Saturday, April 19, 2014

In the hours before my shift tonight, Saturday, I think of the suffering of humanity and all creatures, the deep secretive pain we all feel not knowing enlightenment and the refuge of the Buddha's teachings.  I feel strange about the duties of work now, as if I am only adding to the illusion of escape, through wine, through promoting the whole restaurant ritual.  How many martinis and manhattans and old fashionedes will I have to make?  How much bubbly will I pour?  I will offer dessert to every table that dines, unless otherwise instructed.  And all I will do cordially and in a good-natured way.

Suffering, I know, because I too have suffered, and blindly sought to escape it, looking at my own behavior, not constantly poor or cruel or evil to others, but enough to feel shame and realize I hurt people close to me who were far more enlightened and serious than I.  And I know what it's like, to go home, feeling the great angst, not knowing what else to do, but pour a glass of wine and feel the medicinal numbing, almost sleepy, as I lean back on the couch, remote in hand, nodding, until I wake up and try to go to bed.

Saturday Night is a shift of suffering anyway for those who have to work them.  There is tonight the six top just before kitchen closing.  That's life.  That's business.  "Do you want to not be busy," the boss would ask, to make his point firm.   Stress is involved.  I get in early and diligently, very diligently, set up.

So I write this minor meditation on it, as if to present the issue, clearly, coming out of my mind, this time, rather than bottled up within.  "I'll have a splash more," a regular fellow, a very decent guy who visits the wine bar of The Bistrot of the Dying Gaul, says when he gets rolling.  Of course his buddy comes, a man in his prime with lots of energy, serving him a complicated business to be endured.  "Well, my friend, you do not need a splash," I might like to say tonight.  For you, I, and all poor creatures are dearly suffering in this existence, ignorant of the dharma truths.


The night is busy, but it goes by.  Mercifully, no bar crowd expecting entertainment.  My coworker stresses.  (I've begun to hint to him that meditation would be helpful, as it helps keep the calm in the air-traffic controller stress situations common in busy restaurants.)  He barks orders.  "I need bread on 62," he half shouts, wide eyed, loud like a bluejay.  The little walkie talkie behind the bar rings its beeping electric alarm, an excited frantic tone, and he goes off running downstairs through the main dining room to the kitchen and back with whatever is ready.  I would have let the busser make the trip in the hectic pitched battle hours.  Enough to do here as it is.

As I student, as a young writer trying to find my voice, I was aware of the problem of suffering.  I  sought alternative to the  deep joy of mediation.  I tried the escapes of pleasure, and years went down a hole, even as I showed friendship and compassion to my fellow beings.  I thought a mutual escape of reality seemed a solution, as if it was a political movement, as if it would bind people on a common ground.  I went on long bike rides, stoically propping up my mood and physique.  There was always suffering there, the unsatisfactory quality, dukkha, from which no one can escape, for whom efforts to escape will only generate more suffering.



But it is uncommon becoming a Buddhist here.  I was an idiot and passed up several good opportunities at college, special chances that I let pass by, missing the boat.  I didn't know how to go about becoming one, and still don't know what to do, except begin an attempt at my own little practice.  On the other hand there were the books my father passed down to me, from his Theosophical tradition, and I read when I could, and yes, such things made sense.  But then it was always, back to work, back to the shift, and then back to the modest pleasures of close friends--you bring a bottle of good wine, they cook dinner, you catch up.  Always, the problem of a career, and years ticking by.  Life in a city--you drink wine, keep up to date somewhat.  The city's greatest paper, repository of culture and art and all the news that's fit to print, has a wine column, a beautiful subject.  "Buy in, buy in," it all says.  You don't want to look odd.  And your own foolishness, lack of direction, career obtuseness left that your best option, knowing how to open a wine bottle and talk about it, to read people, to entertain, to get the job done.

So what do you do?  The monastery?  If you were honest, if you weren't stuck with too many possessions already from trying to enjoy some of life, yes, you would.  You would disdain attachments as low things, and move on.

