The disc of the moon shines for all to see. It is not hidden. Likewise the sun and the Dharma-Vinaya.
Considering this, she asked the Master
If that be so
how then to discern
to glean absorb extract it from the tangle of
so many accountings–
all those characters!
arm waving sullenness expounding door slamming
earnestness analysis episodes
chapters and verses
variations on a theme
themes of variance
arguments for and against?
His broken mala fell from the cliff a thousand foot waterfall; his sigh
bent trees to the ground
when the Guru let his hair down
it dropped to his waist
a rogue and massive wave breaking on shore
he saddled his horse hopped astride
and smiled down at his beloved
the sunlit golden amber blazed fire at her throat; lapis lazuli sky
on her fingers and wrists
the dirt beneath their feet in the waning light
ran the color of coral
Listen, he said
laughing, lending his hand that she might leap up alongside him,
those things of which you speak have nothing to do with what’s real
none of it
not a single grunt or whistle or scream
no praise or paean even
no ruse no sulking no act of
whether heroic careless or malevolent
is evidence or proof
of the primordial nature of truth
truth is empty
limitless suffering gives way; death is bone
laughter is blood
a cup of butter tea is real
so too the blessed tsampa
a monk’s prayer an ani’s song apricots on a summer’s morn
a long ride on a good horse a loving embrace a spirited debate
when dogs barking wildly in the wee hours are a symphony
when someone else’s heart breaks and you clutch at the
lightning bolt in your own chest
desire is broken; truth is empty
limitless suffering gives way
When we first entered Tibet, I asked myself, “What stories will Tibet fill my dreams with each night? What secrets, in the light of day, will she ask me to tell?” Days have gone by that feel like lifetimes since that crossing, a mere 4 or 5 days ago. I am whittled to near nothing, down to the bone, by the sheer magnitude of the land and its history, not to mention the indelible mark left on the same by the Guru Rinpoche, Padmasambhava, and his consort and equal, the Lady Yeshe Tsoygal.
“Three things cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.” While this quote–attributed with some certainty to the Buddha– is certainly catchy, what does it really mean? And is it what the Buddha actually said? A clue lies in the ancient text that’s been paraphrased into the familiar pithy saying. Read from a spiritual perspective, it points to truth in relation to ultimate rather then conventional mind. If one is looking for a quick tag line, the distinction might not matter too much; truth being “relative” or based on “fact” when viewed with conventional mind. But if one seeks to comprehend the Dharma, the distinction between conventional and ultimate reality is significant; in fact, it makes all the difference. Consider the ancient text:
“The disc of the moon shines for all to see. It is not hidden. The disc of the sun likewise shines for all to see. It is not hidden. And the Dharma-Vinaya (teaching and discipline) shines for all to see. It is not hidden. All suffering is caused by desire, suffering ceases when desire ceases. Right conduct, wisdom, and meditation liberate one from desire whereupon one is enlightened, that is, released from samsara, the endless cycle of desire, suffering, and rebirth.”
To say there might exist in the Universe something we could call ultimate truth is not dogmatic. It’s not unfounded even. To say that there might be a way out of samsara, a way to experience liberation from suffering and help others do the same forever is not dogmatic. It’s encouraging.
We fall silent in the jeep after a long round of carping about our situation. We have valid complaints as far as complaints go but who doesn’t? There’s always something. Anyway, we’ve exhausted the whole thing for now. Pass me the biscuits. Such a good word, biscuit. Soft on the ears. So much more appealing than the childish and undignified cookie. Sigh. Imagine…these are the thoughts I’m having while driving through Tibet. Writers are plagued with this sort of thing–no one knows our inner turmoil over word choice. I could look like I’m thinking about something sublime when I’m actually tossing around the difference between biscuit and cookie. Nevermind. I take out a bottle of water and dump a packet of 3-in-1 (instant coffee, sugar and powdered “cream”) into the bottle and shake it up. Ah. What’s become of me? Drinking this swill and humping merrily along in the middle of nowhere. I don’t like being perceived as arrogant or not giving a shit, but right now I’m relieved to just sit here silently, watching Tibet roll by, contemplating my coffee and biscuit while at the same time contemplating contemplation itself.
