The captain removes a jam jar of thick syrup of ginseng tea from his mini-fridge. It is incredibly bitter, but he goes on to explain, demonstrating in his chair the cross-legged posture of meditation, how this ginseng tea can lead one to enlightenment. He is wearing toe-socks. It is something about the strength of the flavor that you can concentrate on it, think only the one thought that is the ginseng tea and with your mind so focused on only one thought –bitter ginseng– he makes a hand motion like his brains exploding out of a hole in the top of his head. He draws the Chinese characters for me, that I think mean meditation, but can be broken down into ‘seeing only one thing.’
This ginseng supposedly comes from a part of China just north of Korea, that is ethnically Korean, and that the Chinese allow to govern itself. He says something, through translation, about how that would not be allowed in America –for Koreatown in LA to be self-governing. I check my annoyance with the “one-racist” implications of the idea that it should, and say only, “no, it certainly wouldn’t.” And I’m certainly skeptical that China, with all its effort to eradicate Tibetan claims to sovereignty, and threats to engage in nuclear conflict if the US backs Taiwanese independence, would allow some ethnically Korean province to govern outside the purview of the Party.
I am so skeptical of this education that I get over coffee/ginseng tea time.
The captain gets out a battered and pasted together folder of Edward Conze’s translation of the Diamond Sutra with the original Chinese on opposing pages. Apparently when he was a high school teacher, the captain made his students read this. Poor things. He indicates the Chinese for “Thus I have heard at one time,” the phrase with which all sutras revealed through the Buddha’s disciple Ananda begin.
For the sake of taking some active role in the conversation I disagree that Descartes and Buddha share philosophies of mind, even though I would much rather smile and nod and be dismissed to go back up to my desk and play Scrabble on the internet. But I do think that the principle of anatman is at odds with “Cogito ergo sum.”
Not that anything productive comes of this. What I really want to say is ‘just give me a reading list, Captain.’ Or stick to topics of conversation that you yourself can manage in English.