Walking down this road I would like to see a rice field golden in the morning sun with a great mountain rising behind it just around the next bend. I would settle for a town its lone Temple quiet, awaiting the morning bell, the call to sit, with maybe a cat at the base of a statue the Bodhisattva. I am ready to bow deeply to the first monk I see this day, but my reverie is broken by the barely dodged wave thrown up by city bus running late and fast down the crowded street of this upstate New York city.
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.
They sat on the bench in the park looking out on the small lake, two ducks swimming slowly in circles. “Dawn is the most beautiful moment of the day, the sun chasing the moon and setting the sky ablaze, orange, crimson, flame, there is simply nothing,” he said, “in the world quite like it.”
“It is that, but it pales compared to the beauty of dusk and the setting sun retreating, the clouds painted by the master in orchid, fuchsia, and a depth of pink only the sun and clouds know,” she replied, “and each day is different.
An old monk walking by bowed, nodded and softly said, “but look to the sky on a cloudless night, see the moon reflect all the sun has to offer, all the colors in the spectrum are there if you only close your eyes and see them.”
The old monk stooped carefully, gingerly picking each browning leaf from the dry garden and gently placing it in the sack he carried. With each leaf he would increase his count, always certain that it fully fell into the sack. When the last leaf was picked and even the autumn tree dared not drop another this day, the monk dumped the leaves onto the stone of the garden and stooped carefully, gingerly picking each browning leaf. A watching visitor asked the abbot if the monk had dementia, but the abbot smiled and said, “He is the sanest one among us, watch how he wholly engages his practice.”