Sunday, June 15, 2014

It's Time

Well, Buddha is not only abiding but also immanent! In that the 14th annual art show is just around the corner. So, get your gorgeous works down to Art From Scrap Sunday the 22nd! Thomas Tarleton and  Bill O'Malley will be there to receive you. I myself, am still living in Paris, awed by art everyday. Just today wandering around Les Marche aux Puces (Flea Market) was inspiring with many buddhas from around the world, painted, bronzed, happy, fierce, odd...

Also, I  am including here a story I wrote about a month ago that includes a Buddhist perspective I think you'll appreciate:

Paris Stories 7 Mai
Saint Malo & The End of Days

I was surprised when my sculptor friend, Veronique, invited me to visit her at her flat near parc Monceau, a chic neighborhood in the 8th Arrondissement. Happily I took the metro to another unknown part of Paris.

She kept apologizing for the apartment being so full of stuff. But of course I loved it because the stuff was mostly art! Including these great hanging lamps she’d made with just chicken wire and skinny wooden tongue depressors. We babbled away about art and Buddhism while sipping Japanese tea. We even did a little yoga on the confetti rug in the sunshine.

Suddenly she leapt up and exclaimed, “I have to show you something!”
We walked across the street to the musee Cernuchi, where Veronique ran us to an upstairs gallery and said, “Close your eyes.” Taking my hand she led me into a space, then around something. I was beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable when she said, “Now, open your eyes”.

Looming before me on a twenty-foot pedestal was this glorious 18th century, fifteen-foot shiny black statue of Amithaba Buddha. Tears of wonder and gratitude percolated up and I stood there in a kind of shock. What I learned so long ago, during the ten years that I focused so thoroughly on the study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism, continues to support me through every twist and turn of my life today.  To be shown this great sculpture by my new sculptor friend, to experience the power of an artist’s creation, somehow also assured me that my annual art exposition, Buddha Abides, would take place this year. And hopefully, it too would provide the kind of experience for others that I was just blessed with.

Afterwards, we went for a walk in the park. As we strolled beneath lush trees and beside lawns filled with cavorting children, I told her that I didn’t know if I’d be able to extend my three-month tourist visa, so was doing my best to be a good Buddhist and enjoy every moment to the fullest and not get too attached to my desire to live in Paris for a year.
“However,” I confessed, “there is one dream I must fulfill before leaving: to go to Le Mont Saint Michel off the coast of Brittany.”

She said, “I just happen to be going to Saint Malo this weekend. That’s the town very close to it. I have a car full of friends. But maybe you could take the train out and stay with me at my house?” Wow! At Findhorn we used to call this kind of revelation, ‘Instant manifestation’.

The next morning, Katie, a friend of a friend from The States, who’d said she wanted to get together for coffee weeks and weeks ago called, and said, “Let’s get together next week, when I get back from Saint Malo.” Hmmm…

That afternoon, I got another call.  Danielle, whom I’d written off as never hearing from was apologizing for not getting back to me for so long, and invited me for coffee. We met at the oldest church in Paris, Notre Dame de Pre, and then sat outside at Café Bonaparte sipping coffee and buttered toast (‘un tartine’), chattering away. I said, “Before I leave Paris, I must go to Le Mont Saint Michel. Strangely enough, two people I know are going to Saint Malo this weekend, which is supposedly right near by.”

Danielle said, “ I’m taking the train to Saint Malo on Wednesday. You could come with me and stay in my guest room in my apartment on the seaside.”  Ya’ think???

OK, ‘Divine-Plan-Mobile’, I get it! Sheesh! Knock me on the head already. I’m going!

We left the café, walked to her flat where she ordered our train tickets then and there. Done.

A couple days later, we met at the Montparnasse train station where I hustled along behind her, barely keeping up, as she marched us surprisingly fast in those three-inch boots, to our ‘voiture’ and found our seats.

After a three-hour ride through unremarkable countryside we arrived in an old, windy town, filled with rugged stone houses with lacy turrets.

After being greeted by her yellow lab, a love-hound named Stella with a wiggly butt and an old slipper in her mouth, we went out on the terrace. There before us was an absolutely enormous stretch of beach, lumpy little islands way off in the distance, and a vast, darkening sky. A sliver of silvery light illuminated the horizon to the west. On this stretch of coast, we were facing north, toward Great Britain.

In the morning, Danielle and I hoofed it, AGAIN in those boots, into town where she could go to Mass and the market, and I could catch the bus to Le Mont Saint Michel.

As the Jabba-the-hut-like bus driver regaled us with facts and stories, we rumbled along for an hour through the verdant countryside. Then he said, “Regarde, a gauche, a gauche [Look, to the left to the left]!” There she was, a tiny shadowy pyramid on the horizon.

