The Buddhist


Daisy MacCallum dreamed fitfully, moving in and out of sleep on the bumpy flight from Pittsburgh to San Jose, California, on her way to her son’s home.  It had been three years since she’d written to Andrew, announcing to him her Buddhist thing.  Daisy was unaware of the term, but, having never lost her sense of humor, she would probably have enjoyed a laugh at it, if she knew.

          Barely waking during a change of planes in Chicago, she was transported in her wheelchair from one plane to the other, her overriding sensation, awake or sleeping, being that her time as the shrine keeper of the monastery of the Dharmachakra Center of Enlightenment was over.  The three years she’d spent there were now merely a part of her dreams.  All she had left to her was to wait for her ruined old body to give up the ghost so she could move on to the next phase, that of Amitabha’s Buddafield of Dewachen.

          The dreams moved back and forth between her sleeping and waking state with hardly a variation, dreams that mixed remembrances of her time as the shrine keeper of the monastery and of herself as a child in Scotland, as if nothing else of her life in between had ever taken place.  Her father’s big Scottish face with its handlebar mustache and soft eyes was like a presence overseeing the fitful dreams.

          Her father, George MacCallum, had run a kennel and been a breeder of dogs, specializing in breeding setters and massive Irish wolfhounds, while doing part-time duty as the Scottish township’s dogcatcher.  He was also a dreamy-eyed man with a yen for traveling to exotic places, though he’d never been further from Glasgow, the city of his birth, than to the coast of Wales on holiday.  That was until his wife and Daisy’s mother, Maggie, had moved the family to America in 1935, when Mr. Roosevelt’s New Deal had drawn them to the promise of better times.  Daisy had been ten years old at the time and her brother, Paul, seven.  Her father had taken their life savings and bought a grocery store in Kearney, New Jersey, but his heart was neither in the business nor in the new country, for he hated America from the first and pined for his native Scotland.  His daughter, Daisy, had inherited the same feelings. 

          Daisy had also gotten from him her love of dogs.  At the monastery, after much wheedling with Rinpoche, she’d been allowed to keep a runt of a mutt, with some Jack Russell terrier in him, the sound of whose toenails rapidly clicking on the tiled floors followed her everywhere.  And while the lamas seemed to tolerate the dog, they never seemed comfortable around it.  It had made her wonder if Tibetans ate dogs.  She’d never asked, though.

          Daisy dreamed on at 30,000 feet, but she was also aware of herself dreaming and aware of herself bumping along in a plane over the heart of America.  The duality, she knew, came from the meditation practices during her three years at the monastery.  With that part of her mind that was awake, she was wondering what her father, if he were still alive, would have thought of her now.  The mental traveler that he was, what would he have thought of his daughter, Daisy MacCallum, traveling to that exotic state of mind, that of a Buddhist on the Dharma path?

          Several sudden jolts through the plane caused Daisy to groaningly come awake, and she heard through her fog the pilot’s voice announcing that they were flying over an area of tornados that had been popping up all day.  Peering out her window, she saw nothing but blue sky and billowy clouds, but the plane was rocking and shuddering nevertheless, and the pilot was reassuringly telling everyone to return to their seats and fasten their seatbelts, because it was going to be a bit bumpy for a while.  A bit bumpy, Daisy smiled just as the plane made a sudden, violent lurch to the right.  The interior of the cabin was making creaking noises, and a few passenger voices were heard in high-pitched exclamations of alarm.  Yet Daisy felt calm, oddly soothed by the plane’s rocking about, despite the fact that, for all her lifelong yearning to travel, she’d never been on a plane before.  The white knuckles and tensed mouth of the young man seated next to her told her that he wasn’t soothed at all, and she reached over and patted his hand, feeling like his mother.  The man, who was a good bit younger than her own son, Andrew, smiled weakly in return.

          Earlier, when she’d been wheeled onto the plane, sporting an oxygen cannula in her nose, and taken the seat next to the young man, he’d cast several sideways glances at her.  She was a different sight, she knew, an old lady wearing oversized glasses and dressed in a black tee shirt and old cotton pants, her head shorn down to an all-gray stubble.  Even the more than two weeks in the hospital hadn’t allowed her hair to grow much beyond what it was after her last regular shearing.  A Buddhist beatnik, she sometimes referred to herself.  Now she nodded pleasantly at the man and thought to strike up a conversation, but he closed his eyes, and his mouth compressed again into a slit.

          For some reason, the man reminded her of Andrew, but she couldn’t say why, and it vexed her not to always know the workings of her own mind.  She’d come a long way in her training at the monastery, but times like this made her realize she had a very long way to go.  The man’s closed eyes allowed Daisy to stare at him for a moment, and she could see that he didn’t resemble Andrew at all.  Maybe it was just that Andrew had been prominent in her thoughts lately.  Well, whatever, she sighed.  Andrew would be, what now?  She had to think for a moment, and she fretted over that one too.  He would be 49 now, it came to her, and Jennifer would be 52.  Daisy was 73 and not destined for much more life in this spring of 1998.  The three of them, a mismatched trio if ever there’d been one, were all sentient beings on the same path that karma had mysteriously brought together, for reasons she’d never been able to fathom.

          She sighed again and closed her eyes, trying to recapture sleep, but it wouldn’t come.  Images of the storms beneath the plane came into her head, and she imagined a giant, black cone of a tornado reaching up and snatching the plane out of the sky and spinning it downward toward the earth.  The image was reassuring, somehow.  Better that than this slow death that was taking her by inches.

          That image was replaced by one of the damaged, great muscle in her chest, the failure of which had brought about this trip and her removal from monastery life.  She suddenly felt like crying, thinking of the past three years and where they could have gone while she wasn’t noticing, days blending into days of her life at the monastery, of prayer and meditation, of receiving instruction from the lamas, of helping around the kitchen or doing whatever needed to be done, of her overriding concern of tending to the shrine room, making sure the offerings of water and fruit and flowers were fresh.  Then one day what had seemed like such an insult to her body happened while she was outside tending the vegetable garden.  It had seemed like a hand took hold of her heart and was squeezing the life from it, causing her to clutch at it and to sit and then lie down on the ground, her cheek pressed into the dirt.  She thought, as she lay there, that she was dying, and that she wasn’t ready for it, there was so much she didn’t know yet.  Her guru and abbot of the monastery, the Venerable Khenpo Dudjom Rinpoche, had only recently begun teaching her the phowa meditation practice, that of learning to transfer consciousness to the next plane of existence at the moment of death.  Now there she was lying among the rows of early girl tomatoes and cucumbers, alone and afraid that she wouldn’t be discovered, and that she wouldn’t receive the final guidance of Rinpoche to help her make the transition to that next level.  Maybe that meant that she was unworthy, and she would continue to be stuck in the world of illusions, the samsara world of uncontrolled birth and rebirth.  It was the last thought she had as the light in her head faded to blackness. 

          The next thing she became aware of was being moved along, flat on her back, beneath banks of fluorescent lights.  She learned later that she’d been discovered by one of the lamas, who had summoned an ambulance.  She’d come foggily awake while being wheeled from the ambulance and down a corridor of the hospital in Pittsburgh.  A clear, plastic tube led from an inverted IV bottle to a needle stuck into her arm, and she watched
uncomprehendingly the bottle above her head as it slowly dripped liquid into her.


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