EEL PIE DHARMA - a memoir / haibun - © 1990 Chris Faiers
Chapter 11 - The Buddhist MonasteryMark Valiant at first seemed an unlikely person to have a deeply religious side. He was an ex-cop, and the story goes that as he was becoming more and more sympathetic towards the youth rebellion, one day he took the plunge, and took it in a big way. Mark took a strong dose of STP, a psychedelic even more hallucinatory than LSD. He tripped for three days, and after that experience he was a changed man. He quit the police, grew a beard and took to hanging around L'Auberge Cafe.
Mark was one of the regulars in Martha's crowd, sort of an older brother for Martha and a surrogate son for the Holmes. He had been the unofficial "elder" who took charge when Martha's parents left on their holiday to Ibiza, the one I ruined with the flooding bathtub.
A couple of times Mark led Sunday expeditions to a Buddhist monastery several miles away. It was always exciting to get up early for a change, and to watch London slowly coming to life from the top deck of a double-decker bus.
A path led down a lane to the monastery and the temple beside it. The service consisted of all present sitting in meditation in the comfortable chapel for about a half hour or forty-five minutes. It was very relaxing, and the meditations were led by a monk, who sat in front. The layout of the chapel and pews wasn't that dissimilar from a Christian service - with the notable difference that no words were spoken, no hymns sung. It was up to each of us to make our peace with the world.
One morning a cat found its way into the chapel, and halfway through meditation it let out a yowl, and decided it wanted to go elsewhere. It was amusing to see the startled look on all our faces at this unexpected interruption, but the monk calmly got up and let the cat out to wander off, and we resumed meditating.
My impression of these mornings is of a tranquil blue atmosphere. There was a subtle presence of blue energy always present after we had begun meditating, and my feeling was that the monk was pleased with the aura, which I'm sure he was very aware of.
After the meditation session we would gather in the vestibule of the chapel, and drink tea and discuss religion. Everyone present was offered an equal chance to speak, either to pose or to answer questions offered by the others present. Not surprisingly, after the relaxing effects of the meditation, most of us didn't have much to say, the words would have just come between us and the immediacy of the experience of sitting calmly in the blue atmosphere of the chapel.
One Sunday morning in early winter, when I was making one of my last visits to the chapel with a couple of other Eel Piers, it began to snow. Many years later I still clearly remember the experience of walking down the narrow lane, crunching the white powder under my scuffed boots, when this haiku popped into my mind: