Ticket To Ride, Book 2, Chapter 25: This is a holy place but not a “holy” place…

news_PMBT_BuddhaTogether, they traveled into the mountains north of Los Angeles in search of a Buddhist temple. There, they didn’t feel particularly welcome, or even otherwise enthused. A female monk greeted them from a distance as they approached the temple. The temple itself was actually a double-wide mobile home sitting on a lot with random stones strewn around and plants that looked like they hadn’t seen rain in years.

“This isn’t what I was expecting,” said Morgan.

“Me neither,” replied Livy.

The female monk came closer.

“Can I help you,” she asked in a rigid and icy tone.

“Um, can we look around?” asked Morgan.

“What is it that you want?” she asked coldly.

“Just to look around I guess,” replied Morgan.

Morgan and Livy took a few steps away from the monk and as they stepped away a large dog began to bark at them.

“This isn’t at all what I was hoping for.” said Livy.

“Why don’t we just split?” Morgan replied.

Livy nodded in agreement.

“We’re just going to take off,” Morgan said, trying to speak over the noise of the barking dog.

“Suit yourself,” the woman replied.

The two began to walk away.

“D’ya think this is the American version of buddhism?” Livy asked.

“Kind of like the American version of beer.”

“Exactly,” replied Livy.

On the way back over the mountains and heading toward the sea they saw a bend in the river, far below the road. The bend was almost a corner and there, at the base of a rocky cliff on the far side of the water, were two large, chiseled, boulders with pines, sycamores and oak trees rising above them and forming a triangle. Between the boulders sat a smaller stone and two mulberry trees that appeared as twin preachers. Behind the boulders, a very old live oak rose up twice their height and seemed a fitting replacement for the crucifix.

Morgan said it looked like a natural cathedral and how like Notre Dame it was.

“The earth made these things first and man was just a copy cat. Nothing new under the sun,” thought Livy, “but how lovely it is that nature is always first. “Things changed,” she said out loud now, “from the moment people began to congregate in villages. It was all here for us and we lost our way and’ve only created artificial replacements. That tree has a lot to say, more than any one can.”

Sitting by the river Livy thought how the trip to the Buddhist temple wasn’t all for naught. That they had gone there and not felt invited or welcome or drawn to it had just led them here, to this place which must have a name, but a place they would not give a name nor seek to find a name for from the people who would know these things. Names limit the energy and power of things, waterfalls are so much more than waterfalls. This place would just be the place they went to after the temple and they’d feel what it was and know that this place was where they both decided not to look further into organized religions.

“This is a holy place but not a “holy” place.”

“I know what you mean.”

Morgan had his beliefs in the power of the sea and Livy felt drawn to the forest. There’s power in these things, she thought, though they’re not seen. Just being in and around these things fed the inner life the way others are fed by the Sunday sermon. As she was thinking these things Morgan recited one of his songs to her:

 

“I don’t believe in idolatry,

I’m hindered by false prophecy,

and I don’t believe that God hangs out in a church.

My religion is not your decision,

my religion has no division,

mine is of you and you and you and me.

holy wars and mission plagues are what its brought to be

offer plunder

offer warfare

offer naught to me.

It’s of the openness of oceans

and of seas

of walking together

alone

of loving with ease

of the the wind in the mountains

of flesh, stone and bone

of thoughts without fear.

and in the seeds we’ve sown.

rejoicing in a union

or

just looking to the sky

embracing the land and oceans

answering

the “why.”

This is not a religion

in the modern sense at all

but have we gained by being modern

or following

a modern call?”

 

Livy felt warm everywhere and saw something rising in Morgan. He extended a hand toward her and she responded with a simple “yes,” and then they made love by the river.

Ticket To Ride, Chapter 7: Ambiguity is the essence of poetry…

worldReligions1Seven

Psalm continued to sit in a state of solemnity and reservation but Morgan had a feeling that it was all leading up to something. His solemnity had an air of imminence. Psalm would soon speak. The next moment it came.

“What do you believe in Morgan?”

“Ummm… ambiguity is the essence of poetry?” Morgan laughed.

“No really, what’s your belief, your philosophy?”

Morgan was taken aback by Psalm’s question. It seemed to him and it was made apparent to all with whom Psalm came into contact that Psalm was a christian, a Congregationalist, devoted, and not much interested in other beliefs.

“Why ask me my philosophy. I have no ties to any organized religion.”

