reader, but it also struck a deep chord of destiny. In the Buddha's Teaching was the most trenchant explanation of the essential problem of the human condition, as well as a way to solve it, that he'd ever encountered. No overnight convert, he still had some thinking and experiencing to do, but the seed had been sown in him.
The Path is not a straight one. At that point he felt his progress was obstructed by too much unfinished business to remain a monk. (By that time he had taken his higher ordination and was Ñánasuci Bhikkhu.) So he trekked back to
He returned to the
A year in a Guatemala village, where he could live a simple life, think, and write, shook him out of his stateside blues (almost shook him out of more than that in the earthquake of February, 1976), and he was soon winging back to Asia.
In Thailand he took the robe again and was ordained Bodhesako Sámanera, A line from Edward Albee's The Zoo Story explained it all, he explained: 'Sometimes you rave to go a long way out of your way to come back a short way.'
Bob once said to me he felt he was 'always moving toward
From Thailand Bob returned to
What I've tried to do in this pastiche of letters (written by Bob to myself or his father) is no more than to suggest a man and his search for meaning; what he may have found, or ghosts of what may be found. In no way does it purport to be a biography—or autobiography—in any other sense.
I've centered the narrative of the letters in
Bob was always up for a new mental challenge. Despite his deeming it necessary for himself to be cut off from much of the technological trivia that imprisons most people in the modern world, he kept as keen and curious an eye on science and technology as literature and philosophy, and politics, for that matter, although he considered that a minor vice. But the journalist, even war-correspondent, still perked a little in his blood, as a few of his lengthyletters describing
When I think back to Bob on the road in the 60's, with Walden and Civil Disobedience in his rucksack, tinkling in my ear is a song he loved then: Bob Dylan's
'Though you might hear laughin', spinnin',
Swingin' madly 'cross the sun,
It's not aimed at anyone,
It's just escapin' on the run,
And but for the sky there are no fences farin‘.
And if you hear vague traces
Of skippin' heels of rhyme,
To your tambourine of time,
I wou1dn't pay it any mind,
It's just a shadow that you’re
Seein' that he's chasin'.'
A couple other quotes flicker through my head that the man said in a manner that made me suspect he'd realize them in his bones.
'The ability to give up what one would keep: that is freedom.’
'We don’t so much solve our problems as get over them.'
So... to the story then... as Bob sometimes ended his letters: 'To begin at the beginning, as the White Knight instructed
In this case, it's more like the middle.