March 1, 2003
He saved himself in Buddha's arms
by Jaimee Jackson
* "Ignorance, conceit, jealousy, ambition, lethargy, arrogance, and the rest."
"The search for a spiritual path is born out of suffering."
His father left home when he was still very young. He became the only man to his mother and older sister. He said it left him flounderingin search of something that didn't seem to exist. He looked everywhere, he said. In the stupidest places.
"It refers to a basic unsatisfactoriness running through our lives."
Most people tried desperately to pretend they were happy. Not us. It was much later before I learned that there are satisfied people in this world. Maybe Aidan is one now. Maybe The Path has stripped that vein of disappointment from beneath his skin.
3. The Path
"The goal is the end of suffering, and the path leading to it is the Noble Eightfold Path with its eight factors: right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration."
He left Sonoma less than a year after I did. "I've got to find something," he said to me over a crackling payphone line. "Whatever it is I need, it's not back there." Most of us had already come to the same conclusion. Our friends were all leaving, by car or by coffin.
"You're a lot closer to Washington now," I told him. "You should come up this way for Thanksgiving." He was slow and vague with his response. "I've got this cabin: everything I need in one room, right in the woods. And I'm making some friendsI think I might have found something here."
4. Right View
"Two kinds of right view stand out as primary. One is mundane right view, right view which operates within the confines of the world. The other is supramundane right view, the superior right view which leads to liberation from the world."
I got a letter from him a few months ago. He said we were still connected, that he could still see me in his mind and know that I was alive. "You're going to survive. You were the only one who ever had any spark. Keep the spark in open view."
I get lonely for the person I used to know and wonder what made him join. I jokingly chalk it all up to the period when he started shopping at the health food store and buying Tom's of Maine toothpaste, but I know it was in him all along. I still have a twenty-page letter he fedexed to me seven years ago, while I was on spring break in San Diego. It was about the walls he saw me building. He quoted Kurt Cobain and said he was starting to read Kerouac.
5. Right Intention
"The Buddha explains right intention as threefold: the intention of renunciation, the intention of good will, and the intention of harmlessness."
He was my first date. We went with a group of friends to see The Lion King and he leaned over to kiss me during the scene where the hero kisses the lioness he is destined to marry. It was the kind of first kiss every girl should have. He was older than I by a few years and already lived on his own. He seemed faraway and exotic, like the dream of a life you want for yourself.
He was the only person I knew who allowed me to be fragile. He stepped into my life just as my father stepped out of it and took his place almost seamlessly.
I broke up with him after only a month, knowing that dating would have driven us apart when I needed him close by, watching me from the wings like a protective parent. I could only let him love me from a distance, my hand in his, but my heart somewhere else entirely. He was my backupthe one thing I could always count on.
6. Right Speech
"Speech can break lives, create enemies, and start wars, or it can give wisdom, heal divisions, and create peace."
After he joined The Foundation, the phone calls came less frequently and became more bizarre. "I'm finding a clarity of mind that makes words seem unnecessary. Next week I start my vow of silence." He was unsure how long it would last. I was unsure if this new life of his was for real; I pictured the monks I had seen in movies, plodding about in orange robes with bald heads and blank expressions.
During his vow of silence I got word that a second one of our friends had committed suicide. I called to tell Aidan, wanting to grieve together. During every past misfortune, we had turned to each other for support. As I dialed his phone number, I rehearsed what I would say to him, what I would want him to say in return.
Another colony member answered the phone and said Aidan was undergoing a metamorphosis and wasn't able to come to the phone. Silence was imperative.
I hung up the phone and cursed Buddha out loud for stealing everything.
Even his voice, I thought.
7. Right Action
"Right action means refraining from unwholesome deeds that occur with the body as their natural means of expression."
When he had sex for the first time, I was the one he called the next morning. "You don't even have a girlfriend," I reminded him. I was surprised, half-awake.
He'd had a party the night before and Iris was there. She was a girl I had always disliked for no apparent reason other than a vague sense that she always talked too slowly, as if she could never think of the words she wanted to use.
They were both drunk, practically passed out. He said it happened quickly, yet seemed to take place in slow motion. After it was over, she fell asleep on the couch; he took a shower and went to bed. I was suddenly glad I'd gone home early that night. He went out with Iris a few times over the next couple of weeks, but ended up liking her even less than I did. He never dated much after that.
