A likeness came to mind several months ago I hesitate to tell because it is so close to the line of absurdity. It doesn't leave my mind and actually grows, leading me to see it get more interesting as it goes along. It's that I've come to see in a parallel kind of way this house as a monastery for two, with Jr the old abbot fading into frailty. I'm like the devotee who serves his Master for the nearness of his wisdom.
I think a monastery because it's just the two of us here separated from the rest of the world. Only Jr's closest friends stop by to see him any more, and not for long at a time. He's being forgotten by the world he lived his life in and the people he's known. One day he was telling me about so-and-so who was 98 and he's still out putting up hay. Jr was comparing himself to this man unable to do that at 87, finding himself puny by comparison. I said to him, most of the people your age are dead. That was the end of down-on himself thinking. It helped him to remember that about all his friends have been dead a long time. He's still above ground. He outlived most of them. Once, I said, to him, "You could outlive me." He said, "I already did."
When I was new to the mountains, I had a kind of parallel vision of self in my monastic phase. I'm careful not taking myself too seriously, but still see a parallel with Chinese Buddhist/Taoist monk Han Shan, who wrote the small book of poems, Cold Mountain. He left the world to live on Cold Mountain. I saw my own coming to the mountain a much lesser version of Han Shan's.
In childhood when I first learned about Tibet, probably in National Geographic, I wanted to go there. I'd look at a globe disappointed to see Tibet was not quite the opposite side of the earth from where I was in KC, which would have to be the southern hemisphere in the ocean. But Tibet was close enough to the opposite end of the earth from where I was, following the "logic" that the opposite of an unsatisfactory situation would have to be satisfactory. I'd look at the globe longing to be in Tibet studying Sanskrit and ancient texts. Shortly afer high school I found a paperback copy of The Third Eye, a monk's own story in Tibetan monastery. I read it without comprehension, but it gave a peephole into the place whose mystique for me was that it was the other end of the earth.
In childhood I believed the opposite of something was its negation. But now I know that's not so. In fact, I've come to see the opposite as very much the same. In childhood I wanted to be the opposite of everything I didn't like. It was a driving motivation. Also in childhood, playing cowboys and Indians, I was always the Indian and the rest of the boys in the neighborhood were cowboys. None of them wanted to be an Indian and I didn't want to be a cowboy. Cowboys spoke with forked tongue. I didn't like the way kids are lied to and led to believe all kinds of craziness no one in their right mind could possibly believe (enculturation). All around me white adults spoke with forked tongues; parents, preacher teacher, other kids. It was like white people lied to each other all the time, like playing denial, following the unwritten rules of Should.
My parents taught me to lie by saying I won't get punished if I tell the truth. That never bore out. When I told the truth, there was hell to pay. When I lied, there was no problem. I couldn't share any of my thoughts with them because a lot of my thoughts questioned what they believed they believed. Not drastically, but just enough to scare them. That was blasphemy and blasphemy is the unforgivable sin. So is lying to kids about the nature of the world we live in. What we call primitive cultures, primitive meaning first, not lesser, teach kids the truths of living in this world, not denials of violence, death or foul language. Parents tend to hide their fun side from the kids and don't allow themselves fun during the serious time of raising kids. Must be a good example. Be a fake example. I say, What's so great about denial? Kids grow up knowing all that parents don't want them to know anyway, and it has to be kept a secret from parents that the kid knows more than he/she Should know. This is my own experience, not to be taken for universal.
I recall a time when I was 15, staying the summer with grandparents and working for grandfather, a golf course greens keeper. I had to go to bed at a certain time and this one night grandparents stayed up late with grandmother's sister and her husband playing cards, smoking cigarettes and drinking liquor. Talk about sin. They got louder and looser and I listened to every word they said. They were talking "dirty" and laughing, getting drink and I was loving it. Grandma and grandpa were real people, after all. In their late 50s then. Instead of diminishing them in my eyes, it brought them way up high. They were real people.
I grew up in such anti-World indoctrination in church throughout childhood it made me want to dive into the World and be an active member. That period came to a standstill of its own momentum. The continuous indoctrination that God is good and World is evil made me question it. First thing I had to do was find a definition of the World. It's not the Earth. The Earth is the Garden. The World is the mind that holds money most high, a passion for things, objects, appearance: television. To sum it up: emptiness, nothingness, a void in the heart. That without spirit. In my my later years I've come to understand what all that means, to a degree, seeing that a passion for objects requires a lot of work at a job, I'd rather work less and enjoy my life all around me here and the people I know.
Neither Jr nor I watch television, neither do we listen to radio. We used to listen to bluegrass in the evenings on WBRF, but his interest in music has been fading with all else that's fading. We sit here on the bank of Hwy18 talking on the porch, watching civilization go by, we sit inside and talk. We have much silence too, and we're comfortable with the silence. Anybody listening to our conversations would be bored out of their mind.
Neither of us is a religionist. We have our individual interpretations of what is important. For Jr the Ten Commandments say it all. For me, it's a heart guided by love, not self-interest. Ultimately, both ways of seeing are the same. We have a deep spiritual association, but there's no religion in it, no rules and regulations, no tradition. Again, we see it in different ways, but this is the core of where we're in accord. I like a monastery and no religion. We live what we believe, but what we believe is not dictated from outside our individual connections with God.
In that way, what we're doing is Zen-like, doing by not doing, living in the present, pursuing nothing. As Elder Earl Baker says: according to the dictates of our own conscience. We live what we believe. It has no name.