Monday, October 8, 2012

Ten Trains to Tranquility

It seemed like a simple plan. I had a day free and discovered that the famous Buddha statue in Kamakura was a hop, skip and jump from Yokohama where I was staying. I remember photos of this giant Buddha from the World Atlas of my childhood—time to get out of the workshop mode and put on the tourist hat.

So I got the step-by-step directions— hop on this train, then skip to that train, then jump on this train and there you are. Down in the hotel lobby, I met an American teacher from Maui/Massachusetts who had come to the workshop in Japan with her Sri Lankan husband who she met in Dubai and they now worked together at a school in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Are you following this? The modern couple of today’s world!) Nervous about negotiating the directions alone, I enticed them to join me and off we went, confident in our ability to decipher the greater Tokyo area subway system. Need I report that we were wrong?

But thanks to this incredible culture of politeness and sincere interest in helping I’m finding in Japan, we survived the wrong-stop exit (at Kita-Kamakura, delicious words to say fast) and other minor confusions to finally arrive, quite a bit later than the promised “oh, it’s just twenty minutes away…” We paid the admission fee, entered through the gate and stepped around the corner and there he was, the same Buddha statue as the one that keeps me company in my San Francisco morning zazen. Only a few hundred times larger.

Truth be told, not quite as large as I imagined. But still impressive. And, by the way, upon closer inspection, sporting a mustache. (Really? I’m going to look more closely at my SF Buddha when I get home.) We walked around to view him from all angles and also went inside of him. (Some future poem “In the Body of the Buddha” is begging to be written here.) While my friends checked out the store, I sat off to the side in the garden savoring a cool green tea ice cream and feeling the tranquility of a summer’s day amplified by Buddha’s blessing. Life was sweet.

But Buddha forbid that I have the time to savor it! I had arranged to meet my Tokyo host at 3:00 pm at the Shibuya Station in Tokyo— without (gasp!) a cell phone!!! Which meant aiming for the 2:15 train near my hotel back in Yokohama. So at 12:30, I bid goodbye to my friends and my ten minutes of tranquility to begin the return trip, once again falsely confident that it would be easy to retrace my steps.

I don’t know where I went wrong. Well, yes, I got off one stop too early one time and lost ten minutes waiting for the next train to get back on again, but still something weird happened down the line and I ended up in a new neighborhood of Yokohama. At 2:20. Stressing with each ticking minute and coming up with Plans B, C, D, ending with emigrating to Japan. A tourist office directed me to a bus and I finally got to my hotel to pick up my bags. Rushed to the train, miraculously found the right one and got off at the right stop only fifteen minutes late and miraculously again, amidst the thousands of streaming travelers, found her waiting at the end of the platform.

So my free day in Japan found me a troubled tense tourist buying ten train tickets to take a trip to ten minutes of tranquility before traveling to Tokyo. (Say that five times fast). On that last train ride, I couldn’t help but wish that Buddha was sitting next to me. I just wanted to see how he would have handled it. It’s all well and good to recommend non-attachment and sink into the blissful oneness of the cosmos when you’re living in the forest in ancient India, but not so easy when you’re late for appointments in a confusing, fast-paced modern world. Would Buddha have been stressed? How would he do in rush hour on the freeway on his way to sign a deal publishing his memoirs?

And then that got me thinking how I’d like to hang out with Jesus on Wall Street to see how he would deal with that. I’d like to be a fly on the wall when Moses is arguing with the fire marshall about fining him for not being up to code in the burning bush incident. I wonder if Krishna in today’s modern world would still be dancing around with the milkmaids playing his flute or working in some cramped IT office in Bangalore. Let’s face it—the modern world is not set up for tranquil meditation, ecstatic revelation or carefree dancing with milkmaids.

And yet, that’s exactly my main job. Only I have to take all these trains to get there. Tomorrow, in fact. 

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