A year ago I went to his colony's website, which shows a picture of him, his arm around a girl with a Scandinavian first name and his last name. In a letter, I asked if he was married. He wrote back that he'd rather talk about the changes in his soul than the events of his life. I cursed Buddha out loud again.
8. Right Livelihood
"Right livelihood is concerned with ensuring that one earn one's living in a righteous way."
The colony sells Buddhist paraphernalia. I sent away for a catalog but never ordered anything. It seemed like a silly way to try to connect. I read books on Buddhism instead.
"The Buddha mentions five specific kinds of livelihood which bring harm to others and are therefore to be avoided: dealing in weapons, in living beings (including raising animals for slaughter as well as slave trade and prostitution), in meat production and butchery, in poisons, and in intoxicants."
In high school he started working for a local winery. He controlled the on-hand inventory and did most of their shipping.
His parties were ironic scenes: teenagers sitting around a bonfire getting drunk on expensive red wine served in Dixie cups. Aidan would build bongs out of the empty bottles, housing them in a long row across the back of his garage.
Our lives were like runaway cars on a rollercoaster, destined for disaster, modeled after the only heroes we thought we could respect.
9. Right Effort
"The nature of the mental process effects a division of right effort into four great endeavors:
- to prevent the arising of unarisen unwholesome states;
- to abandon unwholesome states that have already arisen;
- to arouse wholesome states that have not yet arisen;
- to maintain and perfect wholesome states already arisen."
He was there when Damon had his first overdose. Damon had been to a Grateful Dead concert, done an unknown quantity of unknown substances. He got back in town and went to Aidan's to spend the night. They smoked pot together and then Damon disappeared into the bathroom while Aidan fell asleep.
The next morning, Aidan got up to get ready for work and found Damon, pale and sweaty and shivering, in the bathroom. Aidan couldn't stay with him; he had to go to work. He called me as I was leaving for school and I cut class to babysit. I was so young. I knew almost nothing about treating an overdose, and even less about the fear that prevented Aidan from staying to watch one.
Aidan never bothered to apologize for leaving me alone that day; I never bothered to forgive him for it. It was his first betrayal.
10. Right Mindfulness
"Right mindfulness is cultivated through a practice called 'the four foundations of mindfulness' (cattaro satipatthana), the mindful contemplation of four objective spheres: the body, feelings, states of mind, and phenomena."
He sent me a meditation card once. It was 5"x7", with a picture of the Tibetan goddess Ekadzati on the front. On the back he had written me a letter about a walk he took on a wooded path. Somewhere during the walk, he looked up around him and realized that everything was connected. The air, the trees, people. All connected. He said he could see the strings that bound us all together, and suddenly the tree in front of him was the most beautiful thing, because it was everything.
I pinned the card up on my bulletin board, with Ekadzati facing out at me. Dzogchen protectress. He was sending me substitutes as he pulled himself away.
11. Right Concentration
"Concentration represents an intensification of a mental factor present in every state of consciousness. This factor, one-pointedness of mind (citt'ekaggata), has the function of unifying the other mental factors in the task of cognition."
Sometimes I can forget the old Aidan is dead. I can ignore this new person who won't tell me if he's married, who only talks about being tied to trees and worshipping the spark he finds in the people he loves.
I remember spring break one year when I was sixteen. He had a party at his apartment, and I went even though I had to be up at four the next morning to pack and leave for my vacation. I went home from the party around midnight to get what sleep I could.
At 4:30 in the morning, just as I was getting dressed, there was a knock at the door. Aidan was standing there, smiling, holding a covered tray and wearing a sombrero. "I made you breakfast," he said. Pancakes, eggs, bacon, juice. He'd stayed up after the party ended so he could come by and see me before I left. We ate together in the kitchen while my mom finished my packing for me, smiling at what a nice boy he was.
I can believe he is still that Aidan, somewhere inside.
"The path has to lead to a complete end of suffering, to an end of suffering in all its forms, and to a final end of suffering, to bring suffering to an irreversible stop."
I want him to erase my own suffering with his.
I am still his selfish girl. I still want him to love me, look out for me, talk to me.
He saved himself from a place and time that would have destroyed him the way it destroyed our friends. I wish he could have saved me too.
Quotations taken from The Noble Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering, by Bhikkhu Bodhi, Vipassana Research Publications of America, 2000.
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