Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Nodding Off

I started a new 'intermediate' two year Buddhist studies course last night, an in depth study of the Lam Rim teachings of Atisha and Lama Tsongkhapa.

We had just got settled and said the preliminary prayers prior to the teachings, when one of the office staff showed in a late comer. There were a couple of cushions available, including one right at the front, just in front of the teacher. (Often if there are spare cushions it's usually up the front, as people seem to be a bit shy of sitting right up close in front of the teacher.) This newcomer took the cushion at the front, and actually scooted forward so that he was sitting just a few feet in front and eye to eye with the teacher. Really close.

One of the other students gave him his handouts, which he didn't really even look at before placing them on the floor. There is a small etiquette point in our tradition, we don't place teachings or images of the Buddha on the floor or anywhere where they might be stepped over, it's considered disrespectful. New students often do this because they aren't aware of the etiquette, so it's not treated as a big deal, but more experienced students are usually aware of it and avoid doing it.

About 10 minutes later, as the teacher was getting into the body of the teaching, I noticed that he was struggling to stay awake. This is nothing unusual; a warm room, a busy and tiring day, the soothing voice of the teacher, you often see people have moments of drowsiness. Then things started to get a little surreal. With his head in his hands, he was eventually leaning forward and folded almost double. Then he fell even further forward until his head was resting on the small table in front of the teacher. To his credit, the teacher gave him a small smile and carried on without breaking stride. Fast forward 15 minutes and this guy is sitting up, having rallied somewhat, but then tilts over sideways alarmingly. One lurch and he's lying down. Then he starts to snore.

By this point the realisation made it around the room. Not just sleepy, drunk.

It was really interesting watching my own reactions to the scenario. Most of the time he was kind of sitting quietly, so I was able to tune him out and concentrate on the teachings. At other times I was in turn horrified, concerned, annoyed and even a bit amused. A lot of the time I was concerned, as it was such odd behaviour, then I was bemused to think that anyone would attend teachings drunk. I exchanged a few nervous looks with a couple of the other students, wondering whether we should leave him to sleep or wake him up.

The class ended shortly afterward, and as we packed up the teacher stayed behind to have a chat with him and see if he was ok. When I left they were still talking, and it sounded like it had turned into an informal counselling session.

It made for a slightly surreal first class...

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed with the sheets of teachings ...no,no,no to be placed on the floor.

But it sounds interesting indeed a person in desperation, a person beginning a journey and hopefully one who will find soon that what we seek cannot be found externally but within oneself.... and that my dear is a long journey indeed.

Nice to see you the other day. You give such a energy of contained thoughtfulness and sharing all the same... xx

quiet 60s girl said...

P.S That was not mean't to be anon, that was me.

The Other Andrew said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comment Q, it was great to see you the other day too! :) This wasn't a beginners class, so in that context I was a little bit surprised by his behaviour. It was interesting! I'm curious to see if he shows up next week. I hope so - sober.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps he was doing the best he could.

Forgive me, that does sound terrible, but his needs may be great and the need for understanding and help may have overcome his best judgement.

The Other Andrew said...

Kenyo, I think you are right. I don't want the post to sound too judgemental, we were all quite concerned for him. I don't think he would have gotten much from the teachings, he was asleep for most of it, but hopefully his chat with the teacher afterwards was helpful.

quiet q60s girl said...

Kenyo, no doubt his needs are great as Andrew would well understand. His writings are a descriptive of perspectives that come to mind when one comes across such moments. I absolutely agree that his need overcame his best judgement, yes.

TOA also understands this and is the most compassionate of men i could hope to know and i did not feel judgement within the post. I too have observed similar things occur at teachings and there is no doubt those in burden are reaching out. I know you understand this to be so Andrew xx