Medina of the One Mind
The teacher said to the assembly, “If you attain the first phrase, you will be a teacher of buddhas and ancestors. If you attain the second phrase, you will be teacher of humans and gods. If you attain the third phrase, you cannot even save yourself.”
A monk asked, “At which phrase did you attain?”
The teacher responded, “The moon sets at midnight; I walk alone through the marketplace.”
~ The Book of Serenity, Case 76
Recently I had the good fortune to travel with my family to Fez, Morocco. There we stayed in the old Arab town, called the Medina, which first dates to the 9th century and has over 9,000 avenues in its two square miles; no street will accommodate traffic larger than humans and donkeys. Home to hundreds of thousands of people, the ochre-colored walls and streets are teeming with life: meat vendors hanging lambs and skinned camel heads, carpet merchants selling colorful wares hand-woven by Berber women, and dozens of mosques which five times a day broadcast the Islamic Call to Prayer.
We arrived late at night, and our taxi driver dropped us off at a gate to the Medina. A young man stepped out of the crowd and offered to show us to our hotel. Rapidly setting out, within three turns I felt lost as the four of us dragged our bags through the narrow, dark streets. We arrived at a riad (hotel) fifteen minutes later, but it was the wrong one. Dependent on a guide, who I knew not and was quickly losing trust in, my anger grew. It ushered from my growing fear for my family’s safety, likely overblown, but no less real: a week before, two Norwegian women were taken by guides into the mountains outside of Marrakech, and beheaded; that week a tourist bus was blown up by a terrorist bomb in Egypt. By the time we got to our hotel, which turned out to be only a few minutes walk from where the taxi let us off, I was white hot. Sensing my anger, the night clerk at the hotel, Mustafa, said sweetly to me: “Mr Joseph, I just hope you have a good time when you are in Morocco.”
That night, I had a dream, which completely upended my previous night’s experience. The Medina, which only hours before seemed dark and dangerous, in the dream, was now well lighted and fascinating. Alleys that stunk of cat piss and garbage, were now redolent with the smell of cumin, paprika and rose hips from the spice merchants. Pathways that were monochromatic and abandoned, in the dream were filled with the intense colors of bright carpets and scarfs. I woke in the morning feeling expansive and fulfilled, rather than small and threatened. For the next five or six nights, in my dreams I continued to walk through the rich landscape of the Medina. I saw this was the Medina of the One Mind, the Buddha Mind: a marketplace that includes ancestors and buddhas, humans and gods, devils and angels. It was then that I knew, perhaps, I was not so alone.