As a boy of 13, I was sent to spend the summer vacation in Puerto Rico. Our next door neighbors were jibaros — humble country folk in the city to toil as laborers. They suggested I go spend time in their small town. The town was smack in the middle of our beloved rainforest — El Yunque. In order to access the town, you had to leave the car behind and walk two miles on a dirt road. There was no running water and these simple folk lived in ramshackle house. I never knew a happier people.
One day, the other children, seeing that I was besting them in baseball, invited me for a “swim.” El Yunque is nestled into Puerto Rico’s mountainous region and, being a city boy (I though a hog was a cow), I had never been at that altitude. I was an excellent swimmer, having learned to swim at Pitt St. pool at the age of five. We had to climb this mountain in order to get to the swimming locale. I almost died! Between the altitude, the heat, and the humidity, I became very weak. Determined, I plodded on (this was a mere walk in the park for the other kids). When I reached the top of that mountain, I saw a sight I will never forget: before me lay the most beautiful landscape ever imaginable. Their swimming pool was a series of cascading falls that looked like shimmering steps cut into the magnificent mountainside. I was awestruck — glued to the spot, it was so beautiful to behold. I wish I had the ability to convey the beauty of that mountainside, but words fail me. It was so majestic; it was almost scary to look at.
I stayed in that small town for most of my vacation and when I left, the whole town came to see me off and everybody cried. By the time my aunt came to get me, I myself was a jibaro: shoeless, mosquito-bitten and toasted a light cinnamon by the Puerto Rican sun. I have never forgotten that experience.
One of the best things about being human is the ability to wonder at ourselves and the world, and be stunned into silence by the magnificent mystery of it all. My sense is that there are too many people with the attitude of “been there, done that” where in actuality they haven’t been anywhere or done much of anything. I am a skeptic, but I am not a cynic. I hope I never lose sight of the very human gift of wonder. For at that time, I will have died… Maybe I wasn’t born in El Yunque, but El Yunque was born in me. I’ve added a song, a very famous Puerto Rican song, called Lamento Borincano (click here for translation/ history) It is performed beautifully by Caetano Veloso. It is a song about El Jibaro.
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-=[ Dependent Origination ]=-
“The fear of letting go prevents you from letting go of the fear of letting go.”
This is the doctrine at the heart Buddhism. You see, my dear reader, it goes this way: you are an insecure collection of coincidences held together by a desperate and irrational clinging. There is no center — no center at all. Everything depends on everything else, your body depends on the ecology, your thoughts depend on whatever conditioned debris floats in from the media, your emotions are mostly from the reptilian end of your DNA. Your intellect, dear reader, is a chemical computer that can’t add up a zillionth as fast as a pocket calculator. Even your best side is a superficial piece of social conditioning that will fall apart as soon as your significant other leaves with the money in the bank account, or the economy fails and you get the boot, or you get conscripted into some village idiot’s war, or they give you the news about your brain tumor. To name this combination of self-pity, vanity, and despair self is not only the height of conceit, it is also proof that we’re a deluded species.
We are in a trance from birth to death. Burst the balloon and what are you left with?
It’s not only us — this radical principle applies to the whole sentient world. Dependent origination is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea, I admit. But it does have a compelling point: stop for a moment, still yourself, listen — and you will find yourself on a planet you no longer recognize. Those needs and fears you thought were the very foundation of your existence turn out to be no more than bugs in your software…