Adventures : Zeph Tales (17)

Continued from

What Are You Looking For?

164119_metro_railZeph wasn’t really looking at her, as she was just sitting in the general direction he had to face on the subway train – in one of those face-to-face rows of seats with the aisle for standing passengers between. But for some reason, maybe because she kept thinking he was looking at her, she kept checking by looking at him. He knew this because he could see it indirectly with his peripheral vision. Because she kept checking, and because he didn’t want her to misunderstand anything, he had to make sure he doesn’t even appear to be looking, because he really wasn’t anyway. Zeph thought… “Maybe I look interesting to her? But in what sense? Looking good, bad or unusual (weird?) are all forms of looking interesting. Maybe it’s none of the above. Maybe it’s a mix? Maybe she thought she looked interesting, which is why she thought I would keep looking at her? Is she being narcissistic? Then again, I am also thinking that I might look interesting in some way. Am I being egoistic? Maybe I’m thinking too much!” Zeph turned around to check if there was anything interesting behind him. Nope, just a window, without any fancy ads stuck on it. He was in a corner seat with nothing much beyond.

‘Hmmm…’ he thought… ‘I don’t like this tension. Maybe I should just stand up and walk away? Maybe I should just read a book? I’m curious why she’s looking tough. Can I ask? Nay, too rude and strange. Can I just pretend she’s not looking? Nay, that’s bad faith. Maybe I should just be myself. Wait… but… “What is myself?” Who is the real me, especially in such a bizarre situation? Maybe it’s best that I close my eyes to shut off the distractions and meditate on this mondo (Zen one-liner ‘riddle’)! This sure beats asking the worthless worldly question of why she’s looking!’

Suddenly, Zeph was remembered this story… Once, 29 friends and their wives went to a forest for a picnic. As another one of them had no wife, they hired a prostitute. While they were amusing themselves, she stole their valuables and ran away. As the men roamed in the forest in search of her, they encountered the Buddha seated under a tree. They asked him if he had seen the woman. The Buddha asked in return, ‘Which is better for you, to search for a woman or to search for yourselves?’ Together, the friends agreed that it was better to search for themselves, and became disciples of the Buddha.

Indeed, so much more valuable than material goods or sense pleasures is the realisation of enlightenment, which liberates us from all wanting and delusion. Zeph hoped the girl sitting opposite would start looking for herself too, instead of, say, looking for herself in someone else… though the quest would end with the discovery that there is no unchanging thing called self in the first place! What liberation – freedom from the ultimate shackle – the illusion of self, that we fret over, that makes us uneasy in our seat, that makes us vain, that makes us suffer… in vain!

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