What a pleasure to spend the afternoon on Saturday in the company of a quartet of actors performing scenes from Shakespeare. Our friend Fred--a frequent visitor and sometime commenter on "The Buddha Diaries"--had invited us to the show that he and his actor friends had been preparing, and the occasion served to remind me of the extraordinary power and versatility of language. No sets, no costumes, just a row of chairs and four lecterns--and words! Shakespeare had written them, centuries ago, and they proved that the human imagination, with their aid, can easily span the intervening years to experience the joys and fears, the pain and anger of those who are given to utter them. Our actors obviously relished them, and their commitment to the words provided us, in the audience, with a rich tapestry of the human experience and a reminder that the dramas in which we play our individual parts are no more nor less illusory than those enacted on the stage in front of us. Thanks, Fred!
Saturday evening we came home to watch The Tibetan Book of the Dead on DVD. Narrated by Leonard Cohen, it's a two part investigation into the way in which that great text still plays out in the life of Tibetans today, illuminating the meaning and rituals of life and death in a remote part of the world where life is at subsistence level and where people still find solace and guidance in the old beliefs. And beliefs they are: here, Buddhism is clearly a religion, as system of beliefs that gives humankind place in the order of the universe and instructs about the mystery of death and afterlife.
Sunday morning we attended a book launch event for Ken McLeod's "An Arrow to the Heart." (A reminder: my review of the book can be found on The Huffington Post.) Ken offered a wide-ranging historical and philosophical introduction to the text of The Heart Sutra and, after a fine buffet lunch, to his book and the process he engaged in writing it. We began to understand more about the differences between Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism and more, too, about their common ground. Of special interest to me, given my intention to launch my "Accidental Dharma" site in the near future, was one of the interpretations of the word "dharma" as "a unit of experience."
It's precisely the intersection of lived experience and teaching--the more common understanding of "dharma"--that I'm looking to explore. Sometimes the richest lessons in life come wrapped in the most unwelcome of experiences--be it some casual insult, a personal disappointment or, at worst, the death of a loved one in a senseless accident like the one described in the Ram Dass "Rachel letter" to which I alluded in the last entry on this site. More of this in the coming week. I hope you'll bear with me.