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Seeking Nirvana - 1. Chapter 1

"If you seek it, you cannot find it."
-- Zen Proverb

The snow was falling lightly against the windshield of my mom's Toyota Land Cruiser as we made our way through the Adirondacks on a crisp, cold Sunday morning in late December. My parents were totally into New Age and alternative lifestyles, and for the past several years during Christmas vacation, unlike most kids who spent their time unwrapping presents, singing Christmas carols, and sipping on hot chocolate, I was on my way to a seven day sesshin, or Zen Buddhist meditation retreat, at a secluded monastery in upstate New York.

I wasn't complaining or anything. In fact, I liked being different, and spending seven days meditating, chanting Buddhist scriptures, and living an extremely Spartan lifestyle was actually a good way to relax and center myself, after spending the past several months living in the harsh, hypocritical, and superficial world of high school. Like my parents, I was pretty jaded when it came to the "system." I didn't understand all of the other kids my age who just seemed to act like little robots, all dressing the same and acting the same, and who would all end up spending four or more years in college, after which they'd get married, have 2.5 children, work a nine-to-five desk job, then retire and just wait to die. That's not the kind of life I wanted. I wanted something more meaningful. Perhaps that's part of what attracted me to studying Zen. Another thing that attracted me to Buddhism, I had to admit, was its relatively tolerant view of homosexuality.

Yeah, that's right -- I was one of those horrible gays that the ignorant rednecks and fundamentalist Christians were always blaming for all of the ills of society. I really didn't get that, since I didn't think I ever did anything bad. I didn't bring guns to school, didn't do drugs, didn't go around participating in wild sex orgies, or passing judgment on other people (usually). I just lived my own life, followed my own path, and let everyone else follow whatever course in life they chose.

I certainly wasn't a saint, though -- or should I say a Buddha? I could admit that I was a little pretentious and self-righteous. And I was plagued by the same angst, desires, and raging hormones of all teenage boys, and I didn't try to delude myself into thinking that I was above that because of my devotion to my practice. Although, I must admit, sometimes it did make me feel guilty. I thought that I should be free of those kinds of desires. Sexual desires, that is. I was perfectly okay with the gay part of it. At any rate, it's not like I fretted over it incessantly, but it was always there, lurking in the back of my mind. I suppose I was afraid that giving into my desires would just interfere with my spiritual journey.

I'd never had a boyfriend before. I don't think it was because I was that bad-looking. In fact, quite a few people had complimented me on how "cute" I was. I thought I was pretty average, though. I was about 5'9", a lean but toned build, dark brown hair that I usually wore in a crew cut (although not too short -- I wasn't ready to become a monk yet!), and deep brown eyes. I'd even met quite a few gay guys at my high school's GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance). I wasn't exactly "out," except to my parents (who were, as expected, totally cool about it), although I wouldn't deny it if asked. It's just that since I didn't really have any close friends, there was no one to ask me.

The problem was that I didn't seem to be able to relate to any of the gay guys I knew. I thought they were all arrogant and superficial, and they thought I was aloof and pretentious. I didn't fit into their world, but I was content enough with my goals in life that it didn't really bother me that much, although sometimes I certainly wished I had someone who I could share my life with, who could understand me and appreciate me for who I was.

Anyway, my parents first introduced me to meditation when I was about seven years old, and I took to it with gusto. When I was in middle school, I started reading books about Zen Buddhism, and continued practicing on my own. I also attended numerous meditation retreats during those years, which usually lasted from three to seven days. So, at age 15 (I would be 16 in a few more weeks -- yay me!), I'd been practicing Zen for about eight years. This particular annual winter retreat I had attended four times already, so I was quite familiar with the strict daily regimen. The only thing I didn't like about it was that I was usually one of the youngest attendees, as most of them were adults.

As the car pulled onto the dirt road that led to the monastery, I saw the familiar buildings in the distance. The entire complex consisted of a number of one-story wooden buildings, all constructed in the traditional Japanese architectural style. There were several buildings that served as dormitories for those who attended the meditation retreats, as well as for the several full-time monks who lived at the monastery and were responsible for its upkeep. There was also a dining hall and the main monastery building, which housed the large meditation room, a small library, and the master's room where the roshi (teacher) held dokusan, which were one-on-one meetings for individual instruction.

During the spring and summer, the sprawling Japanese-style gardens were beautiful, but in the dead of winter, as it was now, everything appeared stark and desolate. The only signs of life were the wisps of smoke curling up from the small chimney in the dining hall and the occasional glimpse of a monk walking between the buildings. The snow-covered property was scattered with pine trees, their strong scent filling the air; and the mountains that surrounded the retreat, cutting it off from the madness of the outside world, made for a truly majestic and breath-taking sight. Even without the flowers that would blossom in the gardens come springtime, this was a place that exuded peacefulness and tranquility.

As we pulled up in front of the main monastery building, I said goodbye to my mother, gathered my bags, and made my way into the main building to sign in. The monastery itself was very plain. Its varnished wooden floors were kept spotlessly clean, and it was mostly empty of furnishings or decoration, except for the small shrine at the far end of the room, which contained a statue of the Buddha, some candles, flowers, and incense. The scent of sandalwood was thick in the air.

The rest of the room was filled with meditation cushions arranged along the walls, where we would be spending most of our time, practicing sitting meditation. There was also a podium in front of the shrine where the roshi would deliver his morning and evening sermons. One wall was decorated with the ten famous "Ox Herding" paintings, which represented the ten stages one must go through from being completely ignorant to becoming completely enlightened -- namely, becoming a Buddha.

Many people mistake Buddhism as a religion, like Christianity or Judaism, but in reality, it is merely a philosophy, a vehicle for ending one's suffering and helping others to do the same. By training the mind and eventually attaining satori, or enlightenment, one can gain insight into their true nature and the nature of the universe. Traditional Buddhism frowns upon worshipping the Buddha as a god. In fact, he is just a revered teacher, one who found a way to end suffering and attain Nirvana, the state in which the consciousness no longer continues to be reborn over and over.

I wasn't sure if I believed in that whole rebirth thing, but even the Buddha said that whether or not you believed in that was not important. Besides freeing you from endless rebirths, enlightenment brings true happiness (not like the "ordinary unhappiness" that most people settle for day to day), complete inner peace and tranquility, limitless compassion, and an end to suffering. Who wouldn't want those things? A life without suffering is ... well, Nirvana.

The Buddha himself did not want to be worshipped, and stressed that an individual's freedom from suffering is up to them and only them. Also, teachers and scriptures are only tools that help guide the student along the path. But in the end, it is up to the individual to find their own way. I really liked this kind of self-sufficient philosophy. I didn't like deluding myself into believing that some heavenly being was going to swoop down and "save" me. I had always been a bit of a loner, and I preferred walking my path alone, occasionally seeking advice from my teacher, but usually learning through trial and error during hours of meditation practice.

