“the man in the empty boat” . . .
Okay, so I’ve already written in the past about how nonsensical some of the writings about Nirvana, Zen and Enlightenment can be. An unknown reader to that post suggested that I read “The Laughing Sutra” by Mark Salzman, author also of “Iron and Silk.”
I dutifully reserved that book and picked it up last week from my local branch library. It maintained my interest for a couple of chapters but then fell away from my stack of reading material situated on the small table near my sofa. BTW, this mound of reading increases and subsides as I add additional books to my local library’s online “hold” column whenever a book appeals to me from reading my daily junkie newspaper, the New York Times. I make a point of picking up books held for me at the branch library just down the street from where I live within a couple of days of their phone calls that let me know my reserved books are in. And I also promptly return books that I have browsed through, read or decided they weren’t for me. This rotating reading library is a godsend that has saved me lots of money and storage problems with buying used books on Amazon Prime. On average, I estimate I go through about a dozen volumes a week this way: 20% read to 80% reviewed.
After looking a bit at the “Laughing Sutra” volume, I searched online for Mark Salzman and learned he had married Jessica Yu, a third generation Chinese woman born in California and also graduated from Yale. Besides that, she produced a documentary about a polio victim in an iron lung called “Breathing Lessons” and won an Academy award for her short film made on a tiny budget. That’s right, an OSCAR!
His book, “The Man in the Empty Boat” was unavailable on the library search engine so I went ahead and purchased a used copy on Amazon Prime for a few dollars plus shipping. It arrived yesterday around midday in the mail and by suppertime, I had read most of it. My reading habits aren’t very noteworthy. That is, I don’t rest on every single word in a linear fashion. Instead, I’ll read a few chapters, skip around, maybe edge towards the back and then back and forth again. Part of my short attention span and peripatetic nature, I guess.
In any event, after I had gone back and forth a few times, his message, almost a subtext to a humorous and tragic memoir, was pretty astounding. For the first time, in plain, everyday blog-like language, Salzman makes the case for accepting that we are part of a larger Cosmos and that our role in life is not to DETERMINE what our life will be like; but instead to FIND OUT when the time is right what happens to us: hence, the empty boat of life and a way to be in it.
Honestly, this is the first time that my own experience of being greatly helped while truly being helpless due to fate or karma as a process has been described by someone else so accurately. When I look back on my life, the big moments of change and salvation were mostly out of my hands. Of course, I applied myself and did the best I could in each set of circumstances, but in the end, the outcome wasn’t really up to me.
And therein lies the message: everyone is just doing the best they can AND we’re all part of something greater that is unknowable until it becomes known to us.
Isn’t that freeing?
Hi K! How true it is that we are all a part of something greater than we know or understand until we look back on our lives. Even then, we often never really comprehend ourselves. I appreciate your discussion about reading books, too. How fortunate you are to have this library and the time to enjoy reading! I also skip around and read lightly through a book. If it is interesting then I go back and read it in the traditional fashion. As a result, the electronic reader just didn’t work for me as it does not skip around well!
Nice to hear from you, Beth! I was just thinking about you yesterday! I’m lucky to have the luxury of borrowing books from a vast network of local libraries with an online search engine! Skipping around is fun! This particular book is a keeper!
Now that you have read the beginning of ‘The laughing Sutra’, its the last chapter that I think will amuse you.
LOL! I’ll get it out again and read the ending. Thanks!