–by Heng Chau (Dec 18, 2014)
At the end of the bowing day, we did transference and drove into Pt. Arena to dump garbage. As we pulled into a closed gas station, suddenly we are surrounded by about ten men. They are tough-looking and full of whiskey. They start knocking on the car windows.
“Hey, what’s happening, man? You guys is the ones that’s bowing on the highway, right? What gives?” asks one in a mocking voice.
“Yeah, hey, there they are!” shouts some others spotting us. “Let’s go check them out, c’mon!” And some more men run over from a motel across the street.
“Oh, you don’t talk, eh? How about him?” he says pointing to Heng Sure sitting in the back seat. “He talk? Neither of you talk!? How we supposed to talk back to you, huh? Maybe write all over your car with paint, huh?” Everybody laughs, but they are not joking.
Another man steps up. He’s got a big scar across his neck and is clutching an open whiskey bottle in one hand. He grabs the handout away from the other man and starts to read it saying, “What’s their gig?” He looks at me and says roughly, “Your vocal chords shot or something?”
“No, it’s their penance,” shouts someone. More laughs.
“Hey, don’t hassle ’em. They’re doing their thing,” he says and finishes reading the handout about the pilgrimage. He shoves the whiskey bottle in my face, “Here. Have a drink with me, or can’t you? Your religion forbid it?” I nod. “How about him?” he asks, pointing the bottle to Heng Sure, “Can he drink?”
“Lookie, he’s prayin’!” someone yells and they all break out in a mocking laugh at the meditating monk.
“Ya see, his wife just had a baby. That’s why he’s so rude and obnoxious,” says a tall man with scraggly beard and one eye missing.
“Yeah, usually I just go around and beat the hell out of people, but today I’m celebrating, so you’re lucky, maybe,” comes back the man standing by the open car window. […]
Another truck pulls up behind us and more men jump out. The whole scene is touch and go. It could turn into violence or dissolve into “no affair” in a second. Heng Sure and I can feel the spotlight on us. Each move has to be true and proper or the scene will explode. They have crowbars, sledge hammers, lumberjack axes, and chains in their trucks. They could wipe us and the car out in a few minutes if provoked. We don’t dare try to roll up the car window and pull out of the lot. There’s too many of them, and they have us boxed in. Besides, it would only postpone a showdown for a day or two, when we bow through the town. They’ve been watching and waiting for us for weeks, they told us. We move at one mile a day. There’s no place to run or hide. We’ve had to learn to get along with people. Pilgrims are on their own. Kindness, compassion, joy, and giving are all we need to survive. These four unlimited minds cover all situations and leave everyone feeling good. We try to treat everyone the same. No matter what happens, we have vowed not to show anger.
There is something special about bowing outdoors, slowly going from town to town. It’s hard to describe, but after a while, everything seems the same and everyone feels like family and friends — “level and equal”. All the men look like brothers or our fathers. All the women look like sisters and our mothers. From L.A., through Asia, and back up the coast to where we are today, Pt. Arena, California, all the different cities and villages blend into one big neighborhood. We are hardly aware of leaving one place and entering another. The bowing naturally levels all the skin-deep differences somehow, and “being one with everyone” kind of sneaks into your heart before you know it.
As tough and threatening as these drunken men were, Heng Sure and I didn’t feel uptight or angry. There was no hostility or rejection in the air. We all felt this and slowly things cooled off by themselves. The men relaxed.
“Well, ya’ gotta get haircuts sometime. Or do you do that yourselves, too?” jokes one man. Some are huddled together reading the handout. Others are peeking in the car windows at the altar and pictures of Guan Yin and the Master, while passing around an open whiskey bottle and taking swigs.
We slowly back the car off, smiling and waving goodbye.
“Hey!” shouts a short man with a mustache, “you know karate?” “Yeah,” chime in a couple more as they head for the car with renewed interest in the prospects of a fight. “You know…kung fu, martial arts?” They pose in T.V. kung fu stances. With beer bottles in their hand and dressed in dirty bib overalls and construction hats, it’s kind of comic looking.
I nod “no” and fold my hands and bow, indicating “That’s our kung fu.” They like that, and everything softens again. Smiles come to some tough faces as if to say, “Yeah. The whole world could use a little more of that kind of kung fu. Who wants to fight, anyhow?”
As we drive away, the man whose wife just had a baby shouts, “Well, all I got to say is you better be careful, you two cosmics. Don’t float away and disappear into the cosmos. Don’t let the cosmos eat you up.” More laughs and everyone waves goodbye. It was a lesson in kindness and according.