In January 2002, while I was writing the Dipa Ma book, I asked Father Theophane and author of “Tales of a Magic Monastery” to write a story about Dipa Ma. Father Theophane had met Dipa Ma during some of his Vipassana Buddhist meditation retreats, and he had loved her. For the book, he gave me sixteen of his handwritten, unpublished stories to use. He wrote, “You might find one that seems right,” and “others might be fun for some other occasion.”
Unfortunately there was no place for the Father Theophane stories in the Dipa Ma book that could be agreed upon, so they were put aside. Father Theophane died in October 2003 of cancer. About eight years after his death, I wrote the abbot at his monastery (St Benedict’s in Snowmass, Colorado) and the publisher of “Tales of a Magic Monastery”(Crossroad Publishing) telling them I had some stories, and would they want to do anything with these unpublished stories? I received no reply from either of them.
Since these particular stories were given in honor of Dipa Ma, they are being made available here. These stories only had numbers for titles. I left the numbers, however I also gave them simple titles here for the sake of categorization. The bold is the same as it is in the originals.
Thank you Father Theophane for these stories for Dipa Ma. May all beings be free of suffering.
#10 Let Go
I went to the big hall, expecting to hear a conference from the retreat master. But it was a middle-aged nun who was presiding. The other guests were sitting here and there on the floor, or else stretched out on their backs. I would typically have sat down in the back of the room, but the welcoming smile this nun sent me was so attractive that I found myself moving up to introduce myself to her. As I began to speak, someone came over and whispered, “It’s no use—she’s deaf, stone deaf.”
A little embarrassed, I sat down. But her smile put me at ease. It felt good to be there. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would someone else come and give a talk? I thought I’d lie down and wait—as many of the others were doing. As soon as I did, I heard the words, “Let go.” I don’t know where they came from. When I looked at her, she was smiling at me so gently. But the words were all imperative.
I let go. At first it was just physical. But soon, I tell you, I was really letting go. In those few house, and then in the next days, I let go of the burdens and torments of many years. I let go of resentments and fears. But then I went on to let go of words and silence. Of companionship and solitude. Of sadness and joy. I let go of vice and I let go of virtue. Sickness and health. Restraint and freedom. Turmoil and peace. I let go of them all.
That was three years ago. But I have been going back every night since. I lie there holding the hand of whatever person is beside me. Always there is that voice, “Let go.” Always there is the encouraging presence of that nun.
Who is this woman? Can it be that someday she will be taken away and I will step into her place?
#24 The Sacred Heart
“What is your heart like?” What a question! But that’s what the monk asked me. I’ll never forget it, that was so many years ago.
Everyday—What is this heart like? Who’s in there? Who’s not in there? Happy? Content? Self-pity? Resentment? The Sacred Heart?
And each person I meet—what is her heart like? His heart? The beauty, the sorrow.
Everyday—I take care of my heart. I care about your heart. The beat of God—what must that be like?
#32 Judgment or Prayer
She told me just to sit in the back and bless everyone. That’s what I did. It felt funny at first. Who was I to bless people? But I kept at it. Kept trying different ways. I assumed she’d give me more instructions about how to do it, but no, she never did. And I assumed she’d pass the job to someone else at some point, and give me some serious instructions in meditation. The others all seemed to know how to meditate—they’d sit there so still for hours. All I could do was bless them—one by one.
I found myself thinking about them—what’s on this one’s mind? What’s that one like? How is he meditating? Is she happy? Judging was there too. Don’t judge—just bless. But some don’t seem to need blessing. That’s judging.
It’s been so long now. Sometimes I wonder—does anyone know what I am doing? Does anyone appreciate me? Does anyone care? What would it be like to sit up front and do some serious meditating?
#37 What is your heart like?
What is your heart like? That’s what they wanted to know. They brought in someone who had just died. They proceeded to open up her heart. You wouldn’t believe what was in there. You wouldn’t believe it—white people, black people, rapists, atheists, rich people, poor people, drunkards, prostitutes, priests, politicians, children, judges, baseball players, cranks and me—even me—how did I get there?
Is that what I will be like when I die? When they open up my heart, what will they find?
“Please,” I said, “what do I need to know?”
“Oh, if I told you, you wouldn’t be listening.”
“No, I’m listening–I really want to know.”
“That’s not my impression. I’m not sure you know how to listen. I think you’ve been practicing non-listening for years. Why don’t you go away and practice listening for awhile, and then come back.”
“Well, when should I come back? Next week?”
“Next year, four years, ten years. Depends on how much you practice.”
You must have a dream. Come in here with a good dream and I’ll help you achieve it.
“A good dream? What do I want with dreams? But then I thought about it. A vision? A great ambition? Aspiration. Aim in life. Yearning. Utopia. Passion. Hunger. Heart’s desire. Prayer. Die for. Live for. What did I really want?”
I got it. It took me a week, but I settled on one. When he got finished with his talk, I went up and whispered to him.
“You call that a dream?” he said. “A dream you’ve got to be willing to shout it in front of all these people.” Oh, I couldn’t do that.
