I got sick of driving, so I’ve been taking public transit to work every day. BART train to Ferry Building, ferry to Marin (and vice-versa). The best part about this change is that now I get to have BART adventures like everybody else in San Francisco.
One of the Buddhist monks from the monastery on 22nd and Capp was sitting down on the seat in front of me. She was small, with a shaved head and robes. I was standing, packed into the train car, next to a tall man with long hair.
The monk kept her eyes closed and was chanting silently to herself, mouthing unheard words while spinning a hand drum. Over and over. The train would start and stop but she would not falter. Until the tall man said to the monk, “Namo Amituofo.”
The monk opened her eyes, looked at the tall man, and began chanting aloud. “Yes, namo amituofo. Namo amituofo.” He nodded at her and smiled. Then she turned to look at me.
Perhaps she assumed, based on proximity, that I knew this man. Perhaps she thought she ought to explain to me what their conversation had been about, since it was held right in front of me. Either way, she began to tell me about her vegetarian diet, about good luck, and how to pronounce the chant she had shared with the tall man. “Try it,” she instructed.
“Na mo ami tofu” I mumbled.
“Good!” nodded the monk. “We repeat it over and over. Namo amituofo. Namo amituofo.” She held my gaze expectantly as she repeated the chant. “Go ahead, say it. Namo amituofo. Namo amituofo.”
I wanted to be polite, but I didn’t want to repeat this chant over and over until we reached my stop. Unable to decide what to do, I stared at her blankly as she urged me to join her chant. I remained silent.
Why does she think that I would be interested in this? I wondered. Why doesn’t she want to chat with that tall guy? He’s the one who knows all about her chant.
I could only stare blankly at the monk as she chanted and nodded at me in encouragement. This continued for a much longer time than I expected it should. At last I decided to stare at the BART doors instead. Such interesting doors. Please stand clear of the doors.
Soon after I turned my attention to the repetitive chant of the BART doors, the monk closed her eyes, bowed her head, and returned to silently mouthing her chant.
The doors are closing.