Laughing Saint :
a unique account of a magical, laughing man
"I decided to join Hank and a few others on a ten-day reconnaissance trip into the Niora Gorge, a primitive valley in the lesser populated region of northern Bengal.
There were six of us who hiked into the valley from a nearby village, where we followed a river up to its source, and then traversed along a ridge at about three-thousand meters of elevation, walking on ancient yak trails, sleeping in bamboo shepherd’s huts amidst gigantic rhododendron forests, and all the while being flabbergasted by the pristine beauty of one of India’s last unlogged and unpeopled valleys.
It was a tremendous Himalayan adventure, not only because of the wilderness experience in the ancient land, but largely due to the presence and character of Hank himself, a big-bearded Canadian madman who, for the last fifteen years had spent six months every winter doing biological and ethnographic research in the mountains of India and Nepal. He had scoured the lands, journeying by foot, skis, bus, jeep, and elephant, to the most remote reaches of this timeless land, and had some fantastic tales to tell. For example: he claimed to have seen the stuffed remains of a small yeti, somewhere in a little mountain village in western Nepal, and then told how the mountain folk of Nepal know of hundreds of other ‘little creatures’- the likes of which we call gnomes and goblins- and were as certain of these beings as they were of the sun.
Though it was not Hank’s stories of other beings which were the most entertaining, but those which he related of himself. Like the time he was asked never to return to a certain Buddhist monastery after he was caught ogling a western woman’s breasts, who was sitting near him during a ‘closed-eye’ meditation, at which point the lama became irate and declared that Hank was a pig from the fourth realm of hell.
Another time Hank spoke of beating up bandits who sought to rob him on one of the mountain routes which lay far into the hinter regions, but who failed because Hank was a towering, unbeatable force of a man.
Hank had hundreds of personal yarns and anecdotes from his journeys throughout the mystic land, but one in particular springs to mind for its color and absurdity. Hank narrated how he and a buddy, who had joined him on an expedition into the rarely traveled areas of Uttar Pradesh, stumbled into a hidden cave where they were suddenly in the presence of a naked holy man who was sitting on the bare ground in the lotus position, with one hand held high in the air, and his penis tied in a knot around his massive beard. Note, I did not say his beard tied around his penis, and neither did Hank. It was a unique sight, to be sure, and one which might have caused anyone else on the planet to either kneel down in veneration to the yogi, or instead to leave quietly, out of respect for this sadhu who had most likely been sitting that way for years. Not Hank though. Oh no, he had seen every sort of mystery and inexplicable event known to mankind during his sojourns in the wondrous land, and so he did what he could not avoid doing- which is the one thing that, if ever he were to be called a saint, it would be for this- he burst out laughing. But it wasn’t just a quick giggle at the absurd sight, and then on to more proper behavior. No way. Hank is as unbridled, unquenchable, and unabashed as they come. He was soon into uncontrollable howls, eventually falling to the ground in tears and laughter, and having to roll out of the cave and crawl out of the valley on all fours, as the hilarity possessed and weakened him like a child bursting with painful delight. Apparently his mirth was so contagious that his buddy was also on all fours with him, and unable to halt the stream of tears and hoots of unstoppable glee bursting through him. In fact, the two of them laughed for no less than two hours, at which point they were far away from the cave, where they slowly collected themselves.
Knowing Hank as I know him, and having been shown by him a great number of times that one of the essential ways of making it through the peril, stupidity, and pain of life, is to walk always with a light heart, I can bear witness in absentia to this happening, for Hank is the laughing saint who heals the world of its insanity and troubles with his lunacy and comic way. And though he is a very serious and caring man at times, he has trod upon this anguishing earth for so long, and seen such wonder and horror, that it seems somewhere along the way he walked out of the fires laughing, with sparks dancing in his eyes, and merriment cascading from his jowls, and for that I applaud and cherish him."