Spalding Gray (1941-2004)
In an interview with His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama in Tricycle’s premier issue, writer and performer Spalding Gray set the tone for issues to come with wit, humor, and what a few chagrined American Buddhists considered irreverence. Gray (and Tricycle) brought on the censure of some, but His Holiness didn’t seem to mind, and neither did we. The following interview excerpt is adapted from the Fall 1991 issue of Tricycle.
While meditating do you ever entertain distractions, invite them into your meditation and let all of these women in bikini bathing suits that you must see out by your hotel pools come into your meditation? As a monk, I have to avoid that experience, even in my dreams, due to daily practice. Sometimes in my dreams there are women. When such dreams happen, immediately I remember, “I am monk.” I should not indulge, even in dreams, in women with a seductive appearance. Immediately I realize I’m a monk.
Do you ever try to make your own dreams or control them? No, that I can’t do. Actually, you see, occasionally I experience an awareness that I am dreaming in the dream itself, like a lucid dream. The possibility of having a clear dream is also related to what you eat. As a Buddhist monk, I usually have no solid meal after lunch, no dinner. So that is also a benefit.
When I passed your room last night, I saw six empty ice-cream sundae dishes outside your door. [Translator, after much laughter:] It was members of the entourage.
I first read about Tibet in John Blofeld’s book, The People Flew. Did you ever see anyone flying in Tibet? No, but one thing surprised even me. One elderly nun who lives now in Dharamsala told me that when she was young, she spent a few months at a mountain place quite near Lhasa. She met there an elderly practitioner, around eighty years old, living in a very isolated area. She discovered he was the teacher for around ten disciples, and two monks among them were flying through the air off one side of the mountain. Now you see, they would fly using this part (holding up the sides of his robe). I was surprised, very surprised (laughter).
I’m sorry that we have to stop now. I appreciate your time, thank you.
Very good questions. I enjoyed your questions. Thank you very much.
On March 7, two months after Gray left home one night and was subsequently reported as missing, his body was discovered in the East River in New York. He was sixty-two, and had been struggling with depression for many years. He is best known for his autobiographical monologues, among them Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box, and It’s a Slippery Slope.
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