31 October 1973 Berry Pie on the Monastery Roof
"Everything's O.K." doesn't mean slopping around the beach with a can of beer in one hand and a copy of the Diamond Sutra in the other. There are too many people now who live like heathen pigs and think they are enlightened. People who really understand Buddhism know that the single most important dharma is cutting off desire. Buddha himself said that the highest consciousness of all is simply no desire. The Master at Gold Mountain teaches it that way, too, but not many people really want to hear it, how much the less do it. Take me, for example. In the last line of the poem that the Master just gave me, there is reference to a berry pie; I'll now tell the story it refers to.
When I first came to Gold Mountain, I carried with me habits that I had been gradually accumulating for twenty-five years, the heaviest of which were ten years of smoking and six years of drinking. Now, to enter the monastery, where the discipline is quite real, it is necessary to cut off these habits, point blank. Well, I managed to stop smoking and drinking, but my heavy greed energy then began to manifest in the realm of food. I quickly found that I could at least temporarily gratify my desires by eating a lot. However, when I took up the practice of eating only one meal a day, all my neurotic energy became confined to the forty- minute period allowed for lunch. What a tremendous challenge it was to turn all this bad energy into meditation and wholesome action!
There were occasions, though, when I couldn't handle it. And I used to slip out and head down to the local bakery to buy a bag of heavy pastries, which I found were capable of totally obliterating all my afflictions. To get to the point: one day I had gone out for pastries and had eaten the entire batch, except for one berry pie, which I simply couldn't find room for. So I carefully tucked it inside my coat and returned to the monastery. Now at Gold Mountain, everyone follows the rules of not eating after noon. Some people eat breakfast, but most people cultivate the ascetic practice of eating only once a day. That day during afternoon meditation, I began to get hungry again, and my thoughts turned to the pie. During the evening lecture, while the Master was speaking the Dharma, the pie was all I could think about. I decided I was going to eat it after the lecture, the hell with the rules!
It was about 10:00 PM., and everyone had retired, when I very quietly slipped out the third- floor bathroom window, carefully shut it behind me, and climbed up the fire escape to the roof. I opened up the pie and sunk my teeth into that luscious sugary crust, biting down into those succulent, juicy red berries. "Christ!" I thought to myself, "If this isn't Nirvana, what is?"
But just at that very moment, I looked over at the fire escape to see that someone else was climbing up onto the roof! I stood there terror-struck, with a mouthful of pie. There was no place I could run! It was the Master! I stood there unmoving for a moment while my brains began hemorrhaging. Then I began walking around in a circle on the rooftop as if in deep contemplation. The Master, too, began to circle the roof as if in deep contemplation, but he was going in the opposite direction. We passed each other twice without looking at each other, but on the third lap, I looked up and saw him grinning like a Cheshire cat. He said four words: "How does it feel?"
It was just too much. I knew that there was no way he could have known that I was up there, without spiritual penetrations. We both erupted in laughter at the ridiculousness of the thing, the whole endless universal thing. Then he left me to finish my pie.
That's the berry pie story. The Master takes great delight in it, and has had me tell it several times. Now he's dangling another pie in front of me; we'll surely reach our goal.