As I walked up to the table to sign in, I noticed that one of my least favorite people was there. I knew that I shouldn't be judgmental, but in this case, I couldn't help it. Vic was one of the resident monks at the monastery, in his late-twenties, originally from Canada, and he was one of the most pretentious and phony people I'd ever met. He was so transparent. I never understood why Roshi Matsuda, our master, kept him around. He would always try to flirt with me, and when he thought I wasn't paying attention, I often caught him leering at me. I did not like being perved on by creepy old guys like him.

Once I finished signing in and getting my dorm assignment, I made my way back outside into the frigid morning air to find my dorm. Unfortunately, there was no heating in any of the buildings, and even the shower room in each dormitory had only cold water. Apparently, it was supposed to keep our minds alert after many hours of seated meditation. I still didn't like it, though. After all, I was a teenager, and enjoyed taking long, hot showers, which also gave me time for one of my favorite hobbies, jacking off.

The dorm rooms themselves reminded me that I would certainly be roughing it for the next seven days. There was absolutely no furniture, only two straw tatami mats that would serve as beds for me and my roommate, no pillow, and only a light blanket. Fortunately, having participated in this winter sesshin several times before, I had come prepared with several layers of clothes to wear underneath our required uniform, which was basically a thin, gray pajama-like outfit. I was wearing two pairs of warm thermal long underwear and two pairs of wool socks, and I had gloves and a wool cap to wear when I slept at night. That was probably the most important lesson I learned during my first sesshin.

I had gotten there early, so my roommate hadn't arrived yet. I was really hoping it wouldn't be like last year, when I got stuck with this weird middle-aged ex-hippie who kept trying to get me to go smoke pot with him out in the woods and discuss his latest trip to Neptune with his pet dinosaur, "Felix of Garamuth" (which apparently took place during a bad acid trip). Consuming alcohol or drugs was a definite no-no according to the five main Buddhist precepts. Since we had no formal activities until the evening, when we would listen to our first sermon from the roshi, and then spend several hours in seated meditation, I decided to relax on my mat for a while.

After about thirty minutes of much needed rest, I was feeling quite relaxed, when the creaky wooden door of my room opened, and I got my first look at my roommate for the next week -- and I was stunned. He looked to be about the same age as me, perhaps a little younger, and was one of the most beautiful boys I had ever seen. He was maybe an inch shorter than me, with a lean build, flawless complexion, and medium-length blond hair with bangs that hung down over his eyes. As he casually brushed his bangs away from his face, I was transfixed by the most beautiful, deep blue eyes I'd ever seen.

"Ummm ... uhhh ... hi ... I think you're my roommate," he stuttered, his voice containing a slight tinge of teenage rasp. Very sexy!

"Cool," I replied. "My name's Nicky."

"I'm Calvin," he said, refusing to meet my eyes and blushing severely. He was obviously very shy.

With just those few words spoken between us, I was nearly head-over-heels for this boy. But I had to try to control myself, because firstly, being in a Buddhist monastery was hardly the place to be having those kind of thoughts, and secondly, the odds that I would meet a boy who was cute, interested in the same things as I was, and gay, all in one package, were next to nil. Plus, even if my karma was that good, we'd only be together for a week anyway. So I wasn't about to get my hopes up.

"So ... ummm ... they told me at the registration desk that you've been to a few of these things. This is my first time, so I don't really know what I'm supposed to be doing," he said, blushing again.

"No problem, dude. I've got you covered," I said, trying to sound cool, but probably failing miserably.

"Thanks," he said, finally managing a small smile.

"So what're you doing here anyway?" I asked.

"My ... uhhh ... therapist thought it would be good for me," he said.

I wasn't about to ask him why he was seeing a therapist, or why said therapist thought he should come to a Zen meditation retreat. I mean, there were certainly much gentler forms of Buddhism. Zen was more like basic training in the military. But I'd just met the kid and those kinds of questions seemed a bit too personal for the time being. Although, I admit that I was definitely intrigued. I'd learned to read people pretty well over years of practicing, and I could see in his eyes that he had issues. It would be kind of cool to be his mentor for the week, and learn a little more about him.

We still had quite a while until the evening sermon, so I told him to change into his uniform, and offered to give him a tour of the monastery and teach him some of the basics. He didn't say anything, just nodded in reply. As he started slowly stripping off his clothes, I noticed how perfect he looked, especially the way his briefs hugged his small hips, and his cute little bubble butt. I had to will myself to keep my desire under control. I was supposed to be learning how to control my desires, not bone up at the first piece of eye candy I saw. As he unpacked his things, I noticed that he didn't have any long underwear or warmer clothes to wear underneath his uniform. He was definitely going to freeze his cute little butt off over the next week!

Over the next few hours, I led him on a walk around the grounds, showed him where the showers and dining hall were, and then took him to the main monastery. There I taught him how to properly make prostrations in front of the Buddha, the rules of etiquette when meeting with the roshi, and the basics of meditation, such as the correct sitting positions (either seiza, the traditional Japanese kneeling position, or the cross-legged lotus position), proper posture, counting your breaths to slow down the mind, and some of the basic principles and aims of Zen. He listened intently the entire time, which made me feel even better.

He seemed a little overwhelmed by all of the information I was feeding him, but I assured him that he could ask me questions anytime, except for during meditation periods and meal time, when we had to remain totally silent. I didn't think he'd have any problem with the silent part, because he'd barely said anything since we started our little tour.

I also taught him to read romaji, which is the romanized spelling of Japanese, which we needed to know for reciting the scriptures. Although we had English translations, too, we did all of our chanting in Japanese. He seemed to get that part down without much trouble, though, and I even tried to impress him with my poor pidgin Japanese skills. At least my Japanese was better than that asswipe, Vic's, who should've spoken better Japanese since he was a resident here full-time. His Japanese totally sucked, although he acted like he was an expert. I hated when he acted all pompous and tried speaking Japanese with me. It irked me when he called me "Nicholas-san." I didn't let anyone call me by my full name -- even the roshi called me "Nicky."

After our typical evening meal of steamed rice, pickled vegetables, and green tea, we made our way to the main monastery for the first sermon and meditation session of the seven-day retreat. This time, there were about fifty people in attendance, including the four resident monks, and Calvin and I were the only kids there. So naturally, we sat next to each other.

The formal session began with the ringing of a large bell, as one of the monks led the entire group in the chanting of the "Heart Sutra," one of the most important scriptures for Zen Buddhists. The deep, monotone chanting of the group, combined with the sonorous chiming of the bell and rhythmic beating of a drum, was a deeply spiritual experience in and of itself. Even though the words were spoken in Japanese, the overall effect was both calming and inspiring, sending me into an almost trance-like state.

Calvin and I were both seated in the cross-legged lotus position, which was much less painful. Trying to kneel for hours on end was not a pleasant experience. Even sitting in the lotus posture for an extended period of time would make your legs ache terribly. After we finished our chanting and went through the traditional rituals and ceremonies of the sesshin, including several prostrations toward the Buddha shrine, Roshi Matsuda came to the podium where he welcomed us in his heavily accented English. He proceeded to give a basic sermon on the most important precepts of Buddhist philosophy -- namely, the truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path, the way in which we could extract ourselves from suffering and the endless cycle of rebirths.

