Friday, May 2, 2014

what color was your robe?

I don't think I've told this story before. This was back in my Woodstock days when I was working at Sunflower, a health food store (yes, the one where I met Ed Sanders, Arlo Guthrie, and Pete Seeger). I was working a closing shift and took my lunch break in the office, where I settled into the manager's chair, put my feet up on the desk, and drifted off to sleep.

The dream was incredibly vibrant for what must have been only minutes but seemed as if it lasted for hours. I was back at the Buddhist monastery where I'd attended sesshin the year before, and kneeling before the abbott for my weekly interview. He asked me, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" And I, thinking I was very clever, held up my right hand and slapped its fingers against the palm.

The abbott remained quite composed, sitting calmly and regarding me. Then he brought out from its hiding place behind him the kyosaku that the head monk used to prod us if we slouched in meditation or smack us loudly if we fell asleep. He screamed "Wrong!" and brought it sharply and loudly on my head.

He composed himself again and repeated, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Probably thinking of the story of Huangbo, I leaned forward and slapped the abbott across the face.  He reamained as calm as before until, again as before, he screamed "Wrong!" and slammed the kyosaku against my melon.

This went on over and over. The abbott would ask the same question and I would answer in some way and he would shriek "Wrong!" and smack me on the head. Finally, I answered "I don't know," and at that moment (as I experienced it) my feet slid off the desk and I woke up.

I shook my head several times before going back out on the floor. At the register I told the dream to Nancy, who often worked closing shifts with me. She said, "But what color robe were you wearing?" But I hadn't looked down at myself once during the dream.

I'd like to say that my feet sliding to the floor and waking me was when I became enlightened but the truth is that I'd become enlightened the year before at sesshin. I dutifully reported it to the abbott during one of our interviews and he answered, "Oh, I'm so sorry."

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