Here’s a story without which all the other stories would not have happened. I heard this story for the first time on my third day working as a volunteer at the nursery, planting trees with Eric. That day I was very nervous and intimidated by so much that was new to me, but as I listened to his story, which is also the origin story of the place to which I had come to stay, for a short while I forgot to be insecure and anxious. This is the story, more or less as I heard and understood it then.
There was once a young man named Eric. He was twenty eight years old, working as a building contractor, and for six months had been in a deep depression. Ever since his second wife, the one with whom he thought he could finally be happy, had left him, he cried every day.
He had spent the most recent part of these six months desperately searching for a way to get back his wife, or just to stop crying for her and get out of his dark mood. He had been to see psychotherapists, psyco-analysts, fortune tellers, even Jehovah’s witnesses; anyone who promised they could help. All without success, as still grief held its grip on him.
At that time, one of his big customers was a Buddhist temple in Montreal. Eric had been given the contract with them for an unusual reason: his willingness to bare his feet. The temple had tried to employ several contractors before Eric, but none had agreed to follow their custom: that all who came in the temple should leave their shoes at the entrance and go barefoot inside.
Eric was the first who agreed to take off his shoes, and because of this he held the contract, and he would go there to do reparations on the building, always being given his job by the same monk who communicated with him and told him what to do.
One day, as he was in the depths of his sadness, he went to the temple to do his job there, and found that the monk who usually gave him instructions about what to do was nowhere to be found.
This left him in something of a dilemma, as practically nobody there spoke English or French. The one woman to whom he managed to speak told him to go up one floor and knock on a certain door: “Monk up speak French!”
Eric knew that there was no chance of the monk upstairs, whoever he was, having the information he needed about the job he should do. Yet something made him go up anyway; he had no reason to leave, nothing to lose, and perhaps he was curious.
When he knocked on the door, it was opened by a certain monk who Eric recognised from seeing around the temple before. He had always a smiling face and a cheerful look about him, and he had spoken to Eric before, usually to offer him some of his extremely sweet tea with condensed milk.
“Yes?” said the monk.
“I came to see if you have a job for me,” said Eric, knowing full well that the monk would have no job for him.
“I don’t know anything about your job,” said the monk, “But – have you come here that I help you?”
Eric hesitated. He opened his mouth, deflated, and said “No, no thank you,” and turned around to leave.
Halfway down the stairs he turned back.
“I didn’t come here for that, but I would appreciate it if you were able to help me,” he said to the monk, who turned out to be Ajan. He invited Eric inside.
Eric told me that Ajan started to teach him by asking him questions – simple questions that he would be inclined to answer automatically, thinking he knew the answer. Ajan told him not to answer them straight away, not to give the answer that he thought he knew, but to check it first, to think about it and to be certain it was correct before answering. Eric did not tell me what the questions were, nor the answers, when he first told me the story; only that this was the beginning of his training in what he later understood to be meditation, although at that point he did not know it.
A short while later, Eric came back to the temple and Ajan asked him if he would like to do a ten day course in meditation. Once again he was hesitant, having many responsibilities that he did not want to leave, but as the first teaching had interested and impressed him so much, he accepted.
Ajan said that it had to be in a completely clean, quiet place, not at Eric’s usual home, and of course it could not take place at the temple. He gave Eric the use of a small apartment that he had rented in Montreal. He told Eric to arrive “like a dead man,” (a phrase which Eric took a little too literally, arriving for his first day of the course with only the clothes he had on his back, not even one suitcase or overnight bag.)
Eric told me that on the third day of his meditation course, he stopped crying over his second wife, and that day until the present day, had ever never suffered with sadness or stress, or been emotionally disturbed in any way. I could not imagine what sort of event must have occurred on the third day of a meditation course to make this happen, but I was sure it must have been something quite powerful.
Later he also told me that he had been living in a cloud all of his life, and this third day of his meditation course was when he came out of his cloud, never to return there again.
This affected his life in more ways than he could have imagined.
For instance, after his course, he had promised to attend a Christmas party. Later he regretted going there, having taken no pleasure whatsoever in the festivities. His vision of everyone and everything had changed: it was as if all his experiences before his meditation class had been seen though tinted glasses, which showed him things as he wanted them to be, hiding what he preferred not to see. Now the glasses were removed, he saw people more clearly, and was dismayed by what he saw.
This whole event changed Eric’s life so much, that sometime later, he told Ajan that he would build him a meditation centre so that others could learn what Eric had learned.
When Eric told me this story, I plucked up the nerve to ask him whether he still meditated sometimes. I was struggling to visualise what was it about this Meditation that had so completely changed his life.
“Y-yes,” he said, then, curtly, “But meditation really doesn’t make sense without the philosophy.” I realised that I had asked a stupid question, but I did not quite understand how. It seemed that what Eric understood by ‘meditation’ was something quite different to how I imagined it. For now, I asked nothing more but kept quiet, and we went back to planting trees.