By Eric Le Roy
"Remember that wild and strange animals
paused to drink at the pond
of the Buddha's mind
even after he saw
the morning star."
Content 18+ When I come across lines like this, I always wonder what it is about them which releases such a sense of peace and luminosity in me, as if I have been rescued by a long-legged bird with a beak that caresses instead of ripping. It happens in a way I will never understand. (The second thing I am grateful for is knowing that I won't have to write an academic paper about what the words mean, ‘deconstructing' them with the aid of a dozen ‘secondary sources'.)
The bird carries me into the valleys of dark and light
The images evoked by poet's words bring to me such a state of contentment that I ask myself what is it about life that has to be so chaotic, so turbulent, indeed so often repulsive, that flashes of a Great Harmony seem – at least to me – very limited…rationed…as if the Master Ghost of the cosmos were a miser, an intergalactic Scrooge.
As if sometimes, It says, “Ah hell, let's give our human playthings a puff on the pipe just to get them going…and then pull it away. And look ! Just look how hard they try to get it back again ! How they climb the mountains and sail the seas! Oh what sport! But let's retire into our God-Stuffed Mist and there repose. Bye bye for now, poor humans !!”
I know people who swear by such…what? – things, activities, disciplines…? – as ‘practicing' yoga and meditation. Their lives are built around it, and they are always practicing it. I am in the habit of noticing verbs, maybe because I am an English tutor. So I see that people ‘run businesses', ‘do drugs' ‘play sports' and ‘practice yoga'. I have made a jibe or two with friends of that persuasion asking them, “What are you practicing? – like it was a basketball drill. They smile.
It sounds like I am falling into my old trap of being sarcastic here but the truth is I'd be wrong to do so because I know some people who are truly dedicated to, say, yoga, and there is nothing whatsoever contemptible about such people. It's like martial arts. The people who are really serious about it have more on their minds than just learning a good way to kick somebody in the nuts in a street fight. Same holds true with religion. I've seen it improve some people, as long as they don't get carried away; otherwise, there is nothing worse or more dangerous (if given power) than a religious nut.
The problem I have with all of that is, as with most things in this largely fake world, what we wind up with are a lot of posers and pussy-pilgrims who on Monday are ‘into' one thing and by Tuesday ‘into' something else. This is especially true of America, where NOTHING – from Taco Bell burritos to flat root beer and biteless ginger ale, from artificial christmas trees to cosmetic surgery, bear any resemblance to the real deal. We exist under a constant deluge of choreographed actors mugging before a camera, pretend-passion from fist pumping after a good tennis shot (taught at the tennis academy – the fist, I mean) to fake smiles in corporate culture, and companies that hire you by saying “Welcome to our family” and then shit-can you the first time you sneeze – or whenever the ‘family' decides to ‘downsize' its ‘community' for the sake of the Bottom Line The moments of truth come few and far between, and usually when they tell you not to let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.
Bye Mom, Dad, Siblings, and Cousins. It was nice being part of the family.
So a lot of bright people say, OK, let's give yoga a whirl. But the ones who live in America have found ways to improve the quality of this pastime, just as they have done with pizza, where now enough cheese can be pumped into the dough to fill the innertube of a standard Goodyear tire, and with toppings ranging from avocados and asparagus to organic tofu and pineapple.
For example, in America, yoga has become a kind of aerobics workout. I remember seeing a video of some huge gathering of yoga fanatics all writhing around on their little mats. I mean, scores of them in a single arena, auditorium, or whatever might have been the right word for this great colosseum of ancient wisdom. The guru, or grand wizard, or whatever, might have come from a recording application planted on a screen atop the stage, I can't recall. At first, I couldn't tell if it was yoga or Black Friday, so frenzied were all these ‘spiritual' punters. I can just imagine the meditative healing that was going on in the minds of this Sex and the City cast of thousands before time to head back to the office.
To my way of thinking, the sheer vulgarity of all this makes a steaming dog turd in the middle of an urban heat wave look like a hunk of delicious pie.
As for me, I have tried both yoga and meditation, even Buddhism, and they just didn't click. For yoga, just getting into the right positions was like a really fat man trying to imitate an octopus in a porn film. And when I tried – sincerely tried – the Buddhist thing, I sat in the temple (also assuming a ‘position') and attempted with all my heart to ‘find the mood'. But my ass kept itching. I guess my will was weak, because after holding out as long as I could, I broke ranks and scratched the offending cheek like a junkyard hound ridding himself of a particularly obdurate flea.
I take it that the idea of Meditation (and I used to write scripts for online meditation classes) is to ‘empty' your mind, and even as I say that (“empty your mind”), I don't really know what it means. It's like telling someone ,”For the next 30 seconds DON'T think about Elephants.” Try it yourself. You'll see more elephants in that half minute span than in the last 10 years. The closest I ever came to emptying my mind was when I used to do 10 boxing rounds (3 min on, 1 min rest, then repeat) on the heavy bag in my garage in Florida, almost always in excruciatingly hot weather. The fierce heat and the exertion, plus my refusal to stop meant that by round six or seven I was going on sheer will and my mind was empty of all else, including hydration. (Or was that my body?) Actually, in spite of the exhaustion it felt pretty nice – jelly legs and all.
But I don't know what it's like to meditate anymore than I know what it feels like to really believe in God. I have tried the church a few times, but felt like an imposter. I even got baptized again in the Baptist church in St. Augustine, Fl, dumping myself into a makeshift tub (there was no river nearby and the pious were not up for going to the beach) in front of the whole congregation. Afterwards, far from feeling spiritually ‘healed' or ‘born again', I felt like a proper cunt (in the British sense of the word – not feminism). Couldn't get dressed fast enough.
