Back to Publicatons    Excerpt  Press Release  Critical Review Reviews

Author Interview



By Timothy Doyle


Imperfect music and literature


Let's talk about your book, why you have written it and what you think it has to offer.

The book starts with my guide, Kali, and I walking to a place called Dolpo and that's it.. We just walk there and there's no explanation of the motivation behind the journey. That a place like Dolpo is there, that any place is there, that's all the motivation one needs to go somewhere. Also, I think the idea of motivation is misleading. As if there is one thing that makes us do something. I think situations like that are rare and that to frame things within such narrow dimensions constitutes telling very selective lies. I like the book how I did it. You only see the trip. I didn't want to make it into something that was dishonest, that was a replication of the travelers before me. I wanted to make an original book and when I first wrote it wasn't. I think some versions were up to 60,000 thousand words and the final was around 30,000. The initial drafts were full of inauthentic material and immature ego-based observations. Ego-based in terms of what I thought I should be writing-that it should be a spiritual book, a book of reverence, and also a book that comments on everything concerned with Nepal-caste, poverty, environment, religion, modernization. There were also parts where I tried to assert the impossible: that I was experienced, an insider. I don't remember the examples, but I had them in the early drafts.


How was the writing process?

It was great. Now that it's over I can say that. Through the process of writing, I grew as a writer, as an interpreter of experience. So many times I tore the book apart and rebuilt it. At one point, a light turned on and I started removing every ungenuine aspect of the text that I could identify and ended up cutting the book in half. Perhaps some of the Buddhism still lacks a genuine quality. Certain aspects of it. Perhaps even the whole basis of going over to Nepal and heading off into the mountains with a Buddhist book was complete cliché. But we start somewhere. It was at least a starting point. But discussions of politics, poverty, obscure religions, or history were irrelevant to the narrative; the facts pertaining to everything, they were also irrelevant. When I began see things in this way I found the book that was there.


So during the process of revision the central task was to root out the inauthentic writing and reduce the text to the true elements of the experience. Ten years later I think I got it. There's no more need to write it. I've given all I could to it, as much as the text would allow, in the sense that I've located the book and brought it into being-I mean this not in terms of publication but in terms of creation.


Ten years is a long time to write such a thin book.

This is what I've been touching on to some degree. One thing I learned is that you have to give to a manuscript, but you also have to take what the manuscript can give, or give what it can take. Something, some kind of inner compass, was directing me to find the core of the manuscript. There was an experience and characters and a setting. Those elements provided the structure of the manuscript and out of that structure came the laws, so to speak, of the manuscript. The legitimacy of the piece and the originality of the writing-whether it would ring authentic or false-depended on an intimate knowledge of the center of the book.


One of the keys to good story telling is how intimately you can relate to the story you are trying to tell. To say it another way, wherever you go are you seeing reflections of your story or of the vision driving your writing, your art? Are you seeing and intuiting on a metaphorical level, on a psychological level, on the level of style? It takes time to get to this point, a long time. At least that was the case for me. I used to wonder if I could tell stories. It's one thing to write about an actual experience, but to generate your own stories, to give them life.... But now there's little doubt. Because after trying and trying, after pushing through the long bleak periods, something clicks. Your sight is changed. And the stories are there. There are actually too many of them. Then the dimensions of the problems of a writer change from one of scarcity, near death, to one of an agonizing multiplicity of choice and you are thinking, I've got to make the right decisions and I've got to get it all done.


Did you tell everything about the trek?

In several areas, I omitted things for the strength and pace of the narrative. This is a book of nonfiction. The journey happened as I told it. But at the same time, this is story telling, not offering up journal entries to the public.


Tell us about Kali Sherpa?

I found him to be intelligent and thoughtful and in touch with his angst. I don't think he was a pretender-pretending to be religious, pretending to be forever happy. I hope that readers will pay attention to his dialogue and the views he expresses about Nepal. If I met him again I would try to mine him for information, for a greater understanding of this part of the world. He was very strong and centered. I feel grateful that I met him. I feel grateful to have had such quality people like him in my life.


Are you a Buddhist?

I've never thought of myself as a Buddhist. I think what we call Buddhism or the entirety of Eastern thought, thought like the Hindu Tantric schools, Mahayana Buddhism, Zen, Taoism, whatever you want to choose, I think that these ideas are working in my life, but a Buddhist, no. One of the unseen pillars of Going to Dolpo, one of the foundations of the book, is the idea that identities are immature and regressive, the very height of unsophistication, lack of subtlety, delusion, ignorance. I'm integrating ideas into my life that bear this label of Buddhism. My world view in many ways would be a Buddhist one, the one stated in the book, to realize myself and reality as movement. But these just strike me as genuine ideas, not Buddhist ideas.