I get home, spoon up some quinoa, nothing on television, wash face, brush teeth, pour glass of water, tuck myself in in the April cold, put a melatonin tablet under my tongue.  I wake at first light, Easter morning, with a day free ahead of me, but not feeling I know what to do with it, and rather feeling darkly about a lot of things, as if anything I could do at this point in life, mid life, late mid life, wouldn't help anyway.

I do a small rubber made tub of dishes, as tea brews.  It's Easter morning, and I will attempt to meditate.

Who is happy?  What is happiness?  What if I had caught that train early on and became a Buddhist scholar, taught, had a respectable job, a house somewhere, family life…  Or was it better, for the purposes of understanding, to live a suffering life with that strange beauty of enlightenment within grasp, but difficult to attain, until finally comprehending it as fully as one could from within.

The Buddha is right to explore suffering, to experience it first hand, freed from illusion.  The problem is that this philosophical look at suffering, this experience of it, causes a change in one's look at things, a change one might compare to the atomic bomb explosion, such that suddenly one sees all things differently, entire great cities not mattering anymore than an anthill, all human endeavors seen in new light, separating the things that matter from the things that do not matter in an entirely new way.  The things that conventionally matter suddenly shrink and blow away in importance, the bulk of human society amounting to sand pipers trotting hurriedly around on a beach as waves come up and then recede.  The things that were taken as utterly important, like the kind small act of a stranger, are suddenly the atomic solar light, far surpassing the strict codified system of manners and social rules and social position and estimations of personal importance in their relevance to the good of the world, the shy and the often silent upholding the species and its footing on the planet.

But who wouldn't initially want to back away in pain at such realizations, seeing all the good one has done in the form of small acts, not wishing anything in return, suddenly more important than what all the world's "great leaders" manage, ants too, but not with the knowledge that they are ants.

"My Life had stood--a loaded Gun
In corners--Till a Day
The Owner passed--identified
And carried Me Away."



You, like I, have felt the unsatisfactory quality of conversations, particularly over the phone, talk about stuff, plans, happenings…  You want to say, 'no, that is just stuff of the ego;  we're not really interested in that, so let's not talk about it.'  Talk about stuff can be amusing, but it falls short, distracts.  Perhaps that's another reason to enjoy Emily Dickinson's poem here, its sense of great resolution.  And that resolution, almost like a mantra, seems to pull the reader into a place of resolution too, a place of contentment, everything, even relationships, in the right form, proper, well-mannered.  And this speaks of course of the initial state of not being content, of running things of the past through the mind and wondering why things turned out so, as perhaps she, being "the spinster," might have felt closely.  And again, that sense that seems to run through her poems, of feeling that townspeople curiosity, "what's up with Emily, does she like that Colonel guy?"  (which we still feel compelled to ponder--"maybe she's gay"), juxtaposed with her own deep sense of things that basically pays little mind to that stuff, having an entirely different view of time, thus being present enough, egoless enough, to see and compose a poem on its own terms.

Does that sense of time account for the enigmatic ending of her poem, born with the power to kill, but not the power to die…  What is the sense of "He must longer live"?  Is it desirable, to live longer, if you must?  Is she speaking of living in a great omniscient present, thus no power to die, the freedom of being passively in perfect order with the Universe?  That the narrator has now few worries, because of the epiphany, in one reading of it.  Without the power to die, she has found eternity's presence.  Still, it is an odd meeting of the normal material time we live in and the eternal, puzzling.

The palpable satisfaction of suddenly finding no regrets, of a great order to life, lasts through the end of the poem.  She has found a greater purpose than would have come with other relationships.  It was all easy in the end, being chosen, carried away, no need for any effort but to be what you are.  What a comfort to the reader beating his or her self up for something that didn't happen.


Suffering does lead us somewhere.  It's a fact we live under till we are carried away by a realization...


