On this day, June 22, in 1275, Nichiren Daishonin, the Japanese reformist monk who taught us that we are all Buddhas -- like it or not -- and that by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo (pronounced Nam Me Yo Ho Ren Gay Key Oh) we've taken the first and most important step in actualizing our Buddha Nature in this lifetime. So if you never have, please say Nam Myoho Renge Kyo out loud right now and see how your day unfolds; to really test it, chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo in the morning and night for one week, and see. To really, really, test it make a wish before chanting the words and see what happens. I've just given you the best advise you will ever receive in this lifetime.
Getting back to my post, on June 22 in the year 1275, Nichiren Daishonin wrote "When a tree has been transplanted, though fierce winds may blow, it will not topple if it has a firm stake to hold it up. But even a tree that has grown up in place may fall over if its roots are weak. Even a feeble person will not stumble if those supporting him are strong, but a person of considerable strength, when alone, may fall down on an uneven path...therefore, the best way to attain Buddhahood is to encounter a good friend."
I chose to pontificate on this post to represent the Esoteric Depth of this day because I found out last Sunday that my best and oldest friend has died. Yes, Don Maclaren is no longer with us. I met Don in South Korea when we were both 19 and in the Navy on the USS Coral Sea. Our ship had pulled into Busan for a few days. I had gone out and drank with the guys and spent all my money and was headed back to the ship, broke, when I saw Don leaving the ship with a map in his hand.
"Hey, Eso," he said.
"Hey Don," I answered. "Where are you off to?"
"I'm going to look at a Buddhist temple that is close to here."
"They have those here?" I asked.
"Yeah, come with me."
"Okay, can I borrow twenty bucks?..."
I spent the afternoon with Don discussing the history of Korea, the lyrics of the rock band The Doors, and of course, the books of Kurt Vonnegut. Little did I know at that time that Don would be my friend for the next 43 years. Funny, looking back I now see that "43" was the number of our ship we were living on at the time: the USS Coral Sea, CV43.
Don lived with me in Dallas after we got out of the Navy, but said it was too conservative and so moved to San Francisco. He lived there to get his degree but then left because it was too liberal. He moved to Japan where he made a life for 15 years before moving to New York where he lived for 5, and finally, the last 13 years in China. I visited him in all the places but China. China was suppose to be this year.
In all my visits we talked about life, our past, our future, and of course, Kurt Vonnegut.
He showed me the fashion district in Tokyo, the subway train shortcuts in Manhattan, and once boasted at a bar that the waitress just offered him a blowjob. It was the happiest I would ever see him. I was jealous, until she showed up with a drink in her mouth called, Blow Job.
Don respected my religion. In Japan he took me to a Buddhist temple and showed me how to capture the incense smoke to heal my stiff shoulder.
Our relationship for the last several years has been long Skype conversations.
I took them for granted.
He died running in a park.
Just dropped dead as they say.
I have lost friends before, but losing a best, old friend like Don equals the loss I experienced when I lost my younger sister, and mother. I see now some friends are family, and of course, some family are nothing more than friends.
I'll see Don again, this I know for certain in my Buddha heart. He was my educator in this life. The stake that propped up my transplanted tree life on this Earth. He taught me not to break the spine of a book, a habit I had when I read paperbacks. I would selfishly crack the spine of a borrowed book so the pages wouldn't jump, then return the book as if nothing had happened.
"Please don't break the spine of my books anymore, you ruined my 'Cats Cradle' paperback," he once said.
"Oh, I thought they were made to be cracked. Where is it at? I'll buy you a new one."
"That's okay," he said, "by the way, don't end your sentences with at."
Finally, Nichiren ask in his writing: "How far can our own wisdom take us? If we have even enough wisdom to distinguish hot from cold, we should seek out a good friend."
Thank you Don, my best friend this life. I can't believe you left before me. I did not expect that at all.
~~ June 22, Eso Terry.