Time for a few smiles!
One More for the Path
One More for the Path
By JOHN KENNEY
Buddha was not a god. He was a human being like you and me, and he suffered just as we do.
— “The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching,” by Thich Nhat Hanh
His Holiness said his experience was that the American people in general tend to react quickly to developments, being very joyous when something good happened or feeling depressed when something bad took place. He suggested that they needed to take time to think over the development.
— The Dalai Lama’s Web site, reporting on his visit to New York last week
BY now it was late and we were at Pastis and His Holiness was trying to get the bartender’s attention. The place was crowded and His Holiness seemed annoyed.
“What does a guy have to do to get a beer around here?” he said, more under his breath than to anyone in particular. Then he started laughing. “Patience, right? Let’s live in this moment. It’s just that it would be a better moment if we had beer.” Then he started laughing again.
I hadn’t seen him in a long time. I grew up on the farm next to his family’s in Tibet. I still knew him as Lhamo Dhondrub, his birth name, and I said, “Do you mind if I call you Lhamo?” And he smiled and said, “Yes, I do mind. Call me Mr. Dalai Lama.” I thought he was serious but then he laughed but I got the sense he was kind of serious. That’s the thing about the Dalai Lama. He loves practical jokes but is also touchy.
We were both seated cross-legged at the bar and eating hard-boiled eggs, one after another. We talked about Siddhartha and his search and the bodhi tree and the Four Noble Truths and also the Noble Eightfold Path and how it’s really badly organized and why didn’t the Buddha just make it simpler?
The Dalai Lama thought deeply and stared into my eyes with a look of benevolence. Then he said, “Do you know what word I find funny? Underpants.” We laughed, because I think underpants is a funny word too. Then these two women I’d noticed who were standing near us came over and said, “What’s so funny?”
The lama said, “Underpants.”
The women raised their eyebrows, as if to say, “Naughty!” And then they laughed too because even though the word underpants is funny, the way the Dalai Lama says it is even funnier.
We all caught our breath and the Dalai Lama said, “So what do you girls do?”
Chrissie worked at an ad agency on Mountain Dew, which the Dalai Lama had never heard of and was confused by. And Bethany worked at Bloomberg Business Week in sales.
They asked what I did and I told them, freelance poetry. And they asked the lama and he said, “I’m the 14th Dalai Lama and the spiritual leader of Tibet.” Bethany said that sounded awesome and Chrissie said she had a friend who she thought did the same thing. Then Chrissie said, “Do you guys want to party? We know about this awesome thing that’s happening at Marquee.”
The lama said, “That sounds cool.”
I nodded and Bethany said, “That reminds me. The Buddha talks about the Five Aggregates as form, feeling, perception, volition and consciousness. Sometimes I feel fat even though I know I’m not. Is that feeling or perception?”
The lama said, “I have no idea but you’re definitely not fat.” Then we all laughed because she wasn’t.
Then he got serious and said, “In the Ratnakuta Sutra, Chapter 23, there is a story about the Five Aggregates. A man throws a clod of earth at a dog. The dog looks at it and barks furiously. The dog does not realize that it is the man and not the clod of earth that is responsible. It’s not a great story.”
We all shook our heads because it wasn’t a great story and the word “clod” was annoying.
Chrissie said, “What’s the point?”
The Dalai Lama said, “I think it’s something to do with duality.”
Then we all meditated for a bit but the bartender got weirded out and asked us to leave. We took the women’s numbers and said we’d call but we knew we wouldn’t and the lama was like, “Why do we do that? It’s just wrong.”
“I might call Chrissie. She seemed great.”
“I should call Bethany but what’s the point? It’s the same awkward conversation every time I mention the celibate thing and not wanting children and living in India. I’ve got to get a place here.”
I said, “You want to play pool, have a nightcap?”
The Dalai Lama said, “I was about to say no when I thought of a line that made me realize the moment, that brought me back from drifting.”
“What was the line?” I asked.
“It’s all for you, if you really want it. It’s all for you, if you say you need it.”
“Did the Buddha say that?”
“Janet Jackson. The “All for You” album. Virgin Records. Released April 24, 2001.”
We walked downtown, trying to hail an off-duty cabby who made a rude gesture at us and so we did too, then regretted it, then laughed.
“Life is suffering,” the lama said. “But would it kill the guy to stop just to see if we’re going in the same direction?”