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t e n . TRIBES
A BUS RIDE
SOME TIME WITH KYE SOEN AND HER CHILDREN
left the Monterey house in a limo, dropped at 7th and Alameda, Skid Row. The street was oppressive, as usual, but inside the terminal a tribe formed instantly; a great mix of personalities, races, social strata makes for a rambling, broad love. I spent a lot of time with an old Korean woman who couldn’t speak English. I told her it was OK (can chan ah yo)… random. It was fun to see her in the crowd, because she was really happy to see me. I’m sure she could sense my delight in her, in all of the colorful people around me. I’ve noticed a change lately, maybe it’s the… pardon me, I’m being interrupted by a Christian. Let’s see: OK… Old Testament, yeah… God helping people… Israelites rebelling against God… killings, wars, oppression — punishment… God grew tired of wiping people out after the flood… New Testament… repentance, deliverance — restore the tribes, health, answered prayers… OK got it. No, I took notes. Not just him, but everyone seemed to be radiant, happy — a great sense of humanity. Hard times bring it out. I’ve largely escaped the chopping block, so may have a slanted view, but I’ve enjoyed the economic downturn. I can see so much more on the faces around me. Going into difficulty is a powerful at-
tunement. We get so caught up in our lives, what falls outside our immediate concerns is frozen. We are to a large degree closed. The driver had a copilot who talked loudly through the first four hours, then mysteriously quieted. What a talent! I couldn’t do a quarter of it If I were allowed dead air, drifting off into incomprehensible musings, and looming silences as vast as mount Fuji. There was all sorts of information passed back and forth, a feast of data: various meals at whatever hotels, the strong winds on certain highways; the hazards of the unions, trades; nitric acid and the soil of Humboldt county. After a very strange and inexplicable silence, which must’ve been a feeding, he launched into another amazing monologue that put me to sleep. Berkeley’s weather showed little regard for my plans, but turned from a dim, bleak, heaviness to patches of sunlight. The days passed quickly. I enjoyed the time with Kye Soen and her wonderful children. She had a new daughter since The Zen Revolution, now 18–months old. How immaculate the human mind in its essence, how sweet and pure. Though too young to speak, she would go to other crying children to comfort them, hug them; a hand to the face. I spent a lot of time with her, holding her, playing music for her, watching TV, visiting the playground, having meals together. What a delight! She likes all kinds of music, but gets bored with too much atmosphere. Though she appreciates classical music, she prefers a good beat: Black Sabbath, Aphex Twin, The Cure — we went through it all. I loved the time with them, but had to return to Los Angles to produce this show, and other projects. I was both sad to go and thankful to Kye Soen for allowing me to adopt her family, that I’ve had these kinds of experiences. The little ones have a lot to teach, our origin, how our paths appear before us — and there isn’t anything as beautiful as an Asian child.
Kye Soen is resolved to being what she is, a scholar. Though only in her mid–forties, she’s quietly resigned to the march of time — so much wiser than the woman I knew. But make no mistake, when I spend time with her I’m on the clock, not a moment to myself. I’m usually not able to leave whatever room she’s in, much less disappear for hours to do the work. All work stops at her door. Instead I’m flooded with duties, tasks; plans which usually involve long trips across town to a noodle house, which affords many side errands such as poking through musty thrift stores, picking out clothes for her children at various department stores — a vast, bottomless endeavor that can’t be accurately described without first being in a near–comatose state then forced to jiggle about on cold linoleum while the most lonesome, sentimental muzac is piped through shit speakers — at each end of a section, the hunt begins anew. Who knew there were so many angles to a pair of jeans? These pits of Hell, like galaxies, revolve around black holes, so don’t think you’re going to keep fresh. You have to go dormant.
