Ordinary People

“What do you want to be?”  I asked my date.   We were just shy of 20 years young.

“I want to be an ordinary person,” the young man said.

“???”  I didn’t get it.  When you are a teenage boy or girl, don’t you want to be an outstanding, extraordinary, prominent person even when you don’t know in what.  Somebody but an ordinary person.

Several decades have passed since and I had a chance to see the boy again at a class reunion.   I told him I now understood what he meant by being ordinary and appreciated him for his wisdom at such a young age.

“Did I say such a deep thing?”  the boy, now a man in fifties, said.

I should have chosen this ordinary guy instead of a succession of overgrown permanent teenagers, who were exciting and extraordinary in not necessarily good ways as a partner.

I am not outstanding, extraordinary or prominent, but I think my life was nothing but ordinary.   After decades of turmoil, now I find myself living a very ordinary life with absolutely no drama.  And I am mostly content with my ordinary life as an ordinary person. Then once in a while, I look back and say to myself, “It was fun.”

It must be just a state of one’s mind.

 

A Fat Collie

When and where I grew up, dogs were just dogs: brown dogs, white dogs, black dogs, black and tan dogs, etc.  The smallest were Shiba; the largest were Akita and in between there were just ordinary dogs.  Only affluent westernized families had fancy pure breeds.  There were no designer dogs, just mutts.   Some belonged to families, others just roamed around.

I adopted a large senior dog from a local Humane Society a year ago.  He had a funny face with a long muzzle.  The humane Society people told me he was a Collie mix.  All the official papers said he was a Collie mix, so I registered him as a Collie mix.

Weighing nearly 90lb he was a super obese Collie.  He was slow and low-key and walked like a sumo wrestler.  He chewed things obsessive compulsively.  He was stubborn as hell and didn’t act like Lassie at all.

“What kind of dog is he?” Since I got him  I was asked numerous times by strangers.  I say, “Mutt,” and “Do you know what kind of mix he is?” people asks.

My dog seems to have a distinct feature, which is somewhat familiar but not distinct enough for many people to put a finger on.  That makes people wonder what he is.  Eventually a consensus view emerged.

Spuds MacKengie a.k.a. Budweiser Dog on steroid.

I finally succumbed to the temptation and ordered a DNA text kit on-line.  I mailed it out expecting a “happy family”- like result: a little bit of Collie, a little bit of Pitty, maybe a German Shepard or two.

The result blew my mind.   His (probably) dad was a pure bull terrier.  His grandparents were bull terriers; his great grandparents were bull terriers.  He was half bull terrier.  The other half was ambiguous, with a miniature bull terrier and a hound in his ancestry.  There was not a drop of Collie in his gene pool!

He wasn’t an obese Collie mix.  He was a supersized bull terrier mix.   He was not fat.   He was muscular.

One day I noticed a lady staring at him.  She came up to me and asked, “Bull terrier mix?”  I said, “Yes.”  “Stubborn?” she asked.  “Yes, very” I said.  She nodded knowingly.

That made me think:

What is he?  Is he a fat lazy Collie or a muscular bull terrier?  If I didn’t know his DNA makeup, he would be still a fat Collie.  I might have put him on a weight loss program to keep him healthy.  Actually he had spent his entire life as a Collie mix with his former owner.  Or maybe he is just a heavy stubborn dog with a long muzzle.

Then what am I?  I could be fat or muscular.  I could be feminine or masculine, depending on the model the society/individual applies.  Or maybe I am just a human being with olive skin.

 

 

I will never see you again

1-IMG_0036Some occupations require us to remain on the bank and see the current of river flow. Teachers are the obvious one.  Kids come and go, come and go, never the same kid, but the life flows in front of their eyes continuously.  And the teacher him/herself never stays the same. Therapist might be another such occupation.

Whenever you are the one who remains on the bank, you will see the flow of the current.  One leaves, another comes, and leaves.  Seeing off people helps me to be aware that it was once a life time encounter with that particular person.  And it was once a life time encounter with that particular person I was.

