Approach the master sitting on his seat. The fool will seek answers having slept through the lesson but the wise student will bow silently and retreat having learned all there is and knowing absolutely nothing.
A reflection on Case 44 of Dogen’s Shobogenzo (The True Dharma Mind)
I used to think that the key to a great crepe was all in the wrist. That was before my wrist was fused by a doctor who explained that no motion was better than endless pain where motion ceased to practically matter. Now I realize that the forearm is capable of so much more that that for which it is given credit, that the elbow is a joint underappreciated, and that when the crepe slides off the pan and onto the plate, the forearm can take a silent bow, giving a wink to the crepe pan for its nominal contribution to the effort lying on the plate.
It was inside Nara that it finally slipped away. Its tether had grown ever weaker, the first slip was decades before, a book, brief meetings an answerless question. It stretched further in Tokyo, basin incense under the watchful third eye and hung perilously by fewer and fewer threads until, with the monks’ gentle bow, it broke and I found home.
The work of the bow is done when the arrow takes flight, when the vibration of its string is recurved into stillness. But what of the archer now having let go, can only await the fletched arrival. If the target falls will the bow know the pain, will the archer, will the fingers hold the string of the bow or the heart of the fallen?
The saffron robed monks stoop carefully, dropping single grains of colored sand onto the mandala of peace. They rock gently as the intricate wheel takes shape and form. They are drawn to its center, closer day by day, countless hours focussed to a singularity. They interlace fingers bow a collective head and pray silently for a strong wind.
Daibutsu, you sit placidly staring down at the throng that slowly bows before you. You can small the faint essence of the joss sticks wafting from the great cast iron pot outside the massive doors. “Do not act as if the world were real” you whisper, or so it seems to my chilled ears, “it is all but an illusion.” I see a faint smile cross your lips, then fly off on the early winter breeze. “The path is Noble, but it is no path, turn from it and you will find it, but seek it and it will be gone.” I turn from you and feel the touch of your hand between my shoulders. As I walk through the gate a deer nuzzles up against my leg “nothing in this world can be enjoyed forever” the deer says, “but would you have a scrap of cake for me, a tribute to our enlightened guide?”
He crawls out from under the blue tarp strung between two trees and a park bench with the first light of morning breaking over Shinjuku Chuo park, slowly erasing the shadows cast by the Metropolitan Government Building. He neatens the surrounding concrete, ready for the soon to be arriving crowd that appear each morning for Tai Chi. As the elderly men and women pass, he bows slightly to each and each gently returns the bow with a smile. He goes off to visit friends by the Kumano Shrine, knowing that when he returns he will likely find the empty covered tin that sits on the stone that marks his blue plastic home replaced with another with sticky rice and bits of dried fish or pickled vegetables, for in this always teeming city, there is even a great civility to homelessness.