“When a warrior learns to stop the internal dialogue, everything becomes possible; the most far–fetched schemes become attainable.” – Carlos Castaneda (1925–1998)
Show her that you’re going dormant. No pretense allowed, it only consumes more energy. If you’re able to manage the currents here and find the faultless rapture at the core, a true man of the way — then go, and be a man. Standing at another bus terminal, Kye Soen and her children quiet from my pending absence. How to be close to the ones you love, yet free? We all learn, together. We’re all in different cities now. We see each other for brief moments that can hardly be recalled. What’s the value of these fractions of
maternal rest? The return, the pattern… I can no longer keep away from these gatherings as stay immersed in them. Our small tribe lives only there, at the dinner table, running errands together, watching over the young ones. If this is all there is, then it must be understood, accepted. There is no Shangri–la, no utopian society, no place to rest. We live on our feet. We think on our feet. We migrate, intermingle, do our work of sharing DNA, the most far flung roll of the dice, the most terrifying contrast of personalities, ridiculous! To find your life there, in the flim flam, the flotsam of a billion broken dreams, broken homes — for who is not at heart a nomad? It’s different on the outside of everyone’s tribes. You see the hint of it in their faces, but to make it into the inner circle? Years probably, countless failings, things left out in the rain, compromises — against reason. You have to give up on a person before you can trust them. They must be aware of your complete failure to operate cleanly within the constraints they uphold. You have to be proven less than them, in some way vanquished — for who is not a warrior? Developing the mind to handle these currents requires deep reflection, a process similar to that of writing, where the author disassociates from the interplay of events in order to record them, often encouraging all sorts of drama that would otherwise be avoided — to have the experience, to write about it. Living a one–dimensional life is all too apparent on the page. Conrad, for instance, one of the great writers of recent history, spent most of his time at sea. His work is filled with incredibly detailed accounts of this, but almost nothing about relationships. The study of meditation is an art of its own but requires the same fuel, the same ability to disassociate from the environment. A one–dimensional life yields a shallow view, or worse, a dimensional one where the adept attempts to force others into their chimera. My favorite Zen monks are the old hands,
not at shouldering the practice schedule, but at life; those that have already married and divorced, had ordinary jobs, or meager ones, the artists and drug addicts. Again this seeming contradiction between liberation and the soul defining itself. This is another illusion, attainment requiring a pure realm. Dharma loves the nomad, the warrior. It arises from suffering, not refuge. The skilled adept knows how to remain immersed in the wilderness of tribes without being overwhelmed, to use the experiences as a diving rod to sound out the fathomless void, to give it a soul, an expression — and, like the writer, goes farther in in order to reveal the matter at greater depth. The clouds are heavy in the sky as the bus hurtles south. In the increasing miles between me and my friends, my mind slowly releases all of the emotional weight, though the clouds appear to hinder the process somewhat. The same for the grassy fields. They pass with dark foreboding. A heavy sentiment seems bound to the cold, soggy earth. Some primal angst recorded there, that has always been there. The land speaks, the buildings speak, all the things in our environment absorb and reflect us, our story, which may explain my fondness for the abandoned field. The clouds overhead, do they hold our concerns? The bus seem to hold its own brand of misery, worked deep into the tarnished steel, the old carpet upholstery worn from numberless feet and hands — but it is here that things are made and done, not in the unmarked place.
On a somber spring evening around midnight, rain mixed with snow sprinkled on the bamboos in the garden. I wanted to ease my loneliness but it was quite impossible. My hand reached behind me for the Record of Eihei Dogen. Beneath the open window at my desk, I offered incense, lit a lamp, and quietly read.
Body and mind dropping away is simply the upright truth. In one thousand postures, ten thousand appearances, a dragon toys with the jewel. His understanding beyond conditioned patterns cleans up the current corruptions; the ancient great master’s style reflects the image of India. I remember the old days when I lived at Entsu Monastery and my late teacher lectured on the True Dharma Eye. At that time there was an occasion to turn myself around, so I requested permission to read it, and studied it intimately. I keenly felt that until then I had depended merely on my own ability. After that I left my teacher and wandered all over. Between Dogen and myself what relationship is there? Everywhere I went I devotedly practiced the true dharma eye. Arriving at the depths and arriving at the vehicle — how many times? Inside this teaching, there’s never any shortcoming. Thus I thoroughly studied the master of all things. Now when I take the Record of Eihei Dogen and examine it, the tone does not harmonize well with usual beliefs. Nobody has asked whether it is a jewel or a pebble. For five hundred years it’s been covered with dust just because no one has had an eye for recognizing dharma. For whom was all his eloquence expounded? Longing for ancient times and grieving for the present, my heart is exhausted. One evening sitting by the lamp my tears wouldn’t stop, and soaked into the records of the ancient buddha Eihei. In the morning the old man next door came to my thatched hut.
