Notes from the Garden City
Christchurch in winter. Our meditation centre is offering a concert at the Arts Centre and I was here to join in the performances.
With an hour or two to spare, time to wander a little. In the parks and streets some charming things catch your eye. An old man and his dog were performing tricks before delighted children. The dog had a skateboard and upon an imperative from his master would put first two, then four legs on his improbable toy, riding a gauntlet of applause towards his masters welcoming arms. The dog could catch proffered coins, one, two at a time in his mouth, depositing them delicately into a black felt hat. Click, click, the coins rattled against white teeth – high in the air the old dog jumped to fetch their keep.
Across in a nearby square a large Maori man in a wheelchair was playing a guitar and singing a romantic lament. 'Why, why, why Delilah?' he sang, but Delilah would not be charmed by this particular suitor – one leg ended at the knee, a polished metal stump, the remaining diabetic limb a swollen festive red and also destined for the surgeons knife. But his buskers hat was filling with yellow coins and the compassion of the audience would more than compensate for the unattainable Delilah.
"God will make you one with Him if you know the meaning of silence."
Such a bright afternoon. A watery sun cast long cold shadows over the bustle of market stalls, hot food caravans, tables of lunchtime diners. Rapacious pigeons strutted among the tables and furled umbrellas, feasting unmolested on scraps. The stalls were labyrinthine, a maze of charming things – translucent turquoise pendants carved from mountain jade; fossilised woods, the relics of ancient forests, sculpted into prancing horses and dolphins and secret miniature chests; musical boxes that tinkled merrily when you clapped your hands; beeswax for cracked feet; booths of strange, aromatic potions and remedies; sweet sounding wind-chimes tumbling down from archways; handspun woolen jumpers redolent of the high damp hills. Fortune-tellers and tarot readers plucked your sleeve as you wandered by but no time now to peer into the future, the present is beckoning and the concert hour draws you near. In the evening after the concert so many stories of the path...
"The flower of the life-tree is wisdom. The fruit of the life-tree is peace."
Anurakta, spiritual brother and weekend host, lives alone in a first-storey room. Several natural hazards guard the entry to his flat. First a watercourse – a burst pipe has flooded his entrance, an accidental moat – you leap across deep pools, balance on little islands of gravel before leaping to the next – sodden socks and shoes will punish an errant step. Now you must navigate a perilous outdoor stairway, a decaying wooden structure that takes you to his first floor door. Careful! Near the top a section is missing, a yawning hole to the roof below – you grab the wobbly handrail and haul yourself over vistas of rusting tin. You enter, heart pounding, but yet a further trial confronts you. Now you have to walk the plank, literally! Here a five metre long narrow piece of timber that joins two unfinished sections of his flat. Below you a gaping, lunatic stairwell, the work of a demented carpenter. On a dark and awful night you might step into the brackish moat, miss your footing on the ruined stairs and plunge to the roof below, then step off the plank in some hellish finale.
"Use your heart and you will see God in all human beings."
Evening comes, the horizon a vivid apricot fading up into shades of blue, a deepening indigo. Nature's castaways had reclaimed the empty spaces. A malnourished cat crossed the square, furtive, glancing back from table legs and random shrubbery as though in dread of some invisible pursuit – indolent with satiety, emboldened by numbers, the languid pigeons watched from tabletops, too full to fly. Bereft of his jolly masks and masquerades the old man sat alone on a park bench. A plot of fenced new grass surrounded him, and orange tape warned off birds and trespassers, but he was exempt from all censure, an old performer at the end of his days. Exhausted by the antics of his trade he sat on the green bench, half toppled over like a falling tree, his black coat riding up against the backrest. His head lolled sideways, tucked under the trapped coat like a bird with its head beneath its wing. Gravity, age, weariness had descended. His grey-muzzled companion lay a short distance away, spread-eagled without care on the soft grass, a wind-up toy suddenly expired. The little dog twitched in his dreams, reliving his pavement rides or dreading the encores, the insatiable clamors for more. Delilah's would-be paramour had also disappeared and the courtyard had emptied of diners and strolling sweethearts. Life had drained out of the square like a receding tide, only silence and the cold grey flagstones remained. Tell us more stories, more stories of the Path...
"Every action of ours should be to please God and not to gain applause. Our actions are too secret and sacred to display before others. They are meant for our own progress, achievement and realisation."
I return to Auckland on an early flight. Below, dark mountains are mantled in snow. In the deep alpine valleys a pre-dawn mist was everywhere gathering like an assembling army, silent and predatory, advancing slowly up the side catchments and creek beds and blanketing the lower mountains from sight – in it's vanguard frail probing fingers of translucent white were sliding up the gullies and searching across the shallow depressions of rock, summoning the white blanket of fog that finally assailed even the higher peaks in an all-enveloping cloying soup. Through my plane window a sudden glimpse of a pale quarter moon riding fast dark clouds. Below on the mountains, escarpments of ice winked pale moonlight, a gleam of yellow, then gone.
"Obstructions loom large within and without. Nevertheless, like a kite I shall rise without fail against the wind."
All quotes on this page are by Sri Chinmoy.