Numbers became an issue about the same time I was being admonished to color inside the lines of my first coloring book. It was then that I slipped into conflating numbers and colors. By the time I met school arithmetic, addition and subtraction had become a Technicolor smear. Eight was yellow, five red, four blue and so on.
An additional stumbling block on the math path was a remedial high school math teacher whose passion wasn’t us laggards. To coach the tennis team, he was required to teach us math. Though the task filled him with contempt, it was a playful sort of don’t-give-a-damn. This, coupled with our being the last class of the academic day, explained why Mr. Don Hahn stood on his hands and instructed upside down in front of the chalkboard dressed in white tennis shorts and a polo shirt. Clearly, I was too distracted to grasp the complexity of numbers from so near the floor.
Now, older and no longer challenged by remedial math classes or staying inside the lines of coloring books, I am fast tracking to enlightenment. I sense an urgency to awaken before karma claims me and I’m back again as a betula pendula*.
To hurry the enlightenment process, I enroll in an “Intermediate” Buddhist meditation class after only five months of meditation. And while smart enough to keep up; not so swift when faced with numbers (one eightfold path, five precepts and four noble truths).
I had thought my problem with numbers was over but then one of the soft-spoken shikshaks* divides the eightfold path into three and then divides each three into two. My calculations total six. Plus the five red precepts and four blue noble truths and we are up to a muddy brown 15. That’s when frustration causes me to complain that I can’t hear anyone and would everyone please speak louder.
In a different meditation session, this one at the Zen Center, I envision solutions to the dilemma of eight folds as I sit, eyes softly downcast, surveying the coming and going of thought as if through a train-station window. Coming in from the left, going out to the right.
Suddenly, the folds in the eightfold path appear to my mind’s eye as folds in small sheets of colored paper, the crafting one might find in origami. Fold, fold, fold, into the tiniest of creations: a crane, a horse, a giraffe, an infinitesimal circle of intricate folds. I like this origami image. As I understand it, the Buddha’s eightfold path isn’t meant to take me somewhere other than where I am in any moment.
Eventually, I look up the Eightfold Path to Happiness as explained to kids, and I decide to be okay with numbers. In child mind, I imagine learning by rote, the way we did when we learned multiplication tables. This kind of learning keeps colors out of my equations.
THE EIGHTFOLD PATH TO HAPPINESS***
1. Right Views: To keep ourselves free of prejudice and superstition, and to see the true nature of life.
2. Right Thoughts: To turn our minds away from the violence and hatred in this world.
3. Right Speech: To refrain from harmful talk and to use our words wisely.
4. Right Conduct: To see that our deeds come from peace and goodwill. To grow every day in the Buddha's Teachings.
5. Right Livelihood: To try to earn our living in such a way that we avoid evil karma.
6. Right Energy: To use our energies to overcome ignorance and destructive desires.
7. Right Mindfulness: To cherish a good mind, for all that we think and do have their roots in the mind.
8. Right Meditation: To study the Teachings of the Buddha and to practice them to the best of our abilities.
And though the Buddha taught more than 2,500 years ago and learning to awaken involves dividing concepts into more numbers than I’m comfortable with, the practice of meditation is reshaping my life, folding me into a lovingness I have never known. Color me peaceful.
*Latin for silver birch tree
**Sanskrit for teacher
***From the ManitobaBuddhist Temple