"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: karma

“the man in the empty boat” . . .

poinsettia plants still doing well on the winter windowsill. . .

poinsettia plants still doing well on the winter windowsill. . .

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?


who’s who . . .

What accounts for how we turn out? Brothers and sisters within a family can be very similar, or one may stand out among them as being very different in appearance or bent of mind. Some may have the benefit of education, either formal or informal. Others don’t want to listen to anyone else, in books or not. How much does our personality influence the mix. Ancestral genes? Does karma, destiny or fate have a role to play?

So many potential factors above. It’s hard to sort out what makes us be like others and what makes us be more like ourselves. We live in a materialistic world. Yet, spiritual writings want us to believe that simplifying and not wanting more is the way to go. Who’s in charge of us? Very confusing.