Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Everything's Zen

"The reverse side also has a reverse side." ~ Japanese proverb.

I pointed at the crescent moon this evening as me and Anna returned from the store, with ample amounts of beer and flour tortillas in hand, looking forward to a couple of large pots of pozole that Rocio had simmering on the stove. The streets were busy a couple of hours after dark on New Year’s Eve, and the store was crowded with people buying up liquid refreshments for their version of the celebration to bring in the New Year. New Year’s Eve has never been the safest holiday here in Tijuana, but news had spread that the police – local, State, and Federal – were sending a message, setting up checkpoints, and looking for anything.

"See the crescent moon up there? That’s Venus, that very bright star below it," I told her.

"Well, except that it’s a planet and not a star," I quickly corrected myself.

"It’s funny though, why can’t I see any stars?" Anna asked while looking up.

It was true. Even squinting with purpose, not a single star could be seen on what was a relatively clear evening.

"It’s all of these lights. When you were little and we lived up on the hill, there weren’t so many people here. I used to climb up that ladder I made and lay on the roof and look up at all of the stars. They’re still up there, all of those stars, we just can’t see them," I said.

By the time we got home, I was imagining Zen Buddhists turning and walking away from me, ashamed of my lack of recognition for a chance at enlightenment. If a tree fell in the forest and no one was close enough to hear it, would it make a sound? The answer to this kōan varies depending on the Zen teacher, but my answer remains the same: Does the parchment not hear the words that are read from what is written upon it?

Zen Masters of the World, judge me not by my answer, but by my lack of enlightenment!

Anna’s observation was more relevant than I had first considered. We live in a Baja that is faith-based and we are blind to what we can’t see; yet we are supposed to know it’s there. But she questions it, and I sometimes give stupid answers when I should be considering that the question itself is the answer. If one cannot see the stars in the night sky, are they not there? Perhaps Anna is a blossoming Buddhist, and perhaps she proposed a kōan on New Year’s Eve.

It certainly makes me question my parenting skills.

* * * *

The gunshots had subsided, for the most part, since about a half-hour after midnight. Most of the explosions after that were simply large fireworks, growing more and more distant. For a country where guns are illegal, on nights like New Year’s Eve, you learn that a lot of people have guns here. Most of the guns are smuggled into Mexico from the United States of America, unseen and undetected, yet are obviously present and accounted for when bringing in the New Year.

I awoke on the first day of the New Year trying to find Zen in all of it.

I imagined a Mexican family, hard-working and middle-classed, taking a holiday trip up to Northern California to visit relatives. They pile into their van and pay for their tourist visa stamp and permission into their passports and head up the coast of the United States of America. After a wonderful vacation, they come home, and they find themselves interviewed by everyone back in Mexico.

When asked about the drug problem in the United States of America, they would have to answer that, in fact, they witnessed no evidence of drug use at all. They would say that people up there were nice and polite and no one seemed high or under any influence of anything illegal. A conclusion would have to be reached that, empirically, there was no evidence of any illegal drugs in California. This would invite another kōan, perhaps.

If there is no problem with illegal drug use on the other side of the big metal fence, then are people in Mexico not killing each other because of it?

The silent testimonials of over eight hundred dead people would preclude the kōan from have ever being asked. The flip side of that coin, is that in great Zen fashion, the question must be asked anyway. Maybe it just needs to be asked differently, in order to provide attainment. After all, it isn’t the answer, but the insight found in the kōan itself that is important.

* * * *

On New Year’s Eve, when Anna and me returned home from the convenience store, my old friend Ernesto was visiting. We drank beer and ate pozole and talked about everything that was going on in Tijuana. Eventually, as it had to happen, the conversation turned to current events and happenings and then killings and police and the Mexican Army. It is always surprising what two people from completely different cultures find in common when they see such a part of the world at the same time.

We talked about the vacuum, people coming up from all parts of Mexico to fill the void from captured or dead cartel members and arrested or terminated police officers. We talked about how the Mexican Army – once openly corrupt and disgracefully brutal – were now seen as saviors in a region of Mexico where people have been driven to balance on the edge of a coin. It was Ernesto, born and raised in Mexico, with extremely limited English that brought up prohibition in the United States of America, and what consequences of that action brought, even if temporary.

And then we considered a final kōan, one that needed no answer.

If drugs were legal, would they still be smuggled?


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