Friday, November 13, 2009

The Boat Drifts

Maybe a Buddhist who neither meditates nor gives is no Buddhist at all: only a person who has at one time entertained a set of opinions, which could as well have been opinions about Hegel, or toothpaste brands, or French parliamentary procedure. But it lingers and dominates.

And it has left me with some conviction, absurdly enough, that I know what I am here for -- a question the Buddha never propounded, and never attempted to answer. I have made up an answer out of Buddhism, and my psychological weaknesses, nevertheless: I am here to love and be loved; I am here to learn how not to believe in my own stories; I am here to find the Northwest Passage to the Pure Lands. Each of these projects decisively excludes the other two, but I find myself unwilling, even unable, to abandon any of them. And meanwhile, the boat drifts, and the sky darkens.

Or you could as easily say -- and meanwhile, I have come into unimaginable plenitude. And that's true too.

Someone who has been hungry all his life may be excused, maybe, for taking a year or two simply to explore the sensation of being well fed. It changes everything: it changes the color of the sky and the tilt of the ground and the smell of the autumn air.

I have felt for nearly thirty years now that I have no claim against the universe. In that moment of sunlight through the leaves, in Olympia, I thought, "I could die now with no sense of anything left undone, with no feeling but gratitude for all that has been given me." My pitcher was full, overflowing: the glistening honey-colored stuff ran down my sides, sticky and sweet, all lit up by the sun. There is nothing I must still do, or get, or feel, to have had a full life.

But apparently there was a hidden reservation, a secret clause in that treaty. Because of this deep sense of a longtime need finally filled. I am rudely, extravagantly alive. I am juvenile and ungovernable. And still it goes on. I am younger than I've ever been. This world, that should be decorously closing, is unfolding richer colors, disclosing deeper petals. It's too late now to worry about frosts.

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