by Lettie Stratton
Boydo-Sensei was in a café, drinking coffee with a Buddhist man who he said was far wiser than himself, although I find it hard to imagine anyone wiser than Boydo-Sensei. Beside Boydo and his Buddhist teacher, there was only one other person in the café: a monk—sitting behind them and eating an orange as he read the newspaper. Once in a while, the monk would take a sip of coffee from the mug near his hand that wasn’t busy flipping pages.
Boydo’s teacher said, “Look, James, look—bad Buddhist.” Not giving into the blank stare he received from his baffled student, the teacher repeated, “Look—bad Buddhist.” Boydo-Sensei explained to my class that the monk was not eating his orange in a mindful way. How could he focus on the flavor and the experience of eating the orange while he was preoccupied with the newspaper and what the headlines said and getting his coffee mug to his lips without spilling the hot liquid all over his orange Monk-ish robes? He could not possibly be truly tasting the orange because he wasn’t absorbed in the present moment, enjoying the orange for what it was, and for that, he was a bad Buddhist.
As I left class, I asked myself, had I ever really tasted an orange before? Had I slowed down enough, with anything, to really experience it, embody it? Boydo-Sensei challenged my class to go into the dining room, illegally take fruit from it (as I had already done), and taste it—really taste it. He told us to put one section of the orange on our tongues and hold it there. Feel the texture, he said, feel the weight of it in your mouth. Bite into the fruit slowly, he said, see how juicy it becomes when the skin is pierced by your teeth. Nature created this, he said, this fruit that’s in your mouth that you usually chew without a second thought.
If someone had asked me how my orange tasted previous to this class/moment of enlightenment, I would have probably said something along the lines of, “uhhh good?” and moved on to the next bite, eager to get on with other activities. There was sunbathing to be done on Deck 7 and planning to be done for my upcoming arrival in Kobe—who had time to taste oranges?
After hearing Boydo-Sensei speak, though, I too wanted to be a good Buddhist. I sat down with my orange and now, I wanted to know what it tasted like. It tasted like orange, yes, but it became more than that. When I looked closely at the peeled sections, I couldn’t get over the beauty of the orange itself, the intimacy of peeling back the saturated skin and biting into it, spitting out the seeds and discarding the white, stringy pieces of peel still attached. At this moment, I felt, Boydo-Sensei’s teacher would have been proud. “Good Buddhist,” he would say. Good Buddhist.