"Whether or not you believe in literal reincarnation is unimportant," he stated emphatically. "If we look at our own lives, we are experiencing little deaths and rebirths every day, from moment to moment. Just as you can never step into the same stream twice, as the water is constantly flowing and changing, so too are you never the same individual from moment to moment. Therefore, there is no discernable, unchanging 'Self.' There is no 'I' or 'me.' There is only emptiness. What Buddhists refer to as 'emptiness' is not 'nothing-ness.' Its meaning cannot be explained through mere words. So it is through meditation, wrestling with your own mind, your deepest, darkest fears and insecurities about life and death, that you will come to learn of this 'emptiness' intuitively, and not through rational thought."

His words had always had a profound effect on me, and this time was no different, even if I sometimes wasn't exactly sure what he was talking about.

The roshi was in his late seventies but didn't appear much older than his mid-fifties. He was short, with a bald head, a quick wit, and a magical sparkle in his eyes that could make you relax completely with just one glance. Just being in his presence was an awe-inspiring experience, although he was also one of the most humble people I had ever met. He was harsh as a teacher, but at the same time, he was infinitely compassionate. I saw his strictness as simply another form of compassion, because I knew that he drove us hard because he wanted to help us escape the "ordinary unhappiness" of our mundane lives and find something even greater -- true happiness. Even after years of practice, however, that was not something I was sure that I was capable of.

Roshi Matsuda came from an old Japanese aristocratic heritage, his family being of the samurai class in old Japan. Of course, as anyone who saw the movie The Last Samurai would know, the samurai class was abolished after the Meiji Restoration at the end of the 19th century, but many of their traditions continued to be handed down within the families. So besides being a Zen priest, Roshi Matsuda was also a master of iaijutsu (the art of drawing the sword -- yes, there was an entire martial art devoted just to the proper technique of drawing a sword!), archery, calligraphy, poetry, and the tea ceremony. The various arts that he had mastered reflected the kind of balance he had achieved in his own life, between the physical and the spiritual.

In his sermon that first night, he also stressed the importance of satori (awakening), and how we could not waste any time in realizing our true nature, that we were all inherently Buddhas, just waiting to wake up from our ignorance. He emphasized that satori was the be all and end all of Buddhism, and if that's not what we were pushing ourselves for, then we were wasting our time. He was of the school of thought that enlightenment was sudden, rather than gradual, and he would push each of us hard to have a satori experience during these seven days. That was easier said than done, though, and in my nearly ten years of practicing, I had yet to experience it. The roshi then instructed us that our first meditation session this evening would be spent focusing on counting our breaths, concentrating on each inhalation and exhalation.

After giving us our instructions, the roshi retired to his quarters, leaving one of the senior Japanese monks in charge of monitoring our progress. Usually, when he noticed that our posture was incorrect, we were starting to fall asleep, or we weren't focusing properly, we would receive a sharp whack from the kyosaku, a bamboo stick. It was painful, but meant both to correct our mistakes and shock the mind into awakening. Fortunately, on that first evening, he gently corrected our posture and individually gave us some simple instructions and advice. I felt kind of bad knowing that it wouldn't be so easy over the next week, and hoped that poor Calvin wouldn't end up on the receiving end of a beating with the dreaded stick. I would have to remind myself to explain that to him.

The session that evening only lasted for two hours, as it was considered to be just a warm-up for things to come. My legs hadn't started to ache yet, but I could tell that Calvin was having a little trouble walking, as he obviously wasn't used to sitting in that position for so long without moving. We finished up with about fifteen minutes of walking meditation to get our circulation moving again and were then sent off to shower and go to bed, as we were expected to be up at five-thirty the following morning. After receiving our instructions, we made our obeisances to the Buddha, and made our way out of the main monastery.

I was actually thankful for the freezing cold water of the showers that evening, which helped to keep my erection under control, which was difficult since I had to stand right next to a naked Calvin. He was even more beautiful naked than I could have imagined. His pale white butt was perfectly shaped, pert and rounded, and his average-sized cock hung limply between his legs. I also noticed that he was uncut, which was something new for me. I made sure to memorize every inch of his beautiful body in my mind, as I was sure it would be the center of many jack-off fantasies once I was back home. Here at the monastery, however, I would have to abstain from that, unfortunately.

After lying in bed, or rather on our hard tatami mats, for only ten minutes, I was not surprised to hear Calvin's teeth chattering loudly. As expected, it was freezing cold, and he had obviously not come prepared for that. I figured that I should invite him to come share my mat and blanket with me, not out of any perverse desire to sleep with him (although I admit that the thought had crossed my mind), but with his teeth chattering all night, I wouldn't be able to get to sleep, and we had an early day tomorrow. Plus I was cold, too, and the body heat would definitely keep us warm.

"Calvin, get your little butt over here," I whispered.

"Why?" he asked, sounding slightly stand-offish.

"Dude, you're obviously freezing your balls off over there, and your chattering teeth are gonna keep me awake all night," I replied.

"I'm fine," he insisted.

"Well, I'm not," I retorted. "So get over it, and get your butt over here. Remember, I'm the one who's supposed to be looking out for you."

He sighed deeply. "Fine."

He crawled over to my mat, and I held up the blanket so he could crawl in beside me. I also pulled off one of my two pairs of wool socks to give him, and I could tell that he was grateful. As soon as we were settled down, I spooned up behind him and wrapped my arms tightly around him. At first, his whole body tensed up, and I thought that he was going to have a conniption fit, but eventually I felt him let out a deep breath and relax. This was actually the first time I'd ever held another boy, and it felt amazing. Even though he was probably straight (all the cute ones were!), I could still enjoy the wonderful feelings of holding him in my arms.

Just as I was about to fall asleep, I felt his body trembling ever so slightly, and heard a soft whimpering sound. Although I would feel guilty about it later, my first thought was one of annoyance, thinking that this was probably his first time away from home, he missed his mommy, and he was causing me to lose some precious sleep. But then I remembered that a big part of this whole Buddhist thing was to learn compassion.

"Calvin, what's wrong?" I whispered into his ear.

"I can't do this," he whimpered.

"What can't you do?" I asked, honestly confused. "The retreat is hard work, but I'm sure you can do it, and you'll feel a lot better at the end. It's really worth it."

"It's not that," he sighed. "I came here hoping that I could train my mind to not have these thoughts, these feelings."

"What kind of thoughts and feelings?" I asked, trying to sound as gentle and comforting as possible.

"The way you're holding me ... I like it ... it makes me ... uhhh ... excited ... but you're a boy!" he admitted, sounding totally defeated.

"So what? I like it too," I said, gently pulling him closer.

"You mean ... like ... uhhh ... you're ... you know ... gay?" he asked. He made it sound as if it was some kind of crime or something. Sheesh!