Friday, April 18, 2014

So we see, vis a vis, Emily Dickinson's poem on the loaded gun in corners, vis a vis a job tending bar for twenty five years, that people pleasing is different from pleasing the deep master of ultimate reality, 'the Owner' of her poem.   One looks for calm to know the difference.

Hypothetical situations:

Stuck in a the family vacation, between the wishes and claims of two factions, why please B, asks A.  Well, this whole thing is not much about me doing what I want to be doing, so what real difference does it make anyway whether I take mom with sunburned feet into town or sit or the beach?  Indeed, the Buddha sees no difference, that to see the difference is to live in the misery of samsara with all its tempting devils, when all, ultimately is the same.

You go out, to be social, with a neighborly friend, dinner, a glass of wine, and then slowly comes out the projection of your friend's particular issues on yourself.  You sit, nod, take a sip from your glass, and quietly feel disturbed.  Patience.

How to be your own master?  How to break into the open?  Cut off the regulars as soon as they begin to get loud and silly.  "One is never enough, is it?"  I know, believe me.

Buddha, sitting under the tree, tempted by Mara and his army of demons, asking Buddha, as a last resort really, what right had he to the space he sits on, touches the earth, and the earth responds as his witness.

The precious instrument of the clear mind.

When you have meditated enough, you find it's true, that beyond the experience, the sensation of breathing, there is no fixed self, no real I separate from everything else.  This is something you must find out on your own, directly, through meditation.  Maybe it doesn't hurt to have puzzled over the human condition and gone through all the weary illusions, seeking safety, comfort, sanity, a break from fear, in all other things.  No more pleasure sought in conventional ways, for what is pleasure.


When you come to see the light of Buddha then the codependent situations become that much clearer to you.  You are no longer participating, no longer jumping at the usual instigations, the usual calling peace into question.  You are no longer going along, doing things that hurt you, whereas before you thought of doing so as good will.  What you took as stupidity and foolishness all along, you know better to hear your voice saying so.


I can see that writers, like a lot of the economy, are in a codependent situation.  They have to feed something in order to be popular, and to do this act, they have to dumb themselves down often enough, so that they too can have their cars, vacation homes, whiskey, nice clothes, etc.  So what do they write about?  Not the truth of no-self, but cars, vacation homes, whiskey, nice clothes, people stuck in codependent situations.  Who calls the tune?  That is hard to figure.  When did the novel itself become a  material possession, an enabler of the illusions of life, a rehearsal for silly things?  The ego crept in to reality and suggested that boring plain old life wasn't good enough, that it had to be dressed up with great conflict and ever-present and mounting tensions, a narrative arch that kept one on the edge of the seat.  The novel had to do false things, its practitioners felt.  It had to sell to be worthwhile.  It had to be good by certain standards.


Zen must have come about because of a tendency for posing and posturing in their Buddhist practices...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

"My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun/  in Corners--till a Day/  the Owner passed--identified/  And carried Me away," she wrote, judiciously as always, poem number 764, after establishing her practice and thinking about many things.

I went to see my father teach a class a year or two before his retirement. on the subjects of plants and society.  At the beginning of it, he drew a distinction, between praying and playing.  When we pray, it is much different from playing.   The two should not be mixed.

That was during the days when I had graduated, looking for a way in the world, back home, thinking it over, what to do.  I suppose in a quiet way I was leaning toward a life that can most readily be compared to that of a monk, perhaps a Buddhist, all of this coming out of the subconscious.  I was thinking, as the Buddha's mind was doing, back when he was a prince now wandering seeker practicing this and that, thinking over the nature of suffering and desire, etc.  But living here in modern world America, one thinks first, 'well, how am I going to make money, what am I going to do for a career, keep a roof over my head, maybe start a family.'  So, one day, tired of a vague period of employment in landscaping, not feeling I was getting anywhere, I left my hometown with a few possessions and got on the train toward a city having absolutely no idea of what I would do.

