Silent Teachings


We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance..” Old Japanese proverb

My mid-60’s birthday is upon me, and with it comes that rather thoughtful and introspective feeling that often accompanies these milestone occasions. Although age only measures the years of the body, I listen for sounds and signs of my mortality like an anxious tenant lying awake, peering into the darkness, listening for the sounds of an intruder. Seated at my shrine this morning, rain whispering on the fibrolite roof, I weigh up my life like an anxious book keeper, the credits and debits, gains and losses, trying to make sense of it, the baggage of feeling, desires, hurts, triumphs and follies, the whole patchwork quilt of existence, everything pigeon-holed away in the nooks and crannies of memory  – now the mind seeking comprehension and clarity like the long throw of headlights on a night road, illumining a tiny part of the dark world in that instant you are there. Thoughts fluttering around like blind bats finding haven and seeking to roost in their dark hidden caves…

There is a sense of greater urgency now about certain things – meditation, more of it; adventures, while still able to backpack over a mountain, tackle distances and wade freezing rivers; my spiritual disciplines, deepening myself, being inspired by holiness; manifestation, all the endless undone things. Remembering Michaelangelo’s words: ‘The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it’. And in our failing to challenge ourselves, to discard the treacheries of comfort, to set goals, another’s admonition comes – ‘A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for…’  Yes, to still dare, to sail the uncharted seas and not shrink from the great journeys and the secret tasks of our souls.

Guru stares at me from my video screen, Thailand in 2006, 3:35am in his hotel room. Nine years on and 6:30am in Wellington and I stare back with a solemnity and earnestness born of a soul’s day piety, sensing  valediction, finality. This is a farewell, a summation – among the many pigeon holes I name this “Guru’s Final Teachings”. Every early morning while we slept, for weeks and weeks, Guru sat in his hotel room chair in the still hours, looking at the camera –there is an absolute simplicity here, life stripped of all distraction and pared away to this silent communion, this naked truth.

We sit in our chairs and just look at each other, but this simplest of moments seems a last beatitude, the transmission of spiritual knowledge, of Truth and Reality itself. I am reminded of Sri Krishna’s childhood tuition,  his Guru Sandipani Muni looking at Krishna and transferring to him –across a Bollywoodish beam of light, in my video – all knowing and knowledge; reminded of the Buddha’s flower sermon – the imparting of  wordless teachings in that silent meditation, no doubt  to the disappointment of those anticipating lofty utterances. I remember one of Guru’s poems that like so many, reminds us of the same eternal teaching:

Since our life is made of
Only a few days and nights
We must love and serve God
To the greatest extent of
Our capacity.

Guru looks at you now from this terminus of all of his human incarnations, the final months after thousands of years, millenia of memories, sees everything, and you know that this immortal video recording from 2006 is a final gift, this wordless looking where he draws you into himself, deepens the bonds – stay with me, be with me, there is nothing else. Conveying knowledge, compassion, love and the great force of absolute truth in this complicity of silence.

Birthdays can be uncertain occasions and I think my poor soul remains in hiding when it feels I am undeserving. But I look at Guru on my video screen and pray for steadfastness and devotion, or what measure of this I can find and keep.

And I can console myself, my very little life, with a line or two from the mystic poet Hafiz:

“Conventional piety brings its reward
A mansion in Paradise;
But for a ragamuffin sinner like me,
A seat in the tavern is enough.”