"Well, duh!" I quipped. "I'm as gay as a three dollar bill."


"Never mind," I sighed.

"But I can't be gay!" he practically moaned. "I just want to be normal."

By this point, he sounded like he was on the verge of tears. It was time for some quick and decisive action.

"You're wrong," I stated with conviction. "It's just like how the roshi said that enlightenment and perfection, what he calls our 'Buddha-nature,' is our original nature. Being gay is the same thing. It's our original nature. It's who we are and we just have to accept that and embrace it. Just like right now. Does this feel wrong, lying here together like this?"

"No, it feels incredible," he admitted.

"Then how could it be wrong?" I pressed him. "It feels absolutely normal and natural to me."

"Maybe you're right," he said softly.

"I know I'm right," I said, giving his nipple a gentle twist, and causing him to giggle.


The next day, we settled into what would become our normal routine for the week. We awoke right before sunrise, then all congregated in the dining hall for a breakfast of rice gruel and tea. At six-thirty a.m., we took our places on our meditation mats in the main monastery for chanting, a short sermon from the roshi (the morning sermons were usually on Buddhist doctrine or a specific point in one of the scriptures, known as teisho, while the evening sermons focused on broader topics such as compassion, the nature of the mind, or suffering), and finally, four hours of sitting meditation. During periods of meditation, individual students would be called in for dokusan, one-on-one meetings with the roshi to receive personal instruction.

My meeting with the roshi that first morning was very brief. He told me that I would continue counting my breaths during meditation, and that I would also be assigned a koan, which was basically a kind of Zen riddle. Koans had no rational answer. Their purpose was to force the mind to break free from conditioned thinking, taking away the crutch of our intellect and knowledge, so we would have to rely only on our intuition to guide us.

The roshi once compared koan training to taking a blind man's walking stick away, spinning him around, pushing him to the ground, and then forcing him to find his way on his own. The process of trying to solve a koan was supposed to create such a frustrating inner struggle, often leading to a maddening despair as the mind did battle with itself, that it would often lead one to sudden insight. That morning I was told to meditate on the question "What was your face before your parents were born?" With a quick ring of his bell, I was dismissed to ponder this problem. At the time, I just didn't realize how much anguish this question would end up causing me over the next few days.

We broke for lunch at noon, which again consisted simply of steamed rice, pickled vegetables, and green tea. During the retreat, the afternoons were spent either doing work around the monastery, such as shoveling snow, cleaning, or other upkeep around the grounds, or taking advantage of "free time," where we were encouraged to meditate on our own, walk around the grounds of the monastery in quiet reflection, or practice other skills such as martial arts, calligraphy, or writing poetry.

That afternoon, I chose to walk around the grounds with Calvin, discussing all kinds of topics, from our personal lives and school, our likes and dislikes, to things the roshi had mentioned and our experiences so far during meditation. I found out that he was a bit of a loner like me, and we shared very similar views on most things. But we were still both just teenagers and liked to do the normal things that teenagers do. We both liked to play tennis, go swimming, read science-fiction and fantasy novels, as well as camping and fishing.

I really enjoyed spending that time alone with Calvin, learning about him as a person rather than just a cute face (and butt). The more we talked, the more I came to really like him, as in more than just 'friends.' Unfortunately, just because he was gay, too, didn't mean that he would like me in that way, and I didn't have the balls to bring up that topic. I figured I would just have to settle for being friends with him. Plus, we would only be here for a week anyway. That was hardly enough time to build a relationship or anything.

That evening began with another meal of steamed rice, pickled vegetables, and tea, followed by chanting, another sermon, and several more hours of sitting meditation in the main monastery. Our evenings ended at nine-thirty, and we were encouraged to get to sleep early, although if we felt particularly driven, we were permitted to stay up and meditate all night if we wanted to. Needless to say, I didn't want to. I was dead tired, and from the look on Calvin's face when he hobbled into the room after sitting in the same position for hours on end, he was beat, too, although he admitted that part of him liked the challenge.

We didn't say a word to each other as we showered and got ready for bed, but he crawled right under my blanket with me, just like the night before, without any prompting, and cuddled up close. We were both so tired from our first day that we immediately fell asleep.

The next two days passed much the same as the first day, as we were kept to a fairly strict regimen. Calvin and I continued taking walks together around the beautiful grounds of the monastery during the afternoon, and even went on a hike in the woods. As we talked, he became more and more animated. It was a pleasant change from the shy, quiet boy who I met on the first day. Interestingly enough, though, the topic of being gay rarely came up, and we just enjoyed each other's company as "normal boys." However, each night we still slept curled up together on my tatami mat, though nothing happened beyond cuddling. Even if he had the desire to do so, we were both so tired, it probably wouldn't have happened anyway.

Since Calvin was still very much a beginner when it came to meditation, he hadn't been assigned any special training other than counting his breaths, while I continued to wrestle with the koan that the roshi had given me. It became increasingly frustrating, and the seemingly unanswerable question kept floating around my mind, night and day. I had come up with several possible answers, but each time I told the roshi during dokusan, he quickly told me I was wrong and to go continue meditating. I had to admit, I was getting a little miffed at the situation, because the question just didn't make any sense. How could I have a face even before my parents were born? That was just ridiculous.

Calvin was no help either, and I think he was glad that he didn't have a similar problem to deal with. But I couldn't give up, or else I would not only disappoint the roshi, but more importantly, I would disappoint myself. Despite the headaches it was giving me, each time I sat down to meditate, eat, shower, sleep, or even take a dump, I was determined to figure out the answer to that fucking riddle, even if it killed me!

By Thursday, I was in a foul mood. My inability to crack that riddle had finally come to a boiling point, and I wasn't sure if I could go on anymore. For me, coming to a sesshin was a chance to re-balance myself and find a little peace and tranquility. It was my escape from the inane and hypocritical world I lived in. However, I'd never felt more unbalanced and than I had the past couple of days. Not even Calvin's sweet smile in the morning could break me out of my bad mood, and when I got smacked with the bamboo stick that morning during meditation practice by Keiichiro-san, the Japanese monk, I nearly grabbed that damn stick out of his hand and beat him like a red-headed step-child (except that his hair was black). I was pissed!

I'd practiced hard for eight friggin' years, spending at least thirty minutes nearly every day practicing, reading every book on Zen I could get my hands on, and attending almost every retreat I could go to. I had felt peaceful, content, and very confident in my progress. And now, I felt like the past eight years had been one big fucking waste of time! As I sat there stewing, I swore to myself that this was the last sesshin that I would ever come to, even if Calvin would be coming back. I'd rather maintain some degree of sanity than have to torture myself like this. Being around Calvin, who I was falling hopelessly for, made things even more stressful.

What was I doing wrong?

