The Poetry and Prose of John Omniadeo

The Poetry and Prose of John Omniadeo

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I Rend the Veil (Sunday final)

This is being written after my prostration street retreat which is now like a dream. It has become a story, and all stories are to some extent lies. I am not making anything up exactly, but the “real experience”  was just a mysterious lived moment, and I am selecting out experiences and my interpretations of them, which are just more experiences, and you, Dear Readers, are getting even those third or fourth hand. Communication is inherently frustrating.

Dharma teachers warn us against living in our stories. To a great extent, “waking up” is about finding out how imprisoned we are by them. But those teachers all tell stories. That's because some stories are told to help us “untell” our stories, and, whether I succeed with you or not, those are the kinds of stories I am trying to tell.

For those joining in, it's really best to start at the beginning where I try to Keep on Bowing in the Free World and work up to this post. But even if you start at the beginning I may not make a lot of sense, because the beginningless is the ultimate point here. In the world of stories the beginning is usually a good place to start, though.

I went up to Grace Cathedral on Sunday afternoon to rend the Veil and penetrate the Female Mystery Place. As I left my Tenderloin adventures and friends behind, I thought of the Bob Dylan lines:

Now I'm going back again
I got to get to Her somehow
All the people we used to know
are like illusions to me now

I was getting sunburned, so I did prostrations on the cool north side of the Cathedral in the shade with my cardboard mat on the clean Episcopalian concrete. I noticed a priest, a woman, come out and size me up (to see if I was sleeping on my cardboard, I think) but when she saw me bowing she left me alone. I admit I was curious to see if anyone from this religious institution would ask me what I was doing, but nobody ever did.

There was a meeting of the “Bishop's Society" going on in the building north of the church. I saw a sign to that effect, printed in slightly gothic-esque type, a bit like the kind used at castles at amusement parks announcing “Ye olde” this or that. “Ye olde restroom,” that kind of thing. Occasionally a couple or small group of upper middle-class people wended their way toward the building, presumably to see the Bishop. Two male priests walked by one after the other on the way to join the Bishop's Society and both had remarkably similar silver hair with expensive looking haircuts. I kept bowing but I was becoming aware of a tightness in my chest and from my observations in this paragraph you can probably guess what was starting to happen. What you might not guess is how it relates to the Veil of the Temple.

After my time in the Tenderloin, surrounded by the impoverished, the wretched and the despised, I was having a harder time feeling compassion for these people up on tony Nob Hill. Comparative thoughts and certain deep feelings of resentment and bitterness were working their way up through my refuge and compassion prayers and becoming harder to ignore. But I had practiced all day and I was self aware enough to recognize a pattern.

Compassion for others based on their transitory and relative circumstances is really not compassion at all. My thoughts and feelings were outing me as a phony. Nothing new here, but uncomfortable to look at.

In the Christian tradition “the Veil of the Temple” refers to the curtain that kept the profane from seeing into the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place in the Temple of Solomon where (ritually speaking) God was mysteriously more present than in any other spot on Earth. When Jesus is crucified and willingly gives up his life as a sacrifice for all the sins of mankind, the Veil of the Temple is “rent in twain from the top to the bottom.” This is high poetry and poetry is profaned when explained, but it's safe to say that the passage refers to a new understanding of the relationship between human beings and divinity.

In my meditation tradition divinity per se is not a factor, but in my magical mind of poetry the Veil had come to mean whatever kept me from intuiting the sentience, and thus the tathāgatagarbha , the Buddha nature, of any other (particularly human) being. At the moment the obscuring Veil was my focus on the economic and societal status of the humans up on Nob Hill (or Snob Hill as many call it). This was also related to my unfeeling defensive behavior with the Guard.

Apparently, it is easier for me to feel “compassion” for the poor and powerless in the world than for the rich and powerful. But that is not real compassion. I knew that if I were to rend the Veil this attitude of mine would have to go. But how?

I finished my set of prostrations and walked down to the labyrinth on the North East Corner of the Cathedral. Grace Cathedral is home to two different labyrinths, the heart-children of Dr. Laura Artress, an inspiring Episcopal Priest up on “Snob Hill.” I love to walk the outdoors one. That and the shady church courtyard and my intuition about rending the Veil and penetrating the Secret Female Place were the reasons I had walked up on Nob Hill. I stood and surveyed the labyrinth.

I was too tired. I felt sleepy. There was no way I was going to rend the Veil and penetrate the Secret Female Place. I could barely keep my eyes open.

I crossed the street to Huntington Park, situated at the highest point in downtown San Francisco between the Fairmount Hotel and Grace Cathedral. I spread out my cardboard, lay down on it with my body in the sun and my sunburned head in the shade and dozed off into a fine half conscious nap. As I went under I could hear conversations around me. Trips to Europe. Dog grooming. Real estate prices. When I came awake I saw two separate women in silk pants suits walking well groomed lapdogs, apparently from the Fairmount.

I looked over at the playground. Almost all white, well dressed, smiling people with their children.

But I sensed something else. A nervous awkwardness in their dealings with each other. Subtle fear.

I held the Veil in my hands.

Refreshed by my nap, I left the park and went back over to the Cathedral and the labyrinth. I was ready. I did a round of prostrations again by the Cathedral and then came down to the labyrinth. There were two men smoking cigars and talking business on the benches. Uh oh. Cigars.

When I got a whiff, though, I was completely won over. These were not Swisher Sweets at a Mission bus top. Their cigars were obviously expensive, as aromatic as any incense I have ever smelled.

