If you want a good conversation birds should be your first choice, wading birds at the top of the list, although you still have to be quick for if you meander they will lose interest.
Animals are to who you should turn if you need advice on getting through the omnipresent obstacles life raises to impede your smooth passage through it, but note cats tend to be pithy and easily bored.
Cows and horses in the fields have almost infinite patience, and listen when others would turn away, but note that they are easily distracted so it is best to keep a handful of hay at the ready always.
And, remember to bring your dictionaries for birds and animals will speak to you only in their own languages despite the fact that they fully understand yours, but do not deign or desire to be thought of as human.
Tonight, if all goes well, I will be a monk in a good-sized Buddhist temple. I am hoping it will be in Nara, at Todai-ji perhaps, or Asakusa at Senso-ji, or better still somewhere in Kyoto, although it might well be in the Myanmar jungle or somewhere deep within the Laotian highlands.
One problem with that world is that I have no control over it, which, come to think of it, leaves it like the waking world which has never hewn to my direction.
I’ve had this desire for weeks on end, and I suspect tonight will be no different, and I will spend eight hours sorting files, writing cease and desist letters and trying to convince myself that even that is a form of mindful meditation and abiding kensho will arrive in the next rapid eye movement.
My first inclination, in fact my strong desire, when he asks me what time it is, is not to consult my watch, but to say that we live in an age of unprecedented uncertainty, an era of division and incivility, and days fraught with risk that each might be the last.
I know he wants to know the hour and the minute, but if he is late, the moment wasted in knowing just how much so merely adds marginally to the problem.
And if the question lacks that import to him, then time is no more than a human construct, malleable despite our demand of rigidity, and subject to the whims of Popes and politicians, and all the rest of nature can only marvel at our absurdity.
He hangs on the guest room wall, simply framed in black, adjoining his more ornate, Cheshire- cat smiling sister. He isn’t brooding really, there is just a certain needful sadness, as he stares out, imagining how he pictured things would be, how they were supposed to be, realizing here, they never were, never will be, and although there is no failure, no blame, he wears it as his personal armor, still so easily pierced by dreams.
The young man says, “I cannot comprehend how karma can be balanced.” The woman laughs, says, “you remember but I was once a stripper, that I took off my clothes, and being naked in the presence of men was nothing, since to them I wasn’t a person, just an object of momentary desire, but that life is behind me, as you know. But as a healer, my therapies take me to the strangest places, like the swingers’ club which hired me to do massages, and there I was the only one dressed, they were naked and I am certain at that moment karma found almost perfect balance.” “Now,” he laughed, “I have two images I will carry in my head forever.”
The river that I imagined, a torrent of words and images is little more than a dry trickle, construction cranes along one shore hauling away half- and ill-formed thoughts, leaving only desire and frustration as a marker of what might have been. I looked at each bend, hidden from sight as harboring that epiphany that I promised myself, and not further evidence of my own delusion. We will make port this afternoon Where I can, at last, offload my frustration and these shards of a fantasy now gone to dust.
If I ask you to bring me an atom of oxygen, where will you search for it, how will you isolate it, so that you have captured a single atom that you can bring in response to my request? It may take some time and great effort to satisfy my desire. Or you may simply smile and tell me to breathe and choose the atom I wish from the multitude you have provided.
A reflection on case 3 of Bring Me the Rhinoceros (koans).