Enlightenment, for Mahayana Buddhists, can happen to anyone at anytime. Right practice encourages and nurtures enlightenment, but it can, in principle, strike like grace, for no apparent reason.
A kind of enlightenment struck Martin at 3:14 PM on a Monday.
His mind had drifted from the memo he was writing and, as his fingers pitter pattered across his keyboard, he came to reflect on the course and culmination of his life. Well-educated, well-employed, and well-housed, at the age of thirty-seven, Martin had no dependants, no girlfriend, and no family. He had an impeccable credit rating.
He was free, totally free. Everything was permitted.
Before he sold his condo, Martin opened as many lines of credit as he could. When asked why he needed the credit, he said it was time to upgrade to the comfort of a house and to get a car more suited to his lifestyle. Every customer service representative he spoke to agreed that more credit was exactly what he needed. Then, Martin moved on to collecting credit cards.
When the customer service representatives finally declined his requests for more credit and the rejection letters from the credit card companies finally arrived, he counted his cash and credit. He was now, given a short enough time frame, very very rich. Everything was permitted.
In Las Vegas, he met Gemma. She was cruising for clients, when he first saw her from behind, on one of the pedestrian bridges that funneled people up and over the wide thoroughfares of the strip, protecting the cars from the distractions of ambulatory flesh. He knew in an instant she was a working girl, by the call of her gait, the long straight seam of her stockings, and the saunter in her high heels. His intuition was proven correct, when she caught his eye and smiled warmly.
He invited her to the Celine Dion concert. Later, in between the lines of cocaine, the blow jobs, and the anal sex, he explained his enlightenment to her.
“All life is lived in the moment and memory of now. It makes no difference, if I die now or thirty years from now. From the perspective of eternity, it’s all the same. The only thing that matters is the only moment of now, in which we always live, until we live nothing at all. Taking the invented money of the big banks harms no one, so I’m going to use their illusion of wealth to squeeze as much experience out of one final moment of now. I am free. Gloriously, free!”
Gemma fell in love with him, of course. It was his fantasy, and he pushed enough money and coke her way to warrant the playacting. She was a pro. She knew what he wanted, without asking, sometimes even before he knew he wanted it. He appreciated her work, without calling attention to it.
From city to city, Martin travelled. If he was patient, he could always find a Gemma wherever he went. Within the certain boundaries of the cash-nexus, Martin found an egoless intimacy that struck true to his being, in a way that the barter economy of his petty romances never had. In many ways, each Gemma was every Gemma and every Gemma was he.
When he had set out on this adventure of now, Martin had imagined that he would travel the world. Once the adventure was underway, however, he could not bring himself to leave these United States of America. The spirit of the land aligned too closely with his own gay mission.
Here was an entire nation, an entire people, collectively using all that they could take, as quickly as they could take it, for one short moment in history, in the vain hope that salvation of one kind or another lay at the end of the orgy of consumption. America, like Martin, would be a short, bright flare in the darkness of eternity. Martin, unlike America, understood that once his light burnt out, the music would indeed be over.
He spent the cash first. Then, he used his lines of credit to auto pay the minimum payments of his credit cards. Eventually, one by one, the credit cards stopped working. Before the tap of credit was turned off, he purchased a comfortable dinghy and a lethal dose of high-quality heroin. He cooked his first and final hit on a broad beach west of Portland. Then, he rowed out past the breakers.
Martin had decided at the beginning of his adventure that he would leave the world in one moment of perfect bliss. If all life is lived in the moment and memory of now and if his final moment of life is one of perfect bliss, then, from the perspective of eternity, he reasoned, his life will have been a life of perfect bliss. The logic of it made him shiver.
Martin removed all of his clothing, flinging it into the sea. Then, he tossed the oars as far as he could. He lay back, a tourniquet tightly wound around his left arm, and found a vein with the needle, piercing his skin. He lifted his eyes to the moon.
Everything had been leading to this moment. Everything was and always had been this moment. With one swift movement, there would be only bliss and, then, nothing at all. He knew he could do it. All it would take is one gentle push.
Martin focussed his attention and imagined the blissful disappearance of his whole identity. The sea air was fresh and his skin tingled. Then, a shudder of joy rolled through his spine, filling every ounce of his being, and it seemed to gush out of the top of his head, his fingers, and his toes.
When the first rush of feeling subsided, Martin sighed deeply. A unfamiliar but welcoming calmness overcame him. Yes, Martin could do it, but he didn’t want to do it. At the precipice of a faceless eternity, confronting and knowing truly for the first time the absurdity of existence, he decided to live. He wanted to live.
He threw the needle and its heroin into the sea, removed the tourniquet from his arm, and smiled at the moon, the oh so beautiful moon. He loved it, too. He loved everything.