Just as I can be fascinated by conflict rather than wishing it would go away, I can just as readily find good reason to let it go. Like the old country song says, I’m a walking contradiction. But there’s this, too. We’ve come this far to do more than the average tourist or trekker. So I can get worked up about it. I do in fact get worked up about it. The art, that is. About the way artistic expression works–the mandate for authenticity, the need for looseness, the necessary balance of experience and production–these are things that are very, very hard to convey to people who think they understand when they don’t. Artistic space, like clothing, can’t be too tight if one’s to be able to jump and roll and run around and stretch in it. It can’t be too loose if one is to not wind up naked and shivering. Yet, if another person says, “You have all the time and space you want,” I’m liable to scream. Oh, wait. I think I already have. Or at least raised my voice.
I’m working out the logistics of writing an accurate portrayal of this journey while mapping it and figuring it out, matching content to intention, staying on track (?) while all the while maintaining honesty and humor and asserting my basic goodness in conjunction with my professional needs. It grates on me that interpersonal relationships have become part of the fabric of this assignment. I guess I don’t mean that. I’ve said right along that I’m not along as a journalist in the sense of chronological recording of times, places and facts in some sort of linear format. But I am a journalist of another sort. I have to admit, I’ve developed (albeit grudgingly) a sense of gratitude for my own (as Doris Lessing called hers) small personal voice and that’s good, because whether I like it or not, whether I’m talking about myself or not, I’m there, I’m in it, on it (the page, that is). And really, there’s a lot to be mined, material-wise, if as a writer I’m to reflect on the teachings of our subject, Padmasambhava, and not focus solely on the places he traveled to. So really, the only way I can write about this journey is to be as honest as I possibly can and if I’m that honest I might, just might, be seen as crazy or contentious.
So let’s talk about crazy wisdom. Crazy wisdom being in Tibetan Buddhism the counterpart to the Zen koan. The only way to explain truth is to not explain it. Or to offer outlandish contradictions to the obvious.
I don’t want to be seen as confusing crazy wisdom with our uniquely Western “anything goes” attitude, or our smart ass pretentiousness. Crazy, yes. Heedless or rude, no. I remember hearing somewhere that the novelist Tom Robbins said something about the unfortunate Western tendency to leave spirituality out of personal freedom and creativity. I can’t remember his exact words–I’m sure it’s Google-able–it was something to do with crazy wisdom in the West being devoid of a spiritual dimension. That’s a big statement. I’d like to expand on it a bit, to say that some Westerners pretend to be spiritually inclined while exploring their own form of crazy wisdom which is little more than self indulgence. If we’re to explore the nature of ultimate truth (within the confines of which all sorts of seemingly questionable, even “crazy” stuff goes on–magic, for instance) vs. conventional truth (wherein an explanation is sought for everything, even the obvious) we might need to agree on a few things first. One being a hunger for common ground rather than a need to be right or make someone else wrong. Arguments for arguments’ sake are boring. They leave little room for the sort of satisfaction shared truth brings, which is far more orgasmic than, “I’m right, you’re wrong, nyah nyah nyah.”
I have such respect for the photographer travelling with us. He wants more from his camera than it will give him sometimes but rather than accept something less, rather than figure he can do pretty much anything and most people will love it, he doesn’t make the shot. He keeps studying, practicing, reaching for that place in himself that he has to find if he’s going to get the shot he’s after. It’s like the little sign I saw on someone’s computer, “This is a machine, it doesn’t have a brain. Use yours.” His work is his prayer and his penance. Since most of what he shoots is amazing, it’s easy (although not to those of us who know better) to wonder why he’s standing there staring at a rock instead of taking its picture.
Our filmmaker is a man torn between frames. On the one hand there’s the world he sees through the lens and on the other a world that calls to him to mitigate what in most cases could simply be done away with. Without the camera he considers both sides. He compromises, gives in, looks for higher ground. He’s a good man. As a mediator he’s fair but flawed, caught by surprise in fruitless ambiguity. Camera in hand he’s relentless–a good man who knows what’s up and doesn’t doubt it. I can argue with him over coffee but am utterly powerless in front of his camera to do anything but bare my soul, time and again. The land and everyone, everything on it feels the same about that camera. No compromise, no higher ground than the vantage point of that insistent lens.
