It's Friday night, Lizard's Lounge, Prescott, Arizona. The crowd is a loose amalgamation of working-class folks drinking long-necked beers, men wearing baseball caps decorated with farm machinery insignias over their long hair, and college kids of both sexes pierced with rings in places and in numbers that would make your mother frown. I've been ushered here by Matt, a student of Lee Lozowick ("Mr. Lee" to his friends and disciples). He had picked me up at the Phoenix airport for my weekend as Mr. Lee's guest at the Hohm Community ashram. One of the community's bands, a blues combo called Shri, which boasts a lead singer who sounds uncannily like the early Janis Joplin, is making an appearance here tonight. (Mr. Lee's own rock band, Liars, Gods and Beggars, will play the 4-H Club hall later in the weekend.) As I walk through cigarette smoke past the crowded bar and pool tables, I spy Mr. Lee and some of his students sitting at a table in the back during an intermission, taking in the scene. It takes me a moment to acclimatize, but soon I start to see that there's a way to pick out the Hohm Community residents from the other denizens of this drinking establishment. They're the ones with the clear eyes, the gentle unassuming manners, and the bottles of nonalcoholic malt beverage in their hands. Crazy wisdom has its virtues and its parameters here, I think to myself.
Mr. Lee has been teaching for the last twenty-five years, a period in which many other teachers have come and gone. That he and his
community are still going strong is in large part due to his sincerity and dedication to his students. As an exponent of crazy wisdom, not surprisingly, Mr. Lee and his teaching seem to abound with real and apparent contradictions. A former Silva Mind Control teacher who spontaneously awakened and began teaching in New Jersey, he now considers himself a "Western Baul," related to the itinerant tantric Baul musicians from Bengal, India. He is also a devotee of the late South Indian beggar-saint Yogi Ramsuratkumar. His ashram's diet is strictly vegetarian, yet on special occasions, like the All Fools' Celebration this weekend, barbecued meat and other indulgences are available at almost every meal. Generally self-effacing and of a gentle demeanor, Mr. Lee is capable of sudden and outrageous bursts of fiery passion and cutting clarity. This self-described "Divine Fool" discourages his students from smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, and having sex outside of a committed relationship. A fan of controversial teachers like the late Trungpa Rinpoche, his own mores and lifestyle, while more moderate in many respects, are unconventional by any standard and well earn him his crazy-wise mantle.
During the course of my stay at the ashram, many questions about Mr. Lee's teaching and activities arose. By the time I left, many of my questions were still unanswered. In spite of Mr. Lee's and his students' patient responses to my inquiries, I inevitably seemed to come to a place where contradictions were left vague or unresolved, something that seemed to bother neither Mr. Lee nor his students. Yet one thing struck me over and over, seeping into my consciousness and finally deeply entering my heart. There seemed to be an almost total lack of pretense or aggression in the way that people related to each other here. In contrast to the posturings of power, seduction, or pride, found in at least subtle forms even among most spiritually interested people, both Mr. Lee and his students were strikingly gentle, humble, and sincere. In their company, I found myself unwinding and softening. The power of this experience caused me to ask Hohm residents and finally Mr. Lee himself about the sweetness that unmistakably pervades the ashram. Without fail, every one of them told me, "It's the result of years and years of hard work." Whatever Mr. Lee has been doing, it seems to be having a deep effect.
I had come to the Hohm Community ashram in order to interview Mr. Lee for What Is Enlightenment?
and I was treated with tremendous kindness, generosity, and respect by both Mr. Lee and the ashram residents during the weekend I was there. During my visit, he made the unusual suggestion that the interview be conducted at the darshan
, the audience with the guru that is the highlight event at the end of the All Fools' Celebration. Mr. Lee, dressed in Indian garb, appeared relaxed and radiant during the conversation that follows, which occurred before approximately ninety guests and residents of the Hohm Community.