Steely Dan’s “Bodhisattva”–Things to Come

Whenever I hear it, the song sends me over the 3rd Avenue bridge in 1973 Minneapolis. Music can trigger place memories. “California Dreamin” puts me in Columbus, Georgia, walking past a music store playing the Mamas and the Papas tune. A weekend pass from nearby Ft. Benning, took me there–as does the song.

But I digress. Back to “Bodhisattva.” I didn’t know then, that Donald Fagen was the singer. We were seniors in a journalism class at South Brunswick High. Just 126 students graduated in 1965 from the tiny New Jersey school. Fagen went on to Bard College, where he met Walter Becker in 1967. I was learning to repair army radios then. The draft got me; not Fagen or Becker. But I got my college degree December ’73, and my first encounter with bodhisattvas.

I encountered a real live one in Northern Virginia in 1975. I was waiting for Liz, my second wife, on a bench in Springfield  mall. I had begun law school at Georgetown in ‘74. Bored and bummed a bit by how hard that first year was, I listened for twenty minutes about Buddhism. Introducing others to the Buddhist practice, is an essential task of a bodhisattva. The person told me I could be absolutely happy. I could also be the best at whatever life I chose to live. I could even become a buddha. I wouldn’t have to get rid of my place in town either. I was invited to a meeting to learn more. But it was in Springfield, and we lived far around the Beltway in Maryland.

In the literary sense, one might say that hearing that song two years before was foreshadowing. Too bad that thought escaped my attention in either the first or 10th anniversary edition of Waiting for Westmoreland. That, as you can read more about in the link at the top of the page, is all about the path from Vietnam to enlightenment.

Two more years passed before another bodhisattva appeared. A snippet of that meeting follows. I haven’t posted this excerpt here before, but it’s apropos of this piece. The choice that got me moving forward with hope and determination in life, no matter what obstacles might appear.

I attended a party. It was like most parties. People were standing around with a drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other, holding forth inanely on topics of little or no consequence. The more intoxicated they got, the more animated (but no more meaningful) the conversation became. Borrrrrinnng. It was Lorna’s party. She was a legal secretary, at the law firm where I clerked. . . How could I turn down free food and booze? It was fortunate that I did. I met Lisa there, a member of Lorna’s carpool. They all commuted from Virginia to the K Street business district in DC.

Amidst the dull peoplescape of the party, Lisa sparkled like a mirrored ball above a dance floor. Who is that person? Why is she so alive, so different from the rest? I had to talk to her. I asked what it was about her that accounted for her obviously higher state of being than the rest of the partygoers. She explained that she was a Buddhist and she chanted.

“Oh, what do you chant—Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?” I asked.

“Yes! How did you know that?”

“Somebody told me about it two years ago at Springfield Mall. They invited me to a meeting but I didn’t go. When you said you were a Buddhist and chanted, it just popped into my head.”

“Do you remember who it was?”

“No.”

“Well, they planted a seed. Once you hear it, you never forget it.”

Forty-five years since that encounter with Lisa, I have been diligently and consistently practicing Nichiren Buddhism with great results. You’ll perhaps note I haven’t been posting much lately. Lots of stuff in the way. Read more about that here on the Views from Eagle Peak blog. A fun anniversary trip and the challenge of prostate cancer not getting me down–just soaking up time.

I am determined to post more, as often as I can, as treatment begins.

6 thoughts on “Steely Dan’s “Bodhisattva”–Things to Come

  1. A lovely snippet John from way back. All good wishes for your upcoming treatment – and chant all the way –

  2. When I think of California Dreamin’, the first group that pops into my head is The Mamas and the Papas. I started making a list and was surprised by how many other groups have songs with that title or those lyrics.

    Thinking back about how people fade in and out of our lives and then connect over something random (In your case, Buddhism) is one of life’s mysteries.

    Best of luck with your health challenges, John. I wish you many more great times with your wife.

  3. Interesting where we get our habits from. Thanks for sharing where your interest in Buddhism began. Oh, those smoke filled days. I hope you are doing well on this new journey my friend. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Deb. It’s been 45 years since I began practicing Buddhism. Doing well on the current journey, with results expected over the course of some weeks to come. 🙂

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