I cannot unjumble my mind. Nor keep it from thinking inappropriate thoughts. If they ever put me in front of a firing squad, there's no telling what I might think of just before they blow me away. How good a bowl of pork and beans would taste? The lyrics to a song by Elvis Presley? Will I feel the bullets making an armageddon of my heart? Or will I still be waiting for them to fire after I am already dead?
Which brings me back to the lines of poetry at the beginning. For, just as I think I can smell lies (an ongoing stench), I also believe I can smell Truth. And I don't mean the ‘truth' about being honest as to where I was last night: the 12-step meeting or the whorehouse. I mean Truth in the sense of insight, epiphany, catharsis. But then again, I remind myself, we now live in a ‘postmodern' (why is everything ‘post'?) world of truths, not one Truth. Therefore, I am fully aware that what may approach the level of ‘sacred' to me, might well be another person's idea of rancid spam. It gets lonely sometimes, I confess, being in a world of such testy ambivalence and conflicting claims. But maybe better than a world of iron and shackles.
“I fed the pigeons today.”
“Because they were hungry.”
“But were they really hungry or did you just imagine them hungry?”
“They looked and acted hungry.”
“They accepted – or rather – wolfed down the breadcrumbs.”
“That is superficial. Maybe subliminal, YOU were hungry and giving food to the pigeons was a physical manifestation of your own unfulfilled longing for communistic altruism.”
“So, what you are saying is that the pigeons weren't hungry?”
“That could be the unpleasant truth.”
“So the pigeons were insincere. “
“Well, mate, draw your own conclusions. Personally, yes, I think they flipped you off. They understood that you were looking for love. Yes, yes it's true. Even among the pigeons you were looking for love. If not the group, then maybe that one special pigeon that would come to you as if meant for no other. Am I right or wrong?”
“You are right.”
“But pigeons are pigeons, don't you see? They will feed from your hand, but their loveliness may be without love at all. Are you prepared for it?”
“Yes, as long as they refuse to eat from my hand. If they feed from my hand they should love me just a little. I do not ask for much.”
“And so you will grow bitter”
“I want only birds that don't need bread and seeds. I will therefore banish all that feed from my hand if I see that it's all they want.””
“And what will you do with the bread and seeds you have brought?”
“I will fling them away. Then they can battle in the streets. I will rise above it.”
“And in your tower you will watch them scuffle and know that, even as they fight fiercely they humble themselves before your gift. This will be a source of ultimate pride for you?
“And then they fly away. They forget your temporary gift because they have other things on their minds. You didn't know them, and they didn't know you. So who is better off: you staring from the narrow window of your lonely tower? Or them, who fly the free skies, their bellies full?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You will cry, ‘How ungrateful! How unfair!”. And the birds cradle in the sky atop the windy surf boards of their flight, and the deep deep sky itself will stare at you as if you were nothing, with no thanks at all for offering to feed her sky-going children! How will you deal with such ingratitude?”
“ I will buy a bow and arrow. Or, better, I will practice what I shall say to them next spring when they come again. Just wait. They will know better next time. Next time they will listen to me.”
“Of course they will. Of course they will.”
I boast of no special powers beyond the ability to capture some elements of my soul in words. And by the way, I know that I have a soul, even if it will perish with me when I cease to exist as me. That does not make it any less of a soul as far as I am concerned. No doubt, now that Motown has packed it in, it is the religious connotation and the ringing laughter of the Big Algorithm which has given ‘soul' a bad rap.
So if the lines of the poem do anything, they allow me moments where indeed, I can meditate. In a sense. Not of making an empty room of my mind; in fact, the opposite. The tranquility in the poetry captures what parents in essence tell their children, what old couples still very much in love, say to each other: “Everything will be OK.” It's what I tell my aging dogs.
Of course we must first pass through things that are not OK.
If my soul were a long street, I think it would look something like this. The morning would wake like a trance around me, with smells of honeysuckle and wildflowers and the pure, breath-enchanting odors of farm animals. I would leave the institution and become an adolescent among the shops, from which people smiled and waved, maybe my true mother and father among them, always in disguise.
A bucking dawn wind would fade in silent morning light, and a cold blanket of air the texture of ivory would make a winter morning. The crunching snow and pine trees and birds on the branches, as still as buddhas. The street would widen in the center of town, a multitude of timeless buildings, beaming in the sun as the city warmed into spring. I would see the girls of spring. I would meet the women of summer, The fire of the sun would emblazon them on my memory even before they vanished.
In the evening, as I pulled at my whiskers, blowing steam through advancing chill, the friendly dogs would turn into half-wolves and roam the alleys, forming circular packs in the clearings. Bums would huddle in the doorways or lean against the stairwells to big bridges, and I would recognise them, and beyond, after everything else, there would just be broken asphalt and again the wind, the nightwind coming, blowing leaves and human documents along the scattering shattered tablets of many dreams from other streets and avenues..
I would then know the truth, whatever it was. Otherness would enter me and clean my mind. Life would invite me into death, and Death would invite me into life.
A gray and silver pond would appear before me, its colors mixing in the slants of light and dark.
All the animals in the story of the world are there, sipping from the water. Only the sipping sound of the water, like a chant contemplating the silences all around. Before me appear images of people bathing there across the round expanse (a circle without end as circles tend to be) their bloody wounds healing as they wade among the waters. The healing waters are burning their many hatreds away, and what is left is only mercy.
And all the animals that ever lived, tame and reconciled at last, sipping, lapping gently the water, the waters.
Isn't this the mind of the Buddha who has just seen the morning star?
I grow calm when I think thoughts like these. When the essences within me smile and surrender.