I finally received the first 50 copies of the English version of “Spiritual Wisdom from the Altai Mountains, Altai Bilik”. I packed a medium-sized rucksack with 50 books in it, bought a ticket for the over night train to Biisk and considered how Nikolai Andreevich might respond on seeing the English translation in print. You can’t take anything for granted. I was met in Biisk by Shodoev’s grandson and driven to Gorno-Altaisk where I changed cars to be driven another four hours to Mendur-Sokkon village by his granddaughter. It is at times like this that the Altai family and clan support network really comes to the fore. Nikolai Andreevich was greatly pleased with the publication and quite delighted to read the endorsements, introduction and afterword. His words were: “I couldn’t have imagined that my work would be so highly valued.” I was very relieved. It’s one thing to translate an elder’s works and disappear into the sunset forever. It’s quite another to take the finished product in a rucksack, and go visit to face the music.
We spent the day in the ail chatting with his wife, daughter, granddaughter and great granddaughter. In his author’s introduction to the book Nikolai Andreevich expresses deep gratitude to his wife Alexandra Grigorievna, for her care and support. Visiting Shodoev’s home filled with relatives I had the joy of spending more time with Alexandra Grigorievna. She is a tiny but clearly still very beautiful woman. Her failing hearing often excludes her from the conversation which in no way prevents her from being the most attentive and generous of hostesses. No cup or plate was left empty of temptation for long and she so touchingly glanced over the fence in concern to see whether she could spot her husband returning on his horse from over the hills bringing the cow home for milking. When I was preparing to leave their home Alexandra Grigorievna rushed to make me a gift of two large pots of local honey and a piece of her hand-embroidered cotton. I could guess what Nikolai Andreevich meant when he stood watching his great granddaughter playing in the garden and turning to me said: “There is a difference between happiness and joy you know. It is family that gives one happiness. Everything else in life that gives one pleasure we call joy.”
Later we sat in the main house at Nikolai Andreevich’s work table and he asked me whether I would like to study the bilik more deeply. I said that of course I would at which point he handed me a bundle of manuscripts comprising two printed books in Russian, folders of diagrams and other writings that his daughter-in-law had typed up and saved onto disks. His gesture came as quite a surprise but I agreed straight away, the only thought going through my mind in the moment of shock was just how much work this was going to entail! So, this winter I shall have my work cut out studying, editing and translating these materials in the hope of producing a second book, a continuation of “Spiritual Wisdom from the Altai Mountains”.
Subsequently, we chatted late into the evening mainly about the concept of ‘ulalu’ the balance between mind and heart that allows one to attune to the subtle planes. The one thought that has stayed with me most strongly from that discussion however, was a comment Nikolai Andreevich made about researching and reconstructing sacred knowledge. He mentioned it as an aside but I suspect it is something that concerns him greatly. He said that traditionally, it is taboo to speak of sacred knowledge and such things as the development of the soul. He said that the last great Altai shaman ‘Kalkhin’ with whom he conversed often, had told him that one must never speak of the soul essence because in doing so you open up the essence of your own soul making it accessible to others. “It is taboo”, Nikolai Andreevich said, “but this knowledge could be lost forever and so I have decided to take this sin upon my own soul”. This is the thought that has absorbed me since that meeting. I remain in awe of the Altai indigenous individuals that risk the consequences that opening up the sacred, the hidden, can have for themselves and their descendants.