The old Buddhist masters I’ve been reading — Dogen and Foyan in particular — must have been crusty old bastards. They certainly did some hard traveling in the Woody Guthrie way, traveling back and forth from Japan to China, which is where the greatest Zen teachers lived. (Maybe that should be Way.) When a junior monk, accompanied by a couple of his seniors, asked Foyan a stupid question, the sage said, “If it wasn’t for you two old guys, I’d have punched that little bed-wetter out.” Still, what they meant by enlightenment is just straightforward happiness — managing to get through the day without freaking out. At the same time, of course, this is the toughest thing in the world and takes a lifetime to attain — this is seeing into the heart of things.
I had two dreams about Thanksgiving — the American holiday — last night. I woke from each feeling profoundly happy. Neither had anything to do with Vietnam other than that fact that I am in Vietnam dreaming. I don’t remember anything but the feeling tone of the first dream, but in the second I was in a church basement with strangers getting ready to eat Thanksgiving dinner. There was an old man to my left and a woman named Maria across the long table from me, as well as some other people. Looking at Maria’s smile, I began to smile too, a feeling of deep contentment coming over me so intense it woke me.
Eight years ago, standing on Tran Hung Dao St. here in Hanoi, Lady Borton and I were having a conversation about people we knew who had come to Vietnam — Americans — and been changed is various ways by the experience. There was Lady herself, John Balaban, a bunch of writers. I was a few days from going home and I had come through a rough time that I still can’t quite explain, a period of several weeks where a few minor health problems had spiraled into a bout of obsessive-compulsive thinking, restlessness, lack of apatite, and sleeplessness. All this just under the surface while I was apparently functioning pretty much normally in public, though a couple of friends sensed something weird was going on. At one point in the conversation, Lady remarked, “This place has healed a lot of people.” And it’s true, though I’m not quite sure why that should be. Writing this just now I can hear the dawn birds just staring up and in the distance a rooster crowing. My heart is at ease.