"That just about does it, don't it?
And that'll just about do it, won't it?"
I live in the neighborhood of South Jambudvipa's contemporary Desert Floristic Province that people have agreed to call the Mojave; although, there is some confusion about what constitutes (1) a desert, and (2) where the Mojave Desert begins and ends.
Since my purpose in life is to harness confusion, I guess we'll stroll out in the corral, and find out who will stand still long enough to take a saddle.
Just as Jambudvipa is defined by the rose-apple tree, Eugenia jambolana -- or, properly speaking, the sound (jambu!) that the fruit makes when it splashes into water to be consumed by nagas-- and, in a not altogether dissimilar way, just as the Buddhas are each said to reach enlightenment beneath a particular kind of tree -- so, too, is the Mojave Desert defined by a tree: Yucca brevifolia, or the Joshua Tree.
If you are outside, and you see a Joshua Tree, then you are in the Mojave Desert. That is a picture of one, above, just so you can familiarize yourself with what you might see if you come around these parts.
So, if the Mojave is a desert defined, or at the very least delimited, by the Joshua Tree, what then defines a desert?
Suppose we go to the textbook, and see what it has to say?
"In spite of the frequency with which the term is applied," says Dr. Thomas T. Warner's Desert Meteorology (Cambridge, 2004), "there is no universally accepted common or technical definition of 'desert.' It is perhaps one of the oldest written words (El Baz 1983), having come to us from an Egyptian hieroglyph pronounced Tesert, and through the Latin words desero -- to abandon, desertum -- a waste place or wilderness, and desertus -- abandoned, relinquished or forsaken."
Well, now... there's a provocative analogy if ever I heard one.Those of us who live in deserts don't call them "deserts" per se; rather, we call them "arid lands," and one handy definition of an arid land is where, due to evapotranspiration and a basic scarcity of precipitation, you lose more water than you gain. Like Dr. Warner says, "...if you place a bucket outside on the ground and it never fills up, you are in a desert."
"Those receiving teachings should avoid six mistakes:
listening too soon, like a clay pot that has not been fired;
not paying attention to what is said, like a cup turned upside down;
not memorizing what is heard, like a leaky vessel;
tainting the teachings with negative emotional bias, like a pot lined with poison;
not following the spiritual path, like a contaminated container;
and taking pride in knowing just the words, like a broken vase.
Avoid any mistakes like these and listen to the teachings carefully, with undivided attention."
Maybe you have a sure-enough bucket, but you fill it only long enough to slake your immediate thirst, and that is that.
Maybe you leave it out a little longer, but on the way to put it somewhere, most of what you have collected spills out through careless handling.
Maybe you take what you collect in your sure-enough bucket, and go sell it someplace else.
Seems like a whole lot of that is going around.
Or maybe, just maybe, you fill that bucket so you can take it to everybody else and make certain they have cool water.
If you can come out to this place where it does not rain very much with a perfectly pristine, clean, and thoroughly empty bucket, and manage to abandon, relinquish, and forsake habitually thinking in terms of gain and loss, you will have accomplished something.
I expect you might even begin to see the Joshua Tree as a wish-fulfilling tree.
You will know what it means to be in South Jambudvipa, bathed in the blue reflected from Mt. Meru's southern face, in the place where nagas eat fallen rose-apples and shit gold that becomes a golden river.
I just tell you. Beneath the forsaken, there is a river of gold.
"Mojave" is a Native American name for a place near the Colorado River, on the eastern edge of this desert, where there are three pinnacles. So, "Mojave" is a Native American reference to a triad. If you want drag the Triple into this, then I guess you can. If you sit around long enough, you will find concordances everywhere, whether you want to or not. The clouds in the sky -- well, you can read them just like books. Those dust-devils out on the playa -- sure, you can invest them with personality.
I believe I already told you, one fine day, that even three ravens can make a door.
