August 13, 2009

A Buddhist at Breakfast

VERMONT“What you need to be careful of, what you need to really watch out for is not to be duplicitous on yourself.

This was at the café, of course, but on the porch outside. Not Darren this time, but an older gentleman with shoulder-length silver hair, talking to a woman, a much younger woman who paid him rapt attention. The man was leaning back in a plastic chair, fingering the handle of his tea cup. I had taken a seat nearby with my coffee with the idea of reading the paper. It was a relaxing, warm morning, disrupted occasionally by a logging truck thundering through town carrying its corpses to the mill by the river.

“I know,” she replied, “duplicity is something I try to fight against. Against myself.”

“No, not against yourself.”

“No no, of course not. I didn’t really mean against.”

“More like with yourself.”

Into a notebook the woman wrote everything the man said. He sounded like a “Dan” to me. He had probably started off as a city dweller who occasionally retreated to the southwest and even as far as Nepal, possibly also taking classes and receiving certification in acupuncture. Dan might have had a guru, might have forced himself to take Bikram yoga, and if he drank caffeine might have taken it only in the form of green tea. Clearly he followed Buddhism.

“You take the two paths of a river,” Dan continued patiently. “You know how there’s that main part of the river and then a tributary will fork off? Maybe they go in the same direction for a while, running in parallel. That’s you, the two parts. One that needs to progress – life’s a process, right? – and another that’s observing this life process and trying to find its own way.”

Dan spoke his words with the mild strength of someone who took it for granted that he spoke the truth. Like a teacher or a doctor. Of course, his tone suggested, all this is self evident.

Right, we’re like two rivers,” said the woman.

“And then, you see, they merge,” concluded Dan, his voice modulating at the end in a way to make him sound pleased. With himself.

“They always merge,” the woman said dreamily.

I’d heard just about enough of this so I went to the post office down the road to get some stamps. As I headed back to the center of the village, I saw the young woman driving away from the café. Dan sat next to her. The young woman’s expression was intense, focused, as though she were following something. Dan sat as far away from the woman as possible. Facing her, he had pressed his back against his window.  I don’t know what had transpired between them, but as they drove past I could see that Dan wore a nervous – almost frightened – look on his face.