October 07 Journal » Vast Is The Robe: A Rakusu Journal
The Quiet Car
Genine Koun Lentine
Just returned from this year's Ango at the Grail. This time last year, I
was traveling from Massachusetts to Jukai. This year, I traveled
to the Grail from California. With me now strongly is a sense of my own body crossing the continent,
stitching north and south last year, west and east this year. How these
trips, involving multiple modes of travel, sometimes "backwards," feel like
some irksome thing, but as with the teachings that happen waiting in line for
dokusan, getting to Ango is of course a key part of being at Ango.
So with all this in mind, here are some passages from my journal from last year, on the way to Jukai.
Aug. 7, 2006
train 171 Providence to NY
in the Quiet Car: "no cell phones or loud talking"
a train that recognizes the value of right speech
no reverse-eavesdropped conversations to field
no thrown voices, second-hand speech
Even though the quiet car is the last car on the train, I opted for it,
overriding a friend's warning that the first and final cars are more likely to
be crushed. I'll risk having my thighbones compacted to be spared being
regaled with the details of my carmates' itineraries:
I'll be there in 28 minutes.
Mostly at the moment: the strong feeling of pleasure at going to the
retreat. Seeing friends. And Sewing! I wish I'd gotten
fabric to make a sitting robe—but now I see it will be a winter project.
I'll call you when we're closer
The woman across the aisle is unmoved by the quiet car's injunction—not a
word to her husband right next to her, but in constant contact with cellmates:
The terrorist cell:
So we're on the train already.
The husband whispers "shhh," looking uncomfortable at his wife's flagrant
violation of the car's culture of quiet.
We'll be there about noon.
So are you at the hotel now?
How was it?
Yeah it is.
They didn't give you any trouble or anything?
Well, what're you gonna do?
Jenna looked online and what did she find?
oh oh oh
couple of hours.... ready for lunch...Okay honey ...Looking forward to it. Bye bye.
Thinking about ferry crossings, all the people who help you get across the
gulf of what is unknown.
And then the parable of the chairs: when I was looking for a chair for sewing
at the beach, first the lifeguard chair then the abandoned beach chair.
The universe: so you want a chair? No problem, how's
this? Now let's get on with it.
Thank you dear Vimalakirti.
Short-circuits all the time you could waste in wanting. The trick is to not
spend the half-life still wanting even after what was needed has been offered.
So, I just did the thing where you pretend to be asleep during the
boarding period so as to avoid gaining a seatmate.
How many precepts have I violated?
Sparing the dharma assets?
Wasn't I just writing about how I was offered a kingly chair when I needed
And did I really even need one then? Surely a traveler needs a train
seat more than I needed the lifeguard chair in order to sew my rakusu.
Well, there are plenty of seats.
What I was stealing wasn't so much a new passenger's ability to sit
down—everyone now has a seat—but rather, from the already-sitting, I stole
the chance of sitting alone, stacking the deck against them by making my own
seat less approachable, manipulating my knowledge of how these encounters
generally work: they begin with a little screwdriver-slip of eye contact
and then from there, a few nods, eyebrow raises, affirmative syllables and
before you know it, someone's sitting next to you.
By pretending to be asleep, I did not provide the needed initiatory threshold
for a would-be seatmate to cross. Who wants to wake up a sleeping
stranger? Who wants to begin the seatmate relationship that way?
You're already importunate as it is and so most people would rather go on to
the next seat than go so far as to wake someone up.
The woman and her cell phone:
There was a train.
I want to ask her if she realizes this is a "quiet car."
we left. Instead of 10:10 we left at 9:00.
Anytime someone does you the favor of behaving in some extreme way, as she's
doing now, it's an opportunity to examine how you do the same thing, even if
it's at a different degree. So she provides a prompt to look at all the
things I do to distract and orient myself.
What if I could proceed as if I had what I needed, as if I knew that I
did. As if I knew San Francisco was on the other coast instead of the
sense that my destination was always cracking off the continent before I
arrive. Wouldn't I proceed with a certain confidence? Wouldn't I
waste less time in deliberations?