I found a place to say, steady work.  A few years went by.  I worked a lot.  Slept on Saturdays.  And eventually, my curiosity led me out of the suffering that is the modern office clerk's life to the different form of suffering that is pleasure seeking, a lively restaurant that had a democratic quality to it.

I wrote then, I did some reading, of course, on the side, but steadily, nothing to be particularly proud of, but an effort.  Years, and years, and years.  And then, perhaps as I might have realized all along, but stuck in some psychological pattern of people pleasing, of overly empathetic urges--like when I'd go hang out with the old retiree in his tiny one room bare apartment with a Coleman kitchen, one burner, after a shift for one more beer--I was not in that mode of what to a Buddhist is 'right profession.'  In fact, I was in rather one of the worst and most harmful of professions, short of selling guns.  I was harming people.  I was aiding them maintain a great ignorance.

I was playing when I should be praying.

But there is that quality to life, the thoughtful life, of being a loaded gun, waiting, in a corner (where propped up safely so as not to fall down and fire off accidentally, as it might if leaned up against a wall) till the Owner, the Transcendental Oversoul, deep spiritual reality, Buddha nature, comes along and finally puts the real thou-art-that-which-is being into its proper usage.  (What else can you do with a gun but shoot it.)

I think of all the foolish years enabling people, thinking I was being kind to them, listening to their stories, having, years ago, not anymore, 'shots' with them.  As if anyone ever benefited in the slightest from any of that.  Just one long stupid 'ha ha ha' joke that, at the end of the day, went nowhere.


When I heard her poem's line quoted by a regular patron in the bar, as a vanity, as a means of showing off that he knew his culture as he swilled, blinking his eyes proudly, but with no follow up, no curiosity about what it might mean in all its deep sense, no placing it in within the Transcendentalism of her time,  I had to sense that I was in the wrong place.  As well intentioned as it may have been, or not, to quote Emily in passing context as a kind of show…

The sweeping logic of it all, Buddhism, I felt I could finally accept, and see finally as my own awkward efforts to fit in, to have an identity, a distinct self I could show, beyond the plain being I was, for the selfish confused vanity and attempt at scheming that it was.  For life is simple.  You eat, you sleep, you do your chores.  To try and carry, to hold up any identity--and this I might have felt more than others, having no easy proud professional identity to fall back on, lawyer, doctor, etc., thus having to try harder as a kind of tentative 'wine guy' (because I saw myself initially as a writer of undefined sort)--is tiresome.  It turns out that all experiences , to the Buddha, are pretty much the same anyway, no distinctions to be made in the final analysis, between the room at the Four Seasons and a tent.  Living in a city it seems all about making distinctions, what's the best job, the best hang-out, etc., but I found myself only able to relax when I made it all as simple as I could, and as I walked past a bar and looked into the window with greater certainty could I pass it all by as samsara, just that, the world where oneness of all isn't seen.

So I began to rue whatever extent I was participating in the illusions of pleasure and distinctions commonly made.  I seemed to find that a glass of wine wasn't the desirable thing after all, but rather a thing getting in my way to apply the logic and the meditative clarity of Buddhism to life, as I felt one finally must, finally being serious.

I guess it's a matter of needing to experience first hand the delusion, to prove to yourself that such laws are applicable and true.  I found myself, technically speaking, in the wrong profession, over and over and over, and could/can only hope that through it I might find the right one.


I have to see Dickinson's ultimate literary success as rising beyond simply that.  She was wise, as we all know, for keeping out of the spotlight, away from the 'admiring bog.'  This gives her time and the security for her message to evolve and mature beyond being, simply, good poetry, on into the timeless wisdom that we need.  She waited for her poetry to mature.  She didn't let the praise or critique of others effect it.  She wrote poetry for its own sake, indifferent to outside definition of what poetry should be like.  She followed a noble path in it, took it day by day, wrote of moments that speak of one who appreciates the present moment.  There is nothing quick or facile to her work.  She built it from the ground up, from little scribbles on backs of envelope paper.  No pop anthems that instantly achieve great commercial success but then blow away as far as offering any deep moral advice or psalm that lasts either in the life of its creator or the public at large.

