The Lone Ranger and Tonto Meets Buddha
Buddha watched the two men approaching. He noticed their collapsed posture and frayed clothes, noticed too that the large white horse was lame in its right front foot and that both steeds were deeply tired and underfed. He imagined and then materialized a bucket, walked to the spring, and filled it with fresh water. He imagined and materialized a long cutting blade like he’d used when he was young in Nepal and collected a goodly pile of grass. Then he blew the coals of his fire into flame and set the tea kettle on to boil. As the strangers approached, he stepped forward without hesitation. “Let me take your horses.”
The Lone Ranger thanked him and dismounted stiffly. Tonto noted the stranger’s dark skin and bare feet, the tidiness and meagerness of his camp. “We can’t stay here long,” he whispered to the Lone Ranger. “He’s got less than we do.”
The Lone Ranger corrected him in a whisper: “If he’s a fan, our visit will be enormously important to him.”
“Sure, we’ll eat his food and bury him in our importance,” Tonto muttered to himself.
The Buddha indicated several soft pillows, which the strangers hadn’t previously noticed, and invited them to make themselves comfortable.
While they settled, Buddha stripped the saddles and turned them upside down to dry in the sun. He flipped the saddle blankets and hung them over cottonwood branches to air out. He gave each horse a bucket of water and gently examined their feet and legs. Finding a stone in Silver’s right front foot, he pried it clear of the hoof with a stick. Silver nudged him with his head, and the Buddha said, “You’re welcome.”
The Buddha returned to the fire, poured the tea, and set some naan bread before them, spiced with wild onions and some toasted peppers. The Lone Ranger ate his greedily. Tonto ate slowly, sampling and enjoying the strange flatbread. “I could teach this guy to make fry bread,” he thought. The Lone Ranger turned to Tonto and said in a low tone designed not to travel-- “This guy is an impeccably trained servant. Let’s wait around for his master. Maybe he’d be good for a loan.”
“Yeah,” Tonto said derisively. “Maybe he’d like to back a tv series.”
Missing his tone, the Lone Ranger returned to his supper. “You never know,” he muttered.
Enlightenment is not something we think about but express in each moment. Each [masking] exercise is designed to alter some sense of the body’s feelings about “normal” by coaxing you to imagine, move, stand, behave, and project yourself in ways that appear to you as counterintuitive and definitely not you. These simple games expose the borders and soften the sense of self by encouraging you to explore attitudes, feelings, physical postures, intentions, and behavior beyond the safety of your known persona. If, for instance, you begin to move in a way that does not feel like you, it’s possible to become fully aware of that resistance, identify it, and study it clearly rather than dismiss it or flee its influence. Why is it not you? What’s wrong with it, other than your discomfort?
If your normal posture and social strategies represent a desire not to be noticed, being compelled to behave boldly or aggressively will awaken a host of resistances, worries, and previously rejected feelings. If you fear that spontaneous responses might expose you as foolish and reveal unconscious baggage or if being out-of-control frightens you, these exercises will have revelatory value. They may initially feel off-task or trivial, but they’re extremely practical for highlighting aspects of the self normally consigned to invisibility.
The more familiar you are with your habits and partialities, the more easily you can alter them. These exercises address the unconscious directly, feeding it new information and strange associations, which nudge it off balance and onto high alert. It is that high-alert state seeking normalcy that, when presented with an unknown mask, scrambles to assemble a new, coherent personality that matches associations with the face in the mirror.
When you see a mask as your reflection, several things occur simultaneously. A face, which is not your own, offers feedback to the mind. Seeking order and coherence, the mind mines its resources, scavenging clues, such as previously stored images from fantasies and dreams, to reestablish a new equilibrium. From that plunge into interior space, awareness rag-picks among random memories, feelings, observations, and emotions to assemble a holographic new personality. The new identity is as multidimensional as the old and will include knowledge of the masked persona’s personal history, relatives, posture, attitudes toward the world, and pungent biographical details. It is as if everything you know about yourself transformed into a door through which to discover someone else. While your familiar identity remains in suspension, it will not trip you up with judgments, criticism, self-consciousness, and embarrassment. All its constituent parts that normally cause you difficulty are subdued. This occurs in the blink of an eye, and to anyone who has ever experienced the shock of recognition of a new character arising in their interior, it feels miraculous, as if that person had always been resident in your shadows, like an understudy waiting their opportunity to claim the stage.
The mask’s persona perceives differently than “you” do and seizes possibilities that our ordinary self has excluded from its options. The masked persona responds to challenges or surprises with aplomb and rises to unexpected questions without hesitation or embarrassment and usually with glee and a pronounced attitude. The responses are ego-free or, more accurately, represent the ego of the mask, not your own. Furthermore, no matter how diffidently or unsure students may have been at the beginning of class, once masked, they stand before their peers as radically different people. Some will be insanely aggressive, others smoldering and cocksure; some will be barking mad, others perfectly normal. But always the student becomes someone different from the person he or she was at the beginning of class.
During the 1960s I had an African American friend named John Francis who traveled the entire country carrying a banjo and never speaking. He could neither explain himself nor ask directly for anything, but he occasionally resorted to writing notes. Yet, he was so tuned by silence that this tall, singular black man was able to travel wherever he chose and, to my knowledge, never experienced any negative reaction. By choosing not to speak, he enhanced his hearing and general awareness, like a blind person. It is not that blind people, as a class, hear better but that, in the absence of sight, they have been forced to become more intimate with their remaining senses.
About the Author: About the Author: Peter Coyote is an award-winning actor, author, director, screenwriter, and narrator who has worked with some of the world’s most distinguished filmmakers. Recognized for his narration work, he narrated the PBS series The Pacific Century, winning an Emmy award, as well as eight Ken Burns documentaries, including The Roosevelts, for which he won a second Emmy. In 2011 he was ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest and in 2015 received “transmission” from his teacher, making him an independent Zen teacher. The author of several books, he lives in northern California. http://www.petercoyote.com
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