“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?