In a college dorm, in a prison, in a marriage
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Stephen T. Butterfield, author of The Double Mirror: A Skeptical Journey into Buddhist Tantra (North Atlantic Books), is “sustained moment to moment by infinite compassion and beauty, often expressed as the kindness of friends.” He lives in Shrewsbury, Vermont.
She comes in at 4:30 and spends half an hour in the bathroom without speaking to you, and you know why she is washing. She walks upstairs to the bedroom and announces that she has found someone else, she has just spent the night with him, and she is moving out. She blames you.
Such peaceful, isolated rural houses, obscured by woods, miles from the nearest police, are sitting ducks for thieves. My neighborhood had ten burglaries in a single summer. Before robbing an area, burglars often take pictures of the houses, watch the residents, and make hang-up calls; they might pose as door-to-door evangelists. They hit most often in the early morning.
I sat by myself on the train from Copenhagen. In the middle of the night, the door to my compartment opened. A young woman wearing a ponytail, a T-shirt, and a dark blue suit eyed me stretched out on the seat, my gray hair curled over my collar. Then she decided to come in. She heaved her baggage into the overhead rack, shut the door, and stretched out on the opposite seat.
Then he let go of me, and the meaning of the poem was clear. This man had finally brought me inside of it. Both of us had somehow been given what we came for. On the trail down to the bridge I broke out in goose flesh.
When he was old, I tried to introduce him to the Buddhist doctrine of emptiness; I thought it would ease any anxiety he might be having about the imminence of death. “Ultimately,” I began, “you never were.” “Maybe not,” he said, peering over the rim of his glasses, “but I made a hell of a splash where I should have been.”
Andy was already twelve when I met him. He lived at our local dharma study group center, where we talked about impermanence, suffering, enlightenment, compassion, old age, death, the meaning of self, and in what sense the mind could be said to continue beyond death.
The press reported recently that Osel Tendzin, the successor to Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, has had AIDS for years. Tendzin made love with some of his students without telling them they were at risk, and passed the virus on to them and their unknowing partners.
In Tibetan Buddhist liturgy, a reminder of death is chanted before each session of religious practice: “The whole world and its inhabitants are impermanent; in particular, the life of beings is like a bubble; death comes without warning; this body will be a corpse.”
Flies are constantly present in human life. They investigate the baby’s diaper and have to be shooed away from the dying grandmother’s face. They cannot be ignored.
For seven years, Buddhist and Christian meditators have met at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, to understand each other’s religious experience, and to search out what it may have to offer the modern world.
My mother sang and laughed. She had dark hair that gradually turned silver. She felt that no matter how little the money or how bad the loss, it was OK to have fun.