Centuries ago, thousands of people made pilgrimages, walking for years to reach the mount. It was Jerusalem.  It was terrifyingly far out in the ocean then, too. Many had never seen the likes of a tumultuous, rushing sea. Once the waters receded, they had to run like maniacs across the vast stretch of sand before the tidal bore came roaring back in like “galloping horses”, pushing even the river back upon itself. They prayed desperately as they ran, hoping beyond hope not to get pulled down by the ‘quick-sands of Satan’ that lay hidden all across the way. You can imagine their elation upon reaching their goal. They’d made it.  They were in Jerusalem. They were certainly ‘saved’!

Today there’s a shuttle bus.

Not unlike the Shinto and Buddhist shrines in Japan, the stone stairway up to the cathedral was filled with souvenir and food vendors. But once past all the ‘money-lenders’ it was marvelous to look up at the massive stone monument with its soaring gothic arches. As I climbed up around and around the labyrinthian stairways I occasionally got stuck when they became too narrow and had to double back and try another. After exploring layer upon layer of dark, columned Catholic caverns, it was refreshing to come upon the luscious green cloistered garden filled with purple iris, where I lingered for a long time.

Then I walked out the vast windy terrace, where I looked out on the lunar landscape of sweeping sand as far as the eye could see.

Ok, so much for the scenery.  You get the picture. Now I have to talk about the spiritual aspect of this experience. Here’s why:  I have what Danielle, the almost-a-Catholic-nun calls, “Questionable theology.” Now, not only is she devote, she is also a relentless scholar, a tremendously respected writer and a very educated woman. So, she’s probably right. BUT I’m a Buddhist! And one of the things I know to be true from my non-theistic point of view is that nothing has inherent meaning. We bring, create, and impose meaning to everything. For example, I’m sure she would not well up upon seeing the Buddha statue at the Cernuchi museum. But because of the mindboggling sweetness and wisdom and power of Buddhist teachings and practices that I’ve experienced I brought a whole different paradigm-view to the event.

She, on the other hand, is devoted to the New Testament and all the meaning that book brings to her, especially, the part about The End of Days. She waxes rhapsodic about the coming of the End, and how important it is that I am wearing the medallion from the Cathedral down the block from her where a nun had some apocalyptic vision.  (I bought it at the Ventura flew market for ten dollars.) She was so excited that I wanted to go to Le Mont Saint Michel for the same reason, because he is the leader of all the angles against Satan at The End, which, she is certain, is just around the bend.

Now, I have experienced people worried and excited about The End of Days for decades. And when I read historical fiction (yes, I’m not a scholar) there is always mention of End of Days terrors in people all across Europe, it seems for centuries, dare I say, two thousands years?

What do I glean from all this? Well, one thing is that Christianity is and has always been a very apocalyptic religion. And the orgasmic fervor with which they go on about it is sometimes more frightening than the possibility. My friend David Spangler expresses it perfectly. He calls it “Apocalypse Porn”.

Such a great distraction from the fact that the way our husband brushes his teeth annoys us no end.

So when I was on the terrace and I looked up to see the Neogothic spire with the gilded statue of Saint Michael in full armor, I was really annoyed. What’s with the armor? Aren’t angels immortal? He doesn’t need to wear armor. He’s invincible.

Yes, Duh, I know, it’s metaphor for going into battle and all. But for me, the Buddhist, one of the truly life changing experiences, dare I say epiphanies that I’ve had was a realization that I, I as in the vast-spacious-joyous-everywhere-connected-to-everyone-and-everything I, which isn’t an ‘I’ or a ‘who’ really (All those decades where I was asking the wrong question: Who Am I?) but more of a state of being or ‘true nature’ as they say in Buddhism, (here I am the very embodiment of babble about that which is indefinable) is inviolable.

AND, one the most important Buddhist things that I am dedicated to doing everywhere and always and with everyone is: to dispel fear. Vanquish with disarmament. Ghandi did it. The Dalai Lama does it. I think those guys are pretty damn good role models.

I think Saint Michael’s role is to fill you with so much light and glittering perspective that the darkness of misery, doubt, anger, aggression and division disappears. No battle. No killing of dragons. Just pure, clear illuminating light. The Tibetan word for this is Rigpa.

The truth is, The End of Days is near for all of us all the time, because we are all gunna die eventually. Right? So what can we do? We certainly cannot change that fact. We might be able to delay it by not being an alcoholic, drug addict or Marine. All we can really do in this moment, this present moment, no matter where we are, is look around, take a breath and appreciate the beauty around us and knowing that life is short, from the depths of our beings say, “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you."

To quote Walt Whitman’s The Open Road

“…From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.
I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women:
You have done such good to me I would do the same to you…”

The End.