Switzerland 1931
Denmark & Sweden 1932
Germany 1934
Istanbul 1935
Berlin 1936
Norway 1940
Berlin 1943
The Flight - Oslo
Sweden 1944
End of War

India 1953
Nepal 1954
Kathmandu, Swayanbhunath
and becoming a monk
Kali Gankaki 1950
Sugata accomapnied Sherchan
to take photograhs of the
Devil Dances up in Tukuche
2001 Bodhgaya, Sarnath, and Goa
Sugata at 90
in Tatopani and returning to
Tukuche and Chhairo

Sugata's homeland

2005 Sugata's footsteps
1940 Norway


Norway 2001-2  
  He is a few minutes late in meeting me at Ustaoset station. For a while I stand on the deserted station platform in the light rain of a June evening in Norway and contemplate how much space and feeling of human emptiness there is in this land. Nobody comes or goes. Then the Subaru ('They have engines that go on forever, you know') turns up, braking hurriedly just before reaching the tracks, and I see a stooping man of indeterminate age but definitely old come over with a surprisingly jaunty walk, face crinkled with smiles because he knows he is late - and lateness is really my prerogative.  
Sweden 1960
The evangalist

'In Nepal I was just running, running. It was all new; there was so much to do, so much to see. I was hungry and curious. Just like you are now....... It was not until I returned to the West and started giving lectures that I really began to live the Buddhist life. Yes, you could say that was the first time of growth.

Yes, I was like a missionary. It takes time to understand these things. I was as bad as the Christians, because I wanted to change people and I thought my message was important.

But, through the lectures I learnt much. Like a stone in a river, you slowly get smooth.

Altogether, I gave 1,700 public lectures. Somehow Lama Govinda must have heard about my growing reputation, because he wrote to me saying that what I was doing was good, that it was genuine work. This letter meant much to me.'

Geilo 1965

'I came back Norway to be amongst the people I have suffered together with. Yes, Norway, really, became my fatherland in free choice.

'I brought the land in 1967, but did not begin building until 1972. By the time I was 63, I had my first house. Yes for the first time in my life, I was settled and felt secure.

'But he could not afford to live in it! The first Easter rent was like a mouse-piss in the sea,' (a Norwegian expression, he explains: 'Deter som et muspiss i hadet), 'but I had to do it. When the people to rent came and I gave them the key then I wept - it felt like a prostitution.'


Rose Painting

' "Why are you going deep into society again?" Shivapuri Baba asked me when I last saw him in 1961 and told him I was giving lectures about Buddhism.

And he was right. It was unpleasant for me to be amongst people, people who came up to me with all their blah blah - their problems and opinions. With rose painting, I was able to move to the outskirts of society again. I need have nothing to do with the customer but could work on my own. It was a way of being anonymous and earn money at the same time.'




'I had isolated myself with rose painting and Katharina had, in a way, isolated me more. It was Kasha who woke me up. I met her in America in 1997 and in November she came here and spent three winter months with me. She had never seen snow before, never seen frozen lakes, never skied. But the weather was cold for a girl brought up in California. From my bedroom I could see her light her candle at four in the morning and begin to meditate. Oh! she went through candles! She hated the television, and when I came up to her hut to watch the weather forecast at 7 each evening, she would leave, returning only when it was turned off. She was so pure. She really was like a saint. Later we travelled together in Almora, northern India, together with her friend Bernard, and then just the two of us in Nepal. Before she left me to go back to America, she told me to go to Bodhgaya, and that, as you know, is how I met you.'


The 1,000 meter high garden

'Today I play at being God!'
Sugata announces the next afternoon.
'It is time for some to die and some to live. Who will it be?!' he says, looking mischievously into his plastic cartons of semi-decomposed food and worm infested compost.Plunging his hands into the matter, he turns over a mass of wriggling, fat worms.
' 'The more there are, the more they do it.....They are most mad on old coffee! Yes, half will go into my outside compost bin and after making compost for me this summer, these worms will die in the cold winter for the bin is closed and they cannot burrow down'.

The purpose of all this effort is to make soil for his remarkable garden. 'Nobody believed that something could grow here so far north and 1,000 meters high,' Sugata says with a sincere look of 'I've shown them!' His 'garden' is composed of a raised, metre high block of earth that he has ingeniously fed electric current through to warm the soil in the early spring. On top he has placed slats of glass that automatically open and close, their movement governed by the sun, which heats oil inside the tubes expanding them to open the glass slats. Into this garden is fed the compost, and into this compost are sown the seeds of the salad we are happily eating each summer evening: radish, parsley, chives and lettuce. Around it are young nettles, which we pick for a soup that evening.




He lives, after all, on the edge of the Hardangervidda, Europe's largest uninhabited plateau. We are at 1,000 meters above sea level, Sugata informs me, the height of the highest English mountain he has heard, and around us the mountains are still patch-worked with snow, their smoothed peaks reflected peacefully in the lake. I understand immediately that Hardangervidda to one side, a massive lake to another, and our dirt-track leading to nowhere, magnificently and effectively separates us from 'civilisation', inviting no visitors because it leads, ultimately, to a dead end.

Sugata is the only one who actually lives in his hut. In the dark winter days and long nights, people say they are glad to see a lone light from his hut shining out to the other side of the lake. We appear to have this side of the mountain to ourselves. This isolation is complete and it suits Sugata perfectly. His one horror, greater than all others, I soon realise, is surprise visitors. No one comes, no one goes, the only sound is bird song or water lapping on the lake shore, the only movement the silent growth of silver birch leaves on these long, light spring days.

