And God created every living creature that now moveth, and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close as mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. “What is the purpose of all this?” he asked politely.
“Everything must have a purpose?” asked God.
“Certainly,” said man.
“Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this,” said God. And He
Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
The type of meditation I teach is Vedic meditation. It comes from a tradition that stretches back into the mists of pre-history. I did not choose it for reason, but because after trying many other forms of meditation, this was a practice that actually worked, and worked consistently. From the first time I meditated I had an experience that was absolutely different than anything else I’d ever tried.
Once, years ago, I had attended a six-week course in meditation taught by a Thai Buddhist monk. I loved the way he talked about meditation and consciousness, and I did experience some peace just being in his presence. Around Week Four he went around the room, speaking to each person individually. (There were 15-20 of us in the class.) To each person he said something specific and unique, sometimes asking a question, or making an observation, and in every case, the student would either burst into tears, sobbing in that soul-clearing way that can indicate the beginnings of true transformation, or they would explode in peals of laughter, infecting all those around them, again indicating a major shift. It seemed too good to be true, but the evidence was right there in front of us and I waited my turn with a sort of nervous anticipation.
The little monk stopped in front of me, took my hands in his own, looked me in the eye and, cocking his head to one side, said, “Why are you here?”
What? This wasn’t at all like the questions he’d asked the others. I tried to answer, stumbling over the words. “Um… to learn to meditate?”
He smiled, like ‘come on,’ shook his head, and repeated, “Why are you here?
Oh, God. My stomach dropped. The whole room was silent, everyone watching. I felt the beginnings of anxiety creeping up the back of my neck. “Because, uh, I want to learn to meditate.”
The monk stared right at me. He let go of my hands. He was stern now. “Why are you here?”
I felt like I was being tested and failing completely. I had no idea what he wanted from me, but clearly he wanted something. I opened my mouth to speak, but nothing came out. I shook my head. “I don’t…” That was it. That was all I could say. The monk, seeming disappointed, dropped his gaze and moved on to the next person. I disappeared into myself, a social tortoise, and made myself sit through the rest of the evening. Though he stared at me a few times in the final sessions, the monk never spoke to me again and I never figured out what he was asking or how I was supposed to have responded.
To the enlightened mind, there is no space, there is no time. There is only the Here and Now. Totality. Though he asked the question then, the answer I have today comes from my understanding of today. And today I like to think the monk was asking me the big question: Why are we here? Any of us? All of us? To be enlightened, of course, would be the answer. To find God. To know Totality. Or, to put it in more human terms: to learn how to love.
These are reasons to be alive. I like to think that the monk’s question is still ringing in the air between us, and that my answer from here at the far end of the telescope is meeting that question there in the past, and he is smiling and nodding at me with the approval and love I so desperately wanted then; and that from here, I can smile and nod back at him and say thank you. Good class.
Today I will know that I have a purpose, and that my purpose will become apparent simply by virtue of my continuing to be open to the question, and by asking myself, whenever I think of it, how might I be more loving?
Three Women, tintype triptych, Hollywood, CA