Thursday, January 21, 2010

Coincidence, or something else?

My dearest Nora, wherever thou mayst roam,

Strange things are afoot. It all began at the beginning of the term (not even two weeks ago!) when I pulled out my copy of The Dharma Bums for reconsideration. It had been years since I'd read it, as I believe I have mentioned at least once had been years since I'd read any Kerouac.

My mind began to wander again through thoughts of beautiful and peaceful Buddhist imagery, and I found myself once again looking at nature through child eyes...wonder, amazement, tranquility. Having always been a fan of nature, it took my first reading of Walden to really open my eyes, and then The Dharma Bums to reawaken them. Lovely.

As recounted the other day, I ran into a fellow selling what purported to be peaceful messages. I longed for a sincere transaction, and had time permitted, I may have had one today.

My university holds an open-air market at some scheduled intervals that I once knew but have since forgotten. Today was one of the days. Among the tables of frats and sororities trying desperately to recruit a bunch of poor, lost suckers also sits tables for groups with political affiliation (or with none at all!), some sell food, others sell entertainment memorabilia, and so on.

Let me back up and tell you that when I made my way out of one of the many coffee/tea shops on campus, having secured a delicious blend of green teas, I was on my way to a class that was to start in 15 minutes. As the doors swung open, I heard what sounded like finger cymbals, or something similar, crashing at a steady beat. My heart rate elevated and I immediately thought of far east monks, chanting and spreading their word.

Where!? WHERE!?

At some table, off to the side, kind of near to where the frats and sororities advertise, that's where.

Seated under the shade of a four-posted cloth overhang (couldn't tell you the correct term) was an older gentleman in a saffron robe. Perhaps this would be of some interest!

As I approached, a young Asian man walked up to the table and initiated conversation. I wanted to join in and see what there was to see, but no time. A sign hanging from the front of the table mentioned free organic dietary information. Lots of little books stacked up. Hmm, why just this when a few tables down, some guy is yelling at the top of his lungs about a severe Christian guilt trip -- "YOU'RE GOING TO HELL, HE'S GOING TO HELL!!" and on like that. While I subscribe to the Christian faith, I certainly don't associate myself with that sort of finger-pointing. Where we end up is purely God's choice. All we can do is carry on in the best, most sincere, and compassionate way we know how.

At any rate, the man was bald on top all the way down to just above and behind his ears. Grey, curly hair. Grey and white beard just barely in need of a slight trimming...not an overwhelming jungle at all. Didn't get a look at his eyes, or any other detail of his face, for that matter.

I went hunting around in the library for another book to read, ending up with The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, which I'd selected rather at random from amongst the dozens of other books dealing with Buddhism. The reason I settled on this particular book was something I'd read on pages 117 and 118 after just happening to open the book up to that point. Here is what I read:

If we consider a particular moment of perception, the object of that perceptual episode no longer exists. This is so simply because of the mundane fact that the chain of events responsible for the arising of perceptual consciousness takes time. So the tree of which I am perceptually aware now is a tree that existed about one hundred milliseconds ago; not one that exists now. The light took some time to reach my eye; the nerve impulses from the eye to the brain took some time; visual processing took still more time. So if the story about how the tree is the percept-object condition of my perception according to which the tree exists simultaneously with the perception and exerts a causal power on my eye or visual consciousness were accepted, perception would be impossible. 

Of course, the last sentence of that really only does anything for you if you'd read the page(s) preceding. Anything at all dealing with perception grabs me by the ankles at once and does not relinquish its grip. I had to check it out.

And so I did.

As I made my way back to my apartment, I began studying the events of the last few days and wondered about how so many things related to the book I'm reading could make themselves apparent in my daily life. First, I thought it was a coincidence, like when someone or some thing shines a light on a particular word or phrase and it makes you take notice. "Hmm," you think, "I hardly hear anyone say that!" and suddenly, the whole world is saying it all around you. This must be it.

Then, I began to think about other moments in my life where such seemingly coincidental happenings were taking place, and I always come back to a feeling that none of this was random. The best part, and the part that makes me giggle like a child, is that I have no idea why these sets of events happen(ed) to me...and I know that I can't know why. Whereas once this was frustrating, now it is beautiful. Another of life's quirks, and something that might be answered after the completion of this life. Even then, maybe not. Makes no difference. Maybe this is the joy of ignorance!

These thoughts took me to a grand idea, but one that would, at least by percentages, be unsuccessful. Wouldn't it be fun to form a group whose sole purpose is to leave fragments of teachings from the wise, especially in matters such as compassion, forgiveness, and love, in various places to be discovered by unsuspecting university students? Little treasures that might profoundly impact their discoverer's life! Maybe it wouldn't even do that much, but would provide a few minutes of wonder over who would do such a thing, and why. I really found the idea appealing that, if stuck in library books, let's say, some of it would not be discovered for years, perhaps decades. This is something else that I got a kick out of as a child. While staying in hotels, I'd use the hotel stationary and pen to write something, anything, to someone, anyone and find a place to hide it so that it would not be discovered by the housekeepers, but by an unsuspecting guest. I even wrote some things and stuck them in a hole in the wall, later patched, of a house I used to live in. I know for a fact that all of the houses in that area were demolished to make way for new houses, which all look precisely the same as the ones that stood before. No doubt a shady deal led to that. But, I wonder if any of my writings were discovered by the workmen. Maybe not, but where did the end up? The possibilities are endless and fun to daydream about.

It's been a long time, Nora, since I've felt so silly and childish and adventurous...and fun! You don't know how much time I spent being serious as stone, always thinking of my studies. I'm glad this happened before I burned out and had to start all over, trying to figure out what to be...or worse yet, staying on the trail but failing miserably, only to be rejected by every last medical institution under the sun not once, but twice, or maybe even three times and THEN asking, "What now?" A balanced mind is a healthy mind, and the more fun I have with it, the healthier it feels.

Only time will tell what sort of oddball things you'll hear from me in letters to come. I'm looking forward to it.

May the grace of He keep you always,

J.O. Morris

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