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THE SWORDMASTER RETURNS, WITH GIFTS
DARKNESS IS NAMED, REVEALED IN THE WINDING STREETS
strive to leave the communication unvarnished, wild and unkempt, practically unedited — to give nature its magic and resonance, not something manufactured to cleverly promote my entity as something apart from it, nor to live in this wild place. It appears here because of my intent to convey the deep truth, one that will ultimately leave you disheveled, alone, completely at the mercy of the elements — because we have made walls and barriers, and cannot truly know ourselves. As you will see, this is necessary, for now. One day we will live without barriers, but this is not a world that can be described or imagined. We have to work from the bare ground, the everyday suffering and turmoil that describes us. *** The whole thing began back in 2000 with a pile of notebooks from Korea and the desert that would become The Zen Revolution. I bought an old laptop to begin editing the manuscript, and there encountered the beast that was Windows 95. I began reading manuals, learning programs, editing the material almost as an afterthought. I had no luck with being a writer: finding an agent, getting anyone to look at the manuscript — I suppose no one does at first, but having no reaction or feedback, and believing fully in the quality of my work, I
THE GILL TRACT OF ALBANY
reached the only possible conclusion: people weren’t reading anymore. The book went on a shelf, for years, and I built a series of workstations, through all the major revisions of software and hardware — to learn how to edit video. It’s really come into its own. I’m excited for what the next generation will bring with the tools we have available. What a world… I’m sitting in an IMAX theater in Los Angeles a few minutes before Tron Legacy. The sound system is the best I’ve heard: electronic music, the rise of humanity, the thing being built, musically. Despite the mixed reviews, I lovd the film, but no time to waste, the next moment a flight to Berkeley. So many people traveling for the holidays, the corridors thrumming with beautiful human noise: silly dramas, jumping children, security checkpoints that change on impulse. I can remember not too long ago when I was boiling inside with whatever pointless thing: frustration, dwelling on my shortcomings, those of others. Knowing this state so well, I easily recognize it, see it constantly, understand that most are caught under their own spell, drugged by it — I can’t find fault with them, not anymore. We aren’t ready to go beyond form, to become liberated. If you are not ready, there’s no rush. Stay in the dream a while longer. For those who are no longer amused, not satisfied with the human situation… there’s no escaping it, of course, but wanting to escape isn’t the way to go. The grasping, rejecting, judging remain, no matter how far. It’s truly an end of its own, this freedom, an orchestration. You’ll only know how the notes are struck when the madness recedes of its own and the drug loses its hold; the thousand entanglements fall away, in their place the great peace. You may ask, “Isn’t this an escape?” How to explain? The first real breakthrough I had depended on holding no concerns and being in harmony with all beings. This is the way of the Mahayana, the great vehicle. The whole must be taken in at once and thoroughly accepted, all facets of reality given prop-
er respect, for this is the field of mind. *** I fly north to spend the holidays with Kye Soen and her children. A man can’t always take the low road. Up in the affluent clouds the turbulence is fierce, the peanuts few. There was a great and steady rain blowing through Los Angeles county, something unusual for all the years I’ve spent there. The 737 slices through gusts of it like a cheese knife. Apparently there’s a range of atmospheric conditions this beast can handle, but it’s strange and certainly troubling to watch it unfold. Back in North Berkeley, the first thing I notice is a large fenced off field that fronts the housing unit. The Gill Tract, it’s a ten–acre block once famous for Edward Gill’s roses, now run by the Albany Unified School District and UC Berkeley as an educational farm. The first time I saw the corn, I wanted inside the fence — to record it. I never made it in. It’s surrounded by a hurricane fence seven feet high, forested on one corner with a small stream running through it. Signs everywhere warn against trespassing. The treasures inside out of reach, this modern world, how many boundaries, borders, fences, walls? Do we respect them, stay within their confines? Yes. And so our world is confined to the public spaces and easements between them: thoroughfares, sidewalks, the open door of a neighbor or friend. But I was not raised this way. I grew up in an impenetrable wilderness. There were fences, barbed–wire, easily crossed, and vast distances of unbroken forests and fields left to go wild, and no one, not even a single friend, to hinder me. As a result, or consequence, I hardly tolerate the way things are. As I make my way around the fence, hounded by traffic and glaring windows, searching for the smallest opening, I’m left with no recourse other than to observe the trembling mudholes through the wire, look upon the pale yellow flowers as they move gently in the breeze. The muddy furrows of the
cut–down field will not destroy my city shoes, the cold ground will not find me embracing it — instead the sterile cage, and me pacing, knowing what it’s like to have it firsthand. But without the proper credentials… Everything is parceled off, the satellite images of Google Earth show it in fine detail. If you zoom in to any area, what you see is not a free–flowing wilderness, but a patchwork, a mosaic of fields. We’ve changed the terrain substantially from what it was. There’s no way to pass freely through the fields, to know them. Our understanding of the world, and by extension ourselves, is from outside the fence, the gate, the latch — all of it cordoned off. In our inexorable move toward the cities, the hive, we’ve all become prisoners. There is no freedom, the restrictions we face cauterizing; there’s no point that we aren’t confounded by them. We can only enjoy the amount of land we can pay for, and whatever public space left to us. I’m not saying we should do things differently, but that our world is one of constraint, sacrifice — to learn discipline is to learn to breathe. The dance, the drill… the child cries because it has found one of these barriers, obstacles, limitations. How many tears? This is how we live, from within the confines of our property, never knowing an open expanse. Do you think this is a metaphor? If I should perish outside this chain–link fence, at least I was prevented from stepping on this protected land that beckons so sweetly. But our world has changed. Already it has gone internal. Why venture out of our rooms? It reminds me of the wikileaks controversy. Kye Soen asked, “Why was someone able to access those files?” “He was young, so knew everything about computers. Probably the ones in charge were older, had no idea what the flashing lights were about. ‘What’s that?’ ‘Oh, I’m just defragging the page file — strictly mainte-