And this is one of her gems.  There's a real sense of joy and purpose in it, the great comfort, that almost reminds one of an affectionate dog out with her master.  There's a sense of carrying through, of finally figuring everything out, so that all things make sense.  It's a victorious poem, one of fine clarity, conveying that all important sense of knowing what we doing here in this world.



Could tending bar ever be a 'right profession?'  It's a complicated issue.  (In a modern world of interconnectedness, who isn't involved in the sale of alcohol in restaurants…  Perhaps wine making allows regional countryside traditions to live long happy lives.  Christ himself wanted joy for people, wine out of water.)  One the one hand, yes, you're a binding element in a neighborhood, a place to discuss things, to share in information and life stories.  But, the Buddha is strict on this, that even a small amount of intoxicant impairs the mind, interferes with  the instrument.

Was Christ a more co-dependent figure than Buddha, a topic for another day...

So, it's a child's job, that of one who claims not to know any better.  I was impaired in judgment taking up such work, and it dependent on impairment to keep it up.  I came to a city and suffered along with it, but that doesn't suffice.  It was a job that embodied co-dependency.  And it was, like a lot things, hard work, physically, mentally, spiritually, meaning that it was a hindrance rather than a help.

But it was always as if the great reality had, like "The Owner," waited for me.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I feel the sweet gentle melancholy as I wake after the night of work that had the glass of wine at the end of it, Tuesday night wine tasting by myself, and a chimerical busser, at The Dying Gaul.  I was pretty entertaining all night, to just about every party that came in the wine bar upstairs there.  I didn't have that much, as I ate a piece of grilled salmon with broccoli mousse, cleaning up at the end of it all, before walking home under a clear sky and a bright moon.  Enough, after two days off from wine, to begin to feel the burn deep in my gorge, more sensitive witness to the self-destructive, but it wasn't a lot.  I got home, and fell asleep without staying up 'til dawn and bird singing, but then woke very early, three hours in, then again, and then later I got up.  But you feel the adrenaline kick in the first waking.

I finally had the sensation, reflecting on the previous few nights of dreaming, that the world we live in, that seems so real, that it too is a dream.  But today I don't remember any dreams.  I do the dishes from yesterday and drink my tea, put brown rice into the cooker.

It is this Buddhist stuff that has helped me, happily, in an authentic good mood, to face work the last few days.  That there are, or once were, monks, and communities of them, monasteries, makes me happy.  That there is a rich and full philosophy, and many hues of the spectrum of practicing spiritual energy, comes as very pleasing.  And one piece of it leads to the understanding of another, and I come across the Buddha's law of dependent origination.  The flame cannot burn without the wick, without the candle.  A worthy subject to read up on, but to summarize the obvious, we wouldn't be here, alive, burning, without having done something in a previous life to be here.  We cannot deny responsibility and simply disappear from this existence, nihilistically, nor can we say there is an eternal immutable self that goes on forever, positivistically.  Always, the middle path, toward understanding.  And so it seems, first and foremost, we must acknowledge some guilt, some imperfect understanding, that led us here, and that's just a plain fact.  The good news is, we can wake from that ignorance, and do the best we can this existence, for that will help us along the ultimate path to enlightenment.  And this is empowering, and helps us see when we sin, and then, gentled, we can find again, the love supreme, which even we sinners are worthy of.

Then we can take a step back from the world, and see better what its issues are.  We can see that we are dangerously corroborating with the Chinese in our nationalist materialism, treason to the true cleric and the spirit of deep education and wisdom.  We can see that we have a similar guilt, pushing the human soul into sweat shop factories, and who knows, one day maybe it will be us, toiling there under a police state that knows our every move, the natural world drilled and bulldozed into a vast spread of smoke stacks, human storage units, trains to take us back and forth.

