In entering, do you arrive or are you leaving. In departing do you leave or are you arriving. Can the gate answer or does it choose to remain silent. The mountain shouts the answer but only the river can hear it.
A reflection on case 30 of the Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Eye)
Night has swallowed the city and in the laundromat, dryer 42 decries her loose drive belt. The young girl turns, “can you see it the Virgin Mary, in the glass porthole”. No, I think, only white cotton panties and several pair of jeans in endless rotation. “She speaks to me, asking for my forgiveness for the burden she has delivered to us and though I try to give her absolution she will not listen. Talk to her, maybe it is a male voice she needs to ease her mourning.” I stare fixedly at the washer as the light for final rinse snaps on, “she knows you, she is waiting, so talk into the camera, that one with the red light, and tell her that you forgive, as your forgave the other Mary, who you redeemed.” The dryer slowly grinds to a halt and the young girl grimaces, “she is gone, so perhaps she heard what I could not, and I thank you”. She wanders out onto the street and fades into the shadow outside the penumbra of the streetlight.
First published in Prairie Winds (1999)
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A wise Buddhist teacher once told me that anything you do, if you do it mindfully, can be a form of meditation, and I have taken this into my practice, albeit with mixed success, but that is one reason they call it practice.
Walking silently, following your breath in and out, aware of your feet, the earth, the sky is definitely meditative.
Chopping onions, carefully drawing the knife thorough the layers creating neatly incised bits is certainly meditative.
Sitting by a pond watching the sun slowly set it ablaze as the breeze ruffles the surface is absolutely meditative.
But folding laundry, no matter how mindfully I approach the task always and quickly morphs into a mindless search for the missing sock.
He’d been searching for ever, or so often seemed, for no-self, and he couldn’t fathom why it was so difficult to attain simple absence, nothing must be less than something, after all. He knew, like Sisyphus, he would continue to search until he succeeded, the gods of his soul decreed it and you don’t fuck with them. It was difficult recalling how much time had been wasted in the search for mirrors and when he found one, looked, there he was selfsame, self-filled, and he imagined, selfish. He took to always carrying a hand mirror and when he thought he might have found it he glanced at the polished surface in his hand and there he’d still be, his endless self older now, but there, very much still there. One day, frustration getting the better of him he wandered deep into a massive forest, hours later sitting on a fallen trunk, he reached for his mirror, gone. There was tree and sky and earth, that was all, as night enveloped everything, even his no-self.
The night is that bitter cold that slices easily through nylon and Polartec, makes child’s play of fleece and denim. The small rooms glow in the dim radiance of propane lights and heaters as the silver is carefully packed away in plastic tool boxes. The pinyon wood is neatly stacked in forty pyres, some little taller than the white children clinging to their parents’ legs, some reaching twenty-five feet, frozen sentinels against the star gorged sky. The fires are slowly lighted from the top, the green wood slowly creeps to flame as its sap drips fire until the pile is consumed. Half frozen we step away from the sudden oven heat. The smoke climbs obliterating the stars as the procession snakes from the small, adobe church, the men at its head firing rifles into the scowling smoke cloud. A sheet is draped over the four poles a chupah over the statue of the Virgin Mother remarried to her people. She weaves through the crowd, gringos, Indians, looking always upward, beyond the smoke the clouds against which it nestles, beyond all, for another faint glimpse of her Son.
Coyote no longer inhabits the hill south of our city. Yet we know he is there, staring down at the lake, watching the grape clusters fatten on the vines. We cannot see the orange-red orbs of his eyes on a still winter night. We know he sees us. Coyote cannot be found, no carcasses attest to his presence. Coyote is everywhere, walking among us, living in parks, living in plain sight, knowing he is invisible. We see his tricks, know we were once again outsmarted, know we can outsmart him. Coyote no longer inhabits the hills here, for he has morphed, and we are coyote.