Therefore we proclaim the prajña paramita mantra, the mantra that says:
"Gate Gate Pāragate Pārasamgate Bodhi Svāhā."
—Heart of Great Perfect Wisdom Sutra
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
Everyone should try staying on a houseboat on the Hudson River. This is especially true for we who live on either of the shores of the river that defines our home. We often see the mighty river from a distance, and admire its breadth when we cross a bridge, but spending a night on its waters imparts a deeper intimacy.
The lapping of the gentle waves against the side of the boat accompanies you as the sirens of sleep lure you beyond the shore of waking into the realm of deeper or dreamier states of consciousness; and on waking you find the sun dripping through your window like honey, as the view of a sailboat glides across the portal above your head, with only the tinkling of snaphooks and the gentle flapping of canvas sheets.
This was my experience as I prepared to make a journey to the other shore of the Hudson, to visit a site to the north, in the Highlands. First a sailors' breakfast of Marmite and toast, with hot black tea and creamy milk; then preparing the day bag with camera, sunhat, headlamp, and notebook for recording impressions; then waiting as the double-decked ferryboat made its slow way, chugging across the channel until the pilot slid his craft alongside our ship's bulk with surprising grace.
Once on board the ferry, most of our party went below but I chose the top deck, in the sun, which was not flat but rounded, like sitting on the boat's roof. Finding my cross-legged seat I looked around and noticed I was beside a young woman whose blond hair, dark eyes, and slightly flattened face made her look as though her blood was a mix of Scandinavian and Algonquin or Lenni-Lenape. I looked out to take in the view as our ferry motored out into the waters of the river, but my gaze was drawn back to the woman, who was sitting cross-legged nearby, watching my face with concentration but not interest.
Like a cat stalking prey she seemed to have moved closer while I was looking away. Now she was eyeing with that same feline intensity. I met her gaze and held it, not knowing the purpose of this otherwise bold and unrequited contact. But it was not awkward and I found I could relax as she seemed to poke around in my being, though her eyes never left mine; her irises were dark brown, almost black—the kind of dark eyes that I've seen before, that are so deep, looking in gives a feeling of vertigo.
Finally she spoke.
"How is your heart?" she asked.
I could barely hear her voice over splashing water and waves; the sounds of voice and waves wove together, but were utterly distinct.
The question did not seem strange following our long moment of silent exchange. Much had happened in that time and the pilot had only just thrown the lines, pushed off, and was scuttling to the bridge.
"Why do you ask?" I asked.
"You don't need me to waste time and words explaining, because you already know," she said, her voice still barely audible though I understood every word. "The question is not rhetorical, nor does it require an answer. It is for you, to help turn your attention inward. Now. How is your heart?"
I focused on and behind my chest, and seemed to take a flight through layers of experience—my mood, excited; then a kind of feeling-energy field, like plasma or those pictures of cloud nebulae in space; then, below that, a stillness that isn't the absence of activity, a rich velvety blackness, resounding with the voice of silence.
I kept her gaze this whole time. Her face, the shore, the water, the sound of the engine were all there—and at the same time unfolded this equally or more real world. It was behind my sternum, and it was in a different sphere altogether. And I felt that this Iroquois girl and I were holding one another's hand and walking together into this depth.
I saw that the heart cave was not in my heart, or in anyone's heart; rather, I saw that there is only one Heart. It is the heart of the world, and all who wish and strive to enter can Be there together.
Then we arrived at the other shore, and I turned to see the ferryman throw his lines and prepare to dock. When I turned around again the girl was gone (had she been there at all?) and there remained only tourists with colored hats, sunglasses, and travel bags, en route to the Highlands.