'What my new guru showed me: I'd been looking at the world arseways'

Michael Harding: The ultimate teaching is that there is no teaching, according to the 70-year-old with a greasy pony-tail

He laughed like the Dalai Lama, although his greasy pony tail and grey stubble suggested a man more at home with rock and roll than monastic chanting. He lit a joint and smiled.

He laughed like the Dalai Lama, although his greasy pony tail and grey stubble suggested a man more at home with rock and roll than monastic chanting. He lit a joint and smiled.

 

After Christmas I found another new guru. He had long hair and looked fresh for 70. He said I should avoid spiritual materialism. 

“What’s that?” I wondered.

“Don’t grip your religion so hard, man,” he said, sitting back on his armchair.

“Spiritual teachings are the last thing that people hold on to,” he explained, “when they’ve let go of everything else. But clinging to spiritual teachings is as poisonous to the mind as holding onto a Merc.” 

I said I don’t have a Merc.

Then he quoted the Heart Sutra.

“The ultimate teaching is that there is no teaching.”

He laughed like the Dalai Lama, although his greasy pony tail and grey stubble suggested a man more at home with rock and roll than monastic chanting. He lit a joint and smiled.

“I’ve been looking at the world arseways,” I confessed. “I’ve been looking for spiritual truth for decades. Now you tell me there is none.”

“Not exactly none,” he said. “There is one single truth in the Cosmos.” 

“And what is it?”

“That there is no truth,” he replied. 

He reached his arm out and offered me the smoking doobie, which of course I refused.

Then he told me a story about a monk in Tibet many centuries ago who placed an exotic turquoise stone on his shrine. One night a mouse came out of the woodwork and sniffed the stone, and tried to move it. But it wouldn’t budge. So the mouse went away and returned with another mouse and the two of them began pushing the stone. And again they failed.

So they went away and eventually a dozen or more mice appeared and shifted the stone across the ledge of the shrine and into the woodwork, which made the monk laugh.

“Why did he laugh?” I wondered.

“Enlightened mind,” my guru explained.

“So it’s all a question of laughter?” 

“Maybe,” my guru replied.

The following week, instead of making an effort to eat healthy, meditate, or take exercise, I let everything go, and dozed beside the stove and watched CNN.

 The phone rang once. It was the guru, and he invited himself around to my place that evening which put me in a sweat, because the place was in a mess.

When he arrived my flute was sitting in its open case on the desk.

“Are you still trying to play?” he asked.

“Yes,” I admitted, “but sometimes I get a sore throat from trying to blow into it.”

He raised his forefinger. “You’re trying too hard again,” he said.

The room was filthy but he looked around approvingly. “How’s the meditation going?” he inquired.

“I’ve given up,” I confessed. “I’m watching the Crown on Netflix instead.”

“That’s a better sign,” he said, “I think you’re getting the message.”

Three weeks later I was standing at the patio door of my workspace when I saw my favourite musician walking up the hill out of the mist, in a black coat with his fiddle case on his back. It felt like the coming of an angel.

He had a jar of honey in his hand and he said,

“You look very shook.”

I said, “It’s the politics.”

He smiled because he’s as calm as a bee-keeper. In fact he is a bee-keeper. He was visiting his Auntie Mollie’s house in Kilkenny many years ago when his Uncle Derek pulled the tablecloth off the table and went out to the garden and wrapped a hive of bees in the cloth and said – “take them home with you, young fella!”

The musician drove all the way home with the bees in the back of the car wrapped in the tablecloth, talking to them as he drove, and telling them not to worry because there was a lovely place waiting for them by the sea.

The long drive created a bond between the musician and the bees, and when the bees got a whiff of the sea air and heard the sound of the fiddle for the first time they settled into a life of sweet contentment.

 When the musician sat down by the fire I took out the flute for the first time in a month, because my guru had said I should stop trying to play. “It’s just something else you’re trying to grasp,” he had explained.

The musician played a few tunes and I followed him as best I could on the flute and the cat looked in the window wondering what all the noise was about. And when the tunes were finished the musician looked at me and said, “You’re playing well. You must be practising.”

But I said nothing. 

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