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Lions Roar : January 2010
SHAMBHALA SUN jANUAry 2010 75 my pride. I want to show something but I’m dumbfounded—and he’s also half a friend. You don’t want to appear this stupid in front of a friend. and I’m going to. I don’t even have a clue. maybe if I’m 100 percent stupid, that will do the trick. But I’m not 100 percent anything. I just want to go home. I remember a story Joseph goldstein told in this very place at a retreat the year before. He’s just returned from Burma and thai- land, where he has been practicing hard under difficult conditions in small rural huts. He is about to bring a whole fresh lineage of Buddhism to america. In fact, he’s already led several retreats in the u.S. when he goes to do a weeklong sesshin with the venerable Zen teacher Sasaki roshi at Bodhi mandala in my very own new mex- ico. Sasaki knows of Joseph’s experience, so he gives him a more advanced koan. In Sasaki’s lineage each student presents the answer three or four times a day, and the practice hall heats up as each practitioner strains to figure out the appropriate answer that Sasaki will give sanction to and pass him or her on to the next koan. It is the middle of the week and Joseph has humiliated him- self over and over in the small meeting room with Sasaki. He can’t answer the koan—not even close—and each time the roshi quickly cuts him off and rings the bell, signaling Joseph to leave. Finally Sasaki takes pity on Joseph and changes the koan to one of the most obvious and elemental: “How do you manifest your true nature when chanting?” Joseph smiles. this one is easy. He knows the answer even be- fore he leaves the room. You just chant. nothing else. So in the few hours before he returns to Sasaki he practices in his head four lines from the Heart Sutra. When it’s his time again, he settles himself on the zafu op- posite the teacher and is about to present his answer, is about to chant his heart out, when suddenly what flashes before him is his fourth grade music teacher, mrs. Snodgrass. “goldstein, when the class sings, you mouth the words. You’re tone-deaf.” and all at once Joseph’s voice cracks. He croaks out half a line of the chant and falls apart, naked, exposed. He looks up. Sasaki is smiling. “pretty good. pretty good.” now I’m sitting opposite my teacher and I’m a squashed duck in my fourth grade seat. “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.” In a flash he jumps on top of me. I’m lying on my back and he’s staring into my eyes. I shrug like a dead horse and say, “I still don’t get it.” “no?” “no,” I shake my head. He clumsily crawls off. Finally, the week ends. after many goodbyes I’m at the steer- ing wheel. thank god. the old jeep has been sitting idle for sev- en days. I pull out the choke and the motor vrooms. Yippee! We are on our way. He is next to me. I’m driving him out to taos. teacher–student roles have been suspended. We are chugging along when the engine drops dead right in the middle of the dirt road. my head jolts forward. I do not miss a beat. We are getting out of here. I start it up immediately. It chugs along for another ten minutes and then dies. people leaving later will be coming up behind us if we need a lift, but I want out now. Besides what would I do with the old Land Cruiser? We start it up again and it darts forward for another mile. then another. each time I have to start it again. We decide on a plan. get it to the main road and leave it. Hitch a ride to tres piedras, which consists of a gas station on the corner, a diner next door, and a hot pink adobe across the highway that always says “gallery open” and never is. they have some mean dobermans behind a chain link fence so no one would think of shopping there anyway. the gas station has mostly empty shelves but they usually sell tootsie pops—I know because I stock up on cherry ones before I head for retreats at the refuge. I’m pretty sure there is a mechanic and garage too, but it’s Sunday. maybe I can ask them to tow the jeep on monday. I have it all thought out. We finally get to hardtop, park the jeep on the shoulder, and hitch a ride. the woman behind the counter at the gas station points next door, “they’re in there. Working on a car. go on in.” What luck. I step over the doorjamb. two burly men, shirts off, bellies hanging over their pants, grease to their elbows, are under the hood of a Chevy pickup. one skinny man missing three front teeth is to the left, giving them advice and leaning under, too. “excuse me,” I say gingerly. “my car died on the road. I’m wondering if you could tow it to taos.” “Sure,” the big man on the right says, but none of them looks up. “Leave the keys over on the table,” and he juts out his arm in the table’s direction, but still does not look up. “But wait,” I say, “how will you know where to take it?” this is crazy. “I want it to go to doc’s on pueblo Sur. do you know where that is?” the same big man slowly stands up and turns his greasy hands in a rag. “You mean, doc is out of jail?” “doc in jail?” I’ve been bringing my cars to him for twenty years. When I’m stuck he even comes up to the mesa to get me. He was brought up in taos, married his high school sweetheart at sixteen, lives a few blocks from his shop, and now his son Wendell I think he was taking a big risk to help me. I’m a teacher too and I know the true effort one can make. For more writings by Natalie Goldberg from the pages of the Shambhala Sun, go to www.shambhalasun.com.