Or, we can see the larger issues of why we are here and where we are and what we share.


In Buddhist-minded retrospective, I look back with some approval and what in poorer understanding seemed to have 'bothered me' enough to write a book about it, the inherently conflicted reality of attraction and desire.   It is with some sense of a student's joy of learning something that I look back on the main character of A Hero For Our Time and see for a moment that his impulses came out of a deeper understanding.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

I became a writer out of spiritual reasons.  It was as if there was a silent understanding between my father and I, that I understood the core of his teachings, and that this sort of thing would be my life's work.  I read Dharma Bums and drank tea in his apartment down in the village of Clinton.  I had no idea what to write about up in the college library up on College Hill my first year after college, but the bookish life felt right.  You just needed the journey for material.  But it was all that Zen stuff, the Void stuff Kerouac referred to in Desolation Angels, this seemed like, yes, my politics.

It is a different trip, being a spiritual writer, different from academic, magazine, and basically has the sole distinction of not fitting in anywhere.  Short stories, poetry, crime novels, yes, but not often that kind of journey, perhaps because you never know along the way how the journey is going to turn out, for well or ill.  That's how the restaurant business was for me:  there was, and is, a great potential for disaster attached to it.

My journey, as I worked away, was to slowly come to an understanding, as of how to really live in the present, to not live in the past, to accept.  And so it was long journey, really, to say that and mean it too, that I could not, nor would I want, to return to the past as if a few crucial things had been wrong and that over time they had been righted, or better appreciated, or something like that.  NO.  Things had simply happened, as things happened.  There should be no expectation about the past, because things happen for a reason.  My past shaped me to be a writer, and as far as I am concerned, I earned it, largely through the time spent, technically, away from writing, doing a job, chewing on the reality of humanity, my reality.  You could say there was not a lot to write about, not a lot for someone to read about, and I even might agree, but, the fact that you are a writer shapes you.  It makes you a pilgrim of the kind the race must have respect for.  Buddhism is built on a deep philosophical base, in case you didn't know, not just a bunch of chants and robes and laziness.  The dharma happens to make a lot of sense, and for some of us, it is very vital and necessary, as if it were, indeed, the very thing that kept us from throwing our hands up and going crazy.  Such things keep some of us focussed, on track, still making sense in our own minds, knowing finally to grow disgusted with all the informational interruptions...

My journey in the restaurant business I took as no professional direct thing, but just for the experience that I thought a writer might have, as he went on crafting some of his Vanity of Dulouz, though really it's about the spiritual practice in the end and not so much the writing.  Then, one day, having figured it out, you become a sort of monk, yogi, lama, teacher, what-have-you, wishing of course to belong somewhere where it could be like you went there for work everyday.  And then, you realize, you don't want to hear about the restaurant business at all, you want to hear about the monk stuff, the holy elders, the patriarch of Karamazov...

Monday, April 14, 2014

How could a bartender be a Buddhist?  Years of tequila and country music in a Tex Mex restaurant.  Caught up in the culture of work hard/play hard, though it was work for me, and I'd go home alone at the end of it.  My years of observing people, of friendships real once, now scattered away, the community I was a part of.

Western science studied the outer world, the material aspect, while Eastern science, Buddhism studied the inner world.  China builds our stuff for us, cheaply, using material science.  China kills monks, destroys temples and culture thousands of years old in the blink of an eye.  China pollutes, like nobody's business.  China basically did its best to kill the thoughtful spiritual life of modern humanity, in the name of market economy, global power, 'communism,' (when Buddhist had been living communally for how long?)

It is odd for us here in the West to get it, to see through all the stuff we've accumulated, to clear and simplify and look within.  It's easy for us too to do the bidding of economic overlords.  It's hard to see the peace found within, to inhabit the present moment.  No wonder we don't get it, stuck in our egos, thinking a yogi is insanity, that compassion is secondary at best...


