Mirror of Zen Blog

Pilgrimage in Paris

I was called suddenly to Paris to engage in some temple business for three days, November 1-4.

During the back and forth between meetings, I managed to stop by the little neighborhood where I lived in the years 1988 to 89. It was the year following graduation from Yale, while I was still groping in the dark for a path to liberating myself from suffering and semi-depressive darkness and some lingering effects of a vicious sadism which was visited on an otherwise beautiful childhood. Fortunately, in those mind-cloudy days in Paris, while on a visit out to some friend’s house one day in the Rue Pigalle, in the shadow of the original legendary Moulin Rouge, swimming through street-corner ganglia of prostitutes, and thoroughly bored from a night of special food and that excruciatingly trite intellectualism which only the French can provide, that I wandered into the host’s well-stacked library to pick a single book off the shelf: The Essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

And in the momentary semi-darkened space of that room, wishing desperately to stretch out time before returning to a gathering of ping-pong intellectualism, that I opened the musty tome randomly to the earth-shattering organ of these words, and I read them, and noticed a new quivering from head to toe.

And these words drew me into everything else in Emerson’s searing, true world. I might justifiably pronounce here, for whatever it’s worth to anyone, that this following paragraph alone set me until now on the path that I follow to tonight. And will guide me evermore.

Out of a kind of weird pilgrimage, then, on every trip to Paris – – what happens no more than once every four or five years – – I am drawn magnetically to the spot where began those first steps from my apartment — a cheap chamber de bonne (a “maid’s quarters”) on the Rue de Longchamps — that night through the fishnetted concourse of the seedy Rue de Pigal to the timeless words on that stacked bookshelf of so many varied, dusty tomes, that sent me to the Dharma — that led me, finally to my eternal home. It was these very words, above…

The very graphic love and bodily quiver that is felt only towards the Buddha, towards Zen Master Seung Sahn, Gustav Mahler, and Jesus, is felt also for the presence of that man — Ralph Waldo Emerson — in my life. I love him with a gratitude scaling with anything I feel for my mother. The visits to Paris seem almost to become a pilgrimage to Emerson as to anything else — a raw pilgrimage to that moment, that life-fucking encounter with his sonorous simplicity and clarity.

From my tiny maid’s apartment, on the 76 Rue de Longchamps, bordering the Place de Mexico, right here, to you. Through Emerson Air, it’s true.

Dans le 16ème, Novembre 2021

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