This morning I woke up with a short story that emerged in a dream
Disciple of the Pear Garden
Hello! I’m Gunner Wales. I have come to China in search of Pears. A few years ago I bit into an Asian Pear and it’s taste has made me crazy ever since. I know! I can get Asian Pears at the Safeway supermarkets. It is not that kind of Asian Pear I am talking about. You see I am talking about a Poem I read and savored until it’s taste was only a memory. I have been seeking to recover it ever since. Haven’t you ever tasted something and it changed your life ever since. It might have been a celebration dinner or a piece of candy or the wafting fragrance of a food in the midst of transformation escaping from a kitchen. You do not even have to taste it. But you have to have it.
Ok, I know an Asian Pear is really an apple. Frankly, when it come down to it this search has nothing to do with Asia or Pears. It is only a way to describe the search. Every search has to have an object. In this case it is a pear. The object is only a spot on the horizon like a witness tree. It is used for orientation.
So what is it I am searching for? What every human being who wants to be awake is searching for. Truth, justice, love you say? No, it is not even one of those things. It helps to go after that which you cannot taste, touch, or smell. No, It is emptiness. Yes, emptiness. So how does an Asian Pear figure into this search?
It began at the Portland Art museum in Oregon. One afternoon I found myself waiting for a friend to go with me to Powell’s Book store. They say it is the biggest used bookstore in the world. Maybe! I always found that a bookstore of any size is a good psychological test bed, especially on a date. I had never met this person before so I asked her if she would go to the bookstore with me, we would wander around and later have a cup of coffee downstairs in the coffee-shop. If she was interesting she would bring up ideas, authors, and books. The journey through the bookstore would either be Paradise Lost or regained.
Anyway, waiting for the experiment to start gave me a couple of hours to visit the art museum. They had a special exposition on Chinese art…you know….the Jade suit of armor, a Xian clay warrior and all that. I had this vague desire to find something. I just did not know what?
Once I paid the fee I heard the teller laugh under her breath. I did a double take. She looked down. I handed my ticket to a docent who was standing behind a velvet rope.
“Have a nice day!” she said.
“Why? I wondered. I have never had the courage to actually ask a person who says something so innocuous.
Immediately before me greeting my imagination was a 40 foot print of a Tang Dynasty painting. It’s background was an earth tone yellow. The only thing I knew about Chinese art was to read it from top down.
At the very top was a Chinese poem I could not read. Below it was a mountain seeming to float on yellow clouds. Set before it on a distant plain was the hint of color I recognized from childhood. It was a group of pear trees. In the foreground was a courtyard scene of men and women attending to various activities. Some were writing, others were studying scrolls, others were drinking wine, some were sleeping, others were playing with dogs. It was a full cycle of life under the shade of pear tree blossoms. The brown fingered roots of exposed trees roots seemed to hold this scene in it’s wooden hands. The branch of a pine tree in the immediate foreground framed the painting.
I was deeply moved. I do not know why but I felt pulled into the painting as if I knew these people. I could taste the pear held in the hand of a grace filled women.
As a child I began to work on my father’s farm at age six. We milked golden Guernsey cows. My mother grew a garden every year. After the evening milking in the summer when the light was warm and fading I walked through a small pasture to the house where dinner was waiting. I purposely walked through this pasture instead of trodding the driveway in order to climb a fence and enter my mother’s garden. In the corner was a pear tree. It had long since lost it’s white blossoms. Small, hard, green and rust spotted pears hung below small arrow shaped leaves. I loved eating these pears. They were not soft and juicey. One had to wait until the winter for them to turn golden brown and soft.
All these images and feelings came flooding back into my consciousness gazing upon this eastern print. It was then that I knew I would travel to China. How I knew this or why I thought it I cannot explain. It was precient knowledge.
I turned left and shuffled my way to and through a series of rooms filled with crystal cased displays of weapons, clay pots, and glazed forms.
“Hello Gunner!” The voice was hushed but firm.
I looked up and to my delight I saw my friend Father John. John had been a spiritual advisor to me for many years. It was an informal relation but deep and profound. John was an extraordinary human being. He was a navy chaplin for 30 years who retired and became a professional rodeo rider at an age when bones break far too easy. He was also an expert on Chinese Opera.
“I hear you are going to China” he said.
“Where did you get that information? I do not have any plans to go to China.”
“I don’t know. I heard it somewhere. Anyway, glad to see you. Do you enjoy the exhibit?”
I explained how moved I was by the huge print at the entrance of the exhibit.. “I was actually thinking about you and some of our conversations when I was studying the print. Did you not tell me once that performers of Chinese Opera began in a pear garden?”
“Yes, in fact, even to this day members of the opera call themselves disciples of the Pear Garden. The Tang Emperor initiated the singing and acting troupe in a pear garden in a royal court yard in Xian, the Tang capital at the time.” Jphn’s eyes danced in delight as he was getting louder and louder. People were beginning to state at us. Fortunately, John’s wife came up and gave him a familiar tug on his sleeve. He shut up immediately. We walked together in silence to the next room..
“There it is!” he exclaimed.
“The taste of the Pear.” John was staring at a Tang Dynasty horse, neck arched, hooves prancing with delicate strength.
I held my breath.
Don’t you see, if you don’t believe it you cann’t have it!”
As if telepathically I understood what John was saying but it was probably the hundreds of hours we spent talking that helped me to understand, feel, and taste what he was saying. There is an inner aesthetic experience that is deeply spiritual. Gazing upon this horse one could see the love the artist had for his horse. Every hair seemed to be alive. The smell of sweat anticipating the liberation and freedom of travel could be sensed. Even the intelligence of this beautiful creature could be felt. It was as if this was a doorway to a world more real than our own. Beside us was a reconstruction of a royal Tang grave. Vessels, a chariot, weapons, and dried fruit were comforting the mummified corpse.
“No wonder civilizations buried their dead with items for the next world. They could taste it, feel it, and yearned to enter it.”
“You got it son!”
We did not talk much after that exchange. Over the next hour we just kind of drifted apart. And then he was gone.
I thought about buying a book at the museum store but decided against it. In a few minutes I needed to leave and walk up to the Powell’s books.. I rushed over to Burnside street and crossed the street to the entrance of the bookstore where I had agreed to meet what I hoped would be my new friend. A few books of books held down the sidewalk, obvious literary rejects that Powell’s would not buy.
I looked up and there was Beatrice. Beatrice and I entered the glorious stacks of book. It was an entire city block and four stories of books. Turned out that Beatrice was a Zen Buddhist. She had just returned from a silent retreat when she sat for a whole week in disciplined silence.
“What did you learn from this experience?” I smugly asked. She smiled slightly. “It is not what you learn. It is about non-learning and quieting the mind. It is about entering the emptiness.”
“You know I just had an experience where I felt connected to a consciousness where all experience felt richer and more real. At the same time there was a non-sense of emptiness. I do not know how to explain it in any other way.”
We had a thrilling walk through the bookstore. I bought her a book on Zen Buddhism, a beautiful book about Guanyin the goddess of Compassion. She did not want to accept it at first but I told her it was for the gift of spontaneous wisdom she gave me earlier. She did not want coffee and said she had to go. I thought I was getting a brushoff. But outside the store she reached into a brown lunch sack and extended her hand to me bearing a taste of heaven. “Pear?” she asked.