#57 The Most Beautiful Thing
What is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? I don’t mean some painting or some scenery, but really—what is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? Oh, if that’s too hard, what is the most beautiful thing you saw yesterday?
They treasure beauty in the monastery. There’s one monk whose vocation it is to circle the globe. He’s been doing it for centuries. Each time he comes back and shares with his brothers the beautiful things he’s seen. They take great delight in this, and no one seems to be jealous. He stays for a few weeks and then on his final day there is a special assembly at which he shares the one most beautiful thing he has seen. I was fortunate enough to be there once on this occasion.
We sat there in silence for hours and hours. He was in the center of the huge room, and hundreds of monks and nuns sat on the floor around him. What would he say? What would be most beautiful of all? I kept stretching my imagination.
At last he stoop up—so quietly. He began waving his hand slowly, a humble blessing. Then the room was filled with a golden light. The beauty I saw there, I’ll never forget it.
And now, years later, sometimes I myself—I am embarrassed to say this—sometimes I myself, when my spirit is deeply humble, will give that humble blessing, a child’s blessing. Then I will see such beauty in a room—any room.
It’s very simple. You get what you ask for. But only one thing. I asked for the Eyes of Christ.
#61 In and Out
“In and out,” that’s what he said to me, and that’s all he said. “What do you think? Which is more important–in or out?” He didn’t say. He just said, “In and out.”
#62 The House of Gratitude
Each year I go to a different house than last. I went to the House of Gratitude. O God! Be careful. Think twice about it. It could turn your whole life upside down.
There was so much going on. So many people, going in so many directions. So much to see. So many words. But the old monk put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Each breath you breathe is the breath of God.”
He seemed to understand. “Yes,” he said, “I spent some years in prison. Those bars—those bars, I saw them in my sleep even. I wasn’t just physically in prison. I was totally in prison. Day and night. Week after week, after month, after years. Oh, I got plenty of advice—the clergy, the social workers, friends, books. But the bars, always hose bars.”
I tried defiance, I tried hobbies, I tried tears, and rage and laughter and correspondence, and work. But always those bars. I thought, ‘if I could only get away even for a day, to experience just the least bit of freedom, then maybe I could come back and endure this.’ But there was never any relief.
After years of this, one night an old man came to my cell—maybe it was just a dream. I hear him say just one word, ‘Enough?’ What did he mean? I wished he would come back so I could ask him what he meant, but he never came back.
His word grew in me. “Enough?’” It did battle with my bars. Day after day. Who would win?
His word won. The bars dissolved before my eyes. I was free.
I am free. You can be free. Enough?
#68 How many children do you have?
He wanted to know how many children I had. I said I didn’t have any. “Oh!” he said, and that was all. The next day, “How many children do you have?” And the next.
After a few weeks of this, not sure of what I was to do, and certainly not wanting to start on a process of finding a wife, I began looking at people in a different way. “Is this my son?”
Is this my son? Do I appreciate him, see his gift, his unique gift? Do I want to promote him? Promote his happiness. Or is he just somebody’s kid—somebody else’s kid?
I began accumulating children. But, funny–they were all bigger than I.
#73 Your House
There is one house there with a sign that says, “My House.” “Selfish,” I thought. Later on when I mentioned this to someone, she said, “Maybe, but don’t you get the point? It’s your house.”
Well, I turned and hurried towards it–perhaps mostly out of curiosity.
I’ll skip over my first impressions. It took me weeks to relax, really realize, that this was a Magic Monastery– and you could have anything you really wanted. Then: whom shall I invite?
#81 Like a Child
I wondered if she was blind, or maybe a bit senile. I wondered if she thought I was a child. She treated me like a child. Kept calling me sonny, or honey.
And then she was always asking me if I enjoyed things. “Do you enjoy walking?” “Do you enjoy eating?” “Do you enjoy shaking hands with people?” “Do you enjoy getting dressed in the morning?”
Up there, you might as well wait outside until you know what you really want. “Magic Monastery” doesn’t mean just make believe. What did I want? I just kept coming up with “Happiness.” So, finally I went to knock on the door, but as my hand moved to the door, something stopped me. “And if you got it? Can you live happily ever after? Can you do that?” Strange, what is so bad about happiness? But it was terrifying all of a sudden. To live the rest of my life without my unhappiness? My old companion?
I began to hear voices, “Don’t do it.” “It’s not for mortals.” “The great deception.” “You’ll have to sell your soul.”
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t knock on the door! Imagine—scared to death of happiness!
A blind beggar I had passed by a little while back, without giving him any money—he came up behind me, wrapped his arms around me and dragged me to the door. “No, no—not endless happiness,” I cried. He shoved the door open, dragged me in, dropped me to the ground, and hurried away, slamming the door behind him.
There was nothing there—nothing at all to make you happy. But I had it. I had it, and I still have it. I’m the fool. God, I’ve always been a fool. I use to be an unhappy fool. Now I’m the happy fool.