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Nirvana at a Carolina Bus Stop

by Fleda BrownMarch 26, 2012
Practice
Nirvana at a Carolina Bus Stop

It wasn’t quite so spring-like yesterday here in Northern Michigan, back to slightly more “normal” temperatures. It’s spring break week around here, which may account for a smaller group for meditation last night.

We’re reading “Nirvana,” the second-to-last chapter of One Dharma, by Joseph Goldstein. The concept of Nirvana is easiest for me to see with images. The one that stays with me is the Buddha’s description from his discourse to the nuns in the Pali Suttas. He describes a butcher who kills a cow and manages to carve out all of the interior flesh. He then re-covers all those interior organs with the hide. He asks the question, “Would the butcher be speaking rightly if he were to say: “This cow is joined to this hide just as it was before?” The nuns answer, of course, no, the cow is still disjoined from the hide.”

Goldstein understands the story this way: We use the word Nirvana to describe what it’s like when  the mind is no longer clinging, no longer attached because of all its defilements. It is released. What keeps it attached? The three basic defilements: greed, hatred, and delusion.

Another example: there’s a poem by Charles Bukowski, the cult-figure poet of the sixties (Time magazine called him the “poet of lowlife”). Here’s an interesting fact: his gravestone reads: “Don’t Try”, a phrase which Bukowski uses in one of his poems, talking about inspiration and creativity. Bukowski explained: “Somebody asked me  ‘What do you do? How do you write, create?’ You don’t, I told them. You don’t try. That’s very important: ‘not’ to try, either for Cadillacs, creation or immortality. You wait, and if nothing happens, you wait some more.

As a poet, I take some issue with that  (We didn’t spring full-grown from the head of Zeus—we need to know our heritage [the dharma] and we need to enter the contemporary conversation [the sangha]), but I get his point. There is a lot of not-trying involved in writing and in sitting on the cushion. Here’s his poem, below. It’s very long, but it’s very short. You can decide yourself what it has to do with Nirvana:

Nirvana

not much chance,
completely cut loose from
purpose,
he was a young man
riding a bus
through North Carolina
on the way to somewhere
and it began to snow
and the bus stopped
at a little cafe
in the hills
and the passengers
entered.
he sat at the counter
with the others,
he ordered and the
food arrived.
the meal was
particularly
good
and the
coffee.
the waitress was
unlike the women
he had
known.
she was unaffected,
there was a natural
humor which came
from her.
the fry cook said
crazy things.
the dishwasher.
in back,
laughed, a good
clean
pleasant
laugh.
the young man watched
the snow through the
windows.
he wanted to stay
in that cafe
forever.
the curious feeling
swam through him
that everything
was
beautiful
there,
that it would always
stay beautiful
there.
then the bus driver
told the passengers
that it was time
to board.
the young man
thought, I’ll just sit
here, I’ll just stay
here.
but then
he rose and followed
the others into the
bus.
he found his seat
and looked at the cafe
through the bus
window.
then the bus moved
off, down a curve,
downward, out of
the hills.
the young man
looked straight
forward.
he heard the other
passengers
speaking
of other things,
or they were
reading
or
attempting to
sleep.
they had not
noticed
the
magic.
the young man
put his head to
one side,
closed his
eyes,
pretended to
sleep.
there was nothing
else to do-
just to listen to the
sound of the
engine,
the sound of the
tires
in the
snow.


Poet and writer Fleda Brown reflects on the gatherings of her weekly meditation group, speaking to you as one who has long practiced meditation but still comes to the practice with a learner’s mind.


This entry is tagged with:
MeditationNirvanaGoldsteinSpiritualityPoetry

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