All One Dharma

Just past the traffic circle there were two people by the side of the road: a woman with her arm up and her thumb out, and someone else crouching at her feet tying a shoelace or something.

I didn’t think quickly enough to pull off right then, but I thought “well, yeah”, and so I made a U-turn at the next break in the median, drove back past them on the other side, turned left into the parking lot of the old deserted and For Sale building at the edge of the water (I do hope someone buys that and doesn’t knock it down, but puts something neat like a seafood restaurant or a bookstore in the ramshackle old place), turned right out of that, and then pulled over onto the right shoulder just past them, with my blinkers on.

They were headed, as it turned out, to the Appalachian Trail where it crosses Cat Rock Road (Route 403), which was right on my way, so that was nice. She was a sun-browned and somewhat sun-wrinkled woman, maybe about my age, and he was her younger son. They were headed north on the Trail with their two big packs, from North Carolina (I think she said), where her older son (who had done the whole trail before) got them started and then went back.

We passed Roa Hook Road, and she said, oh wow, and that she used to live in Westchester, and one of her sons was born in a house on Roa Hook Road, and in fact it was that one right there, on the street we’re just passing over on the bridge. Her son (not the one born in the house, I don’t think) looked out the window for it and was impressed.

They were on their way back to the trail after a few days in the City visiting family and/or friends; the City had been, she said, quite a culture shock after the trail. Especially the subway, said her son.

So we dove North, talking about how it was indeed a rather hot summer to be hiking, but they were from Texas, and the woods are much cooler than the asphalt, and it wasn’t really so bad. And that yeah there were quite a few people on the trail, although as the season went on lots of people who’d started out had dropped off. And people walking the trail are a community, and look out for each other, and that that’s a Good Thing.

And then we got onto Cat Rock Road, driving slowly, and pulled over just after her son spotted the sign (facing the other way for some reason, maybe we missed the one in our direction) for the Trail, and they got out and pulled out their packs, and thanked me, and we wished each other well, and she said she hoped I’d get out on the trail again (me having mentioned that I’d done tiny bits of it, but never as much as I’d really like).

“Only myself in the way of my doing it,” I said.

“That and some good equipment,” she said, “equipment is important.”

And then I drove North some more, by myself in some sense, to where 403 ends at 9D, and turned left, drove past the golf course, and then turned right and parked near one of the “Garrison Institute Guest Parking” signs, on the grass next to a white truck with a “No Farms, No Food” bumper sticker.

Following the instructions from the website (which I’d written on a napkin and put the napkin in my pocket before I left work, but didn’t need to take out because writing them down helped me remember them), I found the main entrance (which is on the opposite side from the Guest Parking, on the side that faces the river, and it’s a lovely view), and went in, and through the first double doors, and took off my shoes and went through the second double doors into here:

The big room is pretty impressive (the place was built as a Capuchin monastery), and when I got there it was all quiet and echoing, because I was about ten or fifteen minutes early, despite the hikers, since I’d left myself lots of time, in case I got lost or anything, it being my first time.

Still following the instructions I crossed to the left side of the room (bowing slightly to the Buddha at the head of the room, ’cause that’s What You Do when you cross in front of him), and went through the door into the (much smaller) Meditation Annex, where there were zafus and zabutons all waiting, and one woman sitting quietly next to the door, who said “I was half an hour early, wasn’t I?”, and I smiled and said it starts at six thirty I think, and she said yeah, well, I’ve had a lovely little sit here waiting. Outside in the big room, someone was playing a guitar (never did find out who or why that was, but a nice effect).

I bowed to the smaller Buddha (or maybe a Kuan-Yin, but hey) in crossing to the left side of the room, and sat on a random cushion and squirmed around a bit in a half-lotus to wait. The teacher came in briefly and said Hi and that he had to go back to his car to get the materials. And maybe eight or ten more people came in, in ones and twos, and sat on chairs or cushions, and the teacher came in with the materials, and we did the Tuesday evening meditation.

I won’t go into incredible detail. Lot of nice little things, though. One of the people coming in after I sat down was a friend, or friendly acquaintance, from the Lab who was also there for the first time, completely at random, and that was highly synchronic. The lesson was about Meditating with Thoughts, which involved various words, and we did little exercises and said words to each other and smiled and laughed and nodded and things, and that was all good. The things we were officially supposed to be doing were rather different from my own zazen practice, the author of the book being a Tibetan type, but it wasn’t High Church in any way, and besides it’s All One Dharma.

(There were apparently a number of first-timers there tonight for no apparent reason, and he had us each say who we were and briefly what our practice, what our experience with meditation, was; it was an interesting mix. I was silly and said that I had a sporadic (very true) Shikantaza (in my dreams) practice, and the teacher looked interested and said that there are some Zen groups that use the room, too. I really should have said I have a sporadic Bu-ji Zen practice, but I don’t know if anyone would have gotten the joke.)

So we did that from 6:30pm to roughly 8:00pm, including some meditation (my legs in a half-lotus and hands in a comfy zazen mudra, everyone else sitting or kneeling or whatever in whatever way they were sitting or kneeling or whatever), and some guided meditation, and some exercises, and discussion.

Words of a Buddhist teacher are no more to be attached to than anything else :) so I haven’t brought many home with me, and I didn’t care too much exactly what they were while I was there, but enjoyed watching people’s faces and hands as they talked, and occasionally saying some words also.

I credit the little daughter with all of this; she texted (“texted”) me the other day saying that she’d been to something at a local sangha, and we texted back and forth about that a little, and that night I sat zazen myself for a little while, and then last night I did a random web search for nearby sittings, and there was this one right tonight, so I made sure with M that it wouldn’t interfere with anything, and it wouldn’t, so there I was driving Northward and picking up a mother and son and delivering them to the Trail. On the way home, there was a big white moon in the darkening blue sky.

And that was all very nice. :)

Maybe I’ll go again next Tuesday.

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2 Comments to “All One Dharma”

  1. Nicely told, and sounds worthwhile. And there’s something appropriate about doing someone a kindness on your way.

    I know only enough about Buddhism to listen/read and ask somewhat intelligent questions; want to learn more some day in my Copious Spare Time.

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