A Gentle Rain of Compassion by David R. Shlim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm just not there yet. The book is a lovely read. There is much to learn here. But I still want to know how to locate the self which aligns with mountaintop adventure and superstar rock bands and living in the orbit of Jackson Wyoming while remaining mostly helpless among the lure of shikse blonds and drugs. But the man does grow.
Shlim is honest in his self-disclosure, and holds back subtly with his crowing about himself. I read the book because my sister learned about it from a friend whose son goes or went to school with the author's daughter. My sister worked in the Katmandu clinic with the author, and has a very difficult mountain route in Patagonia named after her. Caw Caw!
She wanted my take. The world the book describes is entirely familiar to her. But she wasn't a part of the story. Still, I wanted to learn about her as much as to learn what the author had to teach. She wanted me to check her mild skepticism.
Sis has dragged me up enough mountains to be certain that I don't want that particular kind of exposure. My own youthful passions led me under or over water, or passing through social spaces in some conveyance about the size of a sailboat cabin without having to engage too closely. I do share motorcycling with the author. And I do still aspire to some sort of Buddhist detachment, though my particular journey leaves me, still, detached from the derivative of religion. I'll take my Buddhism raw.
Sis and I wonder about the ego thing. Ego tempered by compassion, sure, but wanting more attention than either of us could endure, each modestly, ahem, accomplished in our own ways. Now he has Tibetan Tantric monks wanting attention. Can that be right? By happenstance I once visited the loosely related place near Cooperstown that Shlim had a vague hand in. I was stunned. I was a tourist passer-by.
There is irony here which might be beyond the author's awareness. But he tries convincingly hard to get beyond that.
I must celebrate this dose of Buddhism as among those medicines which our American society so desperately needs. And I must celebrate the man who administers it. The clinic he ran and where my sister worked was set up for trekkers from the first world drawn to that spectacular part of the world. And, strange though it may seem, detached monks also want good doctors. But who has contaminated whom?
I am as skeptical about perduring karmic self as I am about the Christian immortal soul which has a personal connection to a personal God. But each approach does ensure a morality which moves well beyond our deadly rational materialism. I also believe in mind over matter. I have a little trouble with the agency thing. After reading, I still don't know where the author stands. But then I don't know where I stand. Our Western read of agency makes it into amoral problem-solving. Neither I nor the author can buy that anymore. Medicine, like worldy success, is as much luck as prowess.
Shlim takes the kinds of outrageous coincidence that a denizen of Buffalo - the biggest small town in the world - takes for granted, as evidence for a kind of truth. If I sit down with ten strangers here, the connections among us explode almost exponentially. That composes some sort of godhead, as does my sister's lingering connection to someone she'd almost forgotten.
No wonder I mostly hide out. Like seeing a Yale classmate on the street in Beijing and still not wanting to say hi. Especially there. But does coincidence mean more when it's exotic?
Plenty of charlatans represent exotic truths as the salve that we require. This guy is no charlatan. But aren't we all charlatans to ourselves? I sure do harbor my own sorts of grandiosity. I tuck it away beyond what I will ever do for pay and sure don't want to be recognized for it. It is a shame that I must hide.
Or do I? Thank goodness English so easily loses referents.
The irony here between author and book exceeds my credibility threshold by just a tad. There is a certain pleasure to be derived from literary writing where the author is evidently as drawn as is the reader. That may be present here, but the book is not literature.
That is my puzzle. I want my author to lose agency. But this is an autobiography. Is my sister jealous? Absolutely not. Left out? Nope. Sour grapes? Not a bit. Me? I don't know.
In America we say 'congratulations' on a new car. Surely congratulations are in order for a new book. I have no standing. I don't want a new car, but do I want condolence for the troubles of my old one? Do I want recognition for holding back? I might.
Here is the central conceit: A drop of compassion won't put out the fire of anger. But many drops compose a gentle rain which can. Here is a gusher in this book. I congratulate the author. Nice book! Nice life!
Shall I return as a karmic worm that my suffering shall be brief? Is that just starting over? Rinpoche has so much responsibility. To meditate. Which must mean to conjoin with the all. Which just seems irresponsible to a rational materialist American success story. Meditation is harder than it looks. Which is it Martha? Truth or illusion? The Way that can be spoken is not the eternal Way.
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