From Artful Dodge 40/ 41

Nin Andrews


Lately I’ve been trying to be a good Buddhist. I like the concepts:
becoming free of suffering, happy, peaceful, blissed-out. But I have this
a not very Buddhist theory-that most people are actually mannequins.
They have official positions in the world, with nametags to show for it,
so that they know who they are and what to do. But their minds
are recordings. Like those announcements in the airport:
Welcome to Pittsburgh International Airport, a smoke-free terminal. 
Maybe I think this because I am stuck in the Pittsburgh airport and
have been for days.
I have begun to notice the tell-tale signs: When you ask a mannequin
a question, the response is always a variation of: I am sorry. I cannot
help you. 

Their eyes are fixed on the person behind you, whom they will soon
of the same news. It isn’t personal. It’s just the way they are.
But occasionally there are real people. On rare mornings you glimpse
but most go home for lunch and never return.

Maybe I have it backwards, that it’s true, what the Buddhists say,
everything is a projection, that it’s I who am so indifferent to the world,
that I see, not humans, but machines. This is not a good thing.
According to Buddhism, there are three responses to the world:
attraction, aversion and indifference. The third is the most common.
In the third response we treat others as if they don’t exist at all,
or only exist to serve us, as if they were mere mannequins.
Thus a janitor might be seen as a living vacuum cleaner. A waitress
as a pop machine. And a stranger walking down the corridor
(or one who serves no function for you)
might be no more interesting than a large yellow ball rolling past.
Indifference, according to Buddhist philosophy, is subtle and cruel.
It is the cause of much human suffering.

Image from: Getty Images

Image from: Getty Images

I, however, am not certain this is the case. Indifference, I believe, has
its place.
I am not sure I really want to know why someone can’t help me,
or what is meant by “mechanical difficulties,”
whether or not the planes have holes in the fuel tanks or windshields
or have been recently hijacked to Bogot�. I have friends, however,
who are soothed by any show of personal attention, which is,
perhaps, a natural response to a world saturated with mannequins.
These friends are mostly poet-types who even get excited
by hand-written rejection letters. Me, I like the type-written forms
written by an anonymous “we.” I picture a small army of mannequins
in magazine offices around the world, typing day and night,
heaps of the requisite forms-
Although we have read your manuscript with care,
we regret to inform you it does not meet our needs.

The needs of mannequins are a mysterious proposition.
If asked on the wrong day what they are, one might even respond,
Welcome to Pittsburgh International Airport, a smoke-free terminal.
I was telling this to my friend Syd, who used to edit The New England

when he read me sections of his recent and very personal rejection
from Joseph Parisi, a letter which began nicely enough
with a few niceties such as “Thanks for your missive”
and “so sorry to be late” and concluded: “But I wonder if you’ve ever
really read the magazine” in which “the poets presented are driven
by genuine necessity to write and have something to say, and don’t
waste words.”
And: “Please keep in mind that we receive over 80,000 poems p.a., and,
amid many other financial and administrative responsibilities, perhaps
I am beginning to lose patience with people who repeatedly and often
unfairly consume increasingly pressured editorial time.”

Image from:

Image from:

Maybe he wrote the letter in the Pittsburgh airport.
Maybe Mr. Parisi’s a Buddhist at heart and knows he should never show
indifference. Perhaps
he doesn’t realize anger is not appropriate for Buddhists, either.
Just last night in the airport bookstore I read a sutra on anger,
acclaimed by the Dalai Lama himself. I learned why there is never
a good reason to be angry. Because, in truth, all we see and experience
is nothing more than a passing moment, a cloud dissolving in thin air.
Why hold onto a cloud? Especially when you could do something else,
like board the first plane out of Pittsburgh? Who cares
if it takes you to Bogati?

Even then, I imagine a real Buddha would probably do nothing
but smile and nod. Which makes me wonder if the Buddha, himself,
is nothing more than a glorified mannequin. Picture him as a living
or better yet, a toilet bowl, one of those super-flush airport models.
No matter what drops in, or who, you can swish him away
in a matter of minutes. Now this might be a cause for happiness.

Image from:

Image from:



About artfuldodgewooster

Ohio based literary magazine, now over twenty years old, still in print, and gradually spreading across the digital world. Official Website:
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