I tried expressing my frustration and despair to the roshi during dokusan that morning, but he just brushed me off, telling me that he didn't have time to listen to my complaining. He was supposed to be my teacher, and he wasn't doing a damn thing to help me! Part of me contemplated going into the small martial arts dojo, grabbing one of the small tanto blades, and committing ritual suicide. They always said in the samurai movies that that was an honorable way to die.

Right after lunch, things got even worse. Apparently, my cranky mood had gotten to Calvin, so after we ate, instead of waiting for me to go take our usual afternoon walk, he walked out of the dining hall with none other than Vic! I almost lost it right there. The boy I was smitten with was walking off with my archnemesis, the person who at that moment I hated more than anything in the world. The smug look Vic had on his face right then, and the thought that the boy I wanted could end up in his clutches, making out with him somewhere, made me want to chase after him with a katana (samurai sword) and chop his arrogant, self-righteous, perverted little head off.

But I was a wuss. So instead of becoming "Super Samurai Warrior Nicky," I just left the dining room by myself and wandered around alone, cursing everything I could think of. I had loved Zen so much, and now I hated it. Not just hated it, but I wanted to pour kerosene all over the monastery, light that bitch on fire, watch it burn to the ground, and then run down the road naked, screaming like a lunatic.

Yes, I was that messed up. And even in my state of near insanity, that fucking riddle was still swimming around in my head. I couldn't get away from it! It was like a bad case of herpes -- not that I really knew anything about herpes, except that it was bad, but it seemed like a good analogy at the time.

After wandering around aimlessly for about a half hour, I found myself in front of the dormitory furthest from the rest of the buildings. As I started turning to go back, deciding I could use a nap, I heard the sound of crying coming from behind the building. At first, I figured I would just ignore it and head back. I was hardly in the mood to be comforting someone if they were upset. I was already in a bad enough mood as it was. But after years of believing that compassion was our greatest gift, and being a little curious, I walked around to the back of the dormitory to take a peek.

And there I saw Calvin ... and Vic.

My worst nightmare was coming true.

Why was this happening to me?!

But then I noticed that Vic was grasping Calvin by the hair, violently forcing him to his knees, and with his other hand, was trying to take off his own pants, while Calvin was bawling his eyes out and pleading for Vic to let him go.


That sonofabitch was going to make my Calvin suck his dick!

I stood there in stunned silence. Neither of them had seen me yet. I had never seen such a look of total fear and helplessness before as I did in Calvin's eyes at that moment. I wanted to rush right over there and beat the living crap out of Vic to save Calvin. This was my chance to be a hero, to really help someone, and maybe redeem myself in Calvin's eyes after being such an ass that morning.

But I couldn't move. I couldn't think straight. I was frozen to that spot, and could do nothing but watch in horror at what Vic was about to do to Calvin.

I tried to scream for help, but found that no sound would come out of my mouth. I'd never been so afraid in my life.

What was your face before your parents were born?

Dammit! This was no time for that damn riddle to keep popping into my head! Calvin needed me and I couldn't do anything!

Before I even realized what was happening, I saw a figure appear out of nowhere like some kind of phantom, and I instantly recognized it as Roshi Matsuda. In one swift movement, accompanied by an ear-piercing shout, he descended upon Vic with the grace and stealth of a cat pouncing on its prey, simultaneously unsheathing his katana and making a powerful, arching strike toward Vic's neck, the blade stopping mere millimeters from hitting its target.

I'd never seen anyone move so quickly, let alone a seventy year old man! And the way he moved ... it could only be described as art in motion, the perfect coordination of mind and body. The roshi truly was samurai.

As soon as Vic realized that the katana blade was poised to lop off his head, and saw the cold, emotionless stare of the roshi, he immediately let go of Calvin, letting him drop to the ground, while a visible wet spot quickly emerged at the front of his partially undone pants. The scumbag had pissed himself!

"You, go now!" Roshi Matsuda said to Vic in a commanding tone, and Vic immediately took off running, stumbling several times as he made his way to the dirt road that led away from the monastery.

The roshi then looked over at me. I hadn't realized that anyone had noticed I was standing there, still in shock and completely overwhelmed at what had just transpired.

"Nicky-san, you take Calvin-san and get him cleaned up," he said in a calm voice, his eyes once again sparkling with that familiar look of deep compassion.

"Hai, roshi. Mondai ga arimasen," I replied in Japanese, trying my best to maintain my composure.


Not a word was said between us as I took Calvin back to the dorm, got him a new uniform to put on, and settled him down onto his tatami mat to rest. I didn't know what to say to him. I was ashamed at myself for doing nothing back there to save him. If it hadn't been for Roshi Matsuda's perfect timing, I couldn't even begin to imagine what might have happened. If I felt ashamed, though, I couldn't begin to wonder what Calvin must have been thinking or feeling. He probably hated me for abandoning him. I also wondered why the roshi had let Vic go instead of calling the police or something. But I also knew that Roshi Matsuda had his reasons, and I had learned many times over to trust his judgment.

There were still a couple of hours until the evening sermon and meditation session, but I didn't feel comfortable sitting there with Calvin. So I decided that I would go to the main monastery and meditate, hopeful that the Buddha would be able to guide me. I couldn't just walk out on Calvin, but I didn't know what I should say to him either. Rather than trying to come up with words that would probably just fall flat, I gently brushed the hair away from his face and placed a soft kiss on his forehead. I couldn't read the look he gave me, but it wasn't one of anger or betrayal, and that at least gave me a faint glimmer of hope.

As I walked into the main monastery, it was dark, except for the flickering candlelight coming from the Buddhist shrine, and the scent of incense was heavy in the air. I was relieved to find that no one else was there yet. I picked up one of the meditation mats from the side of the room and walked up to the shrine, placing the mat down in front of it. I knelt down in the traditional seiza position and made three bows to the image of the Buddha. I then positioned my hands in front of my navel, mimicking the position of the Buddha, and closed my eyes, taking several deep breaths before beginning my meditation. I didn't know what I was searching for, nor what kind of answer I could expect, if any.

Unfortunately, I received no answer, just that stupid riddle bouncing around in my already frazzled mind.

By the time I heard the dinner bell ring about an hour later, I hadn't gotten any kind of answer to my frustration or confusion. When I got to the dining hall, I noticed that Calvin wasn't there, and my worry immediately returned. Should I go see him? Would he want to see me? How could I possibly comfort him? In the end, my stomach won out, and I stayed for our usual fare of rice and pickled vegetables.

When I arrived back at the main monastery for the evening's sermon and meditation practice, I was relieved to see that Calvin had showed up, although his face was deathly pale, his eyes were watery, and he was trembling slightly. I thought I should say something to him, or at least give him some sign that I cared, but the bell rang to announce the beginning of the session before I had the chance. As usual, the chanting and the roshi's sermon on the need for what he called more "secular spirituality" in today's society helped me to relax somewhat, but I still couldn't help worrying about Calvin, as well as my own mental state over the past few days. The sublime peace that I'd always felt when I was here certainly wasn't there anymore, and I was considering giving up the whole Zen Buddhist thing altogether.