As technology advances, so does a basic ignorance of nature's scale.  The arrogance, to build a pipe line, that will bring a lifetime of profit for some individuals, be appreciated by some for a job for a while, that despite all humanity can do, despite its best technology will one day fall apart, thus leaving the future with the difficult problem of upkeep, of whether its worth it to keep the leaky pipes flowing.  Nothing lasts forever, and this is the problem when humanity attempts to meet things on a geologic scale.  What happen to the fracking pipes in the ground (and all those Dick Cheney proprietary secret chemicals) when they begin to rot?  Make money now, get rich, let the elite build their compounds, let the rest of the poor cope with flaming tap water…

The dharma asks us to be responsible for the actions of previous lives that led us to be born.  That seems a main responsibility.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

When I finally got up out of bed after one more Saturday night, I had, as if reaffirmed, the distinct impression, confirming a Buddhist precept, that all my reaching--clinging--for personal happiness had only ended up in some form of misery.  My search for a job that wasn't sitting in a cubicle had brought me to a  miserable trap.  My innocent attempt at the live happily ever after in the storybook way had brought far more misery than I would ever have expected.  And this condition of life became increasingly reflected on smaller more regular levels, the disappointment in just about everything as far as those things that are supposed to make you happy and pleased.  I saw through things, as if going out to a restaurant for a good meal, with rare exceptions of personal meaning, was far more trouble than it was worth (unless you simply had no energy to cook), reminding me of Jesus sensing the goodness passing from him as the sick woman of faith touches his robe.  Yes, that was my impression, that even things begun in seeming happiness would soon enough turn, a knowledge I did not particularly want to have.  Who wants to see that behind the rosy beauty there is a decay of everything.

Are we all led this way, to see such things, or are some of us stuck with it, while others go free?  I seemed picked out by my own curiosities for the interest, the eye, the knowledge.  The passage in Paradise Lost, Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden, assigned sophomore year I knew I had to answer, more carefully than time allowed, an A becoming a D.  My eye was drawn to the problem, as if I felt a great need to take it seriously, not just whip something off.  It was as if I'd always been a student of Buddhism, just stuck in some strange culture I did not understand, but obligingly went about the duties of the labors it pushed my way.  All the while seeing the great inversion, the kind beautiful princess of opportunity inverted into a shunning enemy, no room for even common kindness.  A shock.  Everything a dead end, eventual homelessness.

So is the scientist drawn to the particular problem as it reveals itself to him and makes him wonder and get out his paper, pen and drawing board and return to study nature.

Striving for happiness, the great mystery, the mathematical problem, the impossibility, unless you flip the problem around so that it is the simple things that make you happy, far simpler than the things of modern life's complicated ways, a visit with your mom…


"One intuits truth in Zen teachings, even those that are scarcely understood;  and now intuition had become knowing, not through merit but--it seemed--through grace," Matthiessen writes in a key passage of The Snow Leopard, a book I am finding practical and hugely useful.  The passages leading up discuss the Bodhisattva Avalokita Ishvara, who represents, as the writer explains, "the divine within."  There is a sutra the writer chants, in Japanese, related to this Bodhisattva known in Japan as Kanzeon, and Matthiessen has it written on a plum pit amulet given to him by his Zen master.  The sutra is a close relative of the chant Om Mani Padmi Hum, which Matthiessen breaks down for his readers.   "'Eternal, Joyful, Selfless, Pure' are the qualities of Nirvana in which the Dream-state, 'the Many,' of samsara, is transmuted in Awakening, 'the One.'"  And this to me, quietly, is brilliant.  Thank you, Bodhisattva of Matthiessen's departed form.

