The Seeds From Long Ago
I remember when I first learned how to meditate on my breath some time in 1990, during my university years. Back then, meditation was not so well known. The beat generation’s Zen trend in the 60’s had died out with disco in the 70’s. Barnes and Noble maybe had only a few shelves in a single bookcase labeled with “Eastern Philosophy” that covered all Eastern religions, including Buddhism. Ram Das’s cryptic book, Be Here Now was the only book I had read prior to reading my World Religions book, which had included a chapter on Buddhism for a class I took. It was different in the early 90’s. There wasn’t a world wide web, Google or even Yahoo. We didn’t have Idiot or Dummy books back then either. While there were books out there, you really had to explore a subculture, and you had to know someone in order to know what the subcultures were and where to find them.
Luckily, I had a friend who was into Zen and he was considering becoming a Catholic priest at the time. He recently transferred from UC Berkeley, not so far from San Francisco, which might be called the subculture mecca of the United States, certainly for the weird stuff, like meditation. I had asked him to teach me and I thought it would be good for me to learn from him. He agreed and came over my apartment one night to teach me a lesson it seems I would never forget.
I remember we were sitting on the floor in the living room during my lesson. I was thinking about television’s depiction of meditation and what should be happening, and then I said, “Should I light a candle?”
He said, “If you want to, you can.”
“Should I light an incense stick?”
“If you want to, you can. You can have representations of the Four Elements.” He explained it to me, but I did not really know what he meant, so I lit a candle and an incense stick to fit my paradigm of what meditation should be like.
Before we started, he gave me a little bit of a lesson on the story of The Buddha and how he became Enlightened. He then told me some things about the posture and to press my tongue against the roof of my mouth and to swallow a lot. “They say it is good for you,” he said. Then he taught me how to count my breaths “Zen Style.”
I would silently and inwardly count the exhales of my breaths one by one until I got up to ten.
Then I would count backwards all the way back down to zero.
Then up to ten again,
and then back to zero.
I would repeat these cycles until it was time to stop. If I lost my count, I would just start all over again from “one.”
After our session was over, he left and that was more or less “The Lesson.” After that, I do not know why, but I continued with this practice and other forms of meditation almost every day, more or less for the rest of my life (with some exceptions of course).
Twenty years later, in 2010, I visited Ulpathkanda, Hantanna, (Spring Hill Monastery) near Kandy, where I was able to use the Internet for the first time in a very long time. I sometimes joked about how I was doing an “Internet retreat” from my full time life as a forest monk in Na-uyana. Nevertheless, I was still at a high mountainous jungle forest monastery.
I looked up my old friend on the Internet. When we were in college together, he had changed his major from Philosophy to whatever you needed to become a Spanish teacher. It looked as though he had really lived the Spanish lifestyle and moved all over the globe to Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries. The Internet kept track of all the different countries he lived in. It was true that “Big Brother is watching,” and so could I with an Internet connection. After all of that globe trotting, he settled down in a Connecticut town not too far from where he originally taught me how to meditate. I picked up the monastery phone, and dialed the codes for my phone card, and then I dialed his number. The phone rang and a woman’s voice answered the phone.
“Hello, my name is Bhikkhu Subhūti, and I was wondering if a Brett J1 . lives here?”
“Yes, he does.”
“May I speak with him please?”
“…uh..OK?” She said in a cautious voice to me as a stranger. Perhaps I was a telemarketer to them. They did not know what to expect. There were muffled voices coming through the phone’s speaker, and then eventually the phone was passed to Brett.
“Hello this is Brett.” I instantly recognized his voice which had stayed the same for all of these years.
“Hello this is Bhikkhu Subhūti. You once knew me as Jeremy Glick from ‘Central.’ Do you remember me?” Central was a shorthand name for Central Connecticut State University.
“Yes, I remember you, Jeremy.”
I continued and said, “A long time ago, you came over my place and taught me how to meditate and how to count my breaths. With a few exceptions, I practiced nearly everyday and my practice grew and grew, and eventually I decided to become a Buddhist Monk in 2001. Now my Name is Bhikkhu Subhūti. I looked you up on the internet so I could call you and say, ‘Thank you.'”
There was a long pause. It wasn’t really that long, but there was a five or six second delay for him to speak, so it seemed long. He finally broke the silence and said,
“You know, we never know what will happen to the seeds we have planted long ago.”
I did not expect him to still be a teacher of mine, but those were words of wisdom.
We caught up on some old times. He was indeed a Spanish teacher and married a woman from Spain. His brother, who was an electrical engineer quit the industry and now counts caribou in Alaska for a living. I told him that I never went into teaching which was expected at college and I became a computer programmer instead for about six years before leaving all that behind me. Times have changed and so did the both of us.
I told him that I had my brother make me a Facebook account (with two friends), and although as a schoolteacher, he was against Facebook, he thought I might be able use it to do something worth while for other people. I did not do much with social networks until last year, but I kept his thoughts in mind. We talked some more and then we parted.
If you ever have a chance to thank someone that has affected your life, I highly recommend it. Often we do not think we can make a difference, but we do, both positively, and unfortunately, negatively. We always plant seeds in ourselves and others. Some germinate while others do not. Sometimes we believe they are trivial, but some can grow into towering Redwoods. It can change a whole person’s destiny. So always plant happy seeds because,
“We never know what will happen to the seeds we have planted long ago .”