I have just read a mesmerising novel called In Between Jobs. Written by Buddhist actor Duncan Pow. It is about a man called Harry Caldwell. The cover blurb says: ‘Harry is 26 years old. He is an actor. He is a son. He is a brother. He is a nephew. He is a drug addict. He is a sexual deviant. He is a lover. He is a fighter. He is good. He is bad. He is a Buddhist.’
The journey from first to final page is captivating. It is raw and enlightening. It is often explicit, sometimes disturbing; in places it is laugh out loud. Most of all it is lyrical and entrancing and hypnotic. The most hypnotic stream of consciousness I have experienced in a very long time. Think Trainspotting meets Ulysses meets The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.
A slow and staccato awakening
The book reminded me of the constant battle between our creative, life-affirming Buddhahood and our destructive and negative Fundamental Darkness (‘FD’). Harry’s story arcs in a trajectory that will be familiar to many Nichiren Buddhists (including this one). His starting point is relative happiness that masks deep and pervasive disrespect (for himself and others). There follows a series of heady highs and chastening lows that teach our hero some much-needed humility and personal accountability. Until enough ego has been destroyed for compassion to bloom. And voilà, the world has a more enlightened human being in its midst.
Harry is (I assume) a ‘newbie Buddhist’. A man battling to change how he feels. And to do it by chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, instead of via rolled up £20 notes and ‘fucking massive lines of cocaine’ hoovered up his nostrils from a toilet seat. Or from sex with strangers. In other words, to change from the inside rather than the outside.
We experience his slow and staccato awakening: “I have found something else, something inside me that I was not aware I had. It makes everything easy. It makes everything difficult.”
And the battle that he sometimes faces just to chant: “I am drilling through the shit. Through the stuff from the past. This life and the one before it. I am drilling down into that treasure store. That unlimited storehouse of potential. Of wisdom. Of courage. Of compassion. Love. Life.” Then just moments later, his darkness comes back to the fore: “I really want to snort another fucking line.” That’s why I loved this book. It reminded me just how powerful and mesmerising our FD can be.
Come on then if you think you’re hard enough
Thanks to books like Duncan’s and to my Buddhist practice of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, I’m training myself to say, as soon as any signs of FD appear (well, almost): “Come on then if you think you’re hard enough.” Or, “Hello darkness, my old friend, what are you trying to stop me doing? Do you want me not to make that sales call? Listen with my heart to a loved one? Finish my book? Chant? Support someone who is really struggling?” And then, from my reservoir of Buddhahood emerges the desire to just do it anyway. Because there’s one thing that FD cannot handle and that’s earnest chanting plus you taking action to defeat it. Chanting alone is never enough. You have to take action. Even if it is only a single step.
As Nichiren wrote: “Just as flowers open up and bear fruit, just as the moon appears and invariably grows full, just as a lamp becomes brighter when oil is added, and just as plants and trees flourish with rain, so will human beings never fail to prosper when they make good causes.”
PS. Look out for Duncan in action on TV in ’24: Live Another Day’, the latest instalment in the Jack Bauer political thriller series (starring Kiefer Sutherland). It premieres in the UK on 5 May.