As we all settled in to begin our marathon meditation session, the roshi immediately called Calvin in for dokusan. That wasn't particularly strange, except that the roshi usually held dokusan during the morning sessions. The expression on Calvin's face as he made his way to where the roshi was waiting for him looked like someone walking to his own execution.

I was so worried about Calvin while he was in there that I couldn't focus, earning me several whacks with the bamboo stick. I didn't care, though. Part of me felt like I deserved the beating, not because I wasn't focusing, but because I had let Calvin down.

After about thirty minutes, Calvin walked out of the roshi's room, and his entire demeanor had changed. The color had returned to his face, the life coming back into his eyes, and he walked with much more confidence. I should have trusted that Roshi Matsuda would know how to help him. But I still felt like I should have been the one to help him. He had trusted me, and I let him down. At least he seemed better now, and I could try and get through the next couple hours of meditation, I thought.

As soon as I started, though, temporarily relieved of the burden of Calvin's suffering, my own inner conflict came flooding back, tormenting me, frustrating me, driving me yet again to the edge of total despair. So much had happened during the past week. I had thought that I was on the right path. I thought I was making progress. I thought I was close to having some sort of great insight, and now I felt like I had been heading in the wrong direction the whole time. The roshi had once told me that feeling as though you had fallen off your path was actually still part of the path. I really hated it when he spoke in riddles.

And then there it was again.

What was your face before your parents were born?

What in the hell did that mean anyway?! Why did the roshi give me an unsolvable puzzle to torture me with? How was this supposed to help me?

I felt myself starting to crack apart. I wasn't even sixteen years old yet, and I felt like I was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown, all because of a stupid riddle and a boy I had just met. I couldn't do this. I couldn't focus.

Before I realized it, the bell rang, announcing the end of the evening's session. I was dreading having to be alone with Calvin in our room, afraid that I would be forced to talk with him, terrified of what he would say to me, what he would think of me. Would he be able to tell that I was totally breaking down? Would he think I'm a nutcase? Would he blame me for what happened? What if he wanted to sleep next to me again? Could I handle that? I wanted to hold him, kiss him, love him ... but I couldn't. I was too afraid.

As soon as I finished taking my icy cold shower, I got dressed and crawled under my blanket, curling up into a little ball, and hoping that Calvin wouldn't push me. I wanted him to sleep on his own mat. His being close to me would just torture me even more. Unfortunately, I felt the blanket lift up slightly as he crawled in next to me. Usually, it was me who wrapped my arms around him, but this time, it was Calvin who held on to me. He didn't say a word, just gently stroked my hands with his fingers, then exploring the soft skin on my neck, and my face, everywhere that wasn't bundled up with clothes.

His touch was both comforting and terrifying at the same time. I wanted to melt in to him, let myself go, give myself to him. But I was too confused, too unsure of myself now. I wanted to pull away from him, but I didn't, although I didn't return his embrace either. I just fell into a fitful and restless sleep, with images of Vic, Calvin, Roshi Matsuda, and the Buddha dancing around in my head.

Friday was just more of the same. I barely spoke two words to Calvin the entire day, and I noticed the look of confusion and hurt on his face. But how could I take away his confusion if I couldn't get rid of my own? One thing the Buddha had said, though, was very true. Everything is impermanent. Nothing lasts forever. The retreat would be ending soon, and I didn't have the energy anymore to invest in Calvin. He would be gone from my life soon, and I would probably never see him again.

We were back to taking our walk together in the afternoon. We'd gotten along so well the first few days of the retreat and were becoming close friends. Now it seemed as though we were drifting apart. Perhaps it was better that way. It would dull the pain of having to be separated.

"Nicky, are you mad at me?" Calvin asked, suddenly breaking me away from my own depressive thoughts.

"Ummm ... no, Calvin ... I was just thinking," I replied.

"What were you thinking about?"

He met my gaze, and neither of us looked away.

"School and stuff," I lied.

Calvin wouldn't understand the demons doing battle in my mind at that moment. There was no point in dragging him down further with my own problems and self-doubt. He'd been through enough already.

"I thought we were friends," he said quietly. "You were so different when we first got here, and now you're like totally bummed out. I don't get it."

"It's nothing, really," I said, trying to reassure him. Unfortunately, I couldn't even reassure myself.

He just sighed and continued walking. Part of me really wanted to tell him everything that was going on in my mind. The roshi wouldn't listen, and I'm sure Calvin would. He was just that kind of guy. But if I didn't understand myself, how could I make him understand? It just wasn't worth it.

That night when we went to bed, if things weren't difficult enough already, they were just about to get more confusing. Of course, I didn't have the heart to send Calvin away when he came to crawl under my blanket with me, so I resigned myself to allowing this one small pleasure, holding Calvin while we slept. Wrapping my arms around his slight frame, feeling his warmth, and hearing the gentle sound of his breathing were probably the only things that allowed me to maintain any semblance of sanity.

After I held him for several minutes, spooned up behind him, Calvin suddenly turned around and wrapped his arms around me, pulling me even closer. We were now lying face to face on our sides, our noses only centimeters apart. I could smell the peppermint scent from his toothpaste, felt his warm breath on my face. From the pale moonlight streaming in through the window, I could see his eyes fixed on mine. I wanted to just close my eyes and pretend I was asleep. His expression was too disconcerting. It was like he could see right through me, right into my soul. And I didn't want him to see too much. I didn't want him to have to share my pain. I didn't want to hurt him.

Then I noticed a few stray tears trickling down his face. I hated to see him suffering, and even more, I hated the thought that I was the cause of that suffering. Not breaking our gaze, I lifted my thumb up to his face to gently wipe away his tears, then let my thumb gently trace down his soft cheek ever so slowly. As we continued staring intently into each other's eyes, I could feel my heartbeat quickening. In that moment, the only thought in my mind was of this amazingly beautiful and sensitive boy just inches away from me.

My thumb then continued its journey down his face, eventually tracing tenderly across his soft, red lips, stopping there momentarily, wanting so much to just lean in those last couple of inches and place my mouth against his. At that moment, I could see in his eyes that he wanted the same thing. But I couldn't do it.

Eventually sleep overtook us, but for me it was yet another restless night. The only thing that kept me from falling into the fathomless black hole that was my own mind were Calvin's arms wrapped tightly around me. If I hadn't been such an idiot, maybe I could have taken that tender gesture, and his almost pleading look earlier, for what it really was. But I couldn't ... or wouldn't ... let myself accept that. I was too stubborn.



As I walked into the main monastery for the morning meditation session on Saturday, the last full day of the retreat, Roshi Matsuda stopped me in the doorway.

"Let fall body and mind, Nicky-san," he said in a gentle voice.

I just gave him a puzzled expression, then walked over to take my place on my meditation mat. I couldn't take any more riddles.