Now, after a call to mom during a shuffle through the neighborhood, warm, windy--my old man cherry tree next to the Irish Patriot Robert Emmet has lost many of its blossoms, leafing out in its wide spread--and remaining sore well into the evening such that a nap is necessary, partly out of gloom of "never wanting to go back to tending bar ever again," I am able to reflect.  It seems I have seen Mara's army of devils, the many strange individual things of samara, the world of suffering, in my travails.  It seems they have sat at my bar, in one form or another.  And thus they must be part of my enlightenment, my need for awakening into a sense of one.  "Padme--in the lotus--is the world of phemonena, samsara, unfolding with spiritual progress to reveal beneath the leaves of delusion the mani-jewel of nirvana, that lies not apart from daily life but at its heart," writes the writer of The Snow Leopard, laying down the wisdom, with footnotes.

Then am I able to reflect on a visitor at the bar from Saturday night, a customer of jazz night who'd given me her business card while tipsy one evening, to whom I finally politely responded to via email before heading off to work in my own state of samsara.  Going about the chores of a Saturday night, which is as much as being a waiter over the front half of the dining room when my fellow is busy in the back room, the woman appears, sits down, talks about her travels, talks to a strange couple who begin to lean in on her as she talks away, drinking a few glasses of Sancerre.  I am not in a mood of entertaining.  This person has strange energy, increasingly loud, and after a third glass of wine, then a glass of port--I am reminded of her drinking-- I am greatly relieved when, finally, she departs, seeming to know to drop the cue for me to walk her home, "there is a predator on the loose."  I waited on the boss and his wife, who had retreated to a quiet corner to dine in peace, dealt with the last few people, spared by a babysitter, chatty, cleaned up, took the rechargeable candles off the tables, counted the money, ate a reheated hamburger, retrieved my beloved bike, set the alarm, stepped out, closed the door.

I finally got home, and opened, I must admit, a bottle of wine just to have enough energy to vacuum the living room rug.  I sleep fitfully, sore.  And my day starts unhappily, because I know better now that I was wrong for seeing phenomena as disjointed individual things, and only later do I say, inwardly, "Ah-HAH!" like Jack Kerouac and sing praises to my salvation and deeper understanding.  But that's what I often see, the people of Samsara, who see things individually, thus themselves individually, thus egos grown to big in search of illusory selves and illusory pleasures and statements.  Palm Sunday, indeed.  Bars should have signs above them, "Do Not Disturb."

This generally speaks of the great problem of the modern world, its great fascination with the multiplicity of samsara, its suggestion that in order to participate we must know, taking seriously, its individual leaves of delusion as if, indeed, our own gainful employment depended on it.   It speaks of our need to go home and meditate, as if to say, "Fuck you, it's all the same; let me go home and light some sandalwood incense and a candle to calm."  Being home alone doesn't seem to effect the nature of reality very much anyway.

Armed with a bit of poetic Buddhist wisdom perhaps I am able again to put my job of barman in some perspective, thus indebted to the kindness of Bodhisattvas everywhere.



And yet, after writing, finally preparing dinner, getting grass fed burgers and a steak that needs cooking ready, breaking out the small Weber grill, the charcoal chimney's bottom rusted, another wave of loneliness or sadness sweeps over me, as the glow of realizing some wisdom fades, nagged by other things in the mind.   As the Buddhists say, you can learn the most from your enemies, things like patience, compassion, non-judgment, lessons you need along the way of life, and this is something that makes a lot of sense.  I know myself how wrong-headed ideas can flicker through, and even take control in the mind, all of them illusions.  The uncontrolled mind is a raging elephant.  Is writing "the next book" even an artistic endeavor still, or has it not become a record of sorting things out, so, as if, to move on, to evolve.

The coals are glowing, flames rising before their transport to the grill, and oddly enough it is a message, through Facebook, that saves me, preserves my ability to meditate, and keeps me from opening the bottle of white burgundy my mom put in the fridge when she visited, as I only think I need a glass of wine.  A lovely old soul far away.

I am up 'til the wee hours yet again, but at least it is a quiet time, free of sirens, helicopters overhead, the rumble of traffic on streets below.  The neighbors sleep and there is quiet here.  I know why I fear my shifts, uneasy about them.  I also know I will learn from them.