First Love

June 26, 2009

….And when I thought how my dear friend my lover was
    on his way coming,  O then I was happy,
O then each breath tasted sweeter, and all that day my food
    nourish’d me more, and the beautiful day pass’d well,
And the next came with equal joy, and with the
    next at evening came my friend,
And that night while all was still I heard the waters roll
    slowly continually up the shores,
I heard the hissing rustle of the liquid and sands as
    directed to me whispering to congratulate me,
For the one I love most lay sleeping by me under the same
    cover in the cool night,
In the stillness in the autumn moonbeams his face was
    inclined toward me,
And his arm lay lightly around my breast—and that night
    I was happy.
    —Walt Whitman

Excerpt from “When I Heard at the Close of Day” from Leaves of Grass

I met my first lover the day I arrived in New Delhi in 1972. I had just turned nineteen, and I had come to India alone on pilgrimage, having been a student of traditional Hindu Tantra for nearly four years by that time. He was standing in a small group of fellow monks, all of them clad in ochre robes, but he stood out from the others, built solid like a wrestler with a boxer’s flattened nose and fierce gaze. When our eyes met briefly, a spark seemed to jump between us.

He was probably nearly 40, though I never knew for sure, but he could have passed easily for a man in his early 30s. He was a celibate Hindu monk, and I was in training to join the same Order, so the last thing on my mind in that brief exchange of electricity was becoming anyone’s lover ever. It is really only as I look back after all that passed between us that I can trace what we would become to each other to that first, brief, charged glance.

He was the ashram manager, second-in-command to an elderly monk who had spent fifteen years as an assistant minister of the Vedanta Society in Hollywood where I had been studying. I went to India to have more personal access to monks of the Order, to learn what I could of meditation and the traditions of the Order sitting at their feet, and to visit places of pilgrimage I had read about.

If you are thinking that this is just another story of a monk violating his vows with a vulnerable youth, you are wrong. The vow of celibacy that my monk took did not require him to foreswear love, and he demonstrated his love for me tangibly from that first day until the end of his life.

He quizzed me pointedly about my purpose in visiting India at the first opportunity, and as he became convinced of my sincerity, he relaxed and smiled. I didn’t know it then, but he would take charge of all my travel arrangements from that moment on. 
During my ten-week visit he took me to visit the holiest man he knew, a kindly, austere, elderly monk who lived in quiet obscurity in a small ashram in the holy city of Vrindaban, and when my monk couldn’t accompany me personally in my travels around North India, he arranged for another monk to do so.

My feelings for him developed naturally over the next year-and-a-half. At first I simply revered him for his status in the Order and for his superior knowledge of spiritual matters. Later, encouraged by his informality with me, I began thinking of him as my friend. He used to teach me his views on philosophy, and if I disagreed with anything he said, I argued with him, sometimes passionately. One day unexpectedly he asked me if I was gay, and though I feared how he might react, I told him I am, but quickly added that I didn’t consider myself sexual at all since I had decided to become a monk. He told me he was not surprised, that the abbot had told him there were many gay people in Hollywood. I had to smile at that partly because of the stereotype and partly because it was true. It was only during my second visit to India a year later, when I had returned as a student for a full year, that he began urging me to start loving him.

I can’t remember his exact words, just the feeling that he was knocking at the door of my heart, asking me to let him in. I didn’t understand why he was doing that. I thought that becoming a monk meant I never had to love anyone. Being the son of an alcoholic father, I had learned early in life to bury my feelings to survive in an emotionally chaotic household. I took Mr. Spock as my ideal. I would be logical. I had no need for messy emotions. Ask me what I thought, and I could tell you in great detail. Ask me what I felt, and there was only a gray, blank, nothingness. I felt nothing.

But he kept knocking at the door of my heart, and so I visited the old monk in Vrindaban and told him I was growing attached to my monk. He looked serious and said in his low voice, “That’s not good.” Triumphantly, I took this message back to my monk, but he just laughed at me and kept patiently knocking at the door of my heart. I was scared what might happen if I actually opened that door. I refused and resisted a while longer, but finally I made the conscious choice to open my heart to let him in.

I could not have predicted what happened next. A rush of feeling like a mighty wind swept through me, shaking me to my core. When he was near me, I felt intense joy, like I was soaring high in the air. For the first time I thought I understood a little the meaning of ecstatic love I had read about that saints feel in the vision of God. When he had to leave me to do his work, I felt crushed, as if all the air had left my lungs. I would lie gasping on my cot alone in my room, and my heart felt like it was being wrung and twisted painfully like a wet towel. For the first time I felt I understood a little about the pangs of separation saints feel when the vision of God is withdrawn. But then my monk would come to see me again, and I was soaring high again.

