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Karma Chain on the Highline

What, exactly, does the line that begins so many buddhist sutras, "Thus have I heard," mean about what follows? How precisely do we transmit the buddha's teachings when we hear and repeat them? Is oral teaching just a giant game of Telephone? Check out the Karma Chain!, part of the PEN World Voices festival.

On the Highline, the elevated park on the West Side of Manhattan, world-renowned author Salman Rushdie and Tibetan teacher Lama Pema Wangdak helped us find out, two weeks ago, at an event sponsored by the Rubin Museum of Art.

(photo courtesy twi-ny.com/Mark Rifkin)

On Saturday April 30, from 9am to 12 noon, about 300 folks gathered and lined up on the beautifully landscaped, repurposed, long-unused freight tracks that are the Highline.

(photo courtesy twi-ny.com/Mark Rifkin)

Lama Wangdak whispered a line from a sutra into one ear, and each person passed it on to the next.

(photo courtesy twi-ny.com/Mark Rifkin)

Salman Rushdie waited at the end of the line for the last iteration and wrote it down. Then Lama Wangdak repeated another sutra, we passed it on, and then a third.

(photo courtesy twi-ny.com/Mark Rifkin)

The New Yorker was there, interviewing, and lots of photographers.

(photo courtesy twi-ny.com/Mark Rifkin)

At the end, we gathered to hear what happened.

Lama Wangdak read the original sutra, from his iPhone.

"like a shimmering star, or a flickering lamp, / a fleeting autumn cloud, or a shining drop of morning dew, / a phantom, a dream, a bubble, so is all the existence to be seen."

(photo courtesy twi-ny.com/Mark Rifkin)

Salman read the version he heard, at the end of the line.

(photo courtesy twi-ny.com/Mark Rifkin)

“follow the glass stone…follow the glass stone / the droid from hell / if anything exists, it changes.”

Yes, it changes! From mouth to ear to mouth to ear, the sutras changed, but the idea of impermanence somehow remained.

What the droid was doing in there . . . I think it had something to do with the iPhone.

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