Have you ever met a Bodhisattva?
One of the many gifts of age is wisdom, not necessarily intelligence, although that can be a gift if used properly, wisdom in the sense that if you see a need your ego disappears long enough for you fulfill that need.
Allow me to clarify what I consider need, the need that is outside ego.
The ego is like that little Pac Man gobbling up everything in its path while avoiding the pain that sneaking up behind him.
Close your eyes for a few minutes; try to gently focus on your breath, that pesky little distraction which will assuredly pop up is Pac Man.
Now once you notice that distraction, Pac Man, try to shut him down.
Pac Man is smart enough to ward off attacks, he knows if he can stay out of the present you won't be able to shut him down. He knows that zipping into the imaginary future, at the same time feeding his desires, that which is coming up behind him won't find him. What makes the Pac Man in our head so smart is that if his desires are not met in the imaginary future like a time traveler he'll seek refuge in the past.
This pesky little Pac Man is truly the master of deflect, divide, disorientate, a true genius.
Now back to the Bodhisattva.
For those unfamiliar with the Bodhisattva, allow me in my simplified way define what is usually overly complicated.
A Bodhisattva is one who has attained enlightenment, whose Buddha nature has found peace, but who has renounced Nirvana for the sake of helping others in their journey to liberation from suffering.
Remember now, I have simplified the definition to spare my reader the often overcomplicated interpretations that certain individuals tend to place on symbols.
I guess it would be easier for me to make my point if I introduce you to a Bodhisattva, one I met many years ago.
Meet Harry Chapin, singer, songwriter, and in my world Bodhisattva.
Many years ago, in my adolescence, Harry's song “Taxi” hit the airways as my own wanderlust struck. In this marijuana anthem of the early seventies I found Harry talking to me of following your muse. Although the muse Harry metaphorically follows in the song is getting high, one can easily see the dangers Harry sees of not breaking free of craving.
Although I really recommend you listen, for now let me share the story in the song.
In the song it’s given that Harry plays himself, a cab driver that picks his last fare of the night. Harry being the gentleman apologizes for her wet gown, she just she asks to be taken to her home at 16 Parkside Lane.
Harry finds the woman familiar at first, but she doesn't seem to recognize him until after she looks at him in the rear-view mirror and at his license. It is then revealed that she is Sue, Harry's old love.
In flashback, Harry remembers how he "used to take her home in his car" and also how they "learned about love in the back of a Dodge". Sue had wanted to be an actress, while Harry was going to learn to fly. Their relationship ended when Sue "took off to find the footlights" and Harry "took off to find the sky".
In the middle of the song you'll come across a very insightful sentence, “There's a wild man, wizard, He's hiding in me, illuminating my mind.” only to be followed with “I've got something inside me, Not what my life's about, Cause I've been letting my outside tide me, Over 'till my time, runs out.”
I would love nothing better than to attempt to explain what Harry meant by what was inside, but I would only be guessing, but I assure you it was probably not the little pesky Pac Man we discussed, the ego is never illuminating.
Now back to the song, Harry arrives at Sue's home where she offers to get together with him sometime, although Harry knows "it'd never be arranged". Sue pays him a $20 bill for "a $2.50 fare" and says, "Harry, keep the change".
He stashes the twenty in his shirt; Sue gets out and walks into her "handsome home". Harry finally realizes that both had gotten what they asked for such a long, long time ago: Sue is now "acting happy", after all she got everything she wanted but it didn't really live up to the fantasy. Harry drives away satisfied, his mind soaring, "I go flying so high when I'm stoned", not earth bound seeking the illusion of materialism and ego.
Harry released the song “Taxi” when his was at the young age of thirty; I was to meet him up close and personal eight years later, and in all places in Italy.
Before I enlighten you as to why I believe Harry was a Bodhisattva, please indulge me for a few moments to share how it came about I was to meet this compassionate singer.
Nineteen seventy eight and I was just finishing up my last year in the military. After eight years of being a medic in the Navy I was pretty burnt out with the whole restrictive routine of the aircraft carrier I was stationed on. I had a few days of shore leave, which I knew would be spent in a much deserved alcohol haze staggering through the overly crowded streets of Naples Italy.
True to my purpose it was during my fine Italian wine buzz that I found out Harry Chapin was playing a concert on the outskirts of Naples.