The current of the flowing river does not cease, and yet the water is not the same water as before. The foam that floats on stagnant pools, now vanishing, now forming, never stays the same for long. So, too, it is with the people and dwellings of the world.   (Hojoki, Circa 1212)

I’ve been going to the same gym everyday for the last 2 and half years.  Trainers know me well.  It’s like a family.  I realized younger trainers were nomads. They come and they go.  I am the one who remains on the bank seeing them come and go.  It makes me feel sad when one of my favorite coaches leaves.  And I realize that I also was the one who came and went.

For the Boys

I am sad because I know I will never see you again.  I already miss you because I know I have missed the opportunity to know who you are and who you will be.

You say you might drop by when in the city.  I might happen to be there to see you coming down the stairs.

But I will never see you again in the way I see you today.

I see you moving out of the country as I did long time ago, with emotional devastation leaving behind, with anxiety and excitement in front of you.   Then, Young Man, you will be who you will be there in the land you have chosen even before I saw you for the first time.

Thinking about your youth and the path you are about to take fills my heart with a painfully raw love of life,  cruelty and grace of time, and preciousness of the moment: any single moment of my transient presence in your life.

You are not my child or my love.   You are one of the beautiful young men I happened to know.  (All young men are beautiful as all young women are.)  And I love you all as I love my child.

And I love who I was and who I could be at your age, leaving everything behind and flying out to the country to be my home.  I didn’t know I would never see her again.

Impermanence

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The current of the flowing river does not cease, and yet the water is not the same water as before. The foam that floats on stagnant pools, now vanishing, now forming, never stays the same for long. So, too, it is with the people and dwellings of the world.

Excerpt from Hojoki: The Ten Foot Square Hut by Kamo No Chomei.  Translated by Anthony Chambers 2007

I learned this old prose in high school in my old country.  It’s like a Shakespeare monologue.  You need to know by heart.  It’s all about Impermanence.  Impermanence was embedded in my old country’s collective unconscious.  It was a norm.   It is how it is.

Recently I was watching a kid’s educational TV program of my country.  It’s like Sesame Street, to teach children how to read, count, and have fun in the language.  And I heard kids reciting this prose.   My jaw dropped.  They teach preschool kids Impermanence?   Wow…

As born and brought up in a Buddhist culture, I’ve never questioned Impermanence.   It is how it is.  And still I often wander away, falsely believing otherwise, believing it is the same water as before.  And again the universe reminds me that I am the foam that floats on backwaters.

The truth will set us free.

Living in the Present Moment

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One’s Journey often starts before one knows it. My friend, Maria, became aware of weakness in her abdominal muscles in the summer of 2010. She didn’t know it was going to be her last summer. She was diagnosed with ALS, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease, in December 2010. Every summer, I think about how she lived the last year of her life and contemplate on the meaning of living in the present moment.

This could be my last summer.
This could be my last August.
This could be my last sunset.
This could be my last breath.
This could be the last time to see you.
I love you all.

Join me, if you would like, to be fully present in this moment of our life, in this summer, in this August, on this day, at this time of the day… It only takes a moment. And Breathe for my friend. Thank you… I love you all.

Karma and a Tiger

An Interpretation of Karma based on a supposedly Japanese story quoted by Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth.

A samurai was murdered by another samurai.  He was the head of family.  The heir had to avenge his father’s death and kill the murderer to restore the family honor.  The young son set off to search the murderer, who was on the lam.  It was a long and difficult journey.  Until he could right the wrong done to his father, his family would remain in limbo in samurai hierarchy.  He did not have any source of income.  So he degraded himself into a laborer, a hired help, and a peddler –these jobs were in lower caste in those days –to support himself while pursuing the enemy.  Years past and finally, the not-so-young-anymore man found the murderer of his father.  When he confronted the man face to face, he became aware of his own hatred toward the man.

Upon being aware of his feeling, he walked away without killing the man.