He asked me why the book was damp. I wanted to speak but didn’t as I was deeply embarrassed; my mind deeply distressed, it was impossible to give an explanation. I dropped my head for a while, then found some words. “Last night’s rain leaked in and drenched my bookcase.” Translated by Daniel Leighton and Kazuaki Tanahashi Reading the Record of Eihei Dogen Ryokan ( 1758 – 1831)
Sunny skies in some winding place with tall redwoods, firs; guys in flannel with hands in their pockets; a tattoo parlor next to a church of science; a beautiful stream with a bike path beside it; hippies and skateboarders and artisan ice cream, yoga centers — Santa Cruz. A friend from here almost died from the beauty of this place, and heroin. He’s a Zen monk now on the East coast. He talked about it often, what looks to be an ideal place for one’s demise. These pockets of wealth placate one to the point of oblivion, if that’s your thing. Fortunately we were soon rolling, drifting through forested hills and meadows; beautiful, bright expanses with Eucalyptus groves and things left to go their own way, and very few churches — no need. A beautiful Chinese woman climbed in next to me. We were only at the stop a few minutes, but enough time for the intermingling of humans. Doing our job, however unconsciously. The farm lands opened soon after, yielding field after field of hundreds of varieties of greens, small marshes, acre after acre of plowed ground, rows covered in green plastic, laborers with their backs bent, bringing in cases of artichokes. A statue of a giant artichoke nearby looked suspiciously like HST’s peyote bud. The immensity of these fields monotonous, exhausting; how many miles across this great nation? So much
land, so many lives, scenes, so many things to take in; the mark of civilization — a string of valleys that feeds an entire nation; old wisdom supplanted by new technologies again and again, now enormous fields stretch with arrow precision to the horizon, the water carefully metered by robots — what an age we live in! Still the need for labor. Incongruous among the dormant machines, a tribe of immigrants bend to the rows. How long before these are replaced? As far as we’ve come, still we depend on the weather, the depth of the river. Not in our time, but thousands of years from now, will we still till the fields? Exit 281 falls just past a small field of sheep. The mountain ranges in the distance nearly hidden by clouds and fog, with thick bands of sunlight streaming down over a giant stage. We bustle through a squat, formless town with no visible markers. King City. The Chinese woman exits to stretch her legs, her English broken, pleasant. Whatever madness lurks there, I do enjoy Confucian culture. I’ve adopted many of their customs, mostly from my stint as a Zen monk in Korea. The cultures are so different, really it requires complete immersion to fathom its intricacies. Large areas remain hidden, of course. The bus pulled in an hour late at 7th and Alameda, dropped me at the far end of Skid Row with a $1,200 dollar camera and a special forces bag full of dirty laundry. I ran 23 blocks up to Flower to catch the last subway of the night. There were no buses on 7th at that hour, and I didn’t have an hour to spare. I had trouble running the whole way, resorted to fast walking and running across intersections. I ambled past forty homeless people, all of them too high or desperate to figure me out. Every few blocks I’d look down the street the way I came, hoping to see a bus looming out of the street urine. Muttering about buses putting me in peril, I continued on, past the stinking end of the world, endless street after street, like escaping a sand trap. When I finally got to Grand and the zone began to fade, the smells recede, well dressed people began to shoot
past, clutching each other as I wove through in near panic. If I didn’t make it I’d be forced to spend the night downtown. Under the black heart of the city, for a moment only, we sprang above ground near the Staples Center and there remained wedged between streets all the way to Watts. I had no idea if the next train was still running, but couldn’t turn back. I suppose the city has good reason to shut down public transportation before the bars close. Maybe they should turn off the street lights as well, and release all the prisoners. Night, fear. I made it to the Marine stop, and walked the final three and a half miles to the house at Monterey, happy to be out in the cold night air.
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