Looking up out of the window of my hut, I stretch my eye to the magnificent snow-patched Hallingskarvet - the smoothed-topped table mountain that looks like a huge, petrified wave suspended as it breaks at its crest. In the still mornings it is reflected mirror-like on a serene Usta lake. Sometimes in the distance I hear, echoing across the water, the sound of a train, and looking across to the other side, I can make out the red carriages of the Oslo to Bergen express train, moving like a caterpillar across the skirt of Hallingskarvet mountain as it falls to the lake. Ah yes, civilisation somewhere out there, but far enough away from Sugata. He can see it, he can go to it, but it leaves him alone.


I first came here last year when we established our 'conworking' as Sugata called it. Then Sugata complained, as we transcribed the chapter on Switzerland for the first time: 'If everything is lovely, there will be no tension between us!'

Ah, those innocent days! That first June we sped through it, Sugata translating from his German version of his life story, dictionaries open, rituals established.

('We are working on the Flight', I write at the time. 'The story is strong. We are across the border into Sweden. I feel as if I am ski-ing with Sugata/Karl. And then comes the Laplander, blown in from the snowstorm, jettisoned onto the table, feet catapulting into the air: "Have you seen my reindeer?", asks the Lapp. We are both curled up with laughter and can do nothing for whole minutes.')


A phone call interrupts our work. It is Amita's Austrian secretary, Johan. He says she is not well, that she is in a nursing home and will probably not come out. 'He asked me when I was coming', finished Sugata.

'She loved me. That I know. And I - I had dreams of other things at the time. In the end it all came round. In Asia, while I was running around taking photographs, Amita remained in one place. With great difficulty, depending for a living solely on voluntary gifts, she lived in Stockholm. She gave lectures in schools, colleges. She really grew with Buddhism. She was living the life of a Buddhist nun in a hermitage.By her manner of living, many in Sweden came to Buddhism. Yes some were old and unhappy women… but then, as Kanwal Krishna used to say, only unhappy people come to religious societies, because if they are happy they go to the bushes! …but not all, no not all, and for twenty years I have read and heard about her and know that Buddhism in Sweden would be years poorer if it were not for her.

Amita in death

Travels with Sugata 2001

'Yes, fifteen years ago came I to one such community of German Swiss people. They had found a deserted village in the Italian Alps. In this relatively unpopular and undeveloped valley these searchers could afford to buy some land. They were Buddhists and they wanted to live in a community, not segregated like monks and nuns, but with their families. Yes, there were many children when I went there. It is in a place called Bordo, in Northern Italy.' 'What has happened to it since?' I asked. 'I do not know. I should be interested to find out...' 'Then let's go.' ..

Jörg gives Sugata a treatment in Shi'at'su. He touches Sugata's ancient body as if it were the precious skin of a butterfly.


During one of our first dinners one of the young Germans casually asked Sugata:
'Where are you from?'
I waited with interest for the reply. There was a noticeable hesitation before he said:
'Originally I am from Germany, but now I live in Norway.'My whole life has been a flight from this Hitler.'
'You had a bad experience in Germany?'
'Yes, and I will never go back there', he said with determination. They did not press further. My first thought then was how must it be for this generation, who must bear the burden of another time, tarred with a broad nationalist brush and must live anticipating this prejudice: they are German. In the presence of these young Germans, I found the word 'Hitler' terribly emotive. For Sugata, however, it was easy. He had fought against what is now almost without debate considered an epitome of evil. He was proven right in the end. He could be proud of his stance.

Like Sugata, the law in Germany has softened. In May 2002, the German law repealed all harsh sentences made in absentia against homosexual men as well as a range of other verdicts for desertations cowardice or unathorised absence from military duty. Amongst Sugata's papers I find a worn newspaper cutting. It is a brutal image of a dead deserter: his neck swollen between the rope that hung him and his tightly buttoned army tunic, his hands are bound accentuating a helplessness and one eye is frozen fixed as if still, over all these years, looking out at us. Why has he carried his image through these years? A reminder of his own potential fate? A spur to his anger?

But it was also Sugata's admission of being German that struck me. Only three years ago in Bodhgaya, I had asked him his nationality (after he had asked mine!). Then he had said, 'Scandinavian'. 'Yes, you are right', Sugata explained. 'Only now am I saying German. Now I am old, can I do it. Before that I pretended I came from a certain part of Switzerland. But now I am old, I am like de Gaulle and I feel free to what I want - yes I feel free!'



There is nothing better in winter, Sugata tells me, than to be inside this warm wooden cabin, with the wind howling outside and the snow piling up against the doors and windows, and to be snug inside with a wonderful feeling of warmth and security.'Yes, sometimes it is like that for days on end', he says.

'I am thinking these days of nirvana. Yes I am very involved in this idea of nirvana. I like the story that you must cross the stream, and to cross you must use your ego as your boat, but when you get to the other side, you have no more need for the boat or the ego. Before you came I was preparing for nirvana. The dissolving of everything. The giving up like and dislike. Acceptance without attachment. Yes, four years ago I was preparing for nirvana. I was thinking then of how fine it would be in November when it is snowing outside, and there is no border between sky and the land, all the windows open and I lie on my bed looking out to the mingled whiteness... And then you came along and with this book have woken me up, and I am taking life again. You, and our work on this book. What to do!'




Part1 in PicturesIndia 1953Nepal 1954 | Kali Gandaki 1960 | Sugata at 90 | Sugata in India 2001 | Norway 1940-2001

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