When I arrived I'm pretty sure my staggering wasn't from sea legs, a common wobble caused from to many days at sea, no my sway was from wine.
Front row dead center, you couldn't get a better piece of earth. The crowd gathered, the wine was shared, and Harry took the stage.
Harry was playing alone, for reasons I would learn much later, but he was just as good with out accompaniment. He would sing, interact, and sing some more. During one particular song Harry had his very young son come out from side stage and dance a slow back and forth step to a song he had written for him named “Dancing Boy”. It must be remembered that most of us sailors had families at home, and many of us had very small children, all our hearts were heavy as Harry's son danced.
Shortly after this song Harry prepared to sing the song that started it all for him “Taxi”. Without a backup band Harry sought volunteers from the audience, two to be specific. Before you could blink the sailor beside be grabbed my arm, threw me in the air and before I knew it I was standing on the stage drunk, bewildered, and in heaven.
Poor Harry, any other time I would have been able to remember the words, but here I was standing in front of the dude that took me “flying so high” so many times all I could do was stand there in awe. To make matters worse, even though I had heard the song a thousand times, I never really knew what the backup singer was singing; his voice was so high I just mumbled when ever I sang the song over the years. Back then we didn't have the internet to look up lyrics, if you didn't know them you just made up your own.
But Harry was cool, he had me get real close and whispered every word to me, with the biggest smile.
After the song was over, and I knew I was a star in my own mind, Harry allowed us to remain on the stage till the show was over, only a couple more songs, but long enough to feel the love emanating from the audience. Not for me, for Harry.
After the show I bought a soft cover poetry book Harry had just released, he signed it for me, and I returned to the streets of Naples a happy drunk.
I was to see Harry one more time after that, but the experience paled without me up there on the stage, or so I thought, still Harry was a God for another day.
Harry died exactly three years to the day after I had seen him for the last time. Little did I realize at the time of his untimely death the lasting impact one singer songwriter could, and continue to make in the lives of those he knew, and especially in the lives of individuals that never knew or even heard the sweet voice of Harry Chapin.
Some stories are better left for biographers, which I'm not, but I can tell you something happened in Harry that affected him deeply, Harry saw a need and he became the means to help stop hunger in the United States. His daughter Jen is to have said: "He saw hunger and poverty as an insult to America". He co-founded the organization World Hunger Year with legendary radio DJ Bill Ayres, which continues to this day under the name “Why Hunger”, which has gone global in its amazing outreach.
Harry walked the walk often playing for free and donating the proceeds of his concert merchandise, including the book I bought, to support World Hunger Year.
Chapin's social causes at times caused friction among his band members. Chapin donated an estimated third of his paid concerts to charitable causes, often performing alone with his guitar to reduce costs, which is why I suspect I saw Harry play alone in Italy, and he had to put up with my drunken off key voice.
One report quotes his widow saying soon after his death, "only with slight exaggeration Harry was supporting 17 relatives, 14 associations, seven foundations and 82 charities. Harry wasn't interested in saving money. He always said, 'Money is for people,' so he gave it away."
Despite his success as a musician, he left little money and it was difficult to maintain the causes for which he raised more than $3 million in the last six years of his life. The Harry Chapin Foundation was the result; its mission has stayed the same, to help make a positive difference in communities around the country. Over the years, the foundation has made over 379 grants worth over $1.5 million.
On December 7, 1987, on what would have been his 45th birthday, Chapin was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for his campaigning on social issues, particularly his highlighting of hunger around the world and in the United States. His work on hunger included being widely recognized as a key player in the creation of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger in 1977, he was the only member who attended every meeting. He was also the inspiration for the anti-hunger projects USA for Africa and Hands Across America, which were organized by Ken Kragen, who had been Chapin's manager. Kragen, explaining his work on these benefit events, said, "I felt like Harry had crawled into my body and was making me do it."
The reason I started this off highlighting the little man in our head, the one I called Pac Man, who is a metaphor for ego, I believe Harry had the ability to escape the ego when he saw need, and when he felt love. I'm not saying Harry was the perfect Buddha, although he could be, but as far as being a Bodhisattva, I say yes. Harry once said, “I am a greedy, selfish bastard. I want the fact that I existed to mean something”, guess what Harry, it did!
He knew love and passed it on, he saw need and attempted to alleviate it. The world is a better place because of Harry!!