What is it in Buddhism that appeals to you?

As I mentioned, in a fundamental way, its sophistication and its honesty. It has a rational base in terms of its analysis of reality and experience. I also like it that instead of saying, Look to God, Buddhism says, Look at your mind. See what is there. You don't have to be a prisoner of the mind. Understand the mind and free yourself from it. It emphasizes freedom from confusion in this life instead of offering up the view that your salvation depends on how many prayers you say or how any times you've donated to the poor as the basis of a salvation that occurs not now, but after death of all places. You can go into the very intelligent and subtle thought like the writings of Nietzsche and other contemporary theorists and see parallels with Buddhism. A psychologist can sit and have a real discussion with a Buddhist about the mind and behavior. A scientist can engage with Buddhism on scientific terms. We are talking about a body of thought that came about in the 6th BC century that takes a solid place within postmodern theory and ethics. It's because of the rational foundation of Buddhism.


Lots of people wear lenses when they look at Buddhism. Their thoughts are already in hand before the discussion begins. I've had one friend ask me to discuss how Buddhist practice is a denial of free will. But I think what people refer to as free will or the realm of free will is not so clear. This realm of action is hard to place because it's so fluid and free will is hard to place because it presupposes that the agent actually knows what he is doing or wants to do. Free will in some respects is just manipulation of words. My freedom is taken away when I'm locked in jail, killed or utterly dominated by someone else or some force. Otherwise I'm just acting, often stumbling around, groping. The sense of confusion, failure, and impending doom is high. There is also the sense that I'm not what I think I am, because I see my states of mind changing so much, where one minute I'm terrified, completely terrified and then later that fear is nowhere to be found. So you get sick of being in this realm, this realm of options or states, and you exercise your will to shape your life in a certain way, so that you are no longer a mindless bag of reactions and desires.


You try to deal with the energy inside you, relate to it, know it, and in some contexts, direct it. This is what Buddhism is about-relating to life and achieving some level of refinement of perception of reality, of experience. As Chogyam Trungpa has written, Buddhist practice is not something 'heroic.' You are just after a kind of 'basic sanity.' As for free will, it seems to me that when we make a choice, when we exercise our freedom, something of our will is denied. And I wonder who really knows all of the elements of their will? And who knows if they can accurately spot the workings of their free will? Is it the free will that is working or is it energy that comes out undetected, from nowhere, so to speak. Is this free will or could we call it false will? What if the will changes? What then was the substance of the will that fell out of favor and what of the will that is perhaps subject to future change? Or is all of this free will? If so then I would say that it's not very special-unless you are in jail.


It's important to say that Buddhism and the work of artists means different things for different people. I don't mean this in the sense that you can do what you want with other artistic or philosophic entities, because there is something there that needs to be recognized, but in the sense that you have to engage with the body of creation, you have to get your hands all over it. When you read Chogyam Trungpa's writings on Buddhism you have the sense of a man who has his hands on Buddhism--that he's shaping it and using it and when he expresses his ideas they bear the stamp of originality. The sense is that this is a genuine presentation. I think this is the key to achieving something, making something, learning something. No one is the custodian of a certain artist or body of thought. Each generation will come, relate and interpret in their own way and individuals will do this also. Getting your hands on whatever it is that you are doing, engaging with it, having it live inside you-this is the feeling I get when I read the work of Trungpa, Cormac McCarthy, Nietzsche, Kundera, Hemingway in the Sun Also Rises. I sense the qualities of honesty and fearlessness in their work fueled by an intense devotion or relationship to the thing, the force, that drives them, that they have identified and related to. We're not talking about words here, but the currents underneath the words.


What authors do you like?

Many. Whoever can show me the way. I don't have a list any more. The quality I tried to describe above-I look to artists who have that quality and try to emulate them, try to discover the qualities that lead to this intangible sense of originality and drive that manifests in superb vision and narration. The element of vision is critical. If they have technique that is impressive and workable then I can try to emulate that, learn the technique, the craft. But drive, vision, this is key. I just read Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee. Right now I think it's the best book I've ever read. I read works of this quality and fear that maybe I shouldn't be trying to publish my own writing.




  Buy Going to Dolpo at

Back to Publicatons     

Excerpt Press Release Critical Review Reviews


© 2002-2006 Timothy Doyle
Please note all contents of this site are copyrighted. For permission to use any contents, please contact [email protected]