It is a wonder that other monks didn’t seem to notice the change that had come over me. I couldn’t imagine that the intense feelings pulsing through me weren’t plainly visible to all. Perhaps the others did notice, but as I later began to understand, they considered a sincere young man fortunate to win the love an older monk. For then he would get the guidance he needed to develop fully as a monk and as a man. Then he would learn what it meant to be loved and to love.

This relationship became my model for the intimacy that is possible between men, a relationship with a spiritual purpose that engaged my intellect, feelings, and only last of all physical expressions of affection. It was no less passionate for being non-sexual. A few years later, when I decided celibate monastic life had fulfilled its purpose for me, I moved to San Francisco looking to find a partner with whom to cultivate such a relationship without the need for celibacy. That was the summer of 1977, the peak of the party in the heaven of hedonism. Although I have experienced different kinds of relationships with different men, I have yet to find a partner as capable of sharing on so many levels as my first love.

Tags: Relationships, Love, Celibacy, Religion, spirituality
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Post written by William Schindler (View Author Profile)
About this author: William Schindler, a.k.a., Brother William, founder and Spiritual Director of Ashram West, obtained a B.A. in Sanskrit from UC Berkeley (1975), where he also studied Hindi and Bengali, and a Master's degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University (1986). He has been studying and practicing traditional Hindu Tantra since 1969...
View all posts by William Schindler


Sometimes I wonder whether it is worth keeping on trying to feel that "great wink of eternity" for a second time...

Thank you for sharing with us such a moving experience, using such beautiful words.

Thanks William - that took my breath away. And Walt Whitman is a hard act to follow!

First Love is nothing less than majestic - I wish it could be bottled.

Thank you for sharing your Story with me William :) Deeply touched. The ultimate question.... will you ever experience what you experienced in your first love? What if there isnt a person like that whom crosses your path ever again? - Could you make exceptions and fall in love with someone who may not fulfil the 'criteria' but in other ways supersedes this 'criteria'? - I say this because I feel that sometimes I try and compare people to 'past experiences' and this causes me to only be disappointed because the latter wasn't as good as the previous. However this can be extended out to to other aspects of life also i.e. The older you get the more bored you may get of a theme park or some people say their first 'hit' on a drug isn't the same as the following.....

I just wanted to say this was a very sweet story, William. As someone who hasn't yet -- I'm 23 -- had an experience like that, it was a thrill putting myself in your shoes. Thank you.

Wow. Thanks for writing this piece, William.

It underscores for me a particular understanding of love between men, one for which the label "sexual orientation" is entirely inadequate. We aren't homosexuals because we are men who have sex with men; we are homosexuals because we love men. Even gay guys seem to forget that. It ain't just wanting to suck cock that makes you gay; it's that drive to be intimate, to be vulnerable, on various levels, with a man.


You truly got the point I was trying to make, Deke.

Let's hear it for good ole fashioned homos - this gay thing is just not working out, on SO many levels.

We get "desire" rammed down our throats like it's the be-all and end-all, but too men gay men are just like fucked-up women who simply don't LIKE men at all. Liking can bring on loving, but you're a damned fool if you think desire and loving are one and the same thing.

The first love is the most amazing feeling.... something that lasts forever in your heart no matter how many more come to your life.....
i think your first love... the day you met, is one of the top 5 moments that come to your mind on your last breath...

Thank you. I met the first man I ever loved at 33 - late by your standards but it was as magical as yours. As most first loves, it wasn't the love that was meant to be at my side. And now I feel lost. I'm functioning but somehow my belief in magic was lost.

Thank you for sharing your story with me and the other members here. What a lovely memory to have - how lucky you have been. I am in my late 50's and though I knew I was gay at 12, its only this year that I have decided to live my life as it was meant to be. I hid the fact that I was gay from everybody and as I did not want to deceive any girl - kept myself from being intimate with the opposite sex also. Reading the above, shows me what I could have missed in life - hopefully its not too late yet.

Another Thank you for a beautifully written piece. It made me start to wonder, when was my first love? Like the last fellow I knew I was gay at a very young age. So, was it the boy who worked at Bonanza, on whom I had this powerful crush when I was in 8th grade? I "loved"him so. I'd hold my pillow at night pretending it was him. Or was it David? With whom at 23 in college, I finally crossed that magical line? Or was it ten years after that when I heard for the first time a man say I love you""? So I wonder and wander.

Having lived here in Japan for ten years, I'd say the best way is to find a job and move here.
Teaching English is the easiest way to keep a roof over your head and it's not always the most glamorous. But is does the trick.

Good luck.

If youre feeling insignificant and unaccomplished, head over to the Metropolitan Museum and look at a painting on temporary display. It is a very complex oil painting with a lot of color and drama. The artist, Michelangelo, was 12 years old when he did it. More: nytimes.


I don't follow a religion! They don't know what they're talking about when it comes to something that has been written and re-written, as well as taken out of context! I am a non-religious person who does believe that a man by the name of Christ did come down to die for our sins. No one knows the absolute truth until they get there!