nance. Don’t you know how delicate these PATA’s are? Isn’t anybody concerned about security around here?’” The conversation over dinner turned to what must be, the underpinnings, and how a writer has two souls, that the writer’s voice is something separate from the known. She didn’t believe me, had no way to grasp what I was driving at. “It’s not me, it’s almost like automatic writing. The words often appear that I’m to use and remain there like an imprint until I record them. Sometimes I refuse because it seems pointless or mundane, but the imprint does not relent until it is done. It began… the first time I noticed it was after a 90–day Zen retreat in the early 90’s. I suddenly realized that the thoughts coursing through me, what I’d always thought personal, was actually something I was picking up from my neighbor! His firing neurons were somehow registering as my own. We think what appears in our minds is our own creation, but this is a ridiculous notion — completely false. These days I’m in a secure, safe place, so there’s no danger of interference. Even so, I’m very careful about engaging with others, their propaganda. The stream that is my writing voice, I know it well — I’m very friendly with it, but I don’t claim that it’s me anymore than I would take credit for the wheel, or space travel.” Across the bay in a busy subway, a different scene than LA by leagues. Here society embraces the train, the only sensible way to commute to the city. Everyone is dressed in rugged clothes: goose down vests, slickers, windbreakers. The foreigners mesh seamlessly, overlap in waves of complexity only possible in a city of such magnitude, importance. Walking among the towering buildings is to enter the church of the Republic. It must be true, for I’m not the only one with a sense of awe. The train rises in a gentle grade above the city streets, the light muted through heavy clouds. Past Macarthur a snarl of freeway overpasses; the veins of the city more complex here than any place I’ve seen — or maybe it’s that I’m new to this
network. Back underground, my face reflects back at me distorted from the smudged glass, concerned, concentrating on these details, and that it’s a long way to the Bay. San Francisco was all rain and fog — who knew? I waited under the street with some Chinese friends, who were very patient, but eventually grew weary of watching the steady downpour and made it down the passageway to an unknown end. A man worked at the base of the escalator, planted to his shoulders in the maw of the machinery. I wait until the rain lets up, then emerge at Market Street into a dazzling cityscape. No time to enjoy the soaring structures, I catch the 21 Hayes, to meet an old friend, the swordmaster; a wonderful ally and brother, one of the few I’ve met who knows the terrain, who’s ahead of me. Of course no one understands him. He gives me poetry and gifts, and talks to me until my limbs are shaking. I stop listening and let him do his work. Many teachings are transferred to me in the course of an hour. He’s very efficient. Both of us are deeply involved in the propagation of dharma, we recognize it in each other. Seeing each other, we are both negated and confirmed. It can’t be, yet there it is, again — the God among men, the magic gate thrown, the wild unknowable thing encountered… both of us empty, we operate in the world only through intent, for all beings, otherwise we would vanish on the spot, like RDX. I would introduce you, but things have to align for him, like a mandala, and it’s far too hot for your bones I’m sure. On my return the energy courses through me, churns my entrails, my bowels, leaving me incapable of speech, movement. He always does this to me. It’s like the writing process magnified to such a degree that the self loses hold. I finally move, with difficulty, sit in a dark subway tunnel waiting for my train somehow pulsing, beating just like a human. The train makes it through the tunnel in a rapid succession of events, a blur of lights racing past. Whatever this is can’t be
called a place. We exist as a tribe launched through blackness, a screaming tunnel, invisible, impossible to know. Beneath the ocean, encased in a concrete shell, we burst into daylight, into a network of shipping containers, intertwining streets, sidewalks, brick walls, clapboard. Our world expresses our inner confinement, reflects in concrete and steel the story of our race, how our consciousness flows, our anger and ambition, our frivolous nature, and above all our fear. We know we are weak, we know our hunger, so a latch on every door, steel bars, reinforced glass, security cameras, razor wire, armed guards, black and white ninjas, scarecrows, fighter jets, polished nails, sunglasses, diamond studded wristbands, background music, quarantine. As I wait for Kye Soen to pick me up I watch a dozen people before me shoveled into cars, warmth and light emanating from inside. I imagine stepping into one of them at random, of living a different life, leaving all of my things behind; how an old man amuses himself under the sycamore trees, but what would they do with me? Truly there is no place for me other that what I’ve hewn from the landscape that I must ceaselessly work, like a trail through the jungle. Having no place in the world is a feat of engineering. All of this is more complicated that I’m able to convey. This is only poetry. If the bright emanation that appears through limitless worlds could be adequately described, there would be no more trouble in the world. If the trouble were removed now, we would collapse into our own mire as if we’d lost our bones. We will surmount it. People now, here, have accomplished it; maybe someone you know. But it is something rare, only won through great endurance and sacrifice. Few are able or willing to run the gauntlet, and so the miserable state of the world today. Not to dwell on our shortcomings, but we must accept them, our place. We’ve hardly risen from the mud, yet we expect to live as Gods!
Communism depends on the intrinsic goodness of humanity, that it will prevail. The Republic realizes this is false, that people are corrupt, so allows them the illusion of freedom while monitoring them with careful scrutiny; life under a microscope, a hint now of what it will be. Why must we bear this? Are we all criminals?
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