Monasterynote5: Walkman Karaoke
Here is an excerpt from Walkman Karaoke, a story from a collection I wrote from 1999 to 2006 entitled, Going For Broke. Often, these stories would be sent out to family and friends I had long ago whome most were not Buddhists. The stories were just stories and electronic cameras were not common then. In fact, we had a photographer down the street who would come here and take a photo to make our visa or passport photos when we needed one and the color would not be so good because the electricity was never stable for the chemical processing. That was the way, even in 2005. Things have changed quite a bit since then and I guess I still do the same thing, but in a different format.
I remember when I was living the so-called pristine life in the heart of the Gold Coast, in Greenwich, Connecticut. I was a programmer then, and on weekends I would usually find myself somewhere along the sidewalks of Greenwich Avenue. Many times on these sunny weekend days, there would be a mildly retarded man walking up and down the sidewalks with his Walkman headphones set at full blast. As he would walk in this way, he would sing just about as loud as the music was playing inside his head. Singing louder and louder, he would approach me walking in the other direction. It was very annoying and quite out of place for Greenwich, but nevertheless, he would pass and it was quite clear that he was mentally handicapped due to his physical appearance and his facial features.
All in all, he was happy, singing and singing, not really caring about the world outside. He was in another world, a world that others could not hear. To him, the music mixed with his own voice sounded as sweet as honey. Maybe if we all could hear the music for his voice, he might not sound so bad? He's not alone. We've all done this before at some time or another as youths, singing along with our headphones, of course, until we learned how funny it sounded to others. Maybe if he was in front of a karaoke microphone setup, he might actually sound good! Nevertheless, he was alone in his own experience, immersed in the world of "Walkman Karaoke."
So why would I talk about this? In fact, why would I decide on this theme for this letter abroad? I think of the reverse situation under different circumstances. If one were to perform under the karaoke microphone and the singer was the only one who could hear the voice effects, along with the sing-along-music, the performer would sound terrible to the audience. In the same way, I am inside this monastery and you are outside. I am the performer immersed in this monastic world, while all you know are words from the stories.
In other words, most of you don't have a clue of what Theravada Buddhism is, let alone what it is like to be a monk in this tradition. I realize this and wish to draw you deeper into the world that I perceive. Previously in my other notes to you, I was not much different than a Walkman Karaoke performer. I now realize that I must let you hear the music playing in the headphones. I need to give you a good look inside, give you some of the behind the scenes action, to let you understand it all; what I'm doing, why I'm here and why I want to tell you all how great this place is.