The Longform Guide to Nirvana

Great stories about the quest for enlightenment, not the band. (OK, there’s one about the band.)

Visitors to Glastonbury Tor meditate beside St. Michael’s Tower, a ruined 14th-century church tower, as the sun rises.

Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Every weekend, Longform shares a collection of great stories from its archive with Slate. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s app to read the latest picks, plus features from 70 of the world’s best magazines, including Slate.

The Incredible Buddha Boy
George Saunders • GQ • June 2006
A legend is growing in Nepal, where people say a meditating boy hasn’t eaten or drunk in seven months. He barely moves, just sits under a tree, still as a stone. It’s impossible, some say. Is it a miracle? A hoax? Let’s find out.


You know that feeling at the end of the day, when the anxiety of that-which-I-must-do falls away and, for maybe the first time that day, you see, with some clarity, the people you love and the ways you have, during that day, slightly ignored them, turned away from them to get back to what you were doing, blurted out some mildly hurtful thing, projected, instead of the deep love you really feel, a surge of defensiveness or self-protection or suspicion? That moment when you think, Oh God, what have I done with this day? And what am I doing with my life? And what must I change to avoid catastrophic end-of-life regrets?


I feel like that now: tired of the Me I’ve always been, tired of making the same mistakes, repetitively stumbling after the same small ego strokes, being caught in the same loops of anxiety and defensiveness. At the end of my life, I know I won’t be wishing I’d held more back, been less effusive, more often stood on ceremony, forgiven less, spent more days oblivious to the secret wishes and fears of the people around me. So what is stopping me from stepping outside my habitual crap?


My mind, my limited mind.

The Quiet Hell of Extreme Meditiation
Michael Finkel • Men’s Journal • August 2012

A trip to India for total silence.

It works. My senses, all of them, grow incredibly sharp. When I step on a twig, it sounds like a firecracker. A sneeze is nearly deafening. I sit, during a break, in front of a bush, and I note that every leaf is a slightly different shade of green. I watch a leaf-cutter ant at work, and I move a little closer, and it’s true—I can actually hear it gnawing.

This, however, is also true: Pondering your schnoz is insanely dull. I’m not even sure how I get through it. Minute by minute, one session after another. My back does not get better. I am stuck at waterfall with no sign of impending river. Every time I pass a “Be Happy!” sign, I have to stop myself from ripping it down.


Sex and Death on the Road to Nirvana
Nina Burleigh • Rolling Stone • June 2013

A convert dies in the Arizona desert and the secrets of a controversial guru start spilling out.

As Diamond Mountain’s first decade drew to a close, there was a lot of turmoil in the air for a space supposedly dedicated to inner peace. Roach and McNally had always referred to their students as their “kids,” and now 130 adults were behaving like children caught up in a bad divorce. One student was kicked off the premises for attacking his girlfriend and rupturing her eardrum. Another broke down a door when his girlfriend switched partners. Roach himself ordered one couple to split up because of violence. Police were called to evict people on occasion, most memorably when a Canadian student named Stella strode into the dais where Roach was teaching and flung a glass of wine in his face, shouting, “You’re the greatest diamond salesman in the world.”


Relationships frayed in the isolation and also under the pressure of Roach and McNally’s “spiritual partnership” teachings. Couples who arrived together broke up and connected with different partners. One acolyte hit on single girls, according to a former student. He “preyed on young women. . . . After they have been praying all day imagining themselves as Vajrayogini, they come out wide open, and he goes in for the kill. General assholeness.”


The Magic Jews
Hamilton Morris • Vice • September 2008

Adventures with a group of young Hasidic men looking for God in psychedelic drugs.

At Ridge Street, another Jew, this one in his 30s and named Hershel, consumed a line of 2C-E. Hershel has a light brown beard and a round body. His voice is hypnotically buttery and his general aura is like being wrapped in a warm towel. Hershel was married by force at 18. He has a wife and two kids in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, from whom he escaped in order to explore psychedelics. He has no home and drifts from place to place, praying and eating LSD. He is thought of as the leader of the Magic Jews but is too modest to accept the title. He explained to me, “I have one agenda, and that’s more Hasidim doing psychedelics. I grew up Hasid, but I didn’t know God at all. Then I was an atheist, and then psychedelics came to me and I understood. Psychedelics allowed me to rediscover God. Before LSD, I hated God.”


Amid all the debauchery I wove my way out the door and began walking toward the Manhattan Bridge. It all would have been strange enough if I wasn’t tripping. A few days later I received a call from Aaron, who told me they had all been evicted from Ridge Street and had already moved into a cabin in the Catskills, a place without electricity or running water. He gave me a list of phone numbers and told me to catch a ride up as soon as possible. I met my ride at his home in Brooklyn, where I was greeted with an eye-wateringly large gravity-bong hit that made me more or less comatose for the entire trip into the woods.


My Life With the Thrill-Clit Cult
Nitasha Tiku • Gawker • October 2013

Investigating San Francisco’s OneTaste, which promises personal and professional success through the practice of orgasmic meditation.

About that connection: In the realm of OM, “partner” does not connote a prior relationship. It’s not unusual, at OneTaste events, to get stroked by someone you’ve only just met. Over the course of the conference, nearly every guy who asked me to OM—the collegiate startup cofounder, the burly acupuncturist, the weaselly 20-something from Austin, the dashing cognitive scientist, the white-haired yogi—would suggest it within 60 seconds of our first meeting. A couple of times, the request arrived before they even gave me their names.


In this regard, the Jimi Hendrix reference was only the opening act. Whatever virtuosity Daedone was preparing to demonstrate on stage, the weekend’s main attraction was going to be the regularly scheduled Group OM sessions, with 350 “nests” set up in the Regency’s basement. If she was Hendrix, half the people in the room wanted to be guitarists themselves. The other half of us were there to be guitars.

Kurt Cobain: The Rolling Stone Interview
David Fricke • Rolling Stone • January 1994

A conversation with Cobain a few months after the release of In Utero.

That’s what I’ve been kind of hinting at in this whole interview. That we’re almost exhausted. We’ve gone to the point where things are becoming repetitious. There’s not something you can move up toward, there’s not something you can look forward to.

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