Everyone’s got one these days. Bucket lists, I mean. My friends no longer talk about dreams or dreams-of-a-lifetime; they talk in terms of bucket lists. I have nothing against lists. In fact, I am an inveterate list maker. I have lists of kanji characters I intend to practice; they are lovingly copied and cross-referenced with the indecipherable dictionary of kanji variations that is also on my list to learn how to read. I have a list of books I intend to read; these are written by Nobel prize winners in Literature. I have a list of ways to remember what Frank says so that next Christmas I don’t forget and I complain to Frank that he never tells me what he likes.
Bucket lists however make my skin creep up one side of my body and down the other. They feel riven with the need to prove we’ve lived life to the fullest. It’s as if at my funeral you will all be checking my list and deciding whether to say, “Well, she had a good life, didn’t she!” I can spare you the dilemma and even the cost of flying across the country to make any such pronouncements.
Anything I do with my life is going to be the result of a confluence of an innumerable number of things, most of which I will have had little control over. So should I win the Nobel Prize, it’s not me doing it. Should I summit a mountain somewhere or cross a burning desert, it’s not me. Should I meet you in a coffee shop and have a deep, heart-felt exchange of spirit of love, it’s (definitely) not me.
So who is it? Who is it then, who crosses burning landscapes, shivers with delight at the peak of success, collapses in a heap when things just fall apart?
In the Heart Sutra, Avalokita sees through the bucket list. He sees that “all five streams of body and mind are boundless.” While I love the feel of boundlessness, don’t go dropping me into a place without guardrails too quickly; I may turn tail and make off to a place on my own bucket list. The version I like says Avalokita “gave rise to the five skandhas.” It feels nice to think that someone as accomplished as Avalokita would be contemplating the nature of reality and the five ways we interface with the world pop up for him too. (Form, feelings, perception, mental formations, and discernment (consciousness in some versions) co-create what I see as “I-me-mine.”)
The difference, of course, between a Bodhisattva like Avalokita and me, is that he isn’t bothered by the five streams or his mind. That’s the whole point of this verse; he sees them for what they are. He brings them into focus, gives rise to them so that they can be smack in the cross-hairs of his investigation. Me, I turn into a Venus fly trap for all the ways the five heaps can become a drama. Objects don’t meet my needs, itchy noses and runny eyes are clearly unpleasant and harbingers of doom, everyone has it easier than I do, or no one appreciates that I’m “special.” That’s only four. When it comes to dealing with the heap of my mind… well, that says it all, doesn’t it?
But maybe that’s just what my practice is for the moment. These five heaps are plunked around me and they remind me of the true nature of “I-me-mine.” So every time someone pulls out a bucket list, I notice the five streams of body and mind burbling to me about digging deeper than defining myself by what I’ve done or not done or going to do or not do.