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
9:10 a.m.
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.
I'll call you when we're closer
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.

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.
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
The husband whispers "shhh," looking uncomfortable at his wife's flagrant violation of the car's culture of quiet.
Okey dokey....... 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 one?

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.
we left. Instead of 10:10 we left at 9:00.
Hello? Hello?
I want to ask her if she realizes this is a "quiet car."

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 retreat.

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 the preferred.

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.

New Haven.

Announcer to the car:

Make that seat next to you available.
Place your luggage in the overhead racks.
We appreciate your cooperation.

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 stealing
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...
Love you

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.

My bodhiseatmate.

At the Grail
At last

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 action.

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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