The father had some kind of karma that led to his murder.  The father passed on his karma to his son, while the other samurai now bore the karma of his own as a murderer.   The son paid for his father’s karma by suffering and humbling himself to pursue the murderer.  At this point, he is just an executor of the law of samurai social structure.  However, if he kills the murderer with his own anger and hatred in his mind, he generates his own karma, thus, the chain of hatred keeps on going.  The key word is Awareness.   That’s the way to avoid reincarnation with karma attached.

What would the young samurai do after that?  Since he didn’t follow the rule, he would remain outcast from his original caste.  There is an opening for a “shift”.  He could leave the samurai caste, so that the old “rule” would not apply.

A tiger kills prey to survive.  That’s what a tiger does and is.  Killing itself generates no additional karma for a tiger.  It just keeps him being a tiger.  That’s his karma in a larger context.  If he becomes aware and stops killing prey, he would die, because it means he rejects his being a tiger.  In his next life, he might find himself in a different realm.

I don’t know.  Just a thought.   And I don’t believe in reincarnation, anyway.

Letting Go

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Zen people say “Let go”.  Let go of what?  So I googled the phrase “let go of” and these are the suggestions I got.

  • Let go of anger.
  • Let go of control.
  • Let go of the past.
  • Let go of your ego.

I guess in a nutshell Zen people mean letting go of attachment to anything…everything.  My ideal zen life was to be able to move at a moment notice with one suitcase.  In reality, I probably need 5 guys with a truck and a warning months in advance.

When I had a dog, my worst nightmare was suddenly dying and leaving him behind without anybody taking care of him.   My dog passed at the ripe age of 14.  When he left, I let his body go.  The body was not him.  I felt pretty zen.  I used to have two cats.  When they died at 13 and 17 respectively, I had them individually cremated and held onto the ashes for years.  I didn’t know what to do with the ashes.  So they stayed on a shelf for a long time. I’ve learned a lesson.  Ashes were not my cats.

So what will I do with my body?

In my culture, cremation is the norm.  So it’s no brainer.  Unless I specify something else in my will, my body will be cremated.  I couldn’t care less.  I will be dead by then, won’t I?

I did think of donating my body for the advancement of science every time I learned about a cool research program, such as the forensic anthropology program at UT (University of Tennessee, I guess) aka the Body Farm.   I read a book by Mary Roach, Stiff, and learned that donated cadavers could be utilized for unimaginable variety of scientific and educational purposes.   I didn’t feel comfortable with many of them.

My gross anatomy teacher said that he often received inquiries from his dissection workshop participants for donating their body for his program.   He explained that logistically it was nearly impossible.  He advises them to donate through the local university’s program instead.

“But you can’t spefify how it is used, can you?”  a student asked.

“No, you can’t.  What do you care.  You are dead.  Let it go,” my teacher said.

It was the “Aha” moment.  Let go of control, let go of your ego, let go of the past, and let go of your body…

 

I admit I am not zen enough to let go of the idea of the ownership of my body after death.   Are you?

Another issue to contemplate.

 

 

 

Art of Tea

There are so many people to whom I said, “See you later,” and whom I have never seen since.
Some passed away, others faded away. What is the difference?
You will be a different person next time I see you and I will be a different person next time I see you.
We will never see each other again.

一期一会

It often is translated in English as Once in a Lifetime, and it’s not what it means.
Every moment is the first and the last moment of my life.
Every moment is the first and the last moment of your life.
Every encounter between you and I is once in a lifetime encounter.
I welcome you into my space as if it were the first time you see me,
Because it is the first time you see me.
I treat you as if it were the last time I see you,
Because this will be the lat time I see you.
That’s how we see and serve each other in my old country.

And we share a cup of tea.
In a tiny humble room with a tiny door,
Like the door Alice wanted to go through,
In a quietude of temporary stillness,
No move is carried out without specific intent,
And nonetheless it flows seamlessly
Because every movement happens concurrently.
And we drink a cup of tea
As it is once in a lifetime encounter with you.
I want to savor it with my full presence.
And we share a cup of tea.

© J.U. 2013

The photo was taken in 2010 in NYC.  It is a sculpture by Antony Gormley, not a real person.