Friday, February 23, 2007

No Zen Here

I’ve never been a Dharma Bum.

Back in the days when somebody looking at me or listening to me might have mistaken me for one, I was actually of a more Tibetan frame of mind. I didn’t read Kerouac or worry about mountains or motorcycles. I read “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism,” meditated with pleasant people in a loft above a bar and listened to and discussed cassette tapes of lectures by a man named Rinpoche.

After a great deal of time devoted to this, after listening to and discussing many lectures, we listened to one particularly long lecture about the nature of existence. When the lecture concluded and someone switched off the cassette player, someone else looked over at me and asked, “Mark, do you understand that?”

I took a breath, slowly, and thought about it. Not just the question, but also the people looking at me and waiting for an answer, the previous lectures and discussions we all shared, the notion that for thousands of years people just like us had engaged in similar behavior and thought about similar things.

Nobody rushed me. Nobody hurried to fill the silence with their own voice while I considered my response.

Then I selected my words very carefully and said, “I understand it exactly as well as I understand everything else we’ve listened to and discussed.”

And everyone burst out laughing. Everybody laughed, everyone nodded and a couple of people tapped their knuckles on the tabletop. The guy who had been working the cassette player leaned over and rubbed my shoulder.

A Dharma Bum might not have spoken the word satori to describe the moment we all shared, but a Dharma Bum would have been thinking it was a satori moment.

Those of us of a more Tibetan mindset regarded it simply as a good moment to boil some water and take a tea break.

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