Yogi Berra has always impressed us as a true wise man, fielding life's curveballs and tossing back pearls of wisdom like "The future ain't what it used to be," "When you come to a fork in the road, take it," "I really didn't say everything I said," and "We're lost, but we're making good time!" So we were glad to see the fall issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review's feature "The Koans of Yogi Berra." Finally, the sayings of the Sage Behind the Plate would receive the thoughtful commentary they merit.
What a disappointment to find writer Brad Stroup's regrettably glib approach to Yogi's aphorisms. We realized that if the Great Number Eight were ever to be accorded due respect, it would be up to us to get the proverbial ball rolling. We grabbed our copy of The Yogi Book (Workman, $7.95) and searched for an enlightened one to illuminate Yogi's wisdom before all the world.
Our quest, like one of Berra's 358 career homers, took us on a spiritual base path that led back home to New York, where Robert A. F. Tenzin Thurman, longtime student of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is the Jay Tsong Khapa professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University. Thurman, whose name recalls another great Yankee catcher, has also played behind the plate. His commentary follows.
Yogi is clearly living in the moment. He comes up with gems of humor, creative non sequiturs that free the mind in a Zen koan-like way. His sayings are priceless. He reminds me of the Mullah Nasr ud Din, the Sufi sage who also lives in a world of humor.
"Take the fork in the road!"--this really frees you from a tiresome journey.
He didn't say everything he said? Of course not, because, as a liberated soul, he let himself go into the changing flow of the river of the self. He didn't try to fixate himself in a rigid mold; therefore, the gems of "mind-turning phrases" came into being all on their own.
That the future ain't what it used to be couldn't express better how our last few generations have let down their posterity, letting the planet slide into radical imbalance, burning up the resources as if there were no tomorrow for anyone else! Those people in charge are indeed lost, and yet they are making frighteningly good time, since they cannot understand the Yogi!
Acolytes will be pleased to know that a Yogi Berra Museum is scheduled to open this fall in New Jersey. Adjacent to Yogi Berra Stadium at Montclair State University, the shrine charts auspicious moments in Berra's life, including his boyhood in St. Louis (where he was first recognized as a Yogi) and his fateful journey to the East.