April 25, 2014

Tick Talk, Thich Talk.



So many people today, or maybe it’s just me, are confusing the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk poet Thích Nhat Hanh with the comic superhero The Tick.

I thought it would clarify the obfuscation if someone interviewed the two of them simultaneously, with neither being a willing participant, and mixed their answers. Because sanity is overrated. I leave it to you, dear reader, to decipher which of the two is quoted, and when. Think of this piece as a vacuum cleaner, and normal rational thought as so much lint on a carpet.

Photo: Creative Commons/ Flickr

We meet on my porch in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The roof is grass, the street three floors below us swims in the glow of underfunded, sporadic streetlamps. A dog barks in the distance, under a moon far from full.

KS: “T, how astounding is this good fortune. I’ve admired you and your work for aeons. Elephant readers are eager for enlightenment. For a message, or maybe a miracle. Certainly for my part, if possible, for that special kind of spiritual growth which is born of effortlessness. Effortlessness and maybe some TV watching. Can you manage to supply an answer, even in the absence of a cohesive question?”

T: “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: A blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

KS: “Wait, really? The black eyes of a child? You lost me there. Are you speaking in typo? But whatev, I mean, you were talking about miracles. And awesome, because I’m so over the whole ‘behave a certain way and maybe someday you’ll get the cheese’ thing. You know? I swear its as if the majority of people think God is some wicked taskmaster and we’re all her flying monkeys, but without the gift of flight. I just want to be this perfect celebrated thing, not some accumulation of perpetually unrealized potential. Does that sound crazy?”

T:  “Hey, don’t knock crazy. The Romans were crazy, and they got all the girls.”

KS:  “My God, that is so right. We really have to see our practices in terms of the results they generate, not the trappings that they themselves embody. All practices: yoga, meditation, fixing old VWs: they are all so much more than merely what they appear to be.”

T:  “ The eyes play tricks like tiny round devils.”

KS:  “Too right! I often feel as if I’m blinded by what I can see. It just makes me batshit crazy.  I can’t even begin to know the mountainous scope of my own ignorance. I can’t see what is unseen to me, and it’s more frustrating than a chatty mother-in-law on a road trip. Well, no, it’s not quite that bad, but it’s a lot. For me. It’s all good, but it’s a lot.”

T: “You’re not going crazy. You’re going sane in a crazy world!”

KS:  “God, I hope so. There doesn’t seem to be any way to resolve it. I mean, once, I hitched a ride to a Vipassana retreat with this woman who had stayed for a time at Plum Village. She told me that she found that particular path was too simple for her, and so I thought: ‘Sounds perfect! Finally, Buddhism I can wrap my tiny little brain around!’ But on looking deeper into it, her ‘too simple’ is my ‘unfathomably incomprehensible.’ I’m confused.”

T: “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

KS:  “Ha ha!  Are you trying to say that people have a hard time letting go of their suffering, and that out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar?”

T: “I hate broccoli, and yet, in a certain sense, I am broccoli.”

Photo: Creative Commons/ Flikr

KS:  “YES!  So you’re telling me that my own sense of my limitations is the only thing holding me back? That I am sort of pre-ordaining my unenlightened state?”

T:   “Yes, destiny has her hand on my back, and she’s pushing.”

KS:  “Oh, God, I love it when you talk non-dualistic to me. So, we are a massive throbbing wrinkled cranium full of incriminating predilections and really simply offer judgements and charges constantly, looking to life to provide evidence. How can a person stop that? What form of dynamite will blow us away from our habitual mental patterns?”

T:  “The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.”

KS:  “So you’re saying we need to roll with it. But how will we know when the time is right to try to push past our habitual thinking? When does cultivating calm abiding become fostering apathy, but then, when does resistance become futile?”

T:  “You can’t know, can you? No. You gotta ride that wave, you gotta suck that lozenge. ‘Cause if you don’t, who will?

KS:  “ I will! I’m so ready to suck it you wouldn’t even know me. But I’ve been so, so bad this month, T. Picture a vegan indulging in stuff like butter. That’s me lately. I can barely call myself a vegetarian! And I have no excuse, I’m educated. Is there hope for anyone who has fallen as low as me?”

T:  “Because you are alive, everything is possible.”

KS:  “Tough one to argue with, I’ll give you that. Sometimes when the things I do are in complete contrast to my value system, I feel like nothing is possible. I feel undefined.”

T:  “My actions are my only true belongings.”

KS:  “Thanks for making it worse, T. Now I feel like I seriously need sugar.”

T:   “Oh, what a goofy work is man.”

KS:  “You said that right. Hey did you hear the one about the two prostitutes and a nun walking into a bar? Oh God there I go again. Humor is my weakness. Always my go-to place when I’m hiding something.”

T:  “My mind has always been my Achilles’ heel!”

KS:  “That’s beautiful. I feel like I could learn a lot about beauty from you.”

T:  “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

KS:  “Boy, could I stand to remember that one. I’m dependent on the approval of others 24/7/365, buddy. It’s exhausting. Sometimes I wish I could just stop caring what other people think of me.”

T: “Say what you will about me! I comprehend very little of it anyway!”

KS:  “Right? And get a haircut! And who dressed you this morning, anyway? I’m addressing the hypothetical ‘them,’ T, not the imagined you. God, I might be nuts.”

T:  “Isn’t sanity really just a one-trick pony anyway? I mean all you get is one trick, rational thinking, but when you’re good and crazy, oooh, oooh, oooh, the sky is the limit.”

KS:  “Too right! Why is it that in these interviews I keep experiencing revelations, then like 20 minutes later, all I want is to lie around in my sweatpants and watch Game of Thrones?”

T:  “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

KS:  “I will take that as permission to do whatever, T, and thanks for it. Sometimes, my upbringing feels like a twelve-hundred-pound tiger on my shoulder, waiting to eat me. Do you ever get that?”

T:  “The human mind is a dangerous plaything, boys. When it’s used for evil, watch out. But when it’s used for good, then things are much nicer.”

KS:   “No no no I know that, but I mean like there was this bully in our neighborhood, and he made me feel like I didn’t have a chance of ever being cool. Which was everything to me, back then. And sometimes, I feel a renewed pull into that humiliated mindset.”

T:  “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

KS:  “So contextualizing the humiliation dissipates it?”

T:   “I refuse to accept criticism from someone who’s hiding under a table.”

KS:  “Like some kind of a metaphor? Like the table is our own goodness?”

T:   “Man. Today is so loopy.”

KS:  “Right? Listen, are you up for a walk? We could go down fifth ave. It’s pretty commercial, but the sea is down there, too.”

T:  “Brace yourself while Corporate America tries to sell us its wretched things.”

KS:  “This is Mexico, T, but yeah, Corporate America is probably even here.”

T:  “Mysteries abound.”

KS:  “True. Look at that. There is so much unapologetic sensual beauty in a seaside town.”

T:   “Hey! You in the pumps! I say to you—stop being bad!”

KS:  “Oh, her? She’s just selling fruit, I think. Let’s take a left at the corner, and head to the sea.”

T:  “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

KS:   “I feel a kiss! Oh crap, it was only a banana peel.”

T:  “Well, once again we find that clowning and anarchy don’t mix.”

KS:   “God, it feels like every prior conversation was leading to this one. I feel brand new!”

T:   “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

KS:  “I totally get that and listen, let’s close this rascal by exchanging blessings. May you continue to be your bad ass, poetic, beautiful soul. “

T:  “And so, may Evil beware and may Good dress warmly and eat plenty of fresh vegetables.”

Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!

Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: Flickr Commons and Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Karl Saliter  |  Contribution: 11,360