I started the labyrinth, switching for the first time on Sunday from the Mani to the Tara Mantra. Years of marginal city living have made me very unselfconscious in public (much to my poor son's dismay on many occasions). I chanted my mantra inaudibly, but I danced a little side-step and turn dance as I wound and wended my way, moving in and out and around and away from, but always working toward the center.

The Center! I prepared myself for something. I had come to enter a Secret Female Place and the labyrinth is certainly a cultural survivor from an ancient Goddess worshiping matrifocal religion and here I was dancing and swaying to the Tara Mantra (which I personally believe is also pre-Buddhist and descended from a related cultural matrix) and this could just be it.

Drifting into my awareness, woven among mantra and whiffs of cigar smoke I started to hear snippets of conversation from the cigar smokers.

“So you give them a hundred and fifty grand a month and in ten months they have a million five...”...OM TARE TUTARE TURYE SOHA...“I thought getting Dean Witter was a stroke of genius...brilliant...they got cash and position...”...OM TARE TUTARE TURYE SOHA...”...Obama's right about one thing, infrastructure...”... OM TARE TUTARE TURYE SOHA...

The investment bankers, for I am pretty sure that's what they were, were dressed casual, not flashy at all. One had on tee shirt and jeans, the other office casual slacks and a collared shirt. Their wives were much better dressed (for Church I think) and huddled in conversation away from their cigar smoke. I couldn't hear the women, but I got the impression from the way they were leaning in towards each other that they were not talking politics or banking, but more probably family concerns and quite possibly the trials of living with the bankers.

I was halfway through the labyrinth to the center. Whenever my little dance allowed I started to take these guys in and check them out further. Both had paunches but one looked reasonably fit while the other looked like Type II diabetes was on the horizon and possibly had arrived. His health caught my attention and I felt concern for him.

The Veil was being pulled a bit..

As I danced towards the center of the labyrinth I remembered a job from my youth. When I first started practicing meditation I thought it would be good idea to expose myself to old age illness and death. I quit my job at the airport parking lot where you could get stoned and throw frisbee in between flights and took a job as a nursing assistant at a convalescent hospital.

The convalescent hospital was in a very wealthy section of Southern California and the clientele—or inmate population, depending on how you look at it—was very upscale. Doctors, wealthy businessmen, a Judge whose family held vast amounts of valuable land, an Ivy League professor from another wealthy family, to name just a few.

It was one of the hardest jobs I have ever had. You had to get 12 people up and dressed and fed and I don't remember what else, but you never had enough time and the staff was underpaid and burnt out and when no one was looking we cut corners at best, and (though most were well intentioned) some staff treated the patients with, shall we say, less than respect. I watched the landowner Judge get spanked like a baby once by an irate NA for an infraction I can't recall.

Aside from the staff's behavior it was—and still is—a messy business with memory loss, feeding tubes, bedsores and wheelchairs; shit, piss, vomit and pain, (mental and physical) everywhere and death (merciful perhaps but still feared) just around the corner at all times.

As I approached the center of the labyrinth I saw the investment bankers and the people in Huntington Park dying in some such circumstances. Even though they would not be in a wheelchair in the Tenderloin, their money would not protect them and I felt sadness and heartache. Tears came.

I stepped into the center of the labyrinth knowing deeply and perceiving directly in my heart that, whatever their advantages, money and power were no protection from death and suffering.

The Veil was rent.

I did nine prostrations and stood up. I had rent the Veil and here I was at the center of the labyrinth. Was this the Secret Female Place? Had I penetrated Her Mystery?

The answer came with the kind of knowing within that poets often relate as a voice from without:

“No John. You rent the Veil and you are free (for the time being) of your misperceptions about others and their illusory differences, but you have not penetrated my Mystery. You are just standing in the center of a design on a concrete slab. I do not give myself to anyone just because they want me. You will have to win my heart if you want to penetrate my Secret Mystery Place.”

I danced back out of the labyrinth and did a few prostrations by the Church before I picked up my cardboard and headed back down the hill. I did a few more in the Plaza before I stashed my cardboard by the dumpster. (I felt bad about the way I treated the Guard, but not about my cardboard hiding place.)

I chanted the Tara mantra as I walked the three miles home. As I went to bed, I thought about how I would win my heart's desire and penetrate the Female Mystery Place. More romance and foreplay were obviously required. 

Tuesday would be the Full Moon. There was plenty of time for poetry, flowers and candlelight. I had high hopes, which is never a good thing on retreat, but I was in love, so please “look upon me with eyes of compassion.”

Love to All,

John O.


  1. What a tease... I don't know how Diotima puts up with you. Can you get to the Secret Female Place soon, or are you keeping us in suspense intentionally? Seriously, I live vicariously through inspirational humans like yourself, don't leave me hanging, blowin' in the wind!

  2. Maybe I never got there. Maybe I lied or don't know what I am talking about. We'll have to find out. I won't be the judge of that. Probably neither will you. And SHE is not talking to me anymore, which may be evidence to the affirmative, if you think about it, or it could be a sign that I never made it.

    Anyway, first I need to light the Candles of Death, pluck the Flowers of Hopelessness, gaze at the Full Moon of Mind, and lose it completely.

    All things come to those who wait. (And they ain't always good things, as you well know.)


    John O.

  3. Patience, patience... I will wait if I must. I'm used to it, but I don't have to like it.
    By the way, I am the judge, jury and executioner in most cases (more often than not I'm even the accused).

    With much fondness,