The first thing to know about me is that I was born in the wrong place. I should have been born somewhere where people are free and full of love. Instead I was born in a world where people play power games and fight for scraps. That word "scraps" explains the problem, I think. Instead of sharing a mountain and enjoying the whole terrain, each person wants a piece. One person sees he can make a nice little business selling soft drinks to hikers, and another doesn't like that, because it spoils the view from his veranda. So the power games begin. The once calm and happy mountain is divided into warring territories. In the world into which I was born, this pattern repeats itself at every level, from children competing to be their mothers' favorite, through the power games of generals who kill millions to win an extra star.
It's been this way, we are told, ever since there were people. Even animals do it, in a war of survival where the predator is the next victim. Even plants do it, with vines strangling a great oak to reach the sun. So it's not people's fault, apparently. The universe is hard-wired that way, it seems. There isn't really a place here for someone like me, who would be happy to live on air, water and sunlight, feet hardly touching the ground. Instead, the world being what it is, I've been forced to make compromises, but as I've already said, it's not my fault. In a world like this one, compromises are inescapable. The whole mountain doesn't exist. There are only scraps.
So there I was, at the age of six, digging for rubbish on the hill outside my house. The entire hill was made of rubbish going back centuries, so there was enough for everyone—but the older boys of the district said it was theirs. As I was uncovering a fragment of colored glass—how it sparkled in the sun!—my eyes were blinded by another gleam, the hot flash of a knife. One of the older boys had come to claim his territory and his treasure. I didn't see what happened next, but the knife lay on the ground, the boy had a gash in his throat, and the colored glass was dipped in blood. This baptism in blood was one of my compromises. I wiped the glass on his shirt and slipped it into my pocket. I had my scrap. Soon I left my hometown and had other adventures in this world where I don't belong, where I can't be myself.
By the time I was ten, I'd known many hardships. This isn't a world with spiritual masters—our masters are just as craven as the rest. They have their beards, their robes and their special caps, but they are fighting in this world just like anyone. They want to satisfy their lust for scraps—scraps of dignity and respect. They get angry if you don't respect them or bring them gifts. They set themselves apart with airs of saintliness and secret knowledge, but they cling to their scraps of knowledge as the only thing separating them from the rest. In the end, it's a gig like any other, like selling vegetables or running a bathhouse. So I didn't meet any saints on my travels, and no master took me under his wing.
Instead I ran errands for petty merchants, and scavenged and stole what I could. I slept on the floors of shops, in doorways or under bridges. I grew older and a little bigger, and learned the ways of survival. Every so often I would take out my scrap of colored glass and hold it to the light. It was a thing of beauty, salvaged from the chaos and rubble of this world. It was my sign of compromise, my victory and my defeat. Was it the price I'd paid for freedom? No, that wasn't it. I was born free, just misplaced.
When I was twelve, I came to a city bigger than any I'd ever seen. The shops lined the streets in solid rows. The streets crossed and continued in all directions, past the eye's limit. I'd stumbled into a labyrinth from which there seemed to be no escape. People rushed here and there, each fixed on his goal, carrying shopping bags or briefcases filled with papers. In this place, there seemed to be no rest. Through relentless struggle, they'd constructed a machine of which they were the moving parts. Whatever fields or forests, rivers or grassy hills had been here in the past were now obscured, obliterated. There was nothing but the machine—the streets, the massive buildings, the scurrying people and their hoarded treasure. It was a machine made from scraps, welded together into something glorious and frightening—stairways that went nowhere, domes and metal beams, tunnels and underground chambers, fragmented, superimposed. It was like a million places occupying the same place. In this hallucinated city, I decided to make a new life.