Loving Kuanyin

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Notice to Readers: For the next ten days or so, family and other obligations will prevent the kind of in-depth blogging you’ve come to know and love (?). I will still post something every day: expect to see a lot more of Diogenes, for example. I can also post material from the vast pile of second-rate and experimental stuff I’ve written over the years, not to mention my better poetry, translations, etc. What I love best about blogging is seeing what comes out of the keyboard when I sit down to write first thing in the morning, so the loss may be more mine than yours. For today, here’s a little entry that’s sure to increase the number of Google hits: my first (and probably last) entry in the ever-popular genre of religious porn. Enjoy.
__________

My first lover was Kuanyin, the Goddess of Mercy. She faked her orgasms.

The first time we slept together, I was a little shy – ashamed of my scrawny frame. “Close your eyes until I get in bed,” I warned her. “It doesn’t matter. My hands have eyes in them.” It was true!

Kuanyin didn’t like it when I called her a goddess. “I am just an ordinary woman,” she would say. “Yeah, and the Dalai Lama’s just a simple monk.”
“He’d better be. The Tantrayanists all think he’s ME!”
“Well, say the Dalai Lama IS Avalokiteshvara. Where does that leave Kuanyin?” “Where does it leave Chenrezig?”
“Lost in translation, no doubt.”
“A bodhisattva is, by definition, never lost!”
“Oh? What about just now?”
“That orgasm was faked, for your benefit. A prime example of Upaya, ‘skillful means.'”
Interesting pillow talk, at any rate. Having a sense of humor, I learned, is somehow related to the ability to lose one’s temper. Kuanyin, of course, had neither – though when she saw that I missed them, she tried hard to pretend. But whatever else she might have been, she was not an actress.

The Lotus Sutra says she has a “boundless ocean store of blessings.” I was the surfer dude, just riding the swells.

“Why are your earlobes so long?”
“Why do you think?”
“Mmm, neck rings!”
“You are so unenlightened!”
“Yeah. Listen. If you wanna do the thousand-arm thing, I just want to let you know that’s fine with me.”
“Pervert. I will be what I will be!”
“Yahweh said that, too.”
“He did? When?”
“At the burning bush, when Moses asked his name.”
“Silly Hebrews, seeking God in a burning bush.”
“Babe?”
“What?”
“The world is full of people seeking religion in a burning bush,” I said, moving my hand over the obvious spot. Her breasts grew points like little vajras.

We didn’t always talk like this in bed. Actually, we didn’t do much of anything in bed. Tantric sex? Fuggetaboutit. I was an idealist, she was an ideal: it was that simple. Besides, I’ve never liked the excessively girlish, vulnerable types. I mean, Billie Holiday is O.K. now and then, but if I had to wake up every morning with the blues all ’round my bed, I’d want to wake up with Bessie Smith.

Speaking of which, I remember another illuminating exchange. She was whispering sweet nothings in my ear – literally. I was lying there just starting to drift off when I heard, “Sariputra! Form does not differ from the void, nor the void from form. Form is identical with void, void is identical with form . . . ” I startled. “Will you stop that! It’s going to spoil my sleep!” She looked hurt (as if!) so I added in a soothing voice, “I want to dream about you, not about nothingness!”
“That’s your problem, you only want to dream! Don’t you want to Wake Up?”
Oh boy, I thought, here we go. “Well, since you asked, no. Having to be awake all the time sounds like a total freakin’ nightmare, babe. I went five days without sleep one time and by the end of it I was starting to hallucinate. It wasn’t pretty.”
“But of course you can still sleep when your body needs to sleep. You’re missing the point.”
“The point is maybe it’s a bad analogy. Like this whole ‘enlightenment’ concept. I like the dark. It makes you feel things differently. If the objects of all sense perceptions are equally illusory, why should we privilege just one sense, vision, to convey inadequate and provisional concepts about the void?”
“Do you want me to tell you what enlightenment sounds like, smells like, tastes like, feels like?”
“You don’t have to, babe,” I assured her, running my fingers over the perfect and uncomprehending mirror of her face.

I’ll admit it, I enjoyed the murmur that followed us down the street. I did my best to hide my pride and look properly humble, of course. She was turning me into a first-class hypocrite before I’d even taken the Buddhist vows. “Why should I take refuge in the Sangha? I got you,” I said whenever she raised the issue. “Direct transmission, mind to mind. Just you and me, babe.”

You think she wore saffron robes or something? Guess again. She dressed like a high-class prostitute. Come to think of it, she was a high-class prostitute. Or at least, that’s what she did for a living. Said her parents were poor dirt farmers and she had eight siblings to put through school. It was funny to think of all the slobs who just used her to get their rocks off, passing up the chance of a lifetime – hell, the chance of a thousand lifetimes, if you believe in karma. You would have thought the blazing mandorla was a dead giveaway. But apparently, I was the only one who could see it.