Curiosity?

Psalm?

Psalm.

“Morgan?”

“I’m sorry Psalm, I was just thinking… I guess some sort of watered down form of Taoism is as close as I get to a personal philosophy.”

“Can you be more specific,” Psalm persisted, engaged?

“You know anything about the uncarved block?”

“No, but go on.”

“I just try not to let myself get all carved up… subjective… I… well… I try and face each moment and each experience with the same or at least a similar openness, like when you’re a kid, as objectively as possible… without all kinds of garbage in the way.”

“But who drives you?”

“Well I know who’s driving you, and this truck for that matter,” Morgan said smiling.

Psalm didn’t get it, or didn’t want to, so Morgan returned to the question, in all of its apparent seriousness.

“I listen to something inside of myself, feelings, desires, that sort of thing. I don’t look outside… to find myself or some divine purpose, just to see things. I just do what feels right. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some kind of nymphomaniac (laughing), my feelings are in my heart not in my…”

“But what about God, and Jesus Christ?” Psalm interrupted.

Inquisition?

“I believe in the spirit of both, but of the holy trinity I identify most closely with the holy ghost… that sounded sort of poetic…” Morgan smiled.

Stern Psalm.

“… I have no tangible evidence of a higher power, no one does, I have only what I feel… and I feel full of life, energy, spirit, whatever you want to call it. It’s just there.”

“But it’s God and Jesus Christ who give you that feeling,” Psalm retorted.

“I don’t fully deny either,” pulling a silver crucifix out from under his shirt, “You’re entitled to your opinion, Psalm. I respect what you think and feel…”

The wind was beginning to rise.

“But…” Psalm interrupted but this time Morgan, raising his voice, interrupted back.

“Maybe we should talk about something else.”

“Go on, what do you think, what do you really think about my church?”

“Look Psalm,” Morgan said, regaining his composure, “I think we’re taking this a little too seriously so I’m only going to say one more thing to answer your question and then let’s drop it, okay?… I think your religion is a bit fatalistic… original sin and a fiery hell… come on man… I think we’re born pure and should try to stay that way… belief… words… let’s not argue. We’re friends right?”

The rising wind slowed for a moment. The clouds drifted skyward, and away from the “needle” in the valley.

“Will you go to church with me tonight Morgan?”

“What time?”

“Seven.”

“It depends on when we finish unloading…maybe, there’s a good swell and I’d like to catch a couple waves…maybe.”

Ticket To Ride, Chapter 5: Morgan decided to move on…

truck
http://www.etsy.com/shop//randynyhofphotos

Five

They drove in silence for a short while.

“Did you say something Morgan,?” asked Psalm.

“No, why?”

“It’s nothing,” and thinks, “voices.”

…And again each became involved in his own thoughts and observations. Then when they had passed a small clearing to their right, on which sat the Rinzai Zen Temple, as if suddenly rediscovering each other’s presence, Morgan spoke:

“Gorgeous day, isn’t it?”

“Sure, maybe the rain…” he thinks “bloodredrain” and at this point Psalm trails off and Morgan is conscious of the fact that though Psalm had confirmed his statement, his tone was less than cheerful.

“Anything wrong Psalm?”

“No, nothing, nothing at all.” Same tone.

Morgan decided to move on to a more lively subject.

“Hey, I heard that Mr. Nagata brought in a good catch yesterday. He has a whole bunch of fresh fish that should be on sale today. Maybe we can pick up some and have a big fish-fry tomorrow at my house, I’m sure my mom would be ok with it.”

“That’d be nice Morgan, what about your dad” Psalm replied in an improved tone, not unconscious of the effort his young friend was making, “maybe we can do it tonight if you don’t have anything else going on.”

“Right.. dad, depends on his mood…,” Morgan replied, “let’s see how the unloading goes, we can play it by ear, shit man we haven’t even picked up the goods yet.”

“Morgan,” Psalm looks at Morgan disapprovingly.

“Yeah no drug references, right Psalm, sorry.”

Ticket To Ride, Chapter 2: When do you know you’re a man?

DSC_7016-1-4802Two

As the western peaks were unveiled by purelight of day, two tanned figures dressed in shorts and t-shirts, walked beneath the drowsy sway of the coconut palms, heading toward the sea. The two young men, one with dark hair and the other blonde, crossed the grounds of the Rinzai Zen temple. Though neither were confessed members of any denomination, this structurally intricate, eye-pleasing edifice offered an almost tangible air of higher consciousness, the essence of the East in their minds, which made them feel light and sage, like two young bodhisattvas on a spiritual sojourn. They met each morning, not through a sense of need, but because, like morning coffee, this pilgrimage was part of the morning ritual.

