A few years ago I made my first pilgrimage to Hollywood's Bodhi Tree Bookstore, one of the wonders of the metaphysical book-selling world. I went again yesterday, leaving my month-old granddaughter and her mother (my daughter) cooling their heels in a neighboring restaurant.
Wise place to wait. Slower the service, the better. When I enter the Bodhi Tree Bookstore, I'm not going to be emerging for quite a while.
Wandering through the store's sections is a voyage of spiritual self-discovery. The patrons, me included, appear darn serious as they browse the shelves. After all, we're not looking for a book on how to restore a '57 Chevy, or plant a raised bed garden.
No, the entire Bodhi Tree content, by and large, is Big Questions of Life stuff: the nature of reality, what happens when we die, whether God exists, and if so, in what fashion.
Sure, there are smiles in the aisles—I loved how a red-headed coolly-clad young woman at the checkout counter responded to a "love your tattoos" from a person behind her with a flirtatious toss of her head and a finger pointing behind her ear: "you probably missed this one; see, it matches!"
Hollywood. I love ya.
But mostly I encountered intense gazes as I brushed by fellow shoppers. What I found most interesting about my 45 minutes or so in the store was how my emotional reaction to various sections governed my steps.
I've got a somewhat deserved reputation as an intellectual. However, when it comes to spirituality, religion, and mysticism, gut reactions serve as my compass, not my thoughts. In this regard, I'm typical. Mostly we feel our way through life, then rationalize the direction we've taken with logical-sounding reasons.
In the Bodhi Tree Bookstore, I was guided by gut, not gray matter. My first stop always is the Martial Arts, Buddhism, and Taoism corner. That's where I feel most comfortable.
Even here, though, there are more friendly and less friendly shelves. I did my best to find a book to buy in the general Buddhism section. However, I'd already bought the titles that appealed to me—the ones with a skeptical "kill the Buddha" theme.
I'd flip through some pages of a potential purchase and see a bunch of Sanskrit terms and references to this or that sutra. Ooh, too religious my gut would tell me. Back on the shelf it'd go.
I had to turn back to the Zen section before finding a couple of books that screamed (or at least strongly murmured) take me home: "Opening the Hand of Thought," by Kosho Uchiyama and "No Beginning, No End," by Jakusho Kwong. (In finding these Amazon links, I see that every reader review of these books has been 5 stars; other people clearly like them as much as I expect I will).
Zen has a way of laughing at its own pretensions that resonates with me. General Buddhism is just too damn serious. Ditto with most of Indian philosophy, the section that adjoins the Buddhist and Taoist shelves. I used to spend a lot of time there, but my gut won't let me tarry long with Indian mystics now.
Taoist sages, though, are more appealing. I found a couple of Thomas Cleary translations of Chinese classics, "The Spirit of Tao" and "The Book of Balance and Harmony." (Again, two 5-star reviews; my Bodhi Tree purchases batted 1.000 with Amazon reader reviews—though one Cleary book was review less.)
There's no other way to buy a book but with the guidance of your gut. You read the title, glance at the front and back covers, peruse the table of contents, flip through a few sample pages. In a few seconds it either speaks to you, or it doesn't.
Same with the spiritual, philosophical, mystical, and religious paths that books are written about. They either give you a come-hither look or a "no way, Jose" brush off. We like to think that we choose our Way for solid reasons, but almost always that isn't the case.
Generally we follow one path rather than another simply because it appeals to us. Is falling in love with a person any different? We can give reasons for our attraction, but they aren't the real cause of our infatuation. That's a mystery, even to the lovers.
So I brought home four books. Many others were inspected and rejected. Countless others, not even considered.
It comes down to the gut. Trust it. When buying a book. When embracing a philosophy of life. Each of us knows a lot more than we're able to tell ourselves in thought-sounds.
And what we know will be ours, not anyone else's. It'll be our little (or big) secret. Significant to us, not truly sharable with others.
I stood beside red-haired tattoo girl as she asked for some items that were stored behind the Bodhi Tree Bookstore checkout counter.
"Give me three copies of The Secret DVD," she said. "No, make that two."
I felt like telling her, "If you'd like some advice, may I suggest making it zero? Because in my opinion you're about to spend $60 on a bunch of bullshit."
But I kept my mouth shut. Because what I wanted to say would have been just that: my opinion. Like Alice's Restaurant, you can get almost anything you want, philosophically, at the Bodhi Tree. As with life. Different gettings for different folks, that's how the menu works.
The clerk reached back and picked up the DVDs. "Great Mother's Day presents," he told red-haired tattoo girl. "They can change someone's life." "I hope so," she replied.
She glanced over at me with another big smile. Irresistible. I smiled back. The Secret wasn't my Bodhi Tree shopping choice. But I'm me. She's she. Maybe that's all I needed to learn from my visit to the bookstore.
I still bought the four books though.