Nevertheless, here in the arid, three pinnacle resort of rabbits and ravens, delimited by a remarkable monocot that many scientists consider a giant lily -- liliaceae (some others disagree, calling it agave -- agavaceae -- a giant asparagus) a massive, prehistoric flower of considerable mystery -- one eventually wears out metaphor on the whetstone of experience.
One eventually stops seeing "concordances," and merely relaxes back into the "state of dharmata, clarity, and emptiness combined," the way moonlight relaxes into a vision of the fluttering moth upon whom the Joshua Tree depends for pollination.
When even this moth ceases to be a suffering sentient being, then do you imagine it will be time for us to turn out the moonlight and close the raven door?
The Joshua Tree is the indicator species of the Mojave Desert. It can live for centuries, with some specimens reckoned at over a thousand years old. As it goes, so goes its realm, so scientists invest effort in knowing its moods.
There are now more Joshua Trees on less ground. The concentration of the tree is growing, but the distribution of the tree is shrinking.
The older trees are dying off.
Earlier this year, I had some interest out at the Desert Queen Mine, so I went wandering through Joshua Tree National Park. Along the way, I encountered Ranger Mimi Gordon, seen in the photograph above, photographing what she feels to be the oldest Joshua Tree still standing -- estimated at some 400 years. She gave an impromptu lecture on the general state of the park's trees, noting that they were "circling the wagons," or disappearing around the edges, and increasing in density at the center of their distribution. A paradox, indeed, that the cause of this desert dweller's demise is being laid to climate change -- in result of global warming.
By the way -- about the best discussion I have yet to find of the vicissitudes facing the Joshua Tree is in David Darlington's The Mojave: A Portrait of the Definitive American Desert, which will please you whether deserts please you or not.
Thus it is, that thousand year old trees die, and so shall we ---
At first, when you are certain that you are going to die, you must cut all ties and attachment to this life. Confess from the depths of your heart any downfalls and breakages of samaya, harmful actions and so on. Devote not even so much as a single moment to feeling guilty about your own negative actions, fearing death, or being attached to this life. Instead, feel happiness and joy, and say to yourself: “Now I shall recognize the clear light at death. Or, if that is not possible, since I shall certainly use the bardo as an opportunity to travel to a pure realm such as Akanishtha, Zangdokpalri or Sukhavati, I shall be joyful.” Maintain, without ever letting it slip away, the strong intention and thought “I shall travel to the pure realms!”
Gently, in a relaxed way, as you settle into an experience of whichever practice is the clearest and most vivid for you, let go of the constituents of this life. Since you will be unable to practise any unfamiliar pith instructions, rely only on those practices which are clearest for you at the moment. These two points—settling into a practice in this way, and aspiring to travel to a pure land such as Zangdokpalri—are unsurpassable. In particular, it is absolutely crucial that you repeatedly form the intention to travel to the pure land of your choosing. It is exceptionally important to understand that even now, both day and night, you must never let go of this thought.---Patrul Rinpoche, A Brief Introduction to the Bardos
We land here in three pinnacles of blue; with the threshold of a bucket; watching moths make love to aging monocots in the moonlight; whilst sitting atop a river of gold; gradually bereft of metaphor; ground down by frequent wind and rare waters, waiting for the place we have agreed to call samsara to empty out of what we have decided to call suffering.
We all have the same thing to look forward to, but we spend our valuable time seducing each other, hollering at each other, thumping on each other, shooting at each other, lying about each other, and taking so many sides there are not any sides left to take.
When you are young, you have a lot of energy to chase those fractious ones around, wrassle a saddle on them, and then congratulate yourself for doing a good day's work. When you are older, you learn to settle into the corral, see who gets nosy, and then stand still so they walk right up to you. There really is no substitute for lived-through experience.
When you are older, people say you should take time for the flowers.
A big lily is what I have around here, so that is what I have to start and finish with.
If you don't make a wish on them, then how the hell do you know if they fulfill wishes or not?
Some say yippie-ki-yea; some say e ma ho.
Lha Bab Duchen, 2010. May it be auspicious.