August 19, 2013

The Second Man, by Sol Ta Triane, originally published June 15, 2005 at The Dog Zen Koans

Two men walk into a diner. Before they can order, two bowls are placed in front of them. Upon tasting the food the first man spits it back out and, shouting spontaneously towards the kitchen, says, "This is disgusting," then angrily towards the waitress, "You brought me a bowl.. of grease!"

The waitress returns and tells them, "that's so to remind you: samsara is suffering."

The second man is also revolted, attempting to get the grease out of his mouth with repeated snorts and spittings. The men walk out of the diner, the first man alternating between cursing loudly and mumbling under his breath, the second in confusion and silence.

They try a different restaraunt. Before having a chance to order, the chef comes out and places two steaming bowls in front of the men with a smile. "The first man skeptically takes a sip of the broth; it shoots out as fast as it went in. "This is salted water! Why would you bring us salt water?"

The chef replied that it was merely to clarify the point: samsara is unfulfilling.

By this time, the men are feeling off their game, and after a brief discussion decide to try their luck with something different. They have a project to do at home, and needed to pick up a hammer and nails at the hardware store on the way home.

Navigating the well stocked isles of the hardware store, they noticed that the hammers had no heads and that the nails were made of rubber. Seeing the angry face of the first, and the perplexed face of the second man, the stock boy announced,

"We carry those items especially to remind people that samsara simply doesn't work."

And so it was at this moment the first man made a silent decision to retreat to the solace of his own abode. And that he did without hesitation, soon to piece together some sort of dinner and, he thought, maybe a bit of television.

It was the case, though, that the second man reacted quite differently. Those odd encounters had awakened his curiosity, or maybe it was wonder. Now ravenously hungry, the thought crossed his mind to give another restaurant a try.

He went into the very first joint he could find, which happened to be directly across the street from the hardware store. Reaching for the door, it opened for him. He saw that he was being greeted by a sparkling polite woman, who he assumed must be the matire-d'. She took his arm and gently escorted him through the plain building into a stunning and lush backyard garden, in the center of which was a large shapely wooden table with one large chair holding multiple multi-patterned cushions.

"Would this place be to your liking sir?" The man heard himself say, "Oh yes," as he saw it was in fact quite a fine spot.

Settling in, his senses began to open in the comfort of that sun-speckled yard. Flowers and greenery of every hue and geometric shape surrounded him, bemusing the eye. The air was warm yet breezy; the flowers were gently pushed into undulations by its caress. Bees buzzed happily, circling and bobbing flower to flower.

Deepening in comfort he sunk into his chair; the maitre-D nodded, nimbly removing his shoes. Turning away in wide gaze, she seemed as a conductor, raising her baton at the beginning of a symphony. As she began to do whatever it was she was doing, which seemed to be environmental adjustments, she turned back for just a moment to address the man, saying, "By the way, sir, all this is on the house."

Sinking even deeper on that voluptuously soft and supportive chair, as a king on a throne, a most entrancing of musics began to fill the garden. The sounds of lyres, tamboura, then gentle tablas beginning almost inaudibly, then increasing, layering back and forth, not unlike the bees. He could see the musicians had been in wait behind a hedge of blueberry bushes. The bushes, he noticed, had quite a crop of the rich blue-black orbs.

Out of nowhere, a heartbreakingly attractive girl was leaning over his table, asking him if he would like some of those blueberries, which, she now held before him in a festive flower bowl, painted with flowers. He enjoyed the most delicious berries he ever ate. When she asked him if he would like his feet and shoulders massaged, he said gratefully, and with very little hesitation, "Sure!" Soon he achieved a state of immense relaxation and pleasure.

But it was only the beginning. Beautiful dancing girls silently appeared, smiling, coy and playful, moving through the garden, disturbing nothing, harmonizing to the scene, and an odd, full and healthy joy arose in his mind. One after another, the waiters and waitresses brought fresh squeezes and cuts of exotic fruits, steamed vegetables and meats dipped in sauces he had never seen previously. Some came in stars cups, moons bowls, even two long curved pink tureens in opposite shapes. Small presentations of the most delicate and vitalizing hot and cold appetizers were presently by the lovely girls, each on a different painted bowl or plate; then presented and uncorked was a 1942 Krug Sparkling Nectar of a supremely subtle refreshing taste, which the second man found to be a nourishment of his soul: its effervescence danced on his tongue, and wine flowed soft and pleasing to refresh him deeper with each taste.

Another completely unabashed lady of radiant beauty appeared. She giggled and sat down at the table along side the man. She introduced herself with funny puns which delighted and sent the second man even further off-guard, then told the man stories of the type that he would be most interested in. With light hearts and humor, they engaged discussions of religion, books, love, art, politics, music, much more. The man noticed that she was purely humble, but all the same seemed to understand all those topics well. The laughed and spoke for hours, mixing their variegated togethernesses into the soft summer evening.

During this time the train of exquisite treats continued its course. The crescendo and decrecendo of foods, colors, the distinct and merging fragrances only supported those conversations, maybe the best conversations of his life. His new girlfriends were such a fine conversationalists humorists, but foremost they were women. He simply lost himself in their beauty, wisdom, and the scene at hand.

How it seemed to work, he thought, was this: In pure undulating synchronicity, this simply came to be. Look here: the maitre-d' or a waiter or waitress would appear with yet another delicious fruit, an appetizer, a beverage, maybe a tasty and warming filling main course. The young women, one after another, came to please him in many ways that one might expect and also might not. The tensions and release expanded during entire episode, somehow bringing placidity to his mind and needs, as he watched to setting of an orange sun. It came to mind in that moment that he had greatly underestimated his life, in the sense that joy is something that could quite be accomplished.

The bees and butterflies moved like a painter's brushstrokes. Whatever the man experienced in taste, sound or vision, it built itself anew upon the previous joy. The bliss amassed and staying consistent; this stability was something he never before known, or yet it seemed like something glimpsed a distant memory.

And as that wondrous scene of harmony, light and vitalizing, perhaps, but really through his own charm, right then, his own purity opened, as a flower. And he became as one in that glorious feast that had been presented him, in it, beyond it too.

In that way he also forgot his problems and joy opened firmly in him, like the white-pink lotus right before him, in the garden.

And he held the hand of his lovely conversation companion as they giggled, chatted, played and dined together. He thought he could see waves emanating between himself and the woman – certainly he could feel them. In fact, they emanated between all the people and objects, ass if the spirit of atmosphere had stepped forward and taken over, and the second man knew it would all be like a downstream flow of a great river from here on in.

Fully satisfied and in the finest of spirits, the knew it to be time to go home. But he experienced no regret, only gratitude. Turning to bid an adieu, he did however for a moment, hesitate.

"Why did you do all of this for me?" said the second man.

The matrie-D looked into his eyes. The second man recognized, from her look, a wisdom and inner world he had once sensed but had not been able to stabilize. She was a mirror in which he saw himself. The entire assembly of waiters stood aside, arms in front, palm over palm. The musicians and dancers gently stopped and came over to join the group, and with kindness attended the man. They said,

"We did it to show your capacity."