Dawa-Samdup was working on a Tibetan-English dictionary when Evans-Wentz met him, and had acted as an interpreter to the British government in Sikkim. But apparently, he wasn't much of a headmaster. He was said to be “cursed by the demon drink,” and would wander away from the school for days at a time, neglecting his students while he “contemplated on metaphysical plains.”
During his travels, Evans-Wentz had bought various sacred manuscripts; Kazi Dawa-Samdup possessed others. The two men would get together in the early mornings to pore over these texts, Kazi Dawa-Samdup doing the actual translating, Evans-Wentz acting as his “living dictionary.” According to Rick Fields, Evans-Wentz was “unable to refrain completely from seeing Tibetan Buddhism through the lens of the comparative religion and folklore in which he had trained at Oxford,” and “his version contained certain inaccuracies: the diction, for example, with all its ï¿½ye's’ and ï¿½thou's,’ suffered from Biblical rhetoric, and Evans-Wentz had failed to adequately distinguish between Hindu and Buddhist terminology.”
Yet Fields also acknowledge the vast influence this text had in introducing Tibetan Buddhism to the West. Three years before its publication, scholar J.B. Pratt had said that Tibetan Buddhism was “so mixed with non Buddhist elements that I hesitate to call it Buddhism at all,” but Evans-Wentz insisted that Tibetan Buddhism was not “in disagreement with canonical, or exoteric, Buddhism, but related to it as higher mathematics as to lower mathematics, or as the apex of the pyramid of the whole of Buddhism.” Fields calls this insight his greatest achievement.
In 1922, just three years after the two men began to collaborate, Kazi Dawa-Samdup died. Evans-Wentz had become more serious about spiritual practice during this period, living in a grass shack and struggling, he later wrote, to “gain some actual insight into the actual practice of yoga.” He considered himself Kazi Dawa-Samdup's disciple, though there is no evidence that the Tibetan saw himself as the guru. Evans-Wentz loved practicing in rural India, and considered it a sacred space, a concept which he continued to develop through the years. “All holy places,” he wrote in tke, “in varying degrees have been made holy by that same occult power of mind to enhance the psychic character of the atom of matter; they are the ripened fruit of spirituality, the proof of thought's all-conquering and all-transforming supremacy.”
The period between Kazi Dawa-Samdup's death and the outbreak of World War II was one of almost frantic activity for Evans-Wentz. He travelled among the three places that had meant the most to him: India, England, and California. And he continued to work as a “compiler and editor” of the texts his teacher had translated, following the Book of the Dead with Tibet’s Great Yogi Milarapa in 1928. The earlier book had set out what Evans-Wentz called “the art of knowing how to die”; the latter he described as setting out “the art of mastering life.”
He followed Milarepa in 1935 with what he regarded as the third book of a trilogy, Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrine, convinced that “it is only when the West understands the East and the East the West that a culture worthy of the name of civilization will be evolved.” His work by that time had taken on a decidedly anti-Western tone. He believed not just in the texts had had discovered, but in the way of life he had found.
And then Evans-Wentz’ life took a turn that seems both utterly bizarre and entirely characteristic: At the outbreak of the war, the world traveler and renowned scholar fled to a small room in the Keystone Hotel in San Diego and there lived out the last 23 years of his life. He chose the Keystone because it was near the city's only vegetarian restaurant - the House of Nutrition - and the public library, where he sometimes had to check out his own books, because he had given all of his copies away. He also had discovered his own sacred space, Mount Cuchama, a few miles away near the Mexican border. Like the real estate speculator he had been all his life, he bought up as much of it as he could. He owned a small house on his land, and went there sometimes to practice “the Dharma, the Buddhist 'way of truth.’”
In one of his introductions, he praised what he called the “hermit ideal,” men who lived the “rigours of the snowy Himalayas, clad only in a thin cotton garment, subsisting on a daily handful of parched barley.” Evans-Wentz had really been a hermit all his life, and with his threadbare clothing and Spartan diet, continued to live that way in San Diego. He also continued his work, publishing the The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation in 1949. He had hoped to publish Cuchama and Sacred Mountains, but the book didn't find a publisher until after his death.
“I am haunted by a realization of the illusion of all human endeavors,” he wrote in a late diary. “As Milarepa taught; buildings end in ruin, meetings in separation, accumulation in dispersion and life in death. Whether it is better to go on here in California where I am lost in the midst of the busy multitude or return to the Himalayas is now a question difficult to answer correctly.” But he did finally answer it. He had found his sacred mountain, after all, and the spiritual practice he'd spent much of his life “searching, searching” for. He had no more reason to wander.