They had met this way since Morgan’s father had brought his family to the island in an attempt to escape the war-like turbulence of early 1970’s America. They came together to exchange stories or “talk story” and sometimes they would speculate about or marvel at the sea and what lay beyond; what sights, scents or sounds might be found in places like Cyprus, Indonesia or Sri Lanka. They preferred to consider the warm lands of the world because, like their parents, they were drawn to the comfortable climes, sunny places where life’s necessities could be kept to a minimum.

Their conversation came in a natural flow, with the ease of a mountain stream, and would rise and fall like the ocean swells which appeared consistently on the shallow reefs beyond the early-rising Japanese fishermen as they strung line and laid their nets in the ever-present sea. The boys did not readily acknowledge the fishermen but only focused on them between thoughts, using their deliberate and precise movements the way a musician makes use of a metronome or as one might gaze at a flickering candle flame, in profound meditation. On that particular day and within one of those particular moments, Morgan leaned forward and spoke deliberately:

“Man, I can almost see the outriggers and grass huts and beautiful brown girls bathing in the sea. What must it have been like here two hundred years ago, or even a hundred? How it would have been to be Conrad, Jack London or Melville?”

As he spoke, the morning sun shot warm light into the womb-like Iao Valley to the west; striking an ancient cinder cone known as the “Needle,” a verdant and “mystical” megalith rising from the middle of the valley. The local people believed it reflected light and energy into the world. And with that, the valley began to grow humid and sultry. The force of the sun encouraged the static air to gravitate skyward, like incense smoke, toward the volcanic, jagged, greenlife covered peaks. The warm, moist body accumulated quietly, first as a fine mist and then, as the morning progressed toward noon, it transformed itself into a great, grey, life-giving mass of water-laden clouds which eventually fell as a gentle rain, completing the necessary cycle and offered a watery infusion to the valley, its river, and finally, to the ocean. Each, in turn, breathed the sigh of vitality.

Miko replied with a simple “yeah” and pictured himself sitting there in the days before the missionaries and whalers. He saw himself as a young native boy preparing for a day of spearfishing or perhaps a trek to the leeward side of the island to collect Sandalwood for trade with the merchant ships. And then his eyes, at one moment fixed on the fisherman, rose above their heads and he focused again on the sea.

It surged without crashing and seemed to breathe, pushing and pulling at the sugary sand just as gentle, knowing hands caress the skin. And this, coupled with the charming industry with which the fishermen went about their morning, served to free the stream of conversation for several hours until it seemed, the rest of the world, or perhaps just the island, was waking up to the new day.

“Miko, when do you know you’re a man?”

There is no heaven or hell, only the heaven or hell you choose…

625867There is no heaven or hell, only the heaven or hell you choose to create in this life and the karmic debt you will carry into the next life on earth. Your choices and actions in this life will decide what form you will return to this earth in. If you’re a good person and treat others well you might return as a happy-go-lucky person with few worries or cares, or perhaps as an eagle devoted to a life of soaring through the skies. If you’re a bad person and treat others badly, you may return as a cockroach or an “unlucky” person beset with strife.

This is life, this is your life. Are you who you want to be? Now, and the next time around? Life starts now, not tomorrow, not in the “next life,” and not whenever you’re ready. Now means now. Smile and be kind.

From Pillow of Grass by Natsume Soseki, 1925

yin-yangFrom Pillow of Grass by Natsume Soseki

Going up a mountain track I fell to thinking. Approach everything rationally, and you become harsh. Pole along in the stream of emotions, and you will be swept away by the current. Give free rein to your desires, and you become uncomfortable confined.

When the unpleasantness increases, you want to draw yourself up to some place where life is easier. It is just at that point when you first realize that life will be no more agreeable no matter what heights you may attain, that a poem may be given birth, or a picture created.

The creation of this world is the work of neither God nor devil, but of the ordinary people around us; those who live opposite, and those next door, drifting here and there about their daily business. You may think this world created by ordinary people a horrible place in which to live, but where else is there? Even if there is somewhere else to go, it can only be a “non-human” realm, and who knows but that such a world may not be even more hateful than this?