Tan came in on a frosty Sunday morning. As usual, he showed up unannounced, I think we are a stop he makes on his regular pilgrimages. I enjoy that. My life is so structured and planned that I get a kick out of certain “interruptions.” Tan walks all the way from the Peace Pagoda where he is staying, a few miles away in Leverett, and will walk a lot more before the day is done.
“It’s cold,” he said, shivering in his monk’s robes, his bare feet in open sandals.
It’s hard to figure out what to give him. If I say Do you want coffee or tea, he looks confused. It’s better to offer one thing, but then he has to say yes to almost anything that’s offered. In the end he agreed to hot coffee and half a bagel with cream cheese (Bernie had the same but with white fish salad, only Tan, of course, is a vegetarian).
Once the two sat down, they began a conversation on the subject of contentment. “Do you think contentment is the same thing as satisfaction?” Tan asked Bernie. “Contentment feels stronger, more positive.” Bernie recalled that Being satisfied with what I have is the essence of our precept on non-stealing, and they went on from there.
I think about that today, 6 hours before the first Presidential debate. There’s a part of me that wants to see it—it’s become such quintessential American political theater—but an even bigger part of me does not. I don’t want to see the verbal punches thrown, the I’m tougher than you are poses, the gotchas, the posturings, and all the analyses by commentators who’ve been getting it wrong all year about who won, who lost, etc.
Do no evil; do good; purify the mind, were the Buddha’s directives. In this season of rage, self-righteousness, fear and cynicism, I take the third directive very seriously. How to avoid getting overwhelmed by the stultifying, soul-starved stridency that passes for political discussion nowadays? How to avoid getting overwhelmed by the anger, the name-calling, the self-pity and the taunting jibes?
By enjoying a photo of Tan and Bernie on a 42-degree morning, the one shivering in his lightweight monk’s robes, the other still functioning mostly out of the left side of his body, both discussing contentment very earnestly.