After I had sat down, I carefully crossed my legs, placed my hands in front of my navel, lacing my fingers together with my thumbs lightly touching in the traditional Buddhist mudra, or hand gesture, the same as seen in all images of the Buddha. I brought my focus to my posture, checking that my back was straight, my shoulders pulled back, and my chin slightly tucked in. As I slowly closed my eyes, I took several deep breaths, following them with my awareness from the point of inhalation, traveling down into my lungs, my chest expanding as they filled with air, and then slowly exhaling. After repeating this process several times, I began to relax and my mind began to quiet down.

My thoughts immediately went back to what the roshi had said as I walked into the zendo, the meditation hall.

Let fall body and mind ... let fall body and mind ... let fall body and mind ...

The words went through my mind over and over. I just let them come, not trying to analyze their meaning, attempting to maintain the state of quiet I had found. I continued following the path of my breathing, paying close attention to each sensation in my body, from the slight aching in my legs, the sensation of my thumbs touching lightly together, to a mild itch on my left knee. The roshi's words kept echoing in my mind, but I didn't try to push them out, nor did I let myself focus on them.

Let fall body and mind ... let fall body and mind ... let fall body and mind ...

I gradually became aware of the dim sound of chanting, deep and resonating, yet I knew it wasn't coming from anyone else in the room. It was in my own mind.

No suffering, no cause of suffering, no end to suffering, no path, no self, no form, no ego, no Buddha, no truth, no Nicky ...

As the words played through my mind, I felt a warm sensation begin to slowly seep out from somewhere deep inside of me, near my navel, and course its way throughout my body, filling me up. I had never felt so serene before, so relaxed, so peaceful.

Suddenly, I was no longer sitting in the zendo on my meditation mat, but was outside, sitting on top of a great mountain at night. In one instant, I felt like I had been struck through by a surge of lightning, and the heavens and skies opened up, then earth itself crumbled and disappeared as if shattered by a massive earthquake, the tremors of which I felt, coursing through every pore in my body, with incredible energy surging through my body like tidal waves.

When these sensations finally began to fade away, I was left sitting there with only one feeling ... delight. Pure delight.

"Nicky-san!" I heard Roshi Matsuda saying urgently, returning me to the dim light of the zendo, as the thick scent of sandalwood once again invaded my nostrils.

"Nicky-san!" he said again, more emphatically. "Come with me, now!"

I stood up, still feeling euphoric, not really sure of what was happening, and dumbly followed the roshi into his chambers. Without thinking, I kneeled before him and made three prostrations, then waited patiently for him to speak, not at all unnerved by the odd way he was staring at me. I was more concerned with sharing my delight and euphoria with him, wanting nothing more than for him to feel what I was feeling ... whatever it was.

"Nicky-san, if you saw the Buddha on the road, what would you do?" he asked calmly.

"Kill him!" I answered immediately and resolutely.

"Why?" he questioned me, a challenging look in his eyes.

"Because if I can see the Buddha in front of me, that means that he is separate from me. But that is a delusion. I am him, and he is me. So I must kill the delusion," I replied without hesitation.

The roshi smiled warmly at me. "Congratulations, Nicky-san. You have had your first taste of enlightenment."

I was surprised and excited by his words, but at the same time, part of me already knew.

"Now go outside and look around for a few moments, perceive things through your new eyes. Then come back and continue to sit. Try to deepen your experience ever further," he ordered me. "Maybe someday you can even become a Buddha!"

I bowed to him again, then made my way out of his chambers and immediately walked outside. All around me, I saw the familiar sights of the snow-covered fields, the pine trees, and the mountains. It was the same scenery I had seen every day since I had been there, but at the same time, it was all different. Everything seemed to have a strange, ethereal glow. Everything seemed so much more ... alive. And I felt so much more alive. It was as if I was suddenly connected to everything around me.

After returning to my mat and beginning to meditate again, I wasn't able to get back to that place on the mountain, but I still felt ... different. I wanted to keep sitting, even after the bell announcing lunchtime rang, but I eventually forced myself to get up and go eat something. After lunch, Calvin and I took a walk around the monastery grounds again, and he asked me what happened earlier in the meditation hall. I just told him I "woke up." My experience was too difficult to really put into words, so I wasn't about to try.

That evening, shortly after our final meditation session of the retreat began, Roshi Matsuda called both Calvin and me into his quarters, which was very unusual, since dokusan was almost always one-on-one, unless there was a need for a translator. We both kneeled down and bowed toward the roshi, and waited patiently for him to begin speaking. I was certainly curious about what he had to say.

"It is clear that your karma has brought you two together," he began. "Of course, it is no coincidence that you both came to this sesshin, and your relationship has progressed. There are no coincidences in life. We just fail to see how everything around us, everything that happens to us, is all connected."

"What do you mean our 'relationship'?" Calvin asked nervously.

The roshi chuckled. "That is something that you two may need to discuss in private. There's nothing wrong at all about your having feelings toward each other that go beyond being friends."

Calvin blushed a deep shade of crimson.

I knew what the roshi meant, even though nothing had happened between us that wouldn't ordinarily happen between two close friends ... although I may have wanted it to, and was now pretty sure that Calvin did as well. I could see it in his eyes the night before. But there was a question that had been bothering me about my feelings toward Calvin, and it had nothing to do with the fact that they were gay feelings. I would probably feel the same if we were talking about a guy and a girl.

"But roshi," I asked. "Aren't we supposed to suppress our desires if we want to achieve enlightenment?"

The roshi looked thoughtful for a moment before answering.

"Desire in itself is not bad. Only the result of that desire can be called 'good' or 'bad.' For example, the desire for peace or the desire to be happy. How can these things be bad?" he asked rhetorically.

Calvin and I both nodded.

"The Buddha preached about the 'middle way.' In life, in your relationships, in everything you do, you need to find balance. Your desire needs to have balance, too. You must control it, not let it control you. If your desire creates love and compassion, then that is good. If it creates greed, jealousy, or co-dependence, then that is not good. So, you must constantly examine yourselves, your actions, and your motives. Ask yourself if you are doing something that will lead to a positive result or a negative one. If you can do this, then you will have a healthy relationship, and the experience will help you to become better people, more compassionate, more loving. You will then be better able to fulfill your vow to help other beings break free from their suffering."

"Thank you, roshi," I said, bowing to him.

"You're most welcome, Nicky-san," he said with a warm smile. "Now, why don't I let you two leave a little early tonight so you can go and have that talk, okay?"

We both nodded in agreement, bowed three times, and turned to leave.

After we got back to our dorm and took our showers, we crawled under the blanket together on my tatami mat. As we had the night before, we lay on our sides facing each other, our arms draped loosely over each other. I don't think either of us knew what to say. I wanted to be with Calvin so badly, but I didn't know how we could be, considering this was our last night here together.

But at that moment there was something else on my mind entirely.

I placed my hand softly on his face, letting my thumb trace gently around his cheekbone, trying to memorize each and every detail of his face. A few days earlier, this might have been an awkward moment; now, neither of us wanted to break our gaze into each other's eyes. There wasn't much that our eyes weren't communicating right then, but there was something I still had to say.



