The Real World ... Blogger Style: If the Buddha smoked...

Thursday, December 23, 2004

If the Buddha smoked...

Since the holiday quiz was too bleak here's something completely different.

Smoking at Tassajara.
There used to be a little deck overlooking the stream where smokers could congregate, watch the water, and indulge in the only vice available to them. You could smoke anytime you had a free minute--usually after meals or on work breaks. The smoke pit attracted a lot of bystanders who were starving for social contact in a place where "idle chatter" was actively discouraged, and where silence and solitude were paramount. Because the really super serious zen types never smoked, the pit had a real feeling of privacy (also a precious commodity there) informality, and freedom. It was kind of the outdoor equivalent of the basement rec room where suburban kids could fondle/smoke/fuck unseen by their parents. Anyway, these bystanders, such as myself, who were drawn by the atmosphere of the pit (perfumed with lovely tobacco smoke and the ever-present smell of sulphur from the hotsprings) eventually succumbed to the need to bond socially and began to suck butts anew.

Cigarettes were so precious it was almost like being in prison. We would save butts in a coffee can and smoke them when the cigarettes ran out. Some people would jones so bad they'd sift through the ashes in a desperate search for anything above a filter. Because the place was so remote, you couldn't get cigarettes unless you requested them on the once-a-month town trip, when the 4 wheel drive would descend the mountain and bring back supplies. Sometimes little zen miracles would occur, and fresh cigarettes would manifest, like when a friend of a zen student died and left him two cartons of Pall Malls in his will. Those Pall Malls kept us going for over a month. They tasted like ambrosia.

The older monks would come and smoke in total and utter silence, a little apart from us hormonally fizzed up, desperately lonely, immature addicts. Mostly they ignored us with dignity. (we were pretty obnoxious) It was really tremendous to watch a zen priest consume a cigarette with total absorption, put it out, and leave as silently as s/he came. The monastery dog, an arthritic and gallant border collie named Sanshi (and probably one of the most enlightened denizens of the place, in my opinion) , would follow us into the pit and sit under the sycamore with the rest of the pack-packing pack, wagging his tail in the dust and watching the fish in the water below. Occasionally a guest would come indulge in a pricey cigar--bohemian bourgeois types who would disrupt the whole vibe of the pit because they were rich and on vacation and we were serious students (haha. the serious students wouldn't come NEAR the smoke pit--it was a den of temptation, gossip, and vice. but the best view in Tassajara, and the only place you could talk about anything besides the Buddha. but it was there that I became addicted again. I haven't quit since. Smoking is a kind of social glue. There's nothing more powerful than an addictive substance to give people some common ground. )

Smoking was frowned upon for this reason. I don't even know if they let students smoke there anymore. I was part of the smoker's clique, and it was that particular group of us (rebellious, fucked up, disruptive, horny) that brought about changes in monastic policy. No smoking. No congregating.

Although in the 60s I swear they'd walk to and from the meditation hall holding offering trays with cigarettes dangling from the corners of their mouths. Times change. Baby boomers had all the fun.

Namaste, folks.