Now well into the backtracking journey.
Going down to New York City to go to Upstate New York.
down to come up
back to go forward
ripping out stitches to do them again
As in zazen, you slip and catch yourself and bring yourself back
This doubling back itinerary is the perfect preparation for any silent
The problem rests in my prevailing linear model that assumes forward and
backward is the only way to get somewhere. That the shortest route is
Why not go to upstate New York via California while I'm at it? Why just
stretch up and down, why not add east- and westerly digressions as well? Or
circle it. circumambulate the Grail. Throw in a transatlantic crossing.
If you have to go down to go up, and you go anyway, it must mean you really
want to go or you'd just disembark at the downmost point. Or just stay
home, as I considered doing yesterday.
But here I am on my way, being carried past my destination. We must
always be passing right by our destination on our way to it. At
least this time I know I'm passing it.
Announcer to the car:
Make that seat next to you available.
Place your luggage in the overhead racks.
We appreciate your
And still I hypercorrect for solitude. Overprotect the space the empty
seat grants me.
This time trying a middle ground: writing.
A would-be seatmate would still need to interrupt, but writing is much easier
to interrupt than sleep.
And now I've taken lying off the list.
Still sparing the dharma assets.
but at least I'm actually doing what I appear to be doing.
mm hmm. a woman sighs walking down the aisle, passing me.
Ten more minutes of boarding and now I actually do want to sleep for a while
(5-minutes of truthful napping, embarked upon with almost pure motives). So the
conductor took the lead of "waking me up" and made the seat available.
There's some relief in being spared one's own stinginess. Still, it was
nice to have the whole seat at least to New Haven.
And now, seated beside me: a kid with a Nintendo.
the quiet car should go all the way to no tech.
at least the volume is down.
Now he's drawing.
A yellow circle in a blue curly frame.
It will probably be influenced by the Nintendo.
No! it's a flower!
he just drew the stem
the flower: blue with a yellow center
Mahakasyapa in an Adidas hoodie
has sat down beside me.
The terrorist cell, continued:
Hi... an hour away...
Okay... about an hour...
just want to check in...
meet at the hotel...
when you get to ...
and we'll call you...
I just want to be
wherever you are...
Her interpretation of "quiet car" means that she holds her hand over her mouth
when she speaks loudly into her cell phone." Silence for her is an idea
you can pantomime while still talking.
Now the kid's drawing a rainbow. I like how he makes the cloud first
then the rainbow, which I suppose is meteorologically accurate. You
can't have a rainbow without rain.
Now purple again
what will it be?
a peace sign!
He wants peace
so he makes it with his left hand
Wearing a rainbow visor
face intent with crayola concentration
The word, peace
and a heart, LOVE solid pink
He's still able to color a heart solid pink
and he just added "harmonie"
I thought those were his initials, but then I realized it stands for
Now he's carefully tearing it out of his notebook
At the top: Pass it on!
This kid is no stranger to the Web of Indra.
At the Grail
In the precepts workshop
Elaboration of interdependence
reflect not dissect
What confluence of circumstances brings you here today?
The cab driver didn't know where the Grail was but he knew Duncan Lane
This place you're going, it's called "The Grill?"
"The Grail. It's a conference center."
Sometimes the person who helps you get where you need to go doesn't yet know
the place but knows how to get you there and has a vehicle.
So many people like that in these last weeks, ferry drivers, kind escorts
across the ravine of not knowing. Collaborating. Maybe they know a
piece of it, what you don't. I feel especially grateful at the moment
for these ostensibly neutral parties. And then my old standbys the whetstones, the ones who lead by opposing
As summer began, I had some neat doomed plan about an orderly inquiry into the precepts. It did not emerge as possible so far.
So what happens in that delta between the planned and the actual? The planned, if allowed will lord over the reality, imbuing it with shame and deficit, but the actual, if allowed, can reveal itself to be the richer.
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