RCN Shorts are a new kind of reading. Short stories under 50 pages and really cheap. We are pleased to announce RCN Short's first publication King of Dhamma by Huei Lin. Here is a free preview of that. (Find more RCN Media Shorts here.)
“May all beings be happy.”
The venerable S. N. Goenka squinted. Then he launched into a mesmerizing chant, closing out our seventh day of silent meditation. He was our teacher: the world’s eminent and tireless champion of Vipassana, a warmhearted old man with a mission. Under his tutelage, a forlorn cast of down-and-outs had assembled in this pastoral getaway and committed themselves to ten full days of noble asceticism. After confiscating our belongings for the duration of the retreat, our instructors then presented us with a stark list of prohibitions to observe during our stay. Among the banned activities: speaking, making eye contact, eating meat, killing, consuming intoxicants, reading, writing, masturbating, and fraternizing with members of the opposite sex.
We rose at 4 AM and winnowed the rest of the day away chasing the dissolution of the self, or a cathartic moment. Nothing but this, twelve hours a day. Punctuated by two very light vegetarian meals that made the most of brown rice and miso soup. Sleep, it turns out, was a precious commodity in perpetually short supply. Crammed in a room with twenty other devotees, we moaned in our creaky beds and waited for the wakeup bells to sound.
The one highlight of our day was the evening discourse. Each night we congregated in a small room to receive S. N. Goenka’s wisdom, which he dispensed with saintly calm and deadpan wit. But he wasn’t in the room with us. Actually, he was no longer with us, and hadn’t been for more than a decade: the late Goenka had moved on to greener pastures in the cycle of samsara, leaving us with mere video recordings of his lectures. Shot on VHS, these videos served as a kind of communion: the shoddy camerawork, paired with Goenka’s droll anecdotes, was a welcome dose of slapstick philosophy. Huddled around an old TV monitor, we hung on to every word. It was the S. N. Goenka Show.
“Breathe. Breathe with a calm and equanimous mind.”
On this particular night, I had forgotten my hair elastic in the room after the evening discourse had finished. While everyone else dozed fitfully in their beds, I tiptoed back to the lecture room. Failing to locate the light switch, I knelt on my hands and knees, feeling around in the dark for my hairband. I didn’t find it, but something else happened. The TV screen turned itself on.
The room was suddenly aglow, the TV monitor crackling drunkenly. The image stuttered for a few moments, as if something were trying to rip through the curtain of pixels and materialize onscreen. Then, he was there. The distinguished S. N. Goenka— smiling at me with his trademark equanimity. The sudden burst of light from the TV startled me. Figuring that the VCR must have been activated somehow, I grabbed the remote control from beside the screen. But before I could turn off the TV, S. N. Goenka deigned to speak.
“Hello there. Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
I dropped the remote and shrank back against the wall, cowering speechlessly. S. N. Goenka eyed me with ruthless compassion.
“You seem frightened, good sir. Don’t be scared. I don’t often get to chat with anyone, on account of my being quite dead.”
When I’d told my friends that I planned to attend a mediation course, they’d immediately tried to dissuade me. They warned that nothing would come of such masochism— aside from, possibly, some very unpleasant hallucinations. At the time, I had blithely shrugged off their concerns. Now, I was talking to a dead man.
“You know— after I died, I was reincarnated as a cat somewhere in Manhattan, in New York City. Not a bad life, but somehow less than satisfactory when it comes to sophisticated thought. That’s why I keep a signpost to my previous vessel here, in this realm.”
I gurgled something unintelligible.
“Well are you going to say something? How are you liking bootcamp? How do you like the food? Pretty bleak, eh?”
S. N. Goenka then proceeded to pick his nose, examine the booger, and flick it onto the floor.
“I’ll be honest with you. I’ve never seen such a sorry pack of dunces in my entire life. Hopeless, every single one of you. I don’t know why you’re wasting your time here at this New Age gangbang. Here’s some real advice for your problems: marijuana and fried chicken.”