“No, you don’t have any special attainments,” she assured me, “just maybe a little more aptitude than the average John – er, Joe.”
“How come I knew who you were, then?”
“I’ve yet to see any evidence of that.”
“Aw, c’mon, surely something’s rubbed off on me by now.”
“Rubbed off! As if I were Aladdin’s lamp!”
“Not hardly! I would never be so crude. Besides, they say you can’t put a genie back in the bottle a second time.”
“Exactly,” she said, erroneously believing I was Making Progress instead of just being a jerk, as usual. “A genie can’t grant you something you already possess.”

You might find this hard to believe, but it was me who broke up with her, not the other way around. I don’t think she ever understood why.
“Are you hurt?” I asked Kuanyin.
“No, just disappointed. I haven’t experienced ‘hurt’ in ten thousand kalpas.”
“Well, that’s why I’m leaving you, goddess.”
“I am not a goddess!”
“And that’s the other reason. Number 1, you feel nothing. I can’t even hope to hurt you. Your needs are shallow, of the body only. Number 2, I want to worship, and you won’t let me. All compassion and no passion make Jack a dull boy.”
“That amounts to just one reason: I am not who you wanted me to be. I’m not who you think I should be. But I tell you, it’s all in your mind – which in Chinese, as you know, includes what you Westerners call the heart. In reality, I am a prostitute and you’ve got your head permanently stuck in the clouds. This role-playing game was your idea from the start. You have never listened to a thing I had to say!”

That was her last gambit. She was wrong, of course. I wrote down everything she said every time we were together, immediately after I got home. Over the years, I have polished just a bit, mostly restricting myself to a little rearranging to put her aphorisms into a bit more logical sequence. No fancy title, just the New Kuanyin Sutra. I’ll publish it when the time is right.

Do you think I’d look good in a saffron robe?

Triptych

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

1.
The diva wanted everything white. Threw fits if a single dark lipstick case interrupted the absence of color – or was it the presence of all colors? That abstract white that vanished the second she stained a finger with the anywhere surface of the world. Perhaps a votive white, paraffin candlestick burning with almost no scent? I envision her guarding with a cupped hand her fifteen minutes of flame. Beset by a swarm of moths. Or the white sand beach of the silver screen, that mirror of the vanities, that tablecloth for a powdery pick-me-up? I can be whomever I want, she thought every time she went backstage.

2.
Winter has locked us down under armored plate. Yes, all the messy stuff is gone. Logs and stumps and scrubby bushes are covered up; the ground is smooth and gently contoured as any glamorous nude. But it’s slick, you can’t get a purchase on it. The deer lose their footing, slide hundreds of feet downslope. The trees in their tight white collars bleed silently in the sun.

3.
The diva’s handlers are forecasting a winter storm. But the language is arcane, as usual. No one understands the difference between a warning and a watch, a watch and an advisory. She tunes her headset to an open frequency to listen to the surf: white noise. When it’s on the screen: snow. And some call it pleasure when it’s in the mind, but its real name is power. Or powder, she thinks, applying each nostril in turn to the line on her mirror.

The narrators discuss their task

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

–What is my name?
–You are Melissa. I am Absynthia.
–We are two?
–No. You are one, I am one. Together we are still one. We cannot be divided.
–What do they call us, then?
–They call us the Twin. But our real name is Errata.

Two heads, two halves of the body. Two necks, two shoulders, two arms, two legs, two lungs. Four eyes, four ears, two brains, a single heart. Two tongues, two hands, two breasts, a single sex. Two mouths to feed one stomach.

–How did this happen?
–It could have been anything. We should have been anything but this.
–What could be better? It’s every wit’s first thought about two heads . . .
–But on second thought . . .
–Yes . . .
–One of us had a second body and lost it to the first. We were like Jacob and Esau, struggling in the womb.
–It might have been better for history had those two been like us.
–History? One scroll out of many. We could give birth to something else, I feel it in our bones.
–Before we rejoined we were little more than clusters of potential.
–Little Gordian knots. Little clumps of this and that, bundled with yarn, fastened with a charm, stuck in a little skin sack.
–We dwelt in possibility?
–Are dwelling there still. They could have refused us at birth . . .

On a bicycle flying through the intersections, the lights turning green at their approach. One looks right, one left. Peddling, braking, shifting gears without a thought.

–It was a last-minute decision.
–The angels were asleep at the switch.
–Or God?
–Not if we know what’s good for us. God puts an end to questioning.
–What is the end of questioning, then?
–You laugh and I’ll weep. We’ll both menstruate. That way we’ll cover all the bases.
–Before we had words, could we hear each other’s thoughts?
–The pattern was there, unrecognized. We knew, but we didn’t know that we knew.
–Nothing’s really changed then, except now
–we are one step farther from the back door
–we came in by. But
–the sun’s gonna shine. The wind’s
–gonna rise.
–Mmm-hmm.