The Water Vendor

Early morning, Saturday July 25, 2020

After brewing and pouring coffee, I sit at the computer station in my home office. I answer a message in my mailbox and review and respond to a few posts and comments from friends in Facebook. It is still early morning and the sun is strong on the lake. All is quiet and peaceful outside and inside. What next to do in and with this day? I have no plans, no urgent writing or other projects, nothing important to do.

I swivel my chair 90 degrees right and stare at the cork board on the wall, where I post all manner of items.

My gaze fixes on the man in the picture, left of center. I admire this man whom I have never met.

It was June 2005 in Kabul, Afghanistan, when and where I was performing a consultation for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. It was my second day of orientation and was being driven through Kabul while receiving commentary by the driver, an Afghan employee of the Committee.

The man was dressed as if for an important occasion: clean, crisp-appearing clothing. He strode erectly and purposefully—proudly, I intuited. He was selling water, according to my guide.

Although this image always inspires me, it also enhances the dissatisfaction I am feeling. I’m old and have completed my life’s work, I have provided for my children, I have said almost everything I have say, and have long ago begun to repeat myself.

Yet, I am fit and healthy, still able to do… something. What?

Well, today we will visit the garden and enjoy the rewards of having cultivated a small plot of flowers, vegetables and berry bushes. There will be the sounds of birds, and also of children playing in the nearby field. There will be bees and other insects doing their vital work.

I am aware that I am on the verge of complaining and I begin to castigate myself. All these voices one carries!

I think of Zorba. He would verbally abuse me for this puling. I think of the Zen teachers of Peter Matthiessen who might merely strike me with a bamboo stick.

I think of my father and his recitations of Invictus during very hard times.

I think of Uncle Tommy who carried the whole fishing community of Newport Beach on his shoulders when there were still fish to catch.

I think of Uncle Harry who went through hell as a child and young man, but who prevailed to create a beautiful life and family.

What then, for me, now?

Back to the teachers of Peter Matthiessen.

Just be. Just do.

Or as Frank Sinatra said, “do-be-do-be-do.”

Posted in Consciousness, The Self, Zen | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Words cannot recreate ‘just-as-it-is-right-now’…

Photo by Jessica Rothman in Mestia, Georgia

… yet, in vain, we continue to issue words.

I am rereading Nine-Headed Dragon River: Zen Journals, by Peter Matthiessen. One chapter is an account of his journey to the land of Dolpo on the Tibetan plateau. He later expanded this journal-chapter to create his popular The Snow Leopard.

Throughout the book Matthiessen describes how his teachers and fellow Zen students engage in rigorous, silent meditation. He also describes their conversations, of the type peculiar to practitioners of Zen Buddhism. Typically, the students are full of questions; the teachers, in response (if any, for often they will remain silent), will issue seemingly obscure or nonsensical phrases or ask questions in return, some of which are koans;  or, the teacher will even yell at the questioner. There is method underlying these responses.

I perceive a paradox in what I understand of the Zen way. Practitioners and their acolytes are, in varying degrees, seeking what the Sixth Patriarch described “one’s true self”. Seeking is an egoistic activity or path, yet in Zen (and in other Ways) the ego is an illusion.

But let us forgive any perceived logical inconsistencies, in ourselves and others. The koan, and other instructions, are issued to avoid, even destroy logical thinking so that one can perceive, intuitively, without words, the oneness of all things.

We are human, not god-like; but each of us has a Buddha, an enlightened one, waiting to emerge or grow from us.

What stimulated this writing, here and now, was the reading of a poem uttered by a Zen teacher upon learning of the death of a revered friend and fellow teacher:

Eighty-nine years, just-as-it-is!
How can I express, right now
The grave importance of this very thing?

Right now. This is all there is.

How can I express it?

Not with words.

Posted in Books & Literature, Enlightenment, satori, enlightenment, kai wu, Zen | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments