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.