My memories of Asokananda, a teacher, a friend
The premature death of Asoka has forced me to being reminiscent, to consider again for finding a new form to evoke, to represent, first of all inside myself, but consequently, I hope, for other people, an objective remembrance about the figure of Asokananda. Regarding to this subject, I have to specify that it wasn’t for me possible at soon, my mind was full of confused imagines and reminiscences. My discovery of an international leader of Thai-massage and a friend, the long years of regular meetings with him, the many courses as assistant beside him and finally the epilogue of this all: my experience in New Zealand as vice-manager of the massage school in Rotorua.
His loss has left me, like the most people who have met him, astonished and speechless; I couldn’t find or assemble, immediately the right thoughts and words to expressing a synthetic and exhaustive imagine of what he represented for me.
The people who were close to him have described thus: “more than our teacher, more than our friend…”. Undoubtedly Buddhism was the essence of his life. There was an amalgamation of two elements in his personality, whose the first one was of an essence substantiated by sidereal and extrasamsāric consciousness, or śūnyatā, the Buddhist noetical emptiness. The second aspect was the metta, the Buddhist compassion, which he always dwelled on, in other words, the affable part of him and of what he liked to define his activity: the Thai-massage.
The first occasion I met
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard about him or about his curriculum of Thai-massage teacher, indeed some years before, I went to Thailand in order to studying Thai-massage by the Buntautuk Hospital of Chiang Mai, like many other foreigners and tourists on the search of discovering the Thai-massage’s secrets, that had begun to spread all around the world quite in these years.
remember that I’d seen some newspaper’s article about him within
the center in
After having practiced some years
Thai-massage by myself I received the invitation to cooperate for organizing
This experience was for me, although it wasn’t the first time that I did a massage course, extremely interesting and stimulating but quite shocking at the same time. Since the first moment Asoka seemed me be a totally different kind of teacher in comparison of these I used meet before, the most part of them were quite arrogant just because having practiced some years of massage after a brief holyday in Japan or in other eastern countries, so were imposing you any kind of macrobiotic diet or else. He was really a remarkable man. His method of teaching was instead very free, simple and spontaneous. First of all he was a sort of teacher who didn’t impose you any kind of penitent and mortifying restrictions, neither dietetic nor fideistic, by entering in his school. By evoking in my mind his smiling and small glasses-bearing figure, I remember his fashion, his style of wearing dresses that was very original: he wore always in a pure counterfeit silk Thai shirt, false Benetton pants, probably bought up in the night bazaars of Chiang Mai, plastic beach slippers at the feet even in winter, all of which he changed once any couple of days.
His intriguing and antinomist style of life, which, for many people he met, created somewhat attrite, was a kind of intentional provocation, of challenge towards the ordinariness.
About himself, once, during a class he explained that he was “a professional tourist, a person who tried to pursue a nomadic style of life”, his purpose was to travel around the world by teaching Thai-massage and -I add- he could really demonstrate to having achieved it. Anyway, by thinking about it a posteriori, I suppose that this attitude was also his personal way to interpreting the Buddhist concept of non-ipseity, anātta and non-attachment, anupādāna, he had learnt by his stay in the Theravada monasteries. I think, he has tried to situate himself in a sort of adamantine condition shaped for avoiding to be touched by the conditionings of the samsāra life, personifying a synthesis between a sort of itinerant Buddhist monk, a master of "Doctrine of Awakening" and a manager, a cool calculating man, able of taking advantage from this globalized international scenery, in which we all are living.
I remember that
Anyway in order to avoid adulations or fetishistic mythicizing about his figure, I want also to add that often there was somewhat of ineffable in his attitudes, which, I don’t know how to designate if not tantric.
His most ingeniousness has been surely to having created a worldwide Thai-massage network, by combining a perfect mix of traditional wisdom and modern technology, permitting to all his associates to gain a virtual benefit too, which is still running now despite his passing away.
As he was using always recite during his morning sermons.
Turning again about this first course,
I remember, he went with
Of course the most difficult part of the lessons was pertaining the early waking up for the chanting and meditation. Not for the meditation in itself but properly for the shock of the lacking sleep. The chanting of the Buddhist profession of faith: Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammā Sambuddhasa and the Dependent Origination: the Paticcasamuppāda, was for me especially charming. I remember that, properly like a genuine mantra should operate; it remained echoing in my mind even for long time after the course.
About yoga I remember that at first I didn’t like it, because in comparison with my previous long years of martial arts and tai chi practice, it seemed me coarse and superficial, nevertheless, especially during the first days it had been so effective that my whole body became painful: the liver, the legs, the back, evidently I was going through a great alchemistic process of physical and spiritual purification, thus I realized that these three elements operated in a very powerful syntropic manner.
Therefore, this class had been for me a sort of refinement on various levels, or rather on the whole five košas, in fact although, as I said, I did already practice Thai style of massage since a couple of years, I realized that, until that moment, my head was still full of rationalist-Aristotelian -as Asoka was using to say- conceptions, loaned prevalently from my previous massage formation.
The entire course was characterized, like in the East it should be on the other hand, from a teaching approach based purely on the practice, without great philosophical speculations or Pindaric flights about vacuous theories.
“The East does not consider the truth as unique and absolute but it contemplates various possibilities. There not exist immutable or absolute concepts. Each situation in the East is fluid and changeable. The Thai masseur, and in general in the East, don’t practice diagnosis or therapy. The western way of thinking is dogmatic, pragmatic and rationalist. In the East all is variable… it depends… (from the Barcesino’s notes)”, explained us, by emphasizing these last words.
Evidently by using it he would refer to the Hindu and Far-Eastern concept of truth and sin, in which, indeed, the actions aren’t distinguished according to its intrinsic value, but according to the opportunity connected with cosmic or spiritual reactions, they don’t distinguish the moral from the immoral, but the advantageous from the injurious.
“It runs like a substitute and unconventional way on a road map”, he said, by using his simple words, in the advanced courses, by clearing up about the energy lines.
I remember that at the end of the
course by meeting
If I, today, should find a term, a locution to define the peculiarity of the massage which Asoka has transmitted us, I would be use definitions borrowed from the ethnoliguistic science, therefore, in my opinion, his approach to the massage was a polysynthetic and ergative one, in contrast with the most analytic-inflected and reifying typology of pseudo-eastern origin based only on a logical-discursive methodology, spread here in Europe. By using the term “polysynthetic”, I want suggest an allusion to something of archetypal, like this function of the paleoasiatic languages, in which a single word synthesizes the meaning of a entire normal analytic phrase, so I recognize in the massage that Asoka transmitted us the most pure surviving form of an ancestral paleoasiatic tradition of massage which subtends all the present oriental styles. With the term ergative instead I mean the homorganic connection between masseur and patient.
I would like to add a last short note
about his absorption in the Buddhist religion and about his function of pioneer
in the West for the spreading of Thai-massage. May
be many people are not informed that although
ritorna ai pizzichi…