Then there’s the dancer. To watch her study the land with her body and offer it up, respond to the elements through movement, is to watch grass play in the wind or water tumble without restraint over a cliff. She teases the clouds, seduces birds. I’ve seen it! They come to her diving and gliding. Prayer flags stop flapping around and dance with her on purpose. The mountains shrug off small stones and send them tumbling when she walks by, hoping she notices and she does. She picks them up, rolls them around. Ecstasy. And while she suffers the constraints of the concept of “dance”, she does it well. Hers is to define the undefinable by way of the body. The outcome is perfect even in its imperfection; she understands and therefore will always defend the nature of bone and flesh.
I am so honored in this company of artists. Who are we four? North, south, east, west. Air, water, fire, earth. Many, many times in these last few days I’ve been so saturated with beauty, so happy, so fulfilled by simply being alive and in the company of other artists. Together we struggle, push away, pull back, give and take and yield and resist with such fervor, I know we’re on the right track. I feel I’m in the company of animals. No middlemen, no go-betweens. I close my eyes to see if when I open them I’m still here. Not just here, in Tibet, but here. In a body, inside the experience of being.
At our best, we want to paralyze people with our art, stop them in their tracks and keep them there until they have to think, notice, awaken. We are not out to anesthetize them, placate them, give them more of what they’re used to. We seek to break their hearts then turn around and comfort them, rattle them with love, get them to laugh, really laugh, not at the expense of others but because life is really funny. It’s absurd! Silly! Ridiculous! We should belly laugh whenever we can. Art should hold us down until we yell, “Uncle!” This is not about me. I’m willing to risk it looking like it is, though, if that’s what it takes to get the job done.
The sky is leaden, clouds inside other clouds. Everything’s gray but nuanced, not flat but tonal–an all-encompassing charcoal drawing, no blue sky, none, the clouds spit icy rain in small pellets every now and then, mostly nothing falls from the sky but the threat remains. It feels like weather’s happening somewhere. We’re getting the leftovers or maybe it’s more like a portent of things to come. The wind is blowing dust along the road and few cars or trucks pass by. There’s the occasional black tent of a nomadic family, a lone figure on horseback against the backdrop of mountain and sky, a yak, a few goats. It’s fantastically desolate.
We’re high on the Tibetan plateau in some nondescript place uninhabited but for what is hidden or barely seen. The somehow enticing melancholy nature of it all settles me. I like it. Somehow this vast landscape is intensely private. Intimate. I feel anonymous here. I feel anything but lonely; this is an isolated but not a lonely place. I sink into the luxury of isolation as if sipping brandy on a winter’s eve. I feel like brooding, and while it seems counter-intuitive that it does so, brooding makes me happy sometimes. It makes me smile inside which I worry could look cranky to outsiders. I know I might appear less than happy but I’m not. I keep coming back to raw. Raw is the new comfort zone. Raw is home base.
I play the dog game. It’s a secret. I pretend to be a dog watching out the window as the barren landscape slips by. Sitting in the middle in the back seat, I settle my rear end in for the long haul…five or six hours at least with only a couple gone by so far. Like a dog, I’m content to feel rather than think. I’m content with all the feelings that come up. I watch them rise and fall, slide by like cars on a train. I’m reminded of the top bunk on the Trans-Siberian Railroad ride across Mongolia. The hopelessly endearing quality of being trundled along, not in charge or control, just watching it all go by.
Around us the mountains loom black against the gray sky. They are ridiculously huge, these Himalayas. There’s no description of any adequacy to be found for them in the usual definitions of huge. They are outlandish clown mountains. They are mountains with more than their share. They are planets in orbit around an underground sun. They set the land spinning, a mirage atop a hidden universe. I am nothing in size but a speck of dust to them. Less than that. An amoeba. Yet I feel their eyes on me, on us. They are not inanimate, these mountains. They are gods and goddesses. They’re alive and that’s no metaphor. The mythology of this place is way more fact than fiction.