It was love at first sight. Michael drove his battered Oldsmobile sedan down the dusty farm lane and parked it alongside the other cars in the field. My eye was immediately drawn to the pink and yellow form bobbing atop a spring adhered to his car's dashboard. As I walked closer, I saw the saffron robes, the bald head and the pudgy hands folded in its lap. A bare foot peaked out from under a fold of its robe.
Michael and I had arrived at the farm for a traditional seven-day Zen retreat or sesshin.
"It's a Dashboard Monk. I picked him up at a joke shop in the city," Michael said.
I was speechless.
Michael read my mind. "I'll see if I can find you one. Give me your address before we leave."
Several months went by and I heard nothing more from Michael until the day a mysterious package arrived in my mailbox. It had a Brooklyn, NY return address. He hadn't forgotten me after all.
I hot-glued the little Buddha to the dinghy dash of our '93 Honda Civic. He proved the perfect adornment for our otherwise trashed car. With the rear wheel wells rusting away, a left front parking light duct taped in its frame and the pearl green paint sloughing off the hood in sheets revealing the silver undercoat beneath, the monk sat placidly like a lotus in muddy water.
We went everywhere together. He became my friend, teacher, soul mate and dharma brother, all rolled up into one. If the road was smooth, I patted him on the head so that I could watch him bounce and sway on the spring. I made up ditties and sang to him.
No matter how rough the road or deep the pothole, Dashboard Buddha always came back to the stillpoint. Sitting unperturbed with those pudgy hands folded neatly in his lap and that hint of a smile on his pink lips, he was the embodiment of equanimity, peace and joy. No matter what my mood, he reminded me of my essential nature. And this is what he said:
Nirvana is right here, before our eyes;
this very place is the Lotus Land,
this very body, the Buddha.
I eventually sold the Civic to my friend George, the owner of a local gas station, for a hundred and ten dollars. When I dropped the car off, I cleaned out the refuse--miscellaneous papers, plastic Diet Coke bottle tops, old banana peels, Snickers candy bar wrappers--and threw it all in a black trash bag. Finally, I carefully chiseled off the Dashboard Buddha, dusted him off, and put him in my pocket for the ride home.
In place of the Civic, we purchased a new Toyota Yaris. Reluctant to mess-up the Yaris' pristine dashboard, the monk now sits, on perpetual retreat, atop my writing desk.
I'm thinking he may have to come out of retirement. The open road beckons.
(DSH Photo: Open Sky and Dashboard Buddha: Rt. 295, Portland, ME)