"Last night, I wanted to kiss you so bad," I whispered huskily.

Before I realized what was happening, he put his hand on the back of my head, and pulled me in to him, placing his lips on mine. After a few moments of hesitantly exploring each other's lips, as if by instinct, our mouths parted and our tongues found each other. The feeling couldn't be described as anything but electric. For my first time kissing another boy, it couldn't have felt more intense ... more right. But I had to feel more of him. I needed to touch his skin. I had to remember every little detail, because who knew when I would get another chance like this, where all my dreams were coming true?

So I tentatively began to lift up Calvin's clothes, waiting for any sign of resistance or hesitation on his part. When I noticed none, I allowed my hands to snake inside of his pajama top and touch the soft skin of his tummy. As soon as my hand made contact, he shuddered a bit, but then I realized that was just because my hands were so cold. As my hands rubbed all around his smooth chest, back, and sides, even slipping down underneath his pajama bottoms to cup his round butt, my hands warmed up, and so did the intensity of Calvin's kisses and soft whimpering.

It seemed like hours that our tongues probed each other's mouths, and I don't think there was a single nook or cranny that I didn't come to know intimately, nor an inch of his silky soft skin that I didn't touch with my fingers. As our kissing grew even more passionate and urgent, I had to pull back. I would have loved nothing more than to go further with Calvin right then, but something about having sex at a Buddhist monastery just didn't seem right. So sue me for having a conscience!

"I wish this didn't have to end tonight," I sighed. "It doesn't seem fair that we found each other this way, and now we'll both have to go home separately tomorrow."

He looked puzzled. "Why does it have to end tonight?"

"Well, I doubt we live close enough to be able to do this very often," I said.

"Where do you live, Nicky?" he asked.

It wasn't until he asked me that question that I realized in over a week of conversations, we'd never talked about where we lived. I just figured it wasn't very likely that we would end up living close to each other. Call me a pessimist ...

"Ummm ... Endicott ... New York," I replied.

Calvin started giggling hysterically. For a second, I thought I'd have to cover his mouth to keep him from waking up everyone else who had probably come back and gone to bed during the time we'd been making out.

"What's so funny?" I asked, nonplussed.

"Dude," he managed to get out in between giggles. "I live in Binghamton. We're practically neighbors!"

When he said that, I couldn't decide whether I should be surprised, ecstatic, or beating myself over the head with a hammer for never having even thought of asking him where he lived. I put myself through torture for an entire week, when one little question would have taken care of that. The towns we lived in were right next to each other, and I'd be getting my driver's license (and a brand new Toyota RAV4 mini-SUV -- my parents had a thing about Toyotas) in another couple of weeks when I turned sixteen. That meant that even though I wouldn't be able to see him every day, we'd still be able to spend the weekends together, at least.

As all of these thoughts were going through my mind, and all of the various emotions I was feeling were probably making themselves very apparent on my face, I realized that I hadn't said anything to Calvin yet.

"You are happy about that, aren't you, Nicky?" he asked somewhat hesitantly.

I just grabbed a hold of him and pulled him into me tightly, covering his mouth with my lips again. I figured that would answer whatever questions he may have had about how I felt.

"So do you think your parents would get suspicious about your spending every weekend at my house?" I asked after we finally broke apart.

"Nah, they'll just be so happy that I'm finally being sociable," he said.

"Good, because my house is exactly where you're gonna be every weekend until I decide otherwise," I said with a wry grin.

"Do you parents know about ... you know?" he asked, starting to sound a little nervous again.

"Of course they do. They're ultra-liberal ex-hippies. Sometimes you'd think they would have been disappointed if I was straight," I chuckled.

We ended up chatting for a while longer, talking about our home lives (he didn't think it would be wise to come out to his parents for a while), school, and various other things that we realized we hadn't talked about before. Eventually, though, sleep overtook us, but not before we fished some paper out of our bags to exchange phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and AIM screen names. We never broached the subject of whether or not we were "together," but let's just say that I had good reason to be hopeful.

The next morning was a bit rushed as we got packed, said goodbye to the roshi and others we had met during the sesshin (sans Vic, of course -- thank Buddha!). I didn't get the kind of "good-bye" I would have liked with Calvin, as our mothers were both waiting for us as we came out of our dorm, but we did manage to do all of the necessary introductions and talk about how much fun we had and how we'd become friends, which earned me a knowing look from my mother.

Calvin's mother was practically gushing about the change in Calvin's personality, so I didn't think it would a problem to see him almost as often as I'd like ... although if it were left up to me, I'd probably want him to move in with me right away. But I'd certainly take what I could get. After exchanging a couple shy grins, and Calvin promising to call me that night, we got into our cars and headed back to civilization, the sounds of the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" blaring on the stereo in my mom's car.

"So I take it you had a good time," my mom said, glancing over at me as I tried to hide the goofy grin plastered all over my face.

"You have no idea," I said.

My mom just smirked. "I think I do."

I may not have become a Buddha at that meditation retreat, but I certainly did find Nirvana.

Copyright 2006. All Rights Reserved. No parts of this story may be copied, reproduced, in print or in any other format, without express written consent from the author.
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What a suprise that was. All my life I have hated every sort of religion. I know it isnt a religion now. That was highly enlightening. I feel refreshed and new. A great story :) Your descriptions gave so many images. I was curious about what happened to Vic, but that didnt last long. An amazing read thank you :hug:

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This was really great! I was so happy to read a story that is so different from the norm! I like all the information on Buddhism (which I honestly know very little about) and how you wove it into the story. This story was reviewed on the site blog and had Vic as the antagonist, but I disagree. He was villainous, of course, and a creep, but I think the main antagonist was Nicky's mental and emotional roadblocks--regarding his feelings toward Calvin, his own trepidation regarding his desire, and of course the koan, which tormented him throughout! It made it all the more powerful when he finally overcame all of that. I love this and look forward to reading more from you!

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Zen Buddhism has always seemed to be an ethereal thing

to me, like those images of people sitting lotus on little

clouds in ancient Chinese screens...Well, now I know a bit

more, thanks to this story. There is a drive to eliminate pain

and suffering by experiencing it at the Zen Torture Retreat!

Seriously, that place is stark! I would have died the first frigid

night, stuck to my humble straw bedmat. The image of ice cream

sandwiches comes to mind...then there is torture by riddle.


Roshi Matsuda is a wonderful enigma. Vic is a walking venality.

That must be the reason the Master keeps him around, as a

cautionary example of what not to be and do.


The pared-down cast of characters matches the setting

and that is a wonderful touch. A very balanced story with

a little Nirvana tossed in. I loved it. In a way it was like a poem.

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I'm not sure if you're still around LittleBuddha but this is truly a great piece of fiction. It was well done and I learned a few things about Buddhism I didn't know before. Thank you.

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How did I miss this all these years by one of the writers I remember enjoying so much back in the day as it were.  So unusual and informative and hot in a slow burn kinda way.


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