A Hundred Years of Karma
Recently I’ve been riding the bus a lot—three hours a day, more or less. I spend one eighth of my time on a “moving can,” only slightly less than the amount of sleep I get at night. Have you heard of the effectiveness of a four-hour sleep cycle? It’s not so effective.
It feels strange to think that I regularly spend so much time in a confined space with strangers. In Chinese, there is a saying, “We have a hundred lives’ worth of karma to thank for our riding on the same boat today” (百世修来同船渡). My fellow passengers have faces haggard and dull and worn out by the world—what previous lives we must have shared! I have much sympathy for them, even when they are bumping into me or are taking the last seat.
I sing the song “Twenty-Seven Strangers” to myself sometimes. It is beautiful, and Buddhist in its own way. If you have studied Buddhism, you know that we could have been any organism in our past lives: ants, bees, bats, small fishes, bacteria. But now, now, in this life, we are humans. And you are with me on this journey. Rain outside. Bugs. Twigs scratching the window. A speedy and annoying bike. You are with me, although we all eventually and inevitably “separate without a sound.” And the following day, “it could be the same / when I do it all again.”
As commuters, we will do it all again, and it will be the same. Or at least largely the same. The route remains constant, but there are subtle changes in the trip: it moves—if not forward—at least on. It develops. More and more faces get recognised, the portion of strangers decreases, acquaintanceships develop. The weird overdressed man you first noticed that sweltering afternoon becomes the friendly guy who just happens to like heavy jackets. That grumpy old woman becomes just another person trying to get through her days. How many years of karma do we have to thank for riding this same bus, not just today, but every day?
At Cha, we have been riding this bus for five years now. Sometimes we have imagined that we are driving, and perhaps occasionally we have steered a bit. But mostly, it has been like a commute, where we try to run on time but happily let our passengers set the route. By my count, there are forty-two this time—twenty-four returning contributors and eighteen new—none of them strangers. I love seeing so many old faces on the seat across from me, but I like the new ones, too. More faces to recognise, more friendships to develop.
And I am happy to share a space with them, a space which in nineteen trips has never once felt confined. As soon as they board, our writers, artists and guest editors fling open the windows and let the air rush in. They start talking, too, and I am content to ride along and listen, let their ideas bump into me, sway to the rhythm of their words. Happy to let the cycle continue and the trip move in new directions.
Sometimes I sing “it could be the same / when I do it all again,” and I hope I can do it all again and that it will be the same, if by the same you mean constantly new and rewarding.
Maybe I did something right in my past lives, because this ride has felt like a